The book of Haggai largely concerns rebuilding on the site of Solomon’s temple, which was destroyed in the Babylonian invasion chronicled in 2 Kings 25 (around 586 B.C.). A group of Jewish exiles under the leadership of Zerubbabel returned to the land in 536, but by the time Haggai wrote in 520 they’d not yet rebuilt the temple.
Considering that the church today is called God’s temple, I wondered what spiritual parallels there might be between Haggai’s call for obedience in rebuilding the the temple, and us today. This book begins by quoting people who said it wasn’t yet time to build God’s house (Hag. 1:2). God challenged them whether it was right for them to have spent the past 16 years on their own projects instead of His temple (Hag. 1:3-4)
Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” (Hag. 1:5-6)
Let’s suppose for a moment that this isn’t just talking to the people tasked with rebuilding God’s temple 2,500 years ago – that this is speaking to the church today as a spiritual temple. What is it telling us?
you have sown much, and bring in little
In one of Christ’s parables, sowing seeds in a field is compared to spreading God’s world (Mark 4:14-20). Many churches are good at the sowing part – we scatter the gospel out over the internet, radio, television and into people’s homes as magazines. Truly, we “have sown much.”
The first part of this phrase applies to us, so what about the second? We’ve sown, but is it bearing fruit as God intended, “some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred”? I think the state of the church and the world today answers this question for us. Churches are divided, scattered and squabbling. Growth is down, and the world has lost respect for Christianity.
“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
If our efforts aren’t bringing forth the fruits they should, perhaps we should follow the instructions in Haggai to consider our ways in regards to God’s temple. The defilement Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians doesn’t come from an attack on God’s temple from the outside. It comes from within individuals — those of us who aren’t keeping our hearts and minds pure as we follow after Christ — and it hurts the temple as a whole.
you eat, but do not have enough
One of the ways the Bible talks about the World of life is as nourishment, comparing it to food. Jesus Himself, the living Word, is called the Bread of Life (John 6:35). If we’re studying our Bibles and going to church then we are eating from the words of God, but are we eating enough?
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb. 5:12-14)
If we’re not studying more deeply on our own, and if the teachers in the temple aren’t providing strong meat, then God’s church won’t grow. It won’t have enough food.
you drink, but you are not filled with drink
Though it does require some action on our part, the blood of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is the only way to cleanse a defiled, polluted temple. The law requires blood purification of holy things, and the only sacrifice precious enough to cleanse a spiritual temple was that of Jesus Himself (Heb. 9:22-24).
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56)
1 Corinthians 11 helps clarify this by quoting Jesus at the Passover, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:25). To drink of Jesus Christ, we have to enter into covenant with the One who gave His life for His temple. It can’t just be lip-service either or sipping at the cup but not letting Him in. We have to be “filled with drink.”
you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm
We often say the “poor, blind and naked” church of Laodicea represents the end-time church (Rev. 3:17-18). It follows, then, that if we are living in the end times we should expect to see Laodicean attitudes in our lives and churches. Jesus wouldn’t have sent this letter if it wasn’t a very real issue that we need to recognize and take steps to correct.
We don’t like to think about this, though, so we say the Philadelphian and Laodicean eras overlap and that we’re Philadelphians living in a Laodicean world. But the letters weren’t written to the world – they were written to us. A self-assured comment that, “Well, at least I’m not a Laodicean,” sounds an awful lot like, “I am rich and have need of nothing.” We say we’re clothed, but many in the church are not warmed.
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (James 2:5-1)
This example works on a spiritual as well as a physical level. If someone is hungering after the word of God and yearning for the warmth of companionship with brethren, we’re not helping them by simply handing them a pamphlet or ignoring them while we hang out with our friends. We have to be the type of temple that can truly fill those needs for nourishment and warmth.
I dare say the Laodiceans weren’t literally walking around in the nude, but they were missing a key component of spiritual clothing. In Rev. 19:8, it says the bride’s white garment “is the righteous acts of the saints.” Perhaps these righteous actions are what is missing in the lives of those in churches where “no one is warm.”
he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes
The person described in this part of Haggai is working, but to no effect. Everything he struggles to earn is immediately lost because it’s not stored properly.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-20)
Even if we’re working on things that could be good and useful, it’s not beneficial unless we’re doing it for God. We should be His workmen, serving the High Priest in His temple. Paul tells us to present ourselves to God as able and willing workers (2 Tim. 2:15). It’s impossible to work for God without earning wages which will endure into the next world, but it’s equally impossible to lay up treasure for ourselves if we are not working for the things of God.
Ever since reading Haggai, I can’t get the subject of rebuilding temples off my mind. I think it’s clear to most of us today that the church isn’t everything that it could, or should, be as the body of Jesus Christ. We lay blame in all sorts of places — church leadership, other organizations, the state of the world today — but those excuses only go so far. If we believe that nothing can stand against us while God is on our side, then these obstacles lose their power. If we believe that the church is defined as the individuals who make of the body of Jesus Christ, then the state of the church is the responsibility of each individual.
I plan to spend quite a bit of my study time over the next few weeks on this topic, and I expect it will fill at least two more blog posts. I invite you to join me in diving into God’s word, studying what He has to say about His temple, and praying for the state of His church.
What’s one change you think is key to strengthening God’s church? Comment below!