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The Church as Purified Temple

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, pagan worship practices were part of everyday life. Visiting temples, offering sacrifices, and worshiping the “spirit” of the emperor were all aspects of being a good citizen in the first-century Mediterranean world.

Apparently some in Corinth were drawn toward these common worship practices, despite their own Christian profession. The apostle Paul firmly corrected such activity. The warning against being “yoked with unbelievers” (6:14) evokes the idea of being joined together and united as one. Paul reminded them that the Christian has nothing “in common,” no “fellowship” or “harmony,” with pagan practices (6:14–16). Those pagan ways are described as lawless, dark, belonging to Belial (i.e., Satan), and idolatrous.

True Christian identity is described as righteousness, light, and belonging to Christ as the temple of God. That last metaphor is the dominant one, underscored by Paul’s reference to a multitude of citations from the Old Testament law and prophets. As the temple of God, Christians are God’s people and He will “live with them and walk among them” (6:16). But also, as the temple of God, the church is called to “come out from them and be separate” (6:17). Just as the Israelite temple was purified and set apart as holy, so too “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (7:1).

We are to share the gospel message with others. But the call to follow Christ is also a call to be separate and distinctive from the worship and lifestyle of the world. Because God dwells with us as His temple, we should have no intimate partnership or fellowship with a world opposed to God.

Apply the Word

Pagan worship may not tempt us, but our hearts and minds might still be drawn away from God. The world’s idols of celebrities, athletes, technology, materialism, and the constant need to be entertained are modern forms of secular worship. In prayer, ask God to help us “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit” (7:1).

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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