1 Corinthians 3:10-23 Last week we heard the Good News that we are God’s building—that far from abandoning us or giving up on us when we do not progress in our Christian faith as fast and as far as we should—God continues to patiently build us up just like a construction manager raising a building from the earth one girder at a time.
Today we hear just exactly what kind of structure God is building out of our lives: that we Christians are the temple of God—the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit! As we meditate on God’s Word, we are going to talk about the foundation for that temple—and how it is built—and what it means that we are the temple of God. Paul writes:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Earlier in our sermon series we heard Paul say that he consciously made a decision to proclaim nothing else than Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world. This “word of the cross” was the necessary foundation for everything else that would follow and without that foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness a dwelling place for God could never be built in our life!
The irreducible minimum for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a confident faith and trust in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the sins of the world—that in him, we have a life with God. The foundation for that life was laid by Jesus 2,000 years ago and it still stands today and to try and build a life with God apart from this foundation is impossible.
Just like with any building—if the foundation is not sound—the structure itself cannot remain standing. That is why Christian pastors are so insistent that Jesus Christ is preached and taught to God’s people—because the foundation must be true if the spiritual temple built upon it is true.
Not only must the foundation be sound—but the living, breathing temple of God that is built upon it in our lives must also be constructed out of those things that are true and beautiful and precious and lasting. Paul writes:
If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
Paul laid the foundation for the temple of God that was being built out of believers’ lives there in Corinth. He showed himself to be a skilled, master builder. But he could not stay there forever—other pastors would be responsible for the spiritual building project in that place and throughout the world as the Church grew.
The pastors who followed him in Corinth—and the pastors who serve God’s people today-- have the same responsibility to choose spiritual bricks and mortar and girders and beams that are the best.
None of us would intentionally let a contractor choose cheap building materials when it comes to our homes. How much more do we need to hear and heed these words of Paul that what our living, breathing, eternal temples ought to be built out of-- is the very best—what Paul calls gold, silver, and precious stones!
Paul is using a word picture for those things that are true and beautiful and good and lasting. In other words, pastors have a responsibility to build on the foundation of Jesus’ blood and righteousness by faithfully using the Word and Sacraments to build up the people of God into a beautiful dwelling place for God.
But you folks also have a responsibility to insist that, when it comes to building up your spiritual life, your pastor preaches the Gospel faithfully and administers the sacraments according to Christ’s institution. You have a responsibility to use of the means of grace and study his Word. You have a responsibility to avoid those things that can tear down the temple that God is building in your lives.
Paul calls these of things wood, hay, and straw and they are being used all over Christendom. Marketing strategies and gimmicks—sermons that could just as easily be delivered at self-improvement and self-empowerment seminars—lies and false gospels nowhere taught in the Bible. None of this rubbish is suitable to build up the people of God for it will not endure his judgment!
There is coming a Day when what has been used to build living, breathing temples for God will be shown for what it is: that which can endure the purifying fire of God—or--that which will be burned up as chaff on the Last Day. Paul writes:
If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Pastors and people who have made use of that which is valuable and good and lasting will receive their reward. Those who have used what is cheap and temporary will see their life’s work reduced to ashes—though God promises to save even those folks if only the foundation of Jesus Christ remains true.
But those who have ruined that foundation—those who tried to build on something else—will be destroyed. Paul writes:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
When we understand who we really are, then we will understand everything that Paul is teaching us today about the importance of using the spiritual building blocks of life. We ARE God’s temple: the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit—our lives set apart for the living presence of God—each part of it holy to the Lord.
The only way for that to be true is to be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and the only way for us to endure the fire of God’s judgment-- is for each part of our spiritual life to be built out of spiritual building blocks that God himself gives in Word and Sacrament. God desires that this living, breathing temple that he has made out of our lives would endure forever.
To destroy that temple by tearing down the foundation of Jesus that it is built upon —is to engage in outright warfare against the purpose and plans of God himself—and with that rebellion will come destruction. Paul writes:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men.
The world regards the word of the cross as foolishness and weakness--and yet the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is really the strength and wisdom of God. We know this and believe this to be true! But none of us are immune from the temptation to set that rock-solid foundation aside.
The devil tempts us to boredom when it comes to hearing about the death and resurrection of Jesus each weak and gives us itching ears to hear something new.
Our own flesh regards the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood as an occasional extra rather than an essential building block of faith that builds us up as a temple to God.
Pastors and congregations and church bodies want to treat the church as a business, and employ the methods of the world to accomplish its mission rather than step out in faith with the values and ways and tools of the Kingdom.
Paul calls this so-called wisdom: folly—with the only cure for it a return to the cross and the man who died there. There in that place and in that man is where we find all that we need for this life and the life to come. Paul writes:
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
For the child of God, there is no need to pick and choose which pastor to align ourselves with-- for they are merely servants to bring us to Christ and bestow Christ’s gifts upon us. There is no reason to pick and choose which events and circumstances to regard as blessings from God-- for all things work for our eternal good and are a part of the temple he is building in our lives.
Joys and sorrows are written into the blueprint of our lives as a necessary part of the dwelling place he is constructing in us. Even death now serves his purposes as the tool God uses to move us from this earthly life to our eternal heavenly life. All things become part of his construction plan for the sake of Jesus who has chosen to make us his dwelling place and earthly temple.
The Good News for us today is that we are the temple of God. A rock-solid foundation for our life has been laid in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God himself has appointed workmen—his fellow servants to build us up spiritually through Word and Sacrament.
And God is carefully working out his perfect plan for our lives so that they would be a shining, glorious example of what it means that God chooses to make his dwelling with men. May God grant this to be true of each of us for Jesus’ sake! Amen.