Dinnerware

I never thought something as mundane as registering for plates in a department store for my wedding could have spiritual significance. But, in fact, it’s a wonderful picture of holiness. But before I tell you that story, let’s approach it in context with some background.

We’ve seen some gripping accounts of the holiness of God in the Old Testament (see the first and second posts here if you missed them.) But this is only the beginning of our understanding of holiness as it applies to us. The holiness of God is something unique to Him alone. While it provides the fundamental basis (see 1 Pet 1:15), when the Scripture calls us to holiness, it does not mean that we will be like God in his unapproachable or majestic holiness as is revealed in Isaiah 6. Consider Tozer on this:

God is holy with an absolute holiness that knows no degrees, and this He cannot impart to His creatures. But there is a relative and contingent holiness which He shares with angels and seraphim in heaven and with redeemed men on earth as their preparation for heaven. This holiness God can and does impart to His children.

The Old Testament has some fascinating pictures of this “relative and contingent” holiness, some of them in places we might not expect. Consider, for example, a Scripture passage I’m sure you refer to often, the recipe for anointing oil in the tabernacle in Exodus 30:22-33. (OK, probably not so often, but bear with me here.)  In this passage, God gives Moses a recipe for sacred perfumed anointing oil. With this oil, Moses was to anoint all of the articles in the tabernacle to be used by the priests, as well as the priests themselves. Once they were anointed, they were considered holy, or “set apart” for a special purpose from that time forward. The Lord makes an interesting statement to Moses:

Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on men’s bodies and do not make any oil with the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. Whoever makes perfume like it and whoever puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from his people.’

Did you catch that? God wrote down a special recipe for this anointing oil and declared it “holy,” set apart for a special, sacred use. This is a beautiful picture of relative holiness. There was nothing special about the oil in and of itself, but God declared it “holy.” From that time on it was not to be used for ordinary purposes. No one was to come home after their visit to the tabernacle and say “Wow, I love the smell of the anointing oil they use there. I think I’ll mix up some of that for myself.” Anyone who did that was to be cut off from God’s people.

It goes even further. Whatever this oil anointed was then also set apart as holy. Here’s the picture. A utensil of some kind, a fork, say, used in the sacrificial ceremonies of Israel was brought to the tabernacle. This utensil was anointed with the oil and from that time on was to be set apart only for purposes within the tabernacle. No priest was to take it home at the end of the working day and use it to prepare his dinner. It had been an ordinary fork, but now, because of its anointing, it was set apart for a special purpose.

Do you see where this is going? When you came to faith in Jesus Christ, you were declared “holy” (see Ephesians 1:3,4) and were set apart through the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Though you once were ordinary, you have now been transformed into something extraordinary. Though you were once in darkness, you have now been brought into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). You have been set apart for his special purposes, and not for the crude or common things of this world. You are a holy vessel for his use.

Paul brings this out in the New Testament as well in 2 Timothy 2:20,21:

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Which brings me back to the topic of dinnerware. Before my wife and I were married she took me out to “register” for various household items (such an interesting concept in and of itself, picking your own presents, but that’s another story). While we were going through the department store she would ask me about our china. “Do you like this kind?” she would ask, pointing to one variety. “Or what about this?” I did my best to nod and give her my unenlightened opinion, and we finally settled on a really nice Westwood pattern that she really liked. Later she informed me that she’d also registered for some other plates, some pottery. It sounded like a lot of plates to me, but what did I know? She’s the expert!

So, the glorious day came when we were unpacking our gifts in our first apartment. Boxes everywhere on that first morning.  I opened one and there was a gorgeous china bowl. Perfect for my Corn Flakes! So just as I’m getting ready to pour on the milk, my wife comes in and says, “No!! Wait! Not those bowls!” (Our first fight! How romantic!) “These are special.” Taking the bowl from my hands, she began to pack them all away in a high cabinet, far out of my reach. You can imagine my surprise! (How much did these cost, and we’re not using them, but instead putting them somewhere that we can’t even reach them??) Then she took out the pottery, the everyday set. “Here. Now have your cereal.”

But one day, a few weeks later, she called me at work and said, “Hey, guess what! Saturday night, the Johnson’s are coming to dinner. It’s a special occasion!” And that afternoon, she took down the fancy china and began to set the table. It’s not for ordinary use; but for special purposes.

You see, we are like God’s fine china. We’re not to go grubbing around in the world’s dirt with His china plates. You don’t give china to a child to play with in the sandbox! So I ask you this question, “Are you living like His fine china?”

Sometimes we like to ask the question, “Is such-and-such ‘OK’ for a Christian to be involved in?” We need a changed perspective. You are set apart for a special purpose. You are His fine china, or, like Paul tells Timothy, a noble vessel. Don’t relegate yourself to the Corn Flakes of life, much less the world’s garbage! Live a “set apart” life that stands out from the mire and muck of our world. Do I pollute God’s china with lust, bitterness, greed, envy, and hatred? Do I waste it on Corn Flakes, the things that don’t really matter in the light of eternity?

This doesn’t mean that we adopt a superior attitude toward others.There is a so-called “holiness”, the “holiness” of the Pharisees, that refused to eat with “sinners,”  that turned its nose up at others. We must never lose sight that it’s not because there is anything special in and of ourselves that we are set apart. True holiness is humble as well.

The question is this: What was I designed for and am I fulfilling the purpose for which I was designed? When we see what God created us to be it will change our perspective,  and subsequently, the way we live!

God has set you apart for a special purpose. Now live it!

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About Neil Burleson

I serve as a missionary in the country of Papua New Guinea.
This entry was posted in Holiness, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Dinnerware

  1. Whitney says:

    I really enjoy how you bring up holiness in the Old Testament and relate it to our lives today. Thanks for writing!

  2. Carmyn says:

    I appreciate you writing these posts. They are so encouraging to read.

  3. mangipng says:

    Great blog! After reading The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges, this really hits home!

  4. karalinn says:

    We just finished Exodus in Pentateuch class, and I would say that even just this time reading Exodus on my own was the most special of the times I have read it. I am really appreciating how much we can learn about God’s character from the OT and how deep it is. This post makes even more connections of the same and I appreciate the application. 🙂

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