(Solomon said) "I have built a magnificent temple for You, a place for You to dwell forever." (2 Chronicles 6:2)
Throughout history men have built great structures to glorify God – monuments, statues, temples, churches, and so on. But is this what God really wants?
The Bible describes in great detail the building of one of these structures, namely, the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was not God’s idea, but David’s. David felt uncomfortable because he lived in a wooden palace, while the Ark of God remained in a tent (1 Chronicles 17:1). David wanted to create a holy shrine, a place of majesty and beauty, where men would venerate God in awe and wonder.
Solomon understood the purpose for the Temple, at least in theory. God did not “dwell” there, because even so great a building could not contain the God of the Universe. (2 Chr. 6:18) Rather, the Temple was a place where the Lord’s Name would be enshrined. Its magnificence would draw people like a magnet, as it drew the Queen of Sheba.
But in practice, the building of the Temple had quite another effect. After Solomon built the Temple, he built his own house, which was larger, greater, and took even longer to build. Now, we are no different from Solomon. We build magnificent things for God to justify the magnificent things we get for ourselves. Deep down we feel a little guilty that we live so well while others are far less fortunate -- and making great things for God takes the edge off our guilt.
According to Solomon, God told David, “Because it was in your heart to build a temple for My Name, you did well to have this in your heart.” (2 Chr. 6:8) But in the original accounts of David’s encounter with God, God never says, “You did well” (1 Chr. 17:1-14, 28:3-7). Was God really so enthusiastic about the project? Or was God’s approval a slight embellishment added by Solomon?
Was God impressed by the extravagance of the Temple? Subsequent events reveal His opinion. For within one generation, the Temple was looted by the Egyptians, and stripped of its gold furnishings (pity the poor craftsmen who had worked twenty years to make them!). The gold and silver which had been donated by Israelites, from King David down to the poorest peasant, all was carried off by unrighteous heathen. And God stood by and did nothing to stop them!
Couldn’t that silver and gold have been put to better use? Does not Jesus tell us to “lay up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt, nor thieves break in to steal” (Matthew 6:19-20)? If the Temple treasure had instead been “laid up in heaven”, then the Egyptians wouldn’t have been able to steal it. How many people made financial contributions to the Temple, and the Lord would say to them, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).
God has not changed since the time of Solomon. He could care less about the fine trappings and lofty architecture of our churches. They will be gone in a single generation. How many fine old churches are there which stand virtually empty, Sunday after Sunday?
I once heard a pastor on the radio describe his church building with the term, “The architecture of worship”. I am sure that he had a fine-looking church. However, the Gospels have quite another definition of “the architecture of worship”. Look for yourself and see where Jesus went when He wanted to be close to His Father. He consistently sought out the natural surroundings which His Father had created, with which man’s puny structures can never hope to compare.
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Last Revised: March 20, 1999
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