In some recent studies in Acts 11, we saw several marks of the true church of Christ. Having examined the testimony of the church at Antioch, we concluded that a true church is a converted people (having turned from sin to the Saviour), a cleaving people (continually turning from sin to the Saviour) and a conforming people (to the image of Jesus Christ). In a word, a true church is a different people.
It should come as no surprise that true believers are different. The old covenant church was explicitly given the assignment of being different: “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). The apostle Peter explicitly extended this injunction to the new covenant church: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
The word holy–stripped to its most basic definition–literally means “different.” It implies something that is significantly different. Christians, for instance, speak of the Holy Bible. By that, we mean that the Bible is a significantly different book: different from any other book ever written. (It is different, of course, because it is God’s book.)
Fundamentally, however, what is it that makes the church different? There may be several answers to that question, but the most fundamental is the Word of God. “I have given them thy word,” prayed Jesus to His Father, “and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world … Sanctify them through they truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:14, 17). The word “sanctify” means “to hallow” or “to make holy.” We are made different by the Word of God.
As the church of Jesus Christ, we are “people of the book” and this makes us different in almost every area from unbelievers. We have different morals, values, and families. We are different as employers/employees and citizens. We have different pursuits and priorities. Indeed, we are wholly different, all because the Word of God makes us different.
I am sure you would agree with me, however, that, sadly, we sometimes forget this and thus we tend to be conformed to the world. At times, we may find ourselves behaving and thinking no different than those outside of Christ. And it is at these times that we need a word from the Lord to make us different once again. We need at these times to consider our ways as we consider God’s Word.
So it was for the returned remnant as found in the opening chapter of Haggai. As noted in our previous study, they were the right people, in the right place, at the right period, concerned with the right project. However, we find that they had wrong priorities. In essence, they were no different than the surrounding peoples. As we shall see, the solution for them was a prophetic voice. (You will notice immediately the emphasis in this chapter on the Word of God–see vv. 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13.) The Word of God confronted them, convinced them and thus converted them. The result is that they behaved differently and thus they made a difference.
We too need to consider God’s Word if we will live differently and make a difference in our world. We need to hear and consider God’s Word, and thus to consider our ways, and then to ensure that our priority is right: seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We need to invest in God’s kingdom for His glory.
In this study, I want to look at what considering God’s Word will do for us. From the opening chapter of Haggai’s prophecy, we see three things that considering God’s Word will do for us: it will alert us, it will awaken us, and it will activate us. Together, let us consider our ways as we give due consideration to God’s Word. May the result be that, more than ever, we rise up and built, that we invest in the kingdom of God for His glory.
God’s Word Alerts Us
The first thing we learn from this text is that God’s Word alerted the people to a situation that needed to be rectified. Consider the historical account:
In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’S house should be built. Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways … Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD. Then spake Haggai the LORD’S messenger in the LORD’S message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD.
(Haggai 1:1-5, 12-13)
This short chapter is filled with references to God speaking and to God’s people considering His Word. As the chapter opens, God’s people have lost sight of their priorities. They are not bad people, and are not guilty of involvement in overt, gross sin. They had been called back to Jerusalem to rebuild the house of the Lord, but because of opposition they had stopped their involvement. God thus sends prophets with the challenge, “Consider My Words!” From the outset, He alerts them to the fact they had were sliding away from right priorities; they were sliding away from God.
The Word of God brings us back to reality. It reminds us of what is important, and alerts us to our lethargy. It tells us that all is not well and alerts us to the danger of a fruitless existence. Praise God for His Word!
The people of God in Haggai’s day had been bombarded with the message of the world. They had been told, in essence, that the work on God’s house could not and must not be done. The scene is set for us in the fourth and fifth chapters of Ezra:
Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time. The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me. And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them. Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me. Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings? Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.
Despite the earlier decree of Cyrus (see Ezra 1:1), a new decree was issued and this decree was backed up with muscle. The Jews in Jerusalem were forced to halt the work that God had commanded them to do. Again, they were not involved in any gross sin, but they lost sight of the Invisible One because they became so focused on their visible opposition. The result was 14 years of inactivity for the kingdom of God. They had plenty of time for their own kingdom, but God’s house lay in ruins. There was, of course, nothing inherently wrong in building their own houses, but it became a problem when they were so focused on investing energy into their own things that they lost sight of God’s priorities. Thus God sent them prophets to alert them to the fact that they were going down the wrong path.
Having been exposed to the ministries of Haggai and Zechariah, the people of God once again began working on the temple. Interestingly, as you read Ezra’s record of events, you learn that none of their circumstances changed. They were still opposed in the work, but now that the people had been exposed to the Word of God, their opponents found “that they could not cause them to cease” the work on the temple (Ezra 5:5). Within four years, the house of God was complete, all because they considered (and obeyed) the Word of God. The Word of the Lord came forth by God’s initiative to alert the people to their condition. And this is always the first step to people properly investing in the kingdom of God for His glory.
If we are serious about seeking first God’s priorities, then we may first need to be alerted–by God’s Word–to our slide. As believers, we can be in the right people, in the right place, at the right period of time, concerned with the right project, and yet we can still slide away from the love of Christ.
It is important to understand that, like the proverbial frog in the kettle, our slide away from Christ is subtle. We do not move away from Christ overnight: it happens subtly and over time. I assume that this was true of Demas, the disciple who, for his love of this present world, forsook the apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). I doubt that he just woke up one morning and decided, “I am in love with this present world.” Instead, it was doubtless a slow but sure process.
He was at one time a disciple of Paul. At first, he was seemingly hungry for God’s Word. He never missed a service or a prayer meeting. He was actively involved in ministry. But, slowly, other things began to take priority in his life. Perhaps he became successful in the business realm. The more successful he grew, the less committed he became to the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps, on the other hand, he became increasingly popular with people and gained the wrong friends. We cannot say for sure; but we can be quite sure that his slide from Christ was gradual. It was certain, however, for Paul eventually came to the point where he wrote, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.”
The spiritual slide is a danger against which we must always be guarded, and we ought to be thankful that God’s Word comes alongside us to graciously alert us to our slide.
But notice that such a slide is not only personal, as was the case with Demas. The slide can also be corporate. Consider the churches at Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) and Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). In these instances, entire churches’ began to slide from a dynamic relationship with Christ.
Let me beseech you to watch for danger signs in your own life. Perhaps you too may slide spiritually. And so your quiet time ceases to be a priority. There was a time when you were daily in God’s Word and in prayer, but that has now changed. It wasn’t always easy, but you used to discipline yourself; that discipline has now faded. Perhaps there was a time when the midweek prayer meeting of the church was a priority to you, but that is no longer the case. You are no longer interested in your church’s Sunday school, or in the Sunday evening services. Sunday mornings form part of your schedule … if you can fit them in. Perhaps you make the decision to forego tithing for one month, and pretty soon that month turns into another, and another, and another, so that pretty soon your neglect to tithe has become a pattern. Perhaps a little dishonesty in the workplace results in a little more money, which results in more dishonesty, which results in more money, and eventually dishonesty has become a habit.
The details may work themselves out differently, but we must acknowledge that we are always in a spiritual battle, and there is always something else vying for our attention. The world, the flesh and the devil will always seek to cause you to slide away from Christ. You may perhaps remain in the right place, but your priorities have become skewed. It is at such times that we need to hear, “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Consider your ways.'”
Let me suggest further that we need this word continually. In Ezra 5, we are told that the people obeyed the Word of God and that “with them were the prophets of God helping them” (v. 2). Haggai and Zechariah did not preach a once-off sermon and then disappear into obscurity. No, the prophets stayed with them throughout the project, because they understood that the people would continually need the Word of God to guide them in their obedience.
In like manner, we need a prophetic, corporate reminder from God about where our priorities ought to lay. In the light of this truth, we cannot underestimate the need for corporate fellowship, worship and instruction. Consider the charge given to us by the author of Hebrews:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
The author could see that some of his readers were being tempted to slide from Christ. Not wanting them to apostatise, he urged them not to forsake their corporate assembly. They needed corporate fellowship around the Word to God to exhort them to remain faithful to Christ. For the initial readers, it was a very timely challenge, for as the time of Jerusalem’s destruction (“the day”) drew closer, it became far more difficult to live faithfully for Christ. But the tougher things became, the more corporate exposure they needed to the Word of God.
In the same way that Israel needed a call to arms, so we need the weekly, corporate trumpet call of God’s Word to call us to spiritual arms.
Significantly, the leaders are also shown here to be in need of this trumpet call. Over and over again, both in Ezra and in Haggai, you read of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and of Joshua the son of Josedech. These are not names that we can simply gloss over: they are noted as frequently as they are because they were the leaders of God’s people. These leaders needed God’s Word as much as the people did. Both the leaders and the people needed the corporate reminder from the prophets of what was important. And so it is today.
Having said all of this, let me suggest to you that, as important as it is to be alerted by God’s Word, that is not enough. Cain was confronted by God’s Word, yet he still committed murder. Israel herself was confronted again and again by God’s Word, yet she still fell away. Peter was alerted by Jesus Himself to watch and pray, yet he fell away. David warned Solomon time and again about spiritual danger, yet Solomon still slid. The rich young ruler was alerted by Christ’s Word, yet he went away sorrowful, unwilling to part with his riches. The principle is clear: The Word of God must produce something deeper if we will ruse up and do work in the house of the Lord. This leads us to our next point.
God’s Word Awakens Us
The people having been alerted by God’s Word to their slide, we now read, “And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (v. 14).
The word translated “stirred up” literally means “to awaken.” More significant than their being alerted to their skewed priorities is the fact that God’s Word awakened them to reprioritise. The result was that “they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God.” The Word had a lasting effect in their lives, and it is powerful enough to do the same for us. Not only must we be alerted to our slide, but we must also be awakened by God to see what is important. Praise God when He does this!
We must understand that the Words of God are not in and of themselves effective in changing us. That is, we are not changed simply by sitting and passively listening to or reading the Word. No, something must accompany the Word if a lasting change will be made. The Spirit of God must stir our spirit if change will result; God Himself must open our eyes to the Word and the Word to our eyes. Many people go to church week in and week out, being alerted to their condition by God’s Word, yet who are still outside of Christ. They have been alerted, but not awakened, and no lasting change is evidenced in their lives.
God’s Word–attended by the moving of His Spirit–is powerful to change us. It can change our perspective, our priorities and our pursuits. We must, therefore, be exposed to it. Paul makes this absolutely clear, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Peter added that we are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23). James’ testimony can be added to this: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:17-18). The principle is wonderfully illustrated in Ezekiel 37:
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD.
As believers and local churches, we need a Spirit-anointed awakening. Of that there is no doubt. But the question now becomes, What is it that we need to be awakened to? I would suggest from our text that we need to be awakened to at least four things if we will be serious about investing in His kingdom for His glory.
Awakened to God’s Worth
First, we must be awakened to a vision of God’s glory. Without this, we will never have a sustained involvement in seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Consider how important this was for Haggai’s contemporaries. Whilst their own houses were beautifully constructed, they were content to let God’s house lie in ruins (v. 4). It was essential for the temple to be rebuilt if God would be glorified (v. 8). Thankfully–by God’s grace–the people were awakened to God’s worth, for having heard Haggai’s prophecy, they “did fear before the LORD” (v. 12).
When we are awakened to God’s worth, the natural outflow will be obedience in seeking His kingdom. When Isaiah was exposed to God’s glory, he cried aloud, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” But the result of exposure to God’s glory was positive: “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:1-8). Similarly, when we see something of God’s glory, we will invest in that in which He commands us to invest.
If we will be excited about investing in God’s kingdom for His glory, then we must pray for His Spirit to awaken us to His worth. C. H. Spurgeon understood something of this truth.
The gospel is preached in the ears of all; it only comes with power to some. The power that is in the gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher; otherwise men would be converters of souls. Nor does it lie in the preacher’s learning; otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were mysterious power going with it–the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. O Sirs! we might as well preach to stone walls as to preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.
Seeing God’s glory helps us to see our greed and to set proper goals. Only God’s Word, attended by His Spirit, can awaken us to this! As Solomon said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18). The ESV translates it a little differently, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” The principle is simply this: if we have no prophetic vision of the glory of God, we will waste our lives.
It is only as God’s Word focuses us on His worth that we will sacrifice for the sake of His kingdom. How else do you explain missionaries who leave behind all they know and love to travel to another land with the gospel of Christ? How else do you explain materially poor believers who nevertheless tithe and give offerings faithfully in their local churches? How else do you explain suffering believers who remain joyful and hopeful in their adversity? How else do you explain believers faithfully involving themselves in oft-discouraging local church ministry? Surely the only explanation is a great vision of God’s glory?
Indeed, seeing God’s glory helps us to invest in His work. We need therefore to pray for a vision of His glory, to pursue it and, once it has been granted to us, to preserve it.
The people in Haggai’s day needed to be awakened to the glory of the temple, which was the meeting place of God. The physical building was not so much the issue: the issue was that it was where God’s people met. In similar fashion, believers today need to be awakened to the glory of the church, which is the Body of Christ. But ultimately, we need to be awaked to the fact that the church is glorious only because of the glory of Christ.
Awakened to God’s Work
The second fact to which we need to be awakened is that we are involved in God’s work. Hear Haggai’s message to the people: “I am with you, saith the LORD” (v. 13). Again, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (2:4).
The Lord encouraged the people that it was not their work in which He expected them to get involved. The work to which He commanded them did not depend on human means, for it was God’s work and He would ensure that it be brought to completion. As Haggai’s contemporary would say, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Simply put, if the people obeyed they would succeed. God’s Word focused them on the fact that the work of God was just that: the work of God. It would succeed.
We should take heart from God’s Word concerning His kingdom. Jesus said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). It was in light of this assurance that He gave the Great Commission, which He ended with these encouraging words: “and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
I am convinced that one reason many churches are not excited about missions is because they believe we are doomed to failure. All we can do, they say, is circle our wagons and pray for the rapture to deliver us. But the Bible teaches that God’s kingdom is advancing, and that we can therefore be (successfully) involved in kingdom expansion for the glory of God. We can therefore invest everything we have in that, knowing that God’s work will succeed.
I understand why people often have such a hard time with the doctrines of grace. Many cannot bring themselves to affirm God’s unconditional election because, if they do, they have no way of knowing whether or not their loved ones are elect. It is emotionally easier to believe that salvation is partly the work of God and partly the work of man.
But we should actually thank God that salvation is completely His work! And He has given us wonderful promises in this regard. He has promised that He will save His people. We can therefore preach the gospel confidently, knowing that God’s work will succeed. He has promised Christian parents that, if they raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, they can expect their children to be saved. Let’s not question how this fits into God’s election; let us simply obey Him and raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord! If salvation were our work we could be sure it would fail; but we can be sure it will not fail, for it is God’s work.
Awakened to God’s Wealth
Third, we must be constantly awake to the reality of God’s ownership and our stewardship. This is a constant theme in Scripture, which must hit home. Consider God’s words to those in Haggai’s day:
Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes … Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.
(Haggai 1:6, 9-11)
As we saw in our previous study, the people were more concerned about God’s priorities than they were about their own. The result was that the more they worked the less they had. But notice the underlying rebuke here: the people were using God’s possessions to build their kingdom. They were panelling their houses with God’s wood. They were spending money they owed to God on their own luxuries. The result is that, when God chastened them, He touched those things that they thought were their own. Everything they had belonged to God, and He would now take from them the things that they were abusing. In the second chapter of this prophecy, God makes this truth even plainer:
The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts … And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the LORD: Since those days were, when one came to an heap of twenty measures, there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty. I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the LORD. Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the LORD’S temple was laid, consider it. Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.
(Haggai 2:8-9, 15-19)
The people were excusing their disobedience by the claim that they did not have the silver and gold to make the temple as magnificent as Solomon’s. But God would not allow them to use that excuse: He owned all the silver and gold in the world and thus there was no funding problem whatsoever.
There is an important principle here for us: God owns all, and we owe all. The Bible is quite clear on God’s ownership of all things: “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 50:10-12). But Scripture is equally clear on the fact that we owe God everything:
- Matthew 19:21-23–“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
- Matthew 16:24-26–“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
- Luke 14:33–“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
I recently read the story of a wealthy merchantman, in the 1800s, who came to faith in Christ. He soon became famous for giving away large amounts of his wealth. Someone one day commented to him that it was quite a sacrifice he was making to give such amounts of money away. The merchantman replied, “Sacrifice? Before I was saved, I thought that I owned everything I have. But now I realise that all my possessions belong to God and I am just His trustee. I now give to Him what He asks for.”
That is how we ought to look at our physical possessions. We own nothing that we have. Instead, we owe all that we have to God. When God’s Word awakens us, it delivers us from selfishness, ungratefulness and an idolatrous worldly value system. Paul tells us in Romans 1:16-17 that the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation to all who believe. He adds in vv. 18-23 that many people reject the light of the gospel, and details the devolution of man when he rejects this light. Interestingly, the first result of people rejecting the gospel is that “they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful” (v. 21). Ungratefulness is the first evidence of a heart that rejects God and ignores the Word and Spirit of God. This in turn leads men to worship the creature rather than the Creator. Simply stated, ungratefulness leads to idolatry. Only the gospel of Christ can deliver us from such unthankfulness and idolatry.
When we lose sight of God’s worth, we will soon delude ourselves into believing that all we have is our own and that we have achieved what we have by our own merit. But God’s Word can awaken us to the reality that it is all of God’s grace. If God’s Word does not awaken us to this reality, then we will hoard what belongs to God and His “temple” will lie in ruins.
In short, we must be willing to give absolutely everything to God. It is not likely that He will ask for everything, but we must be willing to give it all nonetheless. We must come to the end of ourselves and realise afresh that we are totally dependent on God.
A willingness to give all to God will only result from a divine awakening. The reason that we are not always willing to give it all is because we doubt God’s promise that He will take care of us. But when God awakens us, we will trust Him more. The result is that we will be willing to give to Him the money that we have laid aside for weddings, education or retirement, trusting Him to meet our needs.
Let me now challenge you to ask the question, What am I doing with God’s wealth? Is it properly located, or are you investing only in your own desires? What did the Israelites do with the material wealth that they received when leaving Egypt? Did they not invest it in the wilderness to build the tabernacle? Did David not lay up treasures in order to build the temple, even though he would never see it built with his own eyes? We need a similar commitment to laying up for God’s kingdom.
Many Christians object to the principle of tithing. There are those who claim that tithing is an Old Testament expectation; that new covenant believers are nowhere commanded to tithe. Whilst I am convinced that tithing is a biblical expectation for the new covenant church, I am equally convinced that it is only the starting point in our stewardship. The fact of the matter is that most reading this ought probably to be giving far more than 10% to the work of God’s kingdom. This is certainly true of the majority of our church membership, and I would assume that it is true of many others reading this. We need the Spirit of God to change our value system by showing us the wealth of Christ.
Awakened to God’s Will
We can summarise it all by saying that God’s Word awakens us most basically to God’s will. Oh how we need this enlightenment! Hear how David praised and loved God’s Word:
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Or as it is written in another psalm, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103). Let us pray that God would awaken us, by His powerful Word, to what really matters–before it is too late!
God’s Word Activates Us
Again, consider the result of God’s alerting and awakening Word through Haggai and Zechariah: “and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (v. 14). It was God’s Word, attended by His Spirit, that first activated the people to return from exile to Jerusalem and commence the building of the temple (Ezra 1:5), and it was God’s Word, once again attended by His Spirit, that activated the people of Haggai’s time to continue work on the temple. Once the people had been awakened, they immediately set about doing what God expected of them.
Like Lazarus, once we are awakened we need to get moving. God’s Word accomplishes this. It gets us moving and keeps us moving. It confronts us, convinces us and then converts us. We are changed by the Word to do what God expects.
God’s message truly moved these people. They were not merely stirred, but changed. And the change continued as the Word continued to accompany them throughout the project (Ezra 5:1-2). In sum, we might say that their actions gave proof that they truly heard God’s Word.
Considering God’s Word always makes a difference in our lives. It alters us. Anyone who hears God’s Word will be activated.
We should be realistic, however, and understand that if we truly hear God’s Word, it will cost us. A good illustration of this truth is recorded in Acts 19:
And many that believed [in Ephesus] came, and confessed, and showed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
“Fifty thousand pieces of silver” was an enormous amount of money, but the people were willing to sacrifice this because they had been changed, activated by God’s Word. If we are truly alerted and awakened by God’s Word in our churches, the evidence will be clearly seen. Our offerings will increase; our ministries will not be understaffed; our services will be full; our worship will be intense and meaningful; our ministries will expand and increase. All of this is costly, but it the result of God’s activating Word in our lives. If we truly hear God’s Word, then God’s kingdom will be extended. Simply stated, those awakened to Christ will be active for Christ.
God’s Word Makes Us Accountable
As we bring this study to a close, we must recognise the fact that God’s Word makes us accountable. Having studied God’s Word, you can be sure that God holds you accountable to His truth. You cannot claim that God did not alert, awaken or activate you: you are accountable to obey.
May we, like those to whom Haggai ministered, hear the Word of God and thus come to do work in the house of the Lord our God.