What is your Top Priority?

Sports were my top priority as a teenager. I played three sports in high school: football, basketball and baseball. One day after a football game against Barrington High School, my coach asked me to stick around so he could talk to me after the game. I thought he was going to praise me for my performance. I had three sacks and caught a 53-yard pass. It was one of my better football games in my career. I walked up to my coach ready for my pat on the back, but instead he questioned by priorities. He questioned who my friends were and my loyalties to the football team. My friends were not athletes and they had a reputation of being a little wild. My coach, out of genuine concern for me, questioned my priorities. I had to ask myself, “What was my top priority?”

            There are certain times in everyone’s life when decisions must be made to display one’s top priorities. My coach question my priorities and he wanted me to respond by showing him that football was more of a priority than my friends.  Have you ever been put in a situation when you had to make a choice to choose your priority? Maybe you have had to choose between a new job and more time at home. Maybe you have had to choose between moving up the corporate ladder and church involvement. Our real-life decisions reveal our top priorities. So, what is your top priority?

            I pray that question would be revealed to you as we study the short prophecy of Haggai. Haggai prophesied to post-exilic Judah. The Jews had been able to return to their homeland having been shown favor by Darius, the Persian King (522 -486 B.C.).  Haggai’s prophecy was given to the leaders of Judah: Zerubbabel and Joshua, Haggai 1:1,

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest:

Haggai sent this prophecy to expose the people’s priorities. We all have priorities, but our true priorities are revealed by our actions. God’s Word helps reveals the difference between our stated priorities and are true priorities.

Our Priorities are Revealed by our Spending

            Haggai starts his prophecy by showing the people how they are neglecting God’s house in favor of building their own houses.  Haggai 1:2-5,

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. (Haggai 1:2-5)

There were certain people claiming that it was not time to rebuild the temple.  The temple rebuilding began in 536 B.C., but quickly ceased due to local opposition.  Instead of starting to rebuild the temple, the God’s people turned to rebuild their own homes.  The Lord asks a stinging rhetorical question in verse 4, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?”  The temple was where God’s presence dwelled.  These Jews were focusing on their own homes while the Lord remained homeless.[i]

And it was not that they were just providing themselves a place to live, but they were dwelling in paneled homes implying they were not focused on necessities, but luxuries. This may seem dramatic, but their spending revealed their priorities. They did not prioritize the worship of God, but showed their priority: the worship of self. What would your spending reveal about your priorities?  If someone examined your purchases over the last 6 months what would they reveal? If someone examined your time, what would it reveal about your priorities? There is a big difference in our stated priorities and our true priorities. 

            In these first eleven verses, Haggai challenges the leaders three times to “consider their ways.” This is one of the most important things that we can do for ourselves and for others. One of the greatest challenges of ministry in the West is the sheer volume of noise, entertainment and busyness. We have so much going on and so many “escapes” that it is hard to get people to “consider our ways.” Haggai was calling the people to slow down and think deeply about how they are living. He did not want them merely to consider as in only think, but the kind of thinking that would change how they lived.

The Lord specifically revealed through Haggai that the reason for their recent economic trouble in the land is because of wrong priorities.

Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 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. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 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. 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.” (Haggai 1:5-11)

The Lord brought discipline upon His people because of their selfishness and lack of concern for God and His people. 

            Every time I travel to a hotel with cable I inevitably find HGTV. I enjoy watching home remodel or house flipping shows. It is amazing how enthralled I can become in a home renovations of total strangers or which house a couple I never will meet decides to live in. Although I enjoy watching the shows, there is an undercurrent in our culture displayed on HGTV that subtly attempts to shift our hearts desire from God’s house to our own. A steady diet of home makeover shows may lead to discontent with one’s home. Do not mishear me. There is nothing inherently wrong with renovating your home, but my concern is swimming in our materialistic culture that we move to neglecting God’s priorities. Our society wants you to focus on renovating your American Dream at the expense of renovating God’s house. What is your top priority? 

            In December 2007, John Piper answered an important question in his weekly podcast, “What's the difference between living for the Kingdom and living for the American dream?” He commented,

  The essential difference is, What are you trying to make much of? Do you want to make much of Christ in the world, or do you want to make much of yourself, your business, or your family? What are you passionate about seeing exalted, praised and enjoyed?

   I want to put that central because if we don't ask the question day by day–What am I going to make much of today?–then we will gravitate towards making much of the same things that everybody around us is making much of, like sports teams, food, or a new computer program. None of these things are sin unless they become the thing that we're driven by.

   The difference between a Kingdom mindset and a worldly mindset is the King. What place does the King have? Is he central in our affections, our vocabulary, and in what we want to see happen at work, church, and in our leisure?[ii]

How we spend our money and our time reveal what we want to make much of. We need to consider our ways asking ourselves does our spending reveal God’s priorities.

            God’s people neglected building God’s temple and were chastised by the Lord. Are you neglecting to build God’s temple? I know we do not have a physical temple with bricks and mortar, but we are now God’s temple. Jesus Christ became our temple. God’s presence was mediated through Jesus. John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” literally tabernacle among us. After Jesus died and rose again, he sent his presence to the church by his Spirit. Paul says of the Corinthian church, 1 Corinthians 3:9b;16-17,

You are God’s field, God’s building…. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 

Peter says that we are, “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) We are called in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 to edify or build up God’s temple. The church is called to mediated God’s presence to the world. Are you neglecting to build up God’s temple, the church, so that you can build up your own house?

            One of the most disturbing trend among western Christians, is their waning commitment to God’s people. Christians do not make the gathering of the saints a priority. It may not be on purpose. Sickness, vacations, or visiting in-laws may take us away from our gathering together, but are your prioritizing God’s people?[iii] The weight of the New Testament shows how your very salvation is worked out in and through your connection to the local church. The local church should be the center of life. Much more could be said here, but I would plead you, as the Lord did in Haggai’s day, to consider your ways. Make our gatherings a priority. Your relationship with God’s people is one of the most revealing aspects of your relationship with God.

Our Priorities are Revealed by our Submission

            Our priorities are ultimately revealed in only what we think about doing, but in what we actually do. Would Zerubbabel and Joshua submit to God’s Word? Haggai 1:12-15,

Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD. Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD's message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. (Haggai 1:12-15)

Three key phrases in this section show that Judah true priorities had changed. First, they obeyed the voice of the Lord their God. Second, the people feared the Lord. And third, the Lord stirred up the spirit of the people. Repentance is an act of God.

            God spoke to the people, “I am with you declares the Lord.” They do not have to fear opposition because the Lord is in their midst. Think of how encouraging this word would have been to the people recently returned from exiles. God is in their midst. It is God speaking and God stirring that brings the people to work on the house of the Lord. It is a simple and sweet reminder that if God’s temple, the church, is going to change today, it will be because the Lord stirs up the hearts of His people. I pray you do not feel guilt to make church a priority, but you are stirred up and convicted by the Lord to consider your ways. Let us pray that God would be gracious to stir up our hearts to obedience changing our priorities from selfishness to selflessness.  For as Christians, we want our priorities to be God’s priorities.

God’s Priorities are Revealed by the Spirit

            The people are building the temple and this temple will be inferior to the one built by Solomon. The Lord asks the people, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” It was obvious to everyone that this temple would pale in comparison to the previous one. This lesser temple would have caused them to think that the past glory was greater than the future glory. 

Whenever we hold on to the past glory over the present reality, discouragement and despair rise. We think, “Life will never be like it was.” There is a hopelessness that comes when we cling to past success, but the promise of Scripture is always of a future glory that will far exceed the past. Haggai 2:4-9,

Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’” (Haggai 2:4-9)

The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former glory. This promise is speaking about the day when the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the water covers the seas. The whole earth will be the temple of the Lord. He will sit on his throne and the whole earth will be filled with his glory.

            The author of Hebrews picks up this prophecy and applies it to New Testament saints in saying, Hebrews 12:26b-29,

He has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

The Spirit reveals the Lord’s priority in creating a kingdom that will not be shaken. The promise that God made to Abraham was alive and well for the people of Judah after the exile and that promise will continue through followers of Jesus.  One day, the Lord will come and shake the heavens and the earth to remove the things that are shaken. Friend, are you ready for that day?

The Bible says that followers of Jesus have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken because our kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36) That kingdom is only given to those who have Jesus as their king. Have you trusted in Christ as your king? Have you submitted to him your supreme authority? Living with Jesus as your king is not a one-time decision, but a daily one, where we make his priorities our priorities. Do you live to make much of the King? Do you live to tell others of his redemption, his forgiveness and his grace? Yet once more, God will shake the heavens and the earth to remove the things that are shaken. Consider your ways. You too can receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken when you trust in the coming king.

God has accomplished an unshakeable kingdom through his unshakeable Son.

God’s Priorities are Revealed by the Son

Haggai shows that the people of Judah are unclean because of their hearts revealed in their wrong priorities. Haggai 2:17-19,

I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the LORD. Consider from this day onward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month. Since the day that the foundation of the LORD's temple was laid, consider: Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.”

The Lord promises that he will bring a blessing. He promises to bring those blessings through the coming King. Haggai ends his prophecy in the hope of the gospel, verses 2:20-23,

The word of the LORD came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the LORD, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:20-23).

The signet ring was given as a sign of authority. God has given the signet ring to Zerubbabel. And in giving the ring to Zerubbabel, God is restoring the royal line of King David and reaffirming His covenant that one day there will be a forever king on a forever throne. 

            Therefore, we read Zerubbabel’s name in the lineage of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:12, “And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel.” God gave the signet ring to Zerubbabel to point the Jews to consider the promise of the Messiah who would come and cleanse his people from their sin. The Messiah would come and live a pure and clean life fully trusting God always living in line with God’s priorities. His perfect life would end in a brutal death. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, would die for His people, but on the third day be raised from the dead. And after He rose, He ascended into heaven seated at the right hand of God. Now those who trust in Christ, who walk in the light as he is in the light, have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). God blesses a defiled people by making them clean through the blood of Christ. The promised King who was given all authority of the signet ring chose to lay down his authority and die to save his people.

God promises to make you clean if you would consider your ways, turn and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. God made your salvation a priority by sending his Son to die for you and to be raised for you. Consider your ways. Are your priorities God’s priorities? Are you living for the greater glory promised by the Spirit? Are you prioritizing redemption and the forgiveness of sin for all who trust in Christ? Or are you so focused on your own comfort and peace that you are neglecting what truly matters?

            I pray that you would consider your ways. Ask God to reveal your current priorities. Consider your spending. Consider your time. What is God stirring up in your spirit? What is your top priority? Let it be the Lord and his people. Beloved, build God’s temple for God’s has made us living stones to be built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, that can never be shaken. Let us be grateful and offer acceptable worship to our great God.

 

[i] ESV Study Bible Note on 1:4 pg 1744

[ii] http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/whats-the-difference-between-living-for-the-kingdom-and-living-for-the-american-dream accessed 3.26.2017

[iii] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2013/08/06/are-you-a-part-time-churchgoer-you-may-be-surprised/