So far we’ve seen Judah return from Babylonian Captivity and re-establish themselves in the land. We’ve seen them respond, 16 years later, to Haggai’s urging that they rebuild the Temple. We’ve seen God encourage them that his blessing would be on this Temple, in a special way.
And so the work continues.
But now there’s a new problem.
Routine sets in. The workers go to work every day at the Temple site, and they begin to lose appreciation for the special character of the work they’re doing. And not in the way you’d expect—they don’t say, “Ho-hum, let’s get this job done and move on to the next one.” No, the distortion in their thinking is much more pernicious than that. While continuing their appreciation for the significance of the work itself, they twist its purpose. They begin to make it about themselves rather than the God of heaven.
“I’m working on the Temple!” they think. “I’m a cut above!”
And if “I’m special!” then I suppose I have certain privileges, don’t I? If God appreciates my work for him, then I probably don’t have to care all that much about the details of my own thinking and my own living. That’s for the little people. I’m special. My work makes me so.
On December 18, three months into construction, Haggai trudges up to the Temple site once again.
“I have a question for you,” he says. “It’s about the Law. Call the experts; I want to get their opinion” (Hag 2.11).
If someone is carrying some sacrificial meat, he says, and he rubs up against something, does the holy meat make the other thing holy (Hag 2.12a)? In other words, does holiness rub off?
No, the priests—the experts—say (Hag 2.12b). Holiness doesn’t rub off.
OK, next question.
If someone has touched a dead body, he’s unclean, right (Lev 22.4)? Now, if this unclean person touches something else, does he make the other thing unclean (Hag 2.13a)? Does corruption rub off?
Yes, they say (Hag 2.13b). Corruption pollutes.
So holiness doesn’t rub off, but unholiness does?
You already knew that, didn’t you? When you wash your hands, rubbing them on a dirty surface doesn’t make the surface clean; it makes your hands dirty again. My pastor from years ago* once said, “When you put on white gloves and play in the mud, you don’t made the mud glovey; you make the gloves muddy.”
These men thought that working on the Temple construction was making them clean. On the contrary, when they showed up every day, they were dragging their corrupt hearts onto the site and defiling it by their very presence (Hag 2.14).
They were undoing with their hearts what they were doing with their hands.
And as a result, God’s judgment on their land continued despite their (merely) external obedience (Hag 2.15-18).
But if they would trust and obey, if they would believe his word, despite the desolation all around them, the blessing would come (Hag 2.19).
So what’s the theme of Haggai’s third sermon? Love first, then obedience.
And so it is with us. We think that our association with other believers, with churches, with institutions, our work for God, enables us to cut corners in our love for him.
But it doesn’t.
God doesn’t want your stuff. He doesn’t even want your frenetic activity—he really doesn’t need your help to advance his kingdom—so much as he wants your heart. Mary knew that, and Martha, I suspect, eventually learned it (Lk 10.38-42).
So stop a minute, rethink, reorient.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Put the important stuff first.
And then, sure, get back to work. With a reoriented heart, the work takes on a whole new perspective.
* That was Chuck Swindoll, Waltham (MA) Evangelical Free Church, 1966-67.