Something struck me in the book of Exodus the other day.
For two days shy of six weeks, Moses had been alone on a mountain in the very presence of God. During that time, he received detailed instructions for the building of a tabernacle, where sacrifice and offerings would become the norm and where the people would meet with God.
The walls, furniture and utensils would be made from materials given freely by the Israelite community, from young and old, from everyone “whose heart moved him” (Ex 25: 1). The donations were so generous that Moses was eventually forced to call for a stop to the giving (Ex 36: 6).
It was one particular aspect of God’s instructions to Moses that fascinated me in chapter 28: the design of the priests’ clothing – their uniform for carrying out their duties. Verse two (and 40) outline God’s purpose for Aaron and his sons to wear special garments – “for glory and for beauty”. The reason they had particular clothes to wear was for glory and beauty.
Nearly every other item to be manufactured for the tabernacle had a clear function. The alter was made to burn the sacrifices, the lampstand to light the room and the ark to contain the 10 commandments. What were the priests’ clothes for? Glory and beauty.
Today, God requires no tabernacle to meet with his people. Jesus’ death on the cross has provided a way for us to come into his presence through a simple prayer of repentance and faith. Collectively we become building blocks of a new holy place – the church. The New Testament is clear: every time we gather together in his name, God is there too.
So, what are churches for? Why do they exist? I’m sure, between us, we could come up with a sizable list of functions, from preaching and teaching to ministering to the poor, to worshipping our God together, but I wonder how many would say, churches exist for glory and beauty?
You see, the church is also described as a bride, so, here’s a question: what is usually said of a bride as she walks down the aisle toward her husband-to-be? Easy – She is beautiful!
I recently, and quite suddenly, saw all of this with new eyes as I was thinking about the purpose of the church today. We gather in congregations and we do the work of serving and building. We carry out the functions of the church, but it struck me that we are also called to be beautiful – to radiate the beauty that God gives us; to shine in the world, boldly declaring what he has done, reigning in life as sons and daughters of God, doing his work, and revealing his glory. We were created to be beautiful.
No wonder Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5: 16). When we serve God with all of our hearts, according to his mighty plans and purposes, we not only fulfil the functions of the church, we display glory and beauty too.
One day we will see the church comprising every tribe and nation surrounding the throne of the lamb and many, I’m sure, will spontaneously fall to their knees in awe and wonder at the sight.
I believe God wants the same of us today. Imagine us serving well, building well, with pure hearts and true to his plans. Then, maybe a new generation will discover Jesus and, with tears of joy, say of His church, “this is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen”.
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