Will God “Destroy” Those Who Misuse Their Body?



1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Will God “Destroy” those who Misuse their Body?

 “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.”

Richard Hollerman

Is it true that this passage forbids us from harming our physical body? And does it say that God will “destroy” such a person who “destroys” his health by using tobacco, by getting drunk, using drugs, or by eating junk foods?

Quite frequently I’ve heard preachers say and read authors who write about the need to care for our body and refrain from health-destroying substances. They often use 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 to justify their views.  Is this a correct use of Paul’s warning?

The passage does say that we are a “temple of God,” and this is just what other statements of Paul say. For instance, in Ephesians 2:21-22, Paul says that the whole “building of God” (God’s people) is growing into “a holy temple in the Lord” and that the Ephesians are “a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” Furthermore, Paul says, “We are the temple of the living God,” and that God will “dwell” in believers who make up this temple (2 Corinthians 6:16). Peter also says that we are “being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). We can see that this “temple” or “house” imagery is found other places in Scripture and this helps us to understand the passage of Paul in 2 Corinthians 3.

Notice, however, that Paul is saying that “you” are God’s temple, the very place where God dwells. The term “temple” (Greek, naos) means “the building, the house (holy place, holy of holies)” (F. W. Grosheide, 1 Corinthians). Paul continues, “The Spirit of God dwells in you.” “You,” here is plural, meaning the whole body of Christ at Corinth, not the individual Christian. It is true that the Holy Spirit dwells in each believer (cf. Acts 2:38; Romans 8:9-10), but here the apostle is dealing with the body as a whole, not the individual.

In the previous verses, Paul has been warning the Corinthians to responsibly deal with the body of Christ. He says, “We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Paul and his fellow workers are “God’s fellow-workers,” and the Corinthian assembly is “God’s field” as well as “God’s building.” Now, in verse 16, Paul expands this imagery to refer to His temple.

The wider context shows that Paul is dealing with a divisive spirit in Corinth. He seeks to correct this by commanding this recalcitrant assembly, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10; cf. vv. 10-13; 3:1-9). The apostle is concerned that the assembly is being pulled apart and virtually “destroyed” by wrong attitudes and wrong actions. The remainder of the letter shows that many compromises and sins plagued this Corinthian community. If not corrected, this would “destroy” the assembly.

Now, in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul issues a serious warning to anyone who would be instrumental in harming this “temple” of the Lord. He says, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (v. 17). To destroy the local assembly of saints is a serious matter. It is so serious that God will “destroy” such a person if he persists in his destructive work. The temple of God (the local assembly of saints) is “holy” and must be kept holy by eliminating division, immorality, false teaching, and all compromise. “This places a great responsibility upon Christians to remain holy in the Lord’s service. . . . A severe warning, therefore, is given. Any who would destroy (via a corrupting process) the Lord’s church—by means of false teaching, a factious spirit, etc.—will receive a just retribution from God Himself” (Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary, p. 307).

Can 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 be used to warn people about their sinful activities regarding their personal physical bodies? Paul’s meaning seems to prohibit our use of the verses in this way. He is not dealing with the Christian’s individual physical body but with the spiritual body of believers in Corinth—or in any other place on earth.  However, let’s point this equally-important truth: Paul does deal with the Christian’s body three chapters later: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In this context, Paul is warning the believers at Corinth to not use their bodies for immoral purposes, such as fornication (vv. 13-18). They must not use their physical body to sin by means of sexual sin.

Just as one must not harm his physical body by means of sin (immorality) and must not use his physical body to sin, so, using this principle, we can say that it is also sinful to use our body in other ways that are wrong and harmful. Surely we must not use tobacco, which has been demonstrated to cause multiple health problems. We must not use liquor and get drunk for this also harms the physical body. Further, we must not harm the physical body through junk foods, through sedentary habits, through drugs, and through other harmful activities. We need to realize that our body belongs to the Lord and is indwelt by the Spirit of God. We must glorify God through our body!

Let’s use 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 in a proper manner and every other passage of Holy Scripture.

–Richard Hollerman

Comments are closed.