“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
I dare say, this brief conversation between the Lord and His first disciples can sum up the dialogue of the Lord with His people through the prophets in the Old Testament. Over and over again, God questions his beloved people about what they’re looking for, as they go in search of military aid from foreign powers, idols and gods they can grasp and control. Then in their desperation for salvation, they cry out, asking God if He really does live among them—where are you God? Where do you dwell? Do you abide among us? And then the Lord’s never failing invitation back into His grace. Just come to Me, and you will see where I desire to live among you.
But, unfortunately, it seems that no matter how great the acts of God and His mercy toward His people, they kept looking for their idols, those false gods that gave them a false sense of control over the world, their enemies, and their fortunes.
The problem with idols is that they are not a thing of the past. We may not be bowing down to statues of false gods, made of gold and silver, wood and stone. But we have all found some things in our lives that are more important to us than God, and we give them our worth. Our worship. And because this problem remains, the consequences remain. As Psalm 115 has been warning us for thousands of years: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths but they do not speak, eyes but do not see. They have ears but do not hear, noses but do not smell. They have hands but do not feel, feet but do not walk, they produce no sound from their throats. Their maker will be like them, and anyone who trusts in them.”
No doubt God has given us blessings. We can use them, we can rejoice in them. But when we give our worth even to the blessings, we forget that the Giver is greater than the gift. So we’re faced with the question of Jesus in the Gospel. God has come, born in our flesh, born of a woman, to free us from false worship and from the injustice that flows from it. And He asks us:
What are you looking for?
You become like what you worship. You can worship false gods of money, power, wealth, and even comfort, and you will become as lifeless any of those things. But you worship God, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and you will become more like God. And God comes to dwell among you.
Paul could not ignore this reality in Corinth. He knew to whom he was preaching. He had spent at least a year and a half with the Corinthians. At first he was there in that port city making and selling tents, alongside fellow Christian Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Then, when he was rejected by some of the Jews in their synagogues, Paul decided it was time to focus his preaching completely on the Gentiles, the non-Jews. So he knew everyone in Corinth, he worked with them, he did business with them, he walked their harbors and their roads, all the while, looking up at the pride of their city: the Temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and sex.
The Temple of Aphrodite was probably most famously known for its temple prostitution. Sailors from all over the Greco-Roman word would be coming into the infamous Corinthian port city, seeking more than trade. This darker side of the port city was made widely known by the descriptions from Greek geographer and philosopher Strabo during the time of Christ Himself: "The temple of Aphrodite was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves, courtesans, whom both men and women had dedicated to the goddess. And therefore it was also on account of these women that the city was crowded with people and grew rich; for instance, the ship captains freely squandered their money, and hence the proverb, ‘Not for every man is the voyage to Korinthos.’”
(Think of the no less insidious, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”)
So Paul had to walk by that hill every day, watching sailors go up to, um, offer their respects to the goddess. Maybe he saw some of the new Christians he knew going to that temple as well. So more than once, he reminds them without fear what that is and who they are. That building, made of marble and by human hands, is not really a temple. You are the Temple, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, God who dwells within you and means to change your life and the world around you. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17—“Do you not know that you are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will Destry that person, for Gods Temple, which you are, is holy.” He’s not just writing about the individual soul here. It’s hidden from us in our English translation, but he is writing to them in the plural: you all are the Temple. God dwells in you as the church in Corinth. But then in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which we just heard today, Paul gets more specific: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” Paul is now here specifically addressing this issue of the temple prostitution, which was not just a way to relieve stress (as if that would make it more justifiable), but was a form of idolatry (worshiping a false god) and slavery (the temple prostitutes were not there because they enjoyed being abused).
So, walking by the temple mount every day, Paul knew one of the most urgent warnings he had to offer was not just against the idolatry and slavery the new Christians were selling themselves into. His most urgent message was not just to remind them what not to do, but who they were. We cannot afford to idolize our talents and accomplishments, nor to define ourselves by our sins and our vices. What we are, who we are, is greater than any of those things.
Know your dignity Christian. There is something different about you now. God has made His dwelling in you.
I can think of few more suitable ways to dwell in this reality than this rich poem from the great Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Avila.
Soul, you must seek yourself in Me,
and in yourself you must seek Me.
Love was so able to portray,
dear soul, inside Me your likeness,
that no skilled painter could display
in such a lovely, artful way
your image formed with such finesse.
It was for love that you were made
with beauty, oh so perfectly,
within Me deep your form portrayed,
my love, if you are lost, dismayed,
soul, you must seek yourself in Me.
How well I know that you will find
yourself within my heart portrayed
so very lifelike there displayed
that seeing it will please your mind
to see a painting so well made.
And if perchance you do not know
where you must go for finding Me,
do not walk here or there to see,
but, if you wish to find Me, go
deep in yourself to seek for Me.