The book of Haggai is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament, but I find that it contains a powerful message for my life as a marketplace believer in contemporary society despite being written thousands of years from our present era.
Haggai was a prophet who spoke God’s words to the people of Israel 16 years after the return from exhile in Babylon. It contains very specific references allowing it to be dated during Sept. to Dec. in 520 BC. At this time, the nation of Israel was at an important junture. The returning exiles had prospered, leveraging their trading relationships in the Persian empire to build themselves luxury homes, and living well for that time. But God used Haggai to rebuke the people for not making the effort to complete the rebuilding of the temple:
- Haggai 1:4 “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?”
How may we apply these words today? First, despite our current economic worries, we need to recognize that contemporary American society is one of the most affluent both in the world today and which has ever existed in all of history. Today dual-income families, and even the working middle class, live in luxurious homes filled with gadgets that provide convenience and entertainment previous generations could hardly have imagined. Travel in private vehicles is easily available to most, and we can instantly communicate electronically worldwide at the touch of a button.
Yet these blessings of God have often become our masters — taking up way too much of our time from relationships with our families and friends, and encouraging excess debt to compete with “the Jones.” Even electronic devices can be misused to waste our lives with mindless entertainment or enslave our minds with sexual images or violent video games. Similar to our current economic and social confusion, as a consequence of the people’s misplaced priorities, Haggai told them that God was limiting their economic prosperity:
- Haggai 1:6 You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”
With our resources tied up to feed our excessive debt, giving by church-goers to the cause of Christ has declined to an average of less than 3 percent of income. In fact, the report “The State of Church Giving through 2009” (see Figure 1) noted:
Giving has not kept up with income… In 1916, Protestants were giving 2.9% of their incomes to their churches. In 1933, the depth of the Great Depression, it was 3.2%. In 1955, just after affluence began spreading through our culture, it was still 3.2%. By 2007, when Americans were over 582% richer, after taxes and inflation, than in the Great Depression, Protestants were giving 2.5% of their incomes to their churches.
As a consequence, churches often lack the resources to reach outside their own congregation or fund mercy ministries. Instead, church resources are mostly locked up in maintenance of their buildings and staff salaries. Without resources to convey biblical teaching to those outside the church, society is following the downward spiral outlined in Romans 1 — family structures degrade, and selfish greed becomes normative. What is the solution to this crisis? I suggest that Christian men and women in the marketplace need to be mobilized to provide both economic resources and courageous spiritual leadership.
Now, in our current era, we no longer have a physical temple to build, but a spiritual one. The founding Apostles of Jesus Christ, even before the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by a Roman army in 70 AD, saw the people of God as the true Temple that God was building. The Apostle Paul wrote:
- Eph. 2:19-22 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
To address the resource deficiency of his day, Haggai called the people to rethink their priorities, and make the investments of time and resources necessary to complete the task:
- Haggai 1:7-8 Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the Lord.
We would do well to heed Haggai’s word today. First, we need to revise our way of thinking about the purpose of our lives. The reason we work is to bring glory to God’s kingdom and not our own. The Westminster confession well defines reason for our life: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Haggai calls each of us to use our time and resources to build the church – a unified body of believers that transcend denominational differences and distinctions. Some of us can do more than others, but no one is exempt.
The Christian Business Man’s Connection (CBMC) in Montgomery County MD is seeking men whose hearts respond to Haggai’s call:
1. “Go up to the mountain” — Take the time to seek God and His will for your life. Is He calling you to use your business experience to serve Him? What place of influence do you have in the marketplace where the church will never reach?
2. “Bring wood” — Wood may have been the basic building material in Haggai’s day, but in today’s temple it is people. We all touch people in the marketplace daily that might never venture to visit a church on Sunday morning. Ask God to show you how to bring them to consider the gospel of Jesus Christ. Join with fellow Christian business men to pray for our lost friends and create outreach events that would attract their interest. The Apostle Peter called believers “livings stones” for a spiritual house:
- 1 Peter 2:4-5 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
3. “Rebuild the Temple” — Using basic small group bible study and discipleship material like CBMC’s “Operation Timothy” curriculum, encourage marketplace believers to grow in the Lord. Develop your own understanding so that you will “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2Tim. 2:15).
If we work together in this way, God “may be pleased with it and be glorified” — even in the midst of our broken and rebellious society.