The apostle Paul made references to the “temple of God” eleven times in scriptures in the New Testament. Nine of those are in First and Second Corinthians. For example, “you are God's temple” (1Cor 3:16 ESV); and, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1Cor 6:19), etc. What does Paul mean by “temple”?
George Whitefield, a renowned Calvinist preacher of the 18th Century says the expression is “undoubtedly metaphorical or figurative”. However, he and others like him assert that “under the metaphor there is “something real and of infinite importance”.
The words, “you are God’s temple” were originally directed to the church of Corinth, but they apply equally to us today, and to as many as the Lord our God shall call. Hence, I think it’s profitable for us to come to a clear understanding of what it means. Though we will just, in this limited space, barely touch on the surface of this topic.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is using the imagery of buildings. But he reveals that he is not speaking about an ordinary structure that man can construct. He calls our attention instead to God’s temple, which he insists is holy.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16 he pointedly asks the Corinthians, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” In other words, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God lives within you?”
The question “Do you not know?” posed by Paul was a rebuke to the Corinthians. He was scolding them for not knowing their own status and place in relation to God. They should have realized when they became Christians that the Holy Spirit dwelled within them and stayed with them. Elsewhere in his writings, Paul states pointedly that we are “the temple of the living God”, and “the whole building … develops into a holy temple in the Lord”.
For Paul and the Corinthians, the temple of God is the church, that is, the body of believers. In his lifetime when he became a Christian, Paul even though he fulfilled a vow and presented offerings at the physical temple in Jerusalem, for him the spiritual temple was the universal church. He also knew that when the church fails to listen to God's Word, the evil one gradually takes control and seeks to fulfil his desire to reside in that temple (2Thess 2:4).
However, that temple belongs not to Satan but to God. In Paul’s mind there is no other temple than the church of Jesus Christ where the Godhead is pleased to dwell. There is no other temple in which God would dwell.
The Church is holy because God’s Spirit dwells in the hearts and lives of the believers. In 1 Cor 6:19 Paul indicates that the Holy Spirit lives in the physical bodies of the believers, and he tells the Corinthians that the presence of the Spirit is within them and they are the temple of God.
The bottom line for us is: The church is holy because God is holy. Therefore you, every individual member of this sacred body is to be holy.
In Christ, Pastor Robert Chew