What comes to mind when I say Holy? White, clean, pure, perfect, weighty, unapproachable?
What about the phrase “holy place”? Stained glass windows, marble columns, gold statues, candles and incense, mountains, trees, a rubber floor and removable seating, a gymnatorium?
In every time and every place and culture people have built buildings, temples, shrines and places of worship and had special people dedicated to the worship of their God or gods. Whether it’s Mecca for the Muslims, Jerusalem for Jews, the Vatican City for some Catholics, Sacred mountains for the Taoist or countless other holy places. For each of these religions they built places for the purpose of interacting with something bigger than themselves.
This morning if everyone will pull out their bible or digital device and turn to 1 Corinthians 6 we’ll be using this as our text but I’d like to start specifically with verses 19-20. I’m reading out of a translation called The Voice so it might sound a little different.
19 Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who comes from God and dwells inside of you? You do not own yourself.20 You have been purchased at a great price, so use your body to bring glory to God!
What does it mean to be a temple? In the city of Corinth, the people that these words were written to, the temple language was very familiar. There was a place called the Acrocorinth which basically means the upper Corinth because it was a part of the city that was built directly into a mountain that towered above the rest of the city. At the top of this mountain sat one of the most famous buildings dedicated to Venus the goddess of love and fertility. It was considered a holy place to honor, worship and seek the blessing on their lives that they believed Venus could give them.
So the idea of being a temple made sense to them but in his letter Paul was pointing them to a completely different kind of temple.
Gods’ temple has always been about God wanting to have a relationship with us. God has always wanted to be close to the ones he has created and so he has created holy places for that to happen. From the beginning He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden which was the very first holy place. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin of eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and becoming unholy, we could no longer be directly in the presence of the Inifinately Holy God. It damaged both us and our relationship with him. I had heard that growing up and believed it but it still seemed like a harsh reaction for messing up once and eating a simple piece of fruit. I think that’s because we don’t really understand holiness and purity. One of the best explanations I have ever heard used the illustration of what happens when pure potassium interacts with something that is completely different than it. Check this out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy1DC6Euqj4
“Holy” means set apart, different than everything else. In fact, when God reveals just part of who He is, it was always described as though the world we knew was set on fire by His purity. God describes Himself as a consuming fire in Deuteronomy 4 23 So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Some other places where the presence of God burned among his people are when:
- He spoke to Moses out of a burning bush.
- He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt they were led by God’s presence in a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.
- They reached Mount Sinai his presence rested on the mountain and it shook with thunder and lightening and was covered in dark clouds that seemed to burn. Exodus 24 says it looked like a consuming fire defended on the mountain.
- In Exodus 40 God’s presence descends on the tabernacle and covers it in a thick cloud.
- When Solomon dedicates the temple fire falls from heaven on the sacrifices and consumes them and a cloud settles on it.
In all of these ways God drew as close as he could without the risk of his holiness destroying us. The boundaries that he set for us to draw near to him were out of love and concern for us so that we could come as close in the relationship as possible.
Holiness draws boundaries for our safety. The people were instructed not to set foot on Mt. Sinai, there were curtains around the temple to set it apart, the temple had courtyards and only certain people were allowed behind the giant heavy curtain they called the veil to the holy of holies and only at certain times of the year with lots of cleansing and ceremonial washing.
Approaching God was an honor and a sign of love but it was never taken lightly. The priests used to tie a rope around the ankle of the high priest who would enter the area of the temple called the holy of holies because if he did something to displease God while in his presence and died they needed to have some way to pull him out without endangering themselves.
This is the kind of holy place that Paul was referring to when he told the Church that their bodies were temples. When Jesus died, the giant curtain that separated God’s presence from the rest of the temple was torn into. As the disciples sat in the upstairs room after Jesus ascended into heaven all of the sudden it began to shake, the sound of rushing wind filled the room and suddenly what looked like fire fell on each one of them. Small versions of exactly what happened at Mt. Sinai, the tabernacle and the temple happened to them. This was God’s sign of turning his followers into walking, talking, breathing temples.
Do you see how huge and unbelievably powerful this is? The God of the universe that created the heavens and the earth, who’s very presence shakes mountains and burns the sky has come to live within each of us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and turned us into his very own temple! This is what he meant when he told the woman at the well that there would come a time where it doesn’t matter where you go to worship because anywhere you are you have direct access to God.
So what makes a holy place? Wherever the Holy God is, is a holy place. Where is God? He dwells within every believer through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are holy places. Wherever you are, that’s a holy place because you brought the temple with you. Your backyards, kitchens, bedrooms and workplaces are all holy because you’re there. Worship didn’t start because we showed up here this morning. It started the moment we woke up and it will keep going whenever we leave and wherever we go. Every word and action done by you that honors God is an act of worship performed in a glorious temple.
Let’s backup and read verse 9-11 to get some more context about why Paul was telling them to treat their bodies as temples. It says
9-10 Do you need reminding that the unjust have no share in the blessings of the kingdom of God? Do not be misled. A lot of people stand to inherit nothing of God’s coming kingdom, including those whose lives are defined by sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual deviancy, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. 11 Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God.
Phil from Duck Dynasty stirred up a firestorm of controversy by quoting verses 9-11 in an interview.
People got really upset that he said homosexuality was sexual deviancy and was a sin. What they missed completely is that surrounding same sex relations was idolatry, running around on your spouse, stealing, loving money, getting drunk, lying about others, and cheating are also on the list. And they seldom ever mention that Phil said that did most of those other things before he decided to follow Jesus. He didn’t say sexual deviancy was the only sin, he just mentioned the passage that lumps all of those sins together.
Very rarely when that passage is used as a weapon to justify a position do they read verse 11. It says, all of those things used to define you. That words “used to” are key to understanding these verses. He then says now you’ve been given a new identity, you have been completely transformed. You are clean, set apart and holy, restored and turned away from destruction. You’re identity is no longer what you used to do, it is what has been done for you by Jesus to make you a temple. That doesn’t mean we won’t mess up from time to time but it means our sin no longer defines us.
I don’t want to focus solely on sexual sin but I’ve been convicted lately that this needs to be talked about and if you read the rest of this passage it is dealt with pretty clearly. In a recent study conducted by ChristianMingle.com, Christian singles between the ages of 18 to 59 were asked, “Would you have sex before marriage?” The response? Sixty-three percent of the single Christian respondents indicated yes. Essentially what they’re saying is “God I’m okay with being a temple except this part, this part is mine and you don’t know whats best for me so don’t worry about what goes on in this part.” We effectively set up another section in our temple for the worship of people and things.
When Jesus walked into the temple and found unacceptable things going on he got angry and started flipping tables. I love that image until I realize I’ve got some tables set up in my own temple. There are places I have tried to tell Jesus are off limits for use as a temple. Jesus didn’t die for part of me. As Paul says “You do not own yourself.20 You have been purchased at a great price, so use your body to bring glory to God!” He owns it all, he wants it all and will not share.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Being turned into a temple is awesome, but it’s not easy and it hurts. It means complete renovation. It means destroying the old house and building something completely new. This morning the Holy Spirit is alive and active and wants to do some temple cleaning. What idols need to be thrown out? What old sinful identities keep fighting for space? Confess them to your Father. He’s living there, he already knows. He wants to help you become more holy. Allow him to strengthen you through dependance on His Spirit to deliver you from those familiar temptations. Read his word, allow the truth to saturate and wash your mind and help you to love the things He loves. Partner with other brothers and sisters and be honest about your idols and fight sin in your temples together.
If it’s okay, I’d like for us to respond together in a prayer of affirmation saying yes to God’s call for holiness in his temples by singing an old chorus together. I’d like to encourage you to close your eyes and lift your hands in surrender as we sing
“Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary. Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.
while still standing sing (Lord prepare me)