The Temple of God

Posted: March 4, 2012 in New Testament
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The covenant had been established with Abraham.  God promised Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2).  God had established this covenant with Abraham’s offspring as well.  The sign of this covenant was to be circumcision.  Genesis 17:13-14 states, “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.  Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”  Circumcision distinguishedIsraelfrom the surrounding cultures.

The promise given to Abraham would be fulfilled, yet it would manifest itself in a peculiar and unexpected manner.  As the early church began to spread throughout theRoman Empire, debate and concern over circumcision arose.  The traditional Jews believed it necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised to partake in the Church.  Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, adamantly opposed such stipulations.  A holy community was not simply about upholding the letter of the Law.  In fact, Christ had brought about the age of a new covenant between God and the world.  New possibilities had been opened up.  Circumcision takes on a new definition, not one of fleshly origins performed by the hands of man.  Rather, Christ brings the outsiders into community through his blood, in essence circumcising the Church to himself (Eph. 2:13).

Humanity had been divided.  Circumcision was a rite of passage for Israel.  The idea of separation pervaded the Jewish culture.  Purity was maintained by separation from the uncircumcised cultures.  These cultures were deemed to be defiled and unholy.  Christ, according to Paul, has broken down that hostility and separation.  Ephesians 2:14-16 states:

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it (NRSV).

Through Christ a radically different community was possible.  Violence, hostility, and hatred were replaced by a greater power: Love.  God was concerned, not simply for the people ofIsrael, for the world.  In fact, trueIsraelnow had a new face.  The insider was not dictated by circumcision.  Rather, the insider was characterized by the power of the Spirit of God the Father.  Nationality was not the pre-requisite for “members of the household of God” (v. 19).  Likewise, Gentiles were not slaves in this society but were considered full citizens in this community of saints.  Unity and peace would mark the community of God.

A further change had been affected in the present manifestation of the kingdom of God.  The family and household of God were no longer joined through Abraham.  Christ, the cornerstone upon which the kingdom of God laid the foundation, joined the whole structure together, growing it “into a holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21).  TheTemple was an intricate, inextricable part of Jewish life and faith.  The Pharisees were stringent advocates of theTemplelife.  TheTemple itself was partitioned into sections to maintain separation.  In each concentric circle nearing the Holy of Holies, only a few people were allowed to enter further.  Codes of conduct were important in keeping theTemple from being defiled.  A curtain shrouded the Holy of Holies, in which only the High Priest could enter but once a year.  Paul writes that Christ was the High Priest that affectively tore down such boundaries.  The curtain had been torn so that anyone might be the dwelling place of God.  Of course, Paul did not understand this on an individual level but as a community living out the call and purpose of God.

“Without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world,” describe the nature of the Gentile (v. 12).  Life was a dead end.  Death was imminent.  Sin coerced, corroded, corrupted, and conquered every aspect of life.  The passions of the flesh dominated every waking moment.  These Gentiles were “by nature children of wrath” (v. 3).  Paul concludes that a new reality was given through Christ.  Jubilee had come for the Gentile as well.  “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (v. 4-5).  Christ had redeemed both Jew and Gentile, forgiving an un-payable debt.  It was a gift from God, not a right (v. 9).

Paul calls those that have accepted God’s gift of grace to live a life of holiness exemplified by “good works” (v. 10).  He calls those that have been embraced in this community to remember how they had previously been outsiders.  Having received the gift, the Church must also extend this gift of fellowship that God had so lovingly and mercifully extended to them in their sinfulness.

The Church, the Body of Christ, theTempleof God must live in unity and peacefulness with one another.  This is dominated by the love of Christ which we received despite our impurity and sinful state.  It was not our own doing, our own holiness, or our own purity that accomplished this.  We were brought into communion with God through the blood of Christ which tore down the barriers that we had previously erected.  We are called to be a community of forgiveness and redemption.  We cannot accept hostility that divides but must embrace the cross which puts to death such hostility (v. 16).  We are called to see others as God sees them, as valuable.

Holiness continues to be about separation and purity.  However, the division is not man-made.  Circumcision does not define the true Church.  Likewise, tradition or familial lines or other modes of separation do not define a holy community.  Rather, the Church is demarcated by the presence of God’s Spirit through which we have access to the Father (v. 18).

We are called to separate ourselves from the world.  However, this separation is not from the people but the practices and structures of oppression, hostility and destruction.  This holy community is characterized by denying the desires of the “flesh and senses” (v. 3).  Holiness is living in obedience to God’s ordinances.  Yet, such obedience is a grateful response to God’s mercy, not a result of works (v. 9).  It is Christ working in us (v. 10).

The people of God are those that live obediently and in relationship with their Creator.  A holy community seeks the good of life for all concerned, living in humility and peacefulness.  It is the Sermon on the Mount embodied.  It is the year of the Lord’s favor received and extended to others.  It is forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption for both the insider and the outsider.  Holiness gives rest to the alien by embracing them in love and community.  And, it is the power of God in forming new life from death through the power of the cross.

 

Works Cited

Borg, Marcus J. Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus.Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998.

Gammie, John G. Holiness in Israel.Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2005.

Harrelson, Walter J., Donald Senior, and Abraham Smith, eds. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha.New York: Abingdon P, 2005.

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus 2nd Ed.Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

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