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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
(2 Timothy 2:15)
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
When Paul spoke of using gold, silver, and precious stones, as Christ’s servants and each Believer (1 Corinthians 4:1, 6:19-29) builds on the one true Foundation, he was recalling the costly and imperishable building materials Solomon utilized in constructing the LORD God's holy sanctuary (1 Chronicles 22:14-16, 29:2).
I mentioned last week that precious stones aren’t jewels, but fine granite and marble. Paul means to say mixing human wisdom with the wisdom of God in the work of building His church is like alternating layers of straw and fine marble in the building process. Straw has its purposes; a “barn” setting is one, but it is a perishable building material and unfit for the Foundation which Paul had laid. I liken this to the wisdom of men, more than a few fleshly attractions, and secular hobbies that have found their place in people’s lives, but have no place in the building of God’s Church.
The fire itself will test the quality of each man’s (individual’s) work or workmanship. When Jesus Christ examines our workmanship at the Bema Seat Judgment, the intentions and motives encouraging each activity will be made known to Him. If our efforts are the equivalent of wood, hay, and straw the fire will destroy them leaving nothing behind.
(2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:23)
I pray people will sit-up and take notice of this Truth. For many think they are serving God, when actually they are doing it in an unworthy manner or with unworthy “materials.” As a result, they will discover at the Bema Seat Judgment that they have, in reality, done nothing for the Lord. They will be saved, but they will suffer loss; they will receive no crown to give to Jesus Christ for His glory as in Revelation 4:10-11.
This week our Apostle Paul “builds” on his analogy of God’s Church being likened to a building. He moves from the grand structure in general to a particular building which is not only splendid in its appearance but “holy,” i.e. set apart, with this statement:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God…
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 3:16.
1 Corinthians 3
16: Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (Romans 8:9)
Do you not know – This phrase is the equivalent of our, “You’re kidding me!” It was also a common literary device back then to pose a rhetorical question. Paul uses this expression ten times in his first letter to the Corinthians. He consistently uses it before he begins to explain something that his listeners should already know but “don’t.” His usage of it here refers to something Paul has personally explained to these Corinthians earlier (Acts 18). So what he is about to say “again” ought to have been a matter of common knowledge, but here’s the thing, they had either forgotten the subject matter or had rejected it outright.
Paul’s question, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you” has this logic behind it. The Corinthians imagined themselves to be extremely “spiritual” and “wise” beyond their years, yet Paul had to ask them this question, (I’m paraphrasing here), “Can it be that you who boast in spirituality and wisdom do not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
This rhetorical question from Paul was a stinging rebuke to the Corinthian’s pride, the proverbial “word- slap upside of the head,” if you will, to get their attention. This truth lay at the heart of his question: the Corinthians had failed to recognize who they were in Christ Jesus. They should have known this elementary teaching, but they did not.
In verse 16 Paul isn’t talking about the individual Believer being a temple of God, instead he’s talking about the local church in Corinth being God’s temple. I say this because the context of Paul’s writings concerns the local church. Looking back, the previous verses we studied concerned the Judgment Seat of Christ, a.k.a the Bema Seat (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Paul explained how God holds each Believer responsible for the quality of their workmanship and the materials they use to build His church. Those who build on the true Foundation with imperishable materials will receive a reward, but those who build carelessly with perishable materials will suffer loss. Their work will be burned up at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The loss referred to here is not the loss of their salvation for verse 3:15 promises that the person themselves will be saved, yet so as through the fire.
Not only does the context support the view that Paul is speaking of the local church, the grammar does as well. In the Greek language the word you in verse 16 is plural. In our English language the word “you” is ambiguous; a person cannot always tell whether it’s singular or plural. If you live in the southern United States that ambiguity has been removed. When they mean more than one person they say, “ya’ll.” If Paul were a southerner the verse would read like this, “Do ya’ll not know that ya’ll are a temple (singular) of God and the Spirit of God dwells in ya’ll?” Clearly, this verse concerns the local church and not the individual Believer. Paul does speak of the individual Believer being a temple of God at 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
Paul said the Corinthian church (your local church is included in this analogy) is a temple of God. There are two primary words for temple in the Greek New Testament. The word that signifies the entire temple, including the courtyard, which even the Gentiles could enter, was Hieron. But the other Greek word, Naos (pronounced: nah-os’) as used in 3:16-17 denotes just the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, which could not be entered by Gentiles or sinful Israelites, or anyone else for that matter. The only person permitted to enter the Holy of Holies was the Jewish High Priest, and he only did this once a year on the Day of Atonement.
What makes the church a temple? The Spirit of God dwells in you! Likening this to the ancient Jewish Temple that contained the Holy of Holies, where deity dwelt, when you become a Believer you also become the sanctuary where God dwells.
Let’s look at verse 17.
1 Corinthians 3
17: If any man (or woman) destroys (corrupts) the temple of God, God will destroy him (or her), for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
One of the things I learn from this verse right off the bat is - God values His church. How much does He value it? Scripture gives us these words from Jesus to guide our thinking on the subject: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
In this passage Jesus refers to His impending death. Though He would be crucified and buried, He would rise from the dead on the 3rd day and commence to build His church. Jesus is emphasizing the fact that the powers of death could not hold Him (Acts 2:24). Not only would the church be established, in spite of Hades or hell, the church, a living organism, would thrive in spite of the evil forces in the world.
The church matters a great deal to God, so it matters to God how we care for His temple. Paul’s statement in v17 is a genuine possibility, which is why he said it. He understands people are busy destroying God’s temple in Corinth.
This begs the question, “Who is destroying the temple?” Paul doesn’t name anyone in particular, but if we consider everything we’ve studied up until now I have no problem teaching that the people he’s speaking of were Believers. Narrowing this down further, there’s no doubt in my mind they were the “leaders” of the factions within the church. But then you also have to include the church members who aligned themselves with these leaders. They accepted the hypocritical and worldly teachings of these men and were promoting them, while casting aside the teachings of the Apostle Paul.
The word destroy in the Greek language is Phtheiro (pronounced: fthi’-ro) and has several uses in the N.T. It can mean to spoil or corrupt morally or physically. It can also mean to destroy spiritually and eternally. The immediate context determines its meaning. Here it is referring to saved but spiritually immature Believers who are causing a factious spirit to develop in the church at Corinth, i.e. to lead away a Christian church from that state of knowledge and holiness in which it ought to abide.
What does Paul mean by the words? God will destroy him (or her) - Paul’s saying the punishment fits the crime. “Destroy My church and you will answer to Me!” It doesn’t mean that God is going to “wipe out” a church that’s messing up. A church is merely a spiritual hospital for sinners. There’s no evidence in Scripture of a church being wiped off the map by God because of: adultery, back-biting, disunity, gossiping, and immorality. Paul never uses this word in reference to eradication, eternal punishment, or extermination. It does, however, refer to “judgment” upon the individual Believer.
The list below is meant to suggest some of the ways God punishes individuals who choose to defile His church:
Excommunication: in the Old Testament, one of the penalties for defiling God’s dwelling, whether that was the traveling Tabernacle or the Jewish Temple, was separation from the nation (Numbers 19:20). We learn a couple things from this:
#1: When God speaks He expects His creation to listen and obey.
#2: God takes the holiness of His dwelling seriously. The Israelite who failed to recognize this important Truth suffered the consequences of excommunication or worse. If a Believer in the Church Age fails to take God at His Word, considering the holiness of His dwelling, they too will be “excluded” from the body of Believers: It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from you midst (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
Sickness: In the Old Testament we have the account of Uzziah, who gave in to pride after achieving various military successes and then went right into the temple (Naos), the Holy of Holies, and was punished by God with leprosy. In the New Testament, the Corinthian Believers were guilty of abusing the Lord’s Supper in various ways, so the Lord disciplined them with weakness, sickness, and eventually death: For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (have died). (1 Corinthians 11:23-30)
Eternal Loss: There’s no O.T. application for this but from 1 Corinthians 3:15 we learn: If any man’s (or woman’s) work is burned up, he (or she) will suffer loss. We know the builder will not lose his or her salvation, but they will lose reward. Thus, in addition to physical ruin, sickness, and death, God’s destruction may also include the complete obliteration of the Corinthian destroyer’s life work at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ.
I pray you can see this is serious business. I saw a bumper sticker not too long ago that read, “If you value your life as much as I value this truck, DON’T TOUCH IT!” That comment mirrors God’s mindset in regard to His church, “You harm My temple, and you’ll have to deal with Me!”
It would behoove every Believer in the Body of Christ to reconsider and to reflect on why they are always sick or in poor health. It just may be that the consequences of their actions or inactions within God’s church have caught up with them. One should never underestimate the value God places on relationships and I’m not just speaking of God’s temple; I’m referring to the family unit as well because we’re dealing with the same thing – God’s Church. Paul gives us the reason why next.
For the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are – just as the LORD God indicated His presence in the Jewish Temple by filling it with the cloud of His glory (1 Kings 8:10-11), in like manner He indwells His people today by filling them with the Holy Spirit. True Believers are not ordinary people. They are loved before time began (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11). They are holy, set apart to God in a special way and through a special relationship – through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Let’s move on to verses 18-21.
Paul goes right to the logical answer to all this in verse 18. What does God’s expect from us since this is the danger under which we all live?
1 Corinthians 3
18: Let no man (or woman) deceive himself (or herself). If any man (or woman) among you thinks that he (or she) is wise in this age, he (or she) must become foolish, so that he (or she) may become wise. (1 Cor 8:2)
Read verse 18 carefully. It doesn’t say, “Let no man deceive you…” It says, “Let no man (or woman) deceive himself (or herself). Here’s the thing, we all think we’re doing things for God, serving Him by serving others, when down deep, hidden to everyone around us, there’s an ambition, a desire for recognition, for fame, and for glory. Paul is saying, “Stop kidding yourself because you’re not fooling God.”
Consider these words from Jesus, when you’re performing acts of charity: “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:2-3)
If you’re working so that others around you will notice you and your work then don’t think for a moment that you will be rewarded twice. God knows your heart. If your service to the Lord is not coming from that sense of dependence on the wisdom and the power of the Spirit of God, then in reality you’re serving yourself and it will all come to nothing at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
If any man (or woman) among you thinks that he (or she) is wise in this age, - here Paul is referring to the Corinthians who were an arrogant and conceited faction. They took great pride in their wisdom; a fact that becomes increasing clear later on at 1 Corinthians 4:6-10. To stay this course, thinking and their behaving as they were, they are proving themselves to be unwise in God’s eyes.
Paul calls upon these Corinthians to repent, “to fess up,” he (or she) must become foolish. Paul instructs them to forsake worldly wisdom and embrace foolishness. Jesus Christ used a similar argument at Matthew 16:24-26: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Paul is not telling these Corinthians that every foolish person is wise. Neither is he calling upon them to forsake every kind of wisdom just a certain kind of wisdom, i.e. the wisdom of this age. True wisdom is of God is the implication here. The wisdom of the world will not make you wise in God’s eyes. In other words, the wisdom Paul speaks of is God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages. This knowledge is found only in God’s Gospel and taught to Believers by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).
Let’s go to verses 19-20.
1 Corinthians 3
19: For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”;
20: and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.”
Paul quotes from two Old Testament passages to demonstrate that worldly wisdom is folly and that God’s “folly” (in the eyes of the world) is true wisdom. The first quote (v19) is taken from the book of Job (Job 5:13). These are the words of Job’s friend Eliphaz. Paul has taken a quote from a man who is later rebuked by the LORD God for being wrong (Job 42:7). But why did Paul choose this passage from Job? Eliphaz, like his two friends, wasn’t wrong in what they had said about God; he was wrong in “his thinking;” in how he applied this truth to Job. Eliphaz accused Job of being crafty, explaining that Job’s sufferings were divine judgment as a result of sin. This was hardly the case (Job 1:1, 8).
The second quote (v20) comes from the book of Psalms (Psalm 94:11). It’s interesting that this passage actually reads: The LORD knows the thoughts of man, That they are a mere breath. Paul changes this passage at two points: he exchanged the word wise for the word man. In the context of the Psalm, it’s clear that unbelieving man thinks himself wise, when in fact he is really foolish (see verses 2, 4, and 8). So, the thoughts of unsaved man are of one who thinks himself wise. The second variation occurs where Paul inserts the word useless, where the Bible translators use the expression mere breath. By this Paul means to say the thoughts of arrogant (wise) men are futile, useless, because they are temporary rather than eternal. No matter how “deep” man’s thoughts are they are restricted to this present evil age, while God’s thoughts and plans are eternal.
Paul has shown these Corinthians why pursing worldly wisdom is foolish. It’s temporal. Man’s thought processes are useless so far as eternity is concerned; they are also destructive. They will not only lead us astray, they will “trip” us up, corrupting us. Forsaking worldly wisdom and pursuing the wisdom of God, which comes through His Word and the Spirit of God is the one path all Believers should be on (Psalm 119:105)
(To be continued)
[Published Weekly on Friday]
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