For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.
I Corinthians 3: 9-17 (Epistle from the Ninth Sunday)
Some of you may be familiar with the hymn “Lord, Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary” by Randy Scruggs and John Thompson. For those who aren’t, I’ll quote it below. I encourage you to look up this hymn and listen to it a few times. Because when we hear something over and over, it stays with us for the day and comes back to us in moments of need. This hymn is one that I’ve committed to memory.
Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.
It is You, Lord Who came to save the heart and soul of every man.
It is You Lord Who knows my weakness Who gives me strength, with Thine own hand.
Lead Me on Lord from temptation. Purify me from within.
Fill my heart with Your Holy Spirit, take away all my sin.
You’re probably wondering why I’m quoting a Protestant hymn in an Orthodox biblical reflection. The reason is that St. Paul writes to us in the Epistle this weekend from I Corinthians 3: 9-17, that we are the temple of God. If this sounds like a foreign concept, don’t worry, it was in Saint Paul’s time as well.
Prior to the coming of Christ, the people of Israel believed that God resided in the temple in Jerusalem. This was the appropriate place where they could go to worship. When the temple fell, as it did on multiple occasions, the people were saddened, not only at the destruction of their temple but also at what they thought was the destruction of God who resided there.
Christ inaugurated a new concept of worship. In John 4: 21-24, Jesus said, addressing the Samaritan Woman at the well, “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Now worship wouldn’t be tied to a specific place. Rather, an encounter with God could occur anywhere one worshiped in spirit and truth. Indeed, the worship of God can occur anywhere.
Saint Paul goes even further when he describes the human being as a temple. And like any building, we have a foundation. We are the temple of God because God’s Spirit dwells in us. If God’s Spirit dwells in us, we have to carefully take care of our temple, our bodies, that house the Spirit. What kind of foundation do we have? We know that the foundation of a building if it has cracks and is compromised, will not uphold the structure that has been built upon it. Therefore builders are very careful with how they lay a foundation. If they lay the foundation improperly, they will destroy it and start over again. They won’t build on top of something that won’t last.
In laying the foundation for our temple, we must be careful in the same way, to lay a foundation that is fundamentally solid and strong. We must have a strong foundation of faith, knowledge of faith, and dedication to doing the works of faith.
We must see our bodies like living temples of the Holy Spirit. I know that I keep the altar of the church I serve immaculately clean. Unfortunately, I don’t keep my office like this, or my home. There is some recognition that the holy altar must be spotless and kept extremely clean. Perhaps I have more of a Jewish understanding of the temple—I keep the altar immaculate because this is where we worship God. However, we can encounter God anywhere. Therefore it is incumbent upon each of us to keep our bodies as clean as I keep the altar in my parish. Because our bodies are living temples and we can encounter God at any time with them.
Going back to the hymn which I began this reflection with, it reminds us that we are to be “a living sanctuary” for God. Do you see yourself, your life, your body, as a living sanctuary, as the song states, or as a temple, which Saint Paul states? And what keeps us from being sanctuaries and temples for Christ? Is it a lack of knowledge that this is what we are supposed to be? Or lack of discipline when it comes to living our lives as His temple?
The song highlights one other phrase when it says “With THANKSGIVING, I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.” Many of us will read today’s Epistle reading and try to be a temple, but do so with guilt, rather than with joy. We’ll begrudgingly try to keep ourselves clean. So, not only are we called to be temples of God, we are called to fill this role with joy and thanksgiving.
If indeed we are temples, we will refrain from certain behaviors that dirty our bodies, His temple. We might think twice about the things we eat and drink, or the things that our eyes see, or the things that our ears hear, or the things that our mouths say, or the things that our hands do. Because all part of us are parts of the temple, and how we use our senses affects the appearance of our temple.
As Saint Paul says, “each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it.” On the “Day” of Judgment, each of us will stand in front of God and present Him with our temples, as if we are presenting artwork for a class project. We are all familiar with these kinds of things, especially if we have children. We want to put forth the best project possible and be ready to make a presentation and answer questions. Similarly, we will stand before Christ, our judge, and make a presentation about our temples, how we’ve taken care of them, how we’ve furthered Christ’s message with them, and how well we let our identity as Christ’s temple define our lives. Just thinking about this motivates me to keep my temple cleaner, build my foundation stronger, and have my temple radiate God’s message of salvation better.
Remember that God’s spirit dwells in us and that when we live a very sinful existence, where we are not repenting or trying, we are destroying God’s temple, and God will destroy those who have destroyed Him. (I Corinthians 3: 16-17) Remember that God’s temple is holy, and because we are an extension of God’s temple, we are to strive for holiness as well.
You descended from on high, O compassionate One, and condescended to be buried for three days, so that from the passions You might set us free. Our life and resurrection, O Lord, glory be to You. (Resurrectional Apolytikion, Plagal Fourth Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Lord, prepare us to be Your sanctuary. With joy and thanksgiving, let us all strive to be living sanctuaries of God!