By Nathan Washburn
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Greenbrier
The right order matters. It’s not efficient to put the cart before the horse. It’s not wise to buy on credit, getting the item before the payment. And it’s not good to elevate and love self before God.
Self-love, however, is our default setting. It’s our home screen. We don’t have to make any effort to be self-centered. We don’t forget to eat or sleep or spend money on ourselves. We who trust in the Lord and walk according to His ways, however, have a new calling — to be God-centered. God calls us (and the Spirit guides us) to glorify Him and give to His work.
God doesn’t need our work (or anything else), but He uses and blesses it. When God instructed the people to rebuild the temple, it was not because He needed a place to call home. He doesn’t dwell in a house or temple made with hands (Acts 17:24). Nor does He receive anything from us as if He’s served by us to His increase or betterment (Acts 17:25). Instead, God is the one who gives to us — breath, life, houses, and paneling and paint for our houses, too. So then, the exhortation to get back to work on the temple (Haggai 1:2-4) is not primarily because the Lord needs a place to rest.
The people had slacked off in the work of rebuilding the temple, and He wanted them to reorganize their priorities. At different times they had been fearful and distracted and just plain lazy in His work, but they remained quite resolute in their own (Haggai 1:4). They were more than willing to work hard and press on so long as they were the ones to benefit from their labor. The temple would be the primary place of worship and hold a central place in the history of Israel (and the continual unfolding of the story of the Messiah and His salvation), and God would use and bless the work of their hands towards that end.
First things must occupy the first place. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This cannot be reversed. We cannot seek all these other things first and then have the kingdom of God and his righteousness added. It only works if the order is correct. Inverse the order and everything fails — we are unable to secure the other things (Haggai 1:6), and we miss the kingdom too.
God calls us to be God-centered because He knows that true fulfillment and full joy only comes when we are centered around Him and His glory and mission, not our own needs and wants. We glorify Him and give to His work and labor for the gospel, not because he needs it, but because we do. We need to be devoted to something larger than ourselves, and in this we find lasting joy.
Distraction is deadly to the mission. Now is the time to work. Often the biggest threat to any mission that the Lord gives His people is not outright defiance — it’s distraction. When God gives us a task, we typically don’t do our best impression of Jonah and flee the opposite direction. Instead, we simply do other things — good things, even profitable things. But they’re often in place of the mission. The thought, time, and energy we would otherwise have to put toward the mission are instead used on hobbies, entertainment, or just other work that’s not His mission. But His mission must be first — because order matters.