“Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your paneled houses, and this house to lie waste?”
Haggai was one of the post-captivity prophets. He was a contemporary of Zechariah, according to Ezra 5:1-2. His message, as we see in our text, was to rebuke the returned exiles for their delay in rebuilding the Temple, God’s House.
However, I have had this verse on my heart for the past two weeks & I want to go in a slightly different direction. I want to explore a single question : Are we building God’s House?
Or are we building up yet another ministry? Or another church building? Or another personality cult surrounding the latest silver-tongued speaker? Or another religious social club? Or another denominational outpost?
Are we building God’s House?
A Matter of Priorities
God actually begins His message to the people in verse 2. He tells Haggai that the people were claiming that it was not yet time for God’s House to be built; yet was it time for them to live in their paneled houses while His House lay in ruins??
Since God doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, but in the hearts of His people, clearly He is not so much concerned with the actual physical state of His Temple, so much as the lack of proper priorities that the situation represented.
Here we had a people who claimed to be the “people of God”, living in paneled (decorated, or finished) houses, while their God’s house lay in a wasted rubble heap. Had their priorities been straight – had God been their main concern – God’s house would’ve been built already, for they would’ve desired a place to come together to worship Him! They would’ve restored His house so that they might have a place to be invited into His Presence! In fact, I would venture to say that had their priorities been right, they would’ve been content to dwell in hovels while the Temple was being repaired!
Instead, they had other priorities. They were busy building their own houses.
Busy, but never satisfied
God asked His people to consider their ways.
They worked hard, but received little for their efforts. They ate, but it was never enough. They drank, and remained thirsty. They made a lot of money, but it never lasted – it was as if they’d put their money in a bag full of holes.
Nothing satisfied. They were discontented with their wealth – even their lives! – despite living in their paneled houses.
You see, that’s what happens when God is no longer your top priority. Nothing satisfies.
A spiritual discontent builds up that is mirrored on a physical and mental (or what some call a “soulish”) level. Since man is a tri-partite being consisting of spirit, body, and mind (soul), and since these three aspects of man are intimately intertwined, they constantly affect one another.
Put simply :
If your priorities begin to shift away from God, your spirit begins to yearn for God. Even before you were saved, your spirit cried out for communion with God. Something was missing! As the body needs food to live and grow, our spirit needs fellowship with God to thrive and develop. Without that source of nourishment, it begins to starve. The body gives us hunger pangs to warn us that we need more physical food. The spirit also gives us hunger pangs – the discontent we feel in the midst of our busy lives.
You can try to fill you life up with things like movies, video games, sports, money, work, sex, clothes, status symbols, social events, intellectual pursuits, food, or even church, but without God at the center of your life, NOTHING will satisfy!
God didn’t ask His people to consider their ways for nothing. He wanted them to realize that this discontent had come about to warn them that something was very wrong with the present situation. Everything looked OK on the surface. They appeared successful with their paneled houses, but there was something wrong in their lives
Not All That Glitters Is Gold
Their situation reminds me of the Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-19.
Nearly every Christian has heard the beginning judgement of verses 15 and 16 :
“I know your works that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were either hot or cold. But because you’re not, because you’re lukewarm, I will vomit you out of My mouth!” (paraphrased)
The following verse (verse 17) ties into our study by giving a contributing factor to their lukewarmness : They thought they were prosperous and rich! They thought they were well off! They thought they were in need of nothing!
But they were wrong.
When we build our own houses, it is easy for us to think we are doing God’s work – that we are in fact in His will & pleasing Him – when that work becomes successful. Our attendance grows phenomenally. We have to add another building to the church. Our pastor is heard by thousands every Sunday on the radio and TV! Everybody has nice new clothes. No one in the church is going hungry. Your family lives comfortably. You are well-liked. Maybe you even have a position of prominence at your job or church.
But have you stopped to consider that rather than a sign of God’s blessing and favor that your “prosperity” might only be a sign of your own materialism???
Not all that glitters is gold.
Similarly, Jesus described the Pharisees (who were in the same boat as the Laodiceans and Haggai’s exiles) as whitened tombs. On the outside they were white and beautiful, but inside they were full of dead men’s bones! They appeared righteous and holy on the surface. They did all the right things. They said all of the right things. But their priority wasn’t God!
Jesus also said that many would come to Him in that day, saying, “Lord, didn’t thousands get saved under my ministry? Didn’t I cast out demons in your Name? People were healed in our church when I laid hands on them! You blessed me tremendously for serving you with a nice car, a good home, and a good family. I supported missionaries to spread the Gospel through my tithe. I was prosperous because of your blessings. Look at all of the things I did in your Name!!
But Jesus will say to many, “Depart from me, evildoers. I never knew you!”
How could this be? How could Jesus make such a judgement? How could He say that all of these good things were done by “evildoers”? How could He, in effect, call these good deeds “evil”?
The answer is found back in Haggai. In Chapter 2, verses 12 and 13, Haggai asks the people two questions.
First, he asked if a holy thing could touch bread, pottage, wine, oil, or an food and make the thing it touched holy?
According to what was wrtten in the Law, the scribes answered, “No, it could not.”
Then he asks if an unclean thing could touch these same things and make them unclean by that contact?
Again, they replied according to what the Law said, but this time the answer was “Yes.”
In verse 14, it is then explained that this is why God considered them unclean. (And why Jesus considered the Pharisees to be unclean, despite their cleaned up outward appearances.) Their priorities were off-kilter. Because of this – because they were separated from God by their wrong priorities – they had become unclean, and everything they did was corrupted by that!
When we do good things for God for wrong or selfish reasons, they are no good to God or us. Giving to the poor out of guilt or “Christian obligation”, for instance, might feed people and pay te rent, but it does neither you, nor the recipient any real good. Nor is God even pleased with it! You can build big congregations, buildings, and ministries, but make sure that God is its PRIMARY focus. God doesn’t like to benefit secondhand!
Whitened Tombs of Promise
Haggai ends with God again asking His people to consider their ways.
He asked them to look at how their lives had been empty and discontented when they were building their own houses, before they started building God’s house. He leaves them with the unmistakeable hint of Promise!
In fact in Haggai 2:9, He promises that the glory of the latter house will be greater than the former!
I’d always thought that the Pharisees must’ve been pretty well beyond hope when Jesus described them as whitened tombs – beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones on the inside. Now, I believe differently.
Another minister once told me that when Jesus said to Peter, “O ye of little faith” that, rather than a rebuke, it may well have been encouragement or even a compliment! After all, Peter may’ve sank when he got his eyes off Jesus and onto the waves. He may’ve cried out for Jesus to save him. But for a short time there, Peter with his “little faith” did walk on water! The other eleven disciples never so much as even tried.
In Ezekiel 37:1-10, God gives Ezekiel a vision of a valley of dry bones and asks his prophet a very curious question : “Can these bones live?”
By the end of the vision, these bones were not only very much alive, but once again fully covered with sinew, skin, and muscle, and were ready for battle! From a valley of dry bones God had raised up a mighty Army!
I used to look at the American church and shake m head in despair. We are shallow, materialistic, and oh-so-comfortable. Our complacency must stink in the nostrils of God! But while we are full of dead men’s bones for the present, I believe that God s telling us this :
“If you will build My house…If you will make Me your #1 priority…
If you will seek first the Kingdom of God and place your egos, ministries, programs, personality cults, agendas, denominations, pet doctrines, church buildings, and what-have-you second…
I will turn these Whitened Tombs of Promise into an unstoppable glorified Army!”
Consider your ways.
Where are your priorities? Why are you doing the things you do? Is God your focus? Or church? Or your ministry? Or something else? Will you continue to build your own houses?
Or are you willing to begin building the House of God?
Read more of the What’s Wrong With Church series!