Bible Study for July 16: First things first

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Haggai 1:2-13
Tom Rush staff evangelist
Liberty Baptist Church, Hartwell

Haggai was a contemporary of Zechariah. Both prophesied in Jerusalem shortly after the return of the exiles from Babylon under Zerubbabel (Ezra 5:1-2; 6:14). The first task was the rebuilding of the Temple, but the returned exiles faced much opposition. Like much work in the church today, it was furious in the start but fizzled at the finish!

The people managed to lay the Temple’s foundation but discontinued the work God had called them to and began making excuses. Most of us are good at excuses. The people of Israel said, “It isn’t God’s will at this time.”

That’s a classic excuse which I’ve heard multiple times in my ministry. If you don’t want to do something, just blame it on the Lord’s will.

But God’s will is not that difficult to discern. First and foremost, God’s will is God’s Word and we have no excuse to disobey the Lord. The people should have had no doubt that the rebuilding of God’s house was exactly what He sent them there to do (Ezra 1). Their delayed obedience was disobedience.

Haggai reproved the people and encouraged them to rethink their actions. Quoting the Lord he said, “Consider your ways!”

There are three points in the consideration of our ways that are mentioned in the text.

Consider Your Ways – When God’s people are selfish (vv. 2-6)

When we as God’s people are more concerned about our own houses, our own circumstances, our own plans, than we are for God’s work, we have lost our way. God’s confrontation of the people is direct in verse 4, reminding them that they had taken plenty of time to care for themselves but had allowed the Temple to remain in ruins.

The prophet’s warning in verse 5 is clear. He was telling them to take a good, long look at the direction they were going. Can you expect the blessings of God when you are walking a path of selfishness?

I recall an old saying: “My three favorite people are me, myself and I.” It is sad but this was the attitude of the people of Jerusalem then and it miserably marks the attitude of many professing believers today. However, when you hold back on giving the Lord your best – whether that entails time, talent or treasure – you forfeit His blessings.

For the Jews this meant they were working hard but prospering little, verse 6. God wasn’t blessing.

I remember a deacon once told me that he would have to resign. We required that the deacons who served the church tithe and he told me, “I can’t afford to tithe.” The story is longer than we have space for, but we were able to show him that the truth was, “You can’t afford NOT to tithe!”

He found that to be true and did not resign.

Consider Your Ways – When God’s place is secondary (vv. 7-11)

Once again the prophet challenges the people to “Consider [their] ways!” This time it is directly related to their failure to rebuild God’s house. They acted as if they did not care about the place where God’s name was to be honored, in spite of clear instruction to the contrary.

I believe there are two aspects to this command. The first, and most obvious, is the material structure of the facility. Yes, I know that God can be worshipped anywhere and at any time, but He has also commanded us to worship Him in an assembly of people, and to do so on Sunday! The place of God’s worship should never be a secondary matter!

Most of us pay more careful attention to our homes than we do the church house. We are more careful, more cautious, and more concerned about the furnishings of our homes than we are the furnishings of God’s place. This is exactly what Haggai was addressing. He clearly tells them, go and get wood and build God’s place because that pleases the Lord (verse 8). We have a clear responsibility to take good care of God’s place of corporate worship.

There is a spiritual application also. While the Israelites in question were guilty of ignoring the physical rebuilding of the Temple, today many believers are seemingly unconcerned about the building of their spiritual places of worship. Corporate worship becomes something done when convenient. Consistency in spiritual disciplines is considered a luxury for the super saints and besides, we are just too busy to give God that much time.

If we don’t get first things first we will find the days of spiritual drought upon us. God sent a famine in the land to Israel. Today we are in the throes of a spiritual famine and God is withholding the dewdrops of mercy. The words of Jesus ring truer than ever, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Consider Your Ways – When God’s Presence is Sought (vv. 12-13)

The very reason for strong Bible preaching against an apathetic and sinful attitude is found in verses 12 and 13. The people had come under conviction and they considered their ways! Both leaders and laymen alike heard and took heed to “the voice of the Lord their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet” (verse 12). They repented!

First they recognized that God had sent the prophet! Then they “feared the presence of the Lord.” This heeding of His voice and humbling of their hearts brought a great word of comfort, ““I am with you,” says the Lord”” (verse 13). Would that we would fear His presence and know that He is with us as we faithfully serve and obey Him.

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Daily Bible Readings: July 16-31
Bible Study for July 16: First things first
Bible Study for July 9: Encourage one another