5-03-2020 The Temple of God

The Temple of God
1 Corinthians 3:10-23
5-03-2020

Prayer for Illumination:

Lord God, help us turn out hearts to you and hear what you will speak, for you speak peace to your people through Christ our Lord. Amen.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” q 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas u or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.[1]

This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It is a symbol of Parisian and French identity. Construction began in the spring of 1163. The cathedral is a typical Gothic design with a nave, transepts for the choirs, and a baptistery. The iconic flying buttresses were added in the 13th century to support the height of the spire and allow for the ceilings to be vaulted. It is a stunning piece of Gothic architecture.

Most of us have not had the experience of seeing the Notre-Dame in person. Most of us have seen the cathedral either in pictures or in Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. Hugo wrote the novel as a love letter to the famed cathedral that took up much of the Parisian skyline. In French, the novel is simply titled “Notre-Dame”.

The cathedral made headline news a year ago. April 15th, 2019 a fire broke out in one of the attics at 6:18 local time. A security guard went to check on the alarm but went to the wrong attic allowing the fire to grow. By 7:50 the fire had grown out of control and caused the spire to collapse and fall into the baptistery. When the fire was finally put out, roughly 2/3 of the roof had burn up or crumbled. Despite the damage, most of the cathedral survived. It survived because it was built on a solid foundation with appropriate materials.

Paul continues addressing one of the major issues plaguing the church in Corinth – factionalism. Remember, the church has divided into various factions. Some want to make Paul their patron. Others want to make Apollos their patron. Others want to make Peter their patron. And still others want to avoid all of the factionalism and make Jesus their patron. They were a fractured church.

Last week we saw that every pastor desires growth; we saw that growth stagnates when we exchange godly wisdom for humanly wisdom; and we saw that ultimately God is the one who gives growth. In these verses, Paul continues to address the factionalism by reminding the Corinthians of the truth that believers are the temple of God. As we examine verses 10-23, we’ll see: (1) Pastors are builders; (2) Believers are the temple of God; (3) A Warning to those who seek to damage God’s temple.

Pastors are Builders

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Paul uses a metaphor to describe pastoral work. In the previous section, he used the metaphor of a gardener. He sowed, someone else watered, but God gave growth. Here he changes the metaphor. He compares himself to a wise builder. The Greek word is architect. Paul is an architect whose job is to set the foundation.

The foundation that he lays is Jesus Christ. Paul resolved to know nothing among them except Christ and him crucified (2:2). The foundation of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. The foundation of the gospel is that God took on human flesh, was born of the Virgin Mary, lived a life in perfect obedience to the law, was crucified in the place of those who believe, bore their sins, and accomplished their redemption through his life, death, and resurrection. This is the very foundation of the gospel. That is what our salvation is built upon.

And Paul has taught them that. That is what he explained to them when he first planted the church. He taught them that as a wise builder lays a secure foundation. Paul’s job was only to lay that foundation. He was a missionary. Someone else was tasked with building up of the church and edifying it.

Those who come after Paul and continue his work are to use appropriate materials. Paul mentions gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, and straw. It’s a little difficult to see in our English translations but Paul is using language associated with the temple. 1 Kings 5-6 tell of Solomon’s plans for the temple and the actually building of it. The temple was made of granite and marble – costly stones –  for the foundation, floors, walls, and the ceilings with some support from cedar rafters. Once you entered the holy place and the most holy of holies, they are covered in gold and silver.

Most commentators think Paul is using this language as a metaphor for pure doctrine[2]. They think that because Paul says, “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

If a building is composed mostly of wood, straw, and hay it will burn up. Those are highly flammable and combustible materials. But if a building is composed mostly of gold, silver, and costly stones it will survive.

Paul’s job is to lay the solid foundation of Christ and his work, and those who come after him are to build on it with costly stones, gold, and silver. They are to build upon the solid foundation of Christ’s redeeming work with pure doctrine and not humanly wisdom. Pastors are to build up the church not with self-help and prosperity teaching but with pure doctrines like salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Pastors are to build on the foundation of Christ by explaining how the redemptive work of Christ transform us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Pastors are to build up on the foundation of Christ by applying Scripture to the lives of those entrusted to them.

Just as fire reveals the work of the builder, fire will reveal the work of the pastor. Throughout Scripture, fire is a symbol for judgment and suffering. As we experience suffering and judgment, the theology that pastors teach and preach will be revealed. If pastors are teaching things that come from humanly wisdom, self-help theology or prosperity theology, then it will be revealed as impure during suffering. Those taught self-help theology or prosperity theology won’t endure during times of suffering and judgment. They are like seed on rocky ground that cannot withstand the heat from the sun (Mark 4:5-6). Ultimately the judgment of the Day of the Lord will reveal whether or not a pastor has build using appropriate materials. When Christ returns, the preaching and teaching of pastors will be revealed to be either godly wisdom or humanly wisdom.

But if a pastor has built with appropriate materials like gold, silver, and costly stones, what he has built will survive. If a pastor has taught pure doctrine, then when Christ returns what he has taught will survive and ultimately be purified.

That is why there is a high bar for pastors. James, the brother of Jesus writes, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Pastors will be judged more strictly because we are tasked with building with gold, silver, and costly stones; we are tasked with teaching pure doctrine.

That’s why if you ever come to a presbytery meeting we ask hard questions to those being ordained and those receiving a call to pastor a church. We ask them about their theology and their doctrine not so they can show off their years of study; we ask them about their theology and their doctrine so that we can know whether or not they will build up with pure doctrine.

I make no apologies for the fact that I ask every pastor coming into our presbytery hard questions. I want to know whether or not they will preach and teach godly wisdom which is Christ and the cross and explain how that changes us. I want to know whether or not they will preach and teach humanly wisdom which is self-help, moralism, and prosperity theology. If it’s the former, I’ll welcome them with open arms; if it’s the later, I will vote against approving that call. Pastors are tasked with building on the sure foundation of Christ crucified with pure doctrine.

That’s why we don’t just allow anyone to preach or teach; that’s why we don’t allow just any study to be taught. Pastors are tasked with building on the sure foundation of Christ crucified with pure doctrine.

Maybe you think that I’m taking this too seriously; maybe you’re thinking that it isn’t such a big deal that a pastor preach and teach pure doctrine.

Believers are the Temple of God

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

The thing pastors are building up is the temple of God. We’re not building up our houses; we’re building up God’s house. If we license architects because they are building our houses and we take that seriously, how much more seriously should we take those who are tasked with building the temple of God? If we inspect the work of contractors to make sure they are in accord with safety standards, how much more should we make sure that work of preachers is in accord with biblical standards? Pastors are tasked with building up the temple of God. So it is serious work. We ought to make sure that the pastors are using appropriate materials like gold, silver, and costly stone; we ought to make sure that pastors are preaching and teaching pure doctrine.

Paul says that you yourselves are God’s temple. The Apostle Peter says something similar when he writes, “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Peter 2:4,5).

The “yous” here are plural. Believers together are the temple of God. We are the Church. The Church is not the building in which we meet. When Luther first translated the New Testament into German, he didn’t use the word “church”. Everyone was shocked. The reason he didn’t use the word “church” was because it had become associated with the building believers met in. When Luther used the word “church”, he meant the same thing that Paul means here believers. We are the temple of God; we are Christ’s Church.

Why did I bring that up? Does this have any practical use or is this just theoretical head knowledge? This tells us that the Church is the made up not just of me, myself, and I; the Church is made up of believers. We are united together as living stones in the temple of God. That’s why the early Presbyterians were so insistent that they call the place where the worship a meeting house and not the Church because we are the Church together. Believers together are the temple of God. That means the temple of God is composed of believers from every race, every nation, every tribe, and every tongue. The temple of God is composed of believers across time and space.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this:

The catholic or universal church is invisible and consists of all the elect who have been, are, or ever will be gathered into one under Christ, the head. The church is his body and spouse, the fullness of God, who fills all in all.[3]

We are united together with believers from China, Afghanistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, Mexico, and every other place where there are Christians. We are united together with believers throughout the ages. Together we make up the temple of God.

That is why Paul is so angry that the Corinthians have fallen into factionalism. They have broken and fractured the temple of God. It’s bad enough when a club or an organization is divided and fractured by factionalism. It hurts the organization.

One of the most popular movies in the last ten years was Captain America: Civil War. It’s a great movie. It’s not really a superhero movie. It’s a spy movie with superheroes. The antagonist of the movie realizes there is no way for him to beat Captain America, Iron Man, and the other Avengers. But if he can get them to divide from within and fall to factionalism then they’ll never recover.

When we make pastors patrons, we fracture and divide the temple of God. It hurts the Church. When I was an intern in Wichita, Eastminster had felt the pain of factionalism. About ten years before I interned, a significant number of members were unhappy with the leadership and ultimately left to form a new congregation. Many of the elders who remembered those years still felt the pain of factionalism.

But it also hurt the Church in the community. People in the area knew there had been a fracture in the congregation and wondered whether or not the gospel was true. They looked at the situation and thought that the temple of God had been divided.

Let us remember the truth that together with all of the other believers across time and space we are the temple of God. Let us not divide into factions by following human wisdom that says we should make pastors patrons. Believers together are the temple of God.

Paul also says that God’s Spirit dwells in our midst. In 1 Kings 8 after Solomon finished building the temple, the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant into the holy of holies. When the priests withdrew from the holy of holies, the glory of God filled the temple and he dwelt there.

Now in the new covenant, believers are the temple and the Spirit of God dwells in our midst. When we gather together in worship, the Holy Spirit is present. He is the one who enables us to praise God. He is the one who enables us to hear God’s word. He is the one who enables us to experience God.

That is why it is a big deal to divide into factions. We are the temple of God, together with believers across time and space. When we gather together, the Spirit is among us.

Paul has stated that pastors are builders and what we are tasked with building is the temple of God. Paul goes on to give a warning to those who seek to damage God’s temple.

A Warning to Those Who Seek to Damage God’s Temple

If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” q 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas u or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

For those who still think that it makes sense to make pastors patrons and divide into various factions, Paul issues this warning: God will destroy that person. Again, there is reason why we have high standards for pastors. It is far more loving to deny someone who is not called to the pastorate that office than to let them pastor and do damage to God’s temple and experience eternal judgment.

If anyone seeks to do damage to the Church by stirring up strife, dividing the Church into factions, or intentionally teaching impure doctrine that would destroy the Church, God will destroy that person. God takes his temple seriously. He is jealous for her and wants to see her built up in him. The Church is his bride and he gave his life for her. Those who seek to destroy his Church will experience God’s wrath and judgment. They will bear the consequences of their sin.

Satan often masquerades as an angel of light. He works to infiltrate the Church and do damage from the inside. Much like the antagonist in Captain America: Civil War, Satan knows that he can do more damage by inspiring people to destroy the temple of God by forming factions. Satan may appear to get away with these sorts of things for a time but ultimately God will judge him and Satan will bear the condemnation for his sin. God will destroy him.

The same is true for humans who work to damage the temple of God by causing factions. Sadly, there are those who enter into a congregation and cause divisions through quarrels. They may appear to get away with it for some time. It may appear as though in their craftiness they have deceived God and will get away with their sin.

God “catches the wise in their craftiness” and he “knows the thoughts of the wise are futile”. God is not deceived. He sees those who do damage to his temple. And while he may permit it for a season, he ultimately will judge those persons for their sin. Either they repent and Christ bears their judgment or they die in their sin and are judged for it. He loves his Church and will destroy those who do damage to her.

Let us not then fall into factionalism and do damage to the temple of God. Let no one actively seek to do damage to God’s Church. God will destroy that person.

The builders of Notre-Dame de Paris built the cathedral on a sure foundation and used appropriate materials. That is why almost a thousand years later the cathedral is still standing. Pastors and teachers are tasked with building as well; we build on the sure foundation of Christ crucified. We are to use appropriate building materials, teaching godly wisdom and pure doctrine. The building we have been entrusted to build up is nothing other than the temple of God, believers. And God will destroy each and every person who does damage to his temple.

[1] The New International Version. (2011). (1 Co 3:10–23). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Hodge, C. (1857). An exposition of the First epistle to the Corinthians (p. 56). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.

[3] Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 25.1