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by Randall Vinson
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul gave us two expressions of the temple of the Holy Spirit. First, in chapter 3, verses 10-17, we read about the corporate temple or congregation made up of the church members living in that city. Next, in chapter 6, verses 15-20, Paul let us know that our bodies are also temples of the Holy Spirit. How do these work together? Can we major on one and dismiss the other?
Our unique claim as Christians that our bodies individually are temples of the Holy Spirit only has substance and context as we are part of the corporate temple of the Holy Spirit—the ekklesia or local assembly brought together by God to worship and serve Him in any one place, namely, your church. Our individuality, as much as we may treasure it in a nation built on individualism, does not trump our membership in the community of Christ, the local church. Yes, the community is made up of individuals whom God has called individually and who have made individual choices to obey that call, but all of their abilities and gifts are meant for serving one another in that community (their home base) and fit into the calling of God on that church. While every Christian can enjoy personal, private communion with God, the gifts of the Spirit of God are to be directed outward, not inward. None of the gifts of the Spirit are meant for individual consumption, but for individually sharing with others for their benefit.
By the way, this is where genuine, godly love enters into the picture. Love is not a warm and fuzzy private sentiment that we carry around in our pockets. Love remains hidden until it finds expression in our care for one another. The world will know we are Christians by our love (John 13:34,35); they can see it and hear it. How vital is this? L. S. Thornton wrote (The Common Life in the Body of Christ, Dacre Press, 1944, pp. 312-313), “Men cannot recognise the truth of the Gospel unless they see it embodied in the Church. The torch of truth displaying the glory of God’s love is both Christ on the Cross and also the crucified Lord uplifted in the Church. So long as this dispensation lasts Christ embodied in his Church is the only torch of Gospel truth which men have.”
The Apostle Paul illustrated this further in chapter 12 of the same epistle.(1 Cor. 12:14-26). The individual truly gifted by the Holy Spirit only has context as a functioning member of the body; there are no unnecessary parts. Furthermore, as James D. G. Dunn points out (The Theology of Paul the Apostle, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998, pp. 559-560), Paul had “no conception of a distinction between functioning and nonfunctioning members, between those who minister to and those who are only ministered to.” A human body that has too many nonfunctioning or missing parts is in serious medical condition. A team with too many sidelined players is in for a losing streak. In the same way, the calling of God on every member of the body includes the gifting of the Holy Spirit to enable them to participate in and contribute to the welfare of the community. Dunn also wrote, “. . .the effectiveness of the body depends on its diversity functioning in unity.”
Can you recall the words of the old Gospel song “Jesus Included Me”? Part of them went like this: “When the Lord said, ‘Whosoever,’ He included me.” It’s odd that we take that wonderful message only insofar as our individual calling to get saved goes, to be born of the Spirit, but later we decide that God didn’t include all of us when He distributed His gifts for His own children to function and thrive in His church. Yes, there is a wide variety of gifts in the body, and no one is left out. He even included you.
The Scriptures do not mention any gift of the Holy Spirit such as “spectator” or “pew-warmer.” We will also never find a verse in the Bible telling us to say nothing and to stay away from everyone. God gave every one of us our unique individuality, but individualism is not isolationism. Social scientist Philip Slater (The Pursuit of Loneliness, Earthwalk) makes it abundantly clear that none of us were made to be loners and that the image of the lonely hero is a myth. All of our diversity is meant to contribute to the beauty of the house of God when submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The church truly becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit when all of its members function as individual temples of the Holy Spirit.