When God Pours Out Blessings, Part 4
The Temple and the Church (1 Chronicles 29 for today)
For modern Christian churches, especially those undertaking major projects like building campaigns or fundraising efforts, texts like First Chronicles 29 can be very tempting to apply directly to themselves. We’re raising money, they reason; well, here’s a fundraiser in the Old Testament! We need a place of worship, they think; look, here’s a building campaign in Chronicles!
And yet it’s not that simple. A basic rule of Bible interpretation is that while Biblical writings are indeed written for us, they weren’t written to us. The original author did not have a twenty-first-century audience in mind. And the context in which Chronicles was written isn’t the same as that of a modern church.
Christians are not Old Covenant Israelites, for starters. God’s relationship with ancient national Israel is not the same as his relationship with Christian believers. Israel’s relationship with God was regulated by the Mosaic Covenant given at Mount Sinai, and that covenant is no longer in force. After all, Israel “broke” that covenant, raising the need for a “new covenant”, one “not like the one I made…when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt” (Jer. 31:31-32). Christians, on the other hand, have a “better covenant” (Heb. 7:22), “enacted on better promises” (Heb. 8:6). So modern Christians can’t presume that God’s relationship with them works the same way as he related to Old Covenant Israel.
Not only is the relationship not the same, but Christians don’t worship in exactly the same way or in the same place. Remember that David’s personal mission was to obey God’s command in Deuteronomy 12:4-5 that Israel go to one designated location to worship. Yet Jesus told a Samaritan woman who asked about whether that command applied to Jerusalem or to Mount Gerizim that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). And obviously we no longer offer sacrifices, either! So Christians cannot simply look at the construction of the Temple and presume the same promises and blessings will apply to, say, church building campaigns.
Difficulties like this can tempt modern readers to simply throw up their hands and treat Old Testament history as little more than inspiring stories that, while they may show God’s good character, don’t apply in any other meaningful way to the life of the church today. Yet that doesn’t make sense of the Bible, either. Jesus, speaking of the very writings that described and applied that Old Covenant to Israel, warned his hearers: “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Paul felt free to apply commands from that same Law to practical questions in the life of the church (cf. 1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). So we can’t treat the Old Testament as irrelevant or presume that Israel and the church are completely separate things. Even though the Old Covenant is not our covenant today, it evidently still has much to teach us.
How does the Christian look at a text like First Chronicles 29, or indeed any Old Testament story or promise or command? The answer is the classic Sunday School answer: “Jesus!” It is in Jesus that we are able to see clearly. Jesus is, as he said, the one who fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17). Jesus “interpreted” to his disciples “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, emphasis added), the Scriptures that he told the Jews “bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Paul makes it even more explicit when he tells the Corinthians, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20). Especially when reading a text like First Chronicles 29, a text describing God’s fulfillment of a promise, a text fulfilling the Law of Moses about centralized worship, it would be a fool’s errand to try to interpret and apply its meaning without reference to Jesus Christ.
It’s no surprise, then, that the New Testament sheds a great deal of light on our passage. Christians may not be in the business of building a Temple in Jerusalem, but they are indeed building a place of worship. Jesus, speaking to the Samaritan woman in John 4, after saying “the hour is coming…when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship” (John 4:21), goes on to tell her where God will be worshiped: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:23). Don’t miss this: Jesus says this to answer a question about where worship will happen, and to correct wrong answers about the location of worship. “In Spirit and truth” is where New Covenant worship will take place, not merely the manner or basis of that worship. Where is “Spirit and truth?” The Samaritan woman seems to have understood: “I know that Messiah is coming” (verse 25)—that is, God’s “anointed one.” The Messiah was the one who would say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news” (Isa. 61:1; see Luke 4:18). Jesus is where the Spirit is found, and for that reason the Spirit can be called “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19), whom Jesus “will send to you from the Father” (John 15:26). And in the very same Gospel, Jesus declares that he himself is the location, indeed the very definition and essence, of “truth”: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, emphasis added). It’s for this reason that Paul can declare that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). The reason Christians don’t travel to Jerusalem (or to any other mountain!) to worship the Father is because they don’t need to; rather, it is in Jesus the Christ, the very location of “spirit and truth,” that is the only way to worship the Father. No wonder, then, that Jesus, standing in the very Temple courts David sought to see built, referred to “this temple” when speaking of his “own body” (John 2:19-21), for Jesus himself was the fulfillment of the Temple.
How does Jesus as the only “place” of worship relate to Christians “building” anything? Jesus is not “built.” Yet the Apostle Paul also tells Christians that “you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27, emphasis added). God gives gifts such as “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12, emphasis added). He is even more explicit when, addressing the Corinthians with a plural “you,” he asks them: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?....God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16-17, emphasis added). Christians, then, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit,” “a holy temple for the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-22).
Church buildings aren’t temples, and so First Chronicles 29 can’t be about chapels or steeples or cathedrals. But the church of Jesus Christ, being the body of Christ, who is the final and ultimate Temple of Yahweh, is for that reason called the “holy temple for the Lord” which is “being built together into a dwelling place for God.”
That means we can go back to the meaning of First Chronicles 29, which we saw in the last article: a sovereign God graciously grants that God’s people, willingly and self-sacrificially, join God’s king in God’s mission to establish God’s dwelling place. Who is this sovereign God? Jesus, the very same God seen in the Old Testament (John 8:58; Heb. 1). Who is God’s people? The church of Jesus Christ, made of Gentiles grafted into a Jewish “cultivated olive tree” alongside believing Jewish branches (Rom. 11:11-24) and thus called “the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God” (Phil. 3:3) and “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). Who is God’s king? Jesus Christ, descendant of David (Luke 3:23-38) and heir to his throne (Matt. 1:1-17). What is God’s mission being carried out by this king? “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). And now we know what that dwelling place is: the body of Christ, the church.
First Chronicles 29, then, has everything to do with the church today. God is still granting that his people join his King in his mission to establish his dwelling place. In other words, First Chronicles 29, rather than being about building funds and campaigns—although these help!—is about the Great Commission. It’s what Paul was talking about when he rebuked the selfish and individualistic Corinthians: “with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12, emphasis added). It’s about seeing disciples made and baptized and taught so that they are “built together” into God’s dwelling place on earth, in every tribe and tongue and nation.
That’s what First Chronicles 29 means for us today—and it’s with that mission, God’s own mission to establish his own dwelling place on earth, that we turn to praying with David over the coming days.
*Saturday, February 17, 2018 marked Calvary Grace Church's first anniversary as "homeowners" of our own building. To mark the anniversary we've chosen to meditate upon and pray through David's prayer in First Chronicles 29. The first post of this series can be found here, the second here, and the third here.