The House of God
Peter Davies, Swansea, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Lord desiring and dwelling among His People
The House of God is a glorious theme that runs through the whole of our Bible. It illustrates just how much God values the fellowship and companionship of His people. When the Lord God made man at the very beginning it is recorded in Genesis chapter 3 verse 8, ‘they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day’. Sadly, that precious communion was broken because of sin. Yet, from that very moment on the Lord sought opportunity to commune with man. When we come to the end, in the book of Revelation chapter 21 verse 3, we read these wonderful words, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God’. What sin destroyed, grace has restored, and will ultimately establish forever. The first mention of the house of God is Genesis chapter 28 verse 17, where Jacob on that first night away from home discovers that he is not alone for God is with him. He describes what he experienced in these words, ‘How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’. To ever remind him of that wonderful encounter with God, he called the place ‘Bethel’ meaning, ‘The House of God’. Later we find in Exodus. chapter 25 verse 8, God, giving commandment to Moses, ‘Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them’. This house was with them until the time of king David!
The Lord’s people desiring and delighting in Him
David’s desire was to build a house more permanent, more fitting the excellent majesty of his God than the curtained tent. Second Samuel chapter 7 tells the story of what happened. Oh! that we had the heart for the house of God that David had. Over and again in his psalms he shows just how much he appreciated the house of God. Psalm 27 verse 4 expresses it beautifully, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple’. What is our desire toward the house of God? Paul said in Acts 17 verse 24 that ‘God does not dwell in temples made with hands’, and for us today this is true, for the stones of the house of God today are living stones, as Peter reminds us; ‘You also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’, 1 Pet. 2. 5.
Privileges and Responsibilities in the House of God
Paul writing to his son in the faith, Timothy, concerning behaviour in the house of God says it is, ‘the house of God, which is the church of the living God; the pillar and ground of the truth’, 1 Tim.3. 14-15. Have we now lost sight of the true character of the local church as God sees it? First of all it should be vibrant with the life of God, for it is the church of the living God. How dead, how formal many of the assemblies of the Lord’s people have become. Where is the glory and the power of His presence? Is it not due to our coldness of heart, our lack of desire? David’s desire was to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life. So many of us can just about make it twice on Lord’s Day, and possibly just one meeting in the week is enough. It is where our treasure is and our hearts should be there also. Again, Paul reminds Timothy that the house of God is the pillar and ground, basis or foundation, of the truth. First it is the pillar that is the standard, the display of the truth, the practice, if you like. That of course follows from the fact that the local church is the depositary, the support of the truth, where the tenets of the faith are held. But to say we hold the truth without displaying it and without living it gives a lie to our claim. The house of God is the place of the abiding presence of God. It is where He deigns to dwell in the midst of His people. In 1 Corinthians chapter 3 verse 16, the apostle calls upon the saints there to remember, ‘Don’t you know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?’ That is collectively, not individually, as we find in chapter 6 verse 19. How important it is for us to grasp the amazing significance of the house of God.
After the temple of Solomon had been destroyed, and when the period of seventy years captivity in Babylon was come to an end, we find God giving a command to Cyrus, king of Persia. What was that command? ‘The Lord God of heaven hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem’, 2 Chr. 36. 23. After the remnant had returned to build this house, the people became discouraged, and more interested in building for themselves, so the work ceased until the Lord raised up His prophets Haggai and Zechariah, to stir them up in order to complete the work. Sadly, as the years went by, they failed to appreciate the real purpose of this house of God, and this continued to the very coming of Messiah Himself, who rebuked the nation with the words, ‘It is written My house shall be called the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves’, Matt. 21. 13. Let us, too, beware what we bring and what we build into the house of God.
Now let us consider more carefully the true characteristics of this house of God.
First of all we would expect the house to be a holy place. When giving command to Moses, the Lord said, ‘Let them build me a sanctuary’. In that first house we know there was a holy place and a most holy place where God’s presence, the Shekinah, was. The psalmist expresses it beautifully, ‘Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever.’ Ps. 93. 5. Whilst holiness carries the thought of being separate from anything defiled or defiling, it also speaks of intrinsic purity, spotlessness, justice, perfection. Moses and the children of Israel, when they sang their song of triumph after their Red Sea deliverance, spoke of His holiness as being glorious. Who would want a god who was impure, defiled, unjust and imperfect? But, our God is holy, the God who has made us holy, holy ones, or saints. We might not appear saintly or holy to ourselves or in one another’s eyes, but we are before Him, ‘But you are washed, but you are sanctified (made holy), but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God’, 1 Cor. 6. 11. What a privileged people we are but how responsible we are. ‘But as he who has called you is holy, so be holy in all manner of conversation (behaviour)’,1 Pet. 1. 15-16. How it behoves us to live circumspectly at all times, and keep short accounts with God. If we have sinned in any matter and knowingly grieved the Lord, let us come before Him with confession and sorrow, that we might know His forgiveness and the cleansing of that precious blood, 1 John 1. 7. So, the house of God, the local church, is a holy place, and we should respect that at all times.
David says, ‘Lord, I have loved the habitation of your house, and the place where your honour dwells’, Ps. 26. 8, NKJV. In Psalm 96 verse 6 we have those words, ‘Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary’. The house of God is the place where we should respect and esteem the greatness, dignity, glory of the One into whose presence we have come. This is simply recognizing the privilege conferred upon us to be able to come before One so honourable, so high, so lofty. He is none other than God who is over all to be blessed forever. To Him belong worship, adoration, thanksgiving and praise, for He is great and greatly to be praised. His greatness is unsearchable. When we come into His presence it should ever and always be in a spirit of awe and reverence; ‘holy and reverend is His name’, Ps. 111. 9. Sadly, familiarity has made us careless in our approach to Him, and often we are characterized by pride rather than humility. Let us not merely honour Him with our lips but in our hearts and with our lives.