By Eddie Cloer
"Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Augustine, looking from man's emptiness without God, wrote, "Our hearts are restless, 0 God, until they find rest in Thee." It is reasonable to believe that God, looking from His longing for fellowship with man, says, "My heart yearns for you, 0 man, until you find rest in Me. I love you, and I delight in your salvation and fellowship."
Can we actually believe that the Almighty God wishes to have fellowship with man? Why would Jehovah God create this universe, the heavens and the earth, and man if this were not His desire? Who could believe that the all-knowing and all-wise God who created all things would make man as a toy, as a plaything, for His amusement as was believed of the capricious, childlike gods of mythology? The make-up of the world and the spiritual potential of man join in arguing that the God of the heavens and the earth seeks and finds joy in communion with us.
What we conclude through reason is the very affirmation of the Scriptures. God has said to His people, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (2 Corinthians 6:16). He has said of those whom He would redeem and bring into His fellowship , "I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me" (2 Corinthians 6:18).
This truth of God's dwelling among His people must be seen in concert with the church. Under the new covenant, the church is the temple of God, a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5), with each Christian as a living stone in that house (1 Peter 2:5), and the whole building forming the dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:21, 22).
Recognizing the church as the temple of God reveals another facet of the nature of the church. The word "temple," which is rich with Old Testament connotations, brings us into a deeper realization of the church's relationship to God and of its walk with God.
Therefore, for a better understanding of the church of Christ, let us ask, "How is the church the temple of God?"
A MEETING PLACE
First, the church is the temple of God in the sense that the church is the meeting place of God and man. The church is where God and man unite in fellowship.
When Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, God gave them His law and a place of worship through Moses. The place of worship was called "the tent of meeting," because it was the place where Jehovah met with Moses, His priests, and His people (Exodus 29:42). Continual burnt offerings were offered at the doorway of the tabernacle, because God had said, "... I will meet with you, to speak to you there. And I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory" (Exodus 29:42, 43). God had designed a place where He and His people could meet in fellowship.
Now, under the last will and testament of Christ, the new covenant, God has chosen the church as His meeting place with His people. When we obey the gospel of Christ, we are washed from our sins in the blood of Jesus and are brought through adoption into God's family (Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 4:6). Those who have become Christians have not only come to know God, but have come to be known of God and have come into God's inheritance (Ephesians 1:14; Galatians 4:9). We have become sons of God, and as sons, we have become heirs of eternal life through Christ (Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7). We have entered the church, the family of God, wherein we walk with God in friendship and fellowship, in communion and camaraderie.
Years ago the church was blessed by the preaching of Marshal Keeble. He had a picturesque way of illustrating spiritual truths, a way which held the attention of his audience and riveted truths to the mind. As he was preaching one night on baptism, he quoted 1 Peter 3:21: "And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Brother Keeble then said, "Three are present at baptism. First, the one being baptized, the sinner, is present to be baptized. Second, the preacher, the one baptizing the sinner, is present to do the baptizing. Third, God is present. When the preacher baptizes the sinner, God and the sinner meet in the water."
Marshal Keeble's illustration brings out a telling point. God has commanded baptism as part of His plan for salvation. It is the final command which we obey as we come to Christ. As believing, penitent sinners are baptized into Christ, they are united with God and Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 4:6), meeting them in a saving relationship in the water.
The wonderful news of the gospel is that God has provided a place where He meets with man in sacred fellowship, and that place is the church. In essence, God has said to man in this Christian dispensation in His Word, "I will meet with you in My temple, Christ's body, the church. I have provided for you a way of salvation so that you may meet with Me for spiritual life and holy fellowship."
A DWELLING PLACE
Second, the church is God's temple because it is God's dwelling place. God not only meets with us in His temple, but He also dwells with us in it. Through the church, God lives among His people.
Regarding the tabernacle under the law of Moses, God said to Israel, "And I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God" (Exodus 29:45,46). The tabernacle and all that pertained to it reminded Israel of God's presence among them. In harmony with the promise God had made to Israel, He filled the tabernacle with His glory (Exodus 40:34). As a manifestation of the presence of God, a cloudy pillar stood above the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle by day and a fiery pillar stood over it at night. When Israel moved by day, the cloudy pillar went before them as an expression of the guidance of God, while the fiery pillar provided God's guidance by night (Exodus 40:36-38; Numbers 9:15-23). Through the tabernacle, God dwelt among His people, leading them and living among them.
In the New Testament, the church is the dwelling place of God through His Spirit. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people"' (2 Corinthians 6:16). Paul said of the Gentiles who had become Christians in Ephesians 2,
'So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the comer stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
God dwells in Christians in two ways: First, His Spirit dwells in each individual Christian, using the Christian's heart as His temple. Paul used the idea of the Spirit's indwelling as an argument for Christians to keep their bodies clean from immorality: "Flee immorality.... Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:18, 19).
Second, God's Spirit indwells the corporate body of Christians, the church. Paul wrote regarding the church at Corinth, "Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Greek word Paul used for "you" in this verse is plural. The Spirit obviously had in mind the body of believers, the church, and not just the individual Christian.
temple, the church is
the meeting place of God,
the dwelling place of God,
and our place to worship God.
All of us have questions about how God indwells His people. However, one truth we can be sure about is that His indwelling is in accordance with His Word, for God works through His Word (Ephesians 6:17). Paul, in these passages, did not explain in detail God's indwelling; he just affirmed it. The truth Christians should find in these passages is that God is with us individually and corporately. He dwells among us; He lives in us.
At eighty years of age, Moses met God at the burning bush at Horeb (Exodus 3:1). God said to him, ". . . I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:10). Moses did not believe that he was the one to go to Egypt for God, but after God answered his excuses, Moses left the burning bush and went on his way to Egypt, charged with the mission of delivering oppressed Israel. Moses soon saw the difference between meeting with God and walking with God. He had met with God at Horeb and received his commission . Leaving Horeb, he had walked away with God. Moses had been told by the Lord, "Certainly, I will be with you, ... (Exodus 3:12). God kept His promise and walked with Moses as he led Israel through all the plagues, through the Red Sea, and to Mount Sinai.
As the church, the temple of God, we have not only met God in Christ, but God continually dwells in us and walks with us. How reassured and confident Christians should be! As we faithfully live the Christian life, we walk in the daily fellowship of God. We do not face one trial or one difficulty without His blessed companionship and strength.
John wrote, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:6, 7).
A PLACE OF WORSHIP
Third, the church, as the temple of God, is a place of worship. The Christian is a walking cathedral.
Peter said, "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). He also said, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). As God's priests today, Christians may offer up praises to God through Jesus at any time and at any place. Because of Jesus, we are urged by the writer of Hebrews to confidently approach God: "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
Jesus told the woman from Samaria at Jacob's well that worship would no longer be confined to a specific location, to a divinely appointed mountain or building. He said, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father" (John 4:21). In the future, He was saying, worship would be acceptable because it was offered in spirit and in truth, not because it was offered at the right physical place. He further said to this Samaritan woman, "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers" (John 4:23). Jesus was speaking of the Christian dispensation, when Christians, as priests of God, would worship God through Him anywhere, anytime.
Having complete access to God, Christians are blessed with the privileges of worship (John 4:23), atonement provisions (1 John 2:1), and divine power (Ephesians 1:19). As priests of God who have been richly and superabundantly endowed, therefore, "let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).
The church is the temple of God! What a challenging truth! As God's temple, the church is the meeting place of God, the dwelling place of God, and our place to worship God.
Are you a member of Christ's church? Think of all that you are missing if you are outside of Christ. Outside of Him, you are outside of His meeting place with man. You have not truly met with God or come to Him regardless of how religious you may be. Outside of Him, you cannot dwell with God. You cannot live and walk with Him where you are. Outside of Him, you cannot worship God acceptably. You cannot worship Him where you are in His appointed way and from His designated place, the Christian's heart. If you are outside of Christ's body, decide now to enter His body (Romans 6:3) so that you may walk with God in life and in eternity.
To enjoy God's presence and provisions, you must be in the place of God's purpose. It was God's purpose for Moses to go to Egypt and deliver God's people. What if Moses had gone in the opposite direction? He simply would have gone without God's presence, provisions, and power. This is true because he would have been outside of God's purposes. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah headed for Tarshish. The Bible says, ". . . So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord" (Jonah 1:3; emphasis mine). Jonah could have gone to Nineveh with God's companionship, but not to the city of Tarshish. Nineveh was the place of God's purpose; Tarshish was not.
Anyone who comes into the church, God's temple, comes into the purposes of God and into that body to whom God has said, "I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me" (2 Corinthians 6:18). When one becomes a Christian, his house of clay, his body, becomes the glorious temple of God!
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
1. Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless, 0 God, until they find rest in Thee." What does this statement mean? 2. What evidence do we have that God wants us to have fellowship with Him? List the reasons for believing this to be true. 3. List the Scriptures which teach that God desires our fellowship. 4. How is the church the "meeting place" of God and man? 5. How did God and man have fellowship in the Old Testament period? 6. Discuss how the church is God's "dwelling place" in the Christian Age. 7. How did the tabernacle remind Israel of God's dwelling place? 8. Discuss the two ways in which God dwells in Christians (1 Corinthians 6:18, 19; 3:16). 9. How is the church of Christ a "place of worship"? 10. Discuss the physical location in connection with true worship. 11. Since the church is God's temple, list the blessings we enjoy today as opposed to the blessings which were enjoyed under the Old Testament law. 12. How do we enter God's temple today?
For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type: Basic pattern; deductive; textual. Subject: The church. Theme: The church, the temple of God. Title: God's Temple. Preaching or Teaching Portion: 1 Corinthians 3:16. Proposition: (Declarative/didactic) The church is the temple of God. Interrogative Question: How? Key Word: Ways. Major Points: I. A Meeting Place; II. A Dwelling Place; III. A Place of Worship. Sermonic or Teaching Objective: To persuade the non-Christian to enter the Lord's church.