The great privilege and responsibility of the church – 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

Before I begin, I’d like to just encourage and remind us all that it’s not just our Sunday morning routine that landed us here this morning.

I really believe that God wants to meet with us and minister to us individually and corporately through our time today. There is a God ordained purpose attached to our gathering this morning, and that’s why I want all of us to prayerfully seek God and ask Him to reveal what He wants to speak to us today.

And so with that we turn to our text this morning. As a Church we’re going through a book series from 1st Corinthians titled The Church: God’s Dwelling Place for the last few months.

And after three months, we arrive at the first direct mention of our theme or title in today’s passage. Unexpectedly it comes in the form of an intense warning and not a happy go lucky message.

Most of us who watched the first ever Spiderman movie will remember this iconic line where uncle Ben tells his nephew Peter Parker these words that will change his life forever. “With great power comes great responsibility”. Such a powerful moment in the movie, but when you think about it – it’s a very true statement that applies to many other applications of life.

We all would unanimously agree that the greater the level of privilege, the greater the level of responsibility. This is true at home, work, in the church, at school, in government…everywhere.

And when we read today’s passage, Paul is writing a similar thing to the Corinthian church. He’s reminding them that by being the church, they are showered with such a great privilege.

But at the same time, there is a great responsibility on them which they shouldn’t forget. It’s almost as though he’s telling the church “With great privilege comes great responsibility”. It’s not a small or trivial matter to be part of God’s Church. It is a big deal and it is also a responsibility – but a joyful responsibility. So how does he remind them about the great privilege and responsibility of the Church:

1. By reminding us of our identity (v16)

[16]  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Just to remind us of the context. In the previous verses, Paul has been using illustrations of babies, plants and buildings to explain the topic of spiritual growth to a church that is struggling with splits, divisions and factions.

The church was caught up in a major fan club war – where the fan clubs of Paul and Apollos and Peter were at loggerheads against each other. Using all these illustrations he was trying to tell the Corinthian church that they weren’t as mature or as healthy as they assumed they were.

Couple of weeks back in the passage that we read, Paul carried forward that analogy on buildings by challenging the church to think about what “materials” were they using to build the church? Were they using cheap material or strong, expensive material? Now we know he’s not talking about physical material for a physical structure. He’s asking them to think about the spiritual material they are using to build the church.

Today’s passage is connected to that one because in today’s passage Paul reveals that the building structure they are cooperating in building is God’s Temple!!

[16]  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Because I saw the mention of God’s Temple in here, I decided to check out what it was like to build the Temple in biblical times because that will help us understand the weight of this verse.

So I turned to 1 Kings 6 and I was surprised to see that most of the chapter is dedicated to detailing construction details like measurements and materials used for building. My first response to that was to overlook those verses and get to the main part.

But then I understood that all these construction details were mentioned to let us know how much love, reverence and value was attached to building God’s Temple. It wasn’t an ordinary building structure, it was going to be the dwelling place for God among His people.

But here’s the thing – God would dwell among His people with restricted access. The Temple would have a restricted area called Holy of Holies separated by a huge curtain where the High Priest could enter only once a year on the Day of Atonement.

2000 years ago, on that first Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross, that separating curtain tore apart. Why was that? To show that because the entire punishment was borne by Jesus, there was no longer any barrier between us and God. We will have unlimited, direct access to God.

How was that going to happen? When the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us when we believe in the Gospel. The moment we believe in the Gospel, God Spirit comes and dwells within us affirming and declaring that we are indeed God’s Temple!

Now in the light of this great privilege and blessing, the application question is what kind of “material” are you and I going to use for God’s Temple? Cheap spiritual material or costly, strong material? What kind of material are we going to use which displays our love, reverence and value for God’s Temple and dwelling place?

[16]  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

Paul is using this question to remind the church of their identity – who they are in Jesus Christ. They are indeed God’s Temple!

But not only does He remind us of our identity, but He

2. By reminding us of our purpose (v17)

1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV‬

[17] If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

When we see this verse, I’m sure this unsettles us. Because it seems like a stern, direct warning to anyone who intends to destroy the church.

And here’s the thing – this warning is issued not to people outside the church, but for those within the church. And so it makes us wonder – why is Paul issuing such an extreme warning?

The answer is given in the same verse. It says “For God’s Temple is Holy”. That word “Holy” actually is translated as “dedicated and set apart to be used by God”. The Temple of God is dedicated and set apart for God’s use and purpose only. It’s not a multi-purpose facility. It’s not a clubhouse. It’s not a banquet hall. All these places can be used for different purposes but not the Temple in the OT.

Now let’s translate that to the NT where God dwells in His church – among His own people (not a building).

This verse basically tells us that we need to keep ourselves Holy because all those whom Jesus redeemed and ransomed through His blood, are now dedicated and set apart to be used by God. We are not a multi-purpose facility. We are dedicated and set apart to be used by God. And those places which God has set apart for Himself, He takes that very seriously.

That is precisely why Jesus got so angry when He saw the Temple of God being converted into a makeshift market. When Jesus saw buying and selling happening in the Temple, the Bible says that He overturned the tables and the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.

And he said “My house shall be called a house of prayer but you make it a den of robbers”. Jesus couldn’t stand the fact that the place which was dedicated and set apart for God was being used for some other purpose. It’s not that Jesus was against people doing business, but what they did in the Temple displayed their lack of love, reverence and value for God and He couldn’t take that.

Now if we try and apply that to ourselves – if we had to assess our lives right now, what would we describe it as? Dedicated and set apart to be used by God or a multi-purpose facility? What are those specific areas in our lives publicly or privately where we are not using it to be used by God? Let’s remember that when we don’t use our lives for God, it actually demonstrates our lack of love, reverence and value for God. And that’s the core issue. And that’s why such a stern warning here.

But I hope you can see the grace in a stern warning as well. Sometimes grace is expressed through encouragement, but other times grace is also expressed through a serious warning. Wouldn’t you and I give a warning to a loved one when we see them walking into danger? Yes, all to be done lovingly but let’s also embrace the fact that grace comes through warnings too! The goal is not to threaten the church but to bring them to repentance which is the next point.

Not only are we reminded of our identity and our purpose, we are also

3. Reminding us of our calling to immediately respond to sin (v18-23)

1 Corinthians 3:18-23 ESV‬
[18] Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. [19] For the wisdom of this world is folly 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 in men. 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 are yours, [23] and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Our calling is to immediately respond to our sin!

And the first reason to immediately respond to their sin is because they are being deceived.

V18 starts by saying “Let no one deceive himself”. The Corinthian church were being deceived. By whom? Their own sin. That’s one of the main problems with sin. It deceives us into thinking that’s simply not true. It makes us believe that there’s nothing wrong with us. There’s nothing wrong with our faith. Everything is alright.

It deceives us into thinking that others have a bigger sin problem than us – they are the ones who need to repent, not me. And so Paul says “Don’t deceive yourself. Don’t assume that everything is fine with your faith. Don’t assume that others have a bigger sin problem than you. Don’t assume that you are already spiritually mature and healthy. Do a reality check! ”.

And the second reason they need to respond immediately is because they are spiritually prideful.

V18 says “if anyone thinks he is wise in this age…” Thinking more highly of yourself than you ought to. We’ve arrived, we’ve attained spiritual maturity, we’re more superior compared to others in the faith.

The third reason they need to respond immediately is because they are actually foolish in the eyes of God.

V19-20: For the wisdom of this world is folly with God

Paul is telling them that they think they are wise but in reality they are foolish. They think they have the wisdom of God, but instead they are operating out of the wisdom of the world.

Just to clarify he’s not referring to knowledge on science, business or technology. He’s not saying that it’s wrong to study or acquire knowledge in these fields.

What he’s referring to as wisdom of the world are thoughts, words and actions which are rooted in selfishness and pride. V19 refers to thoughts, words and actions which operate out of cunningness and craftiness. V20 refers to thoughts, words and actions which make us think about ourselves more superior and greater than we need to.

In fact the book of James clarifies what is meant by wisdom of God and wisdom of the world.

James 3:13-17 ESV‬
[13] Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. [14] But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. [15] This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. [16] For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. [17] But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Which means that I might be a super smart, intelligent and competent person but if my thoughts, words and actions are rooted in selfishness and pride, then I’m actually operating out of the wisdom of the world and foolish in the sight of God. Which is why sometimes it becomes unbearable to listen to someone who keeps praising himself. Irrespective of how accomplished and smart the person might be, we understand how foolish and immature that person is if all he can see is himself.

So there’s deception, spiritual pride and foolishness – and this is all seen among believers – we are not talking about unbelievers. So what’s the call to action? What is the immediate, urgent response to sin?

V18. “let him become a fool to become wise”. What does that mean? It means to humble himself before God. It means we have to get off our high horse and approach God with humility admitting that there are quite a few areas in our lives which are still not being dedicated and set apart to be used by God. They are still being used for sinful purposes.

We need to humble ourselves and repent. But here this out: God is not calling us to humility and repentance by threatening us with severe consequences. Sometimes we imagine God to tackle this like a HR issue – “You better mend your ways or you’ll be terminated from a relationship with me”. That’s not how God is approaching us here. God is calling us to humility and repentance by assuring us of our permanent relationship with Christ. Look with me at v23

and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s

We belong to Christ. We have a permanent, covenant relationship with Him and nothing in the world will change that. So there’s this safety in our relationship for us to humble ourselves and repent. That’s one of the most beautiful and unique truths of the Christian faith – that our relationship with Jesus Christ is secure on account of His death and resurrection. And that’s the best soil for us to humble ourselves and repent. Wouldn’t you want to humble yourself and repent in front of a Savior who is not warning you to put you on notice but warning you so that you repent?

Church, God’s Word today is telling us that we have a great privilege and a great responsibility. With great privilege, comes great responsibility. It’s not a trivial or light matter to be God’s Temple and so we need to be frequently and daily reminded of

  • our identity as God’s Temple
  • our purpose to be dedicated and set apart for God’s use only
  • our calling to immediately respond to our sin by humility repentance not because God has put us on PIP but because He’s already given us a permanent secure relationship and He wants us change our ways and become more and more like Jesus.

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