First Things First! (Haggai)
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“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Haggai 1:4, NIVRuins

Very old ruins have held a romantic fascination for me. When I walk beside the ruined walls, I wonder what stories could they tell of lives lived long ago. What hopes and dreams did the people who built them have? What tragedies might they have witnessed? Were the lives of those ancient folk mundane with routine and boredom? Or was life a daily struggle simply to survive? Does the beauty of the ruin tell us anything of the beauty of their lives?

Today we pass on such things in books, pictures and media recordings. Very little of that existed in ancient times. Even today, in some parts of the world, these things are not common. However, we still try to piece together a story from what little there is to guide us, so we look at the ruins and try to imagine the lives that were lived in these places. In those places where we do have some written guide for our contemplation, we are grateful for the color it brings to our understanding. In the case of the temple of Jerusalem and the surrounding city, we have much written of its fall and destruction as well as its rebuilding. From those writings, we have not just a log of what took place, but also perspectives on the reasons why the temple became a ruin.

Several of the biblical prophets have addressed reasons such as injustice, oppression, idolatry, greed, and intolerance. However, Haggai cuts straight to the chase. From his perspective, the primary problem is selfishness. Each is taking care of his or her needs without regards to anything else.

Perhaps this is understandable even if it is not excusable. Those who passed through the Great Depression of the 1930s became a generation of scrimpers and savers. They learned to place a higher value on even simple things like bits of string or used rubber bands. In today’s throw-away society where we find it more economical to throw away even items costing hundreds of dollars rather than repair them, we may find it strange that someone would save rubber bands from the grocery store produce or paper and string from packages, but these things were hard to come buy at times during the depression because there was little cash to buy them. What cash there was would better be spent for food and shelter.

During the depression those who had it slightly better would sometimes ill-treat those who had nothing for fear that they might take what little they had from them. This was illustrated by John Steinbeck in his novel “The Grapes of Wrath” when he described how the “Okies” were treated when they attempted to relocate to California. Even though times may be better now, we still struggle with this fear when confronted by another’s need. Too often, just as the Californians in Steinbeck’s book, we defray our responsibility to our fellow man by questioning their worthiness to receive help. They may be commies, socialists, alcoholics, pedophiles, homosexuals, or any number of literally dozens of categories we place people in to justify not helping with their need.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus puts forth the claim that what we do to these we do to Him.1 Of course, no one sees himself or herself as being among the goats. We all tell ourselves that we are the “remnant church” of Revelation.2 As such a church, we certainly would recognize Jesus and minister to Him. But would we?

The remnant church is often understood to be the remaining church when the Parousia takes place. Are the members of that church typified with generosity and self-sacrifice, or does the Bible give us a different picture. Some have held that the seven churches of Revelation represent different periods in the history of the Christian church.3 If this is so, then the seventh and final church, Laodicea, would probably be synonymous with the remnant church. So if one would expect to see generosity and self-sacrifice, Laodicea should exemplify it. Instead we find a different picture.

We find a wealthy church which is indifferent to its own spiritual condition.4Their wealth has blinded them to their needs. Perhaps, it has also blinded them to the needs of those around them and even to Jesus’ desire to enter into their lives.5 The paradox is that the same Jesus, who would vomit at the indifference of these individuals,6 nonetheless continues to reach out to them in love and compassion as He goes on requesting they invite Him into their lives.

In Haggai’s day, he also contrasted the desire to accumulate wealth and prosperity with neglect of God. As our verse above refers to, people were living in beautiful houses but neglecting to provide the same for the house of God. As a result, even the security they were stockpiling for themselves and their families was threatened. The returns on their work and investments fell short. Perhaps as they realized diminishing returns they were finding themselves on a treadmill. They would work hard to accumulate a secure future, but the returns were not as much as they expected, so they worked harder to make up the difference. They were always running but never arriving. As a consequence, God’s people can become so frantically busy that they no longer even find the time to consider the needs of others, the needs of the church included.

We are very familiar with that treadmill, today. We see churches in various states of disrepair or unable to easily move forward with appropriate improvements to the church plant due to lack of sufficient funds. Paradoxically, the offering basket may be filled with one dollar bills and small change, while outside the parking lot is filled with vehicles costing tens of thousands of dollars that have come from homes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why is this so?

Perhaps we have come to believe that ultimate security lies in what we can accumulate as opposed to what God provides. This is reinforced by the advertising media in countless ways. If you do not have this expensive item, you are neglecting your children, your spouse, or even worse, yourself. Madison Avenue has a gift for turning indulgences into necessities. In order to have those “necessities,” easy credit expands our purchasing power to reach out and fill the “needs.” Sadly, once we have filled the needs with that easy credit, we are introduced to a whole new level of needs. Like sheep, we are driven by advertisers to seek more credit so we can arrive at these new, greener elysian fields of perfect living.

The longer we remain on this treadmill, the greater the chance that our ever-expanding borrowing will jeopardize even the fundamental needs for security that we first attempted to cover. Unfortunately, it also restricts our ability to provide for the necessity of advancing the work of the Lord as well. Perhaps the few dollars collected at church are so few because so many are going to service the debt we accumulate as we trust in what we can accumulate instead of what God provides for our security. Once ensnared in these spidery webs of debt and interest, it can be very hard to break free.

Some might say that the more they have, the more they can do for the Lord. This can be true if what they have is given them as a blessing from God. It is even an expectation in that case. However, if it is the result of ever increasing debt and entrapment, God has never endorsed such a plan for furthering His work. Search as we might, we will never find one word of scripture where we are told it is necessary to go into debt to carry forward God’s work. Instead, we are told that God will take care of our needs.7 This extends even to our work for Him. As one author has put it, “All His biddings are enablings.”8

Perhaps we should understand the importance of our example in this area. When we place our trust in easy credit to provide for our needs, others may think that we have what we do because we are blessed by God. When they try to accumulate a similar standard of living, not knowing the trap we have fallen into, they may also be led into the same snare and become lost to the needs of the gospel as well. Our example is the greatest witness we have. Whom does our lifestyle say we are depending on? Who will others end up depending on if they emulate us?

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  1. Matthew 25:31-46
  2. Revelation 12:17 KJV
  3. Ibid., chapters 2-3
  4. Ibid., 3:17
  5. Ibid., vs. 20
  6. Ibid, vs. 16
  7. Psalm 81:10
  8. Christ’s Object Lessons, E. G. White, p. 333
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First Things First! (Haggai) — 15 Comments

  1. Thank you for the great lesson on the stewardship aspect of the prophecy. I also see the need to look after our spiritual 'selves' as temples of God. Our lifestyles push us to the extreme trying to take care of our external needs at expense of the essential spiritual needs. We need to reconsider our priorities. Thank God for His Word!

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  2. History repeats itself. The Israelites neglected to attend to God’s temple in Haggai’s era. Sadly we’re doing the same thing. The only difference: the temple in our time is men and women (2 Corinthians 6:16) who are hungry and thirsty for the bread and water of life; those who are “naked” and in need of the white robe of righteousness in Christ; and those who are in the prison of addiction (mainly of porn, alcohol and cigarettes.) We are sitting on a gold mine and not sharing. Jesus can set these people free, but, as brilliantly stated in this article, we’re too busy attending to our personal "needs" of fluff and comfort that we forget our primary mission of our lives here on this earth. Also worth noting, time is what life is made of. It’s much easier for some to write a check than to dedicate their quality time serving their church as a deacon or deaconess (in fact we see this in our local church.) God help us!

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  3. That is present truth for us.
    We fall in the trap.
    If we put Gods work first there is hope.
    But if that mean to give money to the church, that church buildings have luxus, and pastors become like lawyers: lieing to serve you, than it is also bad.
    So if the real need of Church is for spiritual food not just a new clima, than we can still focus first on church and give our selfs in serving a need for Word of God for the church.
    I think there is greater need for Word in church than for money.

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  4. Thank you for this great article, as always you have given me food for thought. I am always reminded that God will supply all my needs. Our wants is what gets us in the "keeping up with the Jones' " entrapment. This is a tool satan uses to sabotage the spreading of the Gospel.

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  5. Thank you Mr. Terry for your thoughtfull words. I was reading proverb 11:17 and 18 and 24 and 25. I believe what is written in the bible. Old and New, and I allways try and remember 1 Cor 13:8-13. Its the Lord that gives us the ability to have wealth and add no sorry with it. We all have a calling and Haggai was to rebuild the Temple, just as Jesus was to seek and save those that are Lost.

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  6. Stephen, I can certainly give a hearty amen to everything you say about debt and the relation it has to supporting the church. To me it has become one of the biggest curses of our time and credit cards are at the top of the list.

    While I give my wholehearted support to what you say about our stewardship I do think there is a big difference between the situation the Jews were in while building the temple in Jerusalem and what we are faced with today. We are, for the most part, not under a continuing threat of violence over building a church with a significant number of discouraging voices from within the church telling us all the wrong, depressing things. We generally spend for pleasure without any pressure whatsoever to do so. We spend on ourselves because we want to and choose to forget that as Christians we have other obligations outside of ourselves that demand our attention.

    The Jews of Haggai's time were working under very discouraging, depressing circumstances to the point that they even questioned the timing of Jeremiah's prophesy (Hag 1:2). It wasn't as though they didn't have any desire to build the temple or to give means for its construction but that discouragement came from just about every quarter and that will shut down just about anyone.

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    • Actually Tyler, while the circumstances might be not exactly the same, the result is. Self is placed above God by serving our supposed "needs" ahead of serving God's needs in the person of those in need around us. There are many different ways to serve self and the Tempter has 1,000 more for every unwary soul.

      The message of Haggai includes "consider your ways". Paul echos this thought in urging all to "examine yourselves". Jesus tells Laodicea their condition is not what they believe it to be. Why are they deceived into thinking all is well? Perhaps from focusing on and believing the positive reports of advancement, whatever they might be, while ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit within. Trusting in God means to accept His "reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness", and submitting to His transforming power.

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  7. Stephen, you have tackled many of the issues related to church, money, and time. Church and money are uneasy bed-fellows. On the one hand we want impressive, successful inviting churches that stand out like a beacon in the community, and on the other hand we want to be generous in serving the Lord.

    I have recently completed a retirement holiday to Tasmania. I could not help noting how many communities had fine old churches. Many of them were on the heritage list because they have survived for so long. Some had fine stone work, beautiful stained glass windows and even working pipe organs. There were also fine old wooden buildings, built out of timbers that you can no longer get in the sort of quantity that you make buildings from them. Some had been made into community centres, some were museums, others had been ingeniously made into homes. None of them had congregations. They are simply relics of a bygone era. Maybe we need to think carefully about our Christianity or it too will be part of past history. Could we possibly have Christianity without expensive buildings (and administative structures)?

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    • I hope we can discover likenesses that are shared by Christianity and Adventism. When looking on our present situation with all degrees and doctors of theology, I remember from history that SDA ministers were educated "for the mission" and not academicaly. Now my head is spinning from all those scholary titles. Then there's money and power to spend it. Even in our local congregation with litle money, lay peoples are no different in attitude.

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  8. Pastor Terry, praise God for your inspiring text. I have personally experienced the danger of debt addiction over the years, after ignoring a pastor whom I believe God sent specifically for me that day, to deliver a strong sermon imploring god's children to desist from chronic money borrowing. I have come to realize that we are quick to think ahead of our God - the provider, so that we help him to plan for tomorrow, in case he fails, or forgets, through money borrowing. The lord's prayer is seemingly fading away from our memory "give us this day our daily bread" that we plan for the future and end up consuming even what would have belonged to God, thus ending up in anxiety, worry, depression and finally bankrupt, both physically and spiritually. May God forgive and help us.

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    • Well said, my brother!! Your remark reminded me of this good ole song:

      I don't know about tomorrow;
      I just live from day to day.
      I don't borrow from its sunshine
      For its skies may turn to grey.

      I don't worry o'er the future,
      For I know what Jesus said.
      And today I'll walk beside Him,
      For He knows what is ahead.

      Many things about tomorrow
      I don't seem to understand
      But I know who holds tomorrow
      And I know who holds my hand.

      I don't know about tomorrow;
      It may bring me poverty.
      But the one who feeds the sparrow,
      Is the one who stands by me.
      And the path that is my portion
      May be through the flame or flood;
      But His presence goes before me
      And I'm covered with His blood.

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  9. I have heard the saying, "Some people are so poor, all they have is money." Could it be that the seventh church of Revelation is so poor that all it has is magnificent structures and universities and hospitals?" Pray that God wont say to us what He said to the Jews in His day, "This house is left unto you desolate." Thank you Stephen for a very interesting article.

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  10. I have really been encouraged by the many enlightening comments about this week's lesson first things first.but generally and genuinely speaking there is a tendency to neglect a common obligation like that of building a temple than an indivudual obligation like that of building your own house.

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  11. The Lord Of Glory

    Thank you for your insight into the trap of accumulating material things just to show off ones own glory rather than the glory of the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). I would like to add some further aspects on the material and spiritual side. The desire of ages is not the temple but the glory that would inhabit the temple (Haggai 2:7). God would take care of the financial situation to build such a temple (Haggai 2:8). And the blessing of God would also remedy their own bad economics (Haggai 1:6) sustaining them in their every day needs (Haggai 2:19).

    Now, when the jews were in Babylon, the temple was no more. However, the Lord revealed His glory in dreams and visions, predicting the glory of His kindgom to come (Daniel 2:44; 7:14,18,27). This was to show them that the glory of God does not depend on outward forms. So Christ was not born in a palace but His glory was revealed in a manger (Luke 2:7). Even into broken, dark and waste hearts He comes down to restore the image of God revealing His glory (2 Corinthians 4:6). We have a great God. He is the Lord of glory.

    Winfried Stolpmann

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  12. Only when we recognise God as the first one in our lives can we be freed from all spiritual, mental, psychological and social insecurities. Even though we suffer physically, we shall always have courage to do the best to our God. The church of God needs few but strong men and women to stand against the strong holds of the devil, he is almost reaching the corus in destroying the church of the most high. unfortunately, to build it, we may require a stronger messege than that of Haggai!! may God make this messege available to us through the Holly Spirit or we perish!

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