By Pastor Glenn Pease
Dave Brubeck is a master of improvisational jazz music. For years he has traveled all over the world playing concerts with no written music. He just goes on stage and plays new and different music that did not exist anymore. He use to fear that he might use his creative skill, but that fear faded when he was driving one day in a snow storm. The falling snow reminded him that God's creativity is endless, for no two of those flakes falling by the trillions were alike. It dawned on him that God can never run dry and exhaust his ideas. Newness is infinite, and from that time on he lost his fear and it never returned. In God there is no end to creativity.
Everything that was made, and all of the marvels of creation are the work of God's fingers, which He made through His Son Jesus. The best is yet to come when God creates a new heaven and a new earth with beauty and wonders beyond our comprehension. God's creativity is the foundation for all that is good, true and beautiful, and because we are made in the image of God we are designed to also create that which is good, true and beautiful. Even fallen man with his damaged and deviled image of God has enough of that image left to still be a creature of creativity. The more man digs up the past, the more he realizes the ancient world was a world of creativity. The works of art and craftsmanship of the ancients is clear evidence that creativity has always been universal.
God desires that His own people be a people who have a love for all that is beautiful and harmonious. Solomon said that God has made everything beautiful in its time. He expected His people to follow that pattern, and the result was that the temple of Israel was a wondrous work of art. Every skill and gift known to man was employed to make it one of the wonders of the world worthy of a place to worship the God of all creation. We don't have time to trace the creativity of God and His people through history, and so we need to focus on just one text of Paul that opens up a wide window on the subject of creative Christians.
The verse in Eph. 2:10 has us focusing on the theme of poetry. God made us all unique and so not only is our creativity different, but even the same creativity is achieved in a variety of ways. Mozart thought out whole symphonies in his head and then put them on paper. Beethoven wrote fragments of themes in notebooks and developed them over the years. Scholars who look at his early drafts marvel that he could ever end up with a musical miracle from such a clumsy beginning. Each was gifted, but they were unique, as we all are. We have a creative God, and He expects us to reflect His creativity, and be poems that speak of His love. Jesus was God's greatest love poem, but we also are to be love sonnets by which God seeks to let the world know of His love.
The Greek word poiema is used only two places in the Bible, and both of them are by Paul. You have the one in this verse, and the other one is in Rom. 1:20 where Paul says, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-His eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." The Greek word poiema is hidden behind those words, "What has been made." God workmanship, or His poetry of all creation is so clearly an evidence of a creator that no man will ever be excused who says He didn't know there was a God. God's poetry in all creation leaves man inexcusable. Then God goes a step further and creates more poetry in Christian lives that witness that He is love, and that He has provided a way to turn life's discord into a song.
Quite often a person will be speaking and unconsciously make his sentences rhyme, and the remark will be made, "You are a poet and don't know it." This is never the case with the poetry of God, for He is a Poet who knows it. None of His works of art are a matter of accident. As Browning wrote, "God Himself is the best Poet, and the Real is His Song." God has deliberately built the rhyme and beauty of poetry into all He has made. It is accident that a large portion of the Bible is poetry. Not only are the books from Job to Song of Solomon poetry, but there is much scattered through the historic and poetic books as well. God is a Poet who has used poetry to communicate much of His revelation to man. P. J. Bailey wrote,
Poetry is itself a thing of God;
He made His prophets poets, and the more
We feel of posie do we become
Like God in love and power.
Poetry is the language of love and power. There is power in poetry, but maybe not so much as the young bride thought when her husband stood beside her in the moonlight on the beach. He said, "Roll on, though dark and deep blue ocean, roll!" "O Richard," she sighed, "You're wonderful-look, its doing it!" Man's poetry does not cause the beauty of power and creation, but is caused by it. God's poetry is the cause. He speaks the word and the blank black sky becomes star-spangled blazing with beauty as it blinks out the message of His power and glory. He speaks the word and the barren desert blooms with the beauty of multicolored blossoms. Poetry is power when the Poet of poets Himself becomes eloquent.
All things bright and beautiful;
All creatures great and small;
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
God is Poet who knows it, and He has revealed His poetic nature in the Bible and in His creation. What is of interest to us at this time is the third channel by which God reveals His poetic nature. It is a thrilling concept that is hidden to the English reader of the Bible. In verse 10 Paul says to the Ephesian Christians, "You are God's workmanship." The Greek word for workmanship is poiema from which we get our word poem. G. Campbell Morgan and other commentators say that this can be accurately translated, "You are God's poems." The Christian is a living work of art created in Christ Jesus unto good works.
God has a multitude of witnesses in the heavens declaring His glory, and the earth is also full of His poems in the realm of plant and animal life, but Christians are God's poems in the kingdom of man. When the church gathers for worship it is a library of the Lords literature. Singing plays a major role in our worship, for it is a gathering of poems to express their gratitude to their author for making them what they are. What Longfellow wrote of children applies especially to the children of God.
Come to me, O ye children! And whisper in my ear,
What the birds and winds are singing in your sunny atmosphere.
For what are all our contrivings, and the wisdom of our books,
When compared with your caresses, and the gladness of your looks?
Ye are better than all the ballads that ever were sung or said;
For ye are living poems, and all the rest are dead.
Christians are to God what children were to Longfellow, for we are His living poems. We are His greatest means of displaying His glory among men where it counts the most. Paul says that the Ephesians were once dead and discord characterized their lives. They were so out of harmony with God that they were children of wrath, but God in His great love raised them from the dead and made them new creatures in Christ. Paul says they are now examples of God's handiwork, for they are God's poems. Every Christian is made for a purpose, for he is a masterpiece of God's creativity, and we want to consider what a Christians duty is as a poem of God. We want to consider two characteristics of a good poem, which should be characteristics of all who are God's poems. First-
I. A POEM SHOULD BE BEAUTIFUL.
One translation of this verse is, "We are God's poems, created in Christ Jesus unto beautiful living." Every poem of God must be characterized by beauty. The chorus we sing, "Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me," should be the serious prayer of every believer. Jesus was beautiful in every aspect of His life. As the Lamb of God He was without spot or blemish. Isaiah calls Him, "Branch beautiful and glorious." Sad it is that men must miss the beauty of God's poems in earth and sky because they lack the light of eye, but sadder yet beyond compare when they miss the fairest of the fair. Jesus is altogether lovely and the fairest of ten thousand. He is the Rose of Sharon, the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star. The best of all God's beauties in creation are taken as names of the greatest of all God's poems-His Son. Those who trust Him as Savior and seek to be conformed to His likeness will one day see the King in His beauty and awake in His likeness.
Millions of years your wondering eyes
Shall o'er His beauties rove;
And endless ages you'll adore
The glories of His love.
Paul says that we are not saved to wait for this, but we are saved to work. We are already poems and new creatures in Christ, and we are to begin to display the beauty of Christ now. The beautiful life and character of Christ is to be lived anew in us. God expects human nature to bear a witness to the beauty of His nature. The beauty of God and of Christ can only be communicated to other people through the beauty of those who are His workmanship, or His poems. We must be poems of love in a world filled with hate. We must be poems of beauty in a world where ugliness is everywhere. If men cannot see beauty in God's poems, that is, in those who profess faith in Christ, they have good reason to doubt if there is an Eternal Poet behind all reality.
If men believe that the universe is a vast blind poet who doesn't know it, and that all of the beauty of creation is a colossal accident, it is not because God has not spoken and given them revelation. Eccles. 3:11 says, "God has made everything beautiful in its time." In these last times He gave His Son and established the church to be a witness in the world to His beautiful plan of salvation. If men do not see the beauty of the Gospel in beautiful lives it is because His children are faded flowers, and they are failing to display the glory of God. They have become indifferent to the ugliness of life and they allow the ugly world to continue on the road to destruction with no witness to the beauty of God's plan of salvation. John Buchan wrote,
Peaceful are clear horizon, calm as our sheltered days
Are the lilied meadows we dwell in, the decent highways we tread.
Duly we make our offerings, but we know not the God we praise,
For He is the God of the living, but we, His children, are dead.
We are dead when we fail to live a life of beauty, which compels men to believe there is a Supreme Artist and Eternal Poet who is the author of such beauty. No one can read the works of Shakespeare or Browning and doubt that they were written by poets who knew it. none could be so gullible as to believe they were mere accidents of chance or slips of the pen. Men should likewise be able to look at the Christian life and sense that its beauty did not just happen, but that there must be a cause, and they should be motivated to inquire concerning the Author of such beauty and harmony.
The beauty of which we speak is not mere physical beauty. Even a wise non-Christian recognizes that this is not the most precious beauty. Socrates said, "I pray, thee O God, that I may be beautiful within." Christian beauty must be more than skin deep; it must be heart deep, and be a beauty of spirit and character. We cannot agree with the modern attitude that says, "Save the surface and you save all." Better a beautiful faith that can guide one lost and battered ship on the stormy sea of sin to the shore of salvation then a beautiful face that can launch a thousand ships into battle and destruction. As poems of God we have an obligation to God and man to be beautiful examples of the grace of God. A good poem is beautiful, and because Christians are poems of God, they too should be beautiful. The second thing we want to consider is-
II. A POEM SHOULD BE BENEFICIAL.
Beauty is beneficial in itself. Hugo said, "The beautiful is as useful as the useful." Beauty was to him synonymous with being useful. Beauty can be an end in itself, and you can desire to possess a thing for no other reason than the fact that it is beautiful. God, however, in creating people anew in Christ is not interested in art for arts sake. He combines utility with beauty. When he makes pottery he expects it to hold water as well as please the eye of the beholder. When he makes a person a poem in Christ he expects very practical benefits as well as beauty. In fact, in the highest concept of beauty a thing must be beneficial in order to be beautiful. A poem that is truly beautiful must be beneficial and practical. Plato said, "The beautiful consists in utility and the power to produce some good." A Christian life is beneficial because it is beautiful, and beautiful just because it is beneficial. Lose one or the other and you lose both.
Paul emphasizes both in this verse. He not only tells us what we are, that we are God's poems, but he tells us the purpose why are poems. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. We are not only to be, but we are to do. A poem is an extension of the life and thought of the poet, and a Christian is to be an extension of the life and thought of Christ. As he went about doing good, so Christians are to continue to exhibit His love and compassion in good works. Rousseu said, "I have always believed that good is only beauty put into practice." That is what the Christian life is to be. It is the beauty of Christ put into practice in day by day living, which confers the benefit of God's love upon all who cross their path.
The greatest benefit we can give to others is to convey to them in their spiritual poverty something of the un-searchable riches of Christ. That is the value of poetry. It can express to some degree the inexpressible. E. A. Robinson wrote, "Poetry is a language that tells us, through a more or less emotional reaction, something that cannot be said." The Christian is to be God's means of saying to men what cannot be said in any other way. Our life must speak to others even when they will not listen to our words and arguments. Beauty does not need defense. Men can doubt our words and deny our arguments, but they cannot escape the beauty of a life, which is Christ-like in acts of kindness. The wise men could have refused to follow the star of Bethlehem, but they could not deny its beauty. Its beauty got their attention, and then led them to Christ. We are God's poems to attract men by beautiful living that they might come to know the Poet who can make their lives beautiful as well.
Longfellow was a poet who had a vision of the purpose of the poet of all poets. He wrote-
God sent His singers upon earth
With songs of sadness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men,
And bring them back to heaven again.
The most beneficial aspect of God's poetry is their giving birth to more poetry by attracting others to Christ. Good poetry inspires more good poetry, and good Christian living will inspire more beneficial living. We owe it to God, to lost men, and to our brothers and sisters in Christ to live lives of beauty and utility.
When Robert Moffet, the great missionary, visited England he was asked to write something in an album, and this what he wrote: "My album is the savage breasts, where tempests brewed and darkness rests, without one ray of light, to write the name of Jesus there, and point to worlds all bright and fair, and see the savage bow in prayer, is my supreme delight." Here was a man who knew God's plan. He knew God was a poet who knows it, but he also knew that he was a poem of God created in Christ Jesus unto good works. His was a beautiful and beneficial life, which was giving light in a dark world.
It is amazing that those few paintings of Rembrant, which were stolen and recovered in Britian could be worth so many millions, but even more amazing is the price our Redeemer paid to produce people poems. Never was such an infinitely costly price paid for works of art. How tragic it is when a Christian life does not rhyme. We are often only a rough draft, for the perfect poem is yet in God's mind. A child looked up into the star gemmed sky and said to his parents, "Goodness, if heaven is that beautiful on the bottom, just think how wonderful the other side must be." The Christian life, even though far from perfect, must inspire something of this kind of response. Men should look and see that if Christ can do that in a life, He can surely do the same for me. "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree." But greater yet, and don't forget, God can make a poem of me, and if you believe that it true, you'll also believe He can do the same with you.