To many Christians, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is a well-known passage. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price. So then, glorify God in your body.”
The common application and use of this passage is to inform us what is or is not an acceptable use of a person’s physical body. These two verses have been used as proof that a Christian should not get body modifications such as tattoos and piercings (though I’ve always wondered why those we are of this position have no problem with a woman getting her ears pierced. Isn’t that also a “body modification?” But I digress.). The Today’s New International Version of the Bible has even gone so far as to change words in the original language in order to match and support this application.
The problem with this application is that it is not what Paul is saying whatsoever. He is not calling a person’s physical body the temple of the Holy Spirit. In the Greek, the pronoun is plural, while body is singular. The main problem in the church at Corinth was disunity and warring factions. It is a fractured church. Paul, at different times leading up to these words in these two verses, combines the plural pronoun with singular nouns such as body and temple and building and land.
Paul is attempting to convey and convince these Corinthian believers that their disunity and fractured existence is actually diminishing and taking away from something special that occurs when they are living in unity. It is actually taking away from their collective identity. Each one of them is a building block, which, when put together, becomes the temple. One block does not equal the temple just like one 2’x4′ or one window or one door doesn’t equal a house. That’s why it is so important for them to be united. Otherwise, that temple becomes unsafe and the glory of God is unable to dwell in it. If you wouldn’t live in an unsafe building, why would we expect God’s Spirit to live in one?
I believe that when Paul was writing these words, he had in his mind the original temple which Solomon built. We are told that when that temple was completed and dedicated to God, God’s shekinah glory came to rest in it. It was evident to those who were there that day. So, Paul saw the collective gathering of Christians, the church, as the new temple where God’s Spirit and glory would now dwell. That is why he is so adamant about how they view and treat each other. Each one of them is a building block, an important part of that new temple of God. It is their dismissing the importance of their unity which Paul states is the reason why some of them have been partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily.
The reason I have revisited this topic is because of my study for this Sunday’s sermon. From Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:19-20 and Paul’s in the above passage, there is something extra special and supernatural that happens when we come together in unity and worship, which does not happen when we are apart or fractured.
I have had people tell me that they can worship on their own and not join together with other Christians in order to do so. And I agree with them, BUT, that extra special and supernatural thing does not happen. It is not possible because it is only one and not more. That means that gathering for worship is important and crucial because a situation is created and the presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God’s glory shows up in a way that is reserved only for these types of gatherings.