The week before Christmas, when I was in third grade, my grandmother took me to downtown Pittsburgh so that I could buy gifts for my family and, for the first time in my life, my girlfriend. I wanted to buy something romantic for her, so I selected a small decorative pin. It looked to me as if it was made of gold, but it really wasn’t. However, I was able to have her initials engraved on the pin, and the lady behind the counter gift-wrapped it for me. It made a nice gift, and when I gave it to my girlfriend, she giggled and swooned over it. That must have been a formative experience for me because, all these years later, I still love to give my then girlfriend-but-now-my-wife jewelry.
It is interesting to me that people of all ages and from all civilizations and cultures are fascinated with jewels and precious metals for no reason other than their beauty. These things are precious to us not because we can eat them or use them as tools, but because they serve as adornments. By their inherent beauty, they enhance human beauty and the work of man’s hands.
When God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and led them to Sinai to receive His law, He dictated the building of the tabernacle, the first sanctuary. The instructions for this large, ornate tent are astonishing in their detail. God gave the Israelites precise measurements for each part of the tabernacle and extensive instructions about the materials that were to be used. But even before He gave these instructions, God commanded the Israelites to take up an offering for the sanctuary. Did God instruct the Israelites to give money to buy building materials? Did He tell them to donate canvas and wooden poles for the tent? No, He commanded them to bring very different materials. God said:
Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Ex. 25:2–8)
It is clear that most, if not all, of these items were not essential for the construction of a functional tent. Obviously, God did not want a tent that was merely functional. He commanded the Israelites to give items that would adorn and beautify the tabernacle.
Later, God gave similarly detailed instructions for the garments that Aaron would wear as the high priest. In these instructions, God said something very interesting. He commanded Moses: “You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty” (Ex. 28:2). A utilitarian robe for Aaron would not do; God wanted him to minister in garments that were skillfully woven and beautifully adorned. Simply put, the God of heaven and earth is deeply concerned about and appreciative of beauty.
The Christian faith is like a stool with three legs, but we have a tendency to make our stools with only one or two legs. The three legs that properly belong to the Christian faith, the three elements of the faith, are the good, the true, and the beautiful. It is obvious that God is concerned about goodness, for He is the fountainhead of everything that is good (Gen. 1:31; James 1:17). As His people, we are called to mirror and reflect who He is, which means we are called to reflect the good. Likewise, God is deeply concerned about truth, for He is Himself the essence of truth (Isa. 65:16; John 14:6). Therefore, we are to be people who love and practice truth. Finally, as we have seen, God is highly concerned about that which is beautiful. As we read and study the Scriptures, we have to come to the conclusion that there is an ultimate source of beauty — the character of God. Just as the normative standard for goodness and truth is God, so the ultimate standard of beauty is God, and He is very interested in beauty in His creation.
However, we often fail to reflect this concern of His. We settle for the utilitarian and the functional in so many aspects of church life when we should be reaching for what is truly beautiful.
When God built a church, He wanted it to be beautiful. That tells us that whatever we do in the church, we should do it tastefully. The life of the church should be adorned with beauty as a visible expression of our desire to honor God.