Lesson 33: “Ye Are the Temple of God”
1 Corinthinans 1-6
Purpose: To inspire class members to seek the blessings that come from being unified in Christ and following the Spirit. [Because we have so recently had a Priesthood/Relief Society lesson on chastity, I am omitting the remainder of the manual’s purpose statement: “… and being morally clean.”]
Follow-up to Previous Lesson
The last time we were together, we talked about Paul’s preaching on Mars Hill in Athens, particularly about how the philosophers there “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” (Acts 17:21) I suggested that in our case, the problem wasn’t so much that we had to be the first to tell or hear some new thing, but that we clung to old ideas, old speculations, things that had been written and spoken by Church members of the past who didn’t draw a line between divine revelation and human speculation, but who taught that speculation as revealed truth. I read a list of ideas that I had heard discussed by ward members, even taught by teachers, in the past couple of years, and suggested that they all fit into the category of old ideas that we loved to perpetuate for some reason, but which were at best speculative, and at worst wrong and hurtful.
I promised you a few minutes today to ask questions about any of those ideas that may have been bothering you over the past two weeks. I may not have all the scriptures or historical explanation at my fingertips today, but if not, we’ll continue the discussion next time.
[Discuss questions, but if necessary remind class members that I said they would need to do their homework rather than expecting me to provide all the answers, and ask them what their research has turned up. Keep this follow-up as brief as possible – no more than 10 minutes in any case. Remember that the purpose of this discussion is to urge people to distinguish between legitimate doctrine and folk speculations, not necessarily to convince them to adopt any particular answer to any particular question.]
Keeping the doctrine pure – distinguishing between revealed truth and human speculation – plays a significant part in today’s lesson as well, so let’s move toward that.
Think for a minute about your experiences with the temple: the physical surroundings, the ideas you are taught there, the worship that you participate in, the ordinances that you perform. How many ways can we think of that the temple creates or promotes unity among the children of God?
Are there any ways in which temple service makes distinctions between people?
1. Avoid contention and be unified.
2. Rely on the Spirit rather than the wisdom of the world.
[3. Be morally clean.]
The idea of unity in the church is a major theme of Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. Corinth was a major city of Greece, situated on an isthmus in such a way that it has magnificent harbors on both the east and west sides of the city. This allowed Corinth to be a major center of trade, receiving ships both from Rome to the West and Asia Minor and the Middle East on the East.
In some ways our society is like Corinth: We have harbors on all sides of us – only we call them airports and highways and railroads – bringing us goods from all over the world. And like Corinth, ideas from all over the world arrive in our homes, too, via the various media.
* What are some ways that wealth and openness is good for us, just as it was for Corinth?
* What are some ways that wealth and openness can challenge the kind of lives we’d like to live?
Paul spent a year and a half at Corinth in about the year 51; his epistle of 1 Corinthians was written about five years later when Paul had moved on to Ephesus. Even though we call this epistle “First” Corinthians, it is not the first letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth – another one or two letters had been sent to them, which do not survive in our modern New Testament.
Paul has become aware that there are some divisions in the church in Corinth, that the Saints are disputing doctrine and practice. Let’s see what some of those divisions were.
1 Corinthians 1:11-12
11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
So we have church members in Corinth choosing heroes, and identifying themselves as being followers of one or another of these religious figures.
We know who Paul is, and we know who Christ is; Cephas is another name for the apostle Peter. Let’s take a closer look at who Apollos is.
24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.
25 This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
27 And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:
28 For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
* So what was Apollos’s background?
* Was he a good man, a good Christian, or was he usurping the authority of the apostles?
We know that Apollos continued faithful, and was a minister working alongside Paul himself:
1 Corinthians 16:12
12 As touching our brother Apollos, I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time.
The important thing about that verse is not the specific event, whether or not Apollos went to the Corinthians then or later – the important thing is that Apollos had Paul’s full confidence. He wanted Apollos to return to Corinth because of the good he could do there.
So – these various factions that Paul mentions at Corinth – some are of Paul, some are of Apollos, some are of Cephas, some are of Christ – are not rival churches. There doesn’t seem to be any question of apostasy, or schism. It’s almost as though we have people claiming to be special followers of President Packer, or special followers of Elder Ballard.
* Can you think of anything similar, either now or within your lifetime, that might be analogous to these divisions in Corinth? Have there been times when individual Church members have identified most strongly with one particular apostle, perhaps based on a particular issue they see that apostle standing for? (Prod, if needed: Have you ever heard someone say – or have you said – Well, we should do such-and-such politically, because that’s what Ezra Taft Benson said? Or, Well, I’m right and you’re wrong, because in Mormon Doctrine Elder McConkie said …)
* How far can we safely go in singling out one specific leader as our favorite General Authority?
* What problems arise when we carry the identification too far?
* At what point do differences become divisions?
Another one of the divisions in Corinth appears to have been between the Hellenizers – those who were heavily influenced by the philosophy of the Greeks and who favored liberal, sophisticated views – and the Judaizers – those who couldn’t quite accept that the Gospel was now offered to all people, and that converts didn’t have to first become Jews before they could become Christians. We see evidence for this in the kinds of questions Paul was answering for the Corinthians – whether or not women could participate in church meetings, whether it was all right to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, and so on.
The specific questions that Paul addressed don’t have particular interest to us today, because they grew out of the culture that existed in that time and place. The principles, though, can be quite relevant to us today.
* Are there times in the modern church when you have felt that you or other church members were being just a little too open to the philosophies of the wider world?
* Can you think of examples in the modern church that are similar to the Judaizers – where, perhaps, we have a tendency to want converts to adopt the culture of the Wasatch Front in addition to accepting the gospel?
Addressing these different factions, Paul says:
1 Corinthians 1:10
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
* Does this mean there should never be any difference of opinion among Latter-day Saints on any subject?
* Then what does it mean?
* On what points must we be unified?
* On what points is it okay to have differences?
1 Corinthians 1:19
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
This verse, and others like it, are sometimes used to promote a kind of anti-intellectualism in the Church – it is not good to accumulate the wisdom of the world, or it is dangerous to seek learning and education.
* Is that what you think this verse is saying?
Note that the verse says, “For it is written …” indicating that this is a quotation from earlier Jewish writings, in this case, Isaiah 29:14.
14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
We often associate this verse with a time and a person in Church history – who?
And we often think of Joseph smith as a simple, uneducated, unsophisticated young man who did not have the benefit of great education at the time he translated the Book of Mormon.
* Was Joseph Smith satisfied to remain that uneducated, simple plowboy? What evidence can you suggest that he valued and sought after secular learning as well as the revealed wisdom of God?
118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek, ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
* So, what is the proper balance between learning by study and learning by faith? What matters properly belong to the learning of the world, and what matters properly belong to the revealed word of God?
These were questions that the Corinthians struggled with, too.
1 Corinthians 1:22-23
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom;
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.
Paul warned that the Jews – and people among us who will not accept anything as truth unless God himself gives a sign that he approves – could not accept the gospel. He also said that the Greeks – or people who believed only in the power of the mind and could not recognize the promptings of the Spirit – would also find the gospel to be foolish.
But those who responded to the Spirit – those who were bound neither by rigid ideology nor by the need to explain everything by means of the man-made rules of logic – would understand the truth:
1 Corinthians 1:24
24 But unto them which are called [or, in the JST, who believe], both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
The Church has room for both those who learn and express themselves best by faith, and those who learn and express themselves best by study. Christ and his mission may be a stumbling block to the one, and foolishness to the other, but we who believe are unified in the power and wisdom of God.
We began this lesson by naming the many ways the temple unifies the Saints of God, both living and dead, both male and female, both rich and poor. Let’s close by reading the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16
16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
There may be many ways we could interpret that, many ways in which we are the temple of God. For today, though, let’s remember that as members of the Church, we are members of the body of God, the temple of God, and that no matter how different we may be in some ways, we are unified by our belief in Christ.