BUILDING FOR GOD (Haggai chapter 1)

Haggai 1:1-15
   a. Uncommitted Disciples
      i. Forsake Relationships
      ii. Forsake Self
      iii. Forsake Possessions
   b. Building the wrong house
   c. Consequences of our own building
   d. Kingdom Building
      i. Individual Commitment to build
      ii. The Authority of the Leaders


To those of you who have been working through my comments on both Zechariah and Haggai, this following Introduction is largely irrelevant for you will already know the facts surrounding the delivery of the Lord’s message by Haggai to the children of Israel and the situation that the nation found itself in.

But, for others who took one look at the list of passages, panicked, and felt that this page was the safest and easiest option, I need to provide just a brief introduction that will give the background to our considerations here of how Haggai teaches us about both how and how not to build for God.

The Jews in 605, 597 and 586 BC had suffered repeated successful attacks upon their city Jerusalem and many of the residents had been taken into exile while others had fled both the approaching army and the consequences of their victory over the land of Canaan. Most of the captives were led into areas of the victorious Kingdom of Babylon and were settled, only to be absorbed into the society of their day, while others remained faithful (as far as they understood) to the Mosaic Law and Covenant.

In 537 BC many of the exiles returned to the land following King Cyrus’ command to the Jews who continued to be resident within his land and who had retained their cultural identity throughout the intervening years (Ezra chapters 1 and 2).

When the exiles returned, there was only a short delay before they set about laying the foundation of the Temple which stood in ruins in their midst (Ezra 3:10-11) but, because of the fear of man, they stopped working on the building once they had completed their first work (Ezra 4:4-5:24).

Then, some 16 years later, God raised up two prophets named Haggai and Zechariah who spoke God’s Word to the returned exiles (Ezra 4:24, 5:1, Haggai 1:1). It was Haggai who was pre-eminent in the proclamation of what the Lord required the nation to do, Zechariah beginning his ministry to the nation around three months after Haggai had spoken the word that initially prompted the two leaders, Zerubbabel and Joshua, to rise up and begin to rebuild the Temple - this time period may not be wholly accurate for we do not know for a fact that Zechariah didn’t prophesy before the date recorded for us in Zech 1:1, only that this is the first recorded and dated prophetic word.

As it says in Amos 3:7

‘Surely the Lord YHWH does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets’

Though God wanted to move amongst His people, the restoration of His Temple was vitally important for their renewed prosperity and, therefore, God spoke through His servants to inspire the nation to rise up and continue the work they had left off through the fear of man.

Haggai 1:1-15

There are certain principles that we can witness in the Book of Haggai’s opening passage which instruct us primarily in how we shouldn’t build but, from here, we will go on to consider how, in the NT, we are taught to construct a structure that is acceptable and pleasing to God.

a. Uncommitted Disciples
Haggai 1:2

Although this verse is a statement of fact, addressed to the two leaders of the nation, it gives us an insight into the attitude of the people as they busied themselves within their society.

The people, it seems, were content to make excuses and so neglect to build God’s House which lay in ruins. The statement shows us that, though they may have liked to think of themselves as God’s people who were in a covenant relationship with Him, they were, in effect, uncommitted followers who thought of the cost to themselves before they would follow the ways and will of God.

The questions that had arisen in their minds may have found a logical answer in their own understanding of the situation that they found themselves in, but it was not an answer that the will of God required from them.

How could they, they may have reasoned, build God’s Temple when they were frightened of what the neighbouring tribes and nations might do to them? How could they commit resources to a work that would require hard toil and valuable labour when they were ill-clad and in need of increasing their harvests to feed their growing families?

But, when a people commit themselves to following after God and His ways, of sacrificing their will and pleasure to that which God requires from them, they no longer retain the right to choose their own destiny. And it is always God’s interests that the people of God must have as their sole priority.

When Jesus walked this earth, He told would-be disciples that there were three specific things that He required from them to renounce in order that they might truly be found to be His disciples (Luke 14:25-33):

i. Forsake Relationships
Luke 14:26
No relationship must grow to become more important than the one between God and ourselves.
In recent years, we have sadly justified ourselves in our commitment to the natural family by recourse to other Scriptures and so reduced commitment to God Himself in the process. We can find ample justification to spend time in strengthening familial ties in order that we might not disappoint the God who would have us make sure that our families get to know the Gospel and that we cause no offence to them.
But our problem has been one of time for, so committed can we become to our natural relations that we forget that commitment to God should be first and foremost, and we often consign believers who have sold themselves out for God to do His will, or who have put to one side the desire to either marry or to have children, into a pigeon hole that we label ‘second class christians’ because their experience contradicts our own.
But, at the end of the day, it is not those who justify their own appetites who are justified before God but those who forsake them and follow God.
In Haggai 1:2, the people haven’t done this - they have ever-so-spiritually proclaimed that ‘the time has not yet come to rebuild the Temple of the Lord’ rather than be a bit more honest and say ‘we don’t really want to build the Temple of the Lord’.
And, of course, it sounds much better to mask our hypocrisy with a pseudo-spiritual statement than be up front and honest about it, doesn’t it?

ii. Forsake Self
Luke 14:27
We can no longer live to please ourselves but must live to please Him.
Through a quite extraordinary twist of Scripture, teaching has recently come into the Church that, far from denying ourselves, Jesus actually commanded us to make sure that we see to loving ourselves.
For, Jesus said (Mtw 19:19)
‘...You shall love your neighbour as yourself’
so, by implication, Jesus must be teaching us here to make sure that we love ourselves or else we won’t be able to fulfil His requirement that we should love others as we love ourselves. Of course, what Jesus meant by the citing of the OT Scripture (Lev 19:18) was that the type of love we should display towards our fellow man is the sort of love that we already have when it comes to looking after ourselves.
Therefore Jesus says (Mtw 7:12)
‘...whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them’
Using the love that we all know and practise, that type of love that we seem to overflow and abound in, Jesus has something that His hearers can immediately see and apply. Far from teaching His disciples that they should learn love for themselves, He is actually urging them to direct the love they display for themselves towards others and, in so doing, the consequence will be a commitment away from selfish lifestyles to ones that lay down their lives for one another.
The people in Haggai’s day were too concerned with their own welfare to want to commit themselves to doing the work of God (Haggai 1:4-6), therefore their commitment to feeding their own people and building their own houses had come first.
Instead of being willing to face personal hardship, they were aiming at personal luxury and, even if the resources were to increase, it would have been doubtful whether they would ever have decided to turn their faces towards the Temple which lay in ruins. Had not Haggai and Zechariah been used by the Lord to stir up the spirits of the leaders to recommence what they had neglected for the previous 16 years, it is likely that it would never have been rebuilt.

iii. Forsake Possessions
Luke 14:33
Possibly the most frightening of all these three sentences of Jesus is this one in which He tells would-be disciples that nothing that they have actually belongs to them. His words as in the RSV talk about the need for renouncing all that we have, of giving up anything that lies in our possession in order we might be committed to following after Him and His ways.
Do you own houses and land? They aren’t yours, they’re only on loan. What about your hifi, television, computer and family? No, they’re not yours, either, they’ve been given to you to look after until the Lord has need of them in His service.
Jesus’ words cut at the very root of our security in this world for a healthy bank balance and good lifestyle are good indications (to most of the world) that we have made a name for ourselves and are successful. But when the Lord may, at any moment, ask us to give away anything and all that we thought was ours, how can we rest secure and at peace?
Following Christ costs us everything (and then a bit more!) and means that, apart from God, we have nothing in this life.
The Israelites in Haggai’s day were too concerned for their own possessions. The rebuilding of the Temple meant the loss of their own possessions - whether building materials or members of their families who would be present in Jerusalem working on the project. That was too high a cost but, if the price was not going to be paid, the Temple could not be built.
Funny, isn’t it, but in our modern day Gospels, we don’t seem to often preach some of Jesus’ words.
Wonder why?

b. Building the wrong house
Haggai 1:4,9

It certainly wasn’t the case that the people in Haggai’s day were lazy but that they were building the wrong house. Theirs was a selfish work, it was not God-centred. So long as we busy ourselves with our own house, we will never make progress as christians. We try to build things around ourselves but they will never last or endure - only those things that are centred in Jesus will be permanent and will be translated through death into eternity.

How often do we think that we are doing something for God but really only do it to please ourselves? We can often be found busying ourselves in some work or other and pretend that it’s all done ‘in the name of God’ but it will only take us away from doing what God actually wants us to do, it being too costly to ourselves to forsake it and return to God for guidance.

The people’s excuses in the things they were doing must have been legion in order for them to blind themselves to the necessity of turning to God’s work and forsaking their own. They could rightly have argued that God wanted them fed and so they were only seeking those material things that were important, to establish their nation and so to recommit themselves to the work of God. They could have reasoned that God wanted to give them somewhere that they could put their name on, a place of their own, and that their building efforts were entirely justified that they find security in their plot of land.

But justification from religious sounding motives must always be questioned for they can often hide the reality of the situation and keep us away from doing God’s will.

The christian life has always been one of cost. If we don’t choose to pay the price then we will never succeed in going on in God for it is only those who sacrifice themselves to the work of God who will ever succeed for God.

As Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, believers must

‘...present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice...’

and not do as they would.

God knew that, if the returned exiles were to make a successful restart, if He was able to bring them into a position where He could abundantly bless them, then their whole lives had to be centred in God and around God.

God did indeed restore to them abundant harvests, but not before they had recommitted themselves to the work of God and forsaken their own ways (Haggai 2:14-19).

c. Consequences of our own building
Haggai 2:5-11

God will not provide for His people (either materially or spiritually) unless they seek to build what He wants built. It is only as they seek to build God’s house that God will provide for them.

This may not be an absolute Truth applicable to every situation, but it was true in the experience of the Israelites in that generation that lived with Haggai and to a great extent it will be true today. God still does look after His people even though they often seek their own welfare and kingdom, so that wealth is not a sure indication that the individual concerned is doing God’s will.

It is heartbreaking for any father to be continually petitioned by their children solely because they want things from them rather than for them to spend some time with them through the day simply because they enjoy being with them, having no ulterior motives.

What believers should be concerned with is seeking God for Himself alone, to attempt to please Him in all things rather than to look to Him solely for the provision that He can give (Mtw 6:21,33). All too often, knowing God to be a gracious and loving Person, we come to Him for provision upon provision not realising that to begin to invest some of the resources that we already have is a good indication to the Lord that an extra supply will be wisely used.

In Haggai’s day, the Israelites were suffering from an inadequacy of provision and may even have wondered whether God was looking after them seeing as the natural supply of rain had been severely restricted and the plants had not grown sufficiently well (Hag 1:10). But the lack of their resources was tied up in the will of the people that was committed not to doing what God required of them but of building their own kingdom and of establishing themselves in the land.

When they finally turned from their ways, God speedily promised that the next harvests would be bountiful (Haggai 2:15-19).

When we consider this situation, Prov 11:24 is particularly true here

‘One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want’

When the Israelites withheld what they had for the work of God, they found that, although logic would tell them that their resources should increase, they actually reduced. It was only when they began to invest both their time and materials into the work of God that they found that their harvest increased and, after the letter had been returned from King Darius, outside provision was given to complete their work on the Temple (Ezra 6:8-10).

d. Kingdom Building
I Cor 3:10-15

This passage has been an often misunderstood and misinterpreted passage which has led congregations away from getting committed in their own churches - either through the unwillingness of the leadership or through the neglect of the people who make up the congregation.

The Truth that is often proclaimed from these verses is that we must be careful to build in our own lives what the Lord requires from us - not with perishable goods but deeds that will stand the test of time. But the passage actually points believers in a different direction - not of building in their own lives, but of building something imperishable in the life of the Church. Each believer has the ability to contribute to the edification of another and to encourage another to grow into more of Christ as they progress in the christian walk.

Both Apollos and Paul had built a foundation for the life of the church in Corinth (I Cor 3:5-9) so that those who came after them - whether visiting believers or those resident within the city - might establish what they were to subsequently do upon that firm and secure beginning.

That foundation, Paul says, can now be built upon (3:10) but there is a warning to every man who would choose to build - that is, that the foundation cannot be anything other than Jesus Christ. From here, though, each believer is encouraged to build upon what has been already laid and in keeping with what has already been put down (3:12) but not building upon their own life but upon the foundation that has been laid for and in the local church.

The reward or loss that Paul talks about in 3:13-15 is not based upon what we have done with the Gospel after we have first come to know the Truth (for salvation is not an issue here - 3:15), but is due to the nature of the work that has been done by the individual in the church.

Instead of thinking selfishly how we might better ourselves (as the Israelites did in the time of Haggai), the Corinthian passage urges believers to look to other people, to get the wider picture, and to therefore contribute to the larger work.

This building work has two specific principles that we need to consider:

i. Individual Commitment to build
I Cor 3:12,14
Paul is insistent that each man (and woman) must be careful how they build. They shouldn’t consider the enormity of the task and give up, but simply be warned that not all works that might be performed ‘in the name of Christ’ are ‘of Christ’ so as to stand the test of death. But, nevertheless, that is no reason not to build like the returned exiles did.
Some years after the completion of the Temple, Nehemiah returned to the city of Jerusalem and encouraged the people there to rise up and rebuild the city walls. Having caught the vision, each person built a part of the wall. It wasn’t that one man built everything himself or that every man contributed to every part of the restored wall - but all the individual works that were being performed made the completed wall (Neh 2:18, 4:6).
So too in the Church. We are called to build one another up, not to be overly concerned with ourselves or our own kingdom (Rom 14:19, 15:2, Eph 4:29, I Thess 5:11). A church is not a place where congregations fight each other because of their imperfections (oops! Wrote that wrong - I should have written that a church is not supposed to be...), but a place where each person is seeking to see God’s Kingdom be displayed in greater measure through and in every other person.

ii. The Authority of the Leaders
Ezra 5:2, Haggai 1:14
I balk at trying to write this section, knowing that a great many denominational leaderships will use it to justify their own existence and authoritarian control of the people - but write it I must.
What I have to point out before I begin is that the contents of my web page here show that God rarely tolerates an elitist leadership that is distinct and separate from the people under them. When there is a recognised ‘leadership’ that is no longer regarded as part of the congregation, there is a dichotomy within the body of Christ that God may at times use but which He will usually bypass in order to raise up new leadership within the congregation’s ranks.
Leadership positions come from within the congregation on behalf of the congregation - they do not come from the leadership or as a succession of leadership from outside sources from a pool of ‘leaders’ that have their function in life to ‘live out their call to the ministry’ and be the congregation’s representative before the Lord.
God’s leaders are not always the ones who stand at the front of the congregation and make various noises - they are seen in the men and women who welcome believers into their homes to feed and clothe them, who contribute to works with their own time and resources to further advance the Kingdom of Christ throughout all the earth. In short, they are the people whom God has got hold of to show as an example to their fellow believers - true, they may at times be the recognised leaders of the local church, but there is more to leadership than being called ‘pastor’ or ‘vicar’ by men or of having obtained theological degrees and qualifications (a preacher once said that you can lose your spirituality by degrees...).
Leadership will remain a part of the congregation of the Lord’s people or else it will not be a part of God’s leadership for His people at all.
Having given this as an introduction, let me press on to comment on the importance of leadership so that, when I refer to it, you will understand that I am not meaning titled leadership within any or all of the places where the Lord’s name has been put.
When the wall of the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt, over the work was one man, Nehemiah, who took the responsibility upon himself for making sure that the work was completed successfully. He was the instigator of the commencement of the work (Neh 2:17-20) and was the man who stood up to the opposition that came against its completion (Neh chapter 4), rearranging the work force to repel any attack that may have been launched against them.
His authority, recognised by the people of God, gave them incentive to allow themselves to be organised as a unit where each contributed to the work until it was completed.
In Haggai also, it is Zerubbabel and Joshua who are stirred up by the words from God through the prophet and who appear to be the instigators of the recommencement of the building of the Temple (Ezra 5:2, Hag 1:12,14).
This type of leadership is not to be feared but followed. Paul commented that the authority he had been given was not for the purpose of destroying the believers he wrote to or met but of building them up (II Cor 1:24, 10:8, 13:10).
Indeed, all such God-appointed and God-anointed leadership will encourage believers to grow in stature in God rather than to promote self-interest or to protect that individual’s position.
That’s the sort of leadership that should be followed and authority comes with the position to bring about what the Lord purposes. Submission to God’s authority is, therefore, vitally important to achieve God’s work but, just in case the point is missed, this does not mean that titled leadership is always to be obeyed.
Both Zerubbabel and Joshua led the people of God to achieve the work of God - but, to be successful, the people had to be willing to recognise their authority and follow them.

We have now completed our brief look at the children of Israel both before and after the word was received through Haggai and the Temple began to be rebuilt. The attitude of the nation should warn us against maintaining ways of life that undermine the work that God lays upon His Church and to turn around from them to commit ourselves to work both for Him (rather than for us, justified by appeal to reason) and under the authority of God’s anointed leadership.

The Church must wake up to the call of God upon her, forsake its own kingdom and desires and throw away self-security and personal welfare. Only in so doing can the Body of Christ have opportunity to begin to perceive the work of God that awaits her and fulfil it by her commitment to the will of God as revealed through His servants, the prophets, and by the dedication of His appointed leadership.