The Temple of God (cont), 1Corinthians 3. 9-17
John B. D. Page, Harrow
The Building. Once the foundation has been laid, "let every man take heed how be buildeth thereupon", says Paul, 1 Cor. 3. 10. Building, like laying a foundation, is a responsible work, involving the right selection and use of materials; this the writer appears to have in mind. When applied to "the temple of God", it affects the life of both workers and worshippers, not only in time but for eternity.
Writing of "a spiritual house", Peter has in mind the constructional materials of a building, such as stones, when he mentions "living stones", but Paul turns our attention to cladding materials, such as plaster used for walls, when he says, "Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones", 1 Cor. 3. 12, as used by pagans for their temples and by Solomon for his Temple.
Amongst the materials prepared by David for the Temple of old, there was "refined silver, to overlay the walls", 1 Chron. 29. 4. The white marble walls of the Temple, both inside and out, were overlaid with silver by Solomon. Anti-typically, this precious metal denotes the redemptive work of Christ: "ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver. . . from your vain conversation (or, manner of life, R.v.) . . , but with the precious blood of Christ", 1 Pet. 1. 18-19. Not one but both sides of the stone walls were overlaid with silver, which reminds us of the two-fold aspect of redemption involving the ransom paid and the release effected, which underlie the two different words used in the New Testament. Hence, the two claddings of silver signify the completeness of the redemptive work accomplished by Christ for us.
Having covered them with silver, "he built (or, lined) the walls of the house within with boards of cedar", on which he "carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers", and similar carved cedarwood lining was used outside, 1 Kings 6. 15, 29. Paul does not refer to this cedarwood lining, but according to Scripture it anticipated the excellence of Christ, for "his countenance is ... excellent as the cedars", Song of Songs 5. 10, 15. As "living stones" in the Temple of God and having been redeemed by His blood prefigured by the silver cladding, we should be radiant with the excellence of the moral glories of Christ. The carvings of cherubim alternating with palm trees are not without significance but space forbids a detailed exposition.
With the walls lined, so that "all was cedar", the writer adds this crisp comment, "there was no stone seen", 1 Kings 6.18. Someone may remark, How strange to cover those beautiful white marble stones with dull cedar boards! Such a remark savours of the flesh! By nature, we like to be seen. "All was cedar", says the Scripture. With us, only the excellence of Christ, symbolized by the cedarwood lining, should be seen. When our "life is hid with Christ in God", Col. 3. 3, then we are living expressions of Christ.
"Gold", another material mentioned by Paul, was used by Solomon for the Temple, as stated in 1 Kings 6. 22, "the whole house he overlaid with gold". Outside, the roof and walls were clad with gold. Inside, the ceiling, walls and floor were covered with gold. Read 1 Kings 6. 20-22, 30. There is no suggestion in the inspired text that the purpose of the gold was to conceal the cedarwood which covered the stones. In the ancient world, gold claddings were not uncommon, and the gold was intended to bring out the beauty of the carved cedarwood. Anti-typically, the gold is suggestive of the divine glory of Christ. As the walls had two coverings of gold, one inside and the other outside, so the glory of Christ is two-fold. There is the inherent glory of His deity, and there is in His Manhood the glory attributable to His resurrection, ascension and exaltation. Within the two linings of gold-covered cedarwood, there were the stones! For us, as "living stones", the glory is two-fold: it concerns the present, and it is prospective, both of which we will consider more closely.
Sometimes, we overlook the fact that God has "called us to glory", 2 Pet. 1. 3, which means not a place but a present state, for here and now we are "partakers of the divine nature", v. 4. Oh, the wonder and glory of sharing the nature of God through the Holy Spirit's regenerative work! Think of how the gold inside the Temple reflected the light from the ten golden lampstands, and the gold outside reflected the sunlight! A Temple of God, built of "living stones" and clad with the gold of the "divine nature", should be reflecting the glory of the Lord. This work of grace is not only initial but also a continual process, for we "are (or, are being, lit.) changed into the same image from glory to glory", and so we should progress from one stage of glory to another! See 2 Cor. 3. 18 R.V. The purpose, for which the Lord saved us, is to live to His glory, and so, in assembly life and in all other spheres of life, we should live to, and display, the glory of the Lord by our words and deeds. If we "do all to the glory of God", then we shall "give none offence", 1 Cor. 10. 31-32.
What about the future? There is the "hope of the glory of God", and this prospect will be realized when each of us will be "a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed" at the Lord's return, Rom. 5.2; 1 Pet. 5.1. In that coming day, our present "body of humiliation" will be changed to be "conformed to the body of his glory", Phil. 3. 21 r.v. The present moral change is a process from "glory to glory", but the future physical change will be instantaneous, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye", 1 Cor. 15.52.
"Precious stones", the third building material mentioned by Paul, are for embellishing a Temple of God. This is evident from the Temple of old, because Solomon "garnished the house with precious stones for beauty", 2 Chron. 3. 6. As mentioned already, a stone in Scripture is often used as a symbol of Christ, and so the "precious stones" used in the building of a spiritual house may denote that ministry should bring out the many facets of the preciousness of Christ.
Having been redeemed by "the precious blood of Christ" and having obtained a "precious faith", we should search the "precious promises" that have been given to us in the Word of God concerning that "living stone . . . , chosen of God, and precious", for surely unto us that believe "he is precious", 1 Pet. 1. 19; 2 Pet. 1. 1,4; 1 Pet. 2. 4, 7. Solomon's purpose for using "precious stones" in the Temple was "for beauty". If we, as a Temple of God, have an appreciation of the preci-ousness of Christ, then the beauty of Christ should be seen in us.
The Work Reviewed. According to the paragraph of Scripture under consideration, 1 Cor. 3. 9-17, we have found that our work in a Temple of God is twofold: first, laying the foundation, and then building upon it, v.10, and that can be defined as evangelism followed by edification. For laying the foundation of the assembly at Corinth, Paul "testified . . . that Jesus is <marg.) the Christ", and for building upon the foundation he continued there for eighteen months by "teaching the word of God", Acts 18. 5, 11. Let us emulate the Pauline pattern of first testifying to the unconverted and then teaching the converted!
For building upon a sure foundation, Paul lists six materials, which sub-divide clearly into two groups. The first collection, which we have just considered, is "gold, silver, precious stones"—these are qualitative and of great value. Then there is "wood, hay, stubble" —these are quantitative and of little value, 1 Cor. 3. 12. "Gold, silver, precious stones" may represent a scriptural ministry and one that is of value and edifying, which will produce conformity to Christ. "Wood, hay, stubble" are suggestive of a philosophical approach to Scripture, being what "man's wisdom teacheth", and such ministry, using carnal and worldly methods, detracts from the power of the Word of God; it is worthless, v. 13.
For understanding verses 12-15, we need to remind ourselves of the background which was probably in the writer's mind. In many pagan towns of Bible times, the temple, sited in a central position, was built of stone and often overlaid with silver and gold and embellished with precious stones. Immediately around the temple, there were stone-built business premises and houses for merchants and nobility, whilst on the perimeter of the town there were peasants' shacks built of wood, hay and stubble. Not infrequently, fire broke out amongst the shacks and quickly spread, enveloping the whole town. After the fire had died down, the temple of gold, silver and precious stones remained whilst nothing was left of the shacks built of wood, hay and stubble. Surely, this illustrates that a Scripture-based and Christ-centred ministry not only edifies but it lasts, whilst a ministry of man's wisdom may appeal to unrenewed and carnal minds but it will not withstand the test of a coming day.
Having in mind as the background the conflagration of an eastern town with its temple, Paul says, "every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire". Here, "the day" is "the day of Christ", which is the interval between the rapture and Christ's appearing in power and glory, when our work will be manifest to Christ, the Righteous Judge, seated upon His judgment seat. With "his eyes as a flame of fire", He will scrutinize our works and "try every man's work of what sort it is". If our work survives His fiery test, and only work of "gold, silver, precious stones" will withstand the divine fire of scrutiny, then we "shall receive a reward". If, on the other hand, our work has been of "wood, hay, stubble" which will be consumed by the divine fire in that day, then we "shall suffer loss" of reward but not of salvation. It is a sobering thought that a believer may enter eternity with no work for the Lord to his credit that will glorify Christ.
Surely, it behoves each of us to take stock of the materials with which we are building, so that we shall not lose all for which we have laboured and suffer loss of reward, but that we may receive a "full reward", which will mean greater glory for Christ, 2 John 8.
An Undefiled Temple. We now
come to the closing appeal, to which we referred at the outset: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?", 1 Cor. 3. 16. There are two Greek words translated "temple", and Paul uses here the word naos which means not all the temple buildings and courts but only the sanctuary where God dwelt, symbolized by the Shekinah glory, and so a local assembly is a sanctuary of God! What an impressive thought to both Jewish and pagan converts who were accustomed to temple-worship! It signifies that a local assembly is the sanctuary where God dwells, where the Lord is worshipped, and where the glory of God is manifest, as pre-figured in the Temple of old. Such privileges demand responsibilities of us.
Continuing in verse 17, Paul says, "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are". In this reference to a possible defilement in a Temple of God, owing to some believer's* carnal conduct or false teaching, there may be an allusion to the temple of Aphrodite with its one thousand sacred prostitutes and their corrupting influence upon the temple cultists. Such immorality in this pagan temple affected the city of Corinth, because it became known for everything depraved, dissolute and debauched. Moral defilement, as in the Corinth assembly, besides doctrinal error, will mar worship of the Lord, interrupt fellowship with the Lord, and hinder service for the Lord. Paul warns that divine retribution awaits the man who causes such defilement in a Temple of God.
In contrast to the grossly immoral temple of Aphrodite, "the temple of God is holy", and it is our responsibility to see that it is not defiled. Let us not permit false teaching that will tarnish the "silver" of the Temple of God —nothing must bring derision to the doctrine of redemption. Let us do nothing to smear the "gold" of the Temple of God —nothing must be permitted to diminish the glory of Christ in our midst. Let us not allow the "precious stones" in the Temple of God to * Some expositors feel that this defilement is due to external agencies, Eds.
be damaged —nothing must be allowed to do damage to the preciousness of Christ. We need ever to remember the Psalmist's prayer to God, "holiness be-cometh thine house, 0 Lord", Psa. 93.5.