Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
In the first-century Mediterranean world, people thought they knew where the gods lived when they were on earth. The gods dwelled in temples, holy places set apart for them and the rituals associated with their worship. So, if you needed healing, you would go to the temple of Asclepius, the god of healing. Even the Jewish people, who understood that God could not be contained in any earthly building, believed that God had chosen a special temple as his home on earth (see 1 Kings 8:12-29; Isa. 66:1-2). As long as the temple in Jerusalem existed, they would make pilgrimages in order to offer praise and sacrifices (for example, Ps. 42:4).
The New Testament also teaches that God dwells in a temple (or in temples), but with a radically different sense of the nature of that temple. In 1 Corinthians 6:19, for example, the physical bodies of individual Christians are described as “temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you.” Earlier in this letter, the Apostle Paul speaks of the Corinthian church as “God’s temple,” adding that “God’s Spirit dwells in your midst” (1 Cor. 3:16). If a pagan Roman were to ask Paul, “Where is the temple of your God?” he might answer, “Every person who has received God’s grace through faith is a temple of the living God. And every gathering of believers is God’s temple.”
Ephesians applies the temple imagery in 1 Corinthians in an expansive way. In chapter 2, verse 21, it says, “In [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” The context makes it clear that this “whole building” is not an individual congregation, but rather the collection of all of God’s people throughout the cosmos. Thus, Paul’s answer to the pagan Roman’s question has an additional element: “God’s temple is the ‘whole building’ composed of all of those who belong to him through faith.”
As we consider the implications of this truth for our lives, I am impressed by the responsibility we share as Christians to live in the world in such a way that God is truly and obviously present. We are to do this individually and corporately, in our private lives and our public lives, in our families and our workplaces, in our neighborhoods and schools. I am challenged by this passage from Ephesians to consider the way I live each day. If people want to find God’s dwelling place on earth, would they think of me? Would they think of my church? Would they think of the Christian church throughout the world as the temple of God?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Are you living in the world in such a way that God’s presence makes a difference? Do your colleagues see in your behavior anything that would suggest you are a dwelling for God? Is your church serving as a temple in your community?
PRAYER: Holy God, what an honor to be your temple. Thank you for dwelling in me through your Spirit. Thank you for living in my church. Thank you for choosing to be present through all of your people in the world.
O Lord, it is a great honor to be your temple, but also a great responsibility. Help me to live in such a way that your presence in my life makes a real difference each day. Help my church to be a place where people come expecting to find you.
Today, I’m reminded to pray for the whole church throughout the world. May our words and deeds bear consistent and faithful witness to you, so that you might be glorified and so that people might be drawn to you through us. Amen.