Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ESV
Back in chapter one, verse 8, Paul said, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Unbelievers cannot understand the wisdom of God revealed in the death of Christ – namely, that one man’s death could provide eternal life for those believed in Him. Now, Paul states that “the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” Man’s wisdom doesn’t impress God and it will never make anyone right with God. If anything, the wisdom of man becomes a barrier to accepting the truth of God’s redemptive plan as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The wisdom of men is futile and totally incapable of remedying mankind’s sin problem and state of condemnation before a holy and just God. So why, Paul asks, would we make much of men. Why would we create false idols out of men and women, worshiping them for the role they played in our salvation, while overlooking the fact that it was God who sent His Son to die, gave His message of reconciliation to those He called, and sent His Spirit to open the hearts of those who heard that message. No man has the right to boast of his usefulness to God, and no one should elevate the messenger over the One who sent the message.
Paul’s real concern has to do with division in the body of Christ. He started out his letter with the plea, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV). He accused them of quarreling and bickering over which man they followed – “each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Their disunity was causing divisiveness. So Paul reminds them that they are the temple of God. Not just as individuals, but as the local body of Christ. He is speaking to the church, not the individual. How do we know this? Because in the Greek language, the personal pronoun, “you” is plural, not singular. Peter confirms the idea that the local church is the temple of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God.
“…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.” – 1 Peter 2:5 ESV
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul said the same thing:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV
As God’s temple, the local church is to be valued and protected. If anyone does anything to harm or destroy the integrity of the church, they will answer to God. Paul warns them, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV). Disunity destroys. It damages from within. We have been called by God to love one another, not debate and display contempt for one another. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminded them of their oneness in Christ.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV
In the prayer He prayed in the garden on the night of His betrayal, Jesus asked the Father, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21 ESV). It is our unity that displays the reality of the church’s role as God’s temple. God alone can bring together people of every age, from every walk of life, ethnicity, economic strata, and social background, and mold them into one family. All sharing one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Paul reminds the believers in Corinth, “So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23 NLT). Each of these men had been given to the church by God. They were to be seen as gifts from God intended for the building up of the body of Christ. As Paul told the Ephesian church:
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT
And God gave these gifted individuals to the church in order that it might grow and prosper, “until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). Disunity is destructive. Divisiveness is counterproductive. Boasting in men robs God of glory and the body of Christ of its power. Making celebrities out of God’s servants ends up deifying them and diminishing the effectiveness of the local church. The church may grow in numbers, but it will lack the power of God’s Spirit. When we make much of men, we experience less of God.