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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Means to End

We can glorify God with culture.

What is Culture For? (2)

You have ascended on high,
You have led captivity captive;
You have received gifts among men,
from the rebellious,
That the L
ORD God might dwell there. Psalm 68.18

God in the gifts
The question arises whether culture really can be used to glorify God. Can we use culture to declare our love for Him? And to share His love with our neighbors?

David seems to have thought so. In the Old Testament context, our text appears to refer to David’s calling the nation to rally together for building the temple (cf. Ps. 68.24-29; cf. 2 Chron. 29.1-9). Building the temple was to be a glorious act of love for God and witness to the nations, and David sought the participation of all Israel in the project.

Perhaps David sent Psalm 68 around to all the cities of Israel, to call the people to make their contributions to the work. Once they received the word, the people quickly got on board: “Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly” from their gold and silver and items of bronze, iron, and precious stones. They brought their gifts to God—all these various items of culture—to provide a dwelling for Him and thereby to show their love.

Paul would have agreed with David, but with a twist. He quoted this text in Ephesians 4.7, 8, where he was exhorting believers to use all the gifts God had given them to establish the Presence of Jesus in the world (Eph. 4.10). Here’s the way Paul puts it: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’” Here it is Christ Who ascended and “‘gave gifts to men.’”

Here’s the twist in Paul’s use of our text: You will note two differences between Paul’s use of Psalm 68.18 and the text as it appears in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament text says that, upon ascending on high, the Lord “received” gifts from people—the gifts the people gave for building the temple. Paul changed “received” to “gave” when he quoted this passage in Ephesians 4. Yet he preserved the main idea, that gifts were being distributed for establishing the Presence of the Lord in the world. Upon His ascension to the right hand of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Father, poured out the Holy Spirit among the peoples of the earth and with Him, gave a variety of gifts for people to use in their everyday lives, not only spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14) but gifts of culture as well.

The second difference we note in Paul’s rendering of this text is the absence of the phrase, “even among the rebellious, that the LORDGod might dwell there.” Paul does not quote this phrase, but he makes no effort to rebut or revise it. The absence of this phrase in Paul’s usage implies that he accepts it without having to say so. The Lord Jesus has given gifts to people—all kinds of gifts to do all kinds of things, even to people who do not love Him—so that through those gifts, He Himself might be known.

God uses culture to show His love for us, and we can use culture to express our love for Him and our neighbors (cf. Acts 4.32-35).

A witness to the Lord
God shows His love through the gifts He bestows. We show His love by how we use those gifts. A couple of examples should suffice.

Recall how the widows delighted in the gifts Dorcas had made for them (Acts 9.39). Culture is a means of our knowing the love of God and showing the love of God. Thus culture serves as a witness to the Lord and contributes to establishing the Presence of Jesus in the world.

God’s bestowing of gifts for making and using culture is a recurrent theme in Scripture. He has always been doing this, as is clear from Acts 14.17, where Paul advised a community of pagan people that gifts of culture, in the form of agriculture, had been given to them by God so that they would see in these a witness to the living God Himself. This, we understand, has been so throughout human history.

The labor of sowing, the strenuous work of harvesting, and the joy of consuming the work of one’s hands have been given to all peoples and nations as a way of directing their thoughts to God. God, Who loves even His enemies, grants good gifts to people everywhere, with the intent that they should receive those gifts as expressions of His love and return gratitude and love to Him.

So the end for which God gives gifts of culture is that He might be glorified, as we use His gifts of culture in works of love for Him and our neighbors. Christians will devote themselves, in whatever they do, to shaping culture according to the intentions of God, and thus all our culture will bear witness to Him.

An impossible challenge?
This might seem like an impossible challenge. I mean, how is it possible to use all our culture to glorify God and nurture an environment of love? God bestows culture because He loves us, and He calls us to make and use culture as means to loving Him and our neighbors. Is this possible?

We might hesitate to embrace this challenge, if only because of the sheer scope of it. All culture? Really? The apostle Paul, however, is not sympathetic to such balking. He tells us to do everything—and to use everything—in ways that point to God, honor God, display the character of God, and further the Kingdom purposes of God on earth as in heaven (1 Cor. 10.31). As we do, the love of God will be at work in and through us.

It must be possible, therefore, and so it remains for us to consider more carefully what achieving cultural practices that express the love of God will require of us.

For reflection or discussion
1. In what sense or senses can we say that culture is a gift of God?

2. What does God mean by indicating He wants to “dwell” in the gifts of culture-making He has given human beings? How does He “dwell” in the cultural gifts He provides you?

3. What do you see as the greatest obstacles to overcome in achieving a culture of love? How can Christians help one another in tackling these?

Next steps—Transformation: What are some ways that you can see the Presence of the Lord in cultural gifts? Spend some time thinking about this, giving thanks to God for the love He shows you in all the gifts of culture.

T. M. Moore

Irish Christians show us how culture can be used both to show our love for God and to love our neighbors. Our new Crosfigell series, which begins tomorrow, will study Irish high crosses as an example of Christians making and using culture for the glory of God. You can receive this 15-week series by adding Crosfigell to your subscriptions (click here; be sure to click your current subscriptions as well).

Two books on culture are available to accompany this series on “A Christian Approach to Culture.” Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars shows how important it is that we consider culture as a way of bringing glory to God. Order your copy by clicking here. Redeeming Pop Culture examines the nature of pop culture and some ways we can make good use of it for God’s glory. Order your copy by clicking here.

Support for ReVision comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

And please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. You can contribute online, via PayPal or Anedot, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 103 Reynolds Lane, West Grove, PA 19390.

Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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