Editor’s note: I was going to write No, Seriously, Please Quit Netflix…but I thought I’d give it a break, and return to 1 Corinthians. (That’s a joke.)
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
Do you not know? There is a peculiar type of judgment cast within the question. It is not simply an accusation proper, a direct assertion that the Corinthians have forgotten that they are the temple of God where the Spirit of God dwells. For such a question to have purchase, rhetorically, it must be the case that the Corinthians are the temple of God. The accusation is itself contained within the commendation: they are such a temple, and have they really forgotten it? It is an invitation to examine themselves, to discover why they have allowed strife and dissension to seize them.
Disunity is the destruction of the temple of God, in other words, because it impinges upon that temple’s holiness. One, holy, catholic, and apostolic: this is the order the Apostles Creed places the adjectives which it ascribes to the church. Here we see that the holiness of the Temple is in a sense prior to its unity: it is for the sake of the preservation of the holiness of the church that God destroys the one who destroys the church. But in a sense, oneness is the primary visible mark of the church’s holiness. If the church is two, it has become an aberration, something that is slightly less than the people of God.
Within this call to examination, though, is the threat of self-deception—and that of a particular variety. Here Paul links disunity with the motif of wisdom and folly which he has been developing: those who think they stand must beware, lest they fall. Oh, is that from later, 1 Corinthians 10:12? So it is, but the thought is nearly the same: anyone who thinks they have attained wisdom by the standards of this age, they are to place themselves before the cross and discover the vanity and emptiness of their learning outside the word of God.
It’s worth noting here that Paul’s intense focus on unity as a principle of the church’s holiness will culminate in his treatment of communion in chapter 11. Paul has heard that when they come together there are divisions among them—which seems a tad redundant at that point considering that he has spent much of the first three chapters berating them for their lack of unity (11:18). Those differences, though, are in part animated by a desire to show who among them is approved (11:19), or dokimos. The problem is so damaging that when they come together it is not the Lord’s Supper that they participate in: they have traded the reality of God’s presence for a fiction, and with it left behind the tradition that Paul handed down. All this means that “a man must examine himself, and in so doing to eat the bread and drink of the cup” (11:28). That is, let them test themselves—dokimazo—and consider whether they have been fully committed to the principle of unity upon which their existence as the temple of God depends.
The test of our character regarding whether we have been good members of the church is the same dokimazo as that fire which tests our works, and proves them to be either gold or straw (1 Corinthians 3:13). No wonder, though: one man plants, and another waters. While it is the Lord who gives the growth, the disclosure of our laying a foundation for someone else only becomes intelligible to the world when someone else builds upon it. The value of planting a seed is contingent upon whether it is watered: absent that, and there’s no point to it at all. In that way, the consummation and completion of our work within Christ depends upon our being members of a community who will carry on our work beyond us. The hand puts food in the mouth, but if the rest of the members are disinclined to do their job—well, then not much happens. The principle of holiness is necessarily a principle of unity, because the Lord has ordained us for growth and flourishing.
But so much division stems from making it clear we are approved—from boasting, and boasting in the externals and visible realities known as “men.” But why? The alternative is not to take these externalities away: it is not to destroy Paul, or Apollos, to turn our back upon them as though there is no visibility necessary. Rather, it is to find that these things are all ours, as we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. Paul, Apollos, life, death—the whole of what we might anxiously seize and so boast in are already ours, and indeed are already everyone’s. They are the true common goods, which do not diminish when possessed by one. And, as such, there is no need for the division that would destroy the temple.