Monday, 25 February 2008 15:56

Dealing With Ungodliness In An Ungodly Way [1]

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In Nehemiah 4 we saw how the Jews, Gods covenant people, were busy dealing with devilish attacks and discouragements against them, largely from the outside. Nehemiah gives wise godly leadership in confronting the battles they faced and the chapter ends with the wall-rebuilding project going on and making good progress, regardless of all the opposition against it.

Who then expects now what we find in Nehemiah 5 as it opens with verse 1 this way, And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews? All of a sudden there is a work stoppage and another crisis is before them, this time from within the camp of Israel. What was the problem? There was an outcry from the people, especially the poorer ones who were struggling to make ends meet. We are told they could not make ends meet, particularly those with large families. They could not find the food needed to feed their families. They could not pay their taxes and when they borrowed from other Jews who had money to loan out, the interest rates were high, and to pay their loans they ended up having to give up their lands and homes and even their children to their creditors. There was, in other words, a major social economic crisis on hand, and the outcry of the people was strong to Nehemiah about it. Notice how the text emphasizes in verse 1 that the wives too are involved in this outcry, stressing thereby the seriousness of this problem. Particularly in those days, when the womens place was mostly behind the scenes as it were, to have the women adding to the outcry highlights all the more that there was huge trouble in the camp of Israel.

All of a sudden one day, in the middle of the building project, Nehemiah gets to hear about all this internal unrest and trouble. Sometimes, maybe many times, things can look good on the outside while really things are not good at all. While it was not pleasant to have to deal with these nasty problems, it was good that finally it came out in the open. You dont gain by pretending all is well, when it is not so and it is wise and good to go for help when you know things are not right. Especially in the setting of Gods church and among His people, should we not be there for each other to help in time of need, together looking to the Lord for His guidance and help in whatever tense and difficult situations we might find ourselves?

What I want to focus on from the text is Nehemiahs godly response to this all. Dealing with ungodliness in a godly way is our theme for today and next week, Lord willing, based on Nehemiah 5. Before we even go there, however, let us learn just from the opening verses of this chapter how relentless Satan is in his attacks against Gods people and cause, and how much we need to realize the battle against sin and Satan is not just a battle against the outside world, but a battle within the camp too and within our own hearts as well. In the Christian life and walk how we must be on guard on every front, not least in guarding our own hearts and lives that we live in accordance with God and His Word. Our Scripture passage shows that at bottom the social economic problems that had developed in the camp of Israel in Jerusalem were really a spiritual problem, with the people following ungodly ways rather than Gods ways.

But let us learn this further in seeing how Nehemiah deals with ungodliness in a godly manner. I dare say our Scripture gives us so much to learn as church leaders not only but also as parents and individual believers, and as young people and children even, in our own lifes setting.

What happens when Nehemiah hears the complaints and becomes aware of the situation? We are told in verse 6 that he becomes angry. And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. He became very upset with what he saw was a wrong and sinful situation. What kind of things do you get upset about? Are you as a rule only upset and angry when something you own gets damaged or when you suffer a personal loss or when your plans for an outing dont go through? Or do you know about getting upset and becoming angry with sin, sin in our own lives and sin in the lives of others, especially with people who should know better? What we get angry about as well as what we get excited about reflects often what is most dear to us. Nehemiah was justified in becoming upset, filled with righteous anger when he learns about so much unrighteousness taking place within the camp of Israel itself. Do you shrug off sin and evil practices as no big deal, or does it get you genuinely upset as well? It should, shouldnt it? If it is well with you and me, sin angers and upsets us, mostly because it is offensive to God, but also because sin always is harmful to others and ourselves, and it spoils the godly witness the church should give. We need more Nehemiah-like anger and disturbance against sin in our day.

The next point in the text is also so very instructive for us, for what do we read in verse 6, And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and flew off the handle, yelling and screaming at those people for their wrong and selfish behaviour!? No, the text doesnt say that, but notice it says further in words so instructive and convicting in verse 7a, Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers who were guilty of wrongdoing here. In consulting with himself is a phrase that means he quietly reflected, indeed, we may believe, prayerfully reflected, on the situation, and only after seriously contemplating the matter within his heart and how best to respond, then he responded to it. How often we can err in being angry, even over things we should be angry about, not taking time to reflect carefully on how to respond, and as a result, doing more damage than good in our response, being often more emotional than rational, more carnal than spiritual. My friend, do you not see the need to learn from this wisdom here of Nehemiah, who after serious thought responded to a bad situation and did not just fly off the handle in dealing with it? Some, no doubt, may have more struggles with this than others, but the point is all of us should learn from this example here. How true it is what one stated concerning this, Marvelous therapy comes from sharing with God the hurt and the anger as [you take time for serious thought and careful reflection] before you face the situation head-on.

Dealing with ungodliness in a godly way - we have seen Nehemiah become angry with ungodliness, which was good, and he reflected carefully and prayerfully, we may believe, on how to respond to a bad situation which was also good. Next we see Nehemiah clearly confronted the situation, calling a spade a spade. Verse 7 tells us he rebuked the nobles and rulers, those with the money who had allowed this bad situation to develop and were exploiting the poor and needy, giving loans with high interest and unmercifully demanding payments of their fellow Jews, not hesitating to take all they had and to make slaves of their children even. It was a downright shame and so against Gods own Word to His people as recorded in His Word in the books of Moses. Just to mention one Scripture, for instance, in Deuteronomy 23:19-20 Gods Word states clearly there for Old Testament Israel in their relations with each other not to charge interest to their fellow Jews. No interest on money or food or anything that is lent out to others of their own people. Also in Old Testament Israel, a Jew was not to enslave another Jew, at least certainly not long term [Exodus 21:2] and over all they were to be most compassionate and caring towards the poor, reflecting their Lord God Who is so merciful and compassionate towards us in countless undeserved ways.

The point now is, Nehemiah confronted the people, the rich and the rulers, concerning their sin and ungodly practices. He wasnt afraid if this would make him unpopular with them or create problems for him in his relations with them. No, regardless how the people might react, Nehemiah dealt with the wrong and pressed it home to the rich and the rulers how they were sinning against God and their neighbor, and he told them they must turn from their sin and stop their evil ways and even make amends for it all. To correct problems and sins we must face the facts head on and be openly honest and up front, like Nehemiah also here shows himself.

How often we can avoid this important point and find all kinds of ways to dodge confronting sin as sin that must be stopped in our lives. Are you dodging and avoiding any head-on confrontation with sin in your life at all? A true believer will even appreciate this question because a Christian, as opposed to a hypocrite, is one who doesnt want any sin lurking in his life still, none at all, whether private or public. Does that characterize what you are like too by Gods grace, or not so?

Nehemiah accuses the rich and the rulers especially of living in a way that was most disgraceful before God and hurtful to their own people, and such a poor witness to the heathen nations around them. Instead of shining out as different from the ungodly and worldly, they were being just as money hungry and loveless and self-centered as the worldly people around them and that must stop, says Nehemiah. It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God.?

Wonderfully, we read too, the people were convinced and convicted with Nehemiahs words and they repented of their sin. The last phrase of verse 8 states, Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer. In other words, they knew they had been wrong and became sorry for their sin. Praise God for such repentant response concerning their sins. Are you living in the way of true repentance? Do you know that all who will not now respond in true repentance for their sin will one day, when it is too late, stand before the judgment of God and be confronted with all their sins and be forever silenced under Gods just judgment and punishment? They will have nothing to say against it, but be left forever ashamed and in endless agony for sin because of not repenting sincerely in this life. Today is the day and time for true repentance before God and an appeal to Him for His mercy and grace. Today is the day of salvation still, but one day it will be forever too late. Let us learn from our text also in this regard.

Will you by Gods grace, with Nehemiah long ago, respond today in a godly way to all the ungodliness that you meet with in these ungodly times in this ungodly world? Next week we will learn more about Nehemiahs godly response to ungodliness in his time. I would encourage you to read Nehemiah 5 and even the whole book, if you are able to do so. God speaks to us today only through His holy Word, Old and New Testament! Are you listening? Amen.

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