The time spanning the last days of a year and the beginning of a new year is always a popular time for self-evaluation. What did we accomplish? How well did we do? What could we have done better? What should we target in the new year?
In the book of Haggai, the prophet challenged the Israelites to reflect on their accomplishments over the years since their return to Israel from seventy years of captivity in Babylon.
Through King Cyrus, God had commanded the Israelites to return home to rebuild the Temple:
“Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.” ~ Ezra 1:2-3
However, several years had passed (by the time of Haggai, three kings had succeeded Cyrus) and only the Temple’s foundation had been completed.
It was time for the Israelites to evaluate their performance.
“Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.
Ye have sown much, and bring in little;
ye eat, but ye have not enough;
ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink;
ye clothe you, but there is none warm;
and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.” ~ Haggai 1:5-7
God had given them on each task to complete on their return. But, after many years, their efforts had borne little fruit. Why?
Like the Israelites, Believers have also been assigned a task: Each and every Christian has been called to participate in the establishment/edification of the church (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:7-16) for we are also involved in the building of a temple:
“…Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” ~ Ephesians 2:20b-22
However, many of us (too many of us!), when we reflect on our lives as Christians find ourselves not doing much better with our project than the Israelites did with theirs. Many years have passed by and we haven’t accomplished much beyond the foundations of our faith. And some of us haven’t even done that.
It is time for us to evaluate our own performance.
“For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work…” ~ Galatians 6:3-4a
Towards that end, we can gain insight from Haggai, as God’s Word through him reveals four issues that had hindered the Israelites’ fruitfulness then and hinder our fruitfulness now.
“Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” ~ Haggai 1:4
A cieled house was one that had panels on the interior walls. Paneled walls were fashion statements and status symbols: a display of wealth. The Israelites had had enough time and prosperity to indulge themselves in fancy houses but had yet to complete the construction of God’s house. They had prioritized their own houses above God’s house.
Whenever our priorities are misplaced, whenever our personal agendas are held above God’s plans for us, we will find it hard to serve Him: We will find it hard to be fruitful.
Indeed, Jesus provided us with the right approach to life:
“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,” ~ John 4:34
“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” ~ John 6:38
If Jesus dedicated His life to accomplishing The Father’s will, shouldn’t we all do the same?? Shouldn’t I do as Jesus did?
Every moment I spend doing my will is at the expense of doing God’s will. The less I yield to God, the less He can work through me. The less God works through me the less fruitful I will be.
Who is the priority in your life?
Then answered Haggai, and said, “So is this people, and so is this nation before me”, saith the Lord; “and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean…
…“I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me”, saith the Lord.” ~ Haggai 2:14 & 17
The hearts of the Israelites had become hardened through neglect: The more they concerned themselves with themselves, the less sensitive they were to God’s overtures/appeals. Consequently, even when they tried to do right, they were wrong: No one can serve God on his/her own terms. The Israelites couldn’t and neither can we.
Indeed, this principle has been taught from the beginning: Cain’s offering was rejected because it was not what God wanted him to bring (Genesis 4:1-7). Before ever coming to offer a sacrifice Cain should have asked God what offering God would be pleased with having. That would have required Cain to have a love relationship with God: one in which Cain walked humbly with God seeking to do God’s will not Cain’s will.
Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said,
“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” ~ Matthew 15:8-9
Fundamental to serving God is our relationship with Him. Without a relationship with God, we will never be fruitful. If our hearts are far from God, if we do not have a relationship with Him, we cannot serve Him.
Moreover, without a relationship with God, everything we do is tainted. Indeed, as long as we are apart from Jesus we are unable to produce any good fruit.
[Jesus said:] “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered…” ~ John 15:4-6a
How is your relationship with God going? Are you walking closely, are you joined to Jesus?
Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, “This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’S house should be built.” ~ Haggai 1:2
To understand the issues contained in this verse, it is necessary to read Ezra 3-6 for the “backstory”. In those chapters, we learn that the neighboring nations had opposed the building of the Temple and lied to the Persian rulers in a letter claiming that the Temple was a means by which the Israelites would start a rebellion.
As a result, the Israelites ceased their work on the Temple, never bothering to challenge the false report. It wasn’t until many years later, under the divinely appointed leadership of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua, the High Priest, that the Israelites resumed building the Temple.
But the big question is, why didn’t they resist the false narrative of their jealous neighbors? Why didn’t they stand up for the truth? Why did they give up so quickly?
As soon as their treacherous neighbors challenged them, they gave up: essentially saying, “Oh well, it looks like this is not the right time to build the temple.”
Sadly, we frequently respond in the same way. At the first sign of opposition, many modern-day Believers simple drop their tools and go back home, saying, “Oh well, it looks like this is not the right time to do God’s work.”
But “God’s work” is work: it takes blood, sweat and tears, and the willingness to stand strong against those who oppose God and His church.
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” ~ John 15:18-20a
So why are we so weak so often?
The answer is that it is always easier to give up than stand up. To give up appears to cost little, while to stand up might cost us everything. We would rather lose our status in the Kingdom of God than lose our status in the kingdom of man.
…the high priest asked them, saying, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” ~ Acts 5:27b-29
For the Israelites, it was easier to just give up rather than risk incurring the wrath of the King of Persia. Somehow the Israelites were more concerned about offending the King of Persia than offending God. Likewise, we are often more concerned about upsetting the world than upsetting God: Worldly approval trumps God’s approval for far too many of us.
However, it is our fruitfulness that validates our faith. To be fruitless is to be faithless. The failure to complete the mission of building the Temple testified of the weakness of the Israelites faith. In the same manner, we only serve God as much as our faith allows us to do.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” ~ James 2:26
Can we bear fruit without faith??
“Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” ~ Haggai 2:3
When the foundation of the temple was laid (Ezra 3:11-13), there was a mixture of joy and sadness. Some were glad to have the work started on the new Temple. But others remembered the greatness of the previous Temple and mourned the comparative poverty of the new one.
However, both groups got it wrong. The significance of the Temple was neither its physical glory nor just its existence/utility. The first Temple was great because (for a time) it was filled with God’s glory (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). And the first Temple stopped being great when God’s glory left the Temple (because of Israel’s/Judah’s sin, Ezekiel 10).
The new Temple would be even greater than the first, not because of its opulence, but because it would be visited by The Messiah: Jesus would preach and teach in its courts!
The Israelites in the time of Haggai didn’t capture that vision, even though their Scripture contained many prophecies of the Messiah’s coming. It is always easier to work towards a goal if we have a vision of what we are working towards. That is a major reason for the prophecies in the Bible. God wants us to know ahead of time that our work will not be in vain.
God’s Word tells us that our work for His Kingdom will be rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:12-17). His Word tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). His Word tells us that Jesus will return and we will be with Him (1 Corinthians 15). His Word tells us everything we need to see the vision He has for us, His children.
If we capture the vision of the future described in God’s Word, every decision will have more meaning, every step will have more purpose, and every opportunity will have more value.
“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” ~ Isaiah 55:11
“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” ~ Proverbs 29:18a
To be fruitful, we need an idea of what we are being fruitful for. But, to get the vision, we must know God’s Word, for the vision is contained therein. God’s Word will not return to Him void/empty/unfulfilled, and neither will the vision outlined in His Word.
God has prepared work for each and every Believer to do (Ephesians 2:10). He has equipped us to do that work (Ephesians 4:7-16). He will supply us with all the wisdom we need to complete the work effectively (James 1:5-8). He requires of His children that we are faithful in doing what He has set before us to accomplish.
“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” ~ 1 Corinthians 4:2
As each of us evaluates our own performance, perhaps the most important question to ask is whether we have been faithful. Have I done what God has called me to do? Have I even tried? God is well aware of the particular challenges each of us faces. But He still requires faithfulness.
It’s time to get to work: we have a Temple to build.