God Protects His Temple and So Should We

“If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him” (1 Corinthians 3:17a)

“Under the Old Testament any person, other than the high priest on the Day of Atonement, who dared to enter the Holy of Holies, would drop dead on the spot. He would not need to be put to death by the people. God would strike him dead. Even less does God look kindly upon those who threaten or defile His holy people (Matthew 18:6–10).”[1] The things that destroy the temple of God were present in Corinth: pride, jealousy, unjustifiable elevation of human relationships, prolonged infancy, human wisdom, and milkoholism, all of which are the products of imposing human wisdom upon the temple of God. [2] By supplanting divine wisdom with human wisdom, they placed themselves under the patient but sure judgment of God. Using human wisdom to build the brick and mortar church building is fine, but building the church—the spiritual temple of God—with human wisdom is sin.

Unlike Gentile temples, the construction of the tabernacle and the temple included instructions that excluded idols. Only the name of God could be there. In like manner, the church as God’s temple is to have no idols, only the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. God warns clearly of the seriousness of vulgarizing His church. Thus, the warning to “be careful how he builds” ( 1 Cor 3:10) refers to not only rewards, but also the warning of God’s judgement upon those who destroy His temple, which is precisely what human wisdom does. God will destroy those who destroy His temple through persecution, corruption, carnal divisions, or anything derived from human wisdom.

A local church is more important than people’s reputations, opinions, feelings, cliques, personal needs, fancies, or hurts because it is the holy temple of God. Christians must treat the church as holy and be willing to sacrifice for her to be the grand temple of God. Sadly, sometimes when people get their feelings hurt, or things do not go the way they think they should, or even when they have genuinely been wronged, they will sacrifice the church in order to pursue their vendetta, personal vindication, agendas, or right the wrong that was done against them.

They will pursue their agenda even if it splits or hurts the church. Placing oneself above the good of the church is human wisdom, which sacrifices the church as the holy temple of God. God will not forget nor let that human wisdom go unpunished. This love affair with human wisdom resulted in the Corinthians’ perpetual carnality, numerous church problems, and some being sick and even dead (1 Cor 11:30).

To hurt a church in order to vindicate one’s own reputation or to get one’s own way because of dissatisfaction is in fact the incontrovertible evidence of being carnal, which the Corinthians were. They were even treating the holy temple of God as a pagan temple. It is true that the universal church will prevail against the forces of sin and Satan; however, the same cannot be said of any particular local church. It may follow the path of the church at Ephesus “who left her first love” (Revelation 2:4), Pergamum’s acceptance of false teaching (Revelation 2:14), Thyatira’s acceptance of immorality and false prophets (Revelation 2:20), or it may succumb to the ravages of earthly wisdom like Sardis, of whom Christ said, “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b). The once accepted local church may even be rejected by the head of the church as Laodicea, whose lukewarmness nauseated Christ (Revelation 3:15–16) to the point of total rejection.

The epistles are full of evidence that human wisdom destroys a local church, whether it is the carnal Corinthians or legalistic Galatians. Moreover, history is riddled with destroyed local churches. Even the church I pastor has been ravaged more than once by the wisdom of men and the cunning attacks of Satan. Our vigilance and humility must be constant because he, like a lion, stalks the weak of our churches—those that think like mere men—and will devour them and use them to harm the temple of God.

The words of this verse stand as an imperishable warning that God will have the last word for anyone who destroys a local temple of God. Some confuse the patience of God with God’s lack of follow-through, but His patience is to give space for repentance as He did with Jezebel (Revelation 2:21), where through the prophet Elijah he predicted how she would die, but then gave her twenty years to repent. To equate God’s patience with procrastination or unwillingness is to make a most serious miscalculation. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19), and “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

This temple is anything but common; it is holy. The church is set apart to God as a holy temple (vs. 17b). Therefore, to desacralize what God has made sacred will ultimately bring God’s destruction on those individuals. Be careful how you build the temple of God (vs. 10b). Why? Because the building project we are involved in is holy—set apart for God by God. The local church can only honor God and be the holy temple He established it to be when it is built according to divine wisdom as revealed in the Scripture.

She is holy, and if we truly love God, we will love the local church, for it is His holy temple. Our love will be measured by whether we seek His wisdom and build accordingly, which includes what we make the church to be, how she is organized, what she does, and what we are willing to sacrifice for her. Most assuredly, those who seek to impose their will upon the church always aver that it is because they love the church, but their love of the church is usually defined by the use of human wisdom in their biased and limited selection of supporting Scriptures.

Oftentimes, the Scriptures they are forced to rely upon to justify their actions are not directly related to the issue at hand, while they trample underfoot the undeniably relevant Scriptures. They make their interpretation the only interpretation to which the leaders must bow. They hear everyone, but listen to no one, which is characteristic of carnal pride. Their arrogance is easily seen by any and all who observe them through the prism of the full panoply of Scripture, but they cannot see it. Carnality, human wisdom, is the genesis and fuel for destroyers of the temple.

Christ gave church discipline for protection of the local church against the ravages of divisiveness (Romans 16:17–18), immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1–13), unruly lives (2 Thessalonians 3:6–14) and doctrinal deviates (1 Timothy 1:18–20). Done according to the New Testament in both letter and spirit, it provides a biblical alternative to allowing worldly wisdom to destroy the local temple of God. Further, by confronting the destroyer in biblical courage, grace, and love, we afford the perpetrator an opportunity to repent and thereby escape the more severe judgment of God.


[1] John MacArthur, 1 Corinthians, includes indexes (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, c1984), 86.
[2] Milkoholics – Christians who are committed to taking in only the milk of the Word.