You are the Temple of God
How many of us have send the billboard called ?Extreme Makeover?Meth Edition?? It shows a photo of a seemingly beautiful and smiling middle-age woman on the left side. Then on the right, there is a photo of a woman who looks much older, haggard, worn-out and sad. The caption on the right photo is ?Two and half years later? and the stunning unwritten message is that these two photos are of the same woman. More importantly, it is emphasizing the devastating effects of methamphetamine addiction.
Keeping in mind these images, let us remember that God created us and all human beings in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26) and thus each one of us is an icon of God. Just like we treat written icons of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and various Saints with great reverence and respect, we are to treat ourselves and each other in the same way. Unfortunately, in our modern society, it is much easier to treat with reverence and respect people who fit a certain ideal of beauty. Ask yourself: ?If the woman from the meth billboard approached you on the street, or came to your door at home, or walked through the office door, how would you react or respond to her?before she ever heard of meth and then two and half years later??
In today?s epistle reading (9th Sunday of Matthew; 1Corinthians 3:9-17), St. Paul offers an even more profound message about humanity. He says, ?16Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?? In other words, not only is each one of us an icon or image of God but we are the temple of God?the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. ?Naos?, the original Greek word translated as ?temple? here, is still recognized and used to signify a place of worship. St. Paul offers a stunning transformation of understanding because going back to ancient Israel, the Jews understood that God dwelt in the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant was kept within the larger tabernacle (Greek ? skene). Later, the permanent stone temple in Jerusalem replaced the mobile tabernacle. Now St. Paul was saying that each human person is a Holy of Holies.
When God revealed to Moses how the tabernacle was to be built, He also revealed to Moses how He, was to be worshipped. Much of what we as present day Orthodox Christians see, hear, and do (and for that matter, what we do not see, hear and do) in our temples of worship are directly connected to ancient Judaic worship. So, we understand that while we are in the church, we act, speak and sing in a reverential manner acknowledging and focusing intently on the presence of God as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now, if we can remember that each one of us is a temple, then our words and behavior can also be reverential and respectful towards each other. Thus, we understand better the reason God also revealed to Moses the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law governing ethical behavior. This was setting the stage for understanding each person as the Temple of God. We honor our mother and father, we do not murder, we do not commit adultery, we do not steal, we do not lie, and we do not covet (Exodus 20:12-17) as expressions of reverence and respect for one another.
Many of us may say that we agree with all of these principles and that we try to follow them as best we can. However, if I choose to not to follow these prescriptions and it is really not harming anyone else, or it?s between me and another person and we?re not hurting anyone else, then think again. St. Paul says later using the same temple language, ?Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God?s? (1Cor.6:19-20). Therefore, the ?it?s my body and I?ll do what I want? and ?it?s between two consenting adults? attitude does not apply. Our body is not our own. It belongs to God, especially if we have been baptized and chrismated in the Orthodox Church.
?19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, contentions, jealousies, wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.? (Galatians 5:19-21)
5Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry: 6For which things? sake the wrath of God is coming upon the children of disobedience: 7In the which ye also walked some time, when you lived in them. 8But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds; 10And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.? (Colossians 3:5-10)
If we accept the principle that each of us is a temple of God and that we should respect ourselves and each other then we also have the duty to engage and counteract false teachings and abusive practices in our local communities and society at large that degrade the dignity of the human person. Efforts to build up the sanctity of life have traditionally included teaching that abortion is wrong and providing life-affirming alternatives to women in crisis pregnancies. In addition, this includes working to prevent human cloning and the destructive use of human embryos. It should also include the fight to eliminate the presence of pornography and prostitution, two grave problems that drive human trafficking and sex trade throughout the world.
We should be confronting and battling injustice in all its myriad forms within society but the battle must begin within ourselves first. St. Paul epistle ends today with, ?17If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.? Could the stakes be any higher? Consider what Alexander Solzhenitsyn said about the matter: ?If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart??
It?s a matter of destroying, as I quoted St. Paul earlier, that which is earthly and of the fleshly within us. In other words we must put to death our sinful passions, desires, words and behaviors. So that what is essentially good and holy, that is our body and soul, can naturally grow and mature. No matter what state we are in, we, each and every human being, is still and always will be an icon and a temple of God. Amen!