For thousands of years people have associated dedication to God with building temples. We still do. For hundreds of years, when a group wishes to exist as God's people, one of the highest priorities in their early existence is building a church building.

The building they build is looked upon differently than any other building that is built. Why? In some sense it is viewed as being God's building that exists to serve God's purposes. On that conclusion, there is broad consensus: the building is to be God's, and it should serve God's purposes. Too often the broad consensus ends there.

Before it is built there is likely to be some intense conversations about its design. By design, what should this building be built to do? After it is built, there is likely to be some intense conversations about its function. By function, how should this building be used?

The basic issue in the minds of those who build, dedicate, and use a building for God is this: how can this building be used to honor God and His purposes?

  1. When God brought the Israelite people out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, one of the early instructions God gave them was the commandment to build a tabernacle.
    1. Remember, the tabernacle was a furnished tent.
    2. The instructions God gave were complete about the design and the furnishings of Israel's new tabernacle.
    3. Israel prepared, assembled, and furnished the tabernacle just as God directed.
    4. Listen to what happened when the tabernacle was completed, erected, and made ready for its functions.
      Exodus 40:34-38 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

  2. Generations later King David wanted to build God a permanent temple.
    1. David built for himself a permanent palace in the city of Jerusalem.
    2. He felt it was inappropriate for the king to live in a palace while God lived in a tent.
      1. Though God had not requested for David (or anyone else) to build Him a temple, David thought it was the right thing to do.
      2. God sent word to David that he could not build God a temple, but David's son could (the next king of Israel: see 2 Samuel 7).
    3. After David died, Solomon (his son) became Israel's king and built the temple.
    4. Listen to what happened when this new, completed temple had the ark of the covenant (from the tabernacle) moved into it.
      1 Kings 8:10-11 It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

  3. I want you to note a significant occurrence.
    1. When Israel erected the tabernacle (a tent with a special purpose) and completely readied it for service, God's presence filled the tabernacle.
    2. Later, when Israel completed the temple and moved the ark of the covenant in the newly completed temple, God's presence filled the temple.
    3. That is the fact I want you to notice: when the temple and the tabernacle were given to God, God's presence filled each of them.

  4. What about today? What about Christians?
    1. The New Testament does not tell Christians to focus on a place or a building.
      1. Deuteronomy 12 repeatedly told the Israel that worshipped in the tabernacle to offer sacrificial worship to God only in the place God caused His name to dwell--worship was unquestionably was place centered.
      2. In 1 Kings 8 when Solomon offered the prayer of dedication for the temple, he repeatedly asked God to hear the prayers of both Jews and non-Jews who came to the temple and prayed--worship was unquestionably temple centered.
      3. But when we read in the New Testament, worship emphasis is neither place nor building centered.
      4. Building a building at a certain place will not achieve God's worship objectives among people who are Christians.
    2. If the emphasis is not on a geographical place and not on a building (temple), then where is the emphasis?
      1. Listen to 1 Peter 2:1-5.
        Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
      2. In the same paragraph, listen to verses 9, 10.
        1 Peter 2:9,10 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
      3. What I want you to notice:
        1. Those people who belong to God through Jesus Christ, are the living stones who are in the process of being built into God's house.
        2. God wants us to be His temple by maturing in Jesus Christ.
          1. The most important living stone in this temple is Jesus Christ.
          2. This spiritual house of living stones is being built for a holy priesthood who will offer spiritual sacrifices to God that He accepts because of Jesus Christ.
      4. Then Peter said of Christians that they are not only living stones being built into a spiritual house, but they also are:
        1. A chosen race (that is what Israel was)
        2. A royal priesthood (just as the resurrected Jesus, Christians are to serve in the role of kings and priests--which could not happen in Israel).
        3. A holy nation (what Israel was to be and what Christians are to be).
        4. A people who belong exclusively to God (what Israel was to be and what Christians are to be).
      5. Christians exist to demonstrate that God is excellent because He calls people out of darkness into His marvelous light.
      6. Because of God's mercy that He has given us, we, who at one time could not even be God's people, are now His people.

  5. With what we read about the tabernacle and the temple, what happens when God takes possession?
    1. When God took possession:
      1. Of the tabernacle, it was filled with the presence of God.
      2. Of the temple, it was filled with the presence of God.
    2. When God takes possession of us, what should happen?
      1. We as individuals should be filled with the presence of God.
      2. We as individuals should be one more living stone available to God for God to use to build His spiritual house.
      3. When people are around a man or a woman who is a Christian, those people should be aware that these people are filled with God's presence.
        1. I am not talking about Christians attracting attention to and promoting themselves through some form of manufactured, artificial behavior.
        2. I am talking this fact: my goal is to let my real life belong so completely to God that people cannot associate with me at work on Tuesday and not be aware that God is in control of my attitudes and behavior.
        3. I am talking about this fact: people cannot observe my behavior on Thursday and fail to realize that I really want God to live in me.
        4. I am talking about this fact: people who watch me as I find recreation on Saturday observe the fact that God is in charge of my life.
      4. If I am a Christian, am a part of God's temple, God's presence fills my life--and that is my understanding of why God's Spirit lives in us.

  6. Paul used this exact illustration when writing to Christians in Corinth.
    1. First, he used it as he spoke to all those Christians, all who existed as a congregation of God's people in Jesus Christ in Corinth.
      1. After powerfully renouncing the problems created by their congregational division, Paul made this statement to the entire congregation in 1 Corinthians 3;16, 17:
        Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
        1. The King James translation translates plural pronouns with "ye."
        2. This is a "ye" statement: "Do not all of you know that all of you, as a congregation, are God's temple with God's Spirit living in you? If any Christian destroys God's temple [a warning against destructive division], God will destroy that person. God is holy, and God's temple is holy."
      2. Then in chapter 6, Paul spoke to individual Christians using the same temple illustration.
        1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
        1. Being sexually immoral was extremely common place.
        2. In fact, some forms of religion encouraged sexual immorality.
        3. The argument was often made that sexual desires were just natural hungers of the body and should be satisfied just as a hunger for food was satisfied.
        4. Paul said sexual sin produced special consequences.
        5. It is impossible for a Christian man or woman who understands what God does for him or her in Jesus Christ to involve his or her physical body in sexually immoral acts.
        6. Paul's argument: the Christian's body is God's temple housing the Holy Spirit.
        7. God gave that Christian the Spirit, and God bought that Christian's body (a slave/redemption image).
        8. The body of a Christian is to give glory to God, and that can never occur through sexually immoral acts.
    2. In the same letter to the same Christians, Paul used the temple to illustrate the fact that they were to be holy collectively and to be holy individually.
      1. In a time of temples and slaves, Paul's illustration was powerful--and clearly understood.
      2. Because neither temples nor slaves are common in our society, we have to pay close attention to get the point.
      3. The point: God's presence obviously lives in God's people, and with that knowledge God's people allow God's presence to be obvious in their lives.

If you are a Christian, you are God's temple. If we as a congregation belong to God, we are God's temple. May we as individuals and we as a congregation obviously be filled with the presence of God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 15 December 2002

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