“THE CHURCH IS WHAT?”
First Corinthians 3.16-17
sermon preached at the Southern
California Baptist Bible Fellowship,
1. Picture this scene in your mind. Dad wakes up with a start as mom nudges him. It’s still dark outside as he notices that mom has already been up for sometime and has dressed. As she steps outside their dirty hovel, dad wakes up the boys. They want to sleep more, but dad’s nudges are more than suggestions that they get up.
2. In the darkness dad, and his two teen-aged sons dress quickly and join mom outside for a quick splash of cold water on their faces. She hands each of them a large piece of bread as they step into the cool moist morning fog, eating as they go.
3. Through the courtyard they are very careful to watch their step. They don’t want to wake anyone else up. Quietly they open the front gate and step out into the cobblestone street, look both ways in the darkness, and head out into the country.
4. The year is 75 AD by our reckoning. The Lord Jesus Christ has been at His Father’s right hand in glory for about 40 years now. The great apostle Paul, who first brought the Gospel to this small Greek village by the sea, was beheaded 8 years earlier. Dad and mom and the boys never knew Paul personally, though they have heard a great deal about him. But they do know the Savior he served personally.
5. You see, this family is a family of slaves, slaves who know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. And since they have become Christians they have begun to thank God for the wealthy man who owns them, even though he is as yet unsaved.
6. As well, they are grateful that he allows them to rise up early on Sunday to go and worship out in the country, so long as they do not disturb him, and so long as they continue to faithfully discharge all of their duties. They count themselves blessed.
7. They also pray fervently that the man who owns them gets converted, and that he won’t sell them off individually, thereby breaking up their family so they will never see each other again this side of eternity. They seem to be almost constantly aware of their utter dependence upon God and His grace for living.
8. By the way . . . the congregation with whom this family will worship is the only congregation of Christians for miles around. If they want to join together in fellowship, in worship, in instruction, and in exhortation, they must do it here.
9. Now let us take note of another scene. It’s about 8:30 when mom finally gets dad out of bed. The sun is high in the sky and the dew was long gone before even mom got out of bed. It’s the third try when she calls the boys to get up, but they stay in bed, knowing they have until try number six or seven before she will get angry and enforce her will. Dad ignores the whole scene down the hall. The only reason he got up is because he couldn’t wait any longer to go to the bathroom.
10. All morning long the family takes their time. Mom at her vanity. Dad at the mirror shaving. The boys take forever in the shower, at the breakfast table, and getting fully dressed.
11. It’s Sunday and mom wants to go to Church. After some persuasion, dad reluctantly orders the boys to get ready. They want to stay home, hoping that mom and dad will take in some television religion, but mom says, “No!” Strangely, dad backs her up and tells the boys, “Get moving.”
12. Though the family does go to Church, they arrive late, not even attempting to make Sunday School. They are oblivious to their disruption of the song service and sit as far back in the auditorium as they can so they will be able to leave during the invitation at the end of the message, or so they will be able to get up in the middle of the pastor’s message and go to the rest room, or to meander to the water fountain and get a drink of water, lest they die of thirst before the sermon over.
13. What are the differences between our two families? 1900 years? That’s one difference. Slavery and obstacles to attending Church conveniently? That’s another. Self-discipline? That’s perhaps a third difference. But the one difference I want to focus on this morning is understanding. The modern family all too often does not behave as though they have any understanding of the importance of their Church.
14. You see, the ancient family realized that their Church was the lighthouse of truth in the midst of the stormy night of paganism. It was the place of instruction in the midst of gross spiritual ignorance. It was the haven of love and sacrificial giving in the midst of a world of selfishness and materialism. I suppose you might say that the world they lived in was conducive to their understanding of the important place their Church had in their spiritual lives.
15. But in our time Church does not appear to be as unique to us as it did to them in their time. Someone once said that familiarity breeds contempt. But if the modern version of Christians are not contemptuous of their Churches, they have at least lost their reverence for Church. Why? There are several reasons:
16. First, because today there are numerous substitutes for the Church which is spoken of in the Bible. Competing for the Christian’s attention, prayers, money and loyalty are television “ministries” such as the 700 Club, the Old Time Gospel Hour, Jack Van Impe, Trinity Broadcast Network, Robert Schuller, Frederick K. Price, Kenneth Copeland, and Bennie Hinn. There are also a myriad of radio ministries.
17. In the local community there are women’s Christian clubs, there are Bible studies, there are para-Church organizations such as Child Evangelism Fellowship, Campus Crusade For Christ, and Promise Breakers. And the list goes on. My friends, no such competition existed in 75 AD, because such diversions as I have just mentioned are not found in the Bible. Only the local Church is found here.
18. Second, so-called Christians actually have begun to believe that believers are supposed to be perfect like they are. I say that facetiously because we like to be around people who are like we are. But friends, Churches are supposed to be repositories of many different kinds of people; rich, poor, literate, illiterate, handsome, unhandsome, cultured, crude. So, for one reason or another, with all her lack of perfections, the Church has lost her attractiveness to many who only want to be around folks similar to them.
19. You want to know something? You preachers do know something. You know very well that as important as the Church was to those people in 75 AD, as vital as the ministry of the Church was in their lives, as exalted as was her position in the plan and purpose of God then, the same is true today!
20. Pastor, your people and mine need to understand the importance of their Church! And they will if they will allow God to order their priorities, to order their ways, and to direct their actions.
21. Turn in your Bible, as we stand, to First Corinthians 3.16-17, for the reading of God’s Word: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
22. Three pieces of information that are very familiar to you pastors, but which I feel compelled to deal with this morning, in the hopes that we can each be encouraged to remind our people of the importance of their Church, these congregations of born again, Scripturally baptized, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ that God has called us to pastor.
1A. INFORMATION PIECE #1. IDENTITY INFORMATION.
1B. What was the problem in Paul’s day?
1C. As I illustrated in my opening remarks, early Christians had no problem understanding the uniqueness of their Church, but they did have a problem with their Church’s spiritual identity. Why else would Paul have needed to inform them of such?
2C. You see, people in those days grew up in very religious cultures. Man is religious even when he is ungodly. But in their cultural orientation, religious life was necessarily focused around a religious building or temple of some kind.
3C. Paul solved their problem by simply observing that buildings are not necessary for true religion. As a matter of fact, the people with which you worship the true and living God are a temple. Paul’s exact words were, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” And the word “ye” means you all, doesn’t it? He was talking about their assembly.
4C. The elaborate buildings on the surrounding hills were not temples. They were spiritual brothels. Their Church, on the other hand, that congregation of born again, Scripturally baptized people was, in all reality, the temple of the one true and living God in that town.
5C. So, their identity problem was quickly solved. They had been informed about the true identity of their Church.
2B. What, then, is the problem in our day?
1C. Sure, there are people who think that cathedrals and the like are “holy” buildings. But folks usually abandon such notions soon after they trust Christ as their Savior. By and large, the concept of “holy” geography is outmoded in our society. You kinda wish people would treat the Church’s property with a bit more respect. Amen?
2C. Our problem relates to the uniqueness of the Church. In our day of denominations, conventions, societies, seminars, armies, associations, brotherhoods, crusades, ad infinitum and ad nauseam, this passage singles out the local Church as the unique temple of God.
3C. The Salvation Army is not the temple of God! The Child Evangelism Fellowship is not the temple of God! The Women’s Bible Fellowship is not the temple of God! The Gideon’s is not the temple of God! The Campus Crusade For Christ is not the temple of God! Neither are the Promise Breakers!
4C. Fellows, I’m not being cruel and I’m not attacking anyone. I simply state what we all believe here, what each and every one of you know in no uncertain terms; that the Gospel preaching, Christ exalting, Bible believing, independent, fundamental Church, like the one you pastor, is the temple of God!
5C. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” And his remarks were directed to the Church of God which was at Corinth. That is our identity information.
2A. INFORMATION PIECE #2. SANCTITY INFORMATION.
1B. Notice, if you will, in verse 16, the cause of their sanctity.
1C. Paul writes, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”
2C. Pay attention to this word “dwelleth.” There are several things implied by this word:
#1 Ownership. Although we know that the Church is Christ’s, in a very real way the Church also belongs to the Holy Spirit. It is His and therefore He will do in it as He pleases.
#2 Permanency. The Holy Spirit abides in the midst of your people. He plans on staying and He will not leave without taking us with Him. Amen?
#3 Presence. This is perhaps the most important thing that we ought to note here. The Holy Spirit of God is in your congregation in a way that He is not in any other kind of assembly or group that is not a Church.
3C. Now, we should make sure our people are not confused by this statement like most evangelicals are. Evangelicals think that Paul is talking about their bodies, because they have often been told that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, also.
4C. That’s true, but that’s the subject of First Corinthians 6.19, not First Corinthians 3.16. The verse we are dealing with, which uses the phrase “temple of God,” refers not to individuals, which are “temples of the Holy Spirit,” but to the entire congregation you pastor, the “temple of God.”
5C. Again, let me say, the Holy Spirit of God inhabits your congregation like He inhabits no other kind of gathering of human beings, saved or lost. And His very presence amongst you causes something to happen.
2B. In verse 17, the consequence of the cause.
“for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
1C. Again we see the word “ye,” which lets us know that Paul is still dealing with the Church as a membership and not with particular individuals.
2C. When our people begin to realize, from verse 16, that just as the Shekinah glory of God dwelt between the cherubim above the mercy seat in the Tabernacle, so also the Holy Spirit of God dwells in the midst of our Churches, then they will realize the certainty of the consequence.
3C. What is the consequence of the Holy Spirit’s presence? Holiness. This doesn’t mean that your people are necessarily less sinful than are other groups of people, that your people are less sinful, say, than a Gideon’s club member. But it does mean that your people are set apart unto God as a Church like those other people are not as a club.
4C. Of course, only God is “holy” so far as being pure and without defilement is concerned. And we realize that when the word “holy” is applied to God’s children or to any created thing, like the Church, “holy” refers to being set aside for God’s use and purpose.
5C. This is where the word “sanctity” comes in . . . sacred . . . set . . apart . . . special. As supposedly wonderful as Bible studies are, as supposedly wonderful as clubs and seminars are, they are not termed in the Word of God as something which is sacred unto God. They have no designated sanctity. They are not “holy.” I think this needs to be repeatedly pointed out to our people.
6C. While our Churches have at times, in the past, had hypocrisy and wickedness and sin of all sorts, just as can creep into any gathering . . . at the same time they have been holy. Why? Because the Holy Spirit of God has always been there, that’s why.
7C. And though our Churches may not be highly esteemed by the untaught and the unregenerate, those who know the Word of God realize that these congregations are very important to the Spirit of the living God. He cares for them. He lives in their midst. He gives them sanctity. And He wants their position to become their practice.
3A. INFORMATION PIECE #3. ACTIVITY INFORMATION.
There are two activities I think our people need to be reminded of in relation to their Churches. There is the activity of defiling and the activity of destroying, verse 17: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
1B. There are enemies of the Church you pastor who would defile her.
1C. The word “defile” means to corrupt and to bring to a worse state. It’s a pretty broad term which could conceivably apply to anyone who says or does anything to bring harm to a Church.
2C. How would that be done? It could be done by badmouthing a Church so as to interfere with her efforts to bring the lost to Christ. It could be done by opposing her efforts to conduct the various ministries God has called her to undertake.
3C. It can even be done by spiritual lethargy and lack of commitment to the ministry of the Church, doing nothing when something should be and could be done. Or, it doubtless could be done by members bringing open sin into her midst. In short, the defilement of a Church can take place from within or from without, by people who are saved, as well as people who are lost.
4C. When a Church member commits sexual sin he or she defiles the congregation by harming its testimony. Should a believer who was saved out of drugs and booze slip and fall back into that for a short period of time, he harms his Church and its ability to win folks to Christ. When someone disagrees over vital doctrines that are clearly taught in God’s Word, that person who refuses to heed the instruction of the Bible and who influences others to do likewise brings harm to Christ’s Church.
5C. One of your members might think to himself, “How can my personal sin harm this Church if no one finds out?” Because the Bible says that when one member suffers all the members suffer, First Corinthians 12.26. And brother, when they commit sin they defile themselves. Therefore, when they defile themselves they defile the Church body that they are a part of, as well. Amen?
6C. Yes, those of us who have pastored for very long know that there are those who harm Churches.
2B. But thanks be to God, there is a Protector who would destroy them.
1C. This word “destroy” does not mean to annihilate or to burn in Hellfire. It actually translates the same Greek word that the word “defile” translates. So what we have here is the law of sowing and reaping applied to the Church.
2C. If someone harms, or tries to harm, the Church it will come right back on him. Even if someone harms the Church by not trying, by not serving. Maybe not right away. Maybe not in the near future. But someday the chickens will come home to roost. It will show up in their personal lives, in their marriages, or in their kid’s lives.
3C. For every damaging activity that takes place against the Church, there will be an opposite reaction against that person, certainly of a much more damaging nature, because the response will come from God. Therefore, whatever their activities in this life happen to be, warn them not to allow those activities to harm the Church.
4C. Do your people enjoy a sport? Good. They should enjoy their sport some other time than Sundays or during Church ministry time. Do they like quality family time? Good. The best quality time they can ever have is worshiping God as a family at Church. Do they like to rest when they are tired? Good. They need to rest when it doesn’t conflict with Church. Do their kids like sports? Great. Teach them young that sports must always come second to Church attendance. Amen?
5C. Our people must learn to never openly wage war against Christ’s Church. If they do God will openly violate them in a public way. Neither should they wage a quiet war against Christ’s Church by undermining the mission of the Church. If they do God will undermine their life. They need to see that they call it by the way they live. A member needs to support his Church’s ministry openly, and publicly get behind its mission, and participate in its ministries. Then Christ will openly bless their lives, their marriages, and their children.
1. We live in an age of diversion. And one of Satan’s greatest accomplishments has been to use so-called Christians and Christian “ministries” to divert other so-called Christians, and even real Christians, from the true significance of the institution of the Church.
2. Our people need to see that Satan’s goal has been to divide and conquer, to split Christians up into small groups that will be much less effective than a single large and powerfully dynamic congregation.
3. Get Christians so busy doing good things that they lose sight of that most important thing which Christ has commanded of them who say they love Him . . . obedience.
4. Preacher, I may not know what your particular Church situation happens to be, but this one thing I am totally confident of: The institution of the New Testament Church, that congregation that you pastor, is the single and unique instrumentality, according to the Bible, which is God’s tool for our day.
5. I know you are convinced of this in your heart and mind, but perhaps each of us could spend more time reminding our people of these truths, so that they might be as convinced as we are.
6. Convinced by information relating to identity. Only the Church is God’s temple. Convinced by information relating to sanctity. Only the Church is a holy assembly. Convinced by information relating to activity. Only the Church, of the groups I have mentioned, will be avenged by God.
7. May God bless your efforts as you serve in your local Church.