Monday, 03 March 2008 12:27

Dealing With Ungodliness In An Ungodly Way [2]

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As we noted last time, Nehemiah 5 tells us about what you might call an unexpected disappointment. While the Jews were rebuilding the walls of the city, the fourth chapter told us how these Old Testament covenant people of God 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. The chapter ends with the wall rebuilding project going on and making good progress still, regardless of all the opposition against it. But then comes this chapter where we are told about the work being threatened to stop because of all kinds of internal conflicts within the camp of Israel. There was economic and social injustice between the people and worst of all there was not a humble submissive spirit of obedience to all of Gods Word.

Nehemiah, we saw last time, already deals firmly with the problems. He became righteously angry about it and, praying for Gods guidance, exposes the sins and confronts those guilty of wrongdoing. Wonderfully, we read, 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. Is it how you respond too when convicted of sin? Do you know that all who will not in this life respond in true repentance for sin will one day, when it is too late, stand before the judgment of God and be confronted with their sins and be forever silenced before Him and His just condemnation and sentence against their sins? The wicked and unbelieving will one day 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. Let us learn from our text also in this regard.

Notice yet too Nehemiah confronted the people publicly, with a great assembly present, for the wrongdoing was of a public nature affecting many. We are told when they expressed repentance and promised that, as verse 12 states, we will restore [all that we have taken unjustly from our brethren] and will require nothing of them; so will we do as thou sayest that Nehemiah then had the priests come to register, as it were, their vows to change and make amends. In other words, Nehemiah made them publicly accountable to do as they promised, and he even expressed visibly a symbol of Gods curse upon them if they would not follow through on their vows to change. Nehemiah makes clear there would be serious consequences from God if the people were only speaking words now and would not follow through in their daily conduct and relations with the people on their promises and vows to live in brotherly love and care for each other.

What we see here clearly is that Nehemiah dealt with sin Biblically, dramatically, and effectively. Sin was not excused nor tolerated nor permitted and the people were called to turn from their evil ways and to walk in Gods ways. Seeing this in our text you cant help but ask yourself if the Christian church has lost something of this today? Is sin and wrongdoing taken seriously and dealt with in the churches, in your life individually, and in your family? Isnt the reality sadly, in all too many cases, that we are living in times where the sinfulness of sin is forgotten and the call to repent of sin is seldom heard and little emphasized. This is not right and certainly not Biblical nor in line with true gospel preaching. Notice as well how in dealing with sin in this Scripture passage, there is no such thing as gradually dealing with it over time. Who of us doesnt know that you dont truly repent of sin if you think and decide only gradually, eventually, to stop sinning? No, when there is true repentance from sin, you dont minimize your sin nor do you postpone dealing with it, but you turn from your sins, crying to God for His mercy and help for Jesus sake to deliver you from your sins and sinfulness. Is such true repentance from sin evident in your life, indeed on a daily basis even?

Nehemiah was so adamant in dealing with the sin because, as verse 9 brings out, he saw how it brought dishonor to Gods cause and to His Name, and it also slowed down and was such a hindrance on the work of the Lord that the people were involved with. As one observed, strikingly in the first 13 verses of Nehemiah 5 there is no mention of the wall, for no building was going on! When we are living in sin, then the miserable status quo is maintained and throbbing and fruitful growing godliness and service to God to His praise doesnt flourish at all! Living in sin spoils so much the witness of Gods people and stifles their progress. Nehemiah knew it would be foolish and vain to continue building the walls of Jerusalem without dealing with this sin problem inside the city of Jerusalem. The rebuilt walls could not save the city from inner decay and demise on account of sin and evil within. It had to be dealt with would they truly succeed in their rebuilding project. Do you see how wise and right Nehemiah was in all these matters?

Let us notice something else from Nehemiahs dealing with the sin problem and that is how he pressed for accountability in their following through with turning from sin and making amends and a change of behaviour. Isnt it true to say here, we help ourselves and promote Gods church and kingdom when we allow ourselves to be accountable to each other? Isnt that part of being a church fellowship and a congregation? When you belong to a Christian church, dont you pledge before God and each other that you will live in accountability before others, as confessing Christian and member of the Christian church? And isnt the matter of making ourselves accountable another means of grace actually, meant to encourage and strengthen us in the way we should go and to keep us from the way we must not go? In a healthy Christian church you will then also find the practice of mutual exhortation in the way of holiness and godliness, repentance and faith, and faithfulness. Do you belong to a Christian church where the faithful exercise of Christian discipline takes place, in an unofficial way mostly, but if necessary also in an official manner, as Jesus Himself outlines, for instance, in Matthew 18?

What we need to see in this Scripture passage as well is the joy of repentance and following Gods ways. The chapter begins with the people being miserable and upset with each other, but in verse 13, having confronted and dealt with the sin problems in an honest and God-honoring way, notice the result is that the people are filled with praise to the LORD. We read in that verse, And all the congregation said, Amen, and praised the LORD. Repentance before God and trust in Him for renewal brings refreshing joy and hope again, and it stimulates rather than stifles one in the way of godliness. Do you know this joy of repentance before the Lord? When caught in the web of sin and staying in it, you cant and wont find true joy and liberty, but turning from sin and pleading Gods mercy and following after His ways brings real joy, and makes life worth the living again. The peoples problems with poverty and taxes and famine were not all over with this turn around in Gods ways, but with true repentance they surely could handle it better and had the joy of God blessing them in their ways, and not being against them for their sins.

How much we can learn from Nehemiahs dealing with ungodliness in a godly way. Look at the last way that our text shows how Nehemiah dealt with ungodliness in a godly way. Not only did he become angry with sin and confront it wisely, dramatically, and emphatically, call for immediate change of behaviour and demand for accountability regarding true change for God and good, and not only did he join in the praises of God with true repentance, but notice from verses 14-19 his own godly example before the people. These verses give us a summary description of the whole first twelve year term as governor of Judah that Nehemiah served. From these verses we learn Nehemiah didnt follow the bad policies of governors before who would abuse their position as governor, taking advantage of the people to serve their own ends [see vs.15]. Neither did Nehemiah draw from the people for his living expenses just going instead by his salary from the King of Persia [vs. 14], being there to serve with the people and for the people in their needs and cares and for their benefit [v.16]. He was a man of honesty and integrity and a man who had care and compassion for his people, realizing also their burdens in life, and their difficulties, as vs. 18 tells us.

Nehemiah did not exploit the privileges given to him as governor nor did he advance his own position at the expense of the people, but rather he served the people in the Name of God and for the glory of God, leading them by all means, as best he could, in Gods ways.

Does not Nehemiah here remind you of the greater than Nehemiah, the Lord Jesus Christ? Just think of how He gave Himself and lived in perfect righteousness and holiness and how He served to be of true blessing for others, indeed, even to the death of the cross. Nehemiahs person and work is here just a dim reflection of Jesus Person and work as Saviour and Lord for people like us. Nehemiahs right and noble godly ways, we must realize, are in view of and on account of dependency on the God of salvation and a looking to and trusting in Gods gospel promises long before they were realized and come to fulfillment even. It is God and His Word in our hearts by grace that makes for true religion and practical godliness in our lives here and now. It is honest hearty belief in God and holy dread of sin that makes us be of holy influence and godly impact on the lives of others. How important that you also understand this from this Bible passage.

Nehemiah 5 telling about the sin problem within the camp of Israel isnt pleasant to learn about. Yet it sure is wonderful to read about the way it all was dealt with in such an honest and open manner and the way the people truly repented and found forgiveness and resolved to change, how this problem too was overcome by the grace of God and through the provision of the Lord, also through his servant Nehemiah. Nehemiah 5 surely, as Paul writes in II Timothy 3:16-17, is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect [complete], thoroughly furnished [equipped] unto all good works. Even so, may God now bless this His Word as found in Nehemiah 5. God forbid that it be an unprofitable passage to any one listening. For sure, blessed are they who hear the Word and do it. Will you so be blessed, and be a blessing in a Nehemiah-like way in our times? Amen.

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