Hand Me Another Brick - Part 4
Hand Me Another Brick 4
Don’t Skip This Chapter
"Then Eliashib (e LIE uh shib) the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall of the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel (HAN uh neel)" (Nehemiah 3:1).
Interesting?? Well, if it was your city, and your ancestors, maybe you would read further; but many readers grow weary of Nehemiah chapter three, where there are thirty-two verses like the above. But from the conviction that there are no profitless sections of Scripture(2 Timothy 3:16-17), there must be something here to learn as well. Points To Note: 1. The spiritual leaders of the nation lead the people by example, it was Eliashib, the high priest who arose up first with his fellow priests and started to rebuild. 2. Nehemiah didn’t get 100% involvement or cooperation, "but their nobles did not support the work of their masters" (3:5). But this didn’t discourage this group from Tekoa, for they repaired more than one section of the wall (3:27). Let us aim at having every member of the body involved in the work, but let us continue to do our part with enthusiasm even when others don’t get involved. It would have been very easy for Nehemiah to concentrate on the non-cooperation of these nobles and completely miss all the people who were giving their all in this project. 3. In this chapter it is often said that someone made repairs, "opposite his house" (3:10,23,28 "each in front of his house"). "That may have been an assigned portion, which was natural and convenient; but knowing human nature I wonder if people then were like today, more likely to work if it served a personal interest. We are most concerned about the hole in the wall that exposes our own house" (Plain Talk, 17/7/8, Robert Turner). At times we need a little bit more "personal interest" in our Christianity. As members we need to be reminded that if we don’t grow individually and collectively then we are creating a stumbling-block for our children. We need to take our Christianity and the condition of the local congregation as something very personal, for the condition of the local congregation can be one factor in whether our children make it to heaven. Getting involved in the local work, teaching bible classes, bringing our friends and neighbors, serving as elders and deacons, and so on, is repairing the portion of the wall that is next to our house! 4. "After him Baruch…zealously repaired another section" (3:20). Zeal, a passion for God’s work, was in the end the only acceptable motivation,"who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14). At times I wonder if we are lacking in zeal towards God and His work, because we have already given our hearts and enthusiasm to some earthly goal. Is God getting our emotional and mental leftovers? Does our heart completely belong to Him? (Matthew 22:37) Or, could it be said that we have been having a emotional affair with some earthly endeavor? (James 4:4) 5. People made the time for God’s work, these people also had regular occupations, and families to feed, but they made time for God, ("the goldsmiths…one of the perfumers" 3:8). 6. The truly spiritual realized that social status doesn’t exempt one from doing God’s work (3:9). 7. "And next to him Shallum (SHAL uhm) the son of Hallohesh (ha LOW hesh), the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters" (3:12). "Like our pioneer women, these girls pitched in to strengthen the fortifications. Under the circumstances of their day such dedication is to be admired. It should have made the Tekoite noblemen ashamed" (Plain Talk). It is so easy to think that my example or life isn’t very influential, but the opposite is true. Every member of the body is greatly needed and has a very important function to fulfill, "On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary" (1 Corinthians 12:22). We also tend to forget that our children can be a tremendous advertisement for Christianity. When people are around our teenagers and younger children, and see their politeness, cheerfulness, and patience, such says to unbelievers, these Christians are doing something right! In our day and age of self-absorbed adults and children, what could be more refreshing than seeing a cheerful, respectful, and obedient child? (Matthew 5:14-16; Psalm 127:3-5).
Shooting Ourselves In The Foot
If we look carefully, we will discover three reasons for the complaints in Nehemiah 5:1-5: 1. There was a famine. 2. There were too many taxes. 3. The high and inappropriate interest rate was causing them to sell their children and themselves into slavery. Their creditors were taking their land as payment and when they ran out of land, the creditors took their children as slaves. "Is the Bible outdated? Does it sound like a book that’s irrelevant? It speaks here of overpopulation, famine, and high taxes. Interest rates were higher than ever with no relief in sight" (Swindoll p. 89).
When All Else Fails, Read The Instructions: There are times when a leader needs to show compassion, but in this instance Nehemiah was angry (5:6). "Nehemiah was angry because the people had forgotten the Mosaic Law. Today we are living in the era of grace and so we look disparagingly (unfortunately) on the law. We shouldn’t. It preserved the people of Israel by telling them how to live with one another" (Swindoll p. 89). In fact, here we find that when God’s commandments are ignored, mercy is also ignored. In the Law God has specifically said, "You shall not charge interest to your countrymen" (Deuteronomy 23:19). "God was saying that He wanted His people, to be unique. In effect, He was saying, ‘I will blessed you, and you won’t have to charge interest to your own brothers. You will maintain a distinction that will cause the foreigner to rub his bearded chin and say, ‘How in the world can that nation continue?’ And you can answer, ‘The Lord, our God provides our needs without interest among ourselves’" (Swindoll p. 90). In this day and age when Christians are being tempted to view God’s commands as being restrictive, it is so easy to miss all the "grace" and "mercy" that are found in such commands (Ephesians 5:22,25,33; 6:2,4; Romans 13:8-10).
"We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?’ Then they were silent and could not find a word to say" (Nehemiah 5:8).
- "I appreciate the fact that Nehemiah didn’t penalize everybody. He went to the primary source of the problem, those who were responsible…Nehemiah made three accusations. 1. You are charging interest to fellow Jews. That is wrong. 2. You are enforcing the permanent slavery of the Jews (violation of Leviticus 25:35-40). That’s also wrong. 3. You are losing your distinction in the eyes of the surrounding nations. That is tragic!" (Swindoll p. 92). "The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?" (5:9) "You guys are over here making a bundle," Nehemiah implied, "and those guys (the Gentiles) across the way are looking on, saying, ‘They’re just like everybody else---no different at all; in fact, the whole project is a joke.’" Nothing could have thrilled Sanballat and his crowd any more than to see the job stopped because of internal strife. Do you know who applauds the loudest when churches split? Those who don’t know Christ. They say, ‘Ah, I knew it would happen. I knew if those so-called Christians had enough time, they’d cut their own throats" (pp. 92-93).
- God tells us, "give the enemy no occasion for reproach" (1 Timothy 5:14), "so avoid giving the enemy an opportunity for scandal" (TCNT), "no handle for speaking ill of us" (Knox). Leadership means that you must be able to see the big picture. Spiritual maturity means putting God’s reputation and His body, the church, ahead of all other considerations. If a problem arises among Christians, then it needs to be immediately dealt with—we must be determined to avoid giving unbelievers any possible ground of complaint against Christians.
- More is expected of us. Yes, Sanballat and his friends were probably just as greedy, but such can never be used as an excuse for the sins among God’s people. Jesus said, "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matthew 5:46-47). Our personal morality and integrity must be above that of secular society. We cannot say, "Well, at least I’m not a criminal", or, "I’m just as moral as the next man". We also must transcend our culture’s expectations of what it means to be a good mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, and friend. Christian couples must be able to say far more about their marriages than, "Well, at least we are still together"---Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Men must be able to say more than, "Well, at least I am a good provider"—Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? Christian parents must be able to say more than, "Well, my children were always well clothed and well-fed".
Solving The Problem
- Determine To Stop It: "Please, let us leave off this usury" (5:10). "People occasionally ask me what they should do when convicted of sin. The answer is simple: Make plans to stop it! Willfully decide to eliminate the wrongdoing, right now. You cannot gradually stop sinning" (Swindoll p. 93). One reason that you cannot gradually stop sinning is that so many sins are inter-connected and dependent upon one another (Colossians 3:5,8; Ephesians 4:25ff; 1 Peter 2:1; Romans 6:12-13). Sinful habits cannot be gradually stopped, for such an attitude itself is wrong (as if a certain percentage of sinful behavior is acceptable). We cannot be victorious against sinful attitudes and habits if we tolerate even their partial existence.
- Make Specific Plans To Correct The Situation As Quickly As Possible: 5:11 "When God shows us a particular sin that we are guilty of, He doesn’t tell us to take our time dealing with it…Making long range plans to correct a problem allows the sands of time to hone off the raw edges of God’s reproof in our lives" (Swindoll p. 93). (Hebrews 3:7-13).
- The Importance Of A Public Declaration: 5:12 Often correction is carried out most effectively when we make a promise, preferably a public promise. If we find ourselves being unable to overcome a sinful attitude or habit, then it might be wise to make a public promise to your family that you are going to work on this problem and that we want them to hold you accountable. "Correcting any problem begins by facing it head-on. Some of us are pros at avoiding the truth. Because it is painful to confront sin in our lives, we dodge it. We excuse it. In essence, we don’t want to endure the pain of reality—and so we hide behind: ‘Oh well, nobody’s perfect. You know, that’s just the way I am. Always have been—always will be.’ Who says? God is a specialist in the business of changing lives" (Swindoll p. 96). I really believe that sinful attitudes and habits which we haven’t been able to correct, are things of which we are presently unwilling to part(Revelation 2:21).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/644-9017