We’ve probably all heard that Christianity is about your individual relationship with Jesus. I’ve said that myself. But while God is very much concerned with the state of every individual heart and wants a relationship with you, Christianity is not an individualistic religion. We get that idea from Western culture, not from scripture.
The Bible is written for all peoples and all cultures. But it was also written by people living in a Middle Eastern society, and those of us in the Western world can miss some things Biblical writers took for granted. It rarely occurs to us that Americanized Christianity might not be the same thing as Biblical Christianity, but our culture does color how we read the Bible and in some cases it leads to inaccurate assumptions.
When I was reading Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, one of the misconceptions that really stuck with me had to do with the verses about spiritual temples. We tend to read the verses that say “you are a temple of God” and think the “you” is singular” and treat “temple” as plural, assuming that we are each one of God’s temples. But we’re wrong.
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Confusion of Plurals
There are three passages where Paul talks with the Corinthians about them being God’s temple. They’re 1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19; and 2 Cor. 6:16. Richards and O’Brian only talk about one of these, but I checked the others in the Greek and their point holds true for all three. They write,
Biblical Greek could differentiate between you singular and you plural, but we miss this in our English translations. … We typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards. In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular. Paul is saying, “All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy spirit. God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around. Together we make the dwelling for the spirit (p. 108)
God is far more concerned with the church as a whole than we often think about with our individualized Western mindsets. The “it’s just me and Jesus” mentality is rampant in the churches, but there’s no room for it in the Bible. The Lord never meant for the Christian walk to be an isolated one.
We’re Meant To Be Together
I understand that there are times, places, and situations where a follower of God is isolated from their fellow believers by circumstances outside their control. Maybe it’s a failure of local churches to be welcoming and supportive, or geographic distance from like-minded congregations. God understand things like this happen and He’s not going to abandon His individual relationship with you just because you can’t gather with His people.
But setting those situations aside, we’re told to love our neighbors, put others’ needs before our own, and do everything we can to live peacefully with all people. And those instructions are particularly important within the household of God, since our love for each other is how people can recognize us as disciples of Christ (John 13:34-35).
Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25, WEB)
When we have a choice whether or not to fellowship with other believers we should choose to be with them. The church is meant to grow together, helping each other, and becoming more unified. God wants the church family to be among our closest relationships. And if problems come up, He wants us to work them out rather than getting offended and leaving.
Build The Whole Church
Even when we are assembling together, though, too much of an individualistic mindset can cause issues in the church. It’s one of the things that leads to division, because some are doing what is right in their own eyes rather than seeking to have the mind of Christ. It leads to us thinking, “What do I think is right?” and “What does this verse mean to me?” rather than seeking, “What does God think is right?” and “what does this verse mean for all God’s people, including me, in the context of His entire Bible?”
You are meant to do personal study and come to an understanding regarding God’s teachings for your life. And you have to do what you’re convicted is right, for “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). But the goal should never be to personalize Christianity for you. The goal must be to learn, grow, and understand what God wants.
Charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith (1 Tim. 1:3-4, KJV)
This word “edifying” is translated from oikodomia (G3620), which literally means the act of building something up. That’s what our studies, our teachings, and our fellowship are supposed to do. Believers are to build up the collective body as well as individuals within it, not tear down or neglect the church.
Self-Focus versus Temple-Focus
In the book of Haggai, Yahweh delivers a message to Israelites who’d returned to Jerusalem from exile. When they first arrived they’d started building a temple, but only made it to the foundation. Now 16 years later, the Israelites wondered why the work they were doing wasn’t bearing fruit like they’d hoped. God gave them an answer.
“You looked for much, and, behold, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says Yahweh of Armies, “Because of my house that lies waste, while each of you is busy with his own house. Therefore for your sake the heavens withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. (Hag. 1:9-10, WEB)
If we wonder why the church isn’t growing or why God isn’t blessing our efforts like we’d expect, this is one very likely explanation. So let’s ask ourselves, “Am I building my own house or am I edifying the temple of God?” When we’re focused only on our individual things, then we’re not edifying the church. We’re not seeking to build God’s temple of which we are just one of many building blocks (1 Pet. 2:5).
I’ve written about this topic before in a 3-post series on Haggai, but at the time I didn’t understand about the “you” being plural and “temple” singular. So I switch back and forth in those posts between talking about us as individual temples and us as part of a larger temple of God, but you still might find them interesting. Here are the links:
- Rebuilding The Temple Part 1: Consider Our Temples
- Rebuilding The Temple Part 2: Building Up Temples
- Rebuilding The Temple Part 3: Obstacles To Temple Building