‘God’s Husbandry’ (1 Cor. 3:9-17)

28 August 2021

Expressed with great inspiration in a poetical form, today’s apostle reading is rich in meaning. The first Christians lived with the greatest fulness of fervour and grace in comparison with the later generations, as they were ready for martyrdom at any moment. And yet the apostle never ceases to instruct them through his word and persistently remind them of their lofty purpose to become the temple of the Living God.[1]

‘We are labourers together with God.’ God fashioned man from clay, out of nothing, but He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life which made him a living soul. He granted him the great honour of being created in His image and destined to become His likeness.

God calls man to a wondrous and creative collaboration, which aims to make created man a god by grace, and build him up as a dwelling-place of divinity. The Lord is the Author and Finisher of the great work of universal salvation, but He calls man to co-work with Him. His desire is that His creature may attain to a divine measure and become by grace that which God is by nature.

God is a rich Divinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He possesses a rich Kingdom. He is great and fearful ‘in a congregation of gods’.[2] He exhorts man to become ‘rich in God’[3] and a partaker of this wondrous communion.

The apostle continues with a very important thought:

‘Ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.’ Being cultivated and edified, we follow in our life a dynamic path, a dynamic increase. The apostle uses the term ‘God’s husbandry’, as if to say that the heart is in the hands of God like the earth is in the hands of the husbandman. And as the husbandman cultivates the earth with a plough so that it may yield fruit, so also God cultivates our heart, that it may receive the wealth of His gifts and bring forth fruits of knowledge of God, fruits of the Holy Spirit that reflect the perfection of God. The Lord Himself taught: ‘No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’[4]

God created the heart of each man in a unique manner,[5] and made it able to become the throne of the Great King. Now, He wondrously and creatively cultivates it with the plough of His Cross. This plough tills it again and again, turns its earth, heals it, then wounds and heals it again, until it uproots from within all the tares of the passions and the vileness of ungodly life. In this way, God refashions the heart, until it becomes appropriate material on which He can imprint the form of the Son of His love, of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We could speak endlessly about how God cultivates the hearts of men. In essence, it is not worth being preoccupied with anything else on earth, all the rest is vanity. When our body returns to the earth from which it was taken, nothing will remain except the work we have done on our heart.

In our life, the plough takes the form of the word and commandments of God, which are ‘life everlasting’.[6] The man who accepts and embraces the Cross of Christ, despite the pain it entails, is gradually freed from all passionate attachments to this world. He comes to the point when, according to God’s commandment, he hates his own life, defying the mighty current of the world which proclaims: ‘Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die,’[7] that is, let us rejoice with our little life, for tomorrow we shall die and sink into eternal oblivion.

However, those who accept and assimilate the word of the Lord, ‘have passed from death unto life’.[8] This is the greatest outcome of the Cross. It detaches us from the corruption and every uncleanness of this transitory life, so that we may be free to ‘run the way of His commandments’.[9] The Cross of Christ in our daily life is expressed through the voluntary and involuntary trials and afflictions, which we endure in order to show our faithfulness to Christ and render Him the mighty love that He deserves and that we owe unto Him Who is the great Benefactor of our life.

The All-wise Creator Who has fashioned each heart in a unique manner, knows which cross each of us needs in order to loose the bonds of our passions and break the hard shell of the pestilence of sin which devastates our heart, so that we may acquire true spiritual freedom, ‘perfecting holiness in the fear of God’.[10]

In brief, ‘God’s husbandry’ consists of our collaboration with the Lord in our struggle to acquire a spiritual hypostasis before Him. Then the apostle uses another image, saying that we are God’s edifice. Generally speaking, the Church is the House of God, the pillar and the foundation of truth upon earth. However, in a particular way, every Christian is called to become the house and temple of God. This building is edified during the time of our life, ‘while it is called today’.[11] When the time of this earthly life passes away, then ‘no man can work.’[12]

There are various means to work on this sacred edification, but the three strongest are: the invocation of the Name of the Lord Jesus, His quickening word and communion in the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist. Let us refer briefly to each one of them.

The prayer with the Name of the Almighty Jesus is for us an opening of life and salvation. By calling upon this Name we enter His presence, which is creative, destroys the power of death, illumines and sanctifies us. The Presence of the Lord is quickening. It removes the deadness that accumulated around the heart through the life of corruption.

The Name of Christ is the greatest benefit for us, because ‘there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved’.[13] With every invocation done with fear, faith and humility, the traces of grace gather in the heart. In the beginning they come without observation, like a little light, until the fulness of time comes and the heart opens in one instant. The light of noonday shines within it, revealing that God has made His abode therein and taken over our whole existence, as the Prince of peace, the God of mercy and Father of every consolation.

Through the Name of the Lord Jesus, salvation was given to us. It is through this Name that the holy temple of God is build in the heart. It is through this Name that the Holy Spirit depicts therein the image of the New Adam, of the Lord of glory Jesus Christ.

Certainly, the Name of each Person of the Holy Trinity, of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has this ability to build a temple in the heart. We often cry out: ‘Our Father, O merciful Father, deliver us from evil,’ or, ‘O Heavenly King, O Holy and Almighty Spirit, come and heal my heart from the pestilence of sin; come and enlighten the darkness of my mind; come and loose the bonds of sin.’ However, it is psychologically more accessible for us to call unceasingly upon the Lord Jesus, because from the Holy Trinity He has become the Person most familiar and known to us in a palpable way through His Incarnation.

The word of God is the second means of building a temple in our heart. The word of God is a creative power which brought all things from non-being into being. When this word is accepted with faith and humility, when we strive to make it the law of our existence, it refashions us, it renews and re-create us. As Saint Sophrony says in a hymn about the word of God, ‘Christ’s words, realised in life, make man divine.’[14]

The word of God is creative. When it resounds in the heart it begets inspiration and gives strength for every work of godliness. In a first stage, we read and pray this word. We grieve and lament, seeing daily our failure to implement the divine word in our life. Our spirit becomes contrite and our heart is humbled, attracting the gaze of our good and comforting God.

The workers of spiritual mourning, of tears and repentance, gradually acquire a refined and sensitive heart, which detects all the waves of the word of God like a spiritual radar. The Lord Himself whispers His words in their heart and they are transformed within them into ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’.[15] When they themselves utter a word in the perspective of the word they received, they inform with grace the heart of those that hear them and reveal unto them the ways of salvation.

The third means of building the temple of God in our heart is the fulfilling of the commandment that the Lord gave on the night of the Last Supper, when He commended to His disciples His most pure Body and Blood, saying: ‘This do in remembrance of me.’[16] This divine act took place once, but remains for ever. Every time we fulfil this commandment in the performing of the Liturgy, we receive grace to become contemporaries of the eternal event of the Lord’s sacrifice and to partake of its ineffable fruit, which is eternal salvation.

We come to the Liturgy bringing on the one hand the bread and the wine, and on the other our best spiritual dispositions which we worked during the prayer of our personal preparation. We invest in these gifts all the content of our heart, our love, our thrist to belong to Him, our repentance, our hope and trust in His grace and mercy, even our whole life. We offer them to God, and knowing that we are sinful earth and that we have nothing which we have not received from Him, we say: ‘Thine own, of Thine own, we offer unto Thee in all and for all.’

God receives our offering and responds in the same way. He invests in the gifts His own life, His own thirst for the salvation of every man. He fills them with the power of His Holy Spirit and returns them to us saying through the mouth of His minister: ‘The holy things unto the holy.’

We offer to God our temporary, corruptible and pitiful life, and the Lord offers us in exchange His everlasting life in the Light of His Countenance. It is an unequal and blessed exchange, which makes us come out of the Liturgy ‘as them that dreamt’, singing a triumphal hymn, ‘a new song’ to the Conqueror of death. The fulness of life that we receive within us every time that we participate in this Sacrament, builds in our heart the eternal temple of God not made with hands.

Certainly, every movement in our life, every word, every our thought, either draw us close to God, from Whom we derive grace to build up His temple in our heart, or they draw us away from Him and thus destroy our spiritual edification. For this reason, the apostle forewarns that the Day of the coming of the Lord will be like fire. It will illumine ‘the hidden parts of the heart’ and the dispositions of every man, but it will also put his works to the test just as fire tries gold.

All those things that bear the seal of God’s grace will stand unshakeable. They will be sealed as precious before God and will become eternal. Every temple which is humbly built in the heart unto the glory of God and the benefit of the others, will receive an eternal reward. Whereas those things that do not bear the seal of divine grace, will pass away as being ‘created things’.[17] The river of fire will drag them into eternal oblivion and the salvation of that person will be unsure.

Enumerating the materials used for the building of the house of God in man, from the most precious to the most cheap, the apostle refers mainly to the work of teaching. The good shepherd builds with precious materials the sanctification of his flock. He presents Christ as He is, without moderating His hard sayings. He does not use his gifts and virtue for his own vanity, but he refers them with gratitude to God and transforms them into material for the building up of the temple of God.

The apostle concludes with the frightening words: ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?’ And he warns: ‘If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’[18]

The apostle reveals the truth of man’s purpose, as well as the fact that no one can consider that he has fulfilled his mission as a Christian, if he does not feel in his heart the presence of grace and the movements of the Spirit. Yet, this revelation is accompanied by the warning that, God will forsake him who destroys the movements of the Spirit within him, allowing him to become useless. The measures that are set before us are exceeding lofty. The Lord Himself said: ‘Ye shall be holy; for I am holy,’[19] and ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’[20]

When the word of God resounds in his heart, man lives a feast. Yet at the same time, God concludes a covenant with us and gives a warning. Then gratitude springs forth from the depths of our being, but it is not enough. We must receive the gift with fear, we must be diligent and wise stewards of the treasure entrusted to us by God, and keep the sacred covenant with modesty and reverence ‘both now and for ever’ ‘by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us’.[21]

[1] 1 Cor. 3:16.
[2] Cf. Ps. 81:1 (LXX).
[3] Cf. Luke 12:21.
[4] Luke 9:62.
[5] Ps. 32:15 (LXX).
[6] John 12:50.
[7] 1 Cor. 15:32.
[8] Cf. 1 John 3:14.
[9] Cf. Ps. 119:32.
[10] 2 Cor. 7:1.
[11] Heb. 3:13.
[12] John 9:4.
[13] Acts 4:12.
[14] Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 215.
[15] 1 Cor. 1:24.
[16] Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25.
[17] Cf. Heb. 12:27 (see Greek text).
[18] 1 Cor. 3:16.
[19] Lev. 11:44.
[20] Matt. 5:48.
[21] Cf. 2 Tim. 1:14.