It is a warning as hot as the Mohave Desert, as serious as a serpent. God warns us not to destroy his people.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16,17).
Notice two things: First, the personal pronouns are plural. When he says “you are God‘s temple,” he means, “you all are God’s temple.” Second, note that important word, “for.” The reason the consequences of division are so dire is because of the identity of what they are dividing. They divide nothing less than God’s temple!
We might be tempted to think we’re just messing with “those people,” but God says “those people” are his sacred, holy temple!
We might say that we’re just gossiping about “that church,” but God says that “that church” is his sacred temple!”
We might constantly undercut the leadership of “that church,” but God wants us to know that we’re destroying the sacred temple of God!
Do you remember what Jesus said to Saul on the Damascus road? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul might have argued that he was not personally attacking Jesus. But when Saul attacked Jesus’ people, he was attacking Jesus.
Do you remember when the Lord commended the “sheep” in his parable? “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). When we act with compassion to the poor and needy, we do it to the Lord.
We tend to take the local church too lightly, as if it is nothing more than human beings gathered together for their own benefit or interests, whereas, please note, the church is God’s people, holy and sacred, and designed at his behest to carry out his bidding.
We wouldn’t think of throwing mud all over the carpet of our church building. We would be upset if someone started throwing rocks through its glass windows. But we seem to think so little about throwing mud and rocks at the temple that is truly sacred, the people of God, the church that meets in this fine building!
Even pagans understand that a temple is sacred. You don’t “disrespect” a temple by throwing mud on the floor, or talking at the top of your voice! In the same way, Paul suggests, we must treat the temple of God – the people – as sacred, lovingly, respectfully.
If anyone destroys the temple (yes, the church, your local congregation), “God will destroy him.” I know of no warning so scream-your-guts-out scary as that one. Perhaps we should take time to heed the warning.