What Is God Worth To You?
Haggai 1:1-9
Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Who is Haggai? And what does he have to do with us improving our church building?

Well, we know that Haggai was a prophet, and we know that he preached to the Jewish people who returned to Jerusalem after being in exile in Babylon. And besides the fact that Haggai emerged on the scene in 520 B.C., we know little else about this man. We do not even know who his parents are, since he is merely referred to as "the prophet ", both in his own book and in Ezra(Hag.1:1; Ezra 5:1).

To understand the message of Haggai, it is important that we first understand the context in which Haggai was addressing the Jewish people.

Sixteen years before his arrival, in 536 B.C., the Persian emperor Cyrus had issued a decree permitting the Jewish exiles in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple which had been destroyed(Ezra 1:2-4). In response to this decree, about 50,000 people returned under the leadership of the newly appointed governor of Judah, Zerubbabel(also called "Shesbazzar"; Ezra 5:14), and Joshua, the high priest.

The 50,000 settled near Jerusalem and began the temple restoration. They cleared the temple court of rubble and replaced the altar of burnt offerings to make it possible for daily sacrifices to resume(Ezra 3:2).

Then the troubles began. Cyrus of Persia died in battle, and his successor, Ahasuerus(Ezra 4:6), was urged to stop the Jews from rebuilding their temple. As the opposition against the temple restoration mounted, the Jews eventually ceased their work on the temple and became used to worshipping among its ruins.

We don't have to speculate too hard to understand what the Jewish people were thinking at the time. Verse two gives us insight into how they perceived this opposition. The opposition against them rebuilding the temple was so great that they concluded that it must not be the Lord's will to rebuild the temple now.

To correct this thinking, the Lord called Haggai, in the year 520 B.C., to challenge the Jewish people to finish the work of restoring the temple.

As is the case with many of God's prophets, Haggai's opening address is piercing: "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses while this house lies in desolate? "(v.4).

God was accusing the people of having plenty of time and money to spend on themselves, while they claimed not to have enough time for God's service.

Notice who Haggai is addressing here. We don't read in the text, "Is it time for the Board of Managers to live well while God's house is neglected?". We don't read in the text, "Is it time for the minister to live well while God's house is neglected?". Haggai does not centre out individuals or committees in his rebuke--Haggai challenges everyone to make the Lord's house a priority.

And Haggai's reference to "paneled houses " should not merely convict the people of Haggai's day, but it should also pierce the conscience of many Christians today. What Haggai states in verse 4 is true of Christians everywhere--especially in North America. Looking after our place of worship has become secondary to looking after our own homes. The evidence of this is not difficult to find. Anyone who has been to a "Home Depot" can attest to how seriously the people of our day take home improvement.

We must ask ourselves the obvious question: Are we honouring God by the way we treat our place of worship? It is true, this place is hardly in ruins as the Jewish temple was, but the principle of the text still applies to us--Is the state of our home more important than the state of our place of worship?

The people who returned to Jerusalem did not sin by looking after their homes, they sinned by neglecting their place of worship. Their sin was inverted priorities. In the same way, it is not a sin to have a big, beautiful home. And it is not a sin to work hard looking after that home. What is a sin, however, is when we fail to treat our place of worship with the same care as we treat our own home.

Haggai, in verse 9, repeats the complaint of the Lord, "My house . . . lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house ".

There are many beautiful aspects of this church, and on a pragmatic level, this church is dutifully maintained. Yet, at the same time, there are obvious discrepancies between the quality we find here in our church and the quality we find in our home.

Think, for example, of the washroom--would you be content having that washroom in your home? What about the basement? What about the kitchen? Or let me pose the question this way: If Queen Elizabeth was scheduled to visit this church, let's say, in 3 months, would we make any changes to the quality of our church? I think we would. Well, I reckon that God visits us every Sunday and that should be reason enough to keep our church in immaculate condition.

Unfortunately, the attitude that "anything is good enough for the church" has become both acceptable and commonplace in our day. Haggai spoke to this attitude in 520 B.C. and he still speaks to it in 1998.

It is a common thing to spend our money and our time on things that are important to us. The implication is that the state of our church building reflects how much, or how little, we value God.

There was a time when I used to think the millions spent on Cathedrals was a waste of money, yet it occurred to me later in life that God actually commanded the people of Israel to spend this kind of money on His temple. A beautiful, majestic church is meant to give a reflection of our beautiful and majestic God. One of the ways we communicate to the world how much God means to us is by the way we look after our church building.

So why are we like this then? Why haven't we prioritized God's work and God's building? Haggai gives us the answer: "Consider your ways! You have planted much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is never 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 in a purse with holes "(v.5, 6).

I can think of no better passage than this at describing the feverish, yet ineffective, activity of our own age. When Haggai talks about people who had "planted much " but had "harvest(ed) little ", I recognize that he is also rebuking many of us.

The people that Haggai describes sound a lot like the people in our day--people who take on extra jobs, people who work through lunch, people who work into the night--people who are always rushing to get ahead. Yet, what often is the case is that we don't get further ahead. We are like the person in the Pennsylvania Dutch expression: "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get". Rather than getting ahead in a race, we find ourselves sprinting on a treadmill to nowhere.

Besides those whom Haggai describes as working much, but accomplishing little, he also describes the people as chronically dissatisfied. Regardless of their abundance, no one seems to have enough.

Is this not again a picture of our age? We buy another car, we buy a new house, we buy more furniture, we buy more food, we go on more vacations . . . Yet the people of this age remain unsatisfied.

Why are we unsatisfied? Would you be surprised to hear that the Bible is full of examples where God prevents us from receiving satisfaction from things , in order that we might turn and seek satisfaction from serving Him ? As Psalm 106 puts it, "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul "(Ps. 106:15).

If you ever experience dissatisfaction--and I think we all do--question where your efforts are being spent. Haggai reminds us of the futility of serving ourselves if we are neglecting God.

If it is a true statement to say that we spend our time and money on things we value, we must examine then, the use of our time and our money. We must ask ourselves, "What is God worth to me?".

Our actions answer this question for us. The percentage of our spare time spent with God gives us an indication of what God is worth to us. The percentage of our income which we give for God's ministry gives us an indication of what God is worth to us. And as a church, the condition of our building says a great deal to the people of our town about just how much our God is worth to us.

No doubt, we will all claim that God is worth a great deal to us. No doubt, the people in Haggai's day claimed that God was worth a great deal to them. But, as Haggai did many years ago, I must challenge you also--let us show the world what God is worth to us. Let us continue to build a beautiful church. Let us build so that the Lord "may be pleased with it and be glorified " by our dedication to Him(v.8). Amen.