"And they shall make a Temple, that I may dwell among them." (Exodus 25:8)
What was the purpose of the Temple? Many would say that it was built as a dwelling place for God. But that is not what the scripture says.
Admittedly, the Temple was where the shekinah, the glory of God, was revealed to the people. It was where the priest made their daily contact with God through sacrifices. It is true that Solomon, in 1 Kings 8:13 called it a place for God to dwell in, "a settled place for Thee to abide in forever." But Solomon was wrong, and not just about the "forever" part. If he built the Temple as a place for God to dwell in, he built it for the wrong reason; he didn't build it for God's reason.
The passage from Exodus quoted above reads strangely. One would think God would say, "make a Temple, that I may dwell in it." That isn't what He said. He said, "Make a Temple, that I may dwell among them." What does this mean?
Paul recognized that God is bigger than any building. He told the Athenians, "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands." (Acts 17:24) Not in their temples; not even in the Temple of the Jews. So what, then was the purpose of the Temple, if not as a dwelling place for God?
Exodus 25 says God would dwell among Israel if they would build him a Temple. The purpose of the Temple was not that God could dwell in it, but that He could dwell in them. We hear people saying, "Let Jesus come into your heart." That is exactly what God wanted to do in Israel. Before he could come into their hearts, though, they had to build a tabernacle, and later a temple. God doesn't want mere acknowledgement; He wants us to prove our faith. The people of Israel had to give excessively in order to build the tabernacle and the Temple. They did so willingly, and because of this God knew he could dwell among them.
God does not ask us to build him a Temple of cedar and gold. He is not interested in our church buildings. We are His temple (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16). But we still have to give up something so that God can know that we are willing to let Him dwell among us. Israel gave up valuable things to build the Temple. Shortly thereafter, they left God again, and began sacrificing to idols. Maybe that is because they just gave up things. They didn't give themselves. And when Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple, the shekinah never appeared there, except in the bodily form of Jesus, because the people as a whole had given up on God.
So, if God doesn't want our church buildings or our money, what does he want? We fall into the trap of thinking that things represent us. We give toys to our children and tell them to go play in their rooms while we do our own activities. We give our money to the church, and ignore the lost. We build buildings, and they remain empty five or six days out of the week. It wasn't the Temple God wanted; it was the hearts of Israel. God doesn't want our things; God wants us.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God." (Rom 12:1)