Study Notes for I Corinthians 3:10-17 (click here for Study Sheet)
Paul acknowledges that by the grace of God he gave the Corinthians a solid foundation in Jesus Christ. Their identity in Christ is clear. Now, Paul says, others will come and build on that foundation. He reassures them, however, that no one will ever be able to undo the foundation he's laid and lay a false one. They can know who they are in Jesus, and they are secure in being His forever.
But Paul does warn them that others will come and build on their foundation. Some builders will be mature Christian disciplers, and they will help the Corinthians to grow to maturity. But others, he says, will not build good buildings. Everyone, Paul says, even the Corinthians themselves, should be careful how they build. Even though their salvation is secure, Christians can build flawed buildings on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
Christians can remain in immaturity for a long time if they're not committed to growing in the Lord. They can be caught up in sensationalism, or they can become proponents of specific doctrines at the expense of the whole Christian experience. They can even come to believe twisted teachings that aren't supported in Scripture.
Many of us learned that if our works fell short of Christ's ideal, we would not be saved, even if we accepted Jesus. In this passage, however, Paul makes it clear that once a person has accepted Jesus and has a solid foundation in Christ, even if he builds flawed theology on that foundation, he will still be saved.
The building above the foundation of Christ, Paul says, is comparable to "gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw." The person who builds the superstructure is responsible for its value. It "will be shown for what it is," Paul says, on "the Day" when Jesus returns. "It will be revealed with fire," he continues, "and the fire will test the quality of each man's work." Gold, silver, and costly stones will survive; wood, hay, and straw will burn.
In the Bible fire represents the glory and power of God. God will judge what each person does after his or her conversion. If a person grows in Christ and disciples others to grow in Christ, his "building" will survive. If, on the other hand, a person embraces or teaches man-made requirements or misinterprets the Bible's guidelines for a Christian life, his work will be destroyed.
If a person's "building" survives the consuming fire of God, he or she will receive a reward. If his or her "building" burns up, however, the person will still survive, "but only as one escaping through the flames."
If a person has accepted Jesus, he will be saved. His good works do not ensure his entering heaven, and his poor works will not keep him out. A person is saved entirely by grace through faith in Jesus. Even people who build flawed structures will be saved, as long as their foundation is Jesus Christ. They will not receive the same rewards as those who build lasting buildings. In fact, as God evaluates and destroys their work they may even feel the searing judgment of His glory. But even though they suffer loss, they will pass through the consuming fire and be saved.
Paul ends his discussion of buildings by asking the Corinthians, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" The Greek for "you yourselves" is plural. Although later in the letter (I Cor. 6:19) Paul refers to each individual as a temple of the Holy Spirit, in this passage he is referring to the collective church. The church, he is saying, is the temple of God, and God's Spirit lives in this temple.
Paul then delivers a warning. "If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." Destroying God's temple is a sin punishable by death.
When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting demons by the power of Beelzebub, he replied, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." (Matthew 12:30-32)
All sin and blasphemy, Jesus said, God will forgive. He will even forgive people speaking against Jesus. The only sin God will not forgive, he continues, is speaking against the Holy Spirit.
Yet in I Corinthians 3:17 Paul says that if anyone destroys the church, God's sacred temple where the Holy Spirit lives, God will destroy that person. Jesus' warning about blaspheming the Holy Spirit must be related to Paul's warning about destroying the church.
Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers so we, His church, could take the truth and power of Jesus into the world. Jesus the human was only on Earth for 33 years. If all we had available to prove His existence was a historical record, it would be easy to doubt Him. The Holy Spirit, though, convinces us of Jesus' reality. The Holy Spirit gives power to the church. The Holy Spirit is God's literal presence on earth.
God's presence no longer dwells in a man-made building as it did in the Old Testament. Today God's presence, the Holy Spirit, lives in the spirits of His people.
The Holy Spirit lives in His temple of Christ-followers even in the most horrific circumstances. Persecution of the church does not destroy it. In fact, the church is often strengthened during persecution. People rely even more on the presence of the Holy Spirit during times of persecution.
Furthermore, torturing or killing Christ-followers is not one of the unforgivable sins. "Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven" Only blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.
The temple of God can be destroyed only when it is no longer the home of the Holy Spirit. In II Timothy 3 Paul warns that in the "last days" there will be "people who will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."
The church will cease to be God's temple if pseudo-godly people deceive it. If God's people can be convinced to take their eyes off Jesus and focus instead on a counterfeit or deception, the Holy Spirit will be supplanted. If God's people can be made to believe that their power and authority come from something other than the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is left with no place to live. Instead, the church will have a form of godliness but will deny the power of true godliness.
Anything that replaces the Holy Spirit in the souls of God's temple is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. People can make doctrines their god; they can make rituals their god; they can make the law their god; they can make the Sabbath their god; they can make a denomination or a spiritual leader their god.
Whenever the church defines itself by anything except Christ, it identifies with a deception. It has a form of godliness but denies its power, the Holy Spirit. The church is no longer the temple of God.
When anyone convinces the church that its status and success stem from its unique doctrines or practices, whenever the Holy Spirit is not given the credit for the power in the church, the church is destroyed.
Persecution and assault cannot destroy the temple of the God.
Replacing the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the people with practices and beliefs will destroy the temple. Refusing to give the Holy Spirit the honor for spiritual success will destroy the temple. Doubting or fearing the Spirit and calling it a deceiving power will destroy the temple.
As Christ-followers we are called to accountability and pure devotion. We are called to build well upon our foundation of Jesus Christ. We are called to mature in Him and to learn to yield to the Spirit's direction.
We are called to disciple our brothers and sisters into maturity in Christ and a Spirit-led life. We are called to a sense of awe that we are God's temple, that all things are ours, and that anything we accomplish is by the Spirit's indwelling power.
We are called to truth. We are called to honor and protect the temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells.
We are called to be one with Christ, who is one with God.
We are called to bear the living presence of Jesus into our world.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.