I have been reading through the Bible chronologically this year and have made my way near the end of the Old Testament. Beginning the book of Ezra, I noticed that Ezra used a unique language as he fulfills his God-given duties. Ezra’s duty, to “build” and “rebuild” are not simply for God, but to God. Ezra writes, “the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Ezra 4:1). He later states, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Ezra 4:3). Ezra does not explicitly make a distinction between building for God and building to God, but I believe we need to heed his terminology as intentional and gain a biblical wisdom from that.
Building something for a person implies that they have taken on the entire load of the work, while the person they are building for idly sits by. Building something to a person implies a dedication, but does not nullify the other party’s involvement.
God is not One to sit idly by. Scripture is filled with His voice declaring, “I will,” “I shall,” “I have,” and so on. Our God is a God of action. People are of inaction. While God is a worker, it is the people that are constantly guilty of being lazy. One need only look at our culture to realize the truth of this.
God wants something built to Him as people want something built or done for them.
People – “For Me”
Beginning when we are children, to the day we die, we want things done for us. If only I had a nickel for every time my wife asked me to kill a spider for her (even though I am screaming like a little girl in the process). Children may ask a parent to tie their shoes for them. A friend may call in a favor from another friend to do for him or her.
We want the government to implement policies and pass laws that will make circumstances better for us. We want the church to do things for us. We, ultimately, want life to exist for us.
When we do things for a person, we take the focus off of them and place it on ourselves. Friend, let it not be so with the almighty God! Allow Him to be the focus of your life through faith.
God – “To Me”
If God ever asks someone to do something for Him, it is not out of an inability on God’s part, but for them to discover something of themselves or to prove something. What God asked Abraham to do – sacrifice Isaac, his only son – may have been for God, but it was as much for Abraham as it was for God. “Why?”, you ask. When Abraham heard “STOP!”, it proved to himself as much as it did to God the faith that he carried.
In the big picture of things, all that we do is to be done to the glory of God. Ezra is building to the Lord. Nehemiah built to the glory of God. Paul suffered many trials to the glory of God. Stephen, the first martyr, died to the glory of God. You live a life to the glory of God, dedicated to Him.
Though these things were done for God, in favor, they were not done for God as a substitution. To say that this is so is to rob God of His glory. Jesus Christ came as the supreme substitute, the scapegoat, to die for us (John 10:11; Romans 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 21; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 2:21, 24; 3:18; 1 John 3;16).
Because He has died for us, we now can live to Him (2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:10).
Both for and to are ultimately about the receiving party, but to do it for one implies an inability on the receiving end, while building it to one implies a reverent dedication directed toward the receiving end. Rest assured, God is able (Ephesians 3:20–21). Yet, we should not build a Chrisitan life for God, substituting the work of the cross, but build a Christian life to God, giving Him the glory in every thought, decision, and action in our lives!