This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
16 All of you surely know that you are God’s temple and that his Spirit lives in you. 17 Together you are God’s holy temple, and God will destroy anyone who destroys his temple.
18 Don’t fool yourselves! If any of you think you are wise in the things of this world, you will have to become foolish before you can be truly wise. 19 This is because God considers the wisdom of this world to be foolish. It is just as the Scriptures say, “God catches the wise when they try to outsmart him.” 20 The Scriptures also say, “The Lord knows that the plans made by wise people are useless.” 21-22 So stop bragging about what anyone has done. Paul and Apollos and Peter[a] all belong to you. In fact, everything is yours, including the world, life, death, the present, and the future. Everything belongs to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Paul tries to persuade his converts of the supreme importance of the church community which they have been putting at risk by setting up competing cliques as if it was some sort of club. One can see their point of view. They are individual Christian believers; why shouldn’t they have whatever kind of groups they prefer. A little bit of one-upmanship, what’s so wrong with that? Surely people can chose the company they prefer!
Paul on the other hand, sees the “assembly” (Greek: ekklesia) as God’s way of creating a new humanity, with Jesus Messiah as the prototype. It is a tree planted by God; it s a building founded on Jesus Messiah. In this passage Paul sharpens the metaphor of the church community as a building, into the church as a holy temple inhabited by God. This translation gets verses 16 ad 17 right: the pronouns are plural. It is not that each believer is God’s temple (although Paul thinks so) but that together, as a community, they are God’s dwelling place. Desecrating the community by creating cliques is just as bad as the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem. It is an act of aggressive unbelief, a slap in the face of God.
Paul imagines that his sophisticated audience may think his reaction is over the top, so he warns them that worldly sophistication cuts no ice with God, who knows that even the best human wisdom is daft. He advises the Corinthians to embrace the daftness of the gospel, which tells them that in Jesus Messiah, their community, their shared life (provided it is shared!), is the dwelling place of the God’s creative Spirit, who is making a new humanity wherever people trust in God’s love and live as God’s children. As members of such a community the Corinthians are the end point of God’s rescue plan for humanity- that’s why “everything is theirs”- the work of the apostles, this world and the world to come. Everything serves them if they serve Jesus Messiah who serves God.
Paul is telling them that they are not to think of their new faith as if it were one of the mystery religions of the Roman Empire-cults offering initiation into some secret liberation from death. These were viewed as optional extras to a citizen’s ordinary life, a spirituality purchased from the religious supermarket of Hellenistic society. For Paul, trust in God’s love demonstrated in Jesus Messiah, is not a new religion; it is a new life in community.
Viewed from the perspective of the 21st Century, Paul’s blueprint for the Christian Church looks even crazier than it did to the Corinthians. “God’s temple” has been desecrated by religious intolerance, nationalist fervour, imperialist brutality, fundamentalist certainty, liberal vagueness and capitalist greed. In some places it is seen as a lifestyle choice, a religious add-on; in others it constitutes a racial or cultural identity. Yet there are others who still believe that the best life is lived in a disciplined community of brothers and sisters under God, who has shared his life with them in Jesus Messiah. I count myself amongst them.