It’s a remarkable truth that God takes the unlovely and turns us into a temple for His indwelling presence. In Him, the glory of the New Testament earthly temple is far greater and far lovelier than the Old because it a living temple that manifests God.
How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts! (Psalm 84:1)
The word tabernacle refers to the dwelling place of God. The context, of course, is His earthly temple. This verse refers to the presence of God in both the wilderness tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple. But we are also the temple of the Lord – in other words, His tabernacle or dwelling place. The Church is not the physical collection of people or the building in which we worship. Christ’s church is the collective spirit of all believers which, together, make up His dwelling place under the new covenant. We are living stones that fit together and build His spiritual temple. This is why the presence of the Lord is magnified when believers come together and worship as one. It’s His collective power rather than a one-one-one power. God no longer needs buildings in which to presence Himself in limited way. His power is now omnipresent wherever His people are.
The earthly temple is built by God.
We need only look at the detailed instructions given to both Moses and David to see the importance of God’s tabernacle. It’s obvious that the dwelling place of God should be perfect. With all the gold, silver, and bronze – along with the choicest materials – His tabernacle must have been truly lovely. But the psalmist isn’t focusing on the material beauty. Rather, his response is to the fact that God dwells there. An earthly temple, no matter how exceptional, can never fully measure up to the perfect holiness and beauty of God. This is the reason why the tabernacle design and building wasn’t left up to man’s limited abilities. The Old Testament temple was built by man on God’s instructions but was limited due to its physical nature. It contained God’s indwelling presence, but the building was finite. The New Testament temple, however, transcends this dramatically.
In the New Testament, God builds the temple in man. It is entirely supernatural, and we have no part in the building of it. We are simply the materials that He uses to create an infinite and eternal temple. The real truth is that the incredibly beautiful church buildings in the world are unnecessary. God does not need them because He builds His tabernacle in us. They are for man rather than God. Sadly, many of them are not indwelt by God due to the nature of worship that takes place there. The earthly temple God desires is not one of beautiful religion but of honest relationship with Jesus. Under the new covenant, His temple is not defined by physical or tangible loveliness. It’s defined by humble surrender. God alone builds His earthly temple now, not from the finest materials but from sinful, broken, and unlovely lives.
What makes the earthly temple lovely?
Despite the nature of the materials God uses, the psalmist’s words are even more true now than in the Old Testament. It is the eternal indwelling presence of God that makes the earthly temple beautiful. We may look at ourselves and see the grime and filthy rags that defined us. There seems to be no sense in Him choosing to live in us. Yet, in His eternal and perfect wisdom, that is exactly what He does. One of the reasons is that He is able to manifest His presence all over the world at the same time. Another reason is that this is His way to bring His supernatural power into the natural. His intention is that His New Testament temple be even more lovely than the Old. He accomplishes this by Christ in us. The beauty of the Son of God transforms the unlovely into the lovely.
The new earthly temple – you and I – is lovely because it is the manifestation of the full message of the Gospel. The presence of Jesus is the testimony to the power and glory of God and the victory of the cross. It is the revelation of the nature, love, mercy, and grace of God. Most of all, it proves that He is able to take the sinful, dirty, and ugly and transform it into something beautiful. In ourselves, this would never be possible. It’s lovely because it’s a living temple made of living stones, each of which manifest the fullness of God. This is growing loveliness, because we are continually changed from glory to glory. It’s nothing that we can or should do. Christ in us completes His work begun on the cross. As we move from a natural life to His supernatural life, His loveliness shines through.
The earthly temple is our place of worship.
We must never confuse our physical place of worship with our temple place of worship. We bring the temple of God to church on Sundays. It’s not a matter of entering the place of worship but of the place of worship entering us. When we come together already worshiping in our spirits, His presence is so much more powerful and profound. This is because worship isn’t something we say or do, though there are expressions and actions that may accompany it. Worship is something we live. He doesn’t intend us to worship Him but to live in worship to Him. What this means is His earthly temple contains His constant presence and so we worship with our lives. Yieldedness is as much worship as kneeling or praying or lifting our hands or voices in song. All these other things are meaningless if we do not live in surrender.
God desires to manifest His presence in us in greater and greater measure. But He will never force His way in and take over. That would be denying us the free will that He Himself has given us. To worship in Spirit and Truth is to live in surrender to the Spirit and the Word, who live in us. That’s the worship God desires from His earthly temple. He wants us to live in His presence, just as His presence lives in us. We can only do this by yielding self and surrendering to Him. No amount of singing and praising will ever be acceptable worship if our spirits aren’t fully engaged. The more of us we give to Him, the more of Him will be released in us. Our spirit – the dwelling place of God – is our true place of worship, not our church building.
How God builds the earthly temple.
Like any building, the spiritual tabernacle takes time to build. It needs foundations and everything else, all of which are a process. God’s power and all the promises of the cross are immediately present at salvation. The requirements for ‘building’ are all delivered. But each of these need to be added, cemented into place, etc. We are made ‘alive’ as soon as we receive Christ and His resurrection life. But this has to be outworked. Thankfully, we serve a loving, gracious, and infinitely patient God. He works slowly and with infinite care, joining us and transforming us with the nature of Christ. No matter what we were before, we now share in the loveliness that is Jesus. Each of His living stones is painstakingly shaped and added, the rough edges removed and the positioning perfect. Only God could create an earthly temple of unsurpassed loveliness using sinners like us.
How gracious You are, Lord, to transform the unlovely we are into living stones for Your earthly temple. Remind us always of the privilege of Your indwelling presence. Help us to be humble and yielded to Your purposes so that we allow You to work Your will in us, for Your glory.