It’s interesting pulling this whole passage together. Usually when I have read it in the past, I’ve taken different parts of it and looked at them individually, but I’ve never really read it as a whole.
What is Paul talking about here? He’s talking about how we are building up our churches, and he warns us that we need to be careful how we build.
He reminds us first of all that Christ alone is the foundation of the church (11). But with what do we build on that foundation? The charisma of this pastor or this leader? Jealousy? Backbiting? Pride? Charisma isn’t bad, but you can’t truly build a church on a pastor’s charisma. And the rest? It will tear a church apart. And so as each person, from the pastor all the way down the chain to the newest Christian, does their work within the church, they need to ask, with what materials am I trying to build this church up? And depending on what we use, we will be judged.
If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (13-15)
In other words, none of us will go to hell because we fail in the duties that God has given us. But we can lose our reward. And some will literally get into heaven with nothing to show for all they did here on earth. Why? Their hearts were not right before him. And again, Paul is pointing specifically to hearts of pride, jealousy, and division, things that can destroy the church.
It is with this in mind that he says,
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (17)
The “yous” here are all plural in the Greek. And Paul is saying, “You Christians collectively are God’s temple.” Put another way, “The church is God’s temple.” And if we do things that destroy the church, God will bring judgment upon us. If our pride, jealousy, and divisive spirits tear apart the church, God will hold us accountable.
So Paul tells us to get rid of these things. Get rid of the “wisdom” of this world that leads to pride, jealousy, and division. Instead, embrace the “foolishness of the cross,” that would lead us to be humble and grateful to God, and accepting of those around us.
How about you? Whether you’re a pastor or the newest Christian in the church, you have a part in building up Christ’s church. With what are you building it up?