Apostles and Wisdom: Part 10 of 13 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor)
by John Lowe
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God,
The apostle returns to what he declared in 1 Corinthians 3:9: Ye are God's building. In the same way that the whole congregation of Israel were formerly considered the temple and habitation of God, because God dwelt among them, here the whole Church of Corinth is called the temple of God, because all genuine believers have the Spirit of God dwelling in them; and Christ has promised to be always in the midst even of two or three who are gathered together in his name. In essence, he is saying to the Corinthians “I am not telling you anything you do not already know when I call you "God's building"; you ought to remember that you are the noblest kind of building, "the temple of God." This means that the place where God dwells on the earth is within the community of Christians, or within the church. The idea is derived from the manner of speaking among the Jews, where they are said often in the Old Testament to be the temple and the habitation of God. And the allusion is probably to the fact that God dwelt with the Jews in a visible display of His glory—the Shechinah—in the temple. Here Paul makes a comparison between how God dwells among the Jews, where He had a temple for His dwelling place and how He dwells among Christians. They are his temple, the place of his abode. His residence is with them; and he is in their midst. This is a figure of speech the apostle Paul used several times. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19; KJV); “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor 6:16; KJV); “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:20-22; KJV). A temple was an edifice erected to the service of God. The temple at Jerusalem was not only magnificent, but was regarded as most sacred.
All Christians form together one vast temple. The expression is not, "ye are temples," but "ye are the temple" collectively, and "lively stones" individually: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5; KJV). You are the temple of God: Paul will later (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) speak of individual Christians being temples. Here his emphasis is on the church as a whole (though it has application to individuals). When Paul calls the church a temple, don't think he is using a picture. The physical temple was the picture; God's dwelling in us is the reality.
Temples were also regarded as sacred by the heathen. They were supposed to be inhabited by the divinity to whom they were dedicated. They were regarded as blessed. Those who took refuge there were safe. It was a crime of the highest degree to violate a temple, or to tear a fugitive from the alter, who had sought protection there. So the apostle says about the same thing regarding the Christian community. They were considered His temple—God dwelt among them—and they should regard themselves as holy, and as consecrated to his service. And so it is regarded as a type of sacrilege to violate the temple, and to devote it to other uses.
and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you;
God's indwelling, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, are one and the same; therefore the Holy Spirit is God. No literal "temple" is recognized by the New Testament in conjunction with the Christian Church. The only temple mentioned is the spiritual temple, the whole body of believing worshippers in which the Holy Spirit dwells: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24; KJV). “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19; KJV). The synagogue, not the temple, was the model of the Christian house of worship. The temple was the house of sacrifice, rather than of prayer. Prayers in the temple were silent and individual—“And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense” (Luke 1:10; KJV); “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:10-13; KJV)—not joint and public, and there was no reading of Scripture, like there was in the synagogue. The temple, as the name means (from a Greek root "to dwell"), was the earthly dwelling-place of God. The synagogue (the name means an assembly) was the place where men assembled. Today God has His earthly temple, not one built with wood and stone, but the congregation of believers, the "living stones" on the "spiritual house." Believers are all spiritual priests in it. Jesus Christ, our High Priest has the only literal priesthood: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5; KJV).
God is present in all places, and because He is God, He can be more present at one place than at another. The only sense in which he can be noticeably present in any place is by his influence, or activity. And the idea is one which denotes activity, influence, favor, particular regard; and he can be present with his church only in that sense. The expression and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you; must mean:
1. That the church is the base of his operations, the field or abode on which he acts on earth.
2. That his influences are there, producing the appropriate effects of his activities, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:22-24; KJV).
3. That he provides his people with consolations there; he sustains and guides his people.
4. That they are regarded as dedicated or consecrated to him.
5. That they are especially dear to him—that he loves them, and makes his abode within them.
6. That in particular members, he is the spirit of regeneration, sanctification, faith, and adoption, and he becomes the earnest and pledge of their future glory.
7. That he prepares their ministers and qualifies them for their work, and makes them successful at it.
8. That he serves the whole church by blessing the word and its ordinances, thereby contributing to their growth, comfort, and organizations.
These influences and activities of the Holy Spirit furnishes a substantial proof of the deity and distinct personality of the Spirit, since they are mentioned as an evidence of the saints being the temple of God, which would not be a proof, if the Spirit who indwells them was not God. Now, since a temple is sacred to deity, and if he dwells in us as in a temple, he must dwell there as God; and since he is mentioned as distinct from God, whose Spirit he is, and dwelling within is a personal action ascribed to him alone, he must be a distinct divine person.
In the next verse the apostle declares, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, the church, God will destroy them. God's temple—His church—is holy, and it matters to God how we treat His holy temple.