What’s the first thing you do when you go into someone’s house for the first time? Perhaps greet your host, comment on the décor. Maybe even offer a bottle of wine as a contribution to the fine evening ahead. How do you want others to react the first time they enter your home? Reciprocate the reaction described above? What if someone came into your house, breezed right by you, nit-picked at how clean everything was, critiqued the music playing in the background, went into your kitchen and helped themselves to the best food and drink, all without really acknowledging you or talking to you?
The word that comes to mind is: horrifying!
Or worse still. What if that person did talk to you and spent the whole time listing every failure in your friendship with them, and telling you all the costly things you could do to make it up to them? Or maybe they would talk about what they thought about you, and all the parts they could do without, so please cut those parts out of yourself so they can be friends with you.
How depressing! Find a new friend, right? But isn’t that what we do in church? We go into church ready to criticize how well the facility was cleaned, we judge the worship band’s skill level and whether the song selection “spoke to us” or not. We listen to the pastor preach and internally censor the parts we like about the sermon and the parts we don’t like and which parts we’ll accept or ignore. We might pray, and talk to God, we might not. But if we do pray usually it’s to tell God how pissed we are about our broken lives or to ask for stuff. Then we leave the sanctuary in search of cake and coffee.
The seeker friendly culture slowly grew to be less about the seeker and more about ourselves and how comfortable we could be in God’s house. We forgot how to be reverent and we forgot how to be a good friend to God. We lost our sense of what it means to be in God’s house. We lost our sense of the temple and what it means to have a temple of God in our lives.
A good way to start recovering that sense of the temple is to look at the temple in the Old Testament. Initially the temple wasn’t a building it was a tent, because the Israelites were a nomadic people after God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Moses asked God to go with His people as they journeyed to the Promised Land, so God gave Moses instructions for a tent where His presence could dwell. God also supernaturally anointed a couple of dudes with the skills to carry out those plans (the plans required a lot more skill than brick making in a mud pit). Which is pretty cool, but beside the point.
So Moses and his holy artisans made this massive tent called the tabernacle and when it was finished the glory of the LORD (all caps Lord – aka Yahweh) (aka God) covered the tabernacle and filled it in the form of a cloud. Once it was night the cloud changed into fire, so the people of God could always see that God was in the midst of their camp at the tabernacle. When the cloud lifted Israel packed up their donkeys and went in to travel formation. When the cloud rested, they rested. Israel was literally led by God personally through the wilderness to the Promised Land. (Exodus 25-31, 35-40)
Fast forward 400 years or so. Israel is now settled in the Promised Land and they have a king to lead them. Solomon built the first temple for God in Jerusalem. It took 7 years, an army of regular artisans and craftsmen and a vast amount of wealth and resources. Not to mention diplomatic negotiations with the neighboring nation of Tyre. (1 Kings 5-7)
When Solomon’s temple was finished Solomon threw a huge party and invited everyone. All the leaders of the various tribes lined the entrance and the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the temple. The Ark of the Covenant is sort of like God’s wedding ring between Himself and Israel. It represents all the promises He made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the people themselves after they left Egypt. The priests set it down in the Holiest place in the temple, the Holy of Holies. They came back out and a “cloud filled the house of the LORD.” (1 Kings 6:10 NKJ) The priests “could not continue ministering because of the cloud” which could be interpreted as slain in the Spirit. The “glory of the LORD,” manifested as a cloud, “filled the house of the LORD.” (1 Kings 8:1-11)
Fast forward again about 800 years. Jesus is here (yay!). He lives for 30 years, then goes into ministry with the disciples for a few years. Jesus is arrested, goes through a sham trial and is sentenced to die on a cross. As He dies the veil in the temple that separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple is torn in two. Jesus is buried and is raised from the dead on the third day (double yay!). He tours around visiting his disciples and other followers until he ascends to heaven. As He leaves He tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem “until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 23:45-46, 24:49)
Then comes the most exciting bit, the Day of Pentecost! The Disciples spent a few weeks waiting in prayer and worship in Jerusalem until the Day of Pentecost (which was a Jewish festival celebrating the first fruits of the harvest) when “suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:2-4 NKJ)
The veil was torn and the barrier between God and His people was removed, which symbolically paved the way for the Holy Spirit to leave the Holy of Holies and fill those who were waiting on the LORD. The cloud turned into a wind and rushed over to the disciples. The fire that was once above the tabernacle 1,600 years before split into many flames and rested on those now filled with the Holy Spirit. The temple changed from a tent to a building to a group of people.
I think Paul understood this. In 1 Corinthians he says, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) In the original Greek the “you” in “you are the temple” is plural. Meaning, you the group; you the local church. Paul doesn’t just leave it at that. He uses building terms for the work of the church and each individual’s contribution to that work as a metaphor that brings an understanding of value to that work.
Paul talks about his work in planting the church in Corinth, “As a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.” So Paul’s work was to lay the foundation – or plant the church. Then the group that makes up the church continues that work, “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw.” (1 Cor. 3:12 NKJ) The church continues the work of spreading the gospel and taking care of the poor. Or to stand near the person spreading the gospel. Or maybe just there for the bread and wine of the Eucharist (aka communion) (aka the sign of the new covenant with Christ) (aka the new wedding ring for the vow renewal on the 2,000 anniversary since the initial covenant with Abraham) (God is so sentimental sometimes)
The point is we know in our heart how much of ourselves we’re actually giving to God and to the building of the temple, which is the work of the church. We know whether we’re co-laboring with the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel and bring redemption and healing in to the lives of lost hurting people. We know whether we’re cool with Jesus, but going to church to be entertained in a Christian manner. I think this is what Paul meant when he listed valuable precious material like gold and silver vs. cheap easy material like hay and straw. Paul emphasized this spectrum by going on to say that on the Day of the Lord the quality of work will be “revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on [the foundation] endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved.” (1 Cor. 3:13-15 NKJ) The Lord looks at the heart and the work that comes out of the heart. He knows what’s in our hearts and one day everyone else will know too.
If we are the temple, we are supposed to be hospitable to God, namely to the Holy Spirit. Stephen, the first martyr knew this. He talked about it in the sermon he gave at his trial right before he was stoned to death. In this sermon Stephen gives a short history of Israel’s relationship with God, then he talks about the tabernacle and the temple, “But Solomon built [God] a house. However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands,” He goes on to quote the prophet Isaiah basically saying Israel can’t build a temple or a resting place for God because God first created the material they would use. After this Stephen brings his charges against the priests judging him, “You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:47-51 NKJ) He implies that the people of God are the true temple, which God built for Himself through relationship, and that they rejected their purpose as that temple. They resisted the Holy Spirit and didn’t let Him dwell in His temple.
Paul was at that trial, he heard this accusation against the priests of the temple. In fact he was one of the accused, he was a Pharisee. Paul heard this connection between relationship and hospitality and the temple and after he became an apostle he expounded on the concept throughout his epistles to the gentile churches. He urged his new churches not to make the same mistake Israel made in resisting the Holy Spirit.
What does it mean to resist the Holy Spirit? It can look like a lot of things, like feeling a nudge in your spirit and ignoring it. Or something a little more blatant like knowing there is something God wants you to do, but once it gets hard or scary you back out and tell God, “No.” It could even build to something akin to the prophet Jonah going in the opposite direction of where God sent him, and being contrary to God’s call. But most of the time I think resisting the Holy Spirit comes down to the little mundane decisions in our day.
It is the collection of little choices to put something off, put something into our own terms, wait until a call from God makes sense, or just plain go to sleep. It is the little choices that make up our comfort zone. Over time those choices weave into a new curtain of separation. If we are the temple of God, our comfort zone is the new veil creating division between us and the Holy Spirit.
Why do we do this? Christ died to take the old veil away, so why do we put up a new one? I think it is because we cannot control the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God in the present, moving and working right now. We can either join what He is doing, or we can let Him pass by. The Holy Spirit was previously experienced as a cloud, fire, and wind – all things that we have no control over. Perhaps we can shut out a cloud or block the wind or starve a fire, but we can’t control them. It is the same with the Holy Spirit. We can shut Him out of our church services, we can block Him in our prayer times, and we can starve our connection to Him until He moves away; but we can’t control Him.
Every day and every Sunday we choose comfort, we maintain the new veil. Meanwhile, whether we mean to or not, we reject the Holy Spirit. A lot of churches don’t like the Holy Spirit, He doesn’t fit into their box and He won’t be tamed through theology. So these churches resist the Holy Spirit, they reject Him. Here’s the tragedy: God is one, so if we reject one part, we reject the whole.
We were meant to be in relationship with God, and be His living temple. We were meant to be co-laboring with the Triune God to bring redemption and healing to the broken and lost. God will continue that pursuit, but unless we take down our new veil and accept all of God, He will pursue the broken and lost without us. We will miss the blessing of companionship and adventure that comes out of working with God. We will miss the dynamic of love and unity that the Holy Spirit always brings to a community that is working with God.
If we accept God we accept Jesus, if we accept Jesus we accept the Holy Spirit, if we accept the Holy Spirit we accept God. The three cannot be sundered. If we take up our cross and die to self, we will tear the new veil in two and we will open our temple up for God to dwell in once more.