Splendor and majesty

“In those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom which was in Shushan the citadel, that in the third year of his reign he made a feast for all his officials and servants – the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him — when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all” (Esther 1:2-4 NKJV).

Showing off one’s accomplishments, appearance, or possessions is one of the most human of all impulses. If we are proud of something, we like to show it to others. So it was with the young king Ahasuerus (more commonly known as Xerxes I in secular history) of Persia. He brought many officials from all parts of his kingdom that he might impress them with the wealth and power which he possessed. It must have been a magnificent celebration.

As I travel in various parts of the world I see modern examples of the same phenomenon. Wealthy people build magnificent homes, rulers build great palaces, and religions build elaborate temples and cathedrals. Whether it be the huge cathedrals of Roman Catholicism, the mosques of Islam, the temples of Hinduism, or the elaborate idols of Buddhism, tourists and pilgrims travel long distances to see them and marvel at their beauty.

But when one turns to the pages of the New Testament he or she finds absolutely nothing about lavish displays by which to honor God. Rather it is stressed that God “does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). He is Spirit, and seeks worshippers who will worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

The earliest churches met in public places like the courtyard of the temple (Acts 2:46) and schools, and in private homes (1 Corinthians 1:11, 16). Emphasis was on the hearts of the believers as God’s temple (Ephesians 2:19-22) rather than buildings of wood, stone, silver or gold.

When one travels in cities like Kathmandu or Bangkok, both known for their many elaborate temples and idols, the question is inevitably raised, “How much better off would the people be if the money spent on dead idols and useless temples were directed towards the welfare of the population?”

But many who profess allegiance to Jesus must admit to the same excesses. Are our state of the art buildings, much of the cost of which goes toward non-essential decorations, really necessary to our worship or ministry? Are we seeking to serve God or simply to impress others?

One of the defining characteristics of Christianity is modesty. Christian women are commanded to dress simply rather than with elaborate jewelry and fine clothing (1Timothy 2:9-10). This is compatible with the humility required in our relationship with God (1 Peter 5:5-6).

It is appropriate to note that God deliberately chose the weak, poor and base things of the world in devising the gospel of salvation (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). There was a clear purpose for this: “that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:29).

Our God does not need our help to manifest his glory. He does that in everything we see, unceasingly (Psalm 19:1-2). Let us concentrate on doing his will (Matthew 5:21) and serving him through good works and praise (Hebrews 13:15-16). Gold and silver are not required (Acts 3:6).

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