You need to cut your afro,” someone told me, “because your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” I jokingly responded, “I’m just trying to be like Jesus” (who I assume had long hair). But I couldn’t help wondering, Is that what being a temple is all about? Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this, reminding them to confront sin in the church (1 Cor. 6:19). Our bodies belong to God and how we treat them matters, but Paul’s getting at something bigger than hair length or style.
“Listen Up, Y’all!”
We often read the Bible by ourselves, whether in the study or on the porch with our morning coffee. It’s a good thing to study Scripture on our own, but doing so suggests it was written for personal use. In the early church, however, the Scriptures were read aloud to the community, because many people couldn’t read, and copying books by hand was expensive and time-consuming. Reading Scripture this way implied that it was written to the community, for our collective life together as the people of God.
This communal language is embedded in the New Testament. Most of the yous in the New Testament are plural, written to “you all together.” English doesn’t capture this well, because we use the same “you” whether we’re talking to a friend one-on-one or to a large crowd via a microphone. But the original reads more like our colloquial “y’all.” As in, Hey y’all, be good to each other and watch how y’all are living as God’s people together.
So the New Testament carries a strong sense that God speaks to us as a community. Listen to how these verses sound when expressed in the plural: Colossians 1:27 refers to God’s presence amongst His people as “Christ in y’all, the hope of glory.” Philippians 2:5 admonishes the church to “have this attitude in y’all which was also in Christ Jesus.” And Ephesians 2:22 says that in the Lord, “y’all are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” The emphasis isn’t on me; it’s on we.
This dynamic shows up strongly in the “one another” statements of the New Testament. Romans 12:10 encourages us to “honor one another above yourselves” (NIV). Galatians 5:13 says, “Through love serve one another,” and 1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to “Encourage one another and build up one another.” There are at least 59 of these “one another” commands. That tells us God cares deeply about our lives together as His people.
God in Us
God dwells among us in community. The body of Christ has a corporate significance in the New Testament. Now, when we hear the word corporate today, we may think of large multinational companies like Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonald’s. But the ancient idea was different and ran much deeper.
Scripture was written to the community, for our collective life together as the people of God.
It comes from the root corp, or “of the body.” Families, societies, and nations saw themselves like bodies, meant to function together. Being part of a body meant you belonged, were part of something bigger, and had a responsibility to your people.
The temple is a common picture of our corporate identity. Paul rejoices that God is joining us together, so that we rise “to become a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21 NIV). Peter says members of the church are “living stones” who are “being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). In 1 Corinthians 3:16—a few chapters before the passage the man quoted because he wanted me to cut my hair—Paul reminds the church, using our new understanding of you, “Do you not know that y’all are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in y’all?”
So our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, but what’s primary in the New Testament here is our life together as a collective body, the people of God, the members of Christ.
We come to Jesus just as we are, but once we’re bound in union with Him, why intentionally throw mud on our bridal dress?
God’s temple should be free of sin. The New Testament uses our identity as His temple to confront issues like idolatry, sexual immorality, and division within the church. The logic isn’t only that it’s bad for our one-on-one relationship with God; it also carries sin into the community. We come to Jesus just as we are, but once we’re bound in union with Him, why intentionally throw mud on our bridal dress? Why inject rebellion into the body of Christ? Why carry sin into the temple?
Let’s return to where we started. My friend was missing the point when he turned the temple into a prescription for cultural preferences like hair length. In the passage he quoted, Paul confronts sexual immorality, because it’s an offense to God’s Spirit, who dwells in the midst of His people. It’s an offense on the level of sin, not of cultural preference. Paul actually says sexual sin has a unique significance, because it doesn’t simply impact something outside of and distant from our bodies—it also violates the very sacredness of our bodies, the place where the Holy Spirit resides and joins us together as God’s people.
Jesus cares about our life together. He’s concerned about our personal relationships with Him, but He also cares deeply about cleansing us from the things that tear community apart. His goal is to build up our life together as His people, to make us a place where His Spirit resides on earth as in heaven, joining us as a community within the very life of God.
Illustration by Leif Parsons