Rev. Dennis Lee, pastor of Kalamazoo PRC in Kalamazoo, Michigan

Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth. Zechariah 4:6-10

Temple builders! You and I have been called by God unto service in the greatest building project of all time: the construction of the church of God! What a privilege it is that you and I, creatures of the dust and sinful besides, would be used by God in this wonderful project!

The difficult task

We need to be encouraged in this work because the task to which we have been called is difficult.

God’s people in the time of Zechariah had been appointed to this task by God. From their viewpoint, it all started to come their way during the reign of Cyrus, the ruler of the mighty Persian world empire. In 538 BC, the Lord turned the heart of this godless king to decree that the exiles of Israel be allowed to return to their homeland. That ended their 70 long years of captivity. The captive elect remnant of God was astounded by the news! With joy, this tiny remnant of God’s people returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, leaving behind the riches and comforts of wealthy Babylon in exchange for the rubble and ruins of Jerusalem. Before them was a scene of utter devastation and destruction. A major rebuilding project was before them. They were to repair the broken walls of the city, rebuild the city, and most of all, the temple, which had been totally destroyed. Without delay, they proceeded with the work of rebuilding and completed the temple’s foundation in two years.

But the work came to a screeching stop thereafter for about fifteen years in the face of much opposition from their hostile neighbors, the Samaritans. If they were to continue with the work, they would have to do it without a completed wall and without a strong military presence to protect them. They would also have to go against the wishes of their powerful ruler Artaxerxes, whom the Samaritans had convinced to oppose their rebuilding labors.

To be sure, even without the external opposition they were facing, the task of rebuilding was a difficult one. For there were many discouragements they faced from within. Surely they were discouraged by their limited manpower. Only a small remnant of the large number of Israelites had returned from Babylon. Besides, they also had only limited resources for their labors.

Furthermore, they knew that no matter what they did, the building, when completed, would be a pale shadow of the stunningly beautiful and glorious temple that once stood there, Solomon’s temple! In a word, their temple-building task was undertaken in an environment and age known as “the day of small things” (v. 10). Small number of laborers! Small amount of resources! Small and insignificant temple!

It is not so different with us today, is it? Though there are some differences in details, the task of temple building in our day and environment is also difficult! And like them, we too have our own set of discouragements and difficulties. Temple building, which for us is the building up of the faithful local church and denomination of churches, is a difficult task! And we too labor in a “day of small things.” The faithful church and churches to which we belong are small and struggling. And unless the Lord wills differently, we expect to remain small as we continue maintaining hard and unpopular biblical doctrines and practices. But this is quite all right because the Lord does not despise “the day of small things.” Unfaithfulness is what He despises!

In the task of church building, we are looking for growth—spiritual and numerical. And with regard to both kinds of growth, we face very real difficulties and discouragements.

This is true for numerical growth in both internal and external aspects. Internally, there is no guarantee that our children will continue in our churches and raise their families there. This is simply a fact, and happens in spite of the good parental upbringing and Christian education we give them over the years. Externally, various activities including community Bible studies and timely topical speeches are organized. But how many visitors have actually come to them?

Discouragements are also experienced with regard to spiritual growth. So often, we are struck by just how “small” the beginning of our new obedience in Christ is when the same besetting sins and weaknesses keep manifesting themselves among us.

All these are great discouragements indeed!

The important instruction

So, how was Zerubbabel able to succeed in his day, and how are we today going to be able to carry out our God given task?

We are to do so by giving heed to the important instruction for temple building that Christ gives His people down through the ages: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit” (v. 6). This instruction was delivered through Zechariah, and was given to Zerubbabel in relation to the fifth vision given to the prophet recorded in Zechariah 4. That vision contained a familiar part and an unfamiliar part.

The familiar part featured one of the three pieces of furniture in the Holy Place of the temple, the seven- branched candlestick. This represents the church of God in the world. Together with the altar of incense and the table of shew bread, it spoke of the church living in sweet communion with God. Further, we are told that it was made of gold, which symbolizes great preciousness. This tells us that God deems His church in the world to be precious—and that includes small churches! Dare anyone despise a small but faithful church? And then there are the lamps on the candlestick giving off light. This speaks of the church’s calling to give off the light of the gospel of God in the midst of a dark and sinful world, doing so by bearing witness to it with both our lives and our mouths.

In order to continue doing that, the candlestick needed oil, which represents the Holy Spirit. Without the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we believers and officebearers would be spiritually impotent and useless to God. But with it, we are able not only to fellowship with God, but also to shine as bright lights for Him in our labors and witness for Him in every office we occupy (including that of the believer) and in every sphere of life. Still more, there was a bowl above the light that carried a constant supply of oil in order for the candle stick to give off light continually. This speaks of our calling to be constantly dependent on the oil of the Holy Spirit in order that we cease not living for Jesus and serving Him in our hearts and lives!

But the vision also featured something unfamiliar to Zechariah: the two olive trees. Zechariah shows that he is not familiar with it by asking “What are these?” Eventually, the angel tells him that they are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord and are appointed to lead God’s people in the task of temple building. In his day, they represented Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel, the God-appointed governor of God’s people. Today, the unchanging God still uses olive trees, His appointed officebearers among His people to lead in the task of temple building. With these special gifts of God-ordained officebearers together with the outpouring of the Spirit upon us, members of the church are equipped to join in the task of building up the body of Christ according to the measure of grace poured out upon them.

The important instruction for us who are called to serve and be active temple builders in Him is: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.”

That means that we are not to depend on nor use means and methods for the task of church building that are based on human wisdom and strength. Depend not on the charisma of any preacher or leader! Change not the teaching and message that is preached! Replace not, nor even dilute, the preaching! And let us perform none of our God-given labors dependent on our own strength, power, and wisdom!

Rather, depend on the Spirit of Christ and use only the means and methods He is pleased to use! Use the means of His Word and prayer! Receive the faithful preaching of His Word. Speak the word of truth in love one to another in the church, and then to those outside the church, to those who know not Christ. Pray and pray without ceasing! And yes, adopt that one and only method of church building: service. Serve Him in areas where you have been gifted and grow in your service of Him. Do these things in the strength of His Spirit, trusting Him with all your heart and be not discouraged. Be not discouraged by the seeming slowness of progress. Be not discouraged by setbacks that come your way. Be not discouraged by the fact that we labor in “the day of small things.” This is God’s work. The fruits of those labors come in His time. And He makes all things beautiful in His time!

The reassuring promise

God well understands that we are weak and easily feel discouraged. So along with His instruction, He gives a reassuring promise to Zerubbabel and to temple builders of all ages.

In Zerubbabel’s day, God affirmed Zerubbabel’s appointed place in the work through the two olive trees in the vision: he was one of them! He assured him that those who oppose him will become as a flattened plain and that he who began the temple building project will one day complete it: the top stone, or final stone of the temple will be laid (v. 7).

So also, God encourages us as a church of Jesus Christ today. Amid all our difficulties and discouragements, He shows us we have a place in His church-building project. We serve either as olive trees or as those who receive the oil of the Holy Spirit and who are called to give off gospel light! And there will come a day when all His and our enemies will become as a flattened plain, and when the last elect child of God will be born and gathered into His kingdom.

In the meantime, what must you do, dear reader? Build! Work! Serve! Do so in the strength and might of the Spirit of Christ, who is the Master Builder and Craftsman of His church! Do all His work “not by might, nor by power, but by” His Spirit, and be amazed that He is pleased to use you and to use me, weakest means, to fulfill His will!