First Corinthians 3:10-17
The Temple Of God
1. Everyone of us gathered here in this place hopes for this church to be a good one. But, what is it really that makes for a good church? Is it when a church is lively and active? When it is family oriented? When the church is growing in its number of people? If a lot of young people attend it? If it has dignified worship services? Of if its services are not imposed upon by any form but have a free style atmosphere? Does that make it a good church? When we say "good church," more often than not we just might mean that "it [is a church that] suits my likes and thoughts." If that's what we really are saying, then when we claim it's a good church it doesn't mean anything with great significance because it is just a matter of our attitude of "a pleasurable church to me." In order for it to mean more than that, I think we need to learn a major principle from the scriptures on how to be a good church.
Upon The Foundation Of Jesus Christ
2. In today's passage of scripture, Paul likened the church to a house. As a house it's most important part is first its foundation. What is the foundation of a house? He wrote to the Corinthian believers as follows: "By the grace that I have received from God, I have laid a foundation like a skilled architect. Then, others build the house upon it. But, each person ought to be careful how they build on it. No one can lay another foundation, ignoring the foundation of Jesus Christ that is already laid," (First Corinthians 3:10-11). As it is written in the text here, the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ.
3. The very fact in and of itself that the foundation here has been expressed as "Jesus Christ" and not "Jesus" or "Christ" has great significance. "Jesus" is the name of a person. [He had] a specific and individual name by which he was called [Jesus] "of Nazareth." Just like us, it is the name of a person who had walked the face of this earth. His name has a specific date around it. The gospel writer Luke has written in the scriptures of the times when [Jesus] appeared publicly, it was "The fifteenth year of the reign of Caesar Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was territorial ruler of Galilee and his brother Philip was territorial ruler of the other regions of Iturea and Trachonitis, Lysanias was territorial ruler of Abilene, and Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests," (Luke 3:1-3). There is no doubt that Jesus experienced judgment under the historical personage of a Pontius Pilate or that he had been punished under his authority. The cross upon which Jesus of Nazareth was crucified was not [something] in a children's picture book, but had been erected and stood on this earth. The blood that he shed - this same earth that we stand upon had sucked it down and swallowed it up.
4. Then also, "Christ" means messiah, the one who has been anointed with oil by God. It means the savior whom God has sent. Thus, in putting "Jesus" and "Christ" together side by side in the text we see that a strong emphasis has been put in thereby. It is the emphasis that the crucified man Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Christ sent of God. It is the confession of faith that this man and none other but him is truly the Christ. It states the fact that in Jesus of Nazareth the decisive works of God have been done. God crucified the messiah in this real world, in real history, as a once for all decisive act. In this manner then, he accomplished as fact the redemption of [our] sins; for, just as human sin is fact, redemption of sin must also be fact.
5. The things that happened in Jesus of Nazareth, the confession of the faith in which we express those things that happened in him, is every bit our foundation, the church's foundation. Paul says that no one can lay another foundation besides this foundation. Even though Paul is the founder of the Corinthian church, Paul himself is not the church's foundation. And even the other teachers, even if they could speak such words of wisdom, they could never be the church's foundation. No matter how profound the ideas or spiritually deep the experience, such is not and cannot be the foundation of the church. The foundation is not what's inside human hearts or what happens inside them. It is the work of God that God does in Jesus, and that is it. If we hope to be a good church, we must carefully examine what we take as our foundation, what we take as our support base.
With Materials That Won't Burn Up
6. The next thing then, as we think of the building, is the importance behind the materials that we use in the construction of the building. Paul has this to say in regard to the materials, "Upon this foundation, in cases where someone builds his house with gold, silver, gems, wood, grass, or straw, each one's work respectively will be brought to light. It will be made clear on that day. Because that day will come with fire and that fire will test the kind of work each one has. If the work that someone has built on that foundation remains, the person will receive a reward, but if it burns up, he will suffer loss. But, he will be saved as a person who has escaped through the fire," (verses twelve through fifteen).
7. The materials are obviously separated into two types, "gold, silver, and gems," and "wood, grass, and straw." The difference between them is whether it remains behind or is burned up as the text puts it in verses fourteen and fifteen. The church has been built up upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. However, there are [two] situations of whether it will remain or whether it will be burned to nothing. The text says that "On that day it will be made clear" how it was built. In saying "that day," as the text puts it "that day will come with fire," this means the day of the final judgment. This is none other than the time when God will show himself as the true God and Christ as the true Lord. At that time we will be held accountable for whether we either were rebellious against God or following him, or whether we were rebelling against Christ or following him as Lord. That's where the condemnation lies. At that time it will be understood before God and before Jesus Christ what will remain in the church and what will be consumed away in the fires. At that time the church will be tested under the strictest of scrutiny. How the church has been built will be scrutinized thoroughly and will be made perfectly clear.
8. However, we should not just look at "that day" as so far far away. A Dutch theologian put it like this in his writings, "Every evil will not be judged and paid back in real time as we perhaps often times seek. A great deal of evil still continues to exist. It is veiled over by the cloak of God's love and patience for the time being and he will keep it that way till the judgment of the final day of judgment. But, certainly within our history now there is the judgment of God already going on ahead of time in an antecedent way." We might say that in the historical processes of our time now we are under the judgment of God that is antecedent to the end time. The truth is while social conditions change, our own day to day environments change, or the situations we're into at church change, there is an hour when we are held accountable for the fact of whether we have been serving the Lord or not or whether we have plans to follow the Lord or not. And in the process of that judgment, ultimately things are divided into what remains behind and what is burned up. Even though it might have looked all fine and dandy till then, if it wasn't in accordance with the will of God, if it was really made out of the likes of wood, grass, or straw, then it ends up burnt up. Many a church there is that has experienced such a testing. We are not the exception.
9. Since this is the way it is, when we think of the church, we should not be looking at only the superficial part of its current condition. If we want to be a good church, we must keep seeking for that which will endure the fires of God's judgment and will remain behind not burning away. We must keep seeking not for what comes out of what we want, but for what comes out of our obedience to God.
To Build The Temple Of God
10. We have got to know then: ultimately, what kind of church is it that is being built the way I've been trying to describe here? Paul states it like this: "Don't you know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives inside you? If anyone is a breaker of God's temple, God will destroy him because the temple of God is holy. You are his temple," (verses sixteen and seventeen).
11. When we began our journey for spiritual answers, sooner or later, we probably might have had the thought, "Do I really need God? Do I really need faith?" And in continuing along that line, the questions may have also existed in our minds of "Do I really need church? Is going to church worth it for me or what?" But, I'd say those questions are issues for all of us when you come down to it because they aren't just the thoughts of new seekers, but the same thoughts that people who have been baptized even after a number of years have been having. We end up thinking the church exists for our behalf. As I touched on at the beginning, the words of "It's a good church" don't mean more than "a church that's pleasurable to me." We think the church is a thing for people and we can do it all any old way by our own human hands. If that is how we are, Paul might be saying to us, "Don't you know?"
12. We have to know this. We are the temple of God. The temple is constructed by human hands, but it is God's. It exists for God. It exists for the glory of God. The temple of God is holy. "Holy" means it belongs to God. Therefore, we shouldn't treat it as if it were for us. We must respond with fear and reverence to the words that are being said as "If anyone is a breaker of God's temple, God will destroy him." We must not lose our reverential fear for the fact that we are made God's temple.
13. And, the very fact that we are being made the temple of God also has [the element] of joy for us. Our joy is not in the fact of the church being a pleasurable thing for us. If the church goes according to our wishes, that is not where we have happiness in our church life. Our joy is when the church which we form is made into the temple of God, when God makes his home and is with us. If we want to be a good church, we must turn our eyes to the truth that we are considered the temple of God and we must maintain our reverence for and joy over this.