1 Corinthians 3:10–11, 16–23 (NRSV)
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
“He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
21 So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
This week like many the study of scripture has been awe inspiring. Just when I feel like I am beginning to understand what I read well, I dig a little deeper and suddenly a whole new world begins to open before my eyes. This is why I believe that God strongly encourages us to chase after lady wisdom throughout the scriptures, because when we stop learning or seeking greater wisdom our curiosity and imagination begins to die. And when these things begin to die we become cynical people. We begin to feel that the world is spiraling into chaos, and that the best days are behind us. This is why Jesus says that we must approach the kingdom of God like a child, for a child everyday holds a radically new possibility that they cannot wait to grab hold of. They are constantly seeking and asking questions, pushing themselves just a little more. Climbing one step higher, watching you as you perform a task so that they too can do it. If you want to know what it means to be a disciple I encourage you to hang out with a toddler, and allow Tash and DeWayne some free time. Do we seek God like a child?
Today’s passage is one that I have looked at many times. I saw it on the list and I almost thought how boring, because the lectionary listing skipped the part about the building materials that were going to be consumed by fire. So I sat praying, and one single word kept bothering me. One word. By looking at this one word in the proper sense everything changes. What is this word? You!
I know, how could I interpret “you” incorrectly? It is easy to do, in our language you can be singular and plural. You can represent an individual or a group. When I say you, I could mean one person sitting in the congregation or I could mean everyone. This is why there is a danger in using vague pronouns. But this was not the case in the language that Paul wrote, and from my understanding those in the Southern regions of our nation probably would not have a problem either. Because what is translated “You” is the plural form of the pronoun. So in the south we would translate it not as y’all but all y’all. Paul is speaking not of an individual, but all y’all. “Don’t y’all know that all y’all are God’s Temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in all y’all.”
A seemingly simple thing which changes what is being said tremendously. So often we look at faith as being something personal, my faith. This is not wrong because we must all stand before God alone on the day of judgement, but what Paul is getting at is that there is something even greater when individuals come together in community. It is when a community of faithful meet together where a church is formed. And it is the Church the corporate gathering united together with a common purpose pursuing a common goal where the miraculous happens.
Paul is speaking to a group of people, a group that is predominately Gentile, with various cultural backgrounds. Some say that the city of Corinth during the apostolic age had a population of 700,000 people. According to the most recent statistics Kansas City, Missouri has a population of 450,000 and the metro has a population of approximately 2 million. So we are talking of a first century city that is approximately a third of the size of our metro area, and larger than the city our Meeting House sits. This is two thousand years ago. It was also the sight of the Isthmian Games which were held in the first and third years of the Olympiad. The religious cult dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite was central in this city, with over 1,000 slave priestesses serving the various erotic rites. All of these things revolved around the massive shipping industry. I want to continue to remind you of the city this church was in because it speaks volumes about the power of God when the community unites together. At least fourteen percent of the population was a prostitute. At least third of their economy revolved around the exploitation of women. Imagine it, this was not an innocent city. This was a church filled with broken people loved by God.
Paul continues to remind them that they have grown in wisdom and knowledge, their influence has increased along with their witness. They have done much right, but they have become divided by the personalities that are among them. I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Peter. Different personalities who all have great influence. They are all working toward the same goal promoting the same cause. They are builders upon the same foundation, which is that of Christ.
When Paul came to Corinth he did not come with worldly wisdom, but he came with words of demonstration. He became a living example of the lifestyle he taught and he encouraged others to join with him as he lived this lifestyle with them. When he says that he laid the foundation on which others built, and that that foundation is Christ, he is saying that Jesus is the cornerstone of all that is being build.
The cornerstone is what begins the construction of ancient buildings. It is the stone from which all other stones are guided into place. This one stone determines how well a building will stand the tests of time. The wise man built his house upon a rock, is a reference to building a building using a good cornerstone so that the foundations would be secure and level. If Christ is the cornerstone of the foundation, it means that it is through Jesus that all other determinations are tested. I mentioned last week that many scholars believe that Apollos could have been the author of the letter to the Hebrews, if this is the case then all three of the major personalities providing influence to the church of Corinth agree on this one thing. Because the writings of Peter, Paul, and possibly Apollos all point directly to Christ as the authority to lives of faith.
So, Paul states that he is the master builder, the foreman of the construction crew, who laid the foundation of the church of Corinth. He goes on to say that everyone else built upon this foundation. Some built with stone, and others used other materials. All these materials were used for different reasons but they all work together to form one finished product, the Church.
This is where the term you come into play. “Do you not know that you are God’s Temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you.” Paul did not lay a foundation for an individual to become the temple of the Holy Spirit, he laid a foundation to build a community within this city that would change this city of sin into a city devoted to God. Yes, the Spirit of God dwells in individuals but it is when all those individuals come together, linking their various gifts and talents together on the foundation which is directed by the lifestyle of Christ that something great happens. It is this linking of lives where the Church is formed. Do you not know that you are the Church, you all are the place where God’s Spirit dwells and when you all are in unity in Christ you all can become the sanctuary where the broken and hurting people of this world can come to find rest and healing?
When we work together, when were move forward in unity a little group of people can do things that were once were thought impossible. When each of us uses the resources, we have individually and share those with the community we all can profit. We only need to look outside and see the witness of that concept, or look in front of us. In all the wisdom of the world we did not have the worldly resources to do what we have done for this property, yet we did. We were in unity and the kingdom has potential to expand through us because we worked together for the kingdom of Christ. These are the things that Paul wants us to focus on. These places where we witnessed the power of God overcoming the fears and hopelessness the world instills in us. But there are times where one person or a group might cause disunity within a community. We have experienced this as well. What is the difference? Unity build where disunity rips apart.
The temple of God is Holy, and that temple is all of us. If the temple is holy then that is held in the highest regard, it is passionately protected because it possesses the highest honor within the community. You are the temple, not you as an individual but you all. We are the temple collectively, and the collective community which is the temple of God is more important than our individual whims. This is why the Meeting for Business in the manner of Friends makes its decisions based on prayer and a sense of the Meeting and not of the politics of a vote. Because it is not the will of a majority, or the tyranny of a minority that determines the direction of our ministry, it is instead the guidance of the Spirit of God which is plumbed with the foundation of our Church which is built with Christ as its corner.
When we fall victim to ourselves we are building on a different foundation than that of Christ. When we begin to use the wisdom of the world around us as our guidance instead of the wisdom we glean from the teachings and the example of Christ, we no longer house the Spirit of God but we become a house of wisdom of man. Filled with the anxieties, fears, lusts and exploitations of every organization that has ever been built on the wisdom of humanity.
When we place our trust in the leadership of man, we become a temple of man. It is not too difficult to see where that will lead. Walls, wars, exploitations, slavery, hate, and fear all dwell in the temples of man. They want what is mine, they are wanting to destroy what we have built, they threaten my perception of life. We fear because our trust is not in God but in ourselves and we become fools. If we truly believe what we say we believe then why are we living in fear? But Jesus teaches a different way. He shows us a different lifestyle, one that is not governed by fear but on hope. He sees the image of God in those around Him and he encouraged them to see it in themselves. He then showed them that that same image is in their neighbor. So, he encouraged them to encourage others to see the image of God, that of God in all humanity. The desire to create, the desire to be loved and to love, the desire to excel and to imagine are all aspects of the image of God in all mankind. But this image is intensified when it is used for the mutual benefit of the community. It is intensified when God’s joy becomes our joy and we repent or turn again toward him.
Paul tells us not to boast about earthly leads, because those rise and fall. But instead to focus on the truth. All things are already ours. We already have everything we need to be who we are. We have our past, our present and our future, we have our life and we have our minds. We have hope today and hope through death. Everything is ours because all is Christ’s, through whom all things were made. We belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. Let us build with Christ as our guide, uniting together as we each add our gifts and our talents to expand his influence around us. And let us express our love for God in our praises, let us embrace the Spirit in our times of prayer and let us live the love of Christ with others as we use all that we possess to minister to the various needs of those around us. And most of all let us imagine, let us pursue, and let us embrace life with the sense of adventure like the toddlers among us.