The Temple of the Holy Spirit


Readings: 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 and Matthew 11:25-30


Walk with me.  We are going to take a trip to ancient Corinth, the city which housed the church Paul was writing in 1 Corinthians.  Picture this:  Picture a major seaport town, a town placed just so that its location gave it the ability to control the sea traffic on two harbors and traffic overland to the cities located on the peninsula to its south.  Picture the wealth that comes from controlling the flow of goods and picture the vices and rough living that flourish in seaport towns.  Picture a city that was founded by the leaders of Rome by sending out those people who were potential troublemakers if they had been left in Rome.  Picture a city the locals believed was named after the son of the Greek god Zeus.[1] A city filled with Roman and Greek gods—one traveler took the time to describe 26 major temples to a large assortment of pagan gods whose worship included not just the giving of money and animal sacrifices, but also sexual acts with temple prostitutes.  In Corinth you could worship the sun or the sea or a number of gods who might help you out as you traveled the ocean.  You could worship the emperor of the emperor’s sister.  You could offer a sacrifice to Fortune or worship the Fates to try to better you lot in life.  Or, you could take the trip to the pinnacle of the temple district to bow down before the idol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and procreation.  The sex goddess was a local favorite.  In fact, the history of Corinth told of a place that was so filled with sexual immorality that throughout the Roman empire, you could use the word “korinthiadzo,” or “act like a Corinthian” and people would know that you were talking about sexual immorality.[2]

Now, do you have a picture of the city of Corinth in your mind?

Now, imagine what the church might look like in this place.  Picture what the Spirit of God might do in a place like Corinth.  Paul walked into Corinth knowing that no one in that town had ever heard the good news about Jesus Christ and knowing that it was a town that had a reputation for immorality, but he also walked into that town knowing that the Holy Spirit was with him and that the Holy Spirit was in the midst of the church.  Paul knew that no amount of idol worship or greed or lust could quench the Spirit of God from working in a city, so he moved into Corinth and spent a year and a half as God’s vessel carving the church out of a culture that thought it waned nothing to do with the one true God.  Listen to how Paul describes the people who came to be the church in Corinth: 9 Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers… 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:9-11)  He reminds them that before they became the church, they “were pagans, (and) were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak (1 Cor 12:2).

In fact, In the very first chapter of this letter, he reminds the church of who they were.  He invites them to “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26ff)  The church was not a bunch of upstanding citizens.  Instead it was average, broken, sinful Corinthians who the Spirit of God had gotten a hold of.

Paul wants to be sure that they remember where they came from.  He wants to remind them that it was the Holy Spirit who called them.  He wants to be sure that they remember that they have been transformed by the Spirit, that the church exists not because they were cleaned up and living right before they came to God, but instead because they were simply willing to let God work in them.  The whole letter jumps off from this place—everything that Paul has to say hinges on this: we are not the church because we are good enough or smart enough or because we have everything together.  No, we are the church because God called us when we were weak and broken and God formed the church out of us broken people.

So, when we get to our reading for today two chapters later, it is clear what Paul means when he says that they only foundation that works for the Church is Jesus Christ.  Our foundation is not our own wisdom or smarts.  We are not the church because we are really good singers and we want to sing together or because we have nothing better to do on Sunday mornings or even because we are good fundraisers and want to combat poverty.  We are the church because of what God did through Jesus Christ and what God continues to do in a bunch of weak and broken people—us.

In our reading today, Paul makes what is one of the strongest things that I think he could have said about the church.  He says this: “Do you (the church) not know that you (the church) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  Now, the church is not a building, but the church is the people of God, so to say that the church is the temple of God is not a statement that this building is somehow the place where God lives, but instead, it is a declaration that when the church gathers, then the Spirit of God is here, at work.

So, when we talk about what it means to be the church, we need to remember this.  The church is the temple of the Spirit.  The church is God’s—it is not ours, and in the church we should expect to see the Spirit at work transforming lives.  That means that the church should be a place where all people are welcome to come as we are—dirty, sinful, broken and hurting—and come knowing that when we gather as the people of God that the Holy Spirit is going to be in our midst to heal restore and redeem. 

Too often, the church becomes a club for those who think that we have everything together.  Too often, people do not feel welcome in the church if our lives are a mess, but I want to make clear today that Antioch/Williams is a place for people whose lives are a mess, because this is where God’s Spirit is at work!  In the same way that Paul started off his letter to the Corinthians reminding them that they were the church only because of the grace and Spirit of God, I want us to remember today that we are only the church by the grace and the Spirit of God.  That means it doesn’t matter if your grandparents or great-grandparents poured the foundation to the building and it doesn’t matter if we think the church can’t survive without our offering, this is not your church, and it is not my church, it is God’s church, the temple of God’s Spirit. 

I will go further to say this: we are only the church if we here in this room and the people in our community are encountering the Holy Spirit through the church.  If the Spirit is not a part of what goes on here, then this can’t be the church, because the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit dwells in the church, so if we are the church, then the Spirit is here in our midst!

So, are we the temple of the Holy Spirit?  Is the Holy Spirit present and active here?  How do we know?  As I think about the church in Corinth and as I think about places where I know that I have seen the Spirit of God at work, the way that we know the Spirit is present is through lives that are transformed into followers of Christ.  Lives that began as 9 Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers” and went from that to the place where they “were washed, were sanctified, were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

Now, there have been times in my life when I have seen people totally transformed by the Spirit of God, and, it is a beautiful thing.  I can remember praying for the siblings of a few of my friends in college.  I can’t tell you whether we were praying for them for months or years, but I remember seeing things begin to change in what I was hearing about these guys whom I had never met.  I remember when these guys moved from being hostile to the idea of God to beginning to show interest in seeking God and then showing up at a time of worship and God getting a hold of them and turning their lives upside down.  I had the privilege of having a mentoring relationship with a few guys who God had turned upside down in this way and let me just tell you, it was fun.  They had no idea what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but they were totally committed to it and we had many great talks about how they were going to live now that the Spirit of God was working in their lives.

What is sad to me is that we do not see this more in the church.  If we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, why are more lives not changed in the church?  Why are more people not brought into the church seeking a God who transforms and restores?  Why is it that more people do not hear the church offering the invitation of Jesus:

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28)

Instead, the world sees the church as offering them a heavy burden of rules and regulations and restrictions to further weigh them down.  My friends, we are not here to offer a burden, but to offer the Spirit of God. Paul would tell the Corinthians in his second letter to them, “where the Spirit of The Lord is, there is freedom” (3:17).  Jesus has little patience for those who, like the Pharisees, enjoy placing burdens on others. 

So, how do we build our church community to truly be the church and to be a temple of the Holy Spirit?  Paul makes clear in our reading that how we build the church is essential, because some build with “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.” (1 Cor 3:12-13) He feels so strongly about the importance of us building the church well that he offers a rather sobering pronouncement about the fate of those who tear down the church.  He says “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1Cor 3:17)

In order to ensure that we are building Antioch/Williams as a place where the Holy Spirit is welcome we need to live, each of us individually and together as a church, as people filled with the Spirit and seeking the Spirit.  That means that we need to come to the church with hearts open and honest before God asking that God would be changing us and transforming us.  I heard this yesterday:

This weekend, some people will dress up and go out in public trying to act like someone they aren't. Enough about church Sunday. Halloween is Monday.”

The comment made me both laugh and cringe.  We church-folk love to pretend that everything is perfect in our lives.  We have to let go of that and be honest about ourselves and our lives if we are going to let the Spirit work in our lives. 

When the Spirit is working in us, it will be clear.  Listen to how Paul describes the impact of the Holy Spirit on a life:

22the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  (Gal 5:22-25)

If we live by the Spirit, then we will be guided by the Spirit, and if our church is guided by the Spirit then we will be shaping the church community to help others to encounter the Spirit.  We will be asking ourselves the question: “Is everything we do here designed to help people encounter the Spirit of God?”  When we can answer that question, “yes, everything we do here is designed to help people encounter the Spirit,” then we will know that we are well on our way to truly being the church!

We are the church gathered here.  The Spirit is here with us.  But, God is also calling us to live out our calling more fully.   I can tell you with confidence that the Spirit of God is present here with us, so as we pray, know that the Spirit is here and know that the Spirit is inviting you to come before God with your heart and life truly open.  May we seek the Spirit of God together!






[1] (Pausanias’ description of the city)

[2] Fee, Gordon.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians. 1-4