Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:1-11; 16-17
I know that we are not the only family to face this dilemma. In fact I imagine a lot of American families in the past 30 years have found themselves in the same existential crisis. It is a topic that we are at a bit of an impasse on and it is a source of mild (very mild) anxiety. This is a lot of melodramatic build up for what is a very minor first world problem, but the issue is what do you do about Legos? My son, like a lot of children, really likes Legos. He loves to build the sets, especially Star Wars sets, and then he loves to play with them. One of the appeals of Legos over other toys is they can be deconstructed and rebuilt. The problem is when he is playing with two different sets, has both of them fall apart and then has to rebuild them with the pieces mixed up. It can be an extremely hard task to do. More than one Lego set of his will never be assembled by the instructions without a lot of sorting and an extensive search under beds and couches for all the pieces. This is the dilemma. Are Legos toys or models? Someone has suggest gluing them together so that pieces cannot get lost, but that defeats the purpose of a building toy. Of course, if their primary purpose is just to build then buying expensive specialized sets is an inefficient way to get a lot of blocks. This is a real conundrum with Legos. Are Legos cute models that are meant to be built with precision of following directions or are they free form building toys meant to open the imagination? They honestly exist in a very odd middle ground, no-man’s land between those two extremes. I am not the only one to notice this. The conundrum over the nature of Legos is actually the premise behind the 2014 Lego movie. The word Lego is derived from the Latin word that means “to put together”, and the heart of the debate around Legos is what is the best way to put it together. Is the best way to meticulously follow instructions or is it to let creativity guide everything? The meaning of Lego is “to put together” and that is also the theme of this morning’s scripture. Like the Lego Conundrum, this morning’s scripture explores what is the best way to put something together, in this case the faith of a believer. This morning’s scripture explores how to build up a disciple and in doing so, how to build up the church.
The analogy of relating maturing in faith to the act of building is one that we find throughout the New Testament. In Ephesians Paul again uses this analogy when he says we are God’s workmanship, and Peter also uses this analogy in 1 Peter 2:5: “you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house.” The ultimate analogy that Paul gets to in this morning’s scripture is that the young believers in Corinth are being built into God’s temple. However, to get there Paul first unpacks some of the faith building philosophy he used as well as addresses one of the faith building conundrums that the Corinthians were struggling with.
Paul mentions that in his time with the Corinthians, his approach was to give them spiritual milk. This is not the only time Paul uses a food analogy in his letter, and I find them weird, but we will go with it. The idea is that when Paul was with the Corinthians and instructed them in the Christian faith, he did not go super deep and he did not hold them very accountable because he knew they could not handle it. Unfortunately, Paul did not help out all of the pastors and church leaders who followed him, by spelling out what exactly he taught them as spiritual milk and what would have followed as solid food. That would have been super helpful. Paul does gives examples as to why the Corinthians needed milk though, and refers to the Corinthians as worldly. They were not ready for a deeper, more spiritual life because their worldview as based in their culture not in the gospel. According to this morning’s scripture this worldly outlook manifest itself in jealously and quarreling with one another. It also manifest itself in the Corinthians bickering about who they followed, Paul or Apollos.
Paul was the apostle who brought the gospel to Corinth, preached the forgiveness of sins and salvation through Jesus Christ for the first time. Apollos was a traveling missionary who had a reputation as a good and knowledgeable preacher. He came to Corinth after Paul left, and the church was embroiled in debate about who they followed as “their pastor.” The debate was over, who’s set of instructions did they think they should follow. Paul rightly stops that noise. He points out it was not a contest, but a partnership. Paul was the one who planted the seed, Apollos watered, but it was God who made it grow. Paul may have laid the foundations, Apollos brought the bricks, but God is the builder and Jesus the architect of our faith.
With all of this build up out of the way, Paul finally lays out his complete analogy in verse 16: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” He concludes in verse 17, “You together are that temple.” The understanding of this statement may get slightly lost between the first century context in which it was written and our modern 21st century context. We often think of temple as just a different word meaning place of worship. However, its original meaning was much more than that. A temple is a place where the divine dwelt. The Israelites believed that the presence of God literally dwelled inside the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the place on earth where God could be found. To refer to the Corinthians as God’s temple implies that God is found in them; that they are holy because they provide a sacred dwelling for God’s Spirit. Paul applies this to the church as a whole and also to individual believers. Later on in 1 Corinthians Paul writes, “your bodies are temples of the holy spirit who is in you.” It is the foundation for these temples that Paul laid in Corinth. It is for this temple, that Apollos helped build, and this is the temple that God was building. It is still the temple that God builds today.
And this gets us back to the Lego Conundrum. If we both individually and collectively are being built into a God’s temple where the Holy Spirit dwells, if our faith is being built up so that we reach full maturity, and if we are to become people through whom other have encounters with the divine and holy how exactly are we to be built up? Is there a set of instructions that has to be followed or do we get built up by more creative means?
If you have ever glanced through the church leadership section of a Christian bookstore or book catalog, then you will notice there are no shortage of people who have written instruction books to be a Christian. It is not uncommon to see them carried out in some churches, especially larger churches. For instance there are churches that might have this kind of structure: Newcomers who want to get involved with a church there might be a new members class they have to take. Then in order to get involved in the church ministries, they need to first show their commitment by being involved in a weekly small group. After that requirement is met, they take a spiritual gifts class to figure out where they can best serve. This then requires taking a specialized ministry class in that area. Months to years later, this has to be followed up by a Christian leadership class, and it keeps going on. I am not disparaging this approach. For many people this kind of systematic process which flows a lot like following Lego instructions has worked really well. It has indeed built them up into faithful servants of Christ. However, a clearly delineated, highly structured step process is not the only way we are built up into God’s Holy Temple.
Other people take a much more creative path on the road to discipleship. One such example is 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon grew up like many people of his era with a nominal Anglican faith. However, at the age of 15 he got stuck in a snow storm and sought shelter in a Primitive Methodist church holding a worship service. It was at the service, he experienced grace and forgiveness for the first time by accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Within a few months, at the age of 16 he was teaching a Sunday school class. In less than a year from his conversion, he preached his first sermon. Four years after his conversion experience, while still a teenager and with no formal college or seminary training, Spurgeon took his first pastorate at New Park Street Chapel. Throughout his life, Spurgeon would earn the title the “prince of preachers” and to this day he is widely considered to be one of the best and most effective preachers to ever live. He managed this without ever following any kind of instruction book, but God still managed to build up a man whose faith and words shared the gospel with thousands of souls.
This process of being built into a temple that houses the Holy Spirit is called discipleship, and there is not one right way to do it. To insist otherwise, is to fall into the same sort of Paul vs. Apollos arguments the Corinthians were having. The point is not how one is built up because as the scripture points out it is God doing the building. The point is that we are being built up, that we are becoming more Christ like, and that we are daily becoming a more suitable temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell in. Going back to my family’s conundrum with Legos. If my son decides Legos are best built as models and enjoyed by following the instructions and preserving them that way, then that is fine. If he decides they are blocks to build what his imagination creates then that is fine. The real tragedy would be if, paralyzed between the two options, he chose neither, and these incredible toys just collected dust in a box under his bed. Our faith is the same way, if a highly structured regiment of bible study, prayer, and systematic instructions works for you then do that. If your faith works best when you put it into practice through serving others, or if you found your best times of prayer happen while you are cutting the grass, then do that. The method is not as important as the results here. The real tragedy is when our faith does not grow.
How is it with your soul today? Can you truly say that you are closer to God, that your actions are more Christ like, that the world is more transformed by your actions, or that fruit of the Spirit is more evident in your life now than it was a year ago? If not a year ago, what about five, ten, or twenty years ago? Has your faith grown or is it stagnate? We are being built into God’s Temple. Our construction timelines are all different, the materials and techniques might be different, but we should all be being built up. If we reflectively consider our faith, and we cannot think of how it has changed us or made us more Christ like over time, then we are doing something deeply wrong. As this scripture points we are to be temples, dwelling places, for the Holy Spirit. The Israelites went to the temple to encounter God, and when people encounter us, they should be encountering The Holy Spirit. They should be encountering God’s love as the very way we live our lives is making the world a more joyful, loving, peaceful, just, merciful, and grace-filled place. This idea of being made into a disciple is not a one-time commitment, it is a lifelong process of being built up, being God’s holy temple. To be that kind of disciple is exactly how we change the world.
We all come here today being at different places with God. Some of us have been built up but we are now in need of restoration. Others have a firm foundation that someone has laid, and their faith is now only beginning to have a strong frame go up. There are numerous techniques, methods, and ideas that will us along this path of discipleship. Whatever works for you, may you actually do it. May you remember though, it is not the technique, style, or even bible translation that grows faith, it is God who does the growing, for we are God’s building. May we live like that for “God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”