The Church is God’s Holy Temple
In Paul’s letter to the church of God at Corinth, he wrote:
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
In this context, Paul was cautioning against building God’s temple with inferior materials (wood, hay, straw–vs.12-15), and he was issuing a warning to the Corinthians who were guilty of “defiling”(destroying) God’s temple by their human reasoning (vs. 18-23) and envy, strife and divisions (vs.1-9). Those who destroy the church will be destroyed by the Lord in the day of God’s judgment. It is important to remember that the church is not man’s building; it is “God’s building” (vs.9). The church is “the temple of God” in which “the Spirit of God dwells” (remember that God’s presence entered the Old Testament temple—1 Kings 8:10-11).
Today God Dwells in His Temple, the Church
God dwelling in close connection with His temple conveys the idea of God’s intimate fellowship with His people in His temple and His ultimate control over all aspects of building and maintaining His temple. We see this when we understand the concept of Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone in the foundation of God’s temple, and His apostles and prophets making up the rest of the foundation of God’s temple, the church.
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows up into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
When buildings were constructed of huge stones in ancient times, the chief cornerstone was the most important stone in the structure. The chief cornerstone, which was carefully cut and set in place first, set the direction and layout of the entire building. All the other foundation stones and the rest of the stones that made up the building were set in alignment with the chief cornerstone.
Jesus Christ, as “the chief cornerstone,” sets the direction of and the layout of God’s holy temple, the church. Jesus’ apostles and prophets, in their revelations of His will, make up the remaining foundation stones upon which God’s holy temple, the church, is being built. God’s spiritual temple began to be built when the chief cornerstone was laid and the rest of the foundation stones (the apostles’ revelations of God’s will) began to be set in place on the day of Pentecost and some 3,000 “living stones” were added to the number of the apostles (Acts 2). God’s holy temple is still being built of “living stones” as people obey the gospel, continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and are added to the church.
“Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:4-6).
Blessings and Privileges in God’s Holy Temple
Since the temple is the “habitation of God” (i.e., His dwelling place for intimate fellowship with His people), we as “living stones” in His temple have the blessing and privilege of enjoying direct access to God’s presence. In the Old Testament temple, God’s people had a priesthood who approached God on behalf of the people; but today, we are a holy priesthood.
“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…you are…a royal priesthood…His own special people…” (1 Peter 2:5,9).
As God’s own special people in His temple, the church, we have the great honor and privilege of being able to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to Him. I cannot think of any spiritual minded individual who would not want to faithfully take advantage of the blessed opportunity to offer sacrifices that are well-pleasing to God. Our desire to serve God in His holy temple, the church, should be even greater than that expressed by the Psalmist:
“How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:1-2,10).
Our Responsibilities as Priests in God’s Holy Temple
As a “holy” and “royal priesthood” we are to come before God’s presence, and our lives should be lived, as though we were holy priests and worthy of the royalty we serve. “Holy” means to be separated from the world and set apart to serve God. While we serve God in His holy temple, we are to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Christians today do not bring animal sacrifices to God as the Old Testament worshipers did; but we do have our own sacrifices to present to God. We are to offer: our lives to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2); praise to God and the good works we do for others (Hebrews 13:15-16); support shared with preachers in God’s service (Philippians 4:14-18).
As priests in God’s holy temple, the church, we are to “proclaim the praises (“show forth the excellencies”–ASV)” of God (1 Peter 2:9). We are to make known or advertise, by our lives and our words, the moral excellence, wonderful works and characteristics of the God we serve to a world lost in the darkness of sin and error.
As “living stones” in God’s holy temple, let us strive to fulfill our responsibility to become “precious stones” (1 Corinthans 3:12-15), being able to withstand, and be refined by, the various trials that test and afflict the church. Let us, individually and collectively, strive to keep the church, God’s holy temple, set apart from the rest of the religious world so we can maintain our fellowship with God:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness. And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).