Tread Carefully! The Path is Perilous–1 Cor. 3:17

“If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.”

How does a man destroy the church? Selfishness, unfettered ambition, or arrogance is the nemesis menacing the human race. Eighteenth-century theologian and pastor, Jonathan Edwards, believed that ambition was man’s attempt to steal glory from God. Pride and its corollary, selfishness is at the root of every personal, national, and international conflict and continues to be the primary threat facing the pastors and congregants that are the Church of Jesus Christ.

The success of each local church is not found in the charisma of its pastor, the wealth of its congregants, the size and scope of its facilities, or in its proud historical association with “great pastors of the faith.” Any individual who associates with a church for any or all of these reasons is complicit in reducing the church to a human enterprise (3:4). In such settings, those with a God-given opportunity to serve become opportunists “humbly” embracing the praise and adulation of their congregants (3:5). The problem is not that a pastor is a fine orator, or that the congregation is blest with wealth, or that the church’s facilities are substantial. The problem is that the church body has neglected or forgotten its redeemed or purchased status. They have become full of themselves rather than full of Him (3:6-9, 21-23 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)! Selfishness is a subtle intruder that lurks patiently in the heart of every person waiting to be ignored or hoping to be thought overcome—then it seeps out like a mild mist seeking to spin the work of God into a work of man. Left unchecked, it will always succeed.

The point is that well-meaning believers can establish churches whose beginnings are dedicated to building upon the foundation that is Christ Himself (3:10-11) and then become victims of pride and ambition, simply because their immaturity is not overcome by thorough and deeper biblical instruction (3:1-3). Sadly, too many churches become shaped by cultural influences than by biblical and theological absolutes, especially in Europe and America where the concept of tolerance has demonized absolutes and become hostile to truth. The efforts of such churches are described by Paul as being as frail as wood, hay, and straw, which under pressure or heat crumbles or burns (3:12-15). Dwelling places of the Spirit of God (Eph. 2:22)—churches—established to be pillars of faith, purity, and truth and meant to shape communities are absorbed by self-seeking congregants until the Gospel of God’s saving grace is no longer evident (cf. Revelation 2-3). Tainting the truth is a hazardous venture. Churches, such as these, are not simply dying or becoming irrelevant; they are being destroyed by the hand of God, their original and true proprietor (3:16-17). A church whose centerpiece is something other than the Triune God no longer possesses the message of grace and mercy and, therefore, is of no good for the souls of humanity or the glory of God.

The Church of Christ (God’s children) is holy, set apart from the world for the good of the world. Its only reason for existence is to focus on the Life (Jesus Christ) that gives life. Each believer is responsible for the preservation and presentation of the Gospel of Christ for the building up of the saints (Eph. 4:11-12) and for the sake of those whom He has yet to bring into the fold (2 Tim. 2:10)—this is the work of gold, silver, and precious stone that glorifies God, has eternal value, and safeguards the churches. Stay on course; the path is fraught with peril.

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I am a published author, co-author and editor of 13 books, written numerous articles, taught online at Liberty University and Grace College (Indiana), and appeared on numerous radio and TV programs. I am a theologian, bioethicist and retired veteran.

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