We have a problem with the word, “you.” The problem with the word is that you can’t tell if it’s singular or if it is plural, except based on context. A lot of other languages don’t have this problem. For instance, French and Spanish modify the verb form based on whether we’re talking a singular you or a plural you. It’s immediately obvious. Not so in English. Which is why, perhaps, I’ve heard multiple sermons preached on the following passage, all assuming “you” was singular, meaning it referred to the individual believer.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, ESV
The fact that the “you” is plural isn’t some insignificant theological point. When Paul was writing to the believers in Corinth, he was saying the collective “you” was God’s temple. In other words, the collective church there was God’s temple. It wasn’t about an individual, but a congregation.
If “you” is read as an individual, it’s a condemnation against harming a particular Christian. But if “you” is understood to be plural, it’s a condemnation against harming a body of believers. Or it is a condemnation against allowing sin and corruption to take root and grow in a body of believers. If you read 1 Corinthians 3, this later use of “you” as the plural form makes more sense. The Greek tells us you is plural and the context of the passage reinforces it. Why is that important to our daily lives?
Quite simply, because it’s a warning to those who would do harm to a church. How can we do harm? Here are some ways:
- We can choose to ignore sin in the life of a church member.
- We can choose to ignore sin in the life of a church leader.
- We can falsely accuse a church member of sin.
- We can falsely accuse a church leader of sin.
- We can disagree publicly with a church member for other than Biblical reasons.
- We can disagree publicly with a church leader for other than Biblical reasons.
- We can disagree with a church member, publicly or privately, and let that foster hatred and animosity.
- We can disagree with a church leader, publicly or privately, and let that foster hatred and animosity.
- We can use the church for personal gain.
- We can put ourselves before the church.
- We can put our family before the church.
- We can put our friends before the church.
- We can gossip about others in the church.
- We can undermine a particular ministry or the overall ministry of the church because we’re not the star.
I could go on, but that’s a convicting list. Likely, if you’ve been a church member for any length of time, you’ve seen something on that list. Worse yet, you’re probably guilty of something on that list.
We can’t undo the past. However, we can endeavor to do better in the future. When Paul was writing to the Christians in Corinth, he attacked church division and sin within the church head on. God’s temple, the Church and its individual churches, is supposed to be holy. We are that temple. Collectively, we are that temple, not just as individuals. As a result, our particular church’s spiritual health should be a serious concern. The relationships of the people within our particular congregation should be something we seek to build and strengthen. And when sin is apparent in the life of a member, we should be looking to aid the member and not ignore the sin. I do mean aid. I don’t mean ostracize. I don’t mean look down upon. There are procedures laid down in the New Testament to handle this situation. For a normal church member, you can find the procedure in Matthew 18:15-17. For church leaders, you can find that procedure in 1 Timothy 5:19-20. Let us care more about our congregations. Let us strengthen them. Let us strive for holiness in them. A stronger congregation, a more holy congregation, is one God can use mightily. And that’s what we’re here for.