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Author:Dr. Andrew J. Pol
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Church of Carman West
 Carman, Manitoba
 www.carmanwestreformed.com
 
Title:Consider your ways
Text:Haggai 1:7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Giving your heart to God
 
Preached:2016-01-10
Added:2016-02-05
Updated:2016-02-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Call to worship
Confession of trust (standing)
God’s Greeting of Peace (standing)
Congregational singing: Psalm 103:8,9 (standing)
The Ten Words of the Covenant
Congregational singing: Psalm 119:3,5
Prayer
Scripture Reading: Haggai 1; Matthew 6:19-34
Congregational singing: Psalm 125:1,2 (standing)
Text: Haggai 1:7
  Ministry of the Word
  “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.”
  The LORD is calling us to reflect on:
  1. Our limitations and possibilities
  2. His faithfulness and power
Congregational singing: Hymn 66:1-3
Announcements
Prayer
Offering
Congregational Singing: Hymn 6:1,2 (standing)
Benediction (standing)
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Andrew J. Pol, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
 
The beginning of a new year often gives a sense of excitement.
Have you ever felt this way?
Think of how things were in the first week of this year.
Did you have special plans or expectations?
What were you focusing on?
What was your motivation, your deepest desire?
What has become of all this since then?
 
The Jews who returned to the Promised Land after the Babylonian exile most certainly had great plans and expectations.
They no longer had to languish in places far away from their homes or the homes of their forefathers.
Once again they could live in their own towns and cities and arrange their own affairs.
How this must have filled their hearts with thankfulness!
 
Think of Psalm 126, where we read,
 “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
      we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
      and our tongue with shouts of joy;
 then they said among the nations,
      ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’
 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (Ps 126:1–3).
What a beautiful expression of joy in the LORD!
 
That initial joy in the LORD didn’t stay.
The first verse in the book of Haggai indicates that the message recorded here for God’s people was spoken in the year 520 BC.
This means that by the time of our text, about sixteen years had gone by since their return from captivity.
A new generation was growing up
It would be easy, especially for the young people, to take things for granted.
Why would they care about what life was like during the exile?
That’s not where they were born.
They were growing up in the land of Israel.
What influenced them was what they could see.
Their parents were hard at work getting themselves established in their homes and jobs.
It took a lot of time and energy.
 
Haggai, who was one of the last three prophets of the Old Testament, observed this.
But what he especially noticed was a preoccupation with material things.
When the people of God first returned to the Promised Land, they laid the foundations for rebuilding the Temple.
However, things stagnated after that.
There was no significant progress anymore.
The ruins of the old temple weren’t cleared out.
This was not a good sign.
It showed that the people didn’t have the right priorities anymore.
They had lost sight of the LORD who had brought them back.
 
In this situation, Haggai was driven by the Holy Spirit to speak up.
He targeted in particular two leaders among God’s people: Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest.
They were in charge of civil and spiritual affairs.
Haggai’s message, of course, was not only meant for them.
It was meant for all the people of God.
He wanted them to think about their priorities in life.
That’s a message we can take to heart as well.
It’s easy to get off track and end up being driven by ambitions and goals that aren’t what they should be.
 
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.” The LORD is calling us to reflect on:
1. Our limitations and possibilities
2. His faithfulness and power
 
*
Who was Haggai?
We don’t know a lot about him.
He is only mentioned twice outside of the Bible book bearing his name.
In Ezra 5:1 and 6:14, we read of his prophetic activity next to that of Zechariah.
Together, they were key figures in stimulating the rebuilding of the temple.
 
A keyword in our text is the word “consider.”
“Consider your ways.”
Literally in the Hebrew Haggai is saying “Set your hearts on your ways.”
This expression makes it clear that the LORD is calling for more than just an intellectual activity.
When we consider things with our minds, our hearts are also involved.
That’s where you decide what direction to go in life.
 
“Consider your ways.”
The LORD is commanding his people to do some serious soul-searching.
The word for “way,” can also be translated as “path.”
Think of a path in a forest or a path in snow.
It brings to light where a person has come from and where they are headed.
You are where you are as a result of a path you have taken.
 
All kinds of questions can be asked in connection with the word “ways” or “paths.”
Where are you at today, materially and spiritually?
Look back in time and ask yourself: What brought you to this point?
What were your motives?
What were your standards?
What or who guided you?
Are you comfortable with where you are in life?
Should you be?
Or should you be reevaluating your path in life?
Those are questions that can arise when you look back in life.
 
Other questions can arise when we look ahead and reflect on the word “way” or “path.”
Where are you going?
Why choose that direction and not another?
Are you considering short-term goals or you also have your ultimate destination in mind?
 
Think about things in the light of the Word of God.
Should you be making adjustments or perhaps changing course entirely?
Repentance involves turning away from what is essentially worthless and turning toward God.
When we do that, even though certain activities may remain the same, a fundamental change takes place.
You might keep the same job, for example, but the “way” you go about it may become radically different.
Someone who was first in it only for the money will instead see work as a means to glorify God and serve your neighbour.
 
Reflecting on our “ways,” can be a very fruitful activity.
It can result in us humbling ourselves before the LORD.
We see our limitations and acknowledge them.
Some limitations can be the result of God’s providential dealings with us.
But there can also be connections with our own responsibility to work with what God has given us.
 
For example, are you strong and healthy?
Part of the answer to this question is determined by our genetic makeup.
What kind of a body did the LORD give you?
That will determine certain limitations but also possibilities in life.
Not everyone has the capacity to become an Olympic athlete.
But that’s not all that can be said.
What have you done within the parameters of your limitations?
 
There are videos on YouTube of a Christian man who has no arms or legs.
Imagine being born like that!
Many people would rather be dead.
Nevertheless, this man has chosen to do whatever he can despite those limitations.
He is an upbeat, inspiring motivational speaker who has given speeches on different continents.
 
There are also limitations that arise from choices we make.
What have you been doing with your body?
Have you developed its physical potential?
Have you been careful not to abuse it by smoking, drinking to excess, working too hard, or taking unnecessary risks?
 
What about your mind?
Some people are smarter than others.
But what really counts is what you do with what God has given you.
That’s your responsibility.
 
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.”
That’s a general command and good to think about from a variety of angles.
But our text also has a very specific context.
The LORD wants his people to think about what they have been doing with what he has given them.
He has brought them back to the Promised Land.
By grace he made this possible.
 
The people had been exiled from the land of Israel.
This was the consequence of the way they had chosen.
Think of Psalm 1, which speaks of the outcome of “the way of the wicked.”
Psalm 1 compares them with “chaff that the wind drives away.”
It ends with a word of comfort and warning, “the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Ps 1:6).
On the other hand, how blessed the man is “who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (PS 1:1-2).
What is the outcome of that kind of a life?
It is fruitful.
 
Did the judgment of the exile lead the people of God to reconsider their ways?
Where were they at after sixteen years back in the Promised Land?
Did they treasure the blessings of the LORD?
More importantly, did they value the presence of the LORD in their midst?
After all, wasn’t that what was most important?
 
Remember that in Old Testament times, the temple was the earthly dwelling place of God.
He was present in a special way in the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.
The Ark was gone.
But the temple was still important.
It was the place where sacrifices could be brought.
It was where sinners could be reconciled with God.
How important was that to them?
 
The answer to this can be found in Haggai 1:2, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”
That’s no way for the people of God to talk!
The LORD makes that clear by the way the accusation is worded.
He doesn’t say “My people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”
Instead, he states, “These people say…”
Do you hear how a distance has arisen between the LORD and them because of their choices?
 
Why did they think it was not yet time to rebuild the temple?
Because building luxurious homes for themselves had priority over ensuring that there would be a proper place for the ministry of reconciliation.
In other words, material things were more important to them than the spiritual benefit of having a place of worship.
 
The LORD asked his people through Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Hag 1:4).
The LORD isn’t saying they have no right to a place to live.
He isn’t even saying they may never have a panelled house, even though the expression “panelled houses,” points to luxury.
The question is if they have chosen the right time for allowing themselves such a luxury.
It has come at a cost.
The house of the LORD is still lying in ruins.
 
The point is not that luxury as such is wrong.
We know the LORD greatly blessed Abraham, the father of all believers.
The LORD continues to give his people many things for their enjoyment.
Personal enjoyment, however, is not the main goal of life.
Think of the first Question of the Westminster Catechism.
“What is the chief and highest end of man?”
The answer is, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”
The proof texts listed along with the answer are enlightening.
The first one is Romans 11:36, which points to our God, saying “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
All we have comes from God.
Are we using it for him?
 
The people at the time of Haggai couldn’t complain that they had no income.
Their panelled houses were evidence to the contrary.
Perhaps, as they went about acquiring the materials for their homes, they even voiced prayers of thanksgiving to God for what they had received from him.
People can sometimes sound very pious even while making very wrong choices.
 
The problem at the time of our text was one of wrong priorities.
They weren’t honouring the LORD with their firstfruits.
If they had done that, the temple could have been finished.
Instead, they focused on themselves first and they did this in an extravagant way.
Nevertheless, it seemed that they never had enough.
There was always something left to be desired.
And so the temple remained in ruins.
 
Do you recognize the underlying problem?
It can easily happen to us too.
If you put God last instead of first on your budget, what pattern often surfaces?
At the end of the month there is nothing or hardly anything left for the LORD.
Unexpected expenses and other matters came up, and you even had a shortfall.
You couldn’t pay off your credit card and debts are piling up.
So you give no contribution or only a little to the church, and if there are school payments, maybe you let that slip behind for a month or more as well.
 
Every year many of us have to deal with Revenue Canada.
The time for assessing income and expenses is a good time for reflection.
In that connection, let’s reflect on the tax line item “charitable contributions.”
Usually that’s something people pay attention to since you can deduct that from your income.
It will save you some taxes, which means more money in your pocket.
This should not be our motivating reason or guiding factor in showing love to God and our neighbour, but we shouldn’t overlook it.
After all, as our Saviour put it, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mt 22:21).
But there’s no reason to give more to Caesar than what he’s asking for.
 
“Consider your ways.”
When you add up your income and your expenses, what did you give to the LORD?
If you have any feelings of guilt in this regard, don’t be too quick to say “I have my limitations.”
Yes, everyone has limitations.
As mentioned earlier, in his providence, God gives everyone certain limitations.
The question is: How have you operated within that framework?
Does what you did with your income show that you put the LORD first?
Does your giving show love for him and for his people as well as for neighbours nearby and far away?
Or did you try to fill yourself with all sorts of good things, leaving only financial crumbs over for him?
If elders or deacons raise the question of your giving to the LORD with you during a home visit, can you honestly say that the LORD made it impossible for you to give anything or anything substantial to honour him?
 
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.”
The LORD is calling us to reflect on our limitations and possibilities.
He also wants us to reflect on his faithfulness and power.
This is our second point.
 
**
Haggai makes it clear that his prophetic message is from “the LORD of hosts.”
That’s how verse 7 begins.
But what does the expression “LORD of hosts” mean?
It’s a reminder to the people that he is Yahweh, the great “I AM,” the God who is not only present but also active in their lives.
What he has to say to them has everything to do with the covenant, the bond he has established with them.
 
Think back to Genesis 17:7-8, where the LORD promises Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Yes, God has promised to be their God.
This means he will take care of them.
But with the promise comes the obligation to acknowledge and honour him as the LORD.
 
The further reference to him as “the LORD of hosts” is also significant.
We encounter it 14 times in this book.
What are these “hosts”?
The term can refer to the stars (Dt 4:19) as well as the angels in heaven.
Either way that highlights the glory and power of God as the Creator of all.
He made all the stars of the universe.
He also made the angels.
They are at his beck and call, ready to do his will as his servants (1 Ki 22:19; Ps 103:21).
From the time of the Exodus onwards, the expression “LORD of hosts” can also be linked to the armies of Israel.
Then it stresses the greatness of the LORD as their commander, but also their calling to obey him.
Think of how David spoke to the Philistine, Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sa 17:45).
 
The point is this: the LORD is addressing his people as the Almighty God.
He has all power and authority in heaven and on earth.
When he speaks, the angels listen and obey.
We are called to do the same.
There is a spiritual battle going on in this world.
Satan has his armies.
He opposes the LORD and all who are on the LORD’s side.
 
So as you consider your ways, realize this.
If you don’t choose the way of the LORD, you are defying the Almighty God of the covenant!
That has consequences.
 
There are blessings for those who walk in the way of the LORD.
There is punishment for those who turn away from him.
We read about this in Leviticus 26.
The words of promise and warning are similar to what can be found in Deuteronomy 28.
The LORD assures his people in Leviticus 26:3-5, “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.”
 
The greatest blessing, however, is not material but spiritual.
The LORD promises further on in Leviticus 26, “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people” (Le 26:11-12).
Isn’t that amazing?
The presence of God in our lives and in our hearts through the Holy Spirit is worth more than any earthly riches.
This promise of his presence among his people is based on the forgiveness of sins.
That’s the only way our holy God can live in the midst of sinful people.
That’s what the sacrifices in the temple pointed to.
They have found their fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, we received the forgiveness of our sins.
He is also the one who has poured out the Holy Spirit on the church.
 
The people of God in Haggai’s day no longer treasured the promise of his presence among them.
So the temple was left in ruins while they built luxurious homes for themselves.
In a situation like that, things may seem to be okay for a while, but this can’t be taken for granted.
Material prosperity should never be taken as a sure sign of God’s blessings.
God may even grant wicked people good gifts for a time, but he is under no obligation to do so.
This is why it is foolish to be envious of wicked people who seem to be doing well.
Judgment will be on the way sooner or later (Ps 73:27).
 
The people of God in Haggai’s day found that out.
The LORD is faithful in keeping his promises.
But this also applies in regard to his warnings.
Right before our text, in verse 5, the LORD of hosts already commands his people: “Consider your ways.”
He tells them to look back at what has been going on in their lives.
“You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes” (Hag 1:6).
 
Shortly after our text the LORD makes it clear why his people have had setbacks.
“You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors” (Hag 1:9–11).
The people of God put themselves first instead of honouring him as the Giver of all good gifts.
Failing to do that led to this judgment.
 
In our text, we hear the LORD of hosts commanding his people for a second time, “Consider your ways.”
There is a positive purpose to this command.
He wants them to repent.
He wants them to turn to him, taking the promise of the covenant to heart.
There are blessings in store for those who seek him and treasure fellowship with him.
But then they need to show real repentance.
The LORD therefore commands them, “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD” (Hag 1:8).
 
Today there are other ways to glorify the LORD.
He doesn’t live in a building.
Don’t undermine the reality of Pentecost by referring to this church building as “the house of God.”
This isn’t the house of God; the people of God have become his temple!
As the apostle Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
 
By grace, God now dwells in our hearts.
Do you treasure this reality?
God brings this about by the power of his Word and Spirit.
The ministry of the Word points to Jesus Christ as the Saviour of sinners.
Again and again you hear the good news, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Ro 10:13).
This is the ministry of reconciliation, the means by which God draws people into fellowship with him.
On this basis we also have fellowship with each other.
When you see this and treasure it, you will promote the ministry of the Word here and elsewhere.
After all, how will people come to faith unless they hear the proclamation of the gospel (Ro 10:14)?
 
“Consider your ways.”
If you think that the application for this morning is: “Give money to the church and you will be prosperous,” you have missed the point.
That has never been the point, even in Old Testament times.
This word of warning was at the same time a word of promise.
It opened up the perspective on a new, different future.
 
The people took this Word of the LORD seriously.
Before, they were busy with their own wellbeing, their own homes.
That was an individualistic endeavour: Every man for himself.
Now they understood that he was directing them to the way back to fellowship with him.
When they repented, they bonded in working on the temple together, finding unity in the LORD.
 
The LORD responded to that.
Once again, they received the privilege of hearing the Word of the LORD through Haggai.
The message highlighted what they needed to treasure above all.
Look at chapter 1:13.
“Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’s message…”
Do you notice how these introductory words build up the suspense?
What is the LORD’s message, brought by Haggai, the messenger of the LORD?
It’s this: “I am with you, declares the LORD.”
 
“I am with you!”
What an encouraging, strengthening covenantal promise!
It was later fulfilled in a very special way in the coming of Jesus Christ into this world.
He is “Emmanuel,” “God with us.”
The promise has been fulfilled even more richly since then through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ who is in heaven continues to be “with us” through the Holy Spirit.
Our Saviour will be with us “to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
That reality, brothers and sisters, should be worth more to us than any earthly riches.
 
This promise of God’s presence with us does not mean either in the Old Testament or in the New Testament that God’s people will always be prosperous.
Think of Job, who for a time lost all of his earthly possessions.
Think of people in Old Testament times as well as later who have been martyred for their faith.
What was their comfort?
Asaph put it like this in Psalm 73:25-26, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
 
Asaph was a Levite.
Levites didn’t have a portion in the land of Israel.
The LORD God promised to be their portion (Num 18:20).
He would be with them and take care of them as they served him.
Isn’t that enough?
It should be!
 
Jesus Christ has described how people can become so preoccupied with questions like “’What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ Or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Mt 6:31).
These are legitimate concerns, but he points to something beyond that, something that should have priority above all.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6: 33).
 
If we have God in our lives, it will be enough, no matter what happens.
We have the promise of everlasting life in fellowship with him.
He will have his dwelling place with us and be with us as our God forever (Rev 21:3-4).
 
Amen!



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Andrew J. Pol, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Andrew J. Pol

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