“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Cor. 6:19).
As a young person in the church I was told what that meant. It meant no tattoos, no sex outside of marriage, and ‘just saying no’ to drugs. And to some extent I certainly still believe the sentiment behind those restrictions is true, but honestly, I struggled with the simplicity of the notion. I always wondered who got to decide what was on the restricted list. After all, the same church telling me my body was a temple and shouldn’t be defiled was full of people who smoked cigarettes, drank wine, and over ate. Yet somehow guys who pierced their ears were what was desecrating God’s temple. I wasn’t buying it.
And I’m not pointing fingers now either. In fact, I only bring it up to say when we understand Paul’s assertion that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit strictly in the physical sense, we tend to miss the deeper implication. We want to make this about personal physical purity, but what if, for Paul at least, this was always about a lot more?
We’ve talked a little bit this Lent about different images Paul uses to describe the church. We are God’s field. We are God’s building. Well, we continue now with Paul’s assertion that we are God’s temple. 1 Corinthians 6:19 was not the first time Paul made such a claim. 1 Corinthians 3 was—right after he called he called the church God’s field and God’s building. And that ought to make us question what Paul had in mind.
You see, I was always taught that that Bible verse said, “Your bodies are templesof the Holy Spirit.” But that’s not what Paul said. Instead he wrote, “Your (plural) body (singular) is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (chapter 6), and in chapter 3, “Do you not know that you (plural, again) are God’s temple (singular)?” While I recognize the Holy Spirit dwells in me, the greater point Paul was trying to make was not that each of us are individual temples, but that together we are the body where the Holy Spirit dwells.
And if Paul is saying that together we are where the Holy Spirit dwells, then it is not piercings and tattoos that threaten to destroy, but sinfulness between us. It should not be lost on us that the first time Paul asserts that we are God’s temple it is a part of a greater conversation regarding divisions in the church, jealousy, and quarrelling.
God cares about how we treat one another. God cares about how we live with one another. God calls us to be in community. And God calls us to honor that community. We take this text about being God’s temple and we make it about you and me, but what Paul was talking about was us. Together.
How we live together matters to God. How we honor and treat one another matters to God. Paul firmly warned against those who would seek to destroy the community God has called together. So the question for us this Lent is not how are we treating our bodies, but how are we treating the body—our neighbors? How are we living with one another? Are we promoting peace? Are we looking ways to support one another? Are we lifting one another up? It is not simply how we love ourselves that will reveal how we feel about God’s temple, but how we love each other.