Thursday, June 19, 2008

How to Destroy God's Temple (Not that You Would Want To)

This is my really long manuscript for the sermon on community I'll be preaching on the 26th.

How to Destroy God’s Temple (Not that You Would Want To)

If you’re at all interested in history, archeology, world religions, or even architecture, then you probably get fascinated by temples. Even if you’re not interested in those things, or in other words, if you have a life, temples can still be intriguing places.

Some temples are beautiful structures, or located in peaceful environments. Even if you don’t follow this specific religion, you would probably still want to visit these places. There are other temples, however, that you would never want to visit. Like, for example, this guy’s. 

Any temple where the chief priest is holding a flaming, beating human heart in his hand is not a temple I want to be in. But, to each his own, I suppose.

The idea of a temple is pretty simple, really. It’s a god’s house. In biblical times, the architecture would often be modeled after the king’s palace, or vice versa. For the nations that did not worship Yahweh, as Israel did, their temples would house the idols of their gods.

Israel’s temple is often described as the house of Yahweh. And yet they instinctively knew that God did not dwell in houses made by human hands. So there was a tension there, that this temple is our God’s house, and yet he doesn’t live here. He is too vast and great to be confined to one small building on earth. Heaven is his throne and the earth his footstool. His house cannot house him.

But that didn’t make the temple obsolete or inconsequential. Instead, it was one of the three great symbols of Israel’s national identity, along with Torah and the land. It was the hub of her religious practice and worship.

So when it was destroyed by the Babylonians, it was a calamity of calamities. Along with being carted off into exile, it was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to Israel, and therefore to the whole world. Torah, temple, and lend were all that Israel had, and in 587 the Babylonians took their temple and their land. It was catastrophic.

After the exile a second temple was built. But it was never quite like the first one. Even though Herod the Great made all kinds of improvements to it, and made it a truly remarkable temple, it just wasn’t the same. There was a lot of ambivalence about whether or not this was the true temple.

Paul, who, as an ex-Pharisee, was a former temple advocate, declares emphatically that this temple is not the true temple. Something has caused him to change his mind. Let’s look at I Corinthians 3:16-17 together.

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

One quick note on the language here. These yous are not singular yous, they are plural. That’s why the NIV translates it “you yourselves [plural] are God’s temple [singular].”

The new temple of God is the people of God. The Christian community is the temple. The temple is no longer a building, it’s no longer isolated in Jerusalem. The temple is God’s people. Wherever they gather, that’s the temple.

This is a radical reinterpretation of the temple, obviously. It affirms the ancient notion that God does not dwell in houses built by human hands, and it also fulfills the ancient prophecy that God will live with his people. Immanuel, God with us. All who call on the name of Jesus Christ are part of God’s new temple on earth.

The community of God is the temple of God. This gathering here tonight is a temple. It’s a house of God. Your community is a house of God. The Nehemiah Project, when you all gather, is a house of God.

And the difference between the new temple and the old is that God actually lives in this one. The Holy Spirit lives in you. God does not dwell in houses built by human hands, but he does dwell in communities built by his common act of grace--Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. God has built himself a house, but instead of brick and mortar, he has used flesh and blood.

After I graduated from Ohio State in 2001 I moved back to Toledo to help support the struggling college ministry, which was called Unbound, of the church I grew up in. The first night that I was there we were supposed to have a service, but there was nobody to speak, nobody to do music, and we were locked out of the building. So the eight of us that were there decided to go play miniature golf. That was my first night of full-time ministry.

Over the next two years God built himself a temple. He brought some great people into the community of Unbound, and he raised up a whole lot of people from within it. We saw people get saved, and the community grew to about 75 people, with attendance over 100 several times, which is pretty remarkable considering the church itself didn’t average 300 in attendance.

God was so faithful during that time. He really was building himself a temple called Unbound. And he does some really cool things sometimes.

At one service in 2003, right in the middle of the sermon, about 10 or 12 people walked into the gathering and sat right up front. Now I wasn’t speaking at that service, so I was sitting in my seat, “Who the heck are these people? Pretty stinking late is what they are.” And then the sermon ended, and the worship music started, and then I realized why they were there. These folks who had never come before and never came again brought such an energy, as the congregation, into our worship, and our whole group was brought into the presence of God. They even impacted that band. It was amazing.

It was as though God was saying, “Unbound is not my only temple on earth. Here are some folks from a different temple, a different community. See how beautiful it is when you come together.”

I actually have a couple of minutes of video that I’d like to show you from that night. I know it’s self-indulgent, but forgive me. I sacrificed my own worship experience to grab my video camera and record it, so I think I deserve it. Here, watch this.

[I'm going to show the "We Are Hungry" portion of the video from this entry.]

Maybe for some of you that would be considered an off-night. But for us, for the congregation to be louder than the band, for that many college kids to be raising their hands at a regular worship service, that was a big deal. That was an act of God. That was a moment of temple for our community. It was a night after which we all said, “That’s why we do what we do.”

You are a sacred people. This is a sacred assembly. This community is holy to God. But it’s not because you were holy to begin with, or because you do sacred things. You are God’s temple by his choice, not by your own righteousness. You are not a sacred assembly because you do sacred things, you do sacred things because God has made you a sacred people.

God’s Spirit lives in you personally, and he lives in you corporately. The presence of the Spirit of God is what makes Christian community distinctive from every other gathering on earth. God has chosen to dwell by his Spirit among his people, and he has declared that his people are his temple. It is his Spirit that makes this community holy. It is his Spirit that makes you, as individuals and as a group, holy. He has set you apart as a people that he might make of you a temple worthy of the presence of his very own Spirit.

That’s the high calling of Christian community. That’s the glory of the Church--to be the living temple of the living God. And that’s why Satan is so anxious to steal, kill, and destroy any and every Christian community.

But we can be wise to his plans. I promise you that Satan will attempt to destroy this community this summer. He will also attempt to destroy the h2o church plant team. He will try to destroy OCF. He hates God so much that anywhere he finds a temple of God, a community of God’s people, he will try to tear it to the ground.

So, let me tell you How to Destroy God’s Temple (Not that You Would Want To). I know, it took me a long time just to tell you the title of my sermon. But I see in the first six chapters of I Corinthians six ways that Satan, or you, or I can destroy God’s temple.

The first way to destroy God’s temple is to Form Factions. Look at 1:10-12.

10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

Imagine an old temple building that has been divided into a hundred tiny rooms with makeshift walls. Is it even a temple anymore? It probably looks more like a prison with a hundred tiny cells where each little group tries to worship the same God in their own way. What is so sacred about that? Forming Factions is one of the surest ways to destroy a temple.

Factions and divisions are abominations for the Church because Jesus Christ died for our sins, and on his cross was crucified every dividing wall and every hostile attitude in all the world. Let’s look quickly at Ephesians 2:14-22.

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

God combats factions with the cross of his Son. In the death of Jesus enemies become friends, rivals become family, the fractured become united. God loves unity. It’s who he is--the tri-unity. Factions and divisions come from Satan, but God comes against these with the very cross of Jesus Christ.

You can participate with God in his war against factions by being humble toward your brothers and sisters. You don’t have to be right all the time. You can be the first one to apologize. You can be the one to cross the barrier and say, “Please forgive me.” You can be the one to listen twice as much as you talk. You can be the one to initiate reconciliation. You can be the peacemaker. You can die to yourself. You can bite your tongue. You can give a gentle response. You can speak words that heal.

The Church is in short supply of unity these days, but it’s on God’s heart. When you stand before God face-to-face, with the light of his glory radiating over you, won’t all of your differences seem so petty? Won’t all of the arguments seem so inane? Won’t you weep over the small things that kept you apart? I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, I follow Cephas, I follow Luther, I follow Calvin, I follow Rob Bell, I follow Mark Driscoll, I follow Erwin McManus--it's all so petty. Besides, those guys would slap you if they heard you talk like that.

The first way to destroy God’s temple is to form factions. The second way is to be ashamed of the gospel. Look at 1:18.

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Being ashamed of the gospel is like being unsaved. It’s the same as not believing it. Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead, and now he’s the king of all creation. This is what makes us who we are.

Yes, some people will not believe it, and they will go to hell. If that makes you intolerant, close-minded, uncool, or whatever, so be it. You can’t change the gospel without making it unchristian. You can only make it more palatable by removing the key ingredients. It can only become universally acceptable if you remove the parts about sin, resurrection, and Jesus’ kingship. And then it ceases to be the gospel.

Paul says, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The gospel is power. It defines the temple. It defines our community. If you change the gospel you destroy the temple. Don’t let the haughty skepticism of Starbucks atheists and dime-a-dozen would-be philosophers shame you into compromising the truth by which you are saved.

The second way to destroy God’s temple is to be ashamed of the gospel. The third way is it’s cousin--the desire for worldly wisdom and acceptance. Look at 3:18-19.

18Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.

Jesus is going to make you look stupid in the eyes of the world. Are you prepared to deal with that? Can you live with that kind of scorn?

Because let me tell you, you can fall over yourself apologizing to the world for how the Church did this and Christians did that, but they will never accept you until they believe. You can distance yourself from these Christians and those believers and even the Church in general, but they will not accept you until you become like them in their unbelief.

God’s way is the way of humiliation. It is the way of foolishness. It is the way of a Crucified King, a Risen Lord, and a Living God. The acceptance you so desperately want from the world cannot happen unless you compromise the God who has already accepted you, who has already embraced you, who has loved you from the very beginning!

God accepts you! Who needs the world? God has loved you from the beginning of creation! Who needs the coffee shop when you have the church? Who needs the bar when you have the temple? God accepts you. Don’t be afraid to be a fool for him.

The fourth way to destroy God’s temple is to harbor sin. Look at 5:1-2.

1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?

I mean, sometimes you’ve just got to kick somebody to the curb. Dude, if you’re sleeping with your mom, or your step-mom, or doing something that even the worst sinners would be like, “Dude,” then you’ve got to go.

In verse 11 Paul says, 11But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

12What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."

Should Christians be judgmental? Yes. Of other Christians. God’s temple is a sanctuary for sinners, not for sin. I know that excommunication has a bad reputation, but it’s biblical, as long as the intent is for future restoration.

Harboring sin in God’s temple destroys the sacredness of that place. Sin is contagious. It will infect the rest of you if you let it go unchecked in the community. Harboring sin will destroy God’s temple, and it will get ugly.

The fifth way to destroy God’s temple is to publicly dispute with one another. Look at 6:4-8.

4Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!

7The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

Suing is not the answer for Christians, especially when it comes to disputing with each other. Taking it to the press, taking it to your friends, is not the way to handle a dispute. Find an arbiter within the church. Find someone who can be a peacemaker between the two parties. Boy do we look bad when we tear each other down in front of unbelievers.

The final way to destroy God’s temple is to be sexually immoral. Look at 6:18-20.

18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Not only are you, collectively, the temple of God, but your bodies, individually, are temples of the Holy Spirit. What you do with your body matters. What you eat and drink, and especially who you have sex with, matters to God.

In fact, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore. If you’re single, your body belongs to God. If you’re married, your body belongs to God and to your spouse. You were bought at a price, therefore honor God with your body.

The biblical standard is clear, don’t have sex with anyone except for your spouse. How many more churches have to be torn apart by adultery, and how many more fellowships of people your age have to be ripped to shreds by premarital sexual relationships, before we finally get this?

Sexual immorality will destroy God’s temple that is the Christian community, and it will desecrate God’s temple that is your body. Flee from it. Just run. You don’t have to fight it. Turn and run away. You can even flail your arms like a schoolgirl if it will help, just get the heck out of there.

Six certain ways to destroy God’s temple: Forming Factions, Being Ashamed of the Gospel, Desiring Worldly Wisdom and Acceptance, Harboring Sin, Publicly Disputing with One Another, and Being Sexually Immoral.

All of these things and more were happening in the church in Corinth. They were a messed up temple. The whole thing was falling apart.

Now what about you? Have you been destroying God’s temple in any of these ways? Have you been a faction former? Have you been gossiping about and slandering your leaders? Have you been compromising the gospel? Have you been harboring or hiding sin? Have you been publicly disputing with a brother or sister? Have you been sexually immoral?

Now is as good a time as any to repent. Now is as good a time as any to bring what has been committed in darkness into the light. Find someone you trust and talk to them. Confess your sins, because God is faithful to forgive them. Heaven is waiting to pour out healing and reconciliation. But there can be no healing in the darkness. There can be no redemption for what is not confessed.

You are the temple of God. God’s Spirit lives in you and among you. You are a sacred community. Will you keep it sacred?

Let’s pray.

1 comment:

Corey said...

Strong word, Andy, and one that the Church at large needs to embrace. I don't know why but it seems that now, more than any other time in recent history, this word has become increasingly poignant. Darn-I wish we served together!