Sunday the 19th of February 2017
1 Corinthians 3:3-10
When I was studying at ALC one of the most common questions that I was asked by people was: Do you struggle with studying the languages? My response to them was no I don’t, but I really struggle with English! Many other languages are clear in their use of words, whereas in English we often have to know the context before we understand what is being said. I remember when my youngest son Samuel was little and he heard the postman outside, so he ran to the letter box. The postman gave him the letters and said “this is for you” meaning that the letters were for our family. However, that is not the way Samuel heard it. He understood that the letters were for him personally. We had a difficult time getting the letters off him because according to him they were his.
In today’s reading from 1 Corinthians 3 it says: “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”(v16). I suspect that many Christians who read this verse would understand that is telling them that they are God’s temple and that the Holy Spirit lives in them. However, when it says you here it is plural. The Apostle Paul is saying the Church at Corinth is the temple of the Holy Spirit, not the individuals. So we would say that here in this Church we together here are the temple of God.
So why is this so important? Well the problem with the Church at Corinth was that they had many divisions among their Christian teachers. Most of them were trying to lead the people forward into faithful ways of following Jesus. But they faced a great temptation. This temptation was not to abandon Jesus for the sake of secular worldly wisdom. The temptation was they were trying to make Jesus conform to their cultural way of thinking and their expectations of greatness. These leaders were trying very hard to get people to follow their idea of what church was supposed to look like, and of course it ended in many divisions and disagreements. The congregation at Corinth had become divided, because it was following certain individuals, rather than focusing on Jesus.
In addressing this situation this is what the Apostle said: “10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” As a “wise” builder, Paul builds the church with what he has been given: Jesus himself. Jesus, more specifically Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, is the only foundation of the church. And this is the only starting point for our Christian life in God.
In a day and age when the Christian Church is under so much influence from the culture around us, there is pressure. There is pressure to change things, to dumb things down so that people will come back to church. There is pressure to find the right people who will attract others to our churches. And there are many people who are gifted, and passionate about how they see the church working in the future.
If we are doing this rightly and we continue to build wisely then we will build with and as Christ. But this is where the Christian life is difficult because what this means, paradoxically, is we grow as a church community following the wisdom of God. And this wisdom is the foolishness of the cross. The way of the cross for God’s people, must continue to be the means and ways with which we build up our Christian community. This is because, in Jesus Christ and his death on that cross, God’s wisdom is found.
As a church we are to see ourselves, together, as the temple of God. Being faithful in the building of this, i.e. our church community, means that we continue to make it a Christ centred place, built up in the name and manner of Jesus’ own work.
In growing together as Christians in this community, the Apostle tells us that we need to be wise. We all know that there is a Godly wisdom and a worldly wisdom. We know that there are things that we are to do, and ways that we are to approach life as Christians. This is the challenge of discipleship, of following Jesus and what he tells us to do through his word to us. But sometimes it is tempting to look at the way the world does things and how the world thinks about things and then bring them into the church life. This is not being wise, but it is using worldly wisdom and pretending that it is Godly wisdom.
We called as Christians to be wise, but this wisdom is found in those who embody Jesus’ cross-shaped love. Our wisdom is lived out when we follow, what is considered to be foolishness to this world. We are to live with Jesus as our Lord, and then follow him in self-giving love to others.
Near the end of today’s reading in verse 21 it gets to the heart of the matter, when he says: “21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders!”
God has chosen to work in his people, by the Holy Spirit, through others. Given our humanity and its sinful nature, it is amazing that God chooses to use people to spread his Word and build up his church in the world. People are important to the church, but at the same time people can make life hard for the church. God chooses and calls many different people to lead and work in His church, but the problem arises when we start to place our trust in the leaders and not in Jesus.
There are always strong charismatic people in this world who want us to follow them, who believe that they can lead us in certain directions. Take politics for example, we have to decided who we will follow to lead this country. Now while we do this it is not that easy to know who to follow is it? There are people in our Christians churches who are strong and gifted who call us to follow them, who want us to follow their direction for the church. Even in local churches there are always people in leadership who have strong opinions about what a church should or should not be doing. We need to hear the voice of these people, but we are not to place our trust and confidence in them, but only in Jesus.
The divisions that were rife in the church at Corinth were derived from the people’s misplaced desire to find their identity in particular earthly leaders, which meant that they lost their focus on Jesus. It can easily happen to us today in our congregation, but also in the wider church. For example, this happens when people say “we follow Luther!” or “we follow Calvin!” or “we follow Wesley!” or “we follow Jesus!”
It may be a surprise to some, but we as Lutherans do not worship Martin Luther, rather we worship Jesus Christ. We recognise the way that God used him to build up his church throughout the last 500 years, but he is not our Lord. In this congregation there have been people who God has used at various times, to have an impact on this Church community. We thank God for them, but we must remember that it is Jesus who was and is working through them. All of the life-giving ministry that happens in this place will be because of Jesus Christ. All the genuine work in this congregation will express itself in the self-giving love that Jesus demonstrates for us in his life, Word and most importantly in his death on that cross. This may look foolish to the world around us, but for us who are called it is the wisdom of God at work.
I encourage you then as you come to worship here in this place, to remember that you along with everyone else God has called here, are a temple of God for this community. I encourage to you to reflect on what this means for this congregation and perhaps your role in it. And finally I encourage each one of you to remember that our Church’s foundation is on Jesus Christ our Lord. This is His Church and we need to be continually putting our focus on him and where he is leading us.