Fr. Dcn. Michael: Building God's Kingdom, One Temple at a Time

          In this morning’s Epistle reading, St. Paul uses the example of a building to explain to the first century church in Corinth the importance of a strong spiritual foundation in the successful construction of a temple to God.  He reminds his readers that they “… are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building” (v. 9).  But what should it mean for us to be “God’s building?”  And as “co-workers in God’s service,” what is our responsibility in the building process?

            Every kingdom, regardless of where it is located, consists of many different structures that serve the purpose of supporting that kingdom.  There will be palaces, administrative buildings, store houses, homes, military forts, shops and offices.  These structures may be made of stone or brick, or of wood and straw.  They may be grand edifices that express the greatness and wealth of the society that built them, or they may be more simple and humble structures.  In his message this morning, St. Paul reminds us that we are each called to be something grander than even the greatest palace ever built on earth: We are all called to be templesto the Living God, and each one of us is responsible for the successful construction of these temples.

            Let us consider this question: What exactly does St. Paul mean when he wrote that we are temples?  While some may say that he used this analogy purely for illustrative purposes, I would counter that St. Paul’s statement is fact exactlywhat we, as Christians, are called to be.  The Greek word that is being translated in English as “temple” is naos (ναός), and this refers more accurately to the sanctuary within the Temple, a place that only priests could lawfully enter.[1]  This is the Holy of Holies, where the Arc of the Convent resided.  Simply stated, we are not just called to be a building—four walls, a floor and roof—but in fact we are to be the holiest place within the Temple.  While most of us today may not fully understand the significance of what St. Paul is trying to convey, the first century Jewish Christians would know exactly what he meant.  This spiritual construction that we are called to be is something much more significant, and something much more holy, than simple bricks and mortar could ever be. What we are called to create is a holy sanctuary dedicated to God.

            As co-workers in God’s service, it is important for us to take the time and energy needed to carefully build our inner Temples. St. Paul points out that as with any successful construction project, it is necessary to ensure that the foundation on which the building sits is strong and secure, able to withstand the test of time and climate.  The Lord used this same example in His parable about the wise and foolish builders. Jesus taught: 

         “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.  Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.  But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand.  When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash” (Matt. 7:24-27).

          In today’s Epistle to the Corinthians, we find that St. Paul’s uses the Lord’s plan for building his own personal Temple: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (vv. 10, 11).  When our Temple is built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ, our work for the Kingdom of God will withstand anything the world can throw at us.  The rains and floods of passions and temptations will be no match for the Temple build on the solid rock Christ.  Jesus says that His teaching is the blueprint that all wise builders will follow for a safe and permanent life.

            To be a “co-worker in God’s service” means that we must work side-by-side with our brothers and sisters to build up God’s Kingdom. Just like a row boat in the middle of a lake, we all need to be pulling together, in the same direction, so that we can all safely reach the shore.  When one person refuses to pull the oar, or decides to paddle in a different direction, it is not only that person who is affected, but the entire boat as well. And while we are each called to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), we must still rely on each other—our fellow “co-workers in God’s service”—to get the job done. Just as Jesus relied on His disciples to help carry out the Heavenly Father’s plan, so too must we rely on others to help us to carry out the work that God has for us.

            As a co-workers, it is vital that we follow the blueprint God gives us for our salvation, using the proper materials to ensure that the Temple we are building will remain standing on its solid foundation, which is Jesus Christ.  St. Paul explains: “If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,theirwork will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light” (vv. 12, 13).  How many of us would want to live in a house that is built of inferior materials? Instead, we may spend countless days deciding on the highest quality cabinets, tiles and carpeting for our home. Paint, wallpaper, furniture and carpeting will be the best that our budget allows, with all colors and designs harmonizing perfectly to produce the highest impression of beauty and taste. So, should not it be the same for the Temple to God?  

            I am reminded of the account of the Israelites returning to Jerusalem in 520 BC after years of exile in Babylon.  The Temple lay in ruin due to years of war and neglect. Upon their return to Jerusalem, the Israelite did was not make the rebuilding of the Temple a priority; instead they focused on building lavish palaces for their own comfort and status.  It took the prophet Haggai, speaking for the Lord God, to shame the people of Israel for their neglect of His Temple: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4) These words are valuable for us to hear and heed as well and we must not neglect the Temple for our own earthly pleasures and comforts.

            What must we do to build a Temple worthy of the living God, one that will be eternal and able to survive the trial by the fire of the dread Judgement Day?  The first answer to this question was given by St. Peter on the day of Holy Pentecost, when the people gathered in Jerusalem asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Then St. Peter answered: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you shall receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:37, 38).  This represents our foundationthat is Christ Jesus: to repent of our sins, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and receive the Holy Spirit.  Once this foundation has been laid in our hearts, then it is up to us, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to continue to build on it, creating a holy sanctuary.  The lives we lead will determine how our Temple is built.  Will we use bales of straw or blocks of stone?  Will it be adorned with sticks or with gold?  Will the structure we build be worthy to be called a Temple to God or will it be simply a monument to our own vanity and self-righteousness?  These are the questions that we need to ask ourselves everyday of our lives, to ensure that are building a worthy sanctuary.

            As St. Paul points out, we are called to be Temples to the Holy God, and we should consider it a privilegeto be chosen as a dwelling place for His Holy Spirit. Our job as Christians is to continue to build that Temple, a task that will take us our entire lifetime to complete. Fortunately, we do not have to work alone.  With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and with a little help from our friends, we will allbe able to someday meet our Heavenly Father and hear His words: “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matt. 25:21).