Our magazines and TV screens are filled with stories of the rich, the beautiful and the strong. Our culture places these things on a pedestal and many of us aspire to achieve them. There is nothing wrong with these things – but they are not everything.
The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, spoke of three orders of greatness. Riches, beauty and strength fall into his first category of superficial ‘physical greatness’.
Above this is a higher, second level of greatness. It is the greatness of genius, science and art. The greatness of the art of Michelangelo or the music of Bach or the brilliance of Albert Einstein – these stand way above superficial physical greatness.
However, according to Pascal there is a third kind of greatness – the order of holiness. (And there is an almost infinite qualitative difference between the second and the third categories.) The fact that a holy person is strong or weak, rich or poor, highly intelligent or illiterate, does not add or subtract anything because that person’s greatness is on a different and almost infinitely superior plane. It is open to every one of us to become great in the order of holiness.
The word ‘holy’ (hallowed, holiest, holiness) appears over 500 times in the Bible. God is holy. He gives you his Holy Spirit to sanctify you, and you are called to share in his holiness.
The word ‘saints’ means ‘holy ones’. In the New Testament it is applied to all Christians. You are ‘called to be holy’ (1 Corinthians 1:2). Holiness is a gift you receive when you put your trust in Jesus, receive his righteousness and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Seek to live out a holy life in grateful response to God’s gift, through the imitation of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God is the creator of all, but he is also set apart from the world he has established. He is greater and more majestic than all creation, even the thunders of mighty waters (v.4).
The climax of the psalmist’s praise focuses on God’s holiness. He concludes, ‘Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O Lord’ (v.5). The NEB translates this, ‘Holiness is the beauty of your temple...’ The temple was a beautiful and impressive building, but the psalmist recognises that the holiness of God is the temple’s true inner beauty and glory.
Lord, we worship you in the beauty of your holiness. You alone are holy. ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty’ (Isaiah 6:3).
There are several pitfalls in talking about holiness in the church today. First, there is the danger of an attitude that is ‘holier-than-thou’. Avoid self-righteous superiority. Second, there is the danger of perfectionism. Only God is completely holy. We need to strive for excellence, but we will not achieve perfection in this life.
Our holiness is the appropriate response to God’s holiness – and yet it is only made possible by the gift and the grace of God. Holiness in the church comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).
Because the church is meant to be holy, Paul is horrified by what was going on in Corinth. There was gross sexual immorality of a kind that would not be tolerated even outside the church (5:1).
He writes, ‘And you’re so above it all that it doesn’t even faze you! Shouldn’t this break your hearts? Shouldn’t it bring you to your knees in tears? Shouldn’t this person and his conduct be confronted and dealt with?’ (v.2, MSG).
In order for the church to be holy, discipline needs to be exercised. There are some extreme sins that should result in exclusion from the church (v.13). These sins are ones that are very obvious. For example, in the case of sexual immorality it is an extreme kind of immorality (between a man and his step mother, v.1).
In verses 10–11, we read about the need for discipline in relation to those who are ‘greedy, idolaters or slanderers, drunkards or swindlers’ (v.11). ‘Greed’ here probably carries the sense of avarice to the point of robbery or swindling. Other such sins include idolatry and slander (verbal abuse – maligning and reviling people).
‘Drunkards’ refers to those who willingly and persistently get drunk. Paul’s focus here is not on those who are trying to overcome alcoholism (or any other addiction), for whom the church should be a place of healing and not of rejection. The word here is associated with other vices – violence and unseemly sexuality.
Paul makes it absolutely clear that he is not speaking about people outside of the church (v.10). We are not to dissociate ourselves from even the most extreme ‘sinners’. Jesus was ‘a friend of sinners’. He associated with everyone. These are exactly the people we should be reaching out to.
Rather, Paul is saying that if people continue with these extreme and obvious sins in an unrepentant manner, they have no place in the church. Unless we deal with the issue, ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough’ (v.6) – it will affect the whole church.
Church discipline is therefore very positive in the sense that it enables the person to confront their own conduct and deal with it (v.5). It is also positive for the church as a whole in that it stops evil spreading through the whole church community (v.6).
Thankfully, forgiveness is possible: ‘For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’ (v.7). None of us are holy except through the gift of God. Jesus died as the Passover lamb in order that we can be forgiven and cleansed. Holiness is a gift from God. When we fail we need to come back to the cross without delay and receive forgiveness.
Today Lord, I come to you again and ask for your forgiveness and cleansing. Help me to lead a holy life. May your church be a holy place.
David was called to prepare for the building of a holy temple (29:2–3). Because the temple was holy, David himself could not build it, since he had ‘done too much fighting – killed too many people’ (28:3, MSG).
However, God did guide David in the exact plans for building the temple. The plans were ‘put into his mind’ by ‘the Spirit’ (v.12). This is often how God guides us – he presents reasons to our minds for acting in a certain way.
David entrusted the work to his son Solomon. He called him to serve God with ‘wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts’ (v.9). God calls you, as he did Solomon, to a holiness that goes beyond action, to the heart, the motives and the thoughts.
David said that God is a God who tests the heart and is pleased with integrity (29:17). David was a man of ‘integrity of heart’ (Psalm 78:72). This is a good definition of holiness.
It has been said that everyone has three lives – a public life, a private life and a secret life. Holiness is about living an integrated life, rather than a dis-integrated one. Holiness is where there is no difference between our public, private and secret lives and no difference between what we profess and what we practise. Holiness is linked to wholeness. When God calls you to be holy, he is saying ‘be wholly mine’.
David prayed, ‘Give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, requirements and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided’ (1 Chronicles 29:19).
It is interesting to note in passing that in order to build the temple they needed to raise a large amount of money. They achieved it because the leaders led. The overall leader gave first (v.3). The other leaders gave next (v.6). Then all the people ‘gave willingly’ (v.6) with ‘a sense of celebration’ (v.17, MSG).
God wants you to give willingly. If you are not willing, you can pray, ‘Lord make me willing to be made willing’. And as Sandy Millar often says, at least you can pray, ‘Lord make me willing to be willing to be made willing’!
As God’s people gave willingly, they were filled with great joy. Everything you have comes from God in the first place: ‘It was all yours in the first place!’ (v.16, MSG). As you give your resources to the work of God generously and freely, you are filled with great joy.
The holy temple which David and Solomon built was only preparation for the holy temple of the church where the Holy Spirit dwells. Not only does the Spirit live in the church, he also lives in you. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).
Lord, fill me today with your Holy Spirit I pray, and help me to be holy.
1 Chronicles 29:9b
‘… for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord.’
I am always amazed by God’s provision and the incredible generosity of the people of God. Time and again we have seen God’s extraordinary provision for the work of the church just when things have begun to look impossible. I don’t think I thank God enough for his wonderful generosity.