Being Heavenly minded

There is an old expression that states, “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good.” Clever and catchy cliché, isn’t it? The only problem is that these words are unbiblical. The Bible says, “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). Contrary to popular opinion, being heavenly minded always inspires us to be more earthly good. Thus, our goal as Christians must be to set our minds on things above and faithfully serve the Lord.

Paul is going to teach us that God’s approval is better than man’s applause. In 1 Cor 3:18-4:5, he will instruct us how to regard ourselves and others. He will do so by sharing two prohibitions: (1) Do not adopt the world’s wisdom and (2) do not judge God’s servants.

  1. Do not adopt the world’s wisdom(3:18-23). This section refers back to 1:18-2:16 where Paul contrasts the wisdom of the world with the foolishness of God. In the following six verses Paul carefully contrasts the wisdom of this world (3:18-20) with the wisdom of God (3:21-23). He is going to answer the question: How can we be truly wise? The answer he gives is simple—by trusting in the foolishness of God’s wisdom. In 3:18, Paul writes, “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.” For the first time in his book, Paul calls upon his readers to do something, to change something. The key word is the word “let” (3:18). Paul will use this command two more times in this section (3:21; 4:1).

In 3:18 Paul’s readers are commanded to stop deceiving themselves with worldly wisdom. Apparently, Paul believed that it was possible for Christians to be deceived because he warns each person against falling victim to self-deception. This means no one can stand before God and claim to have been inadvertently swept along in the fast-flowing current of false wisdom. Rather, one chooses to follow either “the wisdom of this world” or the wisdom of God. And each person must accept the consequences of the choice made. Additionally, Paul informs us that the danger is “among you” and does not come from outsiders who might deceive them. This section (3:18-23), like our previous section (3:16-17), demonstrates the tendency of Christians to be deceived and to be deceivers. Therefore, Paul urges his readers to turn away from attitudes the world regards as wise and to adopt God’s viewpoint so they would be truly wise. He argues that in order to become wise the Corinthians must give up their own “wisdom.” The bottom line: It is better to be God’s fool than man’s genius.

So how does a Christian become wise? By having theology and practice centered on the cross of Jesus Christ! After all, this is the fountain of wisdom. If we are consumed with the cross of Christ, we will be sacrificial servants who will die to our spouse, children, employer, and fellow believers. We will fall in love with Christ and be out of step with the world.

A church becomes wise in the same way an individual can become wise—by depending upon God’s wisdom. The world depends on promotion, prestige, and the influence of money and important people. The church depends on prayer, the power of the Spirit, humility, sacrifice, and service. The church that imitates the world may seem to succeed in time, but it will turn to ashes in eternity. The church in the book of Acts had none of the “secrets of success” that seem to be important today. They owned no property; they had no influence in government; they had no treasury (“Silver and gold have I none,” said Peter); their leaders were ordinary men without special education in the accepted schools; they held no attendance contests; they brought in no celebrities; and yet they turned the world upside down!

Now will you be mocked and scorned for being God’s fool? Yes, you will! Peter Lord once said, “If you are living in a world where everyone limps, a person who walks normally is considered abnormal.” Our world will consider you a lunatic who is out of your mind. Yet, God insists that His worldview is the only one that will satisfy you. He will teach you the true meaning of wisdom as you depend upon Him.

The reason (“for”) that world’s wisdom must be forsaken is given in 3:19-20: “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;’ and again, ‘THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.’” Paul bolsters his argument in 3:19 by citing two Old Testament passages. The first, from Job 5:13, pictures a hunter stalking prey and capturing it. God catches the crafty with their own craftiness. The second quote Paul employs comes from Ps 94:11. It is interesting that the Psalm actually reads: “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath.” Paul’s citation is significant in that it varies slightly at two points. First, Paul exchanges the word “wise” for the word “man.” In the context of the Psalm, it becomes clear that the unbelieving man thinks himself wise when he is really foolish (see 94:2, 4, 8). The psalmist thunders against the intellectually elite and politically powerful. He calls these people, who pride themselves on their intellectual prowess, “stupid” and “senseless.” Second, Paul uses the rendering “useless,” while the translators of the Psalm use the expression “mere breath.” The point being: The wisdom of the world won’t endure the test of time. The thoughts of arrogant (wise) men are futile, or useless, because they are temporal rather than eternal. Man’s thoughts are restricted to “this age” and God’s thoughts are eternal. Man’s thoughts, even if true in this age, are not true in the next. They pass away. Merely temporal truths are thus “useless” truths, so far as eternity is concerned.

How can we recognize the self-deceived, self-important wisdom of this age where it has crept into our church? We see it in people who feel the need to express their opinion on virtually everything, and in those who aren’t happy unless they stand in opposition to the majority. Intellectual pride isn’t content to listen gratefully and appreciatively. It always needs to criticize. Its very nature requires it to win on any issue. It can’t stand opposition or contradiction. It responds to disagreement with condescension. Worldly wisdom also makes rash decisions without consulting God. The majority of us do not enthrone God, we enthrone common sense. We make our decisions and then ask the real God to bless our god’s decisions. We must be careful that we are not guilty of these patterns, and when we are that we confess our reliance upon worldly wisdom.

[In the first three verses (3:18-20) Paul has critiqued the wisdom of this world. Now in 3:21-23, he affirms the wisdom of God.]

In 3:21-23, Paul brings out his second command with the word “let.” “So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” “So then” marks the apostle’s conclusion to this paragraph. In light of all that he has said, Paul concludes this section by forbidding boasting in men. One of the overarching problems in Corinth was that the church was caught up in personalities. So Paul doesn’t want the church to reject God’s good gifts by not appreciating all the people God had sent to help them. All of God’s servants were God’s gifts to them. Nevertheless, we must recognize that as wonderful as many servants are, they are mere men and women whom ultimately belong to God.

In 3:22-23, Paul rattles off a list of things that can enslave us and hold us in bondage: people, the world, life and death, and the present and future. Yet, Paul states twice that “all things belong to you” (3:21-22). As Christians we have all been given all of these things for our benefit. Though all things belong to us, they are not centered on us, for all things actually and finally belong to God. Thus, in Him we possess all things, but it is only in Him that we do. This leads to the natural question: Why would we want to be limited to the wisdom of men when we have at our disposal the wisdom and resources of God Himself? God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness. It is all at our disposal, but we must seek to reject the world’s wisdom and appropriate God’s wisdom.

Paul says that all things belong to us because we belong to Christ! We don’t have to miss out on anything. We don’t need the world’s wisdom…we have everything we need in God’s wisdom. And God’s approval is better than man’s applause.

[Paul has told us that we must not adopt the world’s wisdom. But a question still lingers: How should we regard God’s servants?]

  1. Do not judge God’s servants(4:1-5). In this section, Paul challenges us to hold off on judging one another. Instead, we ought to let Jesus Christ judge His servants. Paul begins 4:1 with his third command, using the word “let:” “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The Corinthians are to regard one another as “servants” and “stewards.” These two terms are very important, so we will look at them one at a time. First, this is not the common word for “servant” (huperetes) that is usually used in the New Testament. As a matter of fact, this is the only place in Paul’s writings where this specific word is used. It’s a word that literally means “under-rower.” It originally referred to the galley slaves who were chained to the rowing benches in the bottom tier of the Roman war ships. By the first century the term had developed from “under-rowers” to “assistants of physicians and courts,” and so came to mean those in secondary service to persons of official position.

The apostle Paul says that he and other teachers are servants who are responsible to their Master, Jesus Christ. That’s what all of us are who are in leadership—subject to Christ and to His revealed word. How do you know if you are a godly servant? Servanthood begins where gratitude and applause ends. Are you willing to serve in thankless jobs? Are you willing to serve with a joyful attitude? Do you serve with excellence? If so, you are following in Paul’s footsteps.

The second significant term is “steward.” A steward is a servant who manages everything for his master, but who himself owns nothing. The word “steward” is very common, and everyone in the church in Corinth would have known what that word meant. In a Greek household the steward was a slave who administered all the affairs of the family. He directed the staff, and he was in charge of all the material resources that the household needed in order to function. In effect, he ran the entire household for his master. It was a position of great responsibility, and he had to be completely trusted by the master of the house. We still use that term today to refer to the men and women who serve us on airplanes—stewards and stewardesses. They have similar areas of responsibility while we’re with them on the flight.

Teaching leaders in the church are not stewards of the church. Paul isn’t saying that we manage the household of faith. The phrase is very clear: We are stewards of the provisions that the household needs to be fed; that is, the mysteries of God. We’ve been entrusted with these important provisions, and we’re to communicate them. The mysteries of God refer to the truths of the Christian faith.

Most people would be especially careful with an expensive piece of equipment that was borrowed from the owner and had to be returned in the same condition. The fact is, this is the way God wants us to treat the resources He has given us. And since it all belongs to Him anyway, we don’t need to hang on tight to our time or money or anything else when God asks us to give part of it to Him. Today, ask yourself whether you’re living like the owner or like a manager.

In 4:2, Paul informs servants and stewards that they are responsible to be faithful to God. Paul writes, “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” The responsibility of the steward is to be faithful to his master. A steward may not please the members of the household; he may not even please some of the other servants; but if he pleases his own master, he is a good steward. So the main issue is not, “Is Paul popular?” or, “Is Apollos a better preacher than Paul?” The main issue is, “Have Paul, Apollos, and Peter been faithful to do the work God assigned to them?” How we manage little things indicates what we would do if we had more. After all, why would God give dynamite to someone who can’t handle a firecracker?

What does faithfulness mean?

Faithfulness means excellence. Faithfulness doesn’t necessarily mean doing more, but doing things better. Doing our best in every situation is one proof of faithfulness. It includes our financial stewardship, family responsibilities, job assignments, and ministry opportunities. God is primarily concerned with how we handle the unnoticed, everyday deeds that don’t make the newspaper headlines on earth. In God’s eyes little things truly are big.

Faithfulness means integrity. Faithfulness means that we are above moral reproach at all times. Remember: God still sees us, even when no one else is watching. A store owner interviewed a young man for a job and he asked, “If I hire you to work in my store, will you be honest and truthful?” The young man answered, “I will be honest and truthful whether you hire me or not.”

Faithfulness means dependability. A lazy worker retired and a dinner was given in his honor, to present him an award. The Toastmaster said, “As a token of our appreciation, we would like to give you this watch to serve as a constant reminder of your faithfulness to our company. It has to be wound frequently, it’s always a little late, and it quits working every day at a quarter till four.” Does that describe you? Faithful people can be relied upon to fulfill their commitments. When a job is delegated to a faithful worker the boss never has to worry if the job will get done.

Faithfulness means perseverance. Vance Havner once said, “Too many people go up like rockets and come down like rocks.” Lots of people start running the race of life with a flash, but few finish well. Others might get sidetracked or drop out of the race, but we must keep running with our eyes fixed on Jesus. Faithfulness means that we persevere to the finish line.

It is important for us to recognize that God is concerned with faithfulness, not fruitfulness. Sometimes we are so preoccupied with counting our spiritual apples and oranges that we forget to spend time watering our roots, by just serving Jesus. Try forgetting about being fruitful for a while. It will happen naturally if you let His living water soak into the depths of your soul.

In 4:3-4, Paul testifies that he is not terribly concerned about the judgments of others or even his own judgment. Rather, he is supremely concerned about what Jesus Christ has to say about him. Paul writes, “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.” It mattered little to Paul how well the Corinthians or anyone else thought he was carrying out his stewardship. His personal evaluations of his own performance were irrelevant too. What did matter to him was God’s estimation of his service. Paul did not give much time and attention to introspection, though he sought to live with a good conscience before God. Rather, he concentrated on doing the job God had put before him to the best of his ability.

The reason that Paul does not judge himself is given in 4:4: As far as Paul knew he was serving God faithfully. However, he realized that his conscience might not be as sensitive as it should be. Only his Master had the insight as well as the authority to judge him. Sometimes we do not really know ourselves. There can be a fine line between a clear conscience and a self-righteous attitude, so we must beware. One would hope that every leader could line himself or herself up with Paul’s perspective here. Sometimes we spend too much time worrying about what others might say about how we are doing. On this side of heaven others will either praise us or criticize us. It is all too easy to be encouraged or devastated over the opinions of others. Yet, we must learn not to take ourselves very seriously. Instead, we must fear God and take Him seriously (2 Cor 5:10-11). It is His evaluation that ultimately matters.

God’s approval is better than man’s applause.

In 4:5, Paul concludes our passage with these instructive words: “Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” Since only one Person has enough insight and is authoritative enough to pass final judgment, it is unwise for us to try to do so. Let there be no “pre-judgment seat judgment!” Of course we must make judgments from time to time, but we should always do so with the knowledge that our understanding is imperfect. God will judge our lives at the judgment seat of Christ.

In light of this sobering reality, we must strive to have godly motives and intentions. Keep in mind, if the devil can’t get us to do wrong, he will tempt us to do right for the wrong reasons. If you are serving the Lord, why are you doing it? Is it out of obligation? Has someone pressured you to do it? Is it because you’ll feel guilty if you don’t? Do you want others to see you serve so they will admire you? All of these motives are wrong. God wants us to serve out of a heart that burns with love for Him.

As we serve Christ faithfully with the purest motives possible, He promises us “praise” at the judgment seat of Christ. This praise will resound forever. It will mean more to you than anything you’ve ever received in this life. 

In 2008, Hartford Insurance ran a new marketing campaign encouraging Baby Boomers to “Prepare to Live” in retirement. These 15 second spots have a red hart stag that serves as a symbol of stability, strength, and wisdom. The message of these commercials is: You can’t depend on social security benefits, defined pension programs, or retiree health benefits to fund your retirement. Furthermore, you are unsure about your ability to pay for rising health care costs in retirement. Through this campaign Hartford Insurance is encouraging Baby Boomers to understand their personal financial picture and goals, and take control of their financial future. By seeking education and facts about their own situation, they can prepare with confidence for what should be one of the most rewarding times in their lives—their retirement.

Likewise, Jesus says, I too want you to prepare to live, not merely in this life but in the next life! Will you recognize the importance of rejecting the world’s wisdom and refusing to judge my servants? If so, you will be prepared to live, for God’s approval is better than man’s applause.


 

Advertisements

Valuing the temple

In 1889 a most unusual structure was built. When it was first built for an international exhibition the citizens of the city called the structure “monstrous.” They demanded it be torn down as soon as the exhibition was over. Yet, from the moment its architect first conceived it, he took pride in it and loyally defended it from those who wished to destroy it. He knew it was destined for greatness. Today it is one of the architectural wonders of the modern world and stands as the primary landmark of Paris, France. The architect was Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower.

In the same way, we ought to be struck by Jesus Christ’s loyalty to another structure—the church. Jesus entrusted His church to an unlikely band of disciples, whom He defended, prayed for, and prepared to spread the gospel. Today Jesus remains loyal to disciples like you and me. Although we make many blunders and are weak and foolish, Jesus, the architect of the church, knows His structure is destined for greatness when He returns.

Do these sentiments sound like pie-in-the-sky optimism? Does this seem a little far-fetched to you? If so, I can understand where you are coming from. But I need to ask you an important question: Have you ever contemplated how much God loves the church? In 1 Cor 3:16-17, Paul is going to inform us that God dwells in the church and values the church like no other entity. God says, “Long live the church!” We must join His chorus and shout, “Long live the church!”

 

  1. We should value the church because God dwells within it(3:16). Our passage begins with the phrase, “Do you not know?” This phrase appears ten times in 1 Corinthians and serves as a common literary device to pose a rhetorical question. It is one of Paul’s favorite expressions and he invariably uses it of something his listeners should know but don’t. Typically, “do you not know” even refers to something Paul has previously personally told the Corinthians. So here is something that ought to have been a matter of common knowledge, but they had either forgotten it or rejected it. (This phrase is the equivalent to our “come now!”) The question Paul asks is, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The Corinthians presume to be wise (3:18-23), yet Paul must ask, “Can it be that you who boast in ‘wisdom’ do not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This question is a stinging rebuke that centers on the failure of the Corinthians to recognize who they are. These “wise guys” should have had this down pat, but they did not grasp this elementary truth.

 

In this context Paul is not talking about the individual Christian; instead, he has in mind the local church. Two primary reasons support this. First, the context concerns the local church. The previous section concerns the judgment seat of Christ (3:10-15). It speaks about how God holds us responsible for the quality of workmanship and materials we use to build His church, upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Those who build on the right foundation with the right materials will receive a reward, but those who build sloppily will suffer loss and find their work burned up at the judgment seat of Christ. The loss will not be the loss of salvation, for 3:15 promises that the person himself shall be saved, but it will be serious, for such a Christian will be saved so as through fire.

 

Not only does the context support the view that Paul is speaking of the local church, the grammar does as well. The word “you” in this verse is plural in Greek. In English the word “you” is ambiguous—one cannot always tell whether it is a singular “you” or a plural “you,” for both are spelled the same. People from the South, of course, have removed that ambiguity. When they mean more than one person they say, “ya’ll.” Well, here in 3:16 Paul uses the Greek word for “ya’ll.” Literally it reads, “Do ya’ll not know that ya’ll are a temple (singular) of God and the Spirit of God dwells in ya’ll.” Clearly ya’ll, the passage before us concerns the local church.

Paul states that the local church is a “temple of God.” There are two primary words for temple in the Greek New Testament. One signifies the entire temple, including the outer courtyard, which even Gentiles could enter. But the other word denotes just the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, which could not be entered by Gentiles or sinful Israelites, or anyone, for that matter, except the High Priest, and him only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The word “temple” (naos) used in 3:16-17 is this latter word.

 

Paul is saying that the group of believers at Corinth, who constituted the church in that city, was a sanctuary of God, a holy of holies. This was true not only of the church of Corinth; this is also true for our church and every other church. Imagine that! We are a temple of God. God Himself has called us holy and significant. “Long live the church!”

 

Paul goes further in 3:16 and states that the Holy Spirit “dwells” in the church. This verse is telling us that when believers gather together for corporate worship and fellowship the Holy Spirit is there in a unique way, creating unity, confirming truth, and ministering to needs. The Spirit of God is here right now, not just because I’m here or just because you’re here, but because a believing church is here.

Tragically, many Christians dismiss the importance of the local church. They argue from verses like Matt 18:20 that when two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, He is present; therefore, I don’t need to attend church. I can “have church” at home or at work if I am with at least one other believer. The only problem with this proof-text is that this verse is not talking about public worship; instead, it is dealing with church discipline. The two or three witnesses are gathered for the purpose of confronting an erring Christian! This verse is not implying that Christians do not need to attend church. Far from it!

Church attendance and participation is critical. Although your salvation is not dependent upon your church attendance, your Christian maturity is. The Bible is clear that it is impossible to be obedient and fruitful apart from the local church. We need to keep this tension in the forefront of our minds. The following key principles will help you increase your commitment to the local church.

Commit to attend church every Sunday unless you are sick. Unless you make a commitment upfront that you will attend church every single Sunday, you will not. It’s really as simple as that. Your commitment to attend church has to be every bit as strong as your commitment to go to work or feed your children. Without this type of commitment there will always be an excuse to not attend church. Does that mean you cannot go out of town on vacation? Of course not! We all need to get away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. But when you do take a vacation do not take a vacation from the people of God. Instead, when you go out of town on vacation find a church where you and your family can worship. It is helpful for you and your family to see how other Christians worship. It also provides a great source of encouragement to the pastor and the people of the church that you visit. And it teaches your children that church is a serious priority in your life and should be in theirs as well. Moreover, it pleases the heart of God when you include Him in your vacation plans. “Long live the church!”

 

Refuse to speak critically about the church. When you are tempted to say something derogatory about your church or any other church, pause for just a moment and imagine that Jesus Christ is standing next to you. If He was standing next to you, what would you say? If you are like me you would bite your tongue. When another Christian says something critical about your church or another church, how should you respond? We should consider responding the very same way that Jesus Christ would respond—with holy agitation! Jesus died for the church and He doesn’t appreciate it when the church is unduly criticized. Instead of kicking the church we should be crying out, “Long live the church!”

[Paul has just informed us that God dwells in the church. The question that begs to be answered is: Just how serious is God about His church? In 3:17, Paul will open our eyes to some sobering realities.]

  1. We should value the church because God values it(3:17). How much does God value the church? More than we can possibly imagine. The church is so important and of such a high priority that God will go to any lengths necessary to protect and preserve it. This is conveyed to us by means of a threat. Paul writes, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him.” This is not just a theoretical and hypothetical warning, for the kind of grammar Paul uses here makes it clear that this is a real possibility; in fact, he assumes it is happening right now. Someone is in the process of destroying the temple at Corinth—the body of believers. It is also worth noting that the word translated “any man” (tis) in the NASB is not speaking specifically of the male gender. The term includes all mankind and should be translated “someone” (NET) or “anyone” (ESV, NIV, NKJV). So women, you’re not off the hook. You can’t tune out just yet. You need to recognize that Paul is writing to you as well.

 

Now the natural question is: Who are these temple destroyers? Many scholars believe that these temple destroyers must be unbelievers. The problem with this view is that only Christians are mentioned in the immediate context (3:5-17). Furthermore, there is no indication that Paul has transitioned to speak of unbelievers. The natural interpretation of this verse is that believers are under consideration. This ought to disturb all of us! Paul is saying that it is possible for true Christians to destroy local churches. This means that the greatest threat to our churches comes from within, not from without. The greatest enemies of the church are insiders, not outsiders. Nevertheless, long live the church!

 

How does one go about destroying a local church? There are countless ways—far too many to expound upon. Thus, the specific cause of the ruin must be found in the present context (1:10-4:21). If we were to whittle down the cause of church destruction into two words, they would be “worldly wisdom.” The whole thrust of 1:10-4:21 is to dismantle worldly wisdom and its various expressions.

A church can be destroyed by divisions (1:10-17; 3:5-8). In Corinth most of the divisions stemmed from preaching cults. Everyone had his or her favorite preacher and they weren’t bashful in saying so. This resulted in “divisions” (1:10) in the body of Christ.

 

These verbal wars undoubtedly led to other sins, like gossip and slander. In every church there are some who sow seeds of discontent; whenever they have a chance to badmouth some program or some leader in the church, they do it. That’s how temple destroyers get their kicks. Yet, you and I must see ourselves here. All of us to one degree or another have said things about others that are sinful. We can’t continue to tolerate these verbal sins. Even though they may seem relatively innocent they are capable of destroying a church. After all, divide and conquer is a strategy of Satan.

Alan Redpath (1907-1989), a well-known British pastor and author, once formed a mutual encouragement fellowship at a time of stress in one of his pastorates. He asked his people to subscribe to a simple formula applied before speaking of any person or subject that was perhaps controversial. T—is it True? H—is it Helpful? I—is it Inspiring? N—is it Necessary? K—is it Kind? If what I am about to say does not pass those tests, I will keep my mouth shut! And it worked! May we follow this simple acrostic and honor Christ with our tongues.

A church can be destroyed by bad theology and methodology (1:18-25; 3:18-23). If someone individually chooses to begin to live according to the wisdom and the practice of the world, he begins to corrupt and damage the church. He is building with shoddy material, with wood, hay and stubble, which will not stand the test of the fire, and therefore he is marring the building of the church. When someone seeks to make the church impressive and powerful by the methods and the standards of the world, he is corrupting and damaging the church. If someone becomes consumed with a particular doctrine and emphasizes this theology above all others, destruction is imminent. Down throughout time churches have split over both theology and methodology. Having right theology and methodology is important, but we must not divide over non-essential issues. God values His church and doesn’t want us unnecessarily divided.

 

It is worth noting that pastors can also frequently destroy churches. One way is to preach false doctrine. Another way is to lull people to sleep spiritually by telling them just what they want to hear. Pastors can also destroy churches by riding hobbyhorses. They can get into the spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, Calvinism/Arminianism debate, and end times. Pretty soon they become known as experts and their entire ministry revolves around their area of interest. Watch out!

A church can be destroyed by indifference and non-involvement (3:12-15). Paul noted that some of the Corinthian builders were building with worthless building materials (i.e., wood, hay, straw). Consequently, the building was rickety even though the foundation was flawless. This is a dangerous trend. Many churches have died on the vine because no one was willing to carry on the ministry. Thus, it is imperative that every member serve in at least one capacity. Are you serving your church today? What would your church be like if every member was just like you?

 

Those who are dividing the church are destroying it. This is because the church of Jesus Christ is a living organism, not just an organization. You can divide a pie into six pieces without destroying it; you are just preparing to serve it. This is because a pie is an organization. But if you divide a dog in two you have destroyed him, because he is an organism. The Corinthian church was being divided into four cliques or parties (1:12). Thus, it was in danger of being destroyed.

Is destroying the local church really that serious? Paul apparently thinks so. In 3:17, he goes on to say that if anyone destroys the temple of God, “God will destroy him.” Notice that the punishment fits the crime: destroy and you will be destroyed. Does this mean eradication, extermination, or eternal punishment in hell? A quick look at the word translated “destroy” in a lexicon informs us that it means “to desecrate, harm, corrupt, or spoil,” not to exterminate. It is never used by Paul to refer to destruction in hell. It can, however, refer to judgment upon the believer.

 

The following bullet list suggests four ways that God’s discipline can strike a Christian who is in the process of destroying the temple—the local church.

Excommunication: In the Old Testament, one of the penalties for defiling God’s dwelling (whether the tabernacle or the temple) was separation from the nation. The Lord spoke this word to Moses and Aaron: “But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person must be cut off from among the community, because he has polluted the sanctuary of the LORD; the water of purification was not sprinkled on him, so he is unclean” (Num 19:20 NET). God takes the holiness of His dwelling seriously. The Israelite that fails to recognize this will suffer the consequences of excommunication. This also occurs in the New Testament in 1 Cor 5:5.

Sickness: Of particular interest is the account of Uzziah, who succumbed to pride after gaining various military successes and then went into the temple (naos), the Holy of Holies, and was punished with leprosy. In the New Testament, when the Corinthians are guilty of abusing the Lord’s Supper the Lord disciplines them with weakness, sickness, and eventually death (11:30).

Physical Death: Throughout the Old Testament, temporal death was the penalty for defiling the material temple (Exod 28:43; Lev 16:2). The Lord commanded Moses, “Thus you are to set the Israelites apart from their impurity so that they do not die in their impurity by defiling my tabernacle which is in their midst” (Lev 15:31 NET). Sins against the Jerusalem temple were taken very seriously in Judaism. Examples of God sending divine discipline on His people for defiling His tabernacle include: Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10:1-3); Uzzah (2 Sam 6:6-7); and Uzziah (2 Chron 26:16-21). God also executed death sentences upon Christians in the New Testament. In Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:30 (see also 1 Tim 1:18-20; Jas 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16-17).

Eternal loss: The word “destroy” (phtheiro) is a future active indicative verb, which indicates that God’s response will be after their offense. However, the future tense could also suggest that God’s destruction has an eternal component. Contextually, it seems that this is a reference to the last day (3:13). We know from the preceding verses (3:13-15) that the builder in question will not lose his salvation, but he will lose his reward. Thus, in addition to physical ruin or death, God’s destruction may also include the complete obliteration of the Corinthian destroyer’s life’s work at the final judgment. We must always bear in mind that the end result for a temple destroyer is shame and remorse at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10-11; 1 John 2:28). Many believers need to reconsider why they are suffering. It may be that the consequences of their actions have caught up with them. We must never underestimate the value that God places on relationships and unity in our local churches. He is dead serious about His temple.

 

There is a bumper sticker that reads: “If you value your life as much as I value this truck, DON’T TOUCH IT!” That is what God is saying to His church: “You touch My temple and you will have Me to deal with. And you don’t want to have to deal with Me. I take it seriously when you are involved in destroying My temple…so seriously that I will destroy you!”

When I was growing up I participated in some pranks. Some of the things my friends and I did were not very cool. Fortunately, we had some boundaries and common sense. Whenever we saw a “No Trespassing” sign we stayed away. We would not go near that person’s home. We knew that whoever lived there was not playing games. We were afraid that if we messed with that person, we’d be messed with. In the same way, God has posted a “No Trespassing” sign on His church. Those who choose to ignore this sign do so at their own peril. God promises us that if we destroy His church, He will destroy us. Yet, God says, “Long live the church…and the Christian!”

 

Why does God get so “ticked” about someone destroying His church? First, the church is the place where His name is revealed. We must be reminded that when the world considers God it typically looks at God’s temple—the church. When the world sees a destructive temple it then draws its own erroneous conclusions about the character of God—based solely on what it sees in God’s people. In the process God’s reputation is damaged. While Satan can never destroy God’s character he certainly tries to damage His reputation, and he does it through the people of God.

Second, the temple of God is holy. The irrefutable reason why God’s judgment falls is given at the end of 3:17: “for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” It’s hard to refute God’s reasoning here, isn’t it? If God’s temple is holy, and if we are that temple, then it only stands to reason that God, who cannot tolerate sin, must judge those who sin against His church. I think the local believing church deserves a great deal more respect than it gets from many Christians today.

 

In the Old Testament, the Holy of Holies was so sacred that anyone caught desecrating it or even touching forbidden objects was summarily judged. Well, the local church is also holy to the Lord. If God judged the desecration of His temple in the Old Testament, do you think He will overlook the desecration of His temple in the New Testament? We don’t have any sacred objects that can’t be touched and we shouldn’t have any sacred cows that can’t be butchered, but we do have a sacred task to perform. Therefore, we must be holy in both our conduct and our calling.

Far too many of us are like the Susan B. Anthony dollar of a bygone day. The Susan B. Anthony dollar failed to catch on. One of the primary reasons being that it looked and felt too much like a quarter. People couldn’t tell the difference, so the Anthony dollar fell into disuse and was soon taken out of active circulation. A lot of us Christians are like that. We are worth a dollar, but we look like a quarter and live like “chump change.”

In the church of Jesus Christ every member is like one of two people. We are either destroying the church or building the church. There is no middle ground. God says, “Long live the church!” We must join His chorus and shout, “Long live the church!”