A Church Named In Spite Of’
Devotional Reading: 1 Peter 1:13-21.
Background Scripture: Haggai 2:10-19.
To begin with, I must acknowledge that Haggai 2:10-19 is difficult to understand. Some scholars believe the text of this passage may have been compromised in transmission, rendering it the most difficult of Haggai’s oracles to comprehend.
While admitting these difficulties, I believe there are some issues that can be related to our own times.
The concern of Haggai 2:11-14 raises the issue of “purity and uncleanness” that prevailed in the time of Jesus, particularly with the Pharisees.
Haggai challenges the priests to decide if meat sanctified by them touches unconsecrated bread, stew, wine or oil, the unconsecrated foods become consecrated (2:12).
The priests apparently are unanimous in answering, “No.”
Then Haggai challenges them with another question: “If one who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” and “The priests answered, Yes, it becomes unclean’ ” (2:13).
Apparently Haggai is trying to help them understand that impurity can be easily conveyed, while purity cannot.
Furthermore, it appears that Haggai is applying this to the rebuilding of the temple. Their neglect of the temple rebuilding project and their involvement in their own personal concerns is a cause of their “impurity” under the law. And this selfish “impurity” is thus imparted to their land and themselves.
“When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten; when one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and mildew and hail; yet, you did not return to me, says the Lord” (2:16,17).
In other words, their poor circumstances are a direct result of their failure to do God’s will. While I am not suggesting that the failures of our efforts to make a living or to be successful in our ventures — including our efforts in our churches — is always the result of our failure to do God’s will, still it is quite often a possibility or even probability.
Our lack of success may well be the outcome of the attitude that our money and other assets are ours as owners, rather than stewards of what belongs to the Lord.
Haggai’s prophecy should also cause us to realize that it is easier to ruin than to preserve what God has given us.
Christians today are rightly concerned with the preservation of our natural resources. Conservation is often regarded as a new attitude, but it actually came to public attention in the late 19th century with help from Theodore Roosevelt.
Today we call it “ecology” and are now aware that failure to be good stewards of the earth God has given us could result in natural disasters throughout the planet.
Haggai’s prophesy seems even more relevant in our 21st century: “Is there any seed left in the barn? Do the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree still yield nothing?” (2:19).
If we acknowledge that God alone is the creator and the Lord of our planet Earth, his promise to the returned exiles can be extended to our own times: “From this day on, I will bless you.”
A Time to Give Up?
Haggai’s prophecy is a command to the returned exiles to finish the task to which God has called them. They are to persevere and continue, even though the work is hard and the obstacles many.
I think this is also a prophecy for Christians today. In the Western world, many churches and Christian institutions are dwindling, losing people and assets.
To some, this seems a signal to stop trying and give up to inevitability. But if it is God’s work — and not just our pride that is at stake — our efforts will be rewarded by our Lord.
We need to be reminded of the prayer of Sir Francis Drake: “Lord God, when Thou gavest to thy servants to endeavor any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished which yieldeth the glory.”
In Mexico there is a famous statue that was carved by Jesus Garcia. It bears the strange name of “In Spite Of.” That was not the name that was originally intended, but in the midst of his work, the sculptor lost the use of his right hand. It was assumed that he would not be able to finish the work, but Garcia was determined and drove himself to learn to carve with his left hand.
At last, he finished and it seemed a better sculpture than if he had retained the use of his right hand. And so, they named the statue, “In spite Of.”
That might be a great name for your church: “In Spite Of.”