Notes on 1 Corinthians 3:16-23

1 Corinthians 3:16‑23  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The figure of a building with its foundation, already used, furnishes the apostle with a yet fuller illustration. We have seen workmen wise or negligent, materials costly and durable or perishable and worthless, with a reward as the result on the one hand, or the workman suffering the loss of his work and his person only saved with difficulty. Now he develops on both sides, and contrasts the holiness of God's temple in the saints with the enemy's instruments in corrupting and destroying.
“Know ye not that ye are God's temple, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any one destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, which ye are. Let none deceive himself: if any one thinketh himself to be wise among you in this age, let him become foolish that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; for it is written, He that taketh the wise in their craftiness; and again, [The] Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise that they are vain. Wherefore let none boast in men, for all things are yours: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and ye Christ's, and Christ God's.” (Ver. 16-28.)
Thus God has His temple on earth now as surely as of old in Israel. But this is often not seen by those who confess that the old Levitical order is judged and gone, and that the effort to imitate it since redemption is to fall away from the grace and truth of God now come in Christ, and proclaimed in the gospel, and to be displayed in the Christian and the church. It was the presence of God always which constituted God's temple. Not the costliness of stones, nor the splendor of gold or silver, but the cloud wherein Jehovah was pleased to come down was its true glory, when Israel could boast of a habitation in their midst for the mighty One of Jacob. So now it is not merely that there are Christians, but God has His house or temple. It is the assembly, not the individuals considered as such, but those builded together for the purpose in virtue of the Spirit. See Eph. 2:2222In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22). The Spirit dwells in each believer doubtless; but this is another truth and equally certain from God's word. “Know ye not that ye are God's temple, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” How solemn the fact that a divine person, the Holy Ghost, dwells where Christians are; and this, it may be added, because of redemption! For it was never so till the work of Christ was wrought, and He going on high sent the Holy Spirit down to be in the saints and abide with them forever. It is God's testimony to the efficacy of His sacrifice. Whatever the mercies and blessings and privileges before, this could not be till the blood that makes atonement forever was shed. Now the Spirit of God comes where that blood-shedding is confessed; and there He dwells, making those who confess it God's temple.
But it is much to be weighed that the apostle is here sheaving the danger not only of unreality but of defilement. There are those who build wisely and well; there are those who admit what is trashy, who build on the one and only foundation unfit materials. But there is worse still. There is the enemy at work using men that bear the Lord's name to corrupt or destroy: the same word, and one may say, the same thing. For God speaks of evil doctrine according to its own nature if it work unimpeded; and this is the only result of heterodoxy so left. He who teaches it corrupts and destroys; and him who destroys (or corrupts) the temple of God shall God destroy. Awful end! but is there not a cause? is it not sufficient? Could the holy God feel or do otherwise? It is in vain to plead love; for in truth the blow of love in caring for the objects beloved is beyond all to be feared. And how does not God resent that evil Which defiles the holy temple where His Spirit dwells in virtue and honor of the work of Christ on the cross? He will surely destroy those whom Satan thus employs, under whatever disguise, to pollute the very streams of life and blessing for souls, yea, to dishonor the temple wherein He dwells.
It is to deceive oneself where any reason is allowed in palliation of evil. Men who so weaken—I will not say Christian feeling only, but—common conscience may be found among those who bear the Lord's name; but, specious as they may seem and fine-spoken, it is not the wisdom of God in Christ, but of this age that comes to naught. How incomparably better and safer to become foolish that one may be wise! Such was the path the apostle took, obedient to the heavenly vision. Did he not seem foolish in the eyes of all with whom he broke? Was he not wise, whatever a Festus might say? What and where is Festus now? and Agrippa and Bernice? and the high priest and the accusing chiefs of the Jews? They thought themselves wise; and so did others who in the Corinthian assembly brought in the wisdom of the schools to evade the cross and stand well with the men of the time.
But everywhere, without yet more than within,” the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God;” and nowhere is its character so exposed, nowhere its indulgence so perilous, as in the temple of God—the church. So it is written in Job 4:1313In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, (Job 4:13), and Psa. 94:1111The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. (Psalm 94:11). Whether one look back on past experience or forward to the kingdom, it makes no difference: least of all can human craft or sage reasonings suit God's temple, or those who traffic in them there escape His judgment. And why should those boast who have with Christ all things? For so indeed it is in the grace of God. “All things are yours: whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and ye Christ's, and Christ God's.” We have all and abound, not only all those whom flesh would set up as rivals, but all circumstances present and future, ours now through the grace of Christ, and ourselves His as He is God's, forever and to His glory. How blessed and infinite the associations which flesh overlooks and the world in its self-sufficient nothingness treats as nothing!