Recently in my own personal devotions I was reading through the book of Haggai the prophet and as I did so I was reminded of how relevant his message is for the Church today. Although directed to God’s people some 2,500 years ago and intended to address a specific situation at that time, Haggai’s message is nevertheless timeless in its relevance because the spiritual issues and problems that he had to deal with in his day tend to recur in every generation of the Church. And so I decided to endeavor to preach this message to you.
Haggai is one of the shortest books of the Bible and is included in that body of Biblical literature that is known as the Minor Prophets. He is one of the prophets of the Restoration, the other two being Zechariah and Malachi and what we mean by that is he ministered to the people of God after their return from exile in Babylon. As such he was one of the last prophetic voices to be heard before the coming of Christ. Unlike most of the prophets Haggai had the joy of seeing his ministry produce positive results among the people of God. There was a great spiritual awakening, a spiritual revival under his ministry and that being the case it is an encouraging book to study. It shows us what can happen when God’s Word is faithfully preached and when God’s Spirit begins to work in the hearts of God’s people.
It is my prayer that as we study this book together God the Holy Spirit will work in each of our hearts as he worked in the hearts of the people in Haggai’s day and that He will both challenge us and more importantly change us in those areas of our lives where change is needed.
Haggai was sent by God to minister to a people who had fallen into a state of Spiritual apathy. Apathy came from the Latin word “apathia” and from the Greek word “apatheia.” A – without and pathos – feeling…it means lack of feeling or lack of interest. If you’re going to put it in the context of the Christian life, it means lack of interest to spiritual things.
The question you might ask me is, “What are some of the signs, what are the evidences that such was the spiritual state of Christians today?”
Well the first evidence was that
1) GOD’S WORK IS BEING NEGLECTED
Now in order to see this we need to understand something of the historical context of Haggai’s message. In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar invaded and overthrew Jerusalem. The city was raised to the ground and the temple was completely destroyed. God’s people were taken into Babylon as captives and there they remained for seventy years. The exile was God’s judgment upon the people for their sins. It was a time of great sorrow for God’s people. A time when they felt cut off from God and could no longer worship him as they had formerly done. Their mood is summed up in Psalm 137 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs…they said “sing us one of the songs of Zion” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” However although God punished them by means of the exile, he did not abandon them. He had promised that their captivity would not be permanent but would last for seventy years after which time they would be able to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple, offer sacrifices once again and restore Jerusalem.
In 536 BC the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians and their King, Cyrus, issued an edict giving permission to the Jews to return to Jerusalem with the express purpose of rebuilding the temple of the Lord – Ezra 1:1ff
About 50,000 Jews took up the offer and under the leadership of Zerubabel, the political leader and Joshua, the religious leader, they returned to Jerusalem amid scenes of great joy. It was a dream come true – “When Zion’s bondage God turned back as men that dreamed were we, then filled with laughter was our mouth our tongues with melody. They ‘mong the heathen said the Lord great things for them hath wrought; The Lord hath done great things for us whence joy to us is brought.” Soon after their arrival they began work on the rebuilding of the temple. They cleared away the rubble from the temple court, rebuilt the altar of burnt offerings and recommenced the offering of daily sacrifice once again. By the following spring they had laid the foundation of the temple and there was great celebration in Jerusalem at that time. That, however is when they began to run into problems. The Samaritans, those who had been left behind at the time the greater part of the nation were taken into Babylon and who since then had intermarried with the heathen and adopted their forms of worship, they came offering to help in the rebuilding project. Their offer was refused and they out of spite proceeded to do all that they could to frustrate the building work. They terrorized the people. They wrote letters to the authorities and eventually succeeded in getting the work stopped. The people of God became discouraged, their initial zeal waned, they no longer had any heart for the work and the temple lay unfinished. In the years that followed the people became increasingly concerned about their own personal affairs and for the next 14 years the work on the temple was neglected. The Work of rebuilding the temple should have been their top priority, that after all was the reason why they had been sent back to Jerusalem, but the work had been abandoned and with the passage of time the people became more and more apathetic towards the work.
This then was the first evidence of Spiritual apathy among the people – God’s Work was being neglected.
And this is one of the first signs, one of the first evidences of spiritual apathy in the life of an individual believer or in the life of a congregation of God’s people – the work of God is neglected.
Just as God had a great work for the people to do in Haggai’s day, the work of building His temple, so too he has called us to undertake a great work for him, a building work, a work of raising a holy temple to the Lord. Only the temple that we are called to raise is not a temple made out of bricks and mortar but a temple that is composed of the living stones of men and women and boys and girls who have been saved by the grace of God. The temple of the Old Testament was a type of Christ and of his Church. You remember what Jesus said to the Jews in John 2:19 “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” And how it goes on to say that “the temple he had spoken of was his body” And here on this earth the Church is the body of Christ and as such God’s spiritual temple in this world. This is what Peter affirms when speaking about believers in his first epistle chapter 2:5 he says “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” He is using the analogy there of the temple.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone around which all the other stones are built. As each sinner comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ another brick is as it were added to that spiritual edifice that God is raising in this world.
The apostle Paul uses the same temple analogy on a number of occasions in his writings. In Ephesians 2:20 he describes believers as those who have been “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief corner stone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
In 2 Cor. 6:16 he likens believers to the temple of God when he says “what agreement is there between the temple of God and idols. For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said I will live with them and walk among them and I will be their God and they will be my people.”
And one aspect of the work to which you and I, both individually and corporately, are called by God in our day and generation is the work of building up this spiritual temple; of seeing sinners being saved and added to the Church. Now of course we cannot save anyone. We cannot add anyone to the Church as such, but we can be and we are meant to be instrumental in doing so by reaching out to sinners with the good news of the gospel.
This is the means that God has ordained by which people will be saved. “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on the one they have not believed in and how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard. And how can they hear without someone preaching to them…faith comes by hearing the message…”
Each one of us has a duty to be involved in this work; a duty to share the gospel with others, with our family our friends, our work-mates, our fellow pupils, our neighbors. We are to do that by taking opportunities that arise, by making opportunities for ourselves, by passing on Christian literature, by encouraging them to come along and hear the gospel or whatever. But are we doing it? Are we brethren? Or is this a work that we are neglecting? It isn’t an easy work I know, but the difficulty of the task is no reason for neglecting it.
Make every opportunity to tell them how Jesus can change you and me, how Jesus can save a person’s life…
And this work for God that we are called to engage in as individuals we are also called to engage in as a congregation. We are meant to be reaching out as a Church into this community around us. We are having our cellgroups to do outreach work; that you and I should be involved with.
Oh you may not be able to go round the doors and give out literature, or you may not be able to engage someone in a conversation about spiritual things on their doorstep, or you may not feel that you could give a talk at an open air meeting but you could come along and pray for those who are out. Or you could encourage some unbelieving friend to come along to an evangelistic service with you. HINDI YUNG SA TIANGGE MO LAGING INAAYA…SA MGA GIMIK…HINDI YUNG INAAYA MO LANG YUNG MGA FRIENDS MO SA SHOWING NG NEW MOON…There are things that you could do. The real question is, “are you interested enough to do them. Have you a genuine interest in and concern for the work to which God has called you or have you over the years become apathetic to such things?”
But there is another very important work to which God has called us besides the work of building up the Church by means of reaching out with the gospel with a view to seeing sinners being saved and added to the church and that is the work of building ourselves up spiritually as believers. I have already shown you that the scriptures speak of the Church as a collective body as the temple of the Lord, but those same scriptures also speak of the individual believer as the temple of the Lord. Paul writing to the Church at Corinth in 1 Cor 3:16 says to the believers there “do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” He says the same thing a little further on in 6:19 “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you.”
And brethren God has called each one of us as Christians to engage in an ongoing spiritual building work in our own personal lives. To build up our own temple of God. To ensure that our own life is if you like a visible structure, that bears testimony to and glorifies God. The temple was a holy place and as we build our own lives we are to do so in such a way as to ensure that they are characterized by holiness. The temple was known as a place of prayer and prayer is to be an integral part of our lives. The temple was a place of worship and the worship of God is to be something that is central to our life. The temple was a place of sacrifice and we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices unto God. The temple was a place of service and we are to be men and women whose lives are given over to the service of God.
Friends God has called us to engage in this work of building up the temple of our own spiritual lives. The question is have we been applying ourselves to that work or have we been neglecting it? THERE IS A TENDENCY THAT WE CHRISTIANS CAN ONLY BE GOOD WITH OUR WORDS, THEREFORE IT IS IMPORTANT THAT AS WE SHARE GOD’S WORD WITH OUR MOUTH, OUR LIFE WILL ALSO REFLECT HOLINESS…WILL BE A LIVING WITNESS FOR CHRIST!
The first evidence of spiritual apathy is God’s Work is Neglected.
The second evidence of the spiritual apathy that prevailed among the people of God in Haggai’s day was
2) GOD’S PEOPLE ARE CONTENT.
And what I mean by that is this. With the passage of time the people who had returned to Jerusalem got used to worshipping God amidst the dilapidated surroundings of the ruined temple. They had set up the altar in what was once the temple court and day by day they brought their sacrifices by way of worshipping God. Now although they knew as they looked round them at the ruins of the temple that this was not the way it should be the fact of the matter was they were not troubled enough by the state of things to do anything about it. They were happy enough to just let things continue as they were. And whilst they initially probably had no intention of leaving things the way they were for as long as they did, 14 years as it turned out, nevertheless as time passed they quite simply got so used to their surroundings that it didn’t really bother them anymore. Had they been really concerned about the state of things they would have done something about it, but the fact of the matter was they were too content with the prevailing situation. And such contentment was an evidence of their spiritual apathy.
And you know folks as Christians we can so easily drift into that mindset. Oh we may not intend for it to happen but as time passes we can get so used to and so content with things being the way they are, that we don’t do anything to change the situation, even though we know that things are not the way they should be. WE GET USED TO LAUGHING WITH GAY TALKS, GAY JOKES AND GREEN JOKES THAT OUR OFFICEMATES ARE DOING…WE NO LONGER HAVE THAT CONVICTION THAT IF IT IS WRONG, IT’S WRONG…WE BEGIN TO COMPROMISE…WE’RE SAYING, “WELL THIS IS THE PRACTICE OF THE LAND…” BUT YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT WE ARE CHRISTIANS…CHRISTIANS GO AGAINST THE FLOW OF THIS WORLD…DAPAT IBA TAYO! HOW CAN THEY SEE CHRIST IN US IF THEY CAN SEE NO DIFFERENCE IN THE MANNER WE TALK, ACT OR DO THINGS! Remember that we are the salt of the earth…we are to contaminate this world with righteousness and not us being contaminated with worldliness…we are the light of the world…we are to bring light to those who are in darkness…we are not to be engulfed by darkness…MAY YOU AND I NEVER GET USED TO WITH THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD…WE ARE TO STAND AS CHRIST AMBASSADORS…We don’t see sinners being saved and in time we can actually get used to that. We get used to going to church only to feed ourselves with God’s Word, but no longer wanting to invite other people to know Jesus in their lives…NASANAY KA NA NA SUMASAMBA KUNG KANI-KANINONG DIYOS ANG MGA TAONG NAKAPALIGID SA’YO NA PARA BANG WALA KA NG ZEAL TO TELL THEM WHO’S THE REAL GOD… If we were really concerned about such things we would do something about it would we not.
Similarly when it comes to our own personal spiritual lives. Maybe over the past number of months or years we have got into the habit of not attending worship every Sunday, or not attending the service on a Sunday afternoon, or not going to the midweek or prayer meeting, or not having a regular quiet time each day for prayer and Bible reading and we have got used to it now to the extent that it doesn’t really bother us, at least it doesn’t bother us enough to do something about it. The fact of the matter is we are quite content with things the way they are, even though if the truth be told the spiritual temple of our own Christian life and testimony is in a rather shabby and quite dilapidated condition. We are not concerned enough to change.
When God’s people become content with things as they are, in their Church, in their family, in their own personal life, even though they know that the way things are, are not the way God wants things to be, spiritual apathy has set in.
The third and final evidence of Spiritual apathy that we find here in this passage is
3) GOD’S PEOPLE ARE MAKING EXCUSES
Look at verse 2 “These people say ‘the time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.’”
The work on the temple had been stopped and it seems that at some point the suggestion had been made regarding the possibility of recommencing the work but the overwhelming opinion among the people was No, it’s not the right time to undertake such a project – ‘The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.’ This is what the people were saying. ‘It’s not that we don’t want to do the work. No we have every intention of rebuilding the temple, but not just yet.’ Now there may have been different reasons as to why they said it wasn’t the right time for work to begin again on the temple.
- For example this particular time, the first day of the sixth month which corresponds to end of August in our calendar was a very busy time of the year for the people, it was the time of the grape harvest and maybe the people were saying ‘look we are too busy at the minute to do this work. We have to get the grapes gathered in and we need every minute of the day to work in the fields. God wouldn’t expect us to work on the temple at this time of the year. It’s not the right time. Maybe later on in the year.’
- Or maybe they were afraid that if they started work on the temple again they might annoy the Samaritans again and it would be best to leave it for another few years yet and let the bad feeling really settle down…
- Or maybe some where saying it wasn’t the right time because they hadn’t gathered enough money in order to do the job properly, after all it was God’s house and well they wanted to make a really good job of it.
- And well the fact of the matter was things hadn’t been too good in recent years in the farming community. The harvests had been poor. The cost of living had gone up and they couldn’t afford to give very much money to the building fund. Best to wait until things pick up and we can accumulate sufficient resources before we make a start.
- Or maybe some were offering the very pious reason that according to God’s own word of Prophecy the 70 years since the fall of Jerusalem wasn’t actually completed yet. Jerusalem fell in 586BC and if you take 70 from that that gives you 516BC and well 516 BC was still four years away yet, so we don’t want to be running ahead of the Lord, we need to be patient and wait God’s timing – The time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.
But as you read what God says through the prophet Haggai that what they’re saying is far from being a legitimate, justifiable reason for not undertaking the work of God, what they offered was instead a vain, empty excuse by which they tried to cover their sinful neglect of the work to which God had called them and to which they ought to have been applying themselves. A person who is in a state of spiritual apathy will always make excuses to try to cover their sinful neglect of the things of God and the work of God. John Calvin writes “men are ingenious at making excuses to cover their delinquency”
You know folks we are brilliant at making excuses for not doing what God wants us to do, for not doing God’s work. And our excuses can seem so plausible.
- Pastor, I would love to get more involved in the work of the Church – I know the Church needs Sunday school teachers and leaders for the youth work and people to do outreach work and more people coming along to the prayer meetings; I know I should be spending more time reading and studying the scriptures and praying so that I might be built up and grow as a Christian but I am just so busy, I have so much on, I just don’t have the time.
I wonder what God thinks of such an excuse? I wonder would he be able to say to us –‘you haven’t enough time to do what I want you to do? Well let’s just think about how you spent your time this past week. You had enough time to sit down and watch the T.V. programs you wanted to watch. You had time to go out and visit your friends. You had time to go along to that evening class that you have enrolled in. You had time to log in at Facebook to play Farmville, Farmtown, Café World and others…You had time to pursue your own interests.’ Let’s be honest – you had time alright.
- Pastor I would love to be able to give a tenth of my income to the Lord’s work but I just cannot afford it at the moment, maybe when I get sorted out and back on my feet financially, maybe then I will be able to give more. And yet you can afford to have a nice holiday each year. You can afford to buy yourself new clothes. You can afford to redecorate your house or build and extension to it. You can afford to change your car every couple of years.
- I know I should be more interested in and supportive of mission work. I know I should write to or phone our missionaries from time to time, but…
- I know I should witness to my unsaved friends and work-mates and loved ones but…
- Yes we know we as a Church should be reaching out to the people around us and engaging in different forms of evangelistic activity and we will, but we don’t want to rush into it. We want to make sure we do it well and so we are waiting until we have sufficient resources. And all too often the waiting extends indefinitely.
We are brilliant at making excuses for not doing what God wants us to do – for not attending Church every week; For not coming out to the evening service. For not coming to the prayer meeting. For not getting involved in the ministry…For not having family worship. For not witnessing to people. For not evangelizing in our local community.
Brethren when God’s work is neglected, when God’s people are contented and when God’s people make excuses for not doing what God wants them to do, there you have the unmistakable evidences of spiritual apathy.
May God help each of us to search and examine our own hearts in the light of what we have studied this morning to discover if such is true of us.