Paul was annoyed!
We read 1 Corinthians as Paul’s first letter to this troubled church, but they had form! Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 5:9 that he’s already written to them about all the shenanigans they’ve been getting up to. Due to Paul’s personality, it isn’t easy to gauge whether the previous letter had a softer tone, but either way, in this one, he is officially miffed.
The Corinthians seem to have missed the point of following Christ and being together as a united church. As the author Conrad Gempf puts it:
“It’s as if the important word in ‘I follow Christ’ was not Christ or follow but I.”
Conrad Gempf - How to like Paul Again
Despite Paul’s teaching, the Corinthians seemed to have lost their way as followers of Christ, and their leaders felt that something needed to be done about it. Sexual immorality was still a huge problem even though Paul had addressed it in his previous letter. Members of Chloe’s household had dobbed the Corinthians into Paul regarding quarrelling within the church. Worship services were chaotic with people shouting over each other, and church members argued over whose spiritual gift was of most value. The people had created factions over which teachers they preferred, and the atmosphere within the church was hardly conducive to worship. The problem was that despite all this chaos, the Corinthian church thought they had it all together.
“Don’t you realise that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?”
1 Corinthians 3:16
You can hear the frustration in his voice. “Don’t you realise,” suggests this isn’t the first time they’ve heard it. He shares that despite their perceived maturity, spiritually, they are still on baby milk (1 Corinthians 3:2). Paul reminds them that as a gathering of God’s people, they are His temple on earth. They represent and reflect who God is, and His Spirit dwells within them.
I seriously hope none of our churches have got themselves into the same mess as the Corinthians, but each gathering has its own “Don’t you realise” moment to face. These are unusual times when gathering together in person is difficult, but we are still God’s temple, with His Spirit dwelling within us.
As you think about your church, what are the repeated patterns they fall into that would lead Paul to say, “pack it in, don’t you realise you’re God’s temple?”
What would Paul say to you personally?
We’re in a period of enforced reflection, where we can only gather virtually, and we have a unique opportunity to step back and listen carefully to what God is saying to our churches. Take some time out to listen to God’s guidance about your Church gathering. Consider the part you play in being God’s temple with others in the church. What are the obstacles you face together?
We may be like the Corinthians thinking we have it all together, or we may be fully aware of how our gathering falls short of the glory of God. Either way, just as it’s been in every Scripture verse so far, we need not be anxious about what the future holds. God’s Spirit is living within each of us, and together, we are His temple here on earth.