You Are That Temple

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV): 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 that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Some ideas we considered in last week’s devotionals (and Sunday, if you worshiped with my church, Holston View UMC) come together in a personal way for us in today’s verses from 1 Corinthians.

Last Thursday, we heard the Apostle Peter tell us to behave like “living stones,” joining together to build a spiritual house, with Christ as our foundation. If you heard Sunday the story in the Gospel of John about Jesus cleansing the temple, you should have been reminded of the holiness of that place, and a need for zeal now in regard to the holiness of God.

Today’s reading in this season of Lent tells us that just as Jesus’ body became the new temple, destroyed but rebuilt in three days, the Christian church now acts as God’s temple on earth. The collection of people calling themselves Christian is where God’s Spirit resides and can be met by those seeking God.

The metaphor easily operates on both the corporate and individual levels. If something is holy, every part of it is holy. If it is God’s intent for the church to be holy, it is God’s intent for each individual in the church to be holy.

We of course cannot achieve holiness on our own; that is the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, to make us holy despite our sin. We believe, and it is so. We need to cling to that belief, however, and live in awe of God so that we are making every effort to avoid sin, asking God to give us the power through his Holy Spirit to do so.

There is no doubt sin creeps into our lives and into the church. Satan is relentless. Some of the stones resting on the foundation of Christ become fractured. Let’s go back to the concept of “living stones,” however—those fractures can be healed.

The trick, it seems, is to not crumble in a way where we threaten the holy structure. Church leaders, we who are preachers, teachers and administrators, take special note!

We are trying to use these Monday LifeTalk articles as an opportunity to establish a spiritual practice for the week. This week, let’s do a very Lenten thing. Asking God to guide us, let’s search our souls thoroughly for the sins we need to surrender, making new space for God to be at work.

Not only will we strengthen ourselves, we will strengthen the church as a whole, the temple in which we play an active role.

Lord, we surrender to you. Make us whole and holy so that we may better work with the living stones around us. Amen.

When Leaders Fall

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Another prominent Christian leader, this one with powerful political ties, has fallen because of scandal. I don’t need to mention his name, as he and his wife have been in the news for several days now. I should note that he still denies direct involvement in the embarrassing events.

Sadly, such scandals happen much too often, although usually more quietly, playing out in small churches where the flocks experience deep pain. I find myself particularly concerned about the effect these events have on people testing the Christian waters. These seekers of truth are in the church on a regular basis, but their hearts are sometimes just partly committed as they try to sort through the confusing rush of emotions they feel.

Often, their view of God is tightly intertwined with their view of pastors and other key spiritual leaders—Sunday school teachers, deacons, music leaders, youth leaders, counselors, etc. To people standing on the outer edge of the church, when one of these leaders falls, God seems to have stumbled, too.

It doesn’t help when the scandal is public enough that aggressive nonbelievers are able to pounce on the opportunity. These people, wanting to steer others from faith, enjoy whispering of hypocrites and deception in the church, as if they’ve made a remarkable discovery.

From its earliest days, however, the church has been open about the inevitable presence of members with impure motives. Some may simply be genuine followers of Christ who succumb to temptation; others may be wolves among sheep. The New Testament is replete with warnings about such people even rising to prominent positions in the church—for example, see Acts 20:28-31.

As a young man, I personally felt misled when an important Sunday school teacher in my life stole money entrusted to him as part of his profession. I used his failure as an excuse to dodge church involvement for several years. It was easy to adopt an air of youthful cynicism, mutter “bunch of hypocrites” and walk away.

Later, I began to question my cynicism, however. When I enter a hospital, am I surprised to find sick people? Of course not. Then why am I shocked at finding sinners in a church, even occasionally among the leadership? At least some of them were trying to be near the source of healing.

While Christians hope to model Christ’s love and holiness, Christians do not define Christianity. Christ does.

Our faith is rooted in Jesus Christ and his loving, saving, transforming power. When those who claim to follow Jesus fail morally, it is not Christ’s fault, and Christ remains the cure even for fallen church leaders. They probably should not resume the roles they once held, at least not quickly, but through genuine repentance, they still have a place in the body of Christ.

Fallen leaders do provide a useful, if painful, lesson. As I mentioned in yesterday’s devotional, none of us, not one, is worthy to stand before God on personal merit. Only faith in Jesus’ work on the cross makes us holy.

Lord, help us to better pray for those who lead in the church, so they may be sustained by your Holy Spirit for very difficult tasks. Amen.