Sparing No Expense
WHENEVER modern-day churches draw up plans and budgets for buildings in which to worship, they face an age-old tension: what is appropriate in terms of size, materials, beauty, and expense? For Solomon, there seems to have been only one answer to that question as he proposed to build God’s temple: spare no expense!
A more lavish building project has rarely been seen. The cost of such a venture today would be virtually incalculable. Was Solomon justified in incurring such an expense? The question is not easily answered.
On one hand, the project contributed to a number of economic and other problems of Solomon’s reign such as heavy taxation, a growing underclass of foreigners, and the depletion of the forests of Lebanon. The temple was by no means the sole cause of these troubles (1 Kings 9:15–19), but it was built with a policy of “only the best,” which seemed to typify the Solomonic empire. Even “silver . . . was accounted as nothing in the days of Solomon” (1 Kings 10:21).
On the other hand, Solomon apparently recognized that architecture is not neutral; it makes a statement. In fact, to the extent that temples and church sanctuaries follow (or sometimes dispense with) architectural forms and principles, they are works of art. Solomon’s temple was a remarkable work of art, built to the glory of God (1 Kings 8:12-13). Was it built to the glory of Solomon as well? Probably, since most great works of architecture are monuments to those who build them. Yet God apparently approved of Solomon’s achievement, for He blessed the sanctuary with His presence (1 Kings 8:10-11).
Yet even as the construction went forward, the Lord reminded His builder that what mattered was not a house of cedar and gold, but keeping the Law (1 Kings 6:11–13). Perhaps that is the most important architectural principle of all when it comes to houses of worship: it is not the size, beauty, or costliness of the structure, but the sincere devotion and obedience of those who worship in the structure. After all, the Lord does not dwell only in sanctuaries built by people, but in the people themselves (1 Kings 8:27; Acts 7:48; 17:24; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).