It has become common to hear the church referred to as the people and not the place. And I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. I don’t think anyone is itching to get back to Prairie View because the building is spectacular, but because of the people who make up our church.
There’s a chance that you, like me, grew up hearing the church referred to as God’s house. And maybe, if you now take the position that church is the people and not the place, the idea of God’s house seems a bit silly. But the church is God’s house, just maybe not in the way you think.
In 1 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul is addressing divisions within the church in Corinth. Factions have developed around different preachers, but Paul urges them to remember that the church belongs to God. He begins with the image of a field, before changing metaphors and describing the people as a building belonging to God.
Paul puts his cards on the table in verses 16 and 17. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
Temples were built, not as meeting halls for worship gatherings, but as places for gods to come and dwell. Temples were places where men and women could encounter the gods. They served as bridges connecting the heavens and the earth.
In the nation of Israel, this was exactly the case. God’s real presence resided in the Holy of Holies in the innermost part of their temple. God dwelled in the temple. For this reason, it was referred to as the house of the Lord. But God no longer dwells in church buildings—or any building for that matter. His Spirit dwells in the church—the people.
Which is why gathering together is so important. Yes, you see friends. You see people you love and who love you back. You see people who ask you how you’re doing, not as a matter of polite conversation and small talk but because they genuinely care for you. You have the chance to get swept up into something bigger than yourself as you talk to others and remember that your life is only one small piece in a much larger story that God is crafting. But most importantly, you enter into the presence of God.
Yes, every believer is given the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. Paul will later make this very point in 1 Corinthians 6:19. But God is displayed through his gathered people in a way that he is not seen when we are apart. God’s grace looks different in me than it does in Ben or Marc or Nancy or anyone else. Not because God’s grace is different, but because my life is so small compared to the eternal and infinite God. How could my one life possibly display all of God’s glory? But as we are built together like living stones (1 Peter 2:5), together we see more and more of who God is.
I need you. All of you. I need to see God’s work in you to see more of who God is. And you need us. All of us. You need to see God’s work in us to see more of who God is. When we can’t meet together, we’re missing out on far more than socializing or singing or teaching. We’re missing out on the very presence of God dwelling in his people. May we meet again soon.