“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17, NASB95)
Here Paul continues his focus on the church, and he calls it “a temple of God,” adding that the Spirit of God dwells in it or “you” (us) collectively. Whether the church(es) of Corinth met together in a house or some other location is largely irrelevant to this declaration. The church was not determined by the structure where they gathered, but by those who gathered in that structure. In this case, it was those in Corinth who were knit together in Christ by virtue of them being saved and not due to them having gone through some form of membership exercise.
God’s people, Israel, were given access to Him in a very unique way. In Exodus God told Moses, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8, NASB95) Then He continued in instructing Moses on how this sanctuary was to be constructed from its contents to its outer shell (the Tabernacle) and everything related to it in fine detail. In verses 33 and 34 of chapter 26 God told Moses, “You shall hang up the veil under the clasps, and shall bring in the ark of the testimony there within the veil; and the veil shall serve for you as a partition between the holy place and the holy of holies. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the holy of holies.” (Exodus 26:33–34, NASB95) Then Moses and the people did as God instructed, and it was into this most holy place that the High Priest would go as prescribed by God to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for the sins of the people (see Leviticus chapter 16). Later, Solomon would build a temple as a more permanent structure.
While Solomon’s temple had long been decimated, there was a reconstructed temple at the time of Christ. It was in this temple at the time of His giving up His life for the forgiveness of our sins that we read, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom….” (Matthew 27:50–51, NASB95) The veil through which only the high priest was to enter, and then only in a special way at a specific time had now been torn open from top to bottom by God Himself. In a very real way the barrier between God and man had been removed, and because of what Jesus did for us on the cross we now have become that temple in whom the Spirit of God dwells.
Of each Christian in relation to our behavior Paul wrote later in this same letter, “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 6:19, NASB95) When we trust Christ for our salvation we receive immediately to Spirit of God to dwell in us permanently. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, NASB95) And collectively, we read “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:23, NASB95)
We have indeed entered an enduring relationship with our God. We are His and He will not let go of us. We are His collectively His church, as individuals we have His Spirit dwelling in us in a very personal way, and as local fellowships of believers we are “a temple of God” in which the Spirit of God dwells. He takes all of these relationships seriously, whether it be on the largest scale or on the smallest and most personal.
Big church or little church, we are His church and His temple, and God takes the protection of His temple seriously. Paul went on to write in this passage, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him….” Looking at destruction here, we are not looking at the destruction of God’s people for their disobedience. Paul had already spoken to this issue, and God does deal consequentially with sin among the saints. Here, we are are looking at those who do not have Christ seeking to destroy His church. They are not God’s people and they will face eternal judgment and damnation on the final day.
Historically, God destroyed those who destroyed Solomon’s temple, and in the future, He will destroy those who seek to destroy His people when He returns to establish His Millennial rule and Israel is saved. And when it comes to the church which is the body of Christ, God will deal as severely with those who raise a hand against it as well.
The call on all of us as believers is to watch how we walk such that we build up that which God declares right and that we stand strong against the forces of evil who would seek to enter and destroy. We read that “the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” The Corinthian believers had not been living as God’s temple even though that is exactly what they were. Here Paul reminds them of their identity as the temple of God, both on the large scale and on the most personal and intimate one on one scale. We are the temple of God in who His Spirit dwells, and we are called to live accordingly.
In Hebrews 10 we read, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:19–25, NASB95)