Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?
Earlier in his letter (3:16), Paul has written something similar, but he emphasises there the teaching that corporately the Christians can be described as a temple of God. This thought is also found in Ephesians 2:19-22 where the whole Church is being built as a temple on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, but where the readers of the letter are also ‘being built together into a dwelling of God.’
But, getting back to 1 Corinthians 6, it is something more personal here. It is the body (the context shows the physical, human body of the individual is in view) that is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul does not write: your soul is a temple of the Holy Spirit. We might have thought that more likely. But, it is your body that is the temple. What are we to make of this? How does it impact how we think of ourselves as Christians?
Paul is using a metaphor. In the Old Testament, the God of Israel dwelt amongst his people in a tent, and then in a temple. These structures were outposts of a lost Eden in the fallen world (the tabernacle and temple both contained garden & creation imagery). The temple spoke of the re-instatement of that pre-Fall, perfect connection between God and humans. Theologically, humans cannot be human in the truest sense without the restoration of a lost dimension to their lives. That dimension is their living experience of the presence of God in their lives. That is what gives ‘true life’. Saying ‘presence’ might be confusing. Really, the idea is one of God’s influence on us, not coercively, but in partnership with us. A kind of enabling, but with a deeply personal component too – which is why ‘presence’ is ultimately the right word. It’s not merely a ‘spiritual’ thing. Because of the fundamental co-existent connection between the spiritual and the physical, both aspects of our person are involved in God’s presence.
If the presence of God in our body seems an odd concept, think about this: when you have an idea, an insight, or an intuition, where does it come from? From stored experiences in cells of your brain; from firing synapses and intercellular chemistry bringing experiences, memories and knowledge together (of course, I’m no expert on brains, but no-one on the planet really understands how this stuff really works!). Yes, of course that’s true. But, when we accept that the ‘spiritual’ and physical are intimately connected, we realise that through the Holy Spirit, God himself is influential in these processes. So, God can give insight. He can bring motivation to action. He can bring about answers to prayer when someone is praying for help and there’s a knock at their door. When we respond to reading God’s word, what is that? When we worship in Church and feel a deep-seated peace, or a rising up of joy, what is that? I don’t think a purely materialist perspective on these things is adequate. And, of course, when our knowledge, experience, etc. are formed by our interaction with God’s word and our interaction with God himself through prayer and worship, then all of this forms a rich tapestry of God’s presence in our bodies.
Obviously, I’m not saying that Paul thought of it in these terms – two thousand years ago the human body was a bigger mystery than it is today. But I am building this on the fact that Paul saw it as entirely appropriate to describe God the Holy Spirit as being ‘present’ in our bodies.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, God is present in us. What is lost to humanity – due to the entry of sin into the human psyche and the alienation of God from humans – is restored! But not only is God present, but in some sense so is the human Jesus Christ himself, who is the incarnated logos, the second ‘person’ in the divine Trinity (when we think of the connection between God and humans, the fact that God has become a human is extremely important, but no space here for that!). In John’s gospel we find the same idea expressed in a striking manner.
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper…the Spirit of truth…; you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you…. Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. John 14:17-23
Does the way we imagine Christianity reflect this? Does our relationship with God reflect this? When we are praying, do we imagine we are praying to someone far off? And what about our relationship with Jesus? Are we talking to a Jesus lost in the past, or somewhere off in heaven? Talking to someone who doesn't understand, or know about your life, your hopes, fears, sins, joy? In Jesus Christ, the Father truly has embraced the prodigal! And Paul’s main purpose in writing what he does in 1 Corinthians 6 is ethical. When we face temptation, shouldn’t the real presence of God in our bodies act as some kind of restraint? And give us real hope for choosing the right path? Our God, our Lord and Master Jesus is present in us through the Holy Spirit.