Problems Plaguing a Local Church, Part 7

In our message, Y’ALL ARE THE TEMPLE OF GOD (1 Cor. 3:16-23), we continued to look at the Holy Spirit addressing Christians who are not maturing because of unconfessed sin. These are “brethren… babes in Christ” (i.e. saved people), but who are also “carnal” (1 Cor. 3:1). All Christians, whether “spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:15) or “carnal” (1 Cor. 3:1-4), possess the right “foundation… which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:9, 11; John 3:7; 1 Pet. 2:6; Acts 4:12, etc.), and are God’s “fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). But the question in view here is whether we will “take heed how [we] build… on” this precious foundation (1 Cor. 3:10b; Matt. 16:18, etc.).

The Lord informs us here that “each one” of us as His children will be accountable to Him for the lives we have lived at “the judgment seat of Christ” when Jesus comes for us (1 Cor. 3:8; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; Luke 19:11-27, etc.). At that time, the Bible shows us, our lives will be evaluated for “the Day will declare it [and] it will be revealed by fire [with] the fire test[ing] each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:8, 13; 2 Cor. 5:10, etc.). The Word continues, “If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:14-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; Luke 19:11-27; Gal. 6:9-10; 2 Tim. 2:11-13, etc.).
In further admonition to His wayward children at Corinth and as a form of encouragement to those who were walking with Him, the Holy Spirit then picks up in verse 16: “Do you not know… [Y’ALL] ARE THE TEMPLE OF GOD…?” (1 Cor. 3:16 caps my emphasis). Both pronouns “you” in verse 16 are plural as is the pronoun “you” in verse 17. The Lord is addressing the entire church body there (1 Cor. 3:16-17) and not an individual like He does in 1 Corinthians 6:19. And the statement, “Do you not know” (the first of ten such statements in the book 1 Corinthians) refers to an undisputable truth. God shows us here that all the church in Corinth- the entire local body of believers there- is indwelt by “the Spirit of God” and also that the local church is God’s “temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). The word “temple” here unlike the word plural word “you” is singular (naós in the Greek) and means “the Holy place and the Holy of holies.” That is, holy God indwells the world today through the local church! (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8, etc.).

In view of this the Lord gives perhaps the strongest warning in the New Testament about taking the church lightly: “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him…” (1 Cor. 3:17a; Acts 9: 1-4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17, etc.). Some erroneously teach this is a Christian committing suicide who then is forsaken by God, but the Bible shows us clearly the sin in view is not killing oneself (an individual temple of God as 1 Cor. 6:19 states) but destroying the local body of believers- the collective local church as a whole (i.e. “y’all” in 1 Cor. 3:16-17). Scripture also is clear, no sin, nothing, can separate us as God’s children from His eternal love or keep us out of heaven because we have been saved by His unmerited, undeserved grace through the blood of the Lamb! (1 Cor. 3:15; Rom. 8:31-39; 1 Cor. 3:21-22; John 1:29, etc.).

However, because this warning here is so strong, many scholars also will jump ship at this point and say the “anyone” of verse 17 who “defiles” God’s church and then is destroyed by God must be a non-Christian. While the book of Jude and other passages in the Bible do show us unsaved people can sneak into church fellowships undetected masquerading as Christians, the audience in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 has not changed from verse 1, and verses 13 to 15 connect with verses 16 to 17. Also, the Bible says in the same verse, “For the temple of God is holy, which temple you [that is, y’all] are” (1 Cor. 3:17b). An unsaved person is NOT part of the temple of God here, so the “anyone” who “defiles the temple of God” is contextually shown to be the “carnal” Christian of verses 1 and 2 (i.e. 1 Cor. 3:1-17). They have heard the strong warning of verse 15, but may continue to deceive themselves by refusing to turn from sin (i.e. 1 Cor. 3:18a) saying something like, “So what? So, I ‘suffer loss’ a little bit. I still have my ticket to heaven… Who cares?” The Lord turns up the heat here with any disobedient children showing their actions will be met with serious discipline in their life if they don’t repent not just at the judgment seat of Christ but NOW (i.e. “… God will destroy him 1 Cor. 3:15, 17; Heb. 12:4-11, etc.).

In the NKJV the word “defile” and “destroy” in verse 17 is the same Greek word (φθείρω phtheírō) and it means ‘to pine or waste away; or properly, to shrivel or whither’ (1 Cor. 3:17). The only other place it is used in the book of First Corinthians is chapter 15 verse 33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts [i.e. phtheírō] good habits’” (1 Cor. 15:33). In other words, if we keep bad company, it will ruin our good morals or sound character (1 Cor. 15:33 ESV). Likewise, if we destroy (tear down) the local church body through personal unconfessed sin, our own lives will be torn down by God. This destruction is a temporal ‘ruin’ in person’s life- much like the discipline shown of the child of God walking in the serious unconfessed sin of chapter 5. Such a person we are told is to be delivered “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh… [but] his spirit” is still “saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). The context of 1 Cor. 3:15 shows us the same truth. Dr. Wiersbe puts it this way, “Each of us builds into the church what we build into our own lives… So we will end up tearing down our own lives if we fail to build into the church the values that will last.” Another way to view the word “defile” or “destroy” (Grk. phtheírō) is a wasted life. Dr. Dillow explains, “Any Christian whose actions result in disunity [this can be any unconfessed sin BTW] and ultimate dissolution of a local church can only face ‘destruction’ from God… It is also possible that Paul has already explained himself in the preceding verses: loss of all his life work at the judgment seat of Christ!”
This strong warning from God is meant to jolt the “carnal” Christian to repentance. Unconfessed sin always destroys (this can be a marriage, a business venture or any other relationship as well), so God wants us to come around before “the Day” He comes for us. He wants us to live for Him now advancing His kingdom today and disciplines us always and only because He loves us and hates sin (Prov. 28:13; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; John 11:33, etc.). The only way a Christian can “Guard against self-deception” (1 Cor. 3:18a NET) is to REPENT (1 John 1:9).
We need to remember “the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:19a), and the Lord “catches the wise in their own craftiness” (1 Cor. 3:19, a quote of Job 5:13). That is, human wisdom will always trap a person. Also, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile” (1 Cor. 3:20, quoting Ps. 94:11). The wisdom of this world cannot save a person or answer the deepest questions of life. “Christ crucified [is]… the power… and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

This is why we should not “boast in men” whether it be others or ourselves but in God alone (1 Cor. 3:21). Human wisdom limits God’s blessings in our lives when we are actually possessors of “all things” (1 Cor. 3:21). All of God’s servants- Paul, Apollos, Peter, etc. were blessings to them from “the Father of lights” who gives us every “good… and perfect gift” (1 Cor. 3:22; James 1:16-17). Even “death” itself (though an enemy and the reason why Jesus came to save us) will be used for good by God ultimately in a Christian’s life because it will usher us into the presence of our Savior (for those who pass away before He comes- 1 Cor. 3:22; 15:26, 50-54; Phil. 1:22-23; Rom. 8:28, 31-39, etc.).
“All things are yours” (1 Cor. 3:21). That is Christian liberty. But it is also true we as Christians “are Christ’s” (1 Cor. 3:23). That is Christian responsibility. One day the Lord will make all of His children “appear” at the judgment seat of Christ revealing and laying bare everything (1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:9-10, etc.). This is the place of evaluation and resolution where God will deal with any unresolved issues (i.e. unconfessed things) and make them fair.

  • “Let us live in such a way as to hear, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant’” -Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor Moody Church in Chicago
  • Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” -Missionary C.T. Studd
  • “God will leave nothing to loose ends; in fact, since believers will be fully sanctified, they will desire such a judgment.” -John Murray speaking on the judgment seat of Christ