“…build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.” Haggai 1:8b
As our fathers have often expressed it, the faithful church is reformed and always reforming. The work of the church must continue and go forward. We need on-going and renewed zeal and enthusiasm! From this point of view, Haggai’s prophecy is of great significance for us today. His prophecy concerns the church and our calling to do the work of the church.
The prophet Haggai prophesied in Judah about fifteen years after some fifty thousand Jews returned from captivity under the leadership of the prince Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest. But, even though the Jews had been back that long, the temple was still not rebuilt. When they first returned from Babylon, they immediately begun the work of rebuilding. It had not taken long to set up the altar of burnt offering. Within two years they had laid the foundation for the new temple; but then things stalled, and nothing more had been done.
The Jews had their excuses. There had been interference from their enemies; particularly the Samaritans had disrupted the work. Ultimately, they had succeeded in obtaining a decree from the Persian king ordering that the work be stopped. But, in recent years, it had become a matter of the Jews’ own indifference and worldliness.
The Word of God that Haggai was to proclaim was the call to build God’s house, the temple: “…build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.” This is the Word of God for us today and for the church today. It is the call to love the church as the house of God! It is the call to work diligently in the place God has given us in the church—all this unto the great glory of our God! And God will take pleasure in it!
To apply this calling to ourselves and to understand the relevance of Haggai’s prophecy, we must see that Jehovah’s house, the temple, is a picture of the church. It prefigures the institute of the church, even each local congregation. The temple symbolizes the church as we see her, the visible church with her officebearers and members. God’s house is the church as she is called to manifest the marks of the faithful preaching of the gospel, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the loving exercise of Christian discipline. It is the church as she is the communion of saints, worshiping God, and striving together to serve Him.
Scripture speaks often of the church as a building, a temple, a house. Ephesians 2:21 describes it as a building fitly framed together that grows unto an holy temple in the Lord. I Peter 2:5 describes it as a spiritual house. We read in I Timothy 3:15, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The church institute is for us the house of God. And Haggai calls us to work in and for that house when he brings us the Word of Jehovah God, “Build the house!”
For this house always needs to be built. This work of building it is never finished in this life. In time of reformation the church must be raised up from spiritual shambles. She must be built up upon the solid foundation of the Word of God. But always the rebuilding must continue. The construction must go on. That is true today as never before! From a spiritual point of view, much of the visible church lies waste and desolate. Her foundation has crumbled and her walls are broken down. In much of what calls herself church the marks of the true church can scarcely be seen. Her worship and her activities are not according to the Scripture. She is hardly recognizable any more as the church instituted by Christ. She often resembles a center for entertainment or perhaps a social service agency. And many of her members sorely neglect her, at least as far as their proper calling is concerned. The church must ever and always be rebuilt, our churches too, as the pillar and ground of the truth!
We must hear and heed the call: ”Build the house!” But not for a moment may we forget that it is ultimately God’s work. As Lord’s Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism asserts: it is the Son of God who gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself, by His Spirit and Word, His church. We have not in ourselves the power, the strength, the ability to do the work. Nevertheless, God is pleased to use us, and He calls us unto the work. And the power to obey is even in the command as applied by the Spirit. And we ever look to God for the grace, strength, and wisdom we need to build.
What does this work of building involve? Obviously, for a building, the foundation is crucial. The Scriptures make clear that the foundation is sound doctrine, the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, the truth of God’s Word as also set forth in our confessions. The cornerstone is Jesus Christ Himself (Eph. 2:20). So the faithful preaching of the gospel must be maintained, and sound instruction must be provided for the covenant youth in the catechism classes. We build by fervent prayer for the ministry of the gospel, and by our faithful attendance at the services for divine worship. We build by reading and studying the Scriptures with our families, in our personal devotions, as well as with our fellow saints. By all these means every member of the church is shaped and fitted together for a dwelling place for God Himself.
Making our own homes spiritually strong and stable is a vital aspect of this building. Our marriages, which are to be a reflection of Christ and His bride, the church, must be strong and godly. Instructing our children, bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, is building God’s house. Even our daily work and times of recreation, when done with a view to and for the sake of God’s kingdom, are involved in building. All these things, and many more, are involved in building the house of God.
And we must emphasize that this calling to build belongs to every believer! Certainly, godly officebearers are vital for this work. Faithful elders to oversee the flock and zealous deacons to collect and distribute the alms are essential. Faithful pastors who give themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word are building. But this work of building belongs to every believer, young and old, men and women. Our children and young people must be at our side, learning, even assisting, in the work. All are to be builders in God’s house. None may neglect that work. We may not simply leave that work to others. We may not be too busy with our own activities and affairs to have time to build.
For this is an urgent calling—as urgent for us as it was for the Jews at that time. God issues this call with the promise that He will take pleasure in the house and be glorified in it. His pleasure is God’s good pleasure, His sovereign counsel. It is His purpose to magnify Himself as our covenant God and Savior, even in our Lord Jesus Christ. As our heavenly Father, He purposes to abide with us in His house. The church will be for us the place of fellowship with God, the place of His glory.
And yet the danger is very real that we, like the Jews at that time, neglect the work of building. The context (v. 2) tells us that the people of that day were saying that the time to start building had not yet come. They had their excuses—they were too poor; their enemies were still too strong; there was the decree of the king. And besides, they were too busy! And here we get to the heart of the problem. As verse 9 emphasizes, they were running to their own houses while God’s house lay waste. God, through Haggai, admonishes them for their worldliness.
And that is frequently the problem today—our problem! How often do we not care more for our own houses than God’s house! We too are often beset with a spirit of materialism and a lack of self-denial. We have precious little time for the church—for serving her, for
assisting others in their need, even for the work of building up spiritually our own marriages and families! So many of the pleasures and treasures of the world draw us away from the great work of building the house of God. To the extent that this is true of us, we cannot prosper spiritually. And we will experience the spiritual famine and blasting of which the context warns!
Let us hear this Word of God, “Consider your ways!” Think on these things! Build the house! Deny yourself; take up your cross; follow Him who is the Master builder, Jesus Christ! Yea, Christ reaches down, as it were, and fits us into our particular place where we can be used by Him to build, to serve, to the glory of Him whose house is being built. And our joyful song shall ever be:
“Zion founded on the mountains,
God thy Maker loves thee well;
He has chosen thee, most precious,
He delights in thee to dwell.”