In ancient times God had the children of Israel build for Him a temple in their capital city, Jerusalem. However, the apostle Paul says that the Christian has no continuing city in this world. Nevertheless, the Christian does have an altar to which others have no right.
Many times in Scripture, in both in the Old and the New Testaments, the building of the Christian church is likened to the building of a temple. The apostle Paul uses this description in writing to the church at Corinth. He said, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, 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. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 3:10).
Paul was a champion of the Christian faith. He was one of the main men who laid the foundation for the development of the Christian church. However, although he said that God had made him a wise master builder, he did not exalt himself, but stated that he was just a co-laborer with God, as were the Corinthians also to be co-laborers with God. He said, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Often the prophets and the apostles likened the Christian church to a temple, a building which is to be a habitation for God Himself. A temple is a house or a building for a deity, someone who is worshiped. In explaining this to the Corinthians, Paul communicated lessons which were to apply to all times, all places, and all people.
The Lord gave him the wisdom of a skillful architect that he might lay the foundation of the church of Christ. This figure of the erection of a temple is frequently repeated in the Scriptures, illustrating the building up of the true Christian church. Zechariah writes, “ ‘Then speak to him, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘Behold, the Man whose name is the Branch! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of the Lord’ ” ‘ ” (Zechariah 6:12). Not only was He to build the temple of the Lord, but there would be many Gentiles, many people who were not Jews, who would come and help in this building. It says in verse 15, “Even those from afar shall come and build the temple of the Lord. Then you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you. And this shall come to pass if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God.”
Just as was told by prophecy hundreds of years before the foundation of the Christian church was laid, Paul worked in the Gentile quarry of the world to bring out valuable stones to lay upon the foundation, which was Jesus Christ. By coming in contact with that Living Stone we also might become living stones. Then Peter describes it in very similar language when he said, “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house [this is the temple, the church], a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.’ Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, ‘the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed” (1 Peter 2:4–8).
Just as Paul described it, Peter described it; the church is composed of human beings that are described as living stones who are built upon the foundation of that Rock, Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, Jehovah is described as that Eternal Rock that is a refuge and a fortress for His people. Paul used the same terminology in writing to the church in Ephesus. He said, “Now, therefore, you [that is, the Gentiles in Ephesus] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19–22, literal translation).
So, the church is described by both Paul and Peter as a spiritual temple, a spiritual building where God Himself dwells. To the Thessalonians Paul said that in the future the antichrist would come and sit in the church that is in God’s own temple. (See 2 Thessalonians 2.) In his letter to the Corinthians Paul uses this description tactfully, but yet as a severe warning.
He said, “Other foundations can no man lay except that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it 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 it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11–15, literal translation). Then he said, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (verses 16, 17, literal translation).
The foundation has been laid. By the Christian experience that you develop, you are building on the foundation. Are you advancing? Is your character being built with material that will stand the day that will reveal your character? When the day of judgment comes and all characters are revealed, will it be seen that you have built on the rock using building materials of gold, or silver, or precious stones? Or will it be seen that you have built on the sand and retained a carnal heart, an unsanctified character that has been whitewashed with a thin profession of righteousness and Christianity—an unsanctified character that cannot be readily detected by the eye of man, but will be detected in the day of God when all characters are revealed.
The precious stones represent those Christians who have been refined and polished by the grace of God. Many times both Paul and Peter said, “We are to grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18). You are to grow in your Christian experience. Paul talked about the necessity of growing up into Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:4–8 he said, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is God’s will for each one of His children to be blameless in the day of Christ when Jesus comes again in the clouds of heaven.
During the probationary time in this world we are all given opportunity to not only accept Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour from sin, but also to receive the Holy Spirit and grow up into His image. Paul wrote about how there were some people who were like little children being pushed back and forth with every wind of doctrine. He admonished them that they needed to grow up so that would no longer be the case. In Ephesians the 4th chapter it says, “He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (verses 11–15, literal translation).
Since the time of the apostles, Paul’s epistles helped lay the foundation for building the church of God. Paul brought each person who was willing to accept the gospel to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to a connection with the living cornerstone. Slowly, there ascended the temple, the church of the living God, which is to be completed before Jesus returns in the clouds of heaven. Paul said, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17).
The Jews made the work of Paul exceedingly difficult, claiming that they were the only true children of Abraham and therefore they were the only ones who could be part of God’s house. However, the apostles had received a commission from God Himself that the gospel was to go to every nation, to every tribe, to every nationality, to every group of people and to every language (Revelation 14:6). They had to contend with the bigotry, prejudice, and the violence of men who wanted the gospel to be restricted. One after another the noble builders fell at their posts of duty by the hand of the enemy. Stephen was stoned. James was slain with the sword. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified. John was exiled, but in spite of the fact that it appeared that all the leaders would be killed off, the church of God still slowly ascended by men who were willing to endure terrible persecutions.
New workers eagerly took the place of those who had fallen, and these faithful laborers down through the ages have brought precious material to the living foundation. Paul told Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16). Although they are dead now, the righteous of all ages testify by the record of their words and deeds to the truth of God. The names of all the martyrs of the Christian faith for Christ’s sake are immortalized among the angels in heaven, and a bright reward awaits them when the Lifegiver shall come back to this world and call them from their graves.
This light of truth that has been ascending in our world has always been exceedingly annoying to those joined to the world because the truth exposes the darkness of error. There is a contrast between righteousness and sin. Those who refuse to obey the truth themselves are unwilling that others should obey it. For that reason, the course of the faithful is a continual reproof; their very presence is a reproof to those who do not believe and are disobedient. Carnal minds wrest the word of God to make it pander to their follies and superstitions, but that unerring Word, which is the rule that will test every stone that is brought to God’s temple, will be the record in the judgment to which your life will be compared.
How will it be with you in that final day of judgment when Paul says God is going to “bring every secret thing to light” (Ecclesiastes 12:14)? He said, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
O friend, think of the consequences of that day of judgment. How will it be with you? Will you be found connected to the living stone, the living foundation? Will you be found to have a Christian character that is likened to gold, and precious stones, and pearls, or will your character be represented by wood, hay, and stubble? Remember what Paul said to the Corinthians that, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive the things that we have done in the body, whether it is good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10, literal translation).
The leaders of this world, both church leaders and secular leaders, have sought to defile and destroy this temple by sacrilegious idolatry and persecution of the faithful. But God’s eye has never for a moment left the building that He is erecting in this world. In the face of gaping prisons and torture, and flames, the work of the Christian church has grown under the hands of faithful men. The workmen were at times almost blinded by the mists of superstition that settled as dense darkness on this world. They seemed to be beaten back and destroyed by the violence of their opponents. But in spite of all that, the work of building the church, has gone forward and will continue to go forward in the face of the persecution that we are continuing to face until Jesus returns again. Paul said, “Where are you going to be in the day when God reveals the nature of character that you have been building?” Characters are being built for eternity, either for everlasting life or everlasting destruction. What is going to be your destiny?
Jesus said that your character determines your destiny. (See the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5; Matthew 25; and John 17.) Paul taught that principle to the Corinthians who had fallen into apostasy and the sins of idolatry and paganism that surrounded them. Attempting to draw them back he asked, “Are you going to be a Christian in truth as well as in name or not?” Then he gave them an illustration of something that they could clearly understand being used to seeing these things in their city.
There were people who lived in the first century, just as there are people today, who wanted a religion where all they had to do was simply believe, and that was all. They sought a profession of faith and wanted assurance of salvation without having to change their lifestyle. So today, there are many people who live like the devil thinking that they are Christians and that they are going to heaven, but this is not the religion that was preached by the apostles. This is not the religion described in the New Testament.
In writing to the Corinthians who were in a terrible state of apostasy practicing open sins among themselves, Paul talks to them as a father instructs his children. Paul wants to describe to them the necessity of firm self-control and strict temperance. He did this by comparing it with the games that were celebrated near Corinth and were always attended by a multitude of spectators. This illustration was calculated to make a vivid impression upon the minds of those he addressed because it referred to something with which they were intimately acquainted. There were various games that had been instituted among the Greeks and Romans, not only for the purpose of amusement, but also to train young men for personal vigor and activity, and prepare them to be qualified to be excellent soldiers in warfare.
The most famous of all these games, the most ancient and the most highly esteemed, were the foot races. They were held at stated times and places with great pomp and were patronized by kings, nobles, statesmen, and very wealthy people. These contests were governed by strict regulations from which there were no exceptions. Before the names of the candidates could be entered upon the list as competitors for the prize, they were required to undergo a severe preparatory training. Every indulgence of appetite or other gratification which could in the least affect their mental or physical vigor was strictly forbidden.
Paul speaks of these games to help the believers understand what is necessary for the Christian who is preparing to leave this world to go to a different place. The Christian is also running a race, the race of life. Paul said, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate [that is, practices self-control] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run like thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
O friend, have you ever thought that through? We should ask ourselves, if it was possible for the apostle Paul, who had faithfully preached the gospel all over the world to become disqualified from receiving the prize of eternal life because of lack of self-control, what about me? O friend, do not fall for the idea that the Christian religion is just a shallow assent to saying, “I believe,” and then it is all over—you are saved! No, the Christian religion involves running a race, one in which you practice strict self-control in all things, so that you might be ready for the coming of Christ and your character is such that you are safe to take to heaven.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.