This sermon is part of the sermon series "Remembering Who We Are (part 2)". See series.
In 1969, Malcolm Muggeridge, a British journalist, broadcaster, and the editor of Punch, a satirical magazine, went to Calcutta to make a documentary about Mother Teresa for the BBC. She didn't want to do it, but she was finally persuaded by church leaders. When she finally agreed, she said, "Let us do something beautiful for God." When they began filming, a strange thing happened. Even though there was not enough light in the hospice for filming, the finished film was bathed in a particularly beautiful, soft light. Muggeridge figured it was the halo of love he sensed there. Later, he wrote a book about Mother Teresa and used that phrase, "Something Beautiful for God," as the title. He eventually became a Christian as a result of that experience. That phrase came to mind as I studied our text this week: "Let us do something beautiful for God." That would not be a bad motto for a life, or for a church.
A great passion to do just that was at the heart of King David's desire to build a temple for the Lord about 1,000 years before Christ. God told David that his son, Solomon, would be the one actually to build the temple, so David devoted the later years of his life to gathering a vast treasury of building materials and an army of skilled personnel so all would be ready for his son. Today we conclude our study of 1 Chronicles. As I've told you, the temple built by Solomon is a central theme of 1 and 2 Chronicles. Chronicles was written 500 years after David to the Jewish remnant recently returned from decades of captivity. God retold them their national story so they would remember who they were as his people. He wanted them to remember that their glorious past was a prophecy of their future. There would be a greater King than David, a greater covenant, a greater High Priest, and a greater temple.
In her great story Babette's Feast, Isak Dinesen wrote, "From the ends of the earth, one long cry goes up from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my very best!" I think that is the heart-cry of everyone here. And when "Give me a chance to do my very best" is tied to "Let us do something beautiful for God," you stand where David stood as he dreamed of a temple magnificent enough to show off God's glory to the nations and holy enough that God himself would make it his earthly palace.
King David had brought all the leaders of Israel together and now he speaks to them:
And David the king said to all the assembly, "Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great, for the palace will not be for man but for the Lord God. So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble. Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God: 3,000 talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and 7,000 talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house, and for all the work to be done by craftsmen, gold for the things of gold and silver for the things of silver.
Those are the words of a man alive and energized—an old man with a bright gleam in his eye—and here's why:
Life's greatest challenge and joy is doing something beautiful for God.
David had written timeless poetry. He had led great military campaigns. He had built cities and palaces. His descendants were destined to reign forever. So why was this endeavor—this collection of unimaginable wealth for God's temple, God's palace—his crowning achievement? Because nothing can stir our hearts and energies so deeply as making a place in this world for God's glory.
I want us to notice two things here. Making a place for God's glory to shine will fire your imagination as nothing else ever will. You hear it in David's description of what he has gathered. He is already seeing the precious stones in settings of onyx. He is already seeing mosaics from the colored stones and 30-foot walls sheathed in embossed gold from his treasury.
What temple would you like to build to show how great God is, a temple where God's Spirit can actually dwell? To think, no matter what task you choose—making music, building, showing compassion, leading a team, raising a family, learning and teaching—anything you do can show forth the glory and presence of God. This is a dream you pray for, a vision you beg God to give you: "O God, give me a chance to do my very best. Let us make something beautiful for you!"
There is something else here, disguised in the phrase in verse 3, "I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God." I read where the Hebrew word here for "personal treasures" speaks of a king's personal security against bad times—his nest egg in a time when political reverses or national crisis could bankrupt him. David spent his back-up plan for God. He gave up his earthly security in his passion for building the temple. Making a place for God's glory to shine will drive us out of our comfort zones to a place of unprecedented trust in God. We see this trust in people who move to the inner-city or who go back to school in middle age or who pull out all their savings because they dream of doing a great thing for the Lord.
Wait a minute! People come up with great dreams that are pretty stupid or empty or just plain foolhardy. What's to keep that from happening to us? The check on such foolishness is in verse 5, where David, after telling the "whole assembly" all he has done, asks, "Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the Lord?" Whatever great thing we set our hearts to do must arise from our time bowed before God. The word consecrate means to "set apart for sacred use." Priests were consecrated, for example. On the afternoon of December 27, 1981, I was ordained to the ministry. To me, it was a day akin to my wedding day in significance. It means—at least to me—that without a specific release from the Lord, I am not free to sell insurance or become an English teacher or even, in the common sense of the word, to retire. I was consecrated to the Lord as a pastor. That kind of consecration is what David is asking all his people to do here—to consecrate, to ordain themselves to give willingly to "build something beautiful for God."
The word willing is all over in this chapter, sometimes translated "freely" or "generously." None of the generosity in this chapter was required. This was neither tithe nor tax. People gave willingly and extravagantly, and "God loves a cheerful giver!" There is no way to make something beautiful and enduring for God's glory on the cheap. There is no temple for God that is built in a day or at bargain prices. David asks us, "Now who will offer willingly what you have, ordaining yourself to a holy task of building something beautiful for God?"
It is a question to give one pause. This is serious business. But look at the pay-off in verses 6-9:
Then the leaders of fathers' houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and the officers over the king's work. They gave for the service of the house of God 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord, in the care of Jehiel the Gershonite. Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly.
God's people want to be part of a great task. You want this. It is in your spiritual DNA. There is a kind of counter-intuitive miracle that happens when God's people are caught up in extravagant generosity, whether it is freely giving of money or time or energy. In a world that clutches tightly to its possessions, people who give to God with this kind of reckless abandon are thrilled with joy. The more we give of ourselves, the more we become like God, because God is self-giving, and the more we become like God in self-giving, the greater our joy!
Recently I saw a video clip about the Whittier Area Community Church in California. Someone from their church had visited Malawi, Africa, and seen the desperate need for children's health care, so the church decided to raise $160,000 to build a fully equipped pediatric clinic there. They are a fairly large church, but this was far beyond anything they'd ever done, and they wanted to do it in one special Christmas Eve offering. Let me read what the pastor, Bill Ankerberg, said:
The mood was electric on Christmas Eve as people brought their gifts to the front and put them in large baskets. Women cried, children ran up smiling, people gave with the greatest joy we have ever seen. They were delighted to give to God that which cost them something. People came in droves, three rows in the lobby, chairs in every doorway, people standing along the walls. People from the community had heard of the project and wanted to participate.
Before taking the offering, Pastor Ankerberg asked everyone to write on their envelopes where the money had come from. Children had sold toys, candy, saved allowances, babysat, and given up Christmas presents to be able to give to the children of Malawi. Adults had given up physical therapy and Christmas presents; they had hosted dinners, sold stock, donated savings, sold cars and given up winter vacations. One couple had donated money they would have used for fertility drugs for the month in the hopes that maybe they could help save the life of someone else. People dug down deep and made personal sacrifices to achieve this goal.
Ankerberg continues, "The counting of the offering began in the morning and at 3:30 p.m., the final tape was run. God had blown the doors off of our church. We not only exceeded our goal, but the congregation had raised a staggering $525,057 for the children in Malawi!"
There's no surprise that he also said what David said: "It is a blessing to be a part of God's work."
Can you sense how those are your kind of people? Wouldn't you like to have been a part of that? Life's greatest challenge and joy lies in pouring out all we have to do something beautiful for God.
Praise God that he generously gives us all we need to do something beautiful for him.
In response, David praises God in prayer—one of the great prayers of the Bible. It is a prayer anyone who has set out to do something beautiful for God can gladly pray. Let's look at this prayer in parts. It starts as a psalm: "Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: 'Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.'"
Praise God that he is rich in every way. Our eternal God possesses every nuance of magnificence—greatness, power, glory, majesty, splendor—because (1) he is the maker and owner of all that exists, and (2) it is all his kingdom; he rules it. God is not distant and disengaged. He actively governs all he has made. he maintains the cycles of the universe, rules and overrules the designs of mankind, and sets the course of history and eternity. He made it all, he owns it all, and rules it all.
Let's continue in verses 12 and 13: "Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name."
Praise God that he is the source of anything good we have: "Wealth and honor come from you." If any one of us is anything more than a beggar, it is because God raised us. If we have anything to our name at all it is because God gave it. Nothing has come to us naturally or automatically or by right. Everything we have, any talent or ability, anything you enjoy, anything you get credit for, it all comes from God who chose to give it to you. So praise God for anything and everything you have!
Listen as David continues his prayer in verses 14-16:
But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.
Recognize that our generous giving, whether wealth or energy, time or talent is itself an undeserved gift from God. It is only when people give freely and extravagantly to God that the truth hits us: this great joy I feel is only possible because God gave me these resources in the first place! If we are at all tight-fisted or self-centered in our giving, that great truth escapes us because we're thinking of what we gave as our own.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, "It is like a small child going to its father and saying, 'Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.' Of course, the father does and is pleased with the child's present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good in the transaction."
To David's mind, we are not even in the category of a small child. He says, "We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope." We have no standing, no claim, no rights before God, and our days pass here like a shadow. Yet God has been extraordinarily generous to us! I think of one of my favorite verses, 2 Corinthians 9:8: "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."
Now let's look at verse 17: "I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you." Recognize before God that the important thing is the condition of our hearts. God is always testing what we do for ulterior motives, because there are a lot of good deeds done for less than good reasons. But when he sees integrity, hearts that are upright, not bent or twisted, he gives us more to give back to him. When we give generously of ourselves to God, we must pray a heart-test to see if we can say, "All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent." And do you see what follows? "And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you." When we give freely and generously to God, with pure hearts, it is contagious, and that multiplies our own joy.
But there is one thing we must always pray for. Whatever other gifts God chooses to give us, this is what we most earnestly and desperately need: "O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision."
Pray for God-ward hearts. There are three "heart" phrases there: "keep this desire in the hearts of your people," "keep their hearts loyal to you," and "give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands. …" This is not just an admonition; it is a prayer. We must pray for good hearts. Only God can help us to have hearts like this, hearts that desire to be extravagantly generous in building something beautiful for God, hearts loyal and devoted to keeping God's commands. There will be no great-hearted giving of anything, nor will anything beautiful be raised up for God, from people who are not obeying God in the little things, in the ordinary work of life. So, knowing how fickle our hearts are, we pray earnestly and often that God would shape our hearts.
Would you like to help do something beautiful for God? Some temple where people can see how great he is? Does it fire your imagination to think of pouring out all you have for such a great goal? Perhaps you already know what that work is for you. Maybe it is right under your nose, there where you work or study, there in your neighborhood, here—right here—in this church, which is part of God's temple.
God has spun gold from the flax of your suffering that you can give to God's glory. There are resources of time, money, energy, or thought that you could divert from the mundane and too-safe for a treasure kept in heaven. Your best art or study, imagination or administration, eloquence or compassion can be laid out before God till others are wide-eyed at the extravagance.
And when we do that, especially when we do that together, people will see not how generous you and I are but how wonderful our God is! What they see will be washed in the soft and radiant light of God's love and joy. And we will be exhilarated with the joy of discovering just how generous God has been to us! It is in this holy work of doing something beautiful for God that we will see God do amazing things.
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.