A Community of Faith
I Corinthians 3:16
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.
Paul had been talking about the community of faith found in Corinth. This dear and somewhat troubled church was arguing again. This time the discussion led them to human leadership and which persons they would follow. The conversation was leading to a rather destructive attitude toward the body of Christ. The body was being divided because loyalties were divided. Somehow they didn't understand that this division was exactly what the enemy would desire. There is nothing better for our enemy than to take the body of Christ, divide it up and leave it splintered in tiny ineffective pieces. Paul understood the value of the community of faith being united together.
To help the Corinthians understand this better Paul began to talk about God's temple. No longer was he discussing a temple that had existed in Jerusalem but instead it was a new temple. This new temple was made up of living stones and each and every single member of the body of Christ was one of those stones. Each living stone had a purpose in the temple. When the temple was united the Holy Spirit lived right there in the midst of them. This new temple was the church, the bride of Christ, made up of humans united in their faith and bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This new temple was so sacred to God that Paul gave a warning -- not to destroy the temple! The temple, the community of faith, the church, she is sacred. And that sacred community is made up of living building blocks placed upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. I echo with Paul -- "Don't you know that you …. are God's temple; and you together are that temple?" What a beautiful picture of God's desire for community among his people. We are to stop arguing over inconsequential issues and begin living as the organic temple, the community of faith, that God intended to be transformational in the world.
Growing up as a child in the church I was often reminded that my body was the temple of the Holy Spirit and this was the reason that we took care of our physical bodies. We didn't smoke and we didn't drink alcoholic beverages because we were to take care of the physical bodies God had given us so that they could be temples in which he dwelled. (Interestingly no one ever wanted to talk about eating and physical exercise as other issues related to caring for the body -- but that's another topic.) But so often the communal aspect of this temple was completely overlooked. The entire focus was upon me as an individual taking care of my physical body or temple.
Instead, it seems that this scripture is talking to us about the fact that we are to live out the Christian life in community. God in the Trinity is a community bound together by holy love. We are to be a reflection of God to the world and if God is community, then the reflection of God should also be community. This may be difficult to understand when we have made our Christian walk out to be something incredibly individualistic. I think I would question whether it's possible to be a Christian without being relational. Jesus, in a nutshell, said to "Love God" and "Love your neighbor." Those are both very relational. We are called to be in a personal relationship with God and then with our community around us. It is the community of faith that unites to become the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells.
If it is true that the community is where the Holy Spirit dwells, then what do we do about our individualistic path to faith? Remember Jesus also told us that where "two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst." Isn't that interesting? He didn't say one -- but he described a community of faith.
It is within the community of faith that we can be shaped and molded into the people of God. Just like the Corinthians there may be times that we want to run from the community out of frustration. However, we must also realize that we are called to that community and even with its warts, bumps and bruises, we can learn to be God's holy people there among those people. We are intended for community, we are intended for church if we are to be God's children.
We live in a day and age where some are declaring the end of the church. I would like to affirm with Beza that "the Church…is an anvil on which many a hammer has been broken." Maybe today it's the hammer of post-Christendom but the "Church is the form the Risen Christ chose for the world." (Willimon) Therefore maybe we ought to heed the words of Paul and not look for the temple's destruction, but instead, unite ourselves together in the community of faith and be the temple which breathes the breath of the Risen Jesus into a very hurting and needy world. That's the type of temple in which I choose to participate. And may his Spirit dwell in our midst!
Lord, thank you for the promise of the community of faith in which your Spirit will live and breathe and move, even today. Amen.