By Pastor Paul Di Toma
If you have not read the entire book yet, I encourage you to do so. It will give you a birds’ eye view of things and help prepare your heart and mind to hear the weekly message.
Last week, I talked about facing opposition. Scripture tells us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) Not everyone who sits in a worship service each week will be persecuted, however only those who aim to live a godly, God honoring life. This, of course, involves doing what we have been called to do, namely, to make disciples!
The Jews that surrounded Nehemiah had a mind to work. As they worked, they encountered opposition. Whenever you do anything to further God’s kingdom, you can expect opposition. It will come from inside and outside of the church; the opposition will come in many different ways. We need to “put on the full armor of God, so that (we) will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Nehemiah met the opposition from outside the people of God head-on; but, he faced another challenge in chapter 5. This time the problem came from inside the camp.
When the enemy fails in his attacks from the outside, often he begins to attack from within, and one of his favorite weapons is selfishness. If he can get us thinking about ourselves and what we want, then he will win before we realize that he is even at work.
Read Nehemiah 5:1-19
In chapter 5 we read that there was a great outcry of the people. Why? Some of the wealthier Jews were loaning money to the poorer Jews and charging them interest. When the poorer could not repay the loan, their property was repossessed, and they became permanent slaves.
God hates the oppression of the weak. This was one of the reasons God sent them into exile in the first place. (Amos 2:6-8) According to God’s law, property could be taken pending repayment of a loan, but taking interest from a fellow Jew who borrowed out of poverty and need was forbidden (Deut. 23:19–20).
Nehemiah is ticked off! He rebukes the leaders and points out the irony of their slavery and stresses that the poorer are still family to the richer and the richer ought to treat them as such. It is one thing dealing with foreign enemies; it is another to deal with domestic ones. It is no different today. Pursuing our own selfish desires and agendas not only hurts the cause of Christ; it hurts the body (our family) as well. When we fail to pray, care for, and serve the body, we are acting selfishly. When we grumble and complain we poison the minds of others. When we fail to give willingly, generously, and cheerfully, we hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ and we jeopardize the mission we have been called to fulfill. Unless we embrace the vision God has given us as a church and have a mind to work, we undermine the work God is doing.
When we fail to pray, care for, and serve the body, we are acting selfishly. When we grumble and complain we poison the minds of others. When we fail to give willingly, generously, and cheerfully, we hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ; we jeopardize the mission we have been called to fulfill. Unless we embrace the vision God has given us as a church and have a mind to work selflessly, we undermine the work God is doing.
Nehemiah showed true leadership in his responses to this problem. Fortunately, he was not a politician who stuck his finger in the air and asked what was expedient or safe. He was a true leader who asked, “What is right?” He met the problem head-on! As a result, all those who had taken advantage of the people agreed to return all they took and require nothing from those in need.
Nehemiah understood the power of example. He lived what he preached!
- What he does not do: v.14-16 – Nehemiah refuses to accept any salary and acquired no land during his 12 years as governor of Judah.
- What he does do: 17-19 – He persevered in the work on the wall and regularly fed 150 Jewish officials and more at his own expense.
If only more leaders followed Nehemiah’s example! Although Jesus said that “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14), there are times when a godly leader will choose not to be compensated for the sake of the mission and for those they are seeking to reach and shepherd. Pastor Eric and myself have both, at various times in our ministries, made such sacrifices for God’s work to continue. This should encourage you. Your pastors are not tying to get rich! At NewLife, we hope to exemplify a willingness to do without so that others might be rich in faith.
Nehemiah is a great example of what a leader is and does. May we all follow his example. By faith may we face external opposition and internal conflict with prayer, courage, practical planning, courageous confrontation of sin, and lives lived above reproach (Nehemiah 4:9, 13-23; 5:9-19).
If we have a mind to work, the God of Heaven will give us success, and we will build.