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A holy temple

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Searcy's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

The Christian Seasons Calendar that hangs on my wall is open in this season after Epiphany to a painting by Kirsten Malcolm Berry titled “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6). Fault lines are showing in First Church Corinth over which minister is to be credited with success and which one is to be labelled a failure. Paul keeps the focus on God. Once again the little church in Corinth pre-figures so many of our congregational stories.

Paul is searching for the best metaphor. Last Sunday he was preaching that the church is like a garden in which ministers are charged with cultivation but do not have the power to grow anything. That power is God’s alone. This Sunday Paul pictures the church as a building in which pastors are builders working on someone else’s building--one that belongs to Jesus Christ.

When Paul is writing there is no such thing as a church building. The metaphor of the church as a building is just that for Paul--a metaphor. For us the word “church” first means a physical building, as in, “Where is your church?” A sermon on this text may imagine a time when the word “church” will once again bring to mind not a place but the metaphor of a people worthy of the name “holy temple.”
The NRSV includes this footnote: “In verses 16 and 17 the Greek word for you is plural.” Perhaps the lector on Sunday will read the passage this way: “Do y’all know that y’all are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in y’all?”

In a culture marked by individualism we regularly hear the plural “you” of the Bible as a singular. But Paul is not saying that my body or your body is God’s dwelling place. He is saying that the church as a people is a holy temple where God’s Spirit takes up residence. Wow.

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