There are many passages in the Bible that warn of God’s judgment. It is not a popular idea, but it is an important one. If the God of the universe gave us a book that teaches us the truth and it includes warnings about future judgment, then why would we not pay attention to what they say? To ignore such warnings would be the epitome of foolishness on our part. To fail to inform others of the warnings would be the epitome of hatred. If God has given us warnings in His Word (and He has), then we should be thankful for His grace and mercy to reveal such truth and do all we can to understand them and make them known.
Just so you know that I am not overselling the idea, here are some examples from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount:
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Hell (Matthew 5:30)
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15)
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14)
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21)
These are all sober warnings that involve our eternities. Jesus cared about us so much that He told us the truth about our need for repentance and faith in Him. Such warnings only become unloving when our desires cause us to dispute the promised danger. Otherwise we will see them for what they are: gracious gifts from our loving Savior. How else would I know my need for trust in Him if it were not for the truth of these warnings? Only in Him can I overcome lust and unforgiveness and comfort and hypocrisy. Jesus’ warnings against these point me to my need for Him.
I have been thinking about warnings this week because of Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17. He writes:
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.
Unfortunately, these verses have often been misapplied due to the English translation of the original Greek. In Greek, the pronouns translated ‘you’ are plural. Thus, we southerners might translate: “Do ya’ll not know that ya’ll are God’s temple and that God’s Spirt dwells in ya’ll?” (It’s not very elegant, but it sticks closer to the original). Paul is talking about the local Church being God’s temple and the place where the Spirit dwells. He will speak of our bodies being the temple of the Spirit later in the letter (see 6:19-20), but here he is talking about the Church.
So then, what is the warning? If we destroy God’s temple, God’s church, then God will destroy us. Paul has been encouraging the Corinthians to be unified and to avoid dividing into groups. At this point, he gets as serious as one can get: ‘Do not destroy the local Church, for if you do you will expose yourself to the judgment of God.’ Now Paul could be talking about temporal (in this lifetime) or eternal judgment, but either way, such judgment from God is something that we want to avoid.
What does this mean for us? It means that we cannot take lightly God’s love for the Church, the local Body of believers. We should use our gifts to labor for her health and growth. We should be involved and participate in her mission to tell others about Christ (even about the warnings from Christ). We should love her as Christ has loved her.
But we must never seek her destruction. In particular for the Corinthians, this meant that they must stop dividing over men. We too should avoid such division, as well as anything else that would cause the Church harm. For God does not take lightly the destruction of His temple.
We might be tempted to skip over such warnings, but we do so at our own peril. Instead, may we see them as they were intended: God’s gracious warnings to point us away from our sin and toward our loving Savior, who gave His blood to win His Bride.