Defacing the Temple
Featuring Tom Kraeuter Posted on February 7, 2010
Harboring negative attitudes toward one another can hinder us in moving forward in our worship. Actually, the truth is, they will hinder it. This is a major but often overlooked piece of the puzzle that needs to be in place in order to truly move forward in our worship.
In the second chapter of his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul discusses the concept of the Church being built together into a holy temple. He concludes this section by saying, “And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). For most Christians, this idea is not new. Honestly, the concept that God is building us together is a foundational teaching of the Church. It is found in both the Old and New Testaments. Different terminology is used in different places, but ultimately it is the same idea: God is building us together. To me this is so fundamental that I would consider it a part of “Basic Christianity 101.”
However, even when we understand that God is indeed building us together, we often miss His purpose in doing it. Why is He making us into a building? The answer is found in the second chapter of Peter’s first letter. “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). “...a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices...”? That sounds like worship. Of course it is. That is what we are all about as God’s people. The reason that the Lord is building us together into a building is that we might worship Him.
If this is true (and obviously it is, since Scripture says so), it follows logically that if the building is not built properly, then the spiritual sacrifices will be lacking. If our relationships with one another are out of order, then the purpose of the building will not be fulfilled.
This is quite contrary to our normal way of thinking. More frequently we consider all of the other options. If the worship for a given service seems “flat,” our first tendency is to think, “Well, I guess the person leading worship didn’t hear from God this week.” However, our first course of action should be to look into our own heart. We should consider our relationships with our brothers and sisters.
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul said, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you [plural] are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
The Greek word here for destroying the temple literally means to “corrupt” or to “mar.” In Bible times, if anyone was caught doing any type of damage to the temple—writing graffiti on the walls, for example—there was an instant death sentence pronounced. If you were caught, there was no question in anyone’s mind what the outcome would be. Your life was over.
However, we do that very thing when we come to church harboring negative attitudes toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are corrupting, marring, destroying the temple into which the Lord is building us. Even if this is not our intent, we can unknowingly destroy the temple by harboring resentments and other negative attitudes toward others.
I am not trying to say that we must have extremely close relationships with everyone we know. This is impossible. It seems obvious that there are various levels of relationships. We can see this even in the life of Jesus. Multitudes followed Him. Out of those multitudes, He appointed seventy-two followers and sent them out two by two (Luke 10:1-20). From among these, He chose twelve apostles. But even among these there was “inner circle” of three—Peter, James and John—who were nearly always with Jesus. Finally, the Bible refers only to John as the disciple “Jesus loved,” suggesting a special relationship between Jesus and John. Obviously, we too have various levels of relationships.
While we need to understand this, it also presents a danger to us. We can begin to view some relationships as unimportant. Be honest. Are there certain people in the Body of Christ you have difficulty relating to? Are there some folks with whom you even avoid making eye contact in order to keep from talking with them?
After many years as a Christian, I finally came to the realization that on this side of eternity I would never see eye to eye with everyone in the Kingdom of God. The truth is that being in complete agreement is of very little consequence. What really matters is that I understand that Jesus paid just as much for those people with whom I do not fully agree as He did for me. This mind set quickly changes my perspective on people. I make the choice to walk in love and unity with my brothers and sisters in the Lord.
All too often, we Christians act as though Jesus told us that people would know we are His disciples because we all agree on everything doctrinally. He didn’t say that. He told us, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, author’s emphasis).
I am not suggesting that doctrine is unimportant. As a teacher in the Body of Christ, I recognize that doctrine is extremely important. If I didn’t think so, I would not be doing what I’m doing. It is imperative—especially in this hour—that we as the Church know what we believe and why we believe it, firmly based on the Word of God. However, perfect doctrinal agreement is not the high-water mark of the Church of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 13 says, “If I...can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge...but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2, author’s emphasis).
So, you might be wondering, what does all this have to do with worship? Simple. Jesus told us, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Before we can worship, we need to be careful to ensure that our relationships are in order.
John is even stronger in his treatment of this subject. “Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20b). This verse doesn’t say that if we don’t love our brother, then we might not be able to love God. It says that if we don’t love our brother, we cannot love God. The Lord has tied our relationship with Him to our relationships with one another. Unquestionably, if our horizontal relationships with one another are not in proper order, then we cannot have the vertical relationship with God.
Allow me a few moments to put this into a positive context. In my travels I have encountered congregations where the more mature believers (when I speak here of maturity I am not necessarily talking about age, but you and I both recognize that maturity generally comes with age) have come to the point of recognizing that they have a choice. The first option is that their church can continue doing things the way they have always done them—their preferences, their opinions—and die with them when they die. The second option is to give up their preferences and opinions to encourage the next generation in their walk with the Lord.
Where they have made that latter choice, giving up their preferences and ways of doing things, there comes a dynamic in the unity of the church and therefore a dynamic in the corporate expression of worship that cannot be achieved any other way. Why? Because it speaks volumes to the less mature believers when we more mature believers are willing to give up our opinions and choices to help them. Reaching out in love causes us to discard our us-against-them mentality. They, in turn, begin to have an attitude that says, “We don’t always have to do things our way.” There springs forth a give and take, a caring for one another, that won’t happen any other way. This love automatically carries over into the corporate expression of worship.
If we are honestly going to move forward in worship as a congregation, then we must foster loving, caring relationships among our people. Without this we’re just a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). We must be careful not to deface the temple we build on the foundations of relationship with Christ and prayer.