Message # 13 | 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 | March 6, 2016

First, thank you for allowing me the great privilege of studying God’s Word. I have had great joy in studying 1 Corinthians the past few months. An example of this is seen in these past three messages. A few weeks ago I intended to preach through 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 in one message. I now found myself on a third message in this section and what I found was amazing!

Passage: 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 (ESV) 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

In this passage, what is brought to our attention is the fact that Paul likens the church (a physical gathering of the universal body) to a temple. You may not yet find that exciting . . . in fact most of us have known that truth for a long time.

It is possible that many of us have processed this passage a number of different ways . . .

Former Catholics may recall this passage being taught as a proof text for suicide being a sin . . . not only a sin, but a sin that results in eternal damnation. In other words, “If anyone destroys God’s temple by committing suicide, God will destroy you.” That might concern us if the “you” in this passage was speaking of individuals, but it’s not. It is speaking of a group of people. The use of “you” in verses 16 and 17 are all in the plural.

Maybe you grew up with this passage being applied to you as an individual and resulting in you being told to not hinder your body in anyway because it was the temple of the Holy Spirit. We weren’t supposed to smoke, drink, get tattoos, etc . . . why? . . . because our body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. While I’m not going to argue for any of those things and there are other passages that refer to the individual believer being the temple of the Holy Spirit, this passage is not one of them.

Maybe you grabbed ahold of the concept that temple in this passage was referring to the Corinthian church as a whole . . . maybe other passages came to mind . . . such as 1 Peter 2 where we are referred to as precious stones being built up into a spiritual house and that we are priests in a temple offering spiritual sacrifices.

1 Peter 2:4–5 (ESV) 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Maybe Ephesians came to mind in which believers are being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone, a holy temple growing up in the Lord.

Ephesians 2:19–22 (ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

If these concepts and these passages came to mind, you would have been in the same place, thinking the same things I was a few weeks ago.  “Okay then . . . we as a church are the temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s a wonderful truth, but I’m still not exactly sure why you’re so excited.”

If I had done this entire section in one message a few weeks ago, I would have still been pretty excited about the truths we find in this passage as well as the others. But, if I had summarized this whole passage in one message, I would have missed some beautiful truths. I hope I can unveil for you this morning even a glimmer of the glory in this passage. I also hope that I haven’t set up this passage so dramatically that you’re disappointed at the end J

What I would like for all of us to be encouraged by and even a little awed by is one simple fact and one simple yet profound caution.

Purpose Statement: God desires to dwell with His people. Don’t hinder His dwelling place.

Message Outline

God Desires to Dwell With His People.

I’m sure as we consider the idea of the church being a temple, you likely allowed your mind to wander back to the Old Testament temple and maybe even back a little further to the Tabernacle in the wilderness . . . but let me take you even further back to what might appropriately be considered the first temple . . .

God dwelt with Adam and Eve in the garden.

Genesis 3:8 (ESV) And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

In Ezekiel, the Lord is speaking through Ezekiel and refers back to a time when Satan was in the garden:

Ezekiel 28:14 (ESV) You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.

The garden of Eden was the first “temple.”

Garden of God (Ez 28:13)

The Mountain of God (Ez 28:14) . . . The temple was on a mount and the future temple is on a mount.

Sanctuaries (Ez 28:18) . . . the temple had numerous holy sections or sanctuaries

It was where God was present with his people.

The Tree of Life was in the garden . . . The lampstand outside the Holy of Holies in both the tabernacle and the temple was modeled after the tree of life from the garden.

Adam was left to work the garden and keep it (Gen 2:15) . . . The priests in the Tabernacle and Temple were as well told to keep guard over the altar and work (Num 18:5-6) . . . Believers are holy priests who are a spiritual temple and are called to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:4-7).

Scripture seems to indicate (Gen 2:10) that Eden is distinct from the garden. This is as well clearly stated in the Talmud (Brachos 34b).

Genesis 2:10 (ESV) A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.

“This is Eden,20  which has never been seen by the eye of any creature, perhaps you will say, Where then was Adam? He was in the garden. Perhaps you will say, the garden and Eden are the same? Not so! For the text says: And a river went out of Eden to water the garden21  — the garden is one thing and Eden is another.”

In similar fashion to the three parts of the temple (Holy of Holies, Holy Place, and outer courts), Eden, the garden, and the rest of the creation offered a threefold breakup.

The garden of Eden was ideal . . . a beautiful place left for man to work, cultivate, and extend . . . a place for man to dwell with God . . . a place in which man was to be characterized by obedience.

And yet man disobeyed, plunging not only himself, but all mankind and creation into a pit of despair, brokenness, separation, sin, and death.

And yet, God still desired to dwell with His people and enacted His eternal plan to once again restore His dwelling place with man in what could be considered a second Eden.

God dwelt with Israel’s Forefathers in sanctuaries.

Abraham (Gen 12:7-8)[1] . . . Isaac (Gen 26:24-25)[2] . . . Jacob (Gen 28:12-17)[3]

In each instance an altar and a tent are set up. God comes to these individuals and reiterates his promise to bless them, multiply them, and bless all the nations through them.

In each of these instances the LXX (Septuagint) uses the greek word skēnē[4] which is significant in that it is this word that is used to refer to the Tabernacle throughout Exodus and Leviticus.

Beale: Just as the commission to Adam was given in God’s sanctuary in Eden, this commission to Abram is given in a small sanctuary, where the Lord appears and an altar and tent are built (Gen 12: 7-8). The construction of a tent and altar (Gen 12: 8) suggest that this area was a smaller form of the sanctuary and tabernacle to be built later. . . . Here in these patriarchal commissions, (1) God appears to them (except in Gen 12: 8; 13: 3-4), and (2) they pitch a tent (literally a “tabernacle” in the LXX) (3) on a mountain and (4) build “altars” to worship God (5) at “Bethel”— the “house of God.” The combination of these five elements occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament only in describing Israel’s tabernacle or temple.[5]

Beale: The combination of “tent” (’ ōhel) and “altar” (mizbakh) occur in Exodus and Leviticus only with respect to the tabernacle and associated altar (e.g., Lev 4: 7, 18). “Altar” (mizbakh) and “house” (bayit) occur twenty-eight times in the Old Testament with reference to the temple and its altar. Rarely do any of the words in these two combinations ever refer to anything else other than the tabernacle or temple and its context.[6]

God dwelt with his people on Sinai.

God freed his people from Egypt so he could dwell with them.

Exodus 29:45–46 (ESV) 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them.

Once they had been freed and were “safe” within the wilderness, he comes to them on Mount Sinai.

Exodus 19:16–20 (ESV) 16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain . . . 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Note the three-fold division within this meeting. The people had to stay at the foot of the mountain, the elders could go up further, but only Moses went all the way up (Ex 24:1-2).

As well it is here that Moses receives instructions for the Tabernacle to be built.

God dwelt with his people in the tabernacle.

The Lord instructs Moses to build a Tabernacle . . .

Exodus 25:8–9 (ESV) 8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

At the end of Exodus, we see the instruction to set up the Tabernacle. Once they do, the Lord comes and dwells in the Tabernacle.

Exodus 40:1–3 (ESV) 1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. 3 And you shall put in it the ark of the testimony . . .

Exodus 40:33–35 (ESV) 33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

God dwelt with his people in the temple.

The Lord comes to Nathan and tells him to go tell David that it is time for a house to be built in which God can dwell.

2 Samuel 7:4–6 (ESV) 4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.

We fastforward through the story of David preparing the materials for the temple and through Solomon building the temple . . . to the temple being built and the ark of the covenant being placed inside (1 Kings 8:6-9) . . .

1 Kings 8:10–11 (ESV) 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

This temple was never intended to be the permanent dwelling place of God. We needed a new and second Adam. We needed a new Eden . . . one not defiled by sin and the fall. So the second Adam is born and with him the new initiation of a temple that would take thousands of years to finish . . . but would one day result in the restoration of the perfect dwelling place of God with man . . . and this time, with an Adam that would not defile it. Christ enters into the story . . . God tabernacled with man.

God dwelt with us in Christ.

In Jesus, however, the concept of the temple shifts from the architectural temple to his person.

John 1:14 (ESV) 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The same word that was translated tent and tabernacle in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) is now used in 1 John 1. God tabernacled in his creation in the person of Jesus Christ. God didn’t come down and fill a tent or the temple, Christ came down and the fullness of God dwelt with man.

And the messianic prophecy of Ezekiel 37 begins to unfold . . .

Ezekiel 37:27 (ESV) My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Christ points to himself as the temple in a number of passages . . .

Matthew 12:6 (ESV) 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

John 2:18–21 (ESV) 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

God dwells with his people in the Church.

1 Corinthians 3:16–17 (ESV) 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 6:19 (ESV) 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,

2 Corinthians 6:16 (ESV) 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

1 Peter 2:4–5 (ESV) 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:19–22 (ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Let’s take note of a few things: (1) The Corinthian church is a mess, full of sin, and yet God is telling them that they, as a group of believers, are the temple of God . . . the place in which God now dwells. That’s profound, and only possible because Christ has justified each of them and declared them righteous. The fact that God can dwell within the body of believers is amazing evidence to the positional righteousness we have as believers. (2) The temple referred to here is the group not the individual. While there is one passage that seems to indicate that we are temples individually (1 Cor 6:15ff), most of the passages indicate that a local gathering of believers is the temple of God.

The second Adam has come. He was not defiled like the first. The new temple, which is the church, is growing up or being built up . . . but it still has a future glory it awaits . . .

God will dwell with his people in eternity.

Revelation 21:1–3 (ESV) 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

Oh glorious truth when Paul tells the Corinthian Church . . . you are the temple of God. This is much more than some simple analogy for them to better understand how God was growing them and building them up . . . their being the temple was a profound statement tied to the overarching narrative of God’s redemptive story.

The passage goes on . . .

1 Corinthians 3:17 (ESV) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Don’t Hinder God’s Dwelling Place.

Adam removed and Satan damned

Genesis 3:14–19 (ESV) 14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you . . . 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Many Israelites destroyed for idolatrous worship at the base of Mount Sinai.

Exodus 19:12 (ESV) 12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.

Exodus 32 . . . God sees the idolatry of the people and tells Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and I may consume them” (Ex 32:10). Instead Moses intercedes on behalf of the people. God relents, but Moses ends up going down the mount and eventually 3,000 people are killed as a result of their idolatry. The people of Israel experienced the wrath of Moses and were spared the wrath of God.

Uzzah destroyed for mishandling the ark of the covenant.

2 Samuel 6:6–7 (ESV) 6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.

Jesus in the temple

As we consider the temple area, a similar warning was offered on the partition wall that kept Gentiles coming into the formal temple area. The middle wall of partition threatened death to any Gentile who set foot on the other side.

In Jesus temple cleansing we see an equal and dramatic amount of zeal for the purity of the temple.

John 2:13–17 (ESV) 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (There was a second cleansing later in Jesus ministry.[7])

Jesus does rebuke them for making the temple a “den of robbers” in Matt 21, but the primary problem doesn’t appear to be that selling pigeons and doing trade were inherently evil. People did travel a long way and often needed to purchase animals for their sacrifices. But, the problem was that they had chosen to do so in the temple/worship area. They were in the Court of the Gentiles . . . in so doing, they had cut off access for Gentiles to come to the temple and worship. The only place a Gentile could come and worship God had been made into a market and an unethical and immoral one at that. This enraged Jesus and with great severity he dealt with it.

Paul warns against destroying the church – the temple of God.

And once again we come to our passage in Corinthians . . . If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.

Many questions may come to your mind when we see such dramatic speech. Consider a few things: (1) Since this verse is speaking to a group of believers we would conclude that “destroy” can’t mean eternal destruction (2) But, the word is purposefully intense and quite often does refer to eternal destruction.

Many commentators believe the word should be translated injure or ruin, implying that a severe and strict punishment would come to anyone who injured the church . . . but not necessarily eternal destruction.

TNTC: The repetition of the verb destroy shows that the punishment is not arbitrary; it ‘fits the crime’. To engage in making divisions is to destroy the divine society and thus to invite God to destroy the sinner. The word is not specific and cannot be pressed to mean either annihilation or eternal torment. It simply makes it clear that one who commits a grave sin lays himself open to a grave penalty.[8]

I hesitate to offer a stronger interpretation than the passage demands and many commentators shy away from . . . but let me ask us to consider for a moment a possibility in light of the immediate context. Paul has just warned them to take great care in dealing with the church. He just warned them that their works within and for the church may result in little reward at the judgment seat of Christ. These verses take this one step further and dramatically caution that if someone acts in such a way to destroy the church they will themselves be destroyed. You may say, “the church can’t be destroyed . . . not even the gates of hell will prevail against the church.” You would be right, but that passage in Matthew 16:18, speaks to the universal church, not a local congregation. We know that local congregations have been destroyed . . . in fact we see evidence of that in Revelation 2-3. We’ve also seen that in past and recent history. Local congregations have been led astray into false teaching and have abandoned the gospel . . . as a result they have lost all influence and have been destroyed as a church. Therefore, for a church to be destroyed, disunity would have occurred and/or the gospel would have had to be removed from it . . . the gospel being removed is not a mark of true Christians and disunity is as well not a mark of true Christians . . . therefore anyone who destroys a church isn’t a believer at all and eternal destruction does await them.

I suppose the question that comes to my mind is . . . Could a believer destroy the church? Certainly a believer could seriously injure a church . . . but destroy a church? I’m not certain, but whatever the correct meaning, it ought to give us much more than just pause as we consider how we handle and serve the church. We ought to be extremely careful to not allow disunity, division, false teaching, etc. injure, hurt, destroy the church.


So then, we come once again to our one fact and our one caution . . .

Purpose Statement: God desires to dwell with His people. Don’t hinder His dwelling place.



[1] Genesis 12:7–8 (ESV) 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.

[2] Genesis 26:24–25 (ESV) 24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well.

[3] Genesis 28:12–17 (ESV) 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

[4] [Friberg] tent, booth; (1) generally, of transitory, movable lodging places for nomads, pilgrims, herdsmen, soldiers, constructed of various materials tent, lodging, dwelling (HE 11.9); (2) as the portable divine sanctuary Tabernacle, Tent (HE 8.5); (3) as referring to the temple in Jerusalem (HE 13.10); (4) as referring to the outer and inner rooms of the Tabernacle, comprising the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (HE 9.2-8); (5) as a portable case for an idol shrine (AC 7.43); (6) figuratively, of the heavenly dwelling place of God, sanctuary (RV 13.6); (7) plural, as the eternal habitations of the righteous dwellings, homes (LU 16.9); (8) figuratively, as a ruling dynasty or lineage ruling family, kingdom (AC 15.16)

[5] Beale, G. K.; Kim, Mitchell (2014-11-16). God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth (p. 41, 43). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[6] Beale, G. K.; Kim, Mitchell (2014-11-16). God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth. (location 2674, footnote 3) InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[7] Mark 11:15–19, Matthew 21:12–17, and Luke 19:45–48

[8] Morris, Leon (2008-05-16). TNTC 1 Corinthians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (p. 67). Inter-Varsity Press. Kindle Edition.

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