In 520 B.C. the house of the Lord lay in ruin. Though exiled Jews had returned to Jerusalem decades earlier the Temple languished in a state of disrepair. Its condition represented a stark contrast with the lavish homes the Jewish people lived in. Against this backdrop the prophet Haggai voices God’s displeasure over the disparity, proclaiming:
“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The people are saying, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord’” (Haggai 1:2, NLT). The Lord then challenges His people with a rhetorical question: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in luxurious homes while my house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4, NKJV). God later advises them to: “Consider your ways” and links their greed with the sustained economic malaise they’re suffering. Their selfishness, He explains, always produces poverty, hunger, and discontentment.
God’s people used the financial windfall He sent them to indulge themselves in luxury and enjoy a lifestyle of extravagance, while leaving the work of the Temple undone. It was an egregious example of poor stewardship. The Jews misperceived God’s purpose. They mistakenly believed His material blessings were primarily for their benefit, and not intended to advance His kingdom or glorify Him.
Sadly, we make the same mistake – often on a much larger scale. As American wealth skyrockets the average Christian gives less and less of his income. Think about that for minute. God blesses us with greater prosperity and we respond with less generosity. My friends, something is seriously wrong with that trend.
Christians now give, on average, less than 2% of their income to the church. That’s one-fifth of what the Israelites were required to give under the law. Grace may liberate us from the law’s obligations, but apparently it doesn’t free us from the clutches of greed and selfishness.
Of course, God doesn’t expect us to redirect the resources he lavishes on us to fund bigger more opulent churches to worship in. Rather, He expects us to tithe ten percent to the church and donate another generous portion of our income to fund ministries that advance His kingdom, fulfill the Great Commission, and relieve human suffering. Not because the law demands it but because grace compels us. Gratitude for God’s mercy and relief from sin’s stain should inspire joyful generosity far beyond what the law stipulated.
If, however, we resist and continue down the path of financial idolatry – choosing selfishness over stewardship – we face a fiscal future as grim as the one confronted by those Jerusalem Jews twenty-five hundred years ago.
Examine your spending history from the past year and ask yourself: Does it reflect biblical principles of generous financial stewardship or mirror the greed and materialism that plagued the people of Haggai’s day? If it’s more like the latter you may want to take God’s advice and “Consider your ways!”