TTTT (Exodus 35-36).
What does TTTT stand for? Tabernacle, Time, Treasure, Talents. The triple T of Time, Treasure, Talents will be very familiar to members of C3, as this concept is a key part of our teaching on Biblical stewardship. It’s the idea that we have all been given resources and abilities by God, not as owners that we might do what we like with them, but as stewards (managers, trustees, custodians), to use them for God’s purposes. It’s also making the point that it isn’t only our money that God is interested in, but our time and talents too. Whether we have time, useful talents, lots of money, or all three, everything we have should be put at God’s disposal to serve and bless others.
The fourth T is for Tabernacle. That’s a weird word that not many people would understand but which fairly reeks of religion. It’s nothing to be scared of or freaked out by, it’s merely an old-fashioned word for a holy dwelling. It’s where God lives. Back in Exodus God was everywhere, no less than now, but He chose to make a special residence among the people of Israel. His home among the tents of desert-dwelling people was a great big tent, a beautiful and holy sanctuary surrounded by an embroidered curtain-wall. It was the visible sign of His presence with His people, the place they were to meet Him, sacrifice to Him and receive His guidance and blessing.
Now God makes a similar kind of dwelling in anyone who receives Him and calls Him Lord. In John 1:14 when it says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us”, the literal translation would be “tabernacled among us”. Jesus came and lived among us. Nor did He just come and go, for in John 14:23 He makes this wonderful promise of abiding presence: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them.”
So tabernacling (what a brilliant verb!) goes on in both testaments. It started in the desert of Sinai thousands of years ago and still goes on today whenever anyone welcomes Jesus in and becomes a Christian. Same rules, different times. In both cases you have to be committed to God to experience His presence in a way that others don’t. In both cases, having God among you warrants great effort to make a dwelling fit for Him. Think of how much effort you make for friends coming over for a meal? How much effort should you make when having the King of the Universe come to live with you permanently?
That’s worth all the time, treasure and talents you have. And we see this modelled perfectly in Exodus 35. The Tabernacle was just being built for the first time, a portable tent-based prototype of the permanent version that would be set up in the Promised Land, which would one day get transformed into the glorious Temple of Solomon, and which is only a pale model of the incredible dwelling place of God in heaven. Moses saw the designs and had been given the instructions during his many trips up Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25-27); now he passes them on to the people and mobilises them to create it.
The problem is, while God was giving this beautiful vision to Moses, the people were careering off course. Scared by the awesome spectacle of the Lord’s glory atop the holy mountain, and doubtful of Moses ever returning to them (he’d been away a long time), they took matters into their own hands. They wanted a safer, tamer, more tangible version of God. The result was the Golden Calf of Exodus 32, the first of many descents into idolatry for the people of God. Because Moses got the shock of his life by coming down from the mountain to find this gilded monstrosity, and all the ‘revelry’ (32:6) that went with it, there was a delay in turning the vision of the tabernacle into reality. First Moses smashed the tablets with the Ten Commandments and had to get new ones. Second, he had to rebuke Aaron and the people and set them straight. Only then could the work begin.
That’s why there’s such a delay before Exodus 35, why there’s so much sitting around in the second half of Exodus. But when the people finally get it, boy do they spring into action. To create this wonderful tabernacle everyone would have to get involved. They needed the finest raw materials, everything from fine linen and goatskins to gold, silver and bronze, from incense to fragrant acacia wood and precious stones. They needed craftsmen and women to fashion these things into the physical components of the tabernacle. They needed a lot of man-hours (and woman-hours) to design, forge, weave, carve, chisel, construct and fit together.
It was an amazing collective endeavour in which everyone got involved. People came forward with gift offerings of all the things that were needed (vv. 20-24). In fact, they gave so much that eventually they had to be turned away (36:6-7). This was their treasure, because they had no money or bank accounts to give from. It was treasure they had taken from Egypt during their escape. God didn’t give it to them to make them rich in the desert, and certainly not to make golden statues with; He gave it to them so they’d have everything they needed to build the Tabernacle when the time came. The same goes for us – God doesn’t give us loads of money just for ourselves, He gives it to enable other things to happen. What plans does God have for your treasure?
They gave their talents too. Bezalel and Oholiab had special abilities for the most important work, and they duly used their skill for God, but they weren’t the only ones. There was smithying to be done, carpentry, weaving, engraving, mixing of perfumes and spices and all sorts of other tasks. Note how these aren’t obviously religious talents, just practical ones from everyday life that can be put to use for God. Men and women alike got involved and worked together to produce God’s house. God gives us all gifts and abilities, and they should all be used to glorify Him. What talents has He given you and how could you use them for Him?
Finally everyone gave of their time too. This was a gigantic project which required a lot of time from a lot of people. There was administration and organisation to be done, hours spent in crafting and building, days spent spinning yarn or cutting gem stones.
Talents and time overlap, but even those who didn’t have the most amazing talents could pitch in and do what was needed, the less glamorous or more repetitive tasks that were still necessary. Sometimes the hardest thing to part with is not our treasure or our talent, but our time. Especially in today’s society where time seems to be in such short supply, giving time is a big gift. To give time is to give of yourself.
So the people gave of their time, their treasure and their talents. They gave willingly, joyfully, sacrificially. They gave their best. They gave because they had a vision of something worth giving to: a home for God among them. I’ve seen it with my own eyes in 21st-century England, how a vision can capture people’s imagination and inspire an extraordinary endeavour. My wife and I joined C3 when they were still meeting in a rented school hall, but in the years since we’ve seen an incredible transformation as we’ve moved into a building of our own. In this complex, costly project the entire congregation got stuck in, giving incredibly generously of all the Ts, time, treasure and talents. What I saw was a modern-day equivalent of the last few chapters of Exodus.
Generosity can do incredible things in communities. Any community can do amazing things for God when they all work together to achieve a vision that He’s given them. The end result is more than just the sum of its parts, because God can do more with what we give Him than we could imagine. In both the ancient tabernacle and the modern-day church, God adds the special ingredient of His presence to complete and bring to life what people have built.
To take away:
Whatever you have, use it for God. Give money if you have it, give time if you don’t. Use the talents you’ve been given. If you let him, God can do incredible things through you. Have you considered what He’s got in mind for your life?