March 3, 2013

Sermon, Third Sunday in Lent


The Temple
Psalm 25, Deuteronomy 6, 1 Corinthians 3
Third Sunday in Lent
March 3, 2013

Several "3:16's" in the Bible express significant Biblical truth.  The best known is the well beloved John 3:16, " God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  Probably second, in terms of being well known and well beloved, is 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."  Most people know these verse, and I suspect and hope that you know them by heart.  There is another 3:16, found in our readings for this morning.  It is 1 Corinthians 3:16; "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"

"Ye are the temple of God."  I want to  call attention to something that, at first, will seem very obvious, yet, I think is habitually overlooked by most readers of this verse.  I want to call attention to the word, "temple," and I want to emphasise that it is singular, not plural.  It is "temple," not "temples."  Now let me call attention to the word, "ye."  Ye is plural.  Old England, like the Old South, had a plural form of "you."  "Ye" is that plural form.  So Paul was addressing many people, but he said of them that "Ye," plural, are "the temple," singular.

Paul has been writing about the divisions and strife that existed in the Corinthian Church.  The Corinthians had a difficult time following Christ.  They lived in the time before most of the New Testament had been written, they probably did not have a copy of the Old Testament, and, even if they had, they would not have understood it because they were Gentiles.  They were of a culture that was completely alien to the Bible.  Theirs was a culture of sensual indulgence.  Even their religions were primarily about sensuality and sensual experiences.  And everything was all about "Me;" whatever seems right to "Me," and whatever feels good to "Me." In fact, it was a culture very much like our own.

It took a while for those who converted to Christianity to put their pagan ideas, values, and religious views behind them, or even to know they should be put behind them.  So their pagan ideas followed them into the Church.  This was partly a calculated, intentional thing; and it was partly just because they didn't know any better.  When they heard about God they thought of Him the way they thought of pagan idols, and they tried to worship Him as they had worshiped their pagan gods.  They made Christianity all about having religious experiences.  And they made it all about "Me;" my faith, my beliefs, my salvation, my worship, and my relationship with Jesus.  This is the natural tendency of people, and we still see it in the lives and views of Christians today.  We're still trying to make Christianity all about experiencing God, my own personal faith, my beliefs, my salvation, my worship, my interpretation of the Bible, and my relationship with Jesus, as though it is only about  "Just Jesus and Me." 

There is some truth in me-centered religion.  A person must have personal faith in Christ. A person must be personally saved, personally read the Bible, personally worship God, and personally walk with Jesus.  But me centered religion leaves out the very important fact that individual faith, salvation, worship, understanding of the Bible, and relationship with Christ, are lived and practiced in the context of the wider Body of Christ, which the Bible calls the Church.

In contrast to me-centered religion, the Bible presents a God-centered faith.  One of the clearest statements of this is found in Ephesians 1:9 and 10, which tell us the purpose of God is to bring all things together in Christ.  God's purpose in building and sustaining this universe, and in sending Christ to the cross, and in sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Church, is to bring all things together under the Lordship of Christ.  Thanks be to God, Ephesians 1:11 tells us we have an inheritance in Him.  We have a share in His Kingdom, "according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will,"  but we need to remember that the Kingdom is about God and for His glory.  It is not about us or our glory.

The Bible also presents a unified Church instead of me-centered individualism.  In other words, instead of a highly individualised faith of independent Christians following God as the Spirit leads them, or, more correctly, as they think the Spirit is leading them, the Bible presents a view of a unified people following and serving God together as one person. This is a major part of the teaching of 1 Corinthians 3.  The language and intent is a little different from that in Ephesians 1, for, while Ephesians refers to all things in general, 1 Corinthians refers to the Church specifically.  But the idea of being brought together under Christ is found in both passages.  1 Corinthians describes the Church as the temple of God, the place where God dwells. The Church is one, and all the Christians together form the Temple, the Church.

This is not just a nice idea built on an isolated text.  It is taught throughout the New Testament and Bible.  Deuteronomy 6:4, for example address Israel as one body.  "Hear O Israel," not "Hear O Israelites. Look also at 1 Peter 2:5 which says "Ye" (plural) "as lively stones (plural), are built up a (singular) spiritual house," (singular), "an (singular) holy priesthood" (singular).  The point is that God is building a spiritual house for Himself, by putting Christians together to form a spiritual home for Himself.  Peter does not say God is collecting stones for a rock collection.  Some people collect rocks, and they have a story to tell about each rock.  God is not collecting rocks, He is building a spiritual house, a Temple for Himself.  That Temple is the Church.  You and I are stones in it.  God gathers us, shapes us, chips off the parts He doesn't want, sticks us into the mortar and we become part of the temple.  And in this Temple we become one.  We are a unity.  We are not just rocks, we are the Temple.

So the Bible teaches a unity of believers.  We are one body.  We are one building.  We are living stones in a living building  We are members of one another.  We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  God grant that we may always hold and practice the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.

2 comments:

  1. What a fine exposition, Bishop Campbell!

    Among those who prefer modern translations, it is not difficult to see folks tip the hat toward the KJV for its beautiful cadence and expression of the elevated English. However, very few people understand its exegetical advantages, especially for the English-only Bible student. Your treatment of the singulars and plurals are an excellent demonstration of the KJV's utility.

    With modern translations, one never knows (especially in narratives) whether the audience was a group or an individual. Consequently, modern translations foster the modern trend that your exposition puts in check, namely the individualistic 'Me-And-My-Jesus-Experience' Christianity, which is hardly Christianity at all.

    When encouraging folks to use the KJV, I usually tell them that, when it comes to archaic pronouns (which typically daunt new readers) the T's are singular, whereas all the Y's are plural. This rule may not be absolute (yet I've never found an exception), nevertheless, it can add a new and important dynamic for the reader.

    Perhaps someone will someday do a modern Southern translation and put "y'all" for the plurals. :)

    Thanks for a great exposition and exhortation!

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  2. Good points regarding the King James Bible. It often uses the more formal plural, favoured in Virginia, "you all."

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