Wheaton College recently hosted a panel of business leaders to discuss the topic, “Business as Mission.” They considered what it might look like to affect issues of global poverty and social injustice by establishing businesses in the poorest countries. One African man, when asked how to most effectively address the dire needs in Africa, answered, “Come and build relationships. Change happens in the context of relationship.”
His answer might not surprise us if we know a little something about African culture. It reflects the high priority Africans place on relationship and community. But it’s not the way we Americans think. We tend to prize the individual—his rights, his freedoms, and his potential.
That lens is one we have to readily acknowledge (and shed) when we come to a passage like the one we’ve read today. Paul isn’t addressing individual believers in this passage. The testing he alludes to in verses 13 through 15 isn’t the testing of one’s own individual spiritual life. The temple he refers to in verse 16 isn’t the individual body of the believer. This entire passage intends to defend the sacredness of the community of believers, the church. Paul uses three metaphors to explain this: the church as God’s field, the church as God’s building, and the church as God’s temple.
The field, the building, the temple—all belong to God. Although Paul, Apollos, and others have contributed to the work of building the church in Corinth, ultimately it’s been fully and completely the work of God. Paul planted, Apollos watered, but the church grew because God made in grow. Paul laid a foundation, others are building on that foundation, but the church stands because Jesus Christ Himself is the foundation. The church is the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, and none can destroy that temple without the judgment of God falling heavy upon him.
This means that the factions into which the church at Corinth has splintered are ridiculous. They deny the unity and sacredness of God’s church.