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Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (verses 16-17)


The Corinthians knew all about temples. They lived under the overshadowing presence of the Temple of Aphrodite, rising some 1500 feet above the city itself, impossible to miss. It was the locus of the goddess’ worship and included cultic prostitution, since Aphrodite was the goddess of sexual love. Her influence was felt throughout the entire city.

Paul pointedly asks the Corinthians, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (verse 16). It’s not the temple of a pagan goddess that he has in mind. Rather it’s the temple of the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the heavens, Lord of the whole earth. There is no one greater, no one more worthy, no one whose presence could better influence the surrounding culture.

Interestingly, Paul will use the very same image again later in this same letter, using almost identical words. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19). On that occasion, significantly, he’s urging them to put aside the influence of Aphrodite, to resist sexual immorality, to instead serve the Lord, who has bought them at a price. Know who you are and live it, Paul says.

That’s what he’s saying here, too. But there is a crucial change regarding who he addresses. When dealing with the issue of sexual immorality in chapter 6, he speaks to individuals – the “you” in the verse is singular. Paul has each individual believer in view, for each is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Live that reality, Paul says.

But here in chapter 3, he’s addressing the whole Corinthian church. This time the “you” is plural – he’s speaking to the gathered community as a whole.

A couple of things come to mind:

(1) As individuals we are indwelt by the Spirit, with the command to keep on keeping on being filled (Ephesians 5:18). But similarly, the church itself is indwelt by the Spirit – he lives in us as a community. It’s true when we gather and it’s equally true as we scatter. We are the locus of worship. Together we make his presence known. We are to spill forth the Lord’s influence in the world around us. Which, then, affirms the essential importance of the church – we are crucial to his purposes. What an awesome privilege.

(2) Paul earlier used the imagery of construction – he said he laid a foundation and others built upon it (verse 10). Now, as he speaks of us as the temple, the implication is that each one is intentionally built into the structure as a whole. Just like Paul’s later image of the Body (1 Cor. 12), each of us has a significant part. Again, what a privilege.

(3) Finally, it follows that any act of destruction towards the church is an attack on what the Lord himself counts as sacred. He will not shrug it off. Yes, indeed, attacks will come from outside. But this warning is spoken to those who are themselves part of God’s temple. It is a grievous thing to harm other parts of the Lord’s church. The tools of such action can be anger, resentment, bitterness, rebellion, arrogance, slander, backbiting, overbearing dominance, and more. When aimed at either leaders or members these bring about damage and erosion to the beauty of the Lord’s temple. The Lord himself is grieved.

If you are in Christ, you are part of this sacred structure. Take it seriously.


Sovereign Lord, what a privilege to be built up together with your people to be a temple of your presence, an influence in the world. I yield myself to strengthen the structure, to be part of the worship, and to bring you glory. For Jesus’ name’s sake.


Reflect: Are you fulfilling your role in the Lord’s temple? How can you strengthen interconnectivity of the building? Have you caused any harm? (If so, ask the Lord what you need to do in response.)

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