Today I planned a different service because I want to open up my heart with you based on God’s Holy Word and I have lots to share.
Probably some of you are not going to agree or like what I’m going to share but please do not judge me, because I do not judge you also.
But as your spiritual leader I feel like l do have to tell you because I do have the responsibility for your souls. We as a congregation are facing a very dangerous spiritual situation. The times are coming to an end. The Church of Jesus never lived times like the ones we’re living now. Good times, great time, but at the same time dangerous times. Why I say that? Because of the Apathy!
Let me make God’s word my own word…
1 Cor.. 10:15 – I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.
The Evidences, Causes and Consequences of Spiritual Apathy
I was reading through the book of Haggai the prophet and as I did so I was reminded of how relevant his message is for the Church today. Although directed to God’s people some 2,500 years ago and intended to address a specific situation at that time, Haggai’s message is nevertheless timeless in its relevance because the spiritual issues and problems that he had to deal with in his day tend to happen in every generation of the Church.
Haggai is one of the shortest books of the Bible. He is one of the prophets of the Restoration, he ministered to the people of God after their return from exile in Babylon. As such he was one of the last prophetic voices to be heard before the coming of Christ. Unlike most of the prophets Haggai had the joy of seeing his ministry produce positive results among the people of God. There was a great spiritual awakening, a spiritual revival under his ministry and that being the case it is an encouraging book to study. It shows us what can happen when God’s Word is faithfully preached and when God’s Spirit begins to work in the hearts of God’s people.
It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will work in each of our hearts as he worked in the hearts of the people in Haggai’s day and that He will both challenge us and more importantly change us in those areas of our lives where change is needed.
The two themes that predominate the message of this book are Spiritual Apathy and Spiritual Awakening.
The Evidences of Spiritual Apathy
Haggai was sent by God to minister to a people who had fallen into a state of Spiritual apathy. What were some of the signs, what were the evidences that such was the spiritual state of the people at that time?
Well the first evidence was that
1) God’s Work Was Being Neglected
Now in order to see this we need to understand something of the historical context of Haggai’s message. Nebuchadnezzar invaded and overthrew Jerusalem. The city was completely destroyed as well the temple. God’s people were taken into Babylon as captives and there they remained for seventy years. The exile was God’s judgement upon the people for their sins. It was a time of great sorrow for God’s people. A time when they felt cut off from God and could no longer worship him as they had formerly done. A few years later the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians and their King, Cyrus, issued an edict giving permission to the Jews to return to Jerusalem with the express purpose of rebuilding the temple of the Lord. Soon after their arrival they began work on the rebuilding of the temple. They cleared away the rubble from the temple court, rebuilt the altar of burnt offerings and recommenced the offering of daily sacrifice once again. By the following spring they had laid the foundation of the temple and there was great celebrations in Jerusalem at that time. That, however is when they began to run into problems. The people of God became discouraged, their initial zeal was gone, they no longer had any heart for the work and the temple lay unfinished. In the years that followed the people became increasingly concerned about their own personal affairs and for the next 14 years the work on the temple was neglected. The Work of rebuilding the temple should have been their top priority, that after all was the reason why they had been sent back to Jerusalem, but the work had been abandoned and with the passage of time the people became more and more apathetic towards the work.
This then was the first evidence of Spiritual apathy among the people – God’s Work was being neglected.
And this is one of the first signs, one of the first evidences of spiritual apathy in the life of an individual believer or in the life of a congregation of God’s people – the work of God is neglected.
One aspect of the work to which you and I, both individually and corporately, are called by God in our day and generation is the work of building up this spiritual temple; of seeing sinners being saved and added to the Church. Now of course we cannot save anyone. We cannot add anyone to the Church as such, but we can be and we are meant to be instrumental in doing so by reaching out to sinners with the good news of the gospel. This is the means that God has ordained by which people will be saved. “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on the one they have not believed in and how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard. And how can they hear without someone preaching to them…faith comes by hearing the message…” Each one of us has a duty to be involved in this work; a duty to share the gospel with others, with our family our friends, our co-workers, our neighbours. We are to do that by taking opportunities that arise, by making opportunities for ourselves, by passing on Christian literature, by encouraging them to come along and hear the gospel or whatever. But are we doing it? Are we brethren? Or is this a work that we are neglecting? It isn’t an easy work I know, but the difficulty of the task is no reason for neglecting it. And this work for God that we are called to engage in as individuals we are also called to engage in as a congregation. We are meant to be reaching out as a Church into this community around us. Oh you may not be able to go round the doors and give out literature, or you may not be able to engage someone in a conversation about spiritual things on their doorstep, but you could come along and pray for those who are out.
Or you could encourage some unbelieving friend to come to a church service with you. There are things that you could do. The real question is are you interested enough to do them. Have you a genuine interest in and concern for the work to which God has called you or have you over the years become apathetic to such things.
But there is another very important work to which God has called us besides the work of building up the Church by means of reaching out with the gospel with a view to seeing sinners being saved and added to the church and that is the work of building ourselves up spiritually as believers.
The scriptures speak of the Church as a collective body as the temple of the Lord, but those same scriptures also speak of the individual believer as the temple of the Lord. Paul writing to the Church at Corinth in 1 Cor 3:16 says to the believers there “do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” He says the same thing a little further on in 6:19 “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you.” And brethren God has called each one of us as Christians to engage in an ongoing spiritual building work in our own personal lives. To build up our own temple of God. To ensure that our own life is if you like a visible structure, that bears testimony to and glorifies God. The temple was a holy place and as we build our own lives we are to do so in such a way as to ensure that they are characterised by holiness. The temple was known as a place of prayer and prayer is to be an integral part of our lives. The temple was a place of worship and the worship of God is to be something that is central to our life. The temple was a place of sacrifice and we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices unto God. The temple was a place of service and we are to be men and women whose lives are given over to the service of God.
Friends God has called us to engage in this work of building up the temple of our own spiritual lives. The question is have we been applying ourselves to that work or have we been neglecting it?
The second evidence of the spiritual apathy…
2) God’s People were Content
And what I mean by that is this. With the passage of time the people who had returned to Jerusalem got used to worshipping God in the middle of the ruined temple. They had set up the altar in what was once the temple court and day by day they brought their sacrifices by way of worshipping God. Now although they knew as they looked round them at the ruins of the temple that this was not the way it should be the fact of the matter was they were not troubled enough by the state of things to do anything about it. They were happy enough to just let things continue as they were. Initially probably they had no intention of leaving things the way they were for as long as they did, 14 years, nevertheless as time passed they quite simply got so used to their surroundings that it didn’t really bother them any more. Had they been really concerned about the state of things they would have done something about it, but the fact of the matter was they were too content with the situation. And such contentment was an evidence of their spiritual apathy.
And you know what? as Christians we can so easily drift into that mindset. Oh we may not intend for it to happen but as time passes we can get so used to and so content with things being the way they are, that we don’t do anything to change the situation, even though we know that things are not the way they should be.
When it comes to our own personal spiritual lives. Maybe over the past number of months or years we have got into the habit of not attending Church regularly on Sundays, or not attending the service on Fridays evening, or not having a regular quiet time each day for prayer and Bible reading and we have got used to it now to the extent that it doesn’t really bother us, at least it doesn’t bother us enough to do something about it. We are not concerned enough to change.
When God’s people become content with things as they are, in their Church, in their family, in their own personal life, even though they know that the way things are, are not the way God wants things to be, spiritual apathy has set in.
The third evidence of Spiritual apathy…
3) God’s People Making Excuses:
Look at verse 2 “These people say ‘the time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.’”
The work on the temple had been stopped and it seems that at some point the suggestion had been made regarding the possibility of recommencing the work but the overwhelming opinion among the people was No, its not the right time to undertake such a project . Now there may have been different reasons as to why they said it wasn’t the right time for work to begin again on the temple.
But as you read what God says through the prophet Haggai and we will be looking at this in more detail next week, you realise that far from being a legitimate, justifiable reason for not undertaking the work of God, what they offered was instead a vain, empty excuse by which they tried to cover their sinful neglect of the work to which God had called them and to which they ought to have been applying themselves. A person who is in a state of spiritual apathy will always make excuses to try to cover their sinful neglect of the things of God and the work of God.
You know folks we are brilliant at making excuses for not doing what God wants us to do, for not doing God’s work. Pastor, I would love to get more involved in the work of the Church – I know the Church needs people to do outreach work and more people coming along to the prayer meetings; I know I should be spending more time reading and studying the scriptures and praying so that I might be built up and grow as a Christian but I am just so busy, I have so much on, I just don’t have the time.
I wonder what God thinks of such an excuse? I wonder would HE be able to say to us –‘you haven’t enough time to do what I want you to do? Well lets just think about how you spent your time this past week. You had enough time to sit down and watch the T.V. programmes you wanted to watch. You had time to go out and visit your friends. You had time to go to the GYM or that evening class that you have enrolled in. You had time to pursue your own interests.’ Let’s be honest – you had time alright.
Pastor, I would love to be able to pay my tithe to the Lord and give more love offerings to the Church but I just cannot afford it at the moment, maybe when I get sorted out and back on my feet financially, maybe then I will be able to give more. And yet you can afford to have a nice holiday each year. You can afford to buy yourself new clothes. You can afford to change your car every couple of years.
I know I should be more interested in and supportive of mission work, but…
I know I should witness to my unsaved friends and co-workers and loved ones but…
We are brilliant at making excuses for not doing what God wants us to do – for not attending Church every week; For not coming to the prayer meeting. For not witnessing to people. For not evangelising in our local community.
Brethren when God’s work is neglected, when God’s people are contented and when God’s people make excuses for not doing what God wants them to do, there you have evidences of spiritual apathy.
Having looked at the evidences of Spiritual Apathy now we want to consider
The Causes of Spiritual Apathy:
What were some of the causes of this spirit of indifference, this spirit of apathy towards the Lord’s Work, the work of rebuilding the temple, that prevailed among the people in Haggai’s day? Well I think we can identify three causes.
First of all the people were overcome with a spirit of
The people had tried to justify the fact that for over 14 years they hadn’t been applying themselves to the work to which God had called them, the work of rebuilding the temple, by saying ‘It isn’t the right time for the Lord’s house to be built. V4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses while this house remains a ruin?” and again in v9 “my house remains a ruin while each of you is busy with his own house.” That phrase ‘each of you is busy with his own house’. Gives the idea of being completely preoccupied with something to the extent that devotes all time, energy and resources towards the thing that is their chief concern. It is to regard something as being of primary importance. To give something top priority over and above everything else. This is what the people were doing in relation to their own houses. The reason they had little concern for the house of God was because they were too concerned about their own houses. The reason they were not able to give time to God’s work was because they were so taken up and so focused upon their own work. When they first arrived back in Jerusalem from Babylon that wasn’t the case. But with the passage of time their priorities began to change and they started to give top priority to their own personal and domestic affairs and comforts with the result that the work upon God’s house began to slip down the list of things to do. In short they became self-centred instead of God-centred in their outlook. They put themselves first and God second.
Self-centredness is one of the chief causes of spiritual apathy within the Church today. It is one of the main reasons why God’s work is being neglected. Many Christians have got their priorities in life all wrong. Instead of putting God and the things of God first in their lives, they put themselves and their own desires and own needs first. They haven’t abandoned the things of God completely but they are so devoted to other things that God is given the left-overs of their time, their energy, their interest, their finances and so on. Let me ask you this morning is this true of you? Is your life God-centred or is it self –centred? Are you so busy running after other things that your are relegating the things of God and the work of God to a place of secondary importance in your life?
Well if Self-centredness was one cause of Spiritual Apathy the second cause of this spiritual disease was
What evidence do we have that Haggai’s contemporaries were worldly-minded? Well look again at v4. “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin.” When God refers here to their “panelled houses” he is highlighting the fact that the houses that the people had built for themselves and in which they were living were not just comfortable, they were in fact luxurious. A Panelled house or room was one in which the walls were covered from floor to ceiling in cedar wood and such luxury was usually only found in royal palaces.
They hadn’t time to build God’s house but they had plenty of time to build their own. They hadn’t money to give to the building fund for the reconstruction of the temple but they had enough money to decorate their homes in the style of kings. They were so concerned about earthly things that they had become increasingly indifferent to spiritual things.
And you know brethren there are many professing Christians today who, like the people in Haggai’s day, have little concern for spiritual things because they have so much concern for material things. Christians who have a very worldly-minded outlook on life. Instead of setting their affections on things above they set them on things below. Our Lord said that a man’s life “does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” and yet to look at many Christians today you would think that this is exactly what they think a mans life does consist of.
Now please don’t misunderstand me in what I am saying here or should I say in what God’s Word is saying. God was not pointing the accusing finger at the people on the fact that they had built lovely houses for themselves and were living in very comfortably surroundings. That in itself was not wrong or sinful. What God does condemn is the sinful materialistic, worldly-minded, self-centred attitude by which these people were driven to desire such things for themselves while caring little about the work of God. It was the fact that their heart was set more upon material things than spiritual things that God was condemning. They had their priorities all wrong.
There is nothing wrong and sinful about living in a lovely, comfortable, well-furnished, well equipped house. There is nothing wrong with making improvements to your property. There is nothing wrong with changing your car every two, three years or whenever. There is nothing wrong with having a nice holiday each year. Such things are not wrong and sinful, they become such if ones heart is set upon them to the extent that the acquiring of such things for yourself are more important to you than the things of God and the work of God.
Jesus said “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”
So self-centredness and Worldly-mindedness were two of the causes that lay behind the people’s spiritual apathy.
There is, I believe one more cause we can identify in this passage and that is
We find that in that little phrase in v4 “you yourselves”.
What you have in the original is a repetition of the personal pronoun and when that happens in the Hebrew language it is usually done for the purpose of emphasising, of putting stress on and drawing attention to the word.
The point that is being made by God here is this – how could you, you of all people allow such a thing to happen. You who have enjoyed so many privileges and so many blessings from my hand. You the people upon who I set my love. You, the people that I chose for myself out of all the people’s of the earth. You, the people over whom I spread my protecting wings to preserve you while you were in exile. You, whom I brought back again to your own land according to my promise. How could you do this? Is this the measure of your gratitude in view of all that I have done for you? Has all that I have done for you meant so little to you?
And again brethren I would suggest that here lies another cause of much spiritual apathy among Christian people today. Their sense of gratitude to God for all that he has done for them has become a minor thing with the passing of the years. In the early days immediately preceeding their conversion, they were deeply impressed with a sense of wonder and thanksgiving to God for the fact that He in His sovereign grace had set His saving love upon them, chosen them in Christ, forgiven them of their sins, saved them from eternal condemnation and assured them of a place in heaven. They wanted to glorify God in a life of faithful service. But as time went on their sense of gratitude diminished, their priorities changed and they became less committed and less devoted to serving God and slowly but surely became more and more intent on doing their own things and serving themselves. They have become like the Church at Ephesus of whom it was said ‘you have left you first love.’
I wonder is that true of you as a Christian? Has you sense of gratitude to God for what he has done for you in saving you from your sin, has that sense of gratitude diminished over the years to the extent that it no longer motivates you to serve the Lord? If such is the case then I suggest that you take yourself again to the scriptures and remind yourself of the horrors of Hell from which you have been rescued. You need to stand once again under the shadow of the cross and ponder the fact that Jesus gave his all for you. And you need to stay there until the sense of gratitude returns, until the self-centredness is destroyed, until the worldlimindedness is overcome, until the spiritual apathy is replaced by a renewed spiritual fervour.
Consequences of Spiritual Apathy
Now lets look at the consequences of the people’s Spiritual Apathy. The first consequence of the people’s Spiritual Apathy is found in v 2 where we see that
1) Their Relationship With God was Marred:
Look at what it says in that verse 2 “This is what the Lord Almighty says These people say ‘the time has not yet come for the Lord’s house to be built.’” Notice the way God refers to them – self-centred, ungrateful, worldly-minded, spiritually apathetic THIS people. Not my people. There is more than a hint of contempt in this indignant abrupt, cold form of address. Its as if God does not want to be in any way associated with them. He seems to have had enough of their self-centredness and worldly-mindedness and as it were distances Himself from them. He uses what in effect is a term of reproach. The same form of address is found in others Scriptures.
The sin of the people aroused God’s anger against them and their sin resulted in a breakdown in their special relationship with God. Of curse God did not disown them. He could not abandon his covenant relationship with them. But there is no doubt that while they were still his people they were very much out of favour with God on account of their sin, their relationship was damaged.
Let me ask you this morning, as a Christian, do you feel that God is somewhat at a distance from you. Have you in recent months lost that sense of God’s nearness to you and love for you that you once enjoyed? Is your fellowship with the Lord not what it used to be? Do you find that you cant speak to the Lord as you once did, that your relationship is not as close as it once was? Does there seem to be some sort of barrier between you and the Lord? If so then, perhaps its because there is some sin in your life that you have been unwilling to face up to and deal with. Some sin that you have been unwilling to forsake and that you have been indulging for some time. Maybe like the people in Haggai’s day you have fallen into a state of spiritual apathy over the past months or even years. Maybe you have become less disciplined in your Christian life. Less disciplined in your attendance at Church, less disciplined in your reading of the scriptures, less disciplined in prayer, less disciplined in your speech, in your conduct. Maybe you have allowed other things to become more important to you and take preference in your life over the things of God and the work of God. Maybe over this past year or over these past years you have been slowly but surely pushing God from the centre of your life where he should be and wants to be, and you have been giving God the leftovers of your life.
Here then is the first consequence of the people’s Spiritual apathy – their relationship with God was marred.
The second consequence of the people’s Spiritual Apathy was
2) The Blessing of God Was Withheld:
We see that in verses 6 and 9-11
Living as they did in a rural setting God’s people were dependant upon good harvests not only to provide sufficient food for themselves but also to provide a good stable economy in the land that would provide the necessary financial income for the people to maintain their more than comfortable lifestyle. The problem was however that for a number of years now the harvests had been very poor.
They had sown plenty of seed and so on. But despite having done all they could it didn’t materialise because not only did the rains not come, even the early morning dew, which in Palestine is as plentiful and as important as the rains themselves, was in very short supply. Consequently the harvests had been bad.
Their savings all gone, their barns empty, their fields bare, their wells dry. What was happening. Why was this ? Well the answer is really quite simple- GOD WAS WITHOLDING HIS BLESSING FROM THEM BECAUSE OF THEIR SIN. READ v9-11. God says to the people ‘do you want to know the reason for your current problems? Well I will tell you. It is because of your self-centred, worldly-minded, ungrateful attitude that has driven you to put yourselves first and me second. It is because you have allowed my house to lie in ruins all these years. It is because you have been making empty excuses for neglecting the work to which I called you and for which I brought you back to this land, the work of rebuilding the temple. It is because for the last 14 years you’ve been saying, “We’ll get round to doing God’s work some day” but have spent all your time thinking about yourselves. And because of all this I have withheld my blessing from you.’
You know brethren God delights to pour out blessing upon his children. He delights to pour out blessing upon us as individuals as families and as congregations. But when his people become so self-centred and so worldly-minded in their attitudes and in their conduct so as to put themselves and their own interests first and push God to some place of lesser importance in their life, When spiritual apathy begins to settle in and become a regular feature of a believers, of a family’s, or of a congregation’s life, God often responds to such sin by not only withholding his blessing from them but also by allowing persecution against them. He does so, to get us back on the right track spiritually so that he can do what he wants to do, bless us once again. And sometimes he has to lay his heavy hand upon us in order to get us to take time out and reassess our priorities in life.
God called these people to give serious thought to what was happening to them and to what God was doing in their life. “Give careful thought to your ways.” God was speaking to them in their everyday experiences in life and they needed to listen to Him.
Maybe God has been speaking to some of you. Maybe you have not been putting God first in your life. Maybe you, professing to be a Christian, have been not living as a Christian. Not being as committed to God and to His service as you should be.
Give God the first place in your life!