Paul, in this passage, continues to address the false view of church and ministry held by some members of the Corinthian church, 3:5-17. In 3:5-9 he makes the point that church leaders are merely servants of Christ, now in v10-15, he states that believers must strive to build the church with care, and then in v16-17 warns those who would harm God's "temple", namely, the worshiping congregation in Corinth.
v10. The church of God is like a building. As the founding apostle of the church in Corinth, Paul laid a gospel foundation. Those Christian ministers who have followed Paul need to take care how they build on his foundation.
v11. The one and only foundation for the church of God, the one that Paul laid down, is the gospel - Christ, his death and resurrection on behalf of broken humanity.
v12-14. Building with the gospel is like building with "gold, silver and precious stones". In the last day the building will stand firm, tested by the fire of divine judgment. There will be found standing in that terrible day a family of believers who were gathered and nurtured through a faithful ministry of God's Word. What greater reward can there be for Christ's ministers than to see the fruit of their labor survive into eternity?
v15. On the other hand, a minister can build a congregation out of "wood, hay or straw", out of social activism, legalism, ritualism, moralism, ...... In the day of judgment the fruit of that ministry will be consumed - become a nothing. In eternity that minister will be like Lot just getting out of Sodom in time, smelling of smoke!
v16. Paul goes on to remind the ministry team in Corinth that they have placed themselves in a position of extreme danger - terrible ruin, eternal loss. The temple of God is holy, it is his dwelling place, and the congregation at Corinth is that temple.
v17. If someone promotes heresy, party spirit, dissensions and the like, if they divide the unity of the Christian fellowship, then they will face the terror of God. The consequences are fearful, so take care.
Our passage for study exposes the nature of church. The Corinthians had brought dissension into their little group and in so doing were destroying something very precious. How often do we show little regard for the fellowship of believers in our willy-nilly attendance, our little commitment, our lack of involvement, our cutting words .....? How often do our actions hurt our Christian fellowship? How easy it is to struggle out of bed on a Sunday morning and arrive at church in a less than an enthusiastic frame of mind. To only just join in, mumble the prayers, strain through the hymns. How easy it is to treat the meeting of the congregation in a drowsy manner. How easy it is to harbor grudges, to emphasize personalities, to uplift one and down another. We sometimes treat church as though it is a relatively unimportant activity.
The Christian fellowship is the dwelling place of God's Spirit; it is the living fulfillment of the ancient Jerusalem temple - God's house, the visible display of his glory, a holy, set apart entity. To damage the Christian fellowship, to treat it lightly, is a most dangerous activity. Our passage for study tells us the following about the church:
i] We are God's building designed on his plans, v9-10. The church is God's creation; he made it and maintains it. He loves the church and cherishes it. We can easily understand what this means for we ourselves have our projects that we love and cherish, something we have created and care for. So we can understand what it means to be God's project.
ii] The foundation is Christ, v11. Paul layed a foundation upon which the church at Corinth could grow. That foundation was Christ, or more particularly, the pure gospel of God's grace in Christ. The church can only grow spiritually through a faithful gospel ministry, a ministry where the knowledge of Christ is made known. So, those who minister to the church must do so as ministers of the gospel.
iii] We are God's temple, that is, God's Spirit dwells within the gathered people of God, v16. The Old Testament depicts God's presence with his people Israel as a shining glory residing in the temple at Jerusalem. In the New Testament we find that God now dwells in a temple not made with hands, namely, the gathered people of God. As Jesus promised, "when two or three are gathered in my Name there am I in their midst." So, when we meet to worship God, the Spirit of Jesus is present with us. Of course, that meeting is but an image of the heavenly gathering of God's people which is even now gathered before him. At this moment in time we are gathered in God's heavenly assembly.
iv] We are sacred, v17. The church is the holy, set-apart, people of God. We are the new humanity, the new Adam, a people in the image of God. We are even superior to the angels. God's view of the church is high, not low.
Let the wonder of God's house fill you with awe.
1. Discuss the idea of reward mentioned by Paul in v12-15. What is the reward, what is the curse?
2. In v16-17 Paul paints a very powerful picture of the church. What is the point of the temple imagery? How can we heighten our appreciation of its special nature in our Sunday service?