(3) Figures Used to Describe the Church As God’s Habitation in Spirit


Human hearts are the field, and God’s Word is the seed planted in it, and I think that Word also includes whatever He says about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God will certainly be pleased if that seed grows in us and bears the fruit that our Maker expects us to bear, fruit that shows that indeed the Spirit has been in control of our being. I am in agreement with those who say that we must let the Word dwell richly in us (Colossians 3:16). I am in disagreement with them however when they equate this indwelling of the Word with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That still remains to be proved.

From what He has taught us through the Word, God makes clear whatever He wants us to obey. But there are secret things in that Word that He has not revealed, and I think it is not in our province as human beings to strive hard or to agonize (I like this word!) to find those secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29). Let us be content with what has come out from the sanctity of heaven’s door. I am inclined to believe too that God is not pleased with sloppiness (cf. 2 Peter 3:16) when it comes to the understanding, interpreting and utilizing His Scriptures. Some advice therefore is in order.

First, There is the need to “rightly administer the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, Alford). The Greek orthotomounta literally means “rightly cutting or distributing,” the metaphor being from a father rightly cutting and rightly distributing bread among his children (Vitringa & Calvin).

The opposite of this is “adulterating” or “corrupting,” the translation of the Greek word kapeleuontes, literally “hawking, pawning off a product to get gain,” a word that alludes to tavern-keepers who mix wine with water to cheat the buyers (Rogers & Rogers, The New Linguistic & Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, 396). Paul says, “We are not as many, which corrupt [or adulterate] the word of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17).

Second, There is the need to be precise in the use of language. Use of precise words coupled with clear and correct grammar is the mark of clear thinking. Gobbledygook, euphemism and highfalutin language don’t mean anything, but they occur quite a lot in religious articles. Wendell Berry says, “Once precision is abandoned as a linguistic or literary virtue, vague generalization is one of the two remaining possibilities, gibberish being the second” (Quoted by Author Paula LaRocque, The Book on Writing. Published by Marion Street Press, Inc. Cited here with the author’s permission).

Third, Learn to understand the figures of speech and be consistent in the use of it. Much disagreement could be avoided if we all clarify the terms we use in any discussion and if we are in agreement on the meaning of those terms.

There are only two ways to understand the meaning of a word: figurative and literal.

By literal we mean its basic, factual, straightforward, word-for-word meaning. When we take things literally, we take it at its face value. In this case the literal has only one implication and no other.

By “figurative” we mean the symbolical, emblematic, mystical, metaphorical, allegorical, metonymical, or synechdochical use of it. Knowledge of these terms will go a long way toward helping one understand God’s will. Alexander Pope says, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”

Be consistent in the use of the figures of speech. Inconsistency in its use is the damnation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Iglesia ni Cristo-1914. The INC-1914 says the “east” is literal (cf. Revelation 7:2), the “far east,” meaning the Philippines; but the “ascending angel” is figurative, referring to Felix Manalo! JW’s literally interpret the “144,000” who were sealed (Revelation 7:4) as the number of those who would go to heaven (all of whom are Jehovah’s Witnesses!), but they claim the “twelve tribes of Israel” is just figurative!

Fourth, Pay particular attention to the tenses of the verb. Next to the etymological meaning of a word, the tenses is the second thing I take into consideration. Doing so will probably put a stop to theological messiness and sloppy interpretations you often hear from the mouths of the unlearned teachers and biased theologians and deprive them of any brain space (spaces in our brains is what I mean).

Shall I also add a fifth? Having a good temper too is necessary. Our purpose in any discussion is to learn, and if we have short fuses, we would end up killing one another. I laugh at a good joke, even as I discuss with a false teacher. The incomparable Alan Alda, the first and the only one who has received Emmy awards for acting, directing and writing movie series that became hits, says, “When people are laughing, they’re generally not killing one another” (quoted by Answers.com. Cited here with permission).

Continuing on with our study on the indwelling Spirit, let us consider the figures used to describe the church as God’s habitation in the spirit.

INDWELLING DEFINED. From the word oikos, “house,” we get the verb oikeo, which means “to dwell,” “to inhabit as one’s abode” (Vine, 344). Figuratively, God is said to be “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto” (Greek phos oikon aprositon, literally “light inhabiting unapproachable”) (1 Timothy 6:16). God dwelling in the light is not the same as you dwelling in your house.

The verb oikeo is also accompanied by its prepositions. Paul says “sin dwells in” him (oikousa en emoi hamartia, “sin dwelling in me,” Romans 7:20); oikeo with preposition en here is used figuratively to mean “to inhabit, to remain, to inhere” (Strong Greek Dictionary, quoted from e-Sword.net).

When Paul says that in his flesh “dwelleth no good,” this is understood to mean the absence of good in his mortal flesh. That also is to be understood figuratively.

By our statement that the church is God’s habitation in spirit, we mean that God spiritually dwells in the church, the prepositional phrase “in spirit” without article being understood to be an adverb of manner.

If we say that the church is God’s habitation through the Spirit, the Spirit becomes the instrument, the agency by which God dwells. It means that God representatively, not personally, dwells in the church.

THE CHURCH AS GOD’S FARM. Paul tells the church of Corinth, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9).

“Husbandry” (Greek georgion, from geo, land, and ergo, to do) is also translated as “working field” or “cultivated land” (Rogers & Rogers, 353); “tillage,” “tilled land,” or “farm” (Vine’s, 241). The use of this metaphor, drawn from agriculture, is suggestive of the cooperative efforts of Paul and fellow missionaries working together with God in the ministry of the gospel and in the care of the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:6).

“I planted” (Greek phuteuo) figuratively means “I instilled doctrine.” Paul compares his planting ministry in Corinth to the planting of the vine, of the tree, of the seed; and if there was any other teacher the parties at Corinth should honor, it was he who had laboured there first. But he regarded himself unworthy of such honor because it was God who gave the increase. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?” (1 Cor 3:5, KJV). The word “ministers” (Greek diakonoi) signifies those who wait, those who attend to the service of someone higher in position. The verb diako, from which we derive the noun diakonos, “minister” or “servant,” has the obsolete meaning of “to run errands.” Paul and Apollos are just God’s errand boys!

“Apollos watered.” Or, “Apollos irrigated.” The figure is taken from the practice of watering tender plants or irrigating fields. This was so in eastern countries because their fields would become parched and dry for the long droughts and it was necessary to irrigate them by artificial means (Barnes). The meaning is: Paul started this congregation, and Apollos subsequently laboured much to make it grow; but the honor should go not to anyone of them, but to God. Apollos is nothing; Paul is nothing (1 Corinthians 3:5, 7). God “gave the increase.” The phrase “gave the increase” is a translation from the verb euxanen, imperfect indicative active, which in the infinitive means “to cause to grow.” There is a wonderful implication of the imperfect: It is a tense that denotes continued action in the past time (Machen, 65). “The imperfect indicates the continuous blessing of God on the work of both Paul and Apollos” (Rogers & Rogers, 352).

Now think about God the owner of the farm, maintaining His presence in that farm, watching the planters and the waterers—the errand boys—do their jobs. Without Him they would not expect a bountiful harvest, without His blessing they would fail.

God spiritually resides in His farm. He does not dwell in the bodies of the planters and the waterers. Think about this as you meditate on the figure.

THE CHURCH AS GOD’S BUILDING. See again 1 Corinthians 3:9. The use of this allegorical expression oikodome, drawn from architecture, is suggestive of the strengthening effect of the teaching and edifying ministries. Christ is the foundation of that building (verse 11), and workers for Christ are said to build upon (Greek epoikodomeo, from epi, upon, and oikodomeo, to build) that foundation.

Paul calls himself a wise (Greek sophon) master-builder (Greek architekton, which means “architect, master worker, skilled craftsman”). He calls himself ‘wise” because they who rally around men are not! He realizes that his contribution to the building job depends on the grace supplied by the Owner of the building (verse 10), and that too shows wisdom.

Paul “laid” (Greek etheka, aorist indicative active, signifying a past action) the foundation of the church, and the others subsequently “built” on that foundation (verse 10). Since there is only one foundation in the building of God, and that is Christ, let each one look (Greek, blepeto, “beware!” “be careful!”) how he builds on it (verse 10). “The master builder has the responsibility of the planning and construction of the building; therefore Paul is within his rights to require of preachers who come to labour on the builder’s work site and add to his construction that they be strictly faithful to the canon that he has determined once for all” (Rogers & Rogers, 353). Any man who builds on that foundation things that endure (like gold, silver, precious stones) or things that easily get burned and therefore do not endure (like wood, hay and stubble) (see verse 12), would have his work tested: “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (verse 13). If his work abides, he shall be rewarded (verse 14). If his work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, yet he himself shall be saved, so as through fire (verse 15).

Christ being the foundation is mystically located in the building, is a part of the building, exercises a great role by holding the building together. He holds the saints together! Again, our understanding of this is not literal but figurative.

THE CHURCH AS GOD’S TEMPLE. Let us consider a number of passages that speak of the church as the temple of God.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17. Progressing from the building figure, he goes on and asks them, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God shall destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). That is a direct statement, stated in an allegorical manner. The “you” in that passage is plural in form.

“Do you not know.” It is necessary for him to ask this question because of the carnal principles the Corinthian church has imbibed. They have rallied around party heads, they are full of envy and strife, they have sliced the church into factions (3:1-4), they have tolerated the adulterer in their midst (5:1ff), they have hauled up each other to court, have committed fornication (6:1ff), and by so doing, they are defiling the temple of God, the church.

“That you are God’s temple” (Greek, hoti naos theou este, literally, “that the temple of God you are”). The Greek word hieron is used to refer to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (Mark 11:11), as well as the temple of Diana (Acts 19:27). But “hieron is never used figuratively” (Vine’s, 115) to refer to the church as the temple of God; instead the word naos is used (in 1 Corinthians 3:16).

What does naos mean? Literally, it means a “sanctuary,” “a sacred place,” be it heathenish (Acts 17:24, “temples made with hands”; 19:24, “shrines for Diana”) or Jewish (Luke 1:9, 21, 22).

In John 2:19, 21, naos is used as a metaphor for Christ’s body: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

In 1 Corinthians 3, naos is used as a metaphor for the church, His sacred, mystical body, the sanctuary of His presence through the Holy Spirit.

What is the implication of this? For one, sanctity. The church is the body of the sanctified. The church is the saints, a people who have been washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Corinthians 6:11). There may be some in the church who have become spotted (that is why the advice is to keep oneself “unspotted,” James 1:27). But an unwashed person can never become a member of Christ’s body, the church.

Separation. The Greek word hagios means “sanctified,” or “holy.” It also means “separated.” Our use of the word hagios alludes to the Old Testament rite of washing and cleansing a vessel, and separating it for divine use. The saints are not only a “washed people,” they are also a “separated people,” separated from the world, separated unto Christ and unto the Father, separated by the Holy Spirit.

Divine presence is another. In the old system, the Shekinah had dwelt in the temple of God in Jerusalem. Under the present system, the church becomes His dwelling place, He is in their midst, He watches them, He listens to their pleas and their cries, He heals them. Through the church, His habitation in the Spirit, He mingles with His own people. Again, this is to be understood figuratively.

Christ is said to be present in any gathering done in His name, that is, by His authority (Matthew 18:20). This does not mean that He is physically present in our gatherings on Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, or any other day when Christians are gathered. I repeat, not physically.

In answer to one who insists that I am using this passage (Matthew 18:20) out of context, I say that if your Christ is present in your midst only during your disfellowship proceedings (this is the context), then your Christ is probably too small and powerless; he only comes during the disfellowship, but is absent during the fellowship?! What kind of reasoning is that?

Sacredness. As God’s spiritual habitation on earth, the church is sacred. Again, I am using this phrase in the figurative sense. Under the old system, death awaited those who polluted, defiled, or corrupted the temple of God in Jerusalem. In this present system, Paul says, destruction awaits also those who destroy the temple of God, the church (verse 17). By this we mean, spiritual destruction, eternal destruction, hell fire.

A place to offer sacrifices to the living God. On a Sunday gathering, the church becomes the temple where the worshippers offer living sacrifices to the God most high: their bodies, their praises of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, their prayers, part of their income during the week.

On any day the ungathered church still remains as God’s temple. Again, I understand this to be figurative.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20. If anything, this should also be taken as a parallel of 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, speaking about the same theme.

2 Corinthians 6:16. The passage says, “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (KJV).

Again, the word temple (Greek, naos) here is used “of the innermost sanctuary where the divine presence is supposed to be located” (Rogers & Rogers, 405, 406). Since the living God dwells in it, that temple must be vibrantly alive with His presence.

Furthermore, the text reads: “As God hath said, I will dwell in them” (Greek enoikeso en autois, literally, “I will dwell among them,” verse 16). The passage does not say, “I will dwell in each one of them.” God dwells in them as a group, not in each individual. The idea of enoikeso is to describe God’s spiritual presence in their midst (cf. Vine’s, 345).

Should you have any question about the tense of the verb enoikeso, future indicative active, this is my explanation: it is a prophecy quoted by Paul from the Old Testament, hence the tense is future. “The words here quoted are taken substantially from Exodus 29:45, Leviticus 26:12, Ezekiel 37:27. They are not literally quoted, but Paul has thrown together the substance of what occurs in several places. The sense, however, is the same as occurs in the places referred to” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament)

THE CHURCH AS GOD’S SPIRITUAL HOUSE. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 2:5, KJV).

Ye as living stones. Greek, kai autoi hos lithoi zontes, “you yourselves as living stones,” describes the kind of material that they are; in contrast to the stones and aggregates people quarry from rivers and mountains, they are alive and organic materials to be utilized for the raising up of God’s spiritual house. Having been born again to eternal life (Romans 6:4-6), baptized in the name of Jesus (Galatians 3:27), they now partake of both the life and the name of Jesus, “a living stone, chosen of God, and precious” (verse 4). The Greek verb zontes is present active participle; as a participle describing the Christians as stones, it functions as an adjective, hence “living stones.” Since the tense is in the present, that makes them “continually living stones.” If the voice of the verb were passive, they could be described as “stones that are being made alive.” However the voice of the verb is active; it seems as if “living” is the act to be done by the stones. My translation is: “You as stones that continually live,” or “you as stones that remain alive.” Greek studies become more exciting as you keep on digging!

God’s spiritual house, or God’s habitation in the Spirit, which is the church, remains alive forever. As long as those stones are alive, they remain in God’s spiritual house. These stones must act and live. Ever wonder why the inspired writer told the first century Christians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”? (Philippians 2:12). If we remain passive, or inactive, we fall. Stones that are “dead,” “inactive,” unfit for the Master’s use are better thrown into the garbage dumps.

Are being built. This is the literal translation of the verb oikodomeisthe, present indicative passive of oikodomeo, “to build, to erect a building.” The present indicative expresses the idea of a building being constructed until the present times. The stones that are to become the materials for building the temple are to remain alive, or living, throughout. Stones that do not fit are made to fit: need a lot of grace from Jesus and a lot of growing to do before one becomes fit. Stones that are dead (or “fallen away!’) are replaced, new stones take their place. The foundation for that temple (Jesus Himself, 1 Corinthians 3:11) has been laid in Zion two thousand years ago; the building is still on-going.

A spiritual house. That is, “a house pertaining to the Spirit,” “a house suited to the Spirit” (Rogers & Rogers, 570). If anything, it is a house only a spiritual Personality can live in. The Holy Spirit dwells in a temple whose construction is still on-going.

Yet this house is also a holy priesthood. To Peter, the church is a household of holy priests (“a sanctified priesthood,” v. 5); furthermore, they are a household of royal priests (“a royal priesthood,” meaning “a kingdom of priests,” verse 9).

To offer up spiritual sacrifices. Peter turns this spiritual house into priests who offer sacrifices to the God who lives among them. Does this confuse you? Not, if you are spiritually inclined. Neither, if you think Peter here is a God-ordained spiritual advisor dispensing spiritual knowledge to spiritual people. All we have to do is move along as the inspired man moves, as he excites us in every turn, taking us to spiritual heights of knowledge that none of the untutored minds have been privy to. This tells us what God’s purpose for the church is: It is to offer up spiritual sacrifices.

Acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. God, ever since the beginning, has decided what sacrifices are acceptable to Him. The rules have been laid down. While the object of these is to please our Maker, they also are for our own good. “The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). One of the personalities of the Godhead came to earth, and lived like us, became our example, showed us how to please our Father—His Father, and our Father too–by making a sacrifice of Himself. In turn we too are to offer up spiritual sacrifices which the Father will accept.

The preposition in this phrase, “by,” should be translated “through,” since it is dia genitive. Dia is the primary preposition that denotes the channel of an act (Strong Greek Dictionary, quoted in e-sword.net). This gives a lot of consolation to us humans, because our sacrifices and efforts, no matter how inadequate and puny, as long as they are done according to the rule of faith, are acceptable to God through Jesus.

THE SUMMARY OF THE MATTER. God dwells in the church figuratively speaking. Furthermore I say, God spiritually dwells in the church founded by His Son even until today. He has started to dwell in this new temple of His since the day it was founded in the city of Jerusalem two thousand years ago. This temple has replaced that one in Jerusalem where His Shekinah used to dwell. All ancient prophecies have looked forward to the establishment of this new temple, the church. My Bible tells me that it is this church, which is also called the kingdom, that shall enter into His spiritual presence on the last day (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

My faith in Him summons my reason and logic to accept these conclusions unconditionally. When I say I accept these matters unconditionally, it is unconditionally on my part. Only God makes the conditions; His Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). I have no hang-ups, no difficulties accepting all these by faith. This act of mine is a kind of faith-walking, not sight-walking.

The Bible says that the church becomes His habitation in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:21). The Greek preposition en in this passage denotes fixed position in time, place, or state, and if so it implies spiritual presence, nothing more. If en denotes instrumentality, then the Spirit becomes the agency or instrument by which God dwells in the church, in which case “through the Spirit” is also a correct translation. So in Ephesians 2:21 God is said to dwell in the church “by the Spirit,” “in the Spirit,” or “through the Spirit.” Accept all these conclusions because this is how the ancients spoke and wrote.

When God in His word speaks to us in figuratives, it is for the purpose of summoning our inward man to listen and be blessed. Let that inward man listen to what the Spirit says through the Word.

A Christian, born of the Spirit, must understand too that there are still so many things he may not understand about the ways of the Spirit. But we have been furnished a picture–scriptural declarations of how the Spirit works, and when, and where. You want to see more? Wait for it in God’s own time, in God’s own choosing. He gives you one picture now, and as your knowledge of the scripture grows, and as your spirit is being carpentered smoothly on the anvil of divine experience, you will be furnished more pictures.

The rest of the pictures are reserved in heaven. There, all questions will be answered, all anxieties will be satisfied, all doubts will be erased.

Be content, and wait with faith and longing eyes, your minds focused on Him who is the solution to every mind-boggling thing.



One Response

  1. Dear Bro. Ed.

    Clear exegesis. But, when a message is figuratively expressed, what the purpose or intent of expressing that way to the recepient? I hope that would be considered in taking unliteral words construction.

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