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11. Marks of True Repentance

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Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah. Zedekiah… “The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord…
Nehemiah 10

What are marks or evidences of true repentance in a Christian’s life—repentance that saves? We have all seen people who claim to follow Christ but are lacking the fruits that prove the reality of their faith.

It is very easy to make a claim or to have a profession of faith, but how does one know if it’s a reality? Christ said in Matthew 7:21-23 that many would come in his name claiming to have a relationship with him but he would reply, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity I never knew you.” They had the talk but not the walk.

In fact, bearing fruit is a very important aspect of our faith. We saw this with John the Baptist’s and Paul’s teaching. Look at what John said when he showed up preaching repentance:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Matthew 3:7-10

John the Baptist in commanding repentance did not just say simply “confess” or make a declaration. True repentance always has the corresponding fruits. Paul said the same thing. Consider what he said: “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).

Paul preached the need to repent, but like John, he also preached the necessity of proving one’s repentance. It is not enough just to confess; confession must be followed by the proper works. Now this is not a works salvation; it is a salvation that works—a salvation that changes us.

In the context of Nehemiah, we must remember that there was a revival happening. In chapter 8, the people listened and responded to Ezra’s reading and teaching of the Word of God. In chapter 9, the people put on sackcloth and ashes and repented of their sins and the sins of their fathers. But in this chapter, they responded by renewing their covenant with God and committing to prove their repentance by their deeds. Listen to what they said in Nehemiah 9:36-10:1:

“But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress. ”In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.” Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah. Zedekiah,

They made a commitment to God by renewing the Mosaic covenant. Eighty-four leaders of the community signed a document—a binding agreement. This document showed the priorities of their commitment to God. Even though we are not a part of Israel, we as Christians should have these same commitments. These same fruits will prove the reality of our repentance and relationship with Christ.

What are marks of true repentance—genuine faith?

Big Question: What commitments did Israel make in this chapter as a fruit of their repentance? How can we practice true repentance in our lives?

True Repentance Includes a Commitment to God’s Word

“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand—all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
Nehemiah 10:28-29

What is the primary focus of this covenant community as seen in the signed document? The primary focus was to submit to the law of God. Israel had disobeyed God’s covenant, which was given in the Pentateuch. But, in this text, they renewed their commitment to God’s Word. Look at what they said:

“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
Nehemiah 10:28-29

Here Israel committed to follow God’s Word. Jesus taught that practicing God’s Word was a proof of true faith in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught that there were two types of people who listened to his words. One listened and built the foundation of his house on these words, and his house stood in the storm. But, the other did not build his house on Christ’s words, and his house was destroyed. He said this in Matthew 7:24-26:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

It is very easy for us to look at the Scripture and say with awe, “No one ever spoke like this” as those in John 7:46 did, when listening to Christ, and yet not submit to him. It is also possible for us to pick and choose what we like about the Scriptures instead of submitting to the whole counsel of it.

The apostle John said the same thing as Christ. Listen to what he said: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4). He said obeying God’s commands marks genuine faith and repentance. If we are not committed to God’s Word and following it, we are not truly saved and our repentance is false.

True saving faith and true repentance recognizes Scripture as God’s Word and commits to studying it and submitting to it. This should be the focus of the Christian life, and it is an evidence of true repentance.

Here Israel renewed their covenant to follow the laws of God which demonstrated true repentance. Do we need to renew our covenant to God’s Word as well?

Application Question: What are your thoughts about commitment to knowing and obeying God’s Word as a proof of genuine repentance? Why do so few Christians demonstrate this commitment in their lives? In what ways is God challenging you to both study and obey his Word more?

True Repentance Includes a Commitment to Fearing God

all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
Nehemiah 10:29

Not only did they commit to following God’s Word but they also put themselves under a curse if they failed to follow it. In those days when people made covenants, they would often slay an animal and walk through the parts of the animal. By doing this they were saying, “Let this happen to me if I don’t fulfill what I have committed to.” This is what God did in confirming his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. He walked through the cut-up bodies of animals, committing to fulfill his covenant with Abraham.

It is possible these leaders did the same thing. But more than likely, they “bound themselves to a curse” by reading Deuteronomy 27 and 28. God had essentially promised Israel that if they did not obey his words, he would severely discipline them. Look at what he said:

Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them. However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.
Deuteronomy 28:14-20

By binding themselves to the curse, they recognized that God was faithful to his words and that he would curse, discipline, and even destroy them for disobedience. Now, under the New Covenant we are not under the curse of the Mosaic Law (cf. Gal 3:13); however, the fear of the Lord should still be a motivating factor in our lives.

Interpretation Question: Where do we see the necessity of fearing the Lord taught in the New Testament?

In contradiction to how some say God was a God of wrath in the Old Testament and a God of grace in the New, he is gracious and wrathful in both. Listen to what Philippians says: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12).

Why should we have fear while working out the completion of our salvation (sanctification, becoming like Christ)? We should fear because God is a God of discipline. Listen to 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

We must remember our God killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying about their offering in Acts 5. Our God brought sickness and death to some of those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. Our God is still a God of discipline.

And ultimately, it is good to remember that even though we are not under the law, we are still bound by the spiritual principle of “sowing and reaping” which God oversees. We will reap what we sow, whether in this life or after. Galatians 6:7-8 says,

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

When the Jews were recommitting, they recommitted not only to the Word of God but to fearing the Lord, which should be a sobering motivation for all Christians. Hebrews 12:6 says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves.” Discipline is a major aspect of our sanctification, and we should recognize this everyday as we are confronted with temptation and opportunities to sin.

Do you still fear God? Solomon said it is the beginning of wisdom—the beginning of living a wise life (Proverbs 9:10). Therefore, we must fear him if we are going to live a wise life, which is a holy life.

Application Question: Why should the fear of the Lord be a motivation in the Christian life? How would you describe your fear of God’s discipline? How do we find a balance between the motivation of God’s love (cf. 2 Cor 5:12) and fearing his discipline?

True Repentance Includes a Commitment to Holiness

“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand… “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.
Nehemiah 10:28, 30-31

Another focus of the Christian life and evidence of true repentance is the practice of holiness. Where do we see this commitment in Israel? Look at what they committed to:

The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand--all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord. ”We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. ”When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.
Nehemiah 10:28-32

This holiness was seen in two ways. They would not intermarry with the neighboring nations, and they would not sin against God by buying and selling from the foreigners on the Sabbath.

Israel lived amongst neighboring nations that wanted to interact with them spiritually by drawing them to worship their gods. They wanted to interact with them socially through marriage and the practice of other cultural norms. And they wanted to interact with them economically through trade, which was often done on the Sabbath.

However, God had called Israel to be holy and separate from the neighboring nations primarily so they would not be led into sin. Listen to the command about not marrying in Exodus 34:15-16:

“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

The call to not interact or marry with the surrounding nations was never racial but spiritual. They were called to be separate and holy in order to not be drawn into sin with them or to worship their gods. This is what happened with Solomon, who led the kingdom of Israel into God’s judgment.

It’s good to remember that Ruth and Rahab were both Gentiles, and yet they both married into Israel and were put into the lineage of Christ. However, they both were converts to Judaism—they worshiped the God of Israel. Moses also married an Ethiopian woman. Jonah was sent to prophesy to the Gentiles in Nineveh. They were not to be totally separate from the Gentiles but to be separate in the sense that they would not be influenced to sin.

It is no different for us. Second Corinthians 6:14 says to not be “unequally yoked,” and James declares that this practice of not being polluted by the world is a religion God accepts. Listen to what he said: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

A religion our God accepts is one that keeps itself unspotted from the world. You must be careful of the music you listen to, the TV shows you watch, and the friendships you cultivate. We must not adopt the ideals and practices of the world.

Scripture says that in the same way that the neighboring nations were seeking to lead Israel astray, the world does the same with us. Listen to Romans 12:2:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The word “conform” has the connotation of being acted upon. We are being pressed and molded into the image of the world. We are being pressured into having the same passions, the same desires, and the same worldview, rather than that of the inhabitants of the kingdom of God (cf. Matt 5:3-10, Phil 3:19-21).

Scripture also commands us to not love the world, for whoever loves the world, the love of the father is not in him (1 John 2:15). There is a principle in the world system working to draw us away from the love of God.

Yes, our priority must be holiness. Are you living out a life of separation from the world? Or are you trying to love God and love the world as well?

In fact, John says that if we have not committed to holiness and are still living in sin, we are not truly born again. It is a genuine fruit of repentance and if we lack this desire and practice of being holy, then we are not truly saved. Listen to what he says: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6).

Israel committed to being separate from the nations in order to be holy unto God. We must make this commitment as well. Separation is necessary in order for us to not be influenced by this world, and it is also necessary for us to influence the world (cf. Matt 5:13). We must be different in order to influence the world.

Application Question: How can we reconcile the tension of being in the world and not of the world? In what ways is God challenging you to practice separation?

True Repentance Brings a Commitment to the House of God

Observation Question: In what ways did the people of Israel commit to supporting the temple ministry as seen in Nehemiah 10:32-39?

In the next verses, Nehemiah 10:32-39, we see the house of God mentioned nine times, referring to the restored temple.1 As a fruit of their repentance, the people of God committed to support the ministry of the temple in four different ways.

  1. The temple tax (Neh. 10:32–33). The annual census of the people twenty years of age and older was accompanied by the collecting of a half-shekel tax to be used to support the ministry of the house of God (Ex. 30:11–16).
  2. The wood offering (Neh. 10:34). Since the fire on the brazen altar was to be kept burning constantly (Lev. 6:12–13), it required a steady supply of wood; and wood was a precious commodity.
  3. The firstfruits (Neh. 10:35–37a). The Jews were taught to give God the first and the best, and this is a good example for us to follow today. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Prov. 3:9, NIV).
  4. The tithes (Neh. 10:37b-39). The word tithe means “a tenth.” The Jews were to bring a tenth of their produce to the Lord each year for the support of the Levites (Lev. 27:30–34). The Levites then gave a “tithe of the tithe” to the priests (Num. 18:25–32).2

Application Question: What can we learn from the commitment of the people of Israel to support the work of the temple? How can we apply this?

1. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us of our need to support the work of the Lord with our finances.

Israel committed to give the temple tax, the wood offering, the first fruits, and the tithe. In the New Testament, we are not under the Old Testament tithe or giving system, but we are commanded to practice faithful giving. We learn about New Testament giving in Paul’s command to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. It says:

Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

We are called to give “in keeping with our income”; other versions say “as the Lord prospers you.” What makes this harder than the Old Covenant is the fact that many people should be giving way more than 10% because God has prospered them so much. This may be especially true for the Western church, which is very wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world.

Christians are called to not store up riches on this earth (Matthew 6:19), and we are called to be cheerful in giving (2 Corinthians 9:7). Also, we are called to seek to excel in the act of giving in the same way we do in acts of love or mercy. Second Corinthians 8:7says this: “But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

In the practice of grace giving, we are not called to give our 10% and then say we have fulfilled the law. No, we are called to seek to increase our giving at all times, just as we are always trying to love more.

How does this look practically? Personally, every year or at certain times during a year, my wife and I will look at our finances and see how we are doing. We have a fixed giving each year but our priority is always to see if we can increase it. Can we give 5% or 10% more this year or semester based on our income? Or, should we consider lowering it because of new costs?

That’s one way we can apply the practice of grace giving and trying to continually grow in this grace. As Israel committed to support the work of God, we must continually make this commitment as well.

How else can we apply Israel’s commitment to the house of God?

2. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us of our need to give our best to God.

Israel committed to give God their firstfruits. The firstfruits were considered the best and a picture of the future harvest. In what ways can we give God our best?

In Malachi, which was written to Israel during the days of Nehemiah,3 God accused Israel of bringing lambs which were blind and lame, and he rejected them. Look at what God said to Israel in Malachi 1:6-8:

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ ”You place defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

Many times we do this with God. We give him the last five minutes of the day and sometimes nothing at all. We give him our left-overs, not our best. We also should give God our firstfruits because he is our King. How can we give our King anything less? Are you giving God your best?

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to give him your best practically? How does this affect your time management, your priorities, and your future goals?

3. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us that we should labor to build up God’s church.

Another application we can take from this is our need to build up God’s church. Today, God does not live in temples built with hands, but he indwells the people of God—the living temple. Listen to what Peter said: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

Similarly, Paul teaches that we are the temple of God both corporately (1 Cor 3:16) and individually (1 Cor 6:19). Therefore, one of the ways we build God’s house is by being committed to the church and serving his people there.

God has uniquely given each believer a spiritual gift for the purpose of building up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7). Just as each person brought wood, firstfruits, etc., to build up the house of God, we must use our gifts and our time to build up God’s people as well. This is a true fruit of genuine repentance: serving the house of God.

John said this: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14). Love always results in service. If anybody does not serve the church—Christ’s body—he has not passed from life to death. They lack a fruit of true repentance.

Application Question: In what ways do you feel called to serve the people of God? What are your spiritual gifts and what sacrifices do you feel called to make in building God’s house?

General Applications

As we look at the covenant Israel renewed with God in Nehemiah 10, we learn a lot about our spiritual commitments and how we should continually practice them. As seen with New Year’s commitments, many people feel that making them is pointless. “We are just going to break them anyway,” they say. However, commitments are very important to any aspect of society and especially to our spiritual life. We make commitments when we sign a job contract, when we buy a house, and even when we get married. Commitments are important.

Application Question: What can we learn about commitments from Israel in Nehemiah 10?

1. We should not hesitate to make or renew biblical commitments to God. It doesn’t matter if we failed in the past; we can start over at any time.

What commitments is God calling you to make or renew with him today?

2. We should practice sharing our commitments with others in order to have accountability.

It seems that because only eighty-four leaders signed the document, the leaders were not only committing themselves but committing to help Israel keep their commitments. They were the nation’s representatives, and the contract was an accountability system for Israel. It also may be wise for us to share our commitments with spiritual leaders or those we trust so they can help hold us accountable.

Who are your accountability partners? What commitments are they helping you keep with God?

3. We should practice writing down our commitments.

The Jews wrote down their commitments to God and had the leaders sign and seal it (cf. Neh 9:38-10:1). There is something powerful about both verbalizing our commitments and writing them down.

Writing them down helps us clarify them and make sure they are attainable. This is another form of accountability for us. This helps increase our faith as we watch God’s faithfulness in helping us fulfill these commitments. This may be done with a journal or even a contract like Israel’s.

Application Question: In what ways have you found accountability helpful in your spiritual life? Why is it so important?

Conclusion

What are marks of true repentance and, therefore, saving faith? In this chapter, Israel followed up their repentance in chapter 9 with a renewal of the Mosaic covenant. They made many commitments to God, and, in many ways, these should be our commitments today.

  1. The people of God must be committed to the Word of God. How is God calling you to renew a commitment to studying and practicing his Word?
  2. The people of God must be committed to the fear of the Lord. Israel put themselves under the curse of the Mosaic law for breaking the covenant. They essentially committed to recognizing and allowing it to motivate them to faithfulness. Does the fear of the Lord motivate you?
  3. The people of God must be committed to holiness. Israel separated from the neighboring nations and their ways of life. In what ways are you practicing separation?
  4. The people of God must be committed to building the house of God. The house of God is not the temple anymore but it is our bodies (1 Cor 6:19) and the people of God (I Peter 2:5). We should be committed to serving and seeing God’s kingdom come in our own lives and the lives of others.

Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to be more committed to him and/or to challenge others through this study on true repentance?


1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 123). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined. “Be” Commentary Series (126). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

3 MacArthur, John (2003-08-21). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 6969-6970). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Leadership

12. Characteristics of Honored Servants

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Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem…
Nehemiah 11

What are qualities of those who will be honored by God for their service to him?

In Nehemiah 11, we see the repopulating of the city of Jerusalem, but not only that, we see those who are honored and commended for taking the leap of faith in moving there. By reminder, chapters 1-6 focused on the rebuilding of the wall. In chapter 7, a census was taken of all the people living in Israel. But in that census there was clearly a problem with the city. Nehemiah 7:4 says, “Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.”

They had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, but only a few people were living in the city and the buildings needed to be rebuilt. In chapters 8-10, there was a spiritual revival in Jerusalem; the people met often to hear the Word of God and recommitted to following it.

Nehemiah 11 is especially important because the worship of God was integrally connected to the city of Jerusalem. We must remember that not only did God call Israel to be his priests, but he had called for Jerusalem to be his capital city. It was in Jerusalem that the temple was located, God’s presence dwelled, and people from throughout the world would come to offer sacrifices in worship of the living God. In fact, in Nehemiah 11:1, Jerusalem is called the “holy city.”

In this text, the narrator honors those who sacrificed—left home and land to build up the holy city—by recording their names. They and their families were honored as the record of their names would have been read before the nation of Israel. But these people were also honored when they initially volunteered to serve in Jerusalem. Nehemiah 11:2 says, ”The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”

Similarly, this has applications for God’s church. One day God will honor everyone who has labored to build his church and spread his kingdom on the earth. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5:

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

Paul said a day is coming in which God will honor those who have served him with a right heart and right motives. Then each person will receive their praise from the Lord. Christ taught that even the giving of a glass of water in his name would receive a reward (Matt 10:42).

In the same way that the narrator honored those who faithfully served in rebuilding and populating Jerusalem, God will one day honor those who faithfully served in the populating of the New Jerusalem, heaven’s capital city (cf. Rev 21:1-2).

With that said, it is important to recognize that not every servant will have the same honor in heaven. Consider what Christ taught:

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19

Jesus taught there will be those who are called great in the kingdom of heaven and those who will be called least. Not everybody in the kingdom of heaven will have the same honor.

In Nehemiah 11, we learn something about those who faithfully populated Jerusalem in order to help restore the worship of God in Israel. These people were honored by Israel publicly and, ultimately, by God, as he chose to include their names in his Holy Word. In the same way, God will one day publicly honor all his servants who have faithfully built his kingdom on this earth.

As we study this passage, we must ask, “What are the qualities of those who will be honored for their service to the Lord?” There is coming a day when those who have served God faithfully will be honored before all. God is still looking for people to restore the worship of God around the world and those who take up this call will be honored by him.

Big Question: What were the qualities of those who were honored for repopulating and rebuilding Jerusalem? How can we apply this to those whom God will honor eternally?

Honored Servants Are Willing to Lead by Example

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem
Nehemiah 11:1

Interpretation Question: Why did the leaders of the people settle in Jerusalem first, before anybody else?

What initially stands out about the repopulation of Jerusalem is that the leaders settled there first. No doubt, this included Nehemiah, Ezra, and other leaders. This is normal for most capital cities. The leadership dwells in the capital, since all the major decisions typically happen there.

However, this represents more than the fact that they needed to be in Jerusalem—they were setting the example for others to follow. Very shortly after they settled, others were recruited to help in the repopulation process. If Jerusalem was going to be repopulated, the leaders had to lead the way.

Similarly, this is true for the church as well. If worship is going to be restored in our churches, our communities, and our cities, it must begin with spiritual leadership. Consider how Paul challenged the Corinthians. He said: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Paul was willing to set the example for others to follow. Likewise, those who are honored by God will always be those who are willing to be examples. They set the example in their devotional lives, in their work, in their dating relationships, in their marriage, in their finances, etc. They do this so they can say, “Imitate me,” just as Paul did, in order to ultimately help people look more like Christ.

Similarly, Paul told Timothy this: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). He challenged Timothy to set an example for others.

In response to this reality, we must ask ourselves, “Are we willing to be godly examples for others?” This is an essential qualification for those who serve in any ministry. “Do we have a spiritual life that is worthy to be modeled?” “Can we give others a plan on how to faithfully practice their devotional lives?” “Can we demonstrate to others how to practice purity both in our thought life and our relationships?”

Those who lead must set the example, but, not only that, many times those who lead must often give up their rights to better serve others. In order to set the example, Nehemiah and the leaders had to give up their right of living outside of Jerusalem. Yes, it would have been safer, less work, and more comfortable if they would have lived outside of Jerusalem. But, they instead gave up their rights in order to lead others into what was best.

Paul said this: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). Surely, eating meat is a freedom and a biblical right, but if someone was offended because of a weak conscience, then he would have stopped rather than allow that person to be hurt by his freedom. This attitude is a must for leaders; they must think of others before themselves (cf. Phil 2:3-4) and, at times, even give up their rights in order to set the example.

Am I free to go to the movies? Am I free to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes? Certainly, Scripture does not clearly forbid such things. However, in my freedom, I must ask, “Could my freedom harm someone who is weaker than me in the faith and has less discipline than me?” This is the type of question people in leadership must ask.

Paul said, “Everything is permissible for me but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Everything is a freedom for me that Scripture doesn’t clearly forbid, but I must ask the right questions before I use my freedom such as: “Will this practice build others up? Will it build me up?” This is what keeps many from being good examples. The only question they ask is, “Is it my right?” or “Can I do this?” When they should ask, “Is this best for others?” and “Will this be best for me?”

Are you willing to be a godly example for others? Nehemiah and the leaders could have stayed outside of Jerusalem where the housing was better and it was safer, but they, instead, chose to set the example for others in order to accomplish God’s work. And they, therefore, were honored because of it.

Application Question: In what specific ways do you feel God is calling you to set the example for others? In what ways has God called you to give up freedoms to set an example?

Honored Servants Are Committed to Seeking God’s Will

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 11:1-2

Interpretation Question: Why did the Israelites cast lots? What did it represent?

The next step in repopulating Jerusalem was getting one out of ten Israelites to move into the land. How did they select these people? They cast lots, which is a lot like rolling dice. Some have called this a draft, but it is not a draft. It is more than that.

In ancient Israel, the casting of lots was a form of seeking the will of the Lord. In fact, we see the apostles use this form of seeking God’s will in Acts 1, when they chose the replacement for Judas. Look at what they did:

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
Acts 1:23-26

They chose the replacement by having all the disciples propose two men who had been with Christ from the beginning of their ministry. After two people were selected, they prayed for God to make his choice clear. God’s will was discerned by the casting of the lot, as it fell on Matthias. This was a common method of seeking God’s will used by Israel.

The Israelites had a very strong understanding of the sovereignty of God. They believed that God was in control of all things. Listen to what Proverbs says: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).

Every time a person throws a dice and it lands on six or three, the Jew would say that is of the Lord. There is no random chance in life; God is in control of all events. In fact, we see this with Job when Satan tested him by bringing poverty and death in his family. Even though we know Satan did it, as revealed in chapter 1, Job said, “God did it.” He cried out, “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).

Some today would say, “No, Job, your doctrine is all wrong. Sickness and trials do not come from God. It was Satan alone.” But Scripture teaches that God works all things in conformity with the purpose of his will. Our God is sovereign. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

Paul said our God works out “everything.” Some translations say “all things” according to the purpose of his will. This is a mystery. I don’t claim to fully understand it, but somehow this includes the Fall, sin, Satan, and everything else. Somehow all things fall into God’s sovereign will.

Peter actually told the Jews who killed Christ that they did it according to the foreordained plan of God. Acts 2:23 says, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Peter essentially said that this was under God’s sovereign control too. The worse thing that ever happened on the earth was part of God’s plan.

Now this is just a side point of showing how these Jews sought the will of God by casting lots. With that said, I am not promoting making decisions by rolling dice. My point is that those who will be honored by God for their service are those who continually seek God’s will, even when it hurts or is uncomfortable. They lay down their plans and their desires and cry out like Christ, “Not my will Lord, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Application Question: How do we seek the Lord’s will so we can faithfully submit to it?

Let it be known that the primary way that we seek God’s will is through studying his Word. David said this: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

David said that when he was seeking direction from the Lord, he realized that all he needed to do was turn the lights on in his life by getting into the Word. Those who live in the Word of God have the lights on. If we are not living in God’s Word, we do so to our own peril. It is impossible to properly navigate this dark world without the light of Scripture.

How does Scripture help us determine God’s will? Scripture either gives clear direction in doing God’s will or it gives us principles to help us make decisions. Even if that principle is something as simple as, “A wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Wise people don’t make decisions on their own about marriage, career, or life without allowing wise, godly people to speak into their life.

Yes, those who will be honored by God for their service are those who seek God’s will, and those who seek God’s will live in his Word. A person who does not live in the Word of God is not even fit to serve in ministry. It is the Word of God that equips the man of God for all righteousness (cf. 2 Tim 3:17). Without God’s Word, they will constantly harm others and themselves.

Just as Israel sought the Lord through casting lots, we must seek the Lord through studying the full revelation of God’s Word, something the Israelites did not have. How much more should we live in it and allow it to guide our decisions? It should guide what career path we go on, who we should marry, and even the kind of car we drive. Scripture gives us principles to help guide the man or woman of God in all those decisions.

These are the kind of servants that will be honored by God. They continually seek the Lord’s will in every aspect of life. Sadly, most Christians are not like this. Listen to what Paul said to the Philippians:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:19 -21

That’s how most Christians are. They seek their own interest instead of the interests of Jesus Christ. Paul said that he had no one else like Timothy (who sought the will of Christ), even though he worked with many churches and many Christians. Those who look out for the interests of Christ are still in small supply today. However, these are the ones who will be honored by God.

Application Question: In what ways is the Word of God sufficient to guide the man of God in all righteousness (cf. 2 Tim 3:17)? In what ways has God used his Word to help you make major decisions?

Honored Servants Are Willing to Obey the Lord’s Commands

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 11:1-2

Interpretation Question: Why does the narrative say the people volunteered to live in Jerusalem? How does this correspond with them being selected by the casting of lots?

The next thing we must notice is that not only did the leaders and the people in this narrative seek the will of the Lord, but they obeyed by volunteering. Now this may seem kind of strange. It says that they cast lots (v.1), and then the people volunteered (v. 2). This is why it’s clearly not a draft. They cast lots to see who God had chosen, but the people still had the ability to say, “No.”

Hypothetically, if a person said, “No,” they would have simply cast the lots again to see who God chose next. However, there was no need to re-cast the lot since each person who God chose volunteered. Therefore, the people commended them for it.

Yes, it is one thing to seek the will of the Lord, but it is another thing to obey the will of the Lord. These people were obedient.

Listen to this: God is always calling people to serve him. He calls them to go to missions. He calls to use them in great ways, but, if they turn him down, God may at times give the opportunity to somebody else.

We saw this with Saul. God called him to be king and to obey God as his vice-regent over Israel. But, Saul disobeyed God and refused to serve him, and therefore, Scripture says, “God sought after another who would obey him” (1 Sam 13:14).

Yes, God calls many to serve him, to serve in working with the children in the church, to share the gospel with friends, but when they choose to be disobedient, many times God will simply call another.

The good thing about God is that he is gracious and merciful. One of the most wonderful verses in Scripture is Jonah 3:1. After Jonah had said “No” and God had disciplined him through a storm, it says: “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.”

God’s Word came to Jonah a second time, and this time Jonah obeyed. Are you willing to obey the Lord? Those who will be honored by God are those who live lifestyles of obedience.

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to serve and build his kingdom? What are common hindrances to doing God’s will?

Honored Servants Are Willing to Sacrifice and Be Uncomfortable

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 11:1-2

All these people would have to leave their homes and move to a city that was broken down. Moving to Jerusalem essentially meant moving to the ghetto. The city was filled with ruins (cf. Neh 7:4). It was dangerous and susceptible to attack. Typically an attack would have been on the capital city. It was where the leaders and the wealth were. To move to Jerusalem meant to be uncomfortable.

Similarly, the very reason many people cannot serve the Lord and will not be honored by him is because they aren’t willing to be uncomfortable. They are not willing to step out of their comfort zone to serve and do God’s will.

Listen, any time God calls us, he calls us to step out of our comfort zone. He is not calling us to do something we could do in our own power, but something that could only be done through him. Therefore, following God always leads us out of our comfort.

It is no surprise then to see in Scripture so many people make excuses when they were called. Moses said, “I can’t speak.” Gideon said “I’m from the smallest tribe.” If God calls, he calls us to do something God-sized and outside of our ability.

In what ways is God calling you to sacrifice and to leave your comfort zone? I have no doubt that God is calling many to leave their home country and go to a place with a different language, culture, and standard of living. He may even call some of us to sacrifice our lives for him, as he did with Peter and the majority of the apostles. But even though there is a call, we still must be willing to submit to it. We must be willing, like the Israelites, to volunteer.

In Luke 9:57-58, one would-be disciple approached Christ and said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Christ responded, “Foxes, have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Essentially, Christ said, “Are you sure? Are you sure you can handle the cost of following me? It will mean being a wanderer in the world I created.”

We hear nothing from this man who zealously raised his hand and said, “I’ll go.” It seems the cost was too much. Similarly, many do the same thing today at the opportunity to follow Christ in ministry. The cost is too much. Giving up dreams, retirement, and security is not in their plans. They vehemently declare, “I cannot,” and therefore, they cannot serve the Lord in ministry and won’t be honored by him.

What is God calling you to sacrifice? In what way is he calling you to be uncomfortable in order to do his will and build his kingdom?

In this text, the leaders and those who volunteered all would be leaving the comfort of their homes to serve the Lord in a broken down city that needed to be rebuilt. However, it was God’s will for their lives and the best place they could be. And because they obeyed, they were honored by the people and ultimately by God.

Application Question: In what ways has God led you into uncomfortable situations to grow your faith and build his kingdom? Are there any ways that you feel God is calling you to be uncomfortable and trust him now to do his work?

Honored Servants Are Committed to Building God’s House

From the priests: Jedaiah; the son of Joiarib; Jakin; Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, supervisor in the house of God… and their associates, who carried on work for the temple …Shabbethai and Jozabad, two of the heads of the Levites, who had charge of the outside work of the house of God; Mattaniah son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer
Nehemiah 11:10, 12, 16-17

What else can we learn about the people who volunteered to serve the Lord by populating Jerusalem? It is clear that the majority of them focused their attention on serving the temple. The priests, Levites, and the temple workers are named next in the narrative (Neh 11:10–24), and obviously their ministry was focused on the temple. However, it must be remembered that not only did they focus on the temple, but apparently, so did everybody else. Remember what the last verse of Nehemiah 10 said:

The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and oil to the storerooms where the articles for the sanctuary are kept and where the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the singers stay. “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
Nehemiah 10:39

As part of the revival, they promised to not neglect the house of God. It was to be a permanent focus of their life and ministry, whether they lived in Jerusalem or not.

In the same way, those who serve the Lord today and will be honored by him must focus their attention on the temple, the church. Today, God’s temple is not a building as in the Old Covenant—it is a people. First Corinthians 3:16 says this: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” And Scripture also says that God has given each person a spiritual gift to serve in his temple (1 Corinthians 12:7). God’s plan to change the world is through a people using their spiritual gifts to serve God, one another, and the world.

Therefore, no matter where God calls you to serve, if he calls you to serve as a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, or a teacher, you still have a call from God to serve in his temple, which is the church. Even though God has given you a ministry in the world, he wants you to reach the world by being involved with your local church.

In talking specifically about serving the church, Paul taught that each man will receive a reward for his faithful service to her. Listen to what he said:

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building... If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
1 Corinthians 3:9, 12-14

After describing the people of God as God’s building, he says that each one of us will be rewarded based on the way we build up the church. If we give our time, if we are willing to invest, as represented by costly stones, we will be rewarded. But if we give God our scraps—service with wrong motives or a lack of service—as represented by wood, hay, and straw, we will not be rewarded—we will not be honored.

Scripture clearly teaches that those who will be honored by God are those who have served faithfully in building up God’s temple. In fact, they are consumed with God’s temple (cf. John 2:17, Rom 12:11, 1 Cor 15:58). This is a characteristic of those God honors.

Our tendency as Christians is to have our job, attend our church, care for our family, but not use our gifts to serve the church. Most Christians don’t feel a need to. However, the people who were honored in this narrative all were focused on serving the house of God, and previously, in chapter 10, all of Israel swore not to neglect it.

How has God called you to serve the church? Are you giving him your best or are you neglecting God’s work? Just as God honored these volunteers who sacrificed and served the temple, he also will honor those who have volunteered to faithfully serve God’s church with eternal rewards.

Application Question: What are your spiritual gifts? In what ways do you feel God has called you to serve the church? How can we balance serving God in the church with all our other responsibilities?

Honored Servants Are Willing to Serve without Receiving Glory Here on Earth

The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 able men. From the descendants of Benjamin: Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah, and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, supervisor in the house of God, and their associates, who carried on work for the temple—822 men
Nehemiah 11:6 -12

It is important to note that many of the people who served were unnamed. We see this throughout the text:

The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 able men. From the descendants of Benjamin: Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah, and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men.
Nehemiah 11:6-8

Many of the people who settled in Jerusalem are unnamed in this narrative. There were priests, Levites, descendants of certain tribes, etc., but the names of most of the people were not mentioned. There were 468 men from Perez, 928 people from Benjamin, etc., who volunteered to serve the Lord.

It is like that in every church and ministry. Some names are often in lights—the pastor, the worship leaders, and the elders. However, there are many people whose names are never mentioned but who are just as important, if not more important than those whose names everybody knows.

Listen to how Paul talks about these people in describing the church as a body in 1 Corinthians 12. He describes the head, the arm, and the feet—all parts that are visible. But he then says the parts that seem “to be weaker are indispensable.” More important than a leg, an arm, or a face is the heart or the liver. The body cannot function without these, and, when they shut down, the body shuts down. First Corinthians 12:21-23 says this:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
1 Corinthians 12:21-23

In the same way, each ministry has hidden parts that may not receive great honor here on earth, but, in heaven, they will be exalted. These often are women who never preach a sermon, but they labor in prayer for the preaching and in service of the people with needs in the church. They are the heart, the liver, and other internal organs. Without them, the whole body would shut down. They might not get applause here on earth, but we can have no doubt that they will receive great applause in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said, “those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 19:30). In heaven there will be great surprises. No doubt, many times the people we think will be exalted will not be, and those who have been overlooked will be. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

He will not forget those who are unnamed, for he sees their hard work, and they will be greatly rewarded.

No doubt, many of these unnamed people served without ever needing applause or a thank you. Christ actually taught this as a necessary quality of all his disciples. He said this:

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
Luke 17:6-9

In describing a servant serving his master, he said, “Would the master thank the servant for doing what he was told?” The answer to the rhetorical question was, “No.” He was a servant doing what he was supposed to do. He says in the same way, we should be like that servant. We are servants who should serve without a need for applause or thanksgiving. We are simply doing our duty.

Are you willing to serve without ever being named, without ever receiving applause or earthly recognition?

God is looking for people who are willing to serve whether they receive recognition or not. It is no surprise that when God often called people in Scripture, he often found the people who were not looking for acclaim or applause. He often called the reluctant leaders to serve and do great things.

Moses said, “No, not me.” Gideon said, “No, I’m last in my father’s house.” These people were not looking to be great or honored. They were just people willing to obey God. God takes those not looking for acclaim or applause, and he makes them great. This is how God works. The people in Babel were trying to make a name for themselves, trying to make themselves great, and God brought them low (cf. Gen 11:4-8). But with Abraham, he found a man not looking to make a name for himself and said to him, “I will make your name great” (Gen 12:2). When David wanted to build God a house, God said to him, “I will build a house for you” (2 Sam 7:27).

God opposes the proud but exalts the humble (James 4:6). This is a characteristic of those who are exalted. They are the humble who ultimately want to honor and glorify God. Because of this, God exalts them.

Application: Why is it important to be able to serve God without earthly recognition? How can we develop the type of humility that doesn’t need to be seen or heard?

Honored Servants Are Committed to Respecting and Serving the Authorities

Next, we also must notice that the singers and others, though following God, were also serving the king of Persia. We see this in Nehemiah 11:23-24. It says:

The singers were under the king’s orders, which regulated their daily activity. Pethahiah son of Meshezabel, one of the descendants of Zerah son of Judah, was the king’s agent in all affairs relating to the people.
Nehemiah 11:23-24

How did this happen? In the book of Ezra, when King Darius had initially ordered the building of the temple, the people of Israel were commanded to give the elders daily support for the rebuilding and maintenance of the temple. He also commanded that “sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven be offered and that the people pray for the well-being of the king.” Ezra 6:8-10 says this:

Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: The expenses of these men are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.

Therefore, the singers not only were submitting to God in their worship and prayers, but they were also honoring the king of Persia.

In addition, Pethahiah, who was the “king’s agent” (v. 24), probably advised the king on Israel’s affairs.1

Now in many nations, there is a separation of church and state, which is a different model of government than in Israel and most of the ancient world. However, Scripture still commands Christians to honor and submit to those in authority (cf. Rom 13:1-7) and also to pray for them. First Timothy 2:1-3 says this:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior

In fact, while Israel was in Babylon, they also were commanded by God to pray for, not only the king, but the whole pagan nation. Look at what he told the Jews to do: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Peter said it this way: “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).

Similar to those who were honored in Israel, Christians must still seek to be good citizens, good employees, and good neighbors. We are commanded to honor those in authority, to pray for the king, and to pray for godliness and holiness in our nation.

Serving the Lord does not mean to neglect the government or our community. It is very much a Christian’s job to be involved with the affairs of the state and nation.

In fact, I was listening to a former governor in the United States who is an ordained Southern Baptist pastor. In an interview, someone asked him if he regretted leaving the ministry, and how he felt about those who looked down on him for working in politics. His response was along the lines of:

I never got out of ministry. This is what Romans 13:4 says about those serving in government: ”For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” I am still serving God in a very important ministry.

Scripture calls the rulers of government, God’s servants—his ministers. Yes, one can still serve the Lord as a governor or a president. God selected David to serve in leadership as the king of Israel. He promoted Joseph to vice-president of Egypt. He also exalted Daniel to what we might call the “Senate” in Babylon. These people served the Lord, but they honored the king and blessed their nation through their good works.

Serving the Lord does not mean we are only to think about heaven and spiritual things. No, we must still be very much concerned with our state, our nation, our community, and our job. This includes voting; it includes seeking the prosperity of the nation in serving in the school systems, businesses, etc. It also includes seeking to promote righteousness in areas like serving the poor, working for human rights, etc.

This is important because for many Christians serving God means to not care about practical things such as one’s community or nation, but Scripture calls us to honor the king, to pray daily for those in leadership, and to care for the poor (cf. 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Tim 2:1-3, James 1:27).

Sometimes while serving God, he may also call us to serve in the government in order to better serve the world and promote Christian values. Are you willing to allow God to use you in government, education, health care, politics, social work, etc.?

The singers and Pethahiah served the Lord but also served the government. These people were honored by Israel and by God. We must be willing to do the same.

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to be a better citizen including such areas as studies, business, social justice, voting, etc.? Why are Christians so prone to neglect these practical aspects of the Christian life for more “spiritual endeavors”?

Conclusion

What are necessary qualities of those who will be honored for their service to the Lord?

  1. Honored servants are willing to lead by example.
  2. Honored servants are committed to seeking God’s will.
  3. Honored servants are willing to obey the Lord’s commands.
  4. Honored servants are willing to sacrifice and be uncomfortable.
  5. Honored servants are committed to building God’s house.
  6. Honored servants are willing to serve without receiving glory here on the earth.
  7. Honored servants are committed to respecting and serving the government.

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to develop the qualities of a servant who will be honored by God? What areas do you struggle with the most?


1 Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 132). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Related Topics: Leadership

Appendix 3: Walking the Romans Road

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2 Timothy 3:14-15

One of the reasons God gave us Scripture is to make us wise for salvation. This means that without it nobody can know how to be saved.

Well then, how can a people be saved and what are they being saved from? A common method of sharing the good news of salvation is through the Romans Road. One of the great themes, not only of the Bible, but specifically of the book of Romans is salvation. In Romans, the author, Paul, clearly details the steps we must take in order to be saved.

How can we be saved? What steps must we take?

Step One: We Must Accept that We Are Sinners

Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What does it mean to sin? The word sin means “to miss the mark.” The mark we missed is looking like God. When God created mankind in the Genesis narrative, he created man in the “image of God” (1:27). The “image of God” means many things, but probably, most importantly it means we were made to be holy just as he is holy. Man was made moral. We were meant to reflect God’s holiness in every way: the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we act. And any time we miss the mark in these areas, we commit sin.

Furthermore, we do not only sin when we commit a sinful act such as: lying, stealing, or cheating; again, we sin anytime we have a wrong heart motive. The greatest commandments in Scripture are to “Love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and to love others as ourselves” (Matt 22:36-40, paraphrase). Whenever we don’t love God supremely and love others as ourselves, we sin and fall short of the glory of God. For this reason, man is always in a state of sinning. Sadly, even if our actions are good, our heart is bad. I have never loved God with my whole heart, mind, and soul and neither has anybody else. Therefore, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). We have all missed the mark of God’s holiness and we must accept this.

What’s the next step?

Step Two: We Must Understand We Are under the Judgment of God

Why are we under the judgment of God? It is because of our sins. Scripture teaches God is not only a loving God, but he is a just God. And his justice requires judgment for each of our sins. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.”

A wage is something we earn. Every time we sin, we earn the wage of death. What is death? Death really means separation. In physical death, the body is separated from the spirit, but in spiritual death, man is separated from God. Man currently lives in a state of spiritual death (cf. Eph 2:1-3). We do not love God, obey him, or know him as we should. Therefore, man is in a state of death.

Moreover, one day at our physical death, if we have not been saved, we will spend eternity separated from God in a very real hell. In hell, we will pay the wage for each of our sins. Therefore, in hell people will experience various degrees of punishment (cf. Lk 12:47-48). This places man in a very dangerous predicament—unholy and therefore under the judgment of God.

How should we respond to this? This leads us to our third step.

Step Three: We Must Recognize God Has Invited All to Accept His Free Gift of Salvation

Romans 6:23 does not stop at the wages of sin being death. It says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Because God loved everybody on the earth, he offered the free gift of eternal life, which anyone can receive through Jesus Christ.

Because it is a gift, it cannot be earned. We cannot work for it. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Going to church, being baptized, giving to the poor, or doing any other righteous work does not save. Salvation is a gift that must be received from God. It is a gift that has been prepared by his effort alone.

How do we receive this free gift?

Step Four: We Must Believe Jesus Christ Died for Our Sins and Rose from the Dead

If we are going to receive this free gift, we must believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Because God loved us, cared for us, and didn’t want us to be separated from him eternally, he sent his Son to die for our sins. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Similarly, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God so loved us that he gave his only Son for our sins.

Jesus Christ was a real, historical person who lived 2,000 years ago. He was born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life. He was put to death by the Romans and the Jews. And he rose again on the third day. In his death, he took our sins and God’s wrath for them and gave us his perfect righteousness so we could be accepted by God. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God did all this so we could be saved from his wrath.

Christ’s death satisfied the just anger of God over our sins. When God saw Jesus on the cross, he saw us and our sins and therefore judged Jesus. And now, when God sees those who are saved, he sees his righteous Son and accepts us. In salvation, we have become the righteousness of God.

If we are going to be saved, if we are going to receive this free gift of salvation, we must believe in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for our sins (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5, Rom 10:9-10). Do you believe?

Step Five: We Must Confess Christ as Lord of Our Lives

Romans 10:9-10 says,

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Not only must we believe, but we must confess Christ as Lord of our lives. It is one thing to believe in Christ but another thing to follow Christ. Simple belief does not save. Christ must be our Lord. James said this: “Even the demons believe and shudder” (James 2:19) but the demons are not saved—Christ is not their Lord.

Another aspect of making Christ Lord is repentance. Repentance really means a change of mind that leads to a change of direction. Before we met Christ, we were living our own life and following our own sinful desires. But when we get saved, our mind and direction change. We start to follow Christ as Lord.

How do we make this commitment to the lordship of Christ so we can be saved? Paul said we must confess with our mouth “Jesus is Lord” as we believe in him. Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

If you admit that you are a sinner and understand you are under God’s wrath because of them; if you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died on the cross for your sins, and rose from the dead for your salvation; if you are ready to turn from your sin and cling to Christ as Lord, you can be saved.

If this is your heart, then you can pray this prayer and commit to following Christ as your Lord.

Dear heavenly Father, I confess I am a sinner and have fallen short of your glory, what you made me for. I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and rose from the dead so I can have eternal life. I am turning away from my sin and accepting you as my Lord and Savior. Come into my life and change me. Thank you for your gift of salvation.

Scripture teaches that if you truly accepted Christ as your Lord, then you are a new creation. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” God has forgiven your sins (1 John 1:9), he has given you his Holy Spirit (Rom 8:15), and he is going to disciple you and make you into the image of his Son (cf. Rom 8:29). He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), and he will complete the work he has begun in your life (Phil 1:6). In heaven, angels and saints are rejoicing because of your commitment to Christ (Lk 15:7).

Praise God for his great salvation! May God keep you in his hand, empower you through the Holy Spirit, train you through mature believers, and use you to build his kingdom! “The one who calls you is faithful, he will do it” (1 Thess 5:24). God bless you!

Appendix 2: Reflection Questions

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Writing is one of the best ways to learn. In class, we take notes and write papers, and all these methods are used to help us learn and retain the material. The same is true with the Word of God. Obviously, all of the authors of Scripture were writers. This helped them better learn the Scriptures and also enabled them to more effectively teach it. In studying God’s Word with the Bible Teacher’s Guide, take time to write so you can similarly grow both in your learning and teaching.

  1. How would you summarize the main points of the text/chapter? Write a brief summary.
  2. What stood out to you most in the reading? Did any of the contents trigger any memories or experiences? If so, please share them.
  3. What follow–up questions did you have about the reading? What parts did you not fully agree with?
  4. What applications did you take from the reading, and how do you plan to implement them into your life?
  5. Write several commitment statements: As a result of my time studying God’s Word, I will . . .
  6. What are some practical ways to pray as a result of studying the text? Spend some time ministering to the Lord through prayer.

Appendix 1: Study Group Tips

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Leading a small group using the Bible Teacher’s Guide can be done in various ways. One format for leading a small group is the “study group” model, where each member prepares and shares in the teaching. This appendix will cover tips for facilitating a weekly study group.

  1. Each week the members of the study group will read through a select chapter of the guide, answer the reflection questions (see Appendix 2), and come prepared to share in the group.
  2. Prior to each meeting, a different member can be selected to lead the group and share Question 1 of the reflection questions, which is to give a short summary of the chapter read. This section of the gathering could last from five to fifteen minutes. This way, each member can develop their gift of teaching. It also will make them study harder during the week. Or, each week the same person could share the summary.
  3. After the summary has been given, the leader for that week will facilitate discussions through the rest of the reflection questions and also ask select review questions from the chapter.
  4. After discussion, the group will share prayer requests and pray for one another.

The strength of the study group is the fact that the members will be required to prepare their responses before the meeting, which will allow for easier discussion. In addition, each member will be given the opportunity to teach, which will further equip their ministry skills. The study group model has distinct advantages.

Nehemiah Bibliography

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Baxter, J. Sidlow (2010). Baxter’s Explore the Book . Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Boice, J. M. (2005). Nehemiah: An expositional commentary (24). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Cole, Steven. “Nehemiah”. Retrieved 1/15/15 from https://bible.org/series/nehemiah-0

Constable, T. (n.d.). Notes on Nehemiah. Retrieved January 11, 2015,from http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/nehemiah.pdf

“40% of Pastors Admit to Having Extramarital Affair!” retrieved 12/31/14, from https://www.standingstoneministry.org/40-of-pastors-admit-to-having-extramarital-affair/

Foster, Richard J. (2009-03-17). Celebration of Discipline (Kindle Locations 2931-2932). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Geisler, Norman (2007). A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Baker Books. Kindle Edition.

Getz, Gene (1995). Men of Character: Nehemiah. B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Guzik, D. (n.d.). Nehemiah Overview - David Guzik Commentary on the Bible. Retrieved January 11, 2015. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/guz/<

Holmes, Leslie. “Up to 1500 Pastors a Month Need to Read this Column” retrieved 11/21/14 from http://www.preaching.com/resources/articles/11682911/

“Integrity” retrieved 11/14/2014, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/integrity

Kidner, D. (1979). Vol. 12: Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

Longman III, Tremper (2012). Introducing the Old Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

MacArthur, J. (2003). The MacArthur Bible Handbook. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

MacArthur, J. Jr. (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing.

Roberts, M., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1993). Vol. 11: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. The Preacher’s Commentary Series (194). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

“Statistics in Ministry”. Retrieved 1/11/15 from, http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/

Swindoll, Charles (1998). Hand Me Another Brick. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Terpstra, Charles. “The Reformation: A Return to the Primacy of Preaching.” retrieved 1/9/15, from http://www.prca.org/resources/publications/pamphlets/item/639-the-reformation-a-return-to-the-primacy-of-preaching

The Moody Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Turek, Frank. “Youth Exodus Problem”. Retrieved 1/11/15, from http://crossexamined.org/youth-exodus-problem/

Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined. “Be” Commentary Series (25). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

14. Signs of Spiritual Decay

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But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense…
Nehemiah 13:4-31

What are signs of spiritual decay in our lives or others and how should we confront it?

After seeing the revival that happened in Israel, we also see how prone they were to fall back into sin and compromise. Some have compared the spiritual life to walking upstream; if you are not fighting to move forward, then you are, by default, going backwards.

At this point in the final chapter of Nehemiah, Nehemiah returned to Persia for some unspecified amount of time.1 Some commentators think his second term as governor began approximately nine years after he left.2 While Nehemiah was gone, it is possible that Ezra had died “(in 13:13, Zadok is called “the” scribe, perhaps indicating that Ezra no longer held that post).”3 When Nehemiah returned, Israel had reneged on the majority of its commitments to God, which they made in chapter 10.

This may seem like a surprise after all God had done for them and their seemingly genuine repentance; however, this not only happened with Israel, it commonly happens to us individually and corporately. If we are not fighting to move forward, then we are sliding backwards. It is for this reason that we must be tenacious in seeking to practice a holy life and also fighting for holiness in our churches. There is a continual inertia drawing us and others towards spiritual decay.

Certainly, we see this in our churches and Christian communities. Why are so many of our churches in disarray? Statistics say that around 75% of youth fall away from the faith in college and never return.4 Seventeen hundred pastors leave the ministry every month in America.5 We have churches making all kinds of moral compromises as they disregard Scripture. We are seeing a very rapid spiritual decay happening in the church.

As we consider Nehemiah 13, it can seem a little depressing after such a great revival. And, it also can be depressing as we consider the decline of Christianity happening in so many parts of the world; however, there is hope. We see hope in a man who was zealous for the Lord named Nehemiah.

Four times he prays for God to remember his works in this chapter. He is a man who wants to please God. Yes, there is hope for us individually and as a church as well. God still uses people like Nehemiah, people like John the Baptist, godly leaders who are zealous to turn communities and individuals back to God.

In this text, Nehemiah is a type of Christ. As Christ went into the temple, he pulled out a whip, turned over tables, and harshly rebuked the leaders of Israel. Scripture says of Christ that zeal for the house of God consumed him (John 2:17). Nehemiah was the same. He threw a man out of the temple who was defiling it, rebuked the leaders for their lack of faithfulness in giving, locked people out of the city who were abusing the Sabbath, and pulled out the hairs of those who married foreign women in order to turn them back to God. Nehemiah was a man consumed with seeing God’s glory in Israel.

In the same way, God is calling for people in this generation to be zealous for personal holiness and also holiness in the church. He is looking to raise people who are consumed with zeal for the house of God (cf. 2 Chronicles 16:9).

In this text, we will consider common signs of spiritual decay not only in the church but in our spiritual lives. Godly leaders must be able to spiritually diagnose their people, their society, and even their own lives. They must be able to diagnose so they can participate in the restoration process. In this text, we will not only see common signs of spiritual decay but also steps to restoration—to restore our churches and our lives.

Big Question: What signs of spiritual decay do we see happening to Israel in Nehemiah 13; how does Nehemiah confront them, and how should we apply these truths as leaders to our spiritual lives and our ministries?

Compromised Leadership Is a Sign of Spiritual Decay

Before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, singers and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests.
Nehemiah 13:4-5

In this text, Nehemiah introduces us to the compromise that was happening within Israel. They broke all the commitments they made in chapter 10. It is no surprise that when he started to list their sins, he started with the leadership of Israel. The High Priest was disrespecting God by allowing an Ammonite official into the temple (cf. Neh 2:10, 13:1). He had given Tobiah, who had previously persecuted the Jews, a room in God’s house.

This is how moral compromise often begins in the people of God—it begins with the leadership. The leadership starts to compromise by disobedience and disregard for the teachings of the Word of God, which eventually affects all the people. Have we not seen the effects of bad leadership throughout Scripture?

Interpretation Question: In what ways have we seen the negative effects of bad leadership throughout Scripture?

Solomon compromised by marrying pagan women in disobedience to the law, and consequently, all of Israel was led astray into worshiping idols. The book of Kings shows us a pattern of Israel’s stumbles. They would have a good king and, therefore, start following God. And then they would have a bad king and, consequently, stumble away from him. For every Josiah, Asa and Jehoshophat, there was a Jereboam, Jehu, and Ahab, the wicked kings of Israel who led the nation astray.

During this time period, not only were the kings corrupt but so were the priests. In fact, right before God judged Israel by Assyria, God rebuked the priests through the prophet Hosea.6 Listen to what he said:

The more the priests increased, the more they sinned against me; they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful. They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness. And it will be: Like people, like priests. I will punish both of them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.
Hosea 4:7-9

The priests were sinning just like the people. In fact, they enjoyed the sins of the people and made a profit off of them. God promised he would punish the priests and the people together for their compromise.

Theological and moral compromises amongst the leadership of churches or ministries typically precede people going astray. In fact, when Christ appeared in the Gospels, Israel was being run by the Pharisees and Sadducees who were corrupting the teachings of Scripture and leading people astray as well. In the Gospels, Christ spent a significant amount of time correcting and rebuking the leadership of the people.

Application Question: Why is the leadership of the church so important?

Consider what Christ said: “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:24-25). The people can go no farther than their leaders. The leaders create the ceiling for the church.

When we look at the state of our churches, it is often a reflection of its leaders. When we have leadership that does not preach the Word, leadership that is not on fire for God, leadership that does not run their household well, it is no surprise that the light in the church is so dim.

Paul described the church in the last days in a similar manner. He said that the church would not be able to stand sound doctrine and, therefore, would heap up many teachers to itch their ears and to say what they wanted to hear (2 Tim 4:3-4).

Interpretation Question: Why was the High Priest compromising? What could be some of the reasons?

We are not sure why the High Priest compromised; it could be many reasons:

1. Maybe, he had liberal doctrine.

Even though they had just read that Moabites and Ammonites could not enter the temple (cf. Neh 13:1), maybe he thought the Scripture was antiquated, full of errors, and not relevant. Maybe he thought God was not the author of “every” portion of Scripture, and therefore he could pick and choose what was of God. We see that happening in many churches today, and consequently, instead of submitting to the Word of God, they stand in judgment over it. They take liberty to decide what God said and did not say. They say, “God didn’t really create the earth as seen in Genesis; it was created through the evolutionary process.” “Jonah wasn’t really swallowed by a whale.” “Jesus didn’t really turn water into wine.” They choose what is of God and not of God, and therefore, they choose what not to submit to.

Eliashib might have rebelled because of his doctrine which, no doubt, would have also negatively affected the people.

2. Maybe, he was a people pleaser—meaning he wanted the applause of the people instead of God.

Potentially, it was the Israelites clamoring for more liberality and for him to stop being so narrow-minded. Later in this chapter, we see that many of the people married foreigners and their children couldn’t speak Hebrew (v. 23-24). Maybe he wouldn’t stand up for God.

As mentioned previously, Paul declared that this would happen in the last days. People would heap up many teachers that would itch their ears and make them feel good. Many ministers won’t preach strong doctrine or hold the church accountable for fear of losing their jobs, status, or numbers in the church. Today, we have many leaders in the church who are “men of men” instead of “men of God.”

3. Maybe, he was simply a hypocrite.

He might have been preaching the truth but not practicing it in the temple. In that case, he would have been a hypocritical leader.

Whatever the reason, we can be sure that his actions contributed to the sins of the people. As we look at the rest of the text, we see that the people are living in great compromise as well. Like priest, like people; we see this happening all around us, and therefore, decay has crept into many of our churches.

Leaders of the church must ask themselves, “Are we setting the example?” (1 Peter 5:3). It is the leaders who set the spiritual ceiling for the congregation. It is enough for a student to be like his teacher. If the pastor, elders, and teachers are no longer growing in zeal for Christ, how can they expect it from the congregation? If the leadership in the church is no longer growing in the knowledge of Scripture, how can they expect it from the congregation? The leadership sets both the ceiling and the direction of the congregation.

Let this challenge us as we serve in any form of leadership to never be lacking in zeal or obedience and to always be abounding in the work of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 15:58). But also let this challenge us to pray daily for the leadership of our local church and churches around the world. It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen both the positive and negative effects of leadership in the church? How can the church better support our leaders in order to encourage their continual growth in the Lord?

Misuse of Finances Is a Sign of Spiritual Decay

I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and singers responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields.
Nehemiah 13:10

Nehemiah 13:10 says the Israelites stopped supporting the Levites who maintained the temple and taught the people. Because they were not being supported they moved back to their fields to earn a living. Listen to what Nehemiah said: “I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and singers responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields.”

Most commentators say that Malachi was prophesying during this period of time.7 God said through the prophet in Malachi 3:8 that the people had robbed God through their tithes and offerings. They had stopped giving to God.

Similarly, this is a common sign of spiritual decay with us. Whatever we really love, we put our money into. If we really love books, movies, food, or anything else, one can tell by looking at our bank statements.

In the same way, when God is no longer our priority, we will find it harder to support his work with our finances. This is what was happening with Israel. God had ceased to be their priority, and therefore, they stopped giving to his work. Similarly, when they were on fire for God, their offerings were great. Remember the giving in the previous chapter:

And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away. At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites.
Nehemiah 12:43-44

When they were on fire for God, they gave great sacrifices with joy. Similarly, when we are on fire for God, we also give joyfully, but when our relationship with God cools, we start to give less or the giving ceases all together.

I have seen this personally in my own life. I remember being in college on a full basketball scholarship, without any real financial needs. I was growing in God—knowing his voice more and enjoying his presence. With that came a growing desire to give to him, simply because I loved him. But the problem was I didn’t make any money. My scholarship provided all my needs, but it didn’t provide any spending money. So, I remember getting a part-time job just because I wanted to have something to give, not only to God but also to others who had needs. This is a natural occurrence. When you are growing in love with someone, you naturally want to give, not only financially, but you want to share in all good things with that person.

I experienced this with my daughter, especially when she was a baby. I remember going to the store to buy groceries, and without a real need, I went straight to the baby section. I was thinking, “What can I buy for my daughter?” There was great joy in buying things for her. I got new diapers and a special no-throw-up formula. I got some scented baby bath liquid that would help put her to sleep (which my wife swiftly threw away, saying something about “chemicals”). I bought a bunch of stuff that at that stage of life meant nothing to my daughter, and she couldn’t even thank me for them. However, giving to her helped fulfill my joy. It’s a natural thing to give when you really love someone and that includes giving to God.

Jesus said this about our treasures—our finances: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). He taught that wherever one puts his money, it will show where his heart really is.

In fact, what a person spends his money on is often an indicator of his spiritual health—including his salvation. Let’s look at John the Baptist when he called Israel to bear fruits worthy of repentance or to prove their salvation (cf. Lk 3:8). He said:

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” ”Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
Luke 3:10-14

To the wealthy who had two tunics (or jackets), he said, “Share.” To the tax collectors, he said, “Don’t collect more money than is required.” To the soldiers, he said, “Don’t extort money and be content with your pay.”

Isn’t that interesting? Every fruit that had to do with true repentance, which really means true salvation, was shown in their finances. How people handle their money shows whether they truly love God. It shows where their relationship with God is.

What does the way you use your finances say about your relationship with God? The decay in Israel’s spiritual life was shown in their lack of giving to the Lord.

Consider what Paul teaches about our giving in 2 Corinthians 8:7: “But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

He says as believers, we should seek to grow in our giving to the Lord. It should be abounding. This makes perfect sense because giving is an indicator of our love for God. Since our love for God should always be growing, by necessity, so should our giving. Therefore, when our desire to give is less, it is a sign of spiritual decay. That’s what happened with Israel and that’s what happens with us.

What does your giving say about your heart? How is God calling you to excel in giving?

Application Question: What do you spend most of your money on? What does that say about your heart?

A Decrease in Time Given to Worship Is a Sign of Spiritual Decay

In Nehemiah 13:15-16, we also see that the people stopped practicing the Sabbath. Look at what it says:

In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah.

The Sabbath originally was meant to be a time of rest, where the Israelites focused on God instead of work or other things. However, at this point, many people no longer practiced the Sabbath but instead compromised with the world, as they bought and sold on the Sabbath day. Instead of focusing on God and worshiping him, they focused on their work and making money instead.

No doubt, Israel had excuses. If everybody was working and they closed their businesses, they would lose money and customers. They could rationalize it.

It’s the same for us. It’s easy to rationalize missing church, small group, or our personal Bible study, but that doesn’t make it right. “I’ve got school.” “I’ve got work.” “If I don’t work, how am I going to pay my bills? I can’t commit to church or small group.” “I got home from work late; I can’t go to church tomorrow.” We have all types of excuses that keep us from worshiping, keep us from reading our Bible or serving the church. This was a sign of spiritual decay with Israel, and it’s the same for us.

I don’t believe we are under the Sabbath as a law because Christ is our Sabbath (cf. Col 2:16-17), but the principle is the same. Typically, when there is moral decline in our life, we will find that there has also been a decline in our time given to worshipping God.

The signals of this are hard to miss. Some people may stop going to church all together and others become sporadic. They stop going to small group and start missing their daily quiet times. Many never commit to any type of consistent worship. These are all signs of spiritual decay. You must be fighting to grow or your relationship with God and your holiness will decline. Paul said, “Exercise yourself to godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). Without disciplining ourselves to worship, we cannot be godly people.

How is your daily and weekly commitment to worship? What does it say about your relationship with God?

It should also be noted that what we give our time to in lieu of worship shows our idolatry. The Israelites were making wealth an idol over God. They would shop, buy, and sell on the Sabbath instead of worshiping the Lord. Materialism had become their idol.

What is keeping you out of worship? Is it work? Is it friends? Is it rest? What is keeping you from finding your Sabbath in Christ? Whatever you do instead of worshiping the Lord or spending time with him shows the idols in your heart.

Application Question: What are common things that cause you to neglect the worship of God? How is God calling you to put him first?

Worldly Relationships Are a Sign of Spiritual Decay

In Nehemiah 13:23-24, we see that the Israelites also compromised by marrying pagan women. Nehemiah said this:

Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah.
Nehemiah 13:23-24

This compromise was so bad that many of the children couldn’t even speak Hebrew, which meant they couldn’t read the Holy Scriptures or understand the teaching of the priests and Levites.

When we compromise with the world, not only does it affect us, but it affects those close to us, like our children. They will grow up speaking and thinking like the world, instead of speaking and thinking like God.

God gave strict rules against marrying foreigners in the Old Testament because of the tendency of being drawn to worship other gods. Solomon compromised in this area and, essentially, turned the nation of Israel away from God, eventually leading to their exile. This dangerous compromise had previously almost destroyed Israel. The marrying of a foreigner itself probably wasn’t sin, for Ruth and Rahab were both foreigners. However, they had committed to worshiping Yahweh and were, eventually, placed in the lineage of Christ.

In the New Testament, we similarly have clear admonitions and prohibitions against marrying an unbeliever. Look at what Paul says to the widows in 1 Corinthians 7:39: “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.”

A widow was free to marry anyone, but the person had to belong to the Lord. It had to be someone who was serving God. Similarly, Paul declared how he had the right to take a “believing wife,” which implies he didn’t have a right to take one who didn’t believe. Look at what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:5: “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?”

However, this call to separation does not just apply to marriage but to all intimate relationships with the world. Second Corinthians 6:14 says this: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”

Paul used an analogy from the Old Testament law about not yoking two different animals together, such as an ox and a donkey in Deuteronomy 22:10. Many believe this work-related law had to do with their inability to plow a straight line. The ox and donkey have different natures and different temperaments. The ox is so strong it would pull the donkey in a different direction, and therefore, the work would be unproductive.

In the same way, Christians are not to be in any worldly relationships that keep them from walking a straight line with Christ—that pull them away from God and hinder them from being productive in serving him. Certainly, this applies to marriage, but it also applies to friendship, work, and everything else.

One seminary professor said where a person will be in ten years will mostly be affected by the books they read and the company they kept.8 What do your most intimate relationships say about your relationship with God and your future? Solomon said something similar. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

Now, certainly we are called to minister to the world and to love them, but we are not called to be “yoked with them.” Christ ate and drank with the world in hopes of winning them to God. He befriended them, prayed for them, and served them, but, when you look at his most intimate relationships, it shows that his most intimate relationships were with believers.

It has often been said that Christ had five rings of fellowship around him. He had the three apostles: Peter, James and John—his most intimate friends. He took them up on the Mount of Transfiguration when he didn’t take others. He took them to pray before his death. Then Christ had the nine other apostles who were always with him. He had the seventy-two (cf. Lk 10:1). And he had other followers outside of that, and then he had the world.

His most intimate relationships were not with those going a different direction. He was a friend of sinners, but his deepest friendships were with those who were following God. Christ said this: “Who are my mother, brother, and sister but those who obey God?” (Matt 12:50, paraphrase). You are affected by your most intimate relationships. Amos said this: “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3).

Your most intimate relationships not only affect your ministry, but they also reflect who you are. They reflect what is inside you and what you agree with.

What do your most intimate relationships say about your relationship with God? Are your closest relationships with those who will pull you closer to the Lord or farther away from him? Friendship with the world is a sign of spiritual decay (cf. James 4:4).

Application Question: What is the balance of being salt and light in the world and also being separate from the world? Do you have any relationships that commonly pull you away from God? How is God calling you to remedy that?

How to Fix Spiritual Decay

We just looked at signs of spiritual decay in the life of a community or an individual believer. We can discern spiritual decay by looking at our leaders, our use of finances, our time given to worship, and our relationships.

What should we do if we see areas of decay in our life or in the church? How can we fix it? What can we learn from Nehemiah who is a type of Christ, as he zealously sought to turn the nation back to God?

Application Question: How can we fix spiritual decay, as demonstrated through Nehemiah?

1. We must become aware of areas of sin.

In this chapter, we commonly see how Nehemiah saw or was informed about the sins happening in Israel. Look at the passages below:

And came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God.
Nehemiah 13:7

I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and singers responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields.
Nehemiah 13:10

Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab.
Nehemiah 13:23

Similarly, if we are going to fix areas of compromise in our lives or others, we must be aware of it. This is the first step. The problem with many individuals and communities is the fact that they don’t even know they have a problem. They are unaware of the idolatry in their hearts. They are unaware of their sin or don’t think the sin in their lives or their community is a big problem. Therefore, they don’t seek to remedy it.

Application Question: What are ways that we can better discern areas of sin or compromise in ourselves and others?

  • We must be people of the Word of God.

This is implied in verses 1-3. The Israelites were reading the Scripture on the day they dedicated the wall (cf. Nehemiah 12), and they learned they were forbidden to allow Moabites and Ammonites to enter the temple, leading them to repent. Look at what it says:

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.) When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1-3

In the same way, we must constantly be in the Word if we are going to recognize sin. It is like a mirror that reveals our sin and compromise (cf. James 1:22-25) and the sin of others.

  • We must have accountability relationships where people have the right to speak into our lives.

This is what we see with Nehemiah. Nehemiah came back to Israel and pointed out all the wrong things being committed within her. David had Nathan. Nathan, as a prophet, would confront David when he was in sin, no matter how uncomfortable it must have felt. Similarly, we should have people that we allow and invite to be prophetic in our life.

These accountability relationships include sometimes asking questions like: “How is your spiritual life going?” “How is your marriage going?” “How is your time in the Word of God?” If we are going to be part of the solution, we must be aware of the problem.

Who is your Nehemiah? Who has the right to speak into your life?

  • We should pray for God to point sin out in our lives and our communities.

Listen to how David prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

David sought for God to reveal things in his life that were not right. We must continually bring ourselves before God as well and ask him to show us areas of compromise so we can become more like him.

  • We must spend time with the people we lead and get to know them in order to discern how we can help them.

The good shepherd knows his sheep by name (John 10:3, 14). We must spend time with them. We must be with them in times of celebration, in times of mourning, and in everyday activities. We must know them. As we know them, we will better discern areas of compromise in their lives and how to minister to those areas.

What else should we do to help fix spiritual decay in our lives and others’?

2. We must develop a righteous anger that leads us to confront sin.

Nehemiah 13:8 says, “I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room.”

Nehemiah became very displeased when he heard about Tobiah being in the temple. However, not only was he displeased, he went into the apartment, threw everything outside, and then filled it with the offerings and the other things of God.

His anger also led him to confront many of the other people. Consider these texts:

So I rebuked the officials and asked them, “Why is the house of God neglected?” Then I called them together and stationed them at their posts.
Nehemiah 13:11

I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day?”
Nehemiah 13:17

I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair.
Nehemiah 13:25

One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me.
Nehemiah 13:28

Not only did his anger lead to rebuking the people, but also to beating the men who had compromised by marrying the pagan women. He beat them and pulled out their hair (v. 25). When he said that he pulled out their hair, he was probably referring to the hair on their beards. By pulling out the hair on their beards, he was probably disrespecting their Jewishness. Jews were called to be holy, and one of the ways they represented that was by the males growing beards. Essentially, he was saying, “You are not following God! You are not a Jew!”

Another outlet of his righteous anger was running the High Priest’s son away from the temple for also marrying a pagan (v. 28). This man had defiled the priesthood. God gave specific commandments for a priest’s wife. She had to be a Jew and a virgin (Leviticus 21). Therefore, the High Priest’s son was disobeying God and consequently leading others to do the same.

Now many of us struggle with what Nehemiah did, and it may even seem unkind. However, this is exactly how Scripture calls us to handle sin, especially our own. Listen to what Jesus said:

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Matthew 5:29-30

Christ said you must be drastic in trying to get rid of sin in your life. If you struggle with lust, get rid of whatever is leading you into sin. Get rid of the TV; turn off your Internet connection. If it’s a friendship or a relationship leading you into sin, be willing to separate yourself from it. John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” We must be drastic in seeking to get rid of sin in our lives.

But this is not just for individuals, it is also needed in the church when there is unrepentant sin. Look at what Paul said to the Corinthians:

hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?
1 Corinthians 5:5-6

In this context, a believer was having sex with his father’s wife. Paul told them to kick this person out of the church (hand over to Satan) because the yeast of this person’s sin would spread. It would spread like a deadly cancer. Paul commanded them to not even eat with a professing believer who was living in unrepentant sin (1 Cor 5:11).

In the same way that it is not cruel or unloving for a doctor to cut cancer out of a patient to save his life, it is not cruel or unloving for the church to do the same with sin. We must lovingly help our friends get rid of habitual sins. At times, we must even separate ourselves from those who will not repent. Although this may be hard, we must do this in order to become holy and to help others become holy.

Because the church does not often practice this, it has become more and more compromising and less effective for the kingdom of God.

Yes, we must be wise as serpents and gentle as doves (Matt 10:16). There is a place for tact, but I think the church has too much wisdom and too much tact, which often means that we do nothing. There is a place for this in the wise plan of God. It is those who are righteously angry who do something about abortion. It is those who are righteously angry who do something about trafficking. It is those who are righteously angry who say this is not right and who fight for justice. It is the righteously angry who mourn, weep, and pray for the God of heaven to move on our behalf. We need to be forceful men and women who advance the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:12).

3. We must be people who truly desire to please God.

Nehemiah 13:14 says, “Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.”

Four times Nehemiah prays that God would remember him. This reflects the reason that Nehemiah was so zealous. It was because he truly wanted God’s approval and favor over his life. When one is living for the world’s approval instead of God’s, it will be easy to compromise and not respond to sin.

We must be people who truly desire to see God pleased with our lives. The fact that this is repeated four times demonstrates how great of a priority this was for Nehemiah, and it must be for us as well.

4. We must be people with perseverance.

Another thing clearly demonstrated in this text is Nehemiah’s great perseverance. He had already challenged Israel about all these things in the previous chapters. He had already helped them get rid of the compromise with foreigners. He had helped restore the Sabbath. In fact, in chapter 10, Israel made commitments to be faithful in all these areas, but now they had compromised again.

It is no different for us when battling with sin in our lives or others. For many Christians, Satan will get them so discouraged at their failures that they just give up and wallow in their sin. Similarly, others will give up on trying to help people all together. They say to themselves, “This is impossible.”

Again, statistically 1,700 pastors leave the ministry each month. No doubt, a major reason for this is discouragement. They feel like they are not making a change, that people are stuck in their ways, and the church is not growing. Therefore, they get discouraged and quit.

However, when God rewards his servants in the Parable of the Talents, he doesn’t reward them because they were successful; he rewards them because they were “faithful.” He says, “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21). In the same way, we must be faithful in battling sin, faithful in battling compromise in our lives and the lives of others in order to honor God. We must be people of perseverance if we are going to get rid of sin.

Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Application Question: Do you have any people who are allowed to speak prophetically in your life? In what ways is God calling you to be an agent of change like Nehemiah in the lives of others?

Conclusion

In this text, we see common signs of decay in the lives of the people of God. What are signs of compromise amongst the people of God?

  1. Compromised leadership
  2. Misuse of money
  3. A decrease in time given to worship—Sabbath
  4. Worldly relationships

In what ways is God calling you to fix areas of compromise in your life or others? How is God calling you to be like Nehemiah, a type of Christ, who zealously confronted sin?

Application Question: What are the primary leadership lessons you learned from the book of Nehemiah and how is God challenging you to implement them into your life to become more of a godly leader?


1 The Moody Bible Commentary (Kindle Locations 26193-26194). Chicago: Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

2 MacArthur, John (2003-08-21). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Location 3464). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

3 Cole, Steven. “Lesson 13: The Problem of Permissiveness (Nehemiah 13:1-31)”. Retrieved 1/15/15 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-13-problem-permissiveness-nehemiah-131-31

4Turek, Frank. “Youth Exodus Problem”. retrieved 1/11/15, from http://crossexamined.org/youth-exodus-problem/

5“Statistics in Ministry”. retrieved 1/11/15, from http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/

6 MacArthur, John (2003-08-21). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 5841-5842). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

7 MacArthur, John (2003-08-21). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 6969-6970). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

8 Cole, Steven. “Lesson 13: The Problem of Permissiveness (Nehemiah 13:1-31)”. Retrieved 1/15/15 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-13-problem-permissiveness-nehemiah-131-31

Related Topics: Law

13. Living a Life of Celebration

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…At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites…
Nehemiah 12, 13:1-3

Application Question: Why is it important to practice the discipline of celebration?

How can we live a life of celebration? Celebration is an essential aspect of one’s spiritual life. Richard Foster in his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, said this:

Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees.1

We see celebration not only here in Nehemiah 12, as Israel dedicated the wall, but we also see celebration throughout the Bible. The shepherds, wise men, and angels celebrated the birth of Jesus with gifts, songs, and prayer. God gave Israel many celebrations in the Old Covenant such as the Feast of Booths, year of Jubilee, etc. In the New Covenant, he has given us the Lord’s Supper and baptism. We also see future celebrations such as the wedding of the Lamb and the wedding feast with Abraham.

It is clear from Scripture that celebration is a spiritual discipline that God desires for us to practice. It was never his will for Christians to live dry, boring lives and that is why we see celebrations both commanded and practiced throughout the Bible. Scripture says that Christ came so that we may have life and life more abundantly (cf. John 10:10). This abundant life includes celebration. In Nehemiah 12, the Israelites have a great celebration when dedicating the wall, and from it, we can learn many principles about how we can live a life of celebration?

Big Question: What can we learn about practicing the discipline of celebration from Israel’s dedication of the wall?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Planning

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres
Nehemiah 12:27

In this text, Israel had set up a special time of celebrating the Lord’s faithfulness by dedicating the wall to him. They sought out the Levites to celebrate in Jerusalem with songs and also later set up two choirs (v. 27, 31). It is clear that there was planning involved in this process. They decided who would come and how they would lead. The celebration was meticulously planned.

This celebration was not commanded by God; however, it was special for the people of Israel and something they needed to do in order to express their joy. Sometimes Christians have problems with celebrations that are not specifically given in the Bible or commanded for Christians to practice such as: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Lent, etc. Sure, we are not commanded to practice these, but the celebration of them can encourage renewed focus and joy in the Lord, if allowed.

It is good and proper to have routine times to celebrate the Lord, as we do on the Lord’s Day—Sunday. But, it is also good to have special times of devotion or celebration both on a personal level and a community level. It is easy to live a life of routine, which can eventually become dry and mundane. These devotions at special times often aid us in living a life of celebration and worship.

In the same way that it is good and healthy for a married couple to set special dates and special trips to revive and restore their relationship, sometimes we need to do this with God. We should consider establishing special times of celebration to enrich our relationship with him and our joy. It could be a retreat—a week of prayer and worship—to celebrate God’s goodness. Or it could be a celebration of some great success, like a graduation, the launch of a church or a business, where one gathers with others to give thanks to God.

God’s faithfulness can be celebrated in many ways; however, none of these will come to fruition without deliberate planning—both short-term and long-term planning.

Application Question: In what ways do you practice the discipline of celebration? Why is celebration important?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Dedicating Everything to God

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.
Nehemiah 12:27

The primary purpose of the celebration was to dedicate the wall to God. This dedication was done by bringing in worshipers, walking around the wall, and offering sacrifices to God.

Certainly, we have dedications today. We have baby dedications; we have weddings, which are formal dedications of a couple, both to one another and to God. We have dedications of buildings, companies, etc., which are all offered to the Lord. And these are great things to practice. However, dedications are just special ceremonies which should picture what we practice every day of our lives. Everything we do should be dedicated to the Lord and for his glory—our school work, our marriage, our friendships, our eating and drinking. Consider what Paul taught:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men
Colossians 3:23

As Israel dedicated the wall to God, we also should find ways to dedicate everything in our lives to him. A life without dedication is really a life without true celebration. We only celebrate what we are dedicated to. We celebrate good grades because we were dedicated to work for them. We celebrate someone’s life only when we have some type of dedication or commitment to the person.

In the same way, only a life that is dedicated to God can truly be a life of celebration and joy.

Application Question: In what ways can we practice dedicating everything to the Lord?

  1. We dedicate everything to God by offering our bodies, our time, our relationships, and our projects to God through prayer.
  2. We dedicate everything to God by thanking him for everything. This means that we recognize that everything is from him and for him.
  3. We dedicate everything to God by working at it with all of our hearts (Col 3:23). We cannot dedicate our scraps to God—only our best.

Application Question: How do you personally practice dedicating things to the Lord?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration when Leaders Serve Joyfully

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres…I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them… as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets—and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
Nehemiah 12:27, 31-32, 41- 43

In order to live a life of celebration, godly leaders must lead joyfully. One of the things that we must notice in this narrative is that the Levites, the singers, the priests, Nehemiah, and Ezra were all called to lead the celebration. Nehemiah 12:27 says that the Levites were “brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully.” Nehemiah also called the leaders of Judah to help lead in the celebration (v. 31). Nehemiah knew that it was important for the leaders to lead the celebration in order for it to affect everybody else. Nehemiah 12:43 notes the response of the people. It says: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

As the leaders led with joy, the women and children also rejoiced and the sound of rejoicing could be heard from far away. This means the Jews living in the suburbs and villages near Jerusalem could hear the sheer joy. It also probably reached their Gentile neighbors as well. The people of Israel were very responsive to the leaders’ joy, causing a great celebration. We see their joyful response in several ways:

Observation Question: How did the people respond to their leaders and the dedication in Nehemiah 12:47-13:4?

1. The people responded by contributing the daily portions for the singers and gatekeepers.

Nehemiah 12:47 says,

So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers and gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

2. The people responded by gathering to read the Word of God and by excluding the foreigners from Israel in order to properly approach God.

It seems that the beginning of chapter 13 is in response to the dedication. Nehemiah 13:1 says “On that day” meaning it was probably a continuation from the previous chapter. It reads:

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.) When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1-3

Nehemiah shared all this after the dedication and the worship of the leaders to show how it affected Israel. Their joy affected others and the rest of Israel was prompted to give, read the Word, and separate from the foreigners. In order to live a life of celebration, we must have godly leaders who lead joyfully.

Application Question: How can we practically apply the effect of the leaders’ joy on others?

The rest of Scripture would similarly teach that our joy, and especially that of leaders, affects others. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

A cheerful heart is good medicine. Now certainly, this applies to us. Having joy in our life, no doubt, will help us heal and protect us from physical disease. Studies support the effect of joy on our lives. But our cheerful heart is also like good medicine to others.

See, the leaders in Israel got excited, and it affected everybody else’s commitment to God as seen in Israel’s response. In the same way, our joy, our life of celebration, especially as people in leadership, will encourage the faith of others. It will encourage them to be faithful to the Lord.

Our joy for the Lord, our joy in worship, our joy in evangelism, and our joy in a difficult situation is contagious. It brings healing to broken bones and hearts of those around us. Similarly, Solomon said this: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13).

A happy heart makes the face cheerful. It is contagious. It brings a smile to others, and this is especially important for leaders. I think that’s part of the reason why Satan is so aggressive in seeking to discourage the leadership of the church. When elders, small group leaders, deacons, etc., are discouraged, it negatively affects everybody else. Instead of bringing healing, it crushes the spirit of others.

I remember briefly serving at an Army medical hospital in San Antonio, Texas, as a Navy Reserve chaplain. A soldier was flown in from Germany who had previously been injured in Afghanistan. If I remember correctly, a bomb had gone off causing an electric wire to fall on him. This caused electricity to shoot through his body, out of his fingers, and out of his toes. He had third degree burns everywhere and was missing a few limbs.

I went in thinking, “How am I going to comfort this guy? However, I was encouraged to learn that this nineteen year old soldier was a man of faith. He was joyful and focused on the prospects of his future. He could see how God was going to use this unfortunate situation for his good. And instead of comforting him, he comforted me.

I left there inspired because of the joy and mature perspective of this young man. I went there hoping to give some spiritual medicine, but, by God’s grace, I was on the receiving end. A happy heart makes the face cheerful.

I think we also see how a joyful leader affects others in the fact that David is mentioned six times throughout this narrative. It continually says, “as prescribed by David the man of God.” Consider a few of these verses:

And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.
Nehemiah 12:24

and his associates—Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani—with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. Ezra the scribe led the procession.
Nehemiah 12:36

His name is mentioned in verses 24, 36, 45 and 46. When it says Israel followed his prescription of worship, it probably refers to the Psalms he wrote, which included songs to sing and also instructions for instruments. He had also probably set up an order of worship that had been passed down throughout the generations in Israel.

I bring up the continual references to David because David was a godly leader, a man after God’s own heart, who loved to worship and celebrate God. One time he danced so vigorously before the Lord that he took off his princely robes and looked like a common man (2 Sam 6:14). He was a leader who led with joy and his worship affected all of Israel. Even today, his joy and worship are still contagious. We still use many of his Psalms in our contemporary worship music, and we commonly read them, as part of the Holy Scripture, to encourage our hearts when we are down.

Are you a joyful leader? The Levites and other leaders were called to lead with joy (v. 27), and God has called you to lead with joy as well. It’s like a medicine that cheers others up and draws them into a life of celebration. Likewise, a discouraged leader creates discouraged followers. We develop a discipline of celebration as a community by having leaders who lead with joy and by being leaders who lead with joy.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen joyful leaders lead others into joy or celebration? In what ways have you experienced discouraged leaders who lead others into discouragement? How is God calling you to lead with joy?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Corporate Worship

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem…I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate.
Nehemiah 12:27-29, 31

In this text, we see that not only were the Levites sought out to participate in the worship, but many others as well—the singers from the region around Jerusalem (v. 28-29), the leaders of Judah, two large choirs (v. 31), and many other neighboring Israelites, including women and children (v. 43). The women and children were mentioned in verse 43 to show that everybody was worshiping, even those who had the lowest status in Israel. They all came together to worship God and dedicate the wall to him.

Similarly, in order to live a life of worship, we must be part of a community of worship. We need to meet with the people of God to worship. That is why they all came together from all over Israel.

Can’t we worship by ourselves?

Certainly, and we should, but there are special things that God does when the people of God are gathered together. Jesus said that when two or more are gathered in his name he is in the midst of them (Matt 18:20). In fact, Scripture commands us to faithfully participate in the public gathering of the saints. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The writer of Hebrews taught that gathering into a worshiping community is necessary for stirring up love, good works, and for finding encouragement. Yes, we need each other to practice a lifestyle of celebration. We cannot live a lifestyle of celebration alone. We need the gathering of the saints.

Application Question: How can we practice community worship in order to live a life of celebration?

  • We practice community worship by being faithfully involved in weekly church worship and small groups.
  • We practice community worship by involving the body of Christ in our personal celebrations. We can do this by strategically inviting church members to our celebrations in order to increase our worship and theirs.
  • We practice community worship by participating in the celebrations of others. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Application Question: Why is corporate worship so important to living a life of celebration? How is God challenging you to grow in corporate worship?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Giving Thanks in Everything

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres… I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate.
Nehemiah 12:27, 31

The leaders of Israel led the people in “songs of thanksgiving” (v. 27), and the two choirs Nehemiah set up gave thanks (v. 31). The dedication of the wall was full of thanksgiving. In the same way, if we are going to live a life of celebration, we must continually give thanks to God.

It is good for us to remember that one of the ways that nonbelievers are characterized in Scripture is by not giving thanks to God. Listen to what Paul said when describing the pagan world: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).

They are described as a people who knew God through the witness of creation but neither glorified him nor gave thanks to him. The world is characterized by not being thankful. Sadly, many people in the church “know God” but yet refuse to glorify him and give thanks to him.

As Christians we are commanded to give thanks in everything. Paul said this in 1 Thessalonians 5:18-19: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”

He commands us to give thanks in all circumstances and then says for us to not “put out the Spirit’s fire.” What does he mean by this?

It means that when we are unthankful, we lose the Spirit of God’s power in our lives. We lose the power to be joyful, the power to do the works he has called us to do, and, in fact, we often bring the discipline of God on our lives. Israel was disciplined in the wilderness for all their complaining (1 Cor 10:10). However, living a life of thanksgiving opens the door for the Spirit to work in our lives and to give us joy (cf. Gal 5:22). It allows us to truly celebrate God and his works.

Many Christians are walking around without power because they neglect the practice of thanksgiving. They are complainers and worriers, and, by their complaining and worrying, they place water on the Spirit’s fire, affecting both themselves and whatever community they are a part of.

It’s good to remember that we are commanded to “Do all things without complaining and arguing” (Phil 2:14) and to not be anxious about anything (Phil 4:6). When we choose to complain or be anxious, we put out the Spirit’s fire.

If you want to live a life of worship and celebration, you must put logs on the fire of God by living a life of thanksgiving.

Application Question: What are some ways we can practice the discipline of thanksgiving in order to increase our celebration of the Lord?

  1. Practicing the discipline of journaling will help increase our thanksgiving. By journaling, we remember God’s faithfulness, his answers to prayer, and his sovereignty over circumstances. As we remember his good works, we will continually be filled with joy and thanksgiving.
  2. Practicing the discipline of singing worship will help increase our thanksgiving. This is not just a corporate discipline; it should also be a personal discipline (cf. Eph 5:19).
  3. Practicing the discipline of giving thanks to God in all circumstances, both good and bad, will help us develop a natural habit of thanksgiving.
  4. Practicing the discipline of giving thanks to others will help us recognize their good works and/or how God has used them in our lives.

Application Question: Why do we so often forget to praise and glorify God throughout the day, even when he has blessed us? How often do you practice giving thanks to God and to others?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Confessing Sins

When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall. I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate.
Nehemiah 12:30-31

It must be noted that before the dedication began, the Levites first purified themselves, the people, and the wall (v. 30). How did they do this? This probably included ceremonial washings and a sin offering, where they sought the Lord to forgive their sins.

Similarly, we cannot live a life of celebration without the continual cleansing of sin. Consider what David said about forgiveness in Psalm 32:2-5:

Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

He declared how “Blessed” the man was whose sins are forgiven. “Blessed” can be translated “Happy.” Happy is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him. However, he also described his own personal testimony of not confessing his sin. He shared that when he was silent, his bones wasted away, probably referring to physical sickness from his sin (cf. 1 Cor 11:30). He groaned, meaning he was depressed. His strength was sapped. He dealt with both physical and emotional weakness when he had unrepentant sin in his life. Sin takes away our ability to live a joyful life. It takes away our ability to celebrate. Confession and forgiveness of sin are necessary in order to truly celebrate God.

This reminds us that true joy and celebration comes from a right relationship with God (cf. Phil 4:4, Psalm 1:1). We cannot have a right relationship with God while we are in sin. Therefore, confession is necessary. The person who chooses to abide in sin and live in rebellion towards God can know nothing of true joy or true celebration. Our joy and peace are in the Lord and come from him (cf. Eph 2:14, Gal 5:22). We must continually seek forgiveness to live the life of celebration God desires for us.

First John 1:9 says this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We do not need to make a sin offering like Israel did to have our sins forgiven. All we need to do is confess our sins to God, turn away from them, and God will forgive and restore us to a right relationship with him, so we can have joy.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced the loss of joy and strength because of sin, as David did (Psalm 32:2-5)? In what ways have you experienced joy, when you have experienced the forgiveness of God?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Claiming God’s Promises

At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east. The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped.
Nehemiah 12:37-39

Interpretation Question: What does walking around the walls of Jerusalem symbolize in Nehemiah 12:37-39, as seen throughout Scripture?

The next thing we must notice is that Israel dedicated the wall in part by walking around it in both directions. By walking around the wall, they were claiming that God did the work and claiming God’s promise that he would give them the land (cf. Gen 12:7, 17:8).

We have seen this symbolic walking in several passages in the Bible. In Genesis 13:14-17, God called Abraham to lift his eyes to survey the land and to walk through it, for all of it had been given to him. In Joshua 1:3, Joshua was told that every place his foot touched was his. Furthermore, Joshua and Israel were called to walk around Jericho seven times, which symbolized God giving them that city, right before the walls of the city fell down and they conquered it (Josh 6).

Walking around the land of Jerusalem symbolically demonstrated their claiming of God’s covenant promise to eternally give the land to the nation of Israel. It was them saying, “Lord, we believe you! We recognize this victory of building the wall came from you, and we are claiming your promise of this land!”

Claiming God’s promises is necessary for us to live a life of celebration as well. Many Christians live without joy and celebration because they refuse to take hold of God’s promises.

Application Question: What types of promises has God given us which will help us to live a life of joy and celebration?

It has been said that there are over 3000 promises in the Scripture, and we must claim them by faith and be obedient to them in order to live a life of celebration. Here are a few to consider:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
Isaiah 26:3

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

These are all promises of God we must take hold of by faith. By keeping our mind on God regardless of the circumstances, we can have the Lord’s peace. By separating from the sinful influence of the ungodly and delighting in God’s Word day and night, we will prosper in everything that we do. Instead of worrying, we must refuse to be anxious and instead choose to live a lifestyle of prayer with thanksgiving, and God’s peace will guard our hearts. Like Israel, we must take these steps by faith to receive God’s promises. The Christian life should be a continual unwrapping of God’s promises, as we walk by faith in them.

We can’t live a life of worship—a life of joy—unless we are taking the promises of God and claiming them. Yes, the nations around Israel were daunting. How could they keep the land and protect the land with such daunting adversaries? All they could do was obediently trust God’s Word, and God would do the rest. It is the same for us.

We each have enemies in our lives that threaten to steal our joy and life of celebration. But, we must claim God’s promises so that we can celebrate even in the presence of our enemies. David said this: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). Amen, let it be so.

Application Question: What are your favorite promises in Scripture? Which promises do you feel God is calling you to stand on and claim right now so that you can celebrate, even in the midst of your enemies?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Investing in the House of God

The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets— and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
Nehemiah 12:40-43

What else can we learn about a life of celebration from Israel’s celebration?

We see that after they walked around the wall with two groups going in opposite directions (v. 38), they went into the house of God (v. 40). They gave “great sacrifices” and rejoiced with “great joy” (v. 43). This seems to be the pinnacle of their celebration. The sound of their corporate rejoicing was so loud it could be heard from far away.

Yes, in the same way, our joy is the greatest when we have invested in the house of God, which is his church—God’s people (cf. 1 Peter 2:5). Why do I call it an “investment”? It’s an investment because of how the Israelites gave. It says that they gave “great sacrifices” (v. 43). This means that they gave their best to the Lord at the temple.

Similarly, I believe many people struggle with living a life of celebration because they are not really invested in their church. They are not invested in the people of God.

They come to church on Sunday but never take time to get involved in people’s lives through small groups or other ministries. There is no “great sacrifice” in their corporate worship. Too many people in the church think that their appearance on Sunday is some great sacrifice to God. They say, “Lord, I got up and made it to church. Aren’t you happy?”

But we must remember that God wants our best. He wants us to invest in him and his people. Listen to what God said to Israel in Malachi 1 about their sacrifices:

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ ”You place defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty. ”Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the LORD Almighty.
Malachi 1:6-9

In this text, Israel was rejected by God because they gave him their leftovers. They gave the lamb with one eye and a broken leg, and God said that he wouldn’t accept it.

Similarly, many Christians don’t offer God their best; they don’t truly invest. They give him the scraps of their day, the scraps of their time. They aren’t committed to serving his people, the church. It is good to remember the correspondence between the sheep and Jesus in Matthew 25. The sheep said to Jesus, “When did we feed you; when did we clothe you?” Christ responded, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me” (v. 37 and 40, paraphrased). Whatever we do to God’s people, we do to him.

Israel’s celebration and joy were marked by the “great sacrifices” they gave God in the temple. Many of the Old Covenant sacrifices were not only offered to God but eaten by both the offerer and the priests. They were communal meals that not only blessed God but others. They gave God their best and so must we, as we invest in the church—his people.

Are you investing in the people of God? Israel had their greatest joy as they offered their best to the Lord in his house.

One of the ways you invest in something is by giving the best of your time, the best of your money, and the best of your energy. Are you doing that with the house of God, God’s people?

God promises that whatever you give, he will give back to you. Jesus said this: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). Proverbs 11:25 in the New Living Translation says, “Those who refresh others shall themselves be refreshed.” God will give you a life of tremendous joy, as you give your best to him and his people. He will enable you to live a life of celebration—a life of joy.

Application Question: What are some practical ways that we can invest in the house of God (the people of God) to live a life of celebration? In what ways have you experienced an enriched joy through this practice?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Being Devoted to the Word of God

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.) When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1-3

When Nehemiah 13:1 says “on that day,” it seems to be referring to the day they dedicated the wall. The dedication of the wall included reading Scripture and obeying it. As they were investing in the house of God, they found that the Scripture forbade having an Ammonite or Moabite in the temple. These nations were antagonistic towards Israel while they were traveling in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Therefore, the Jews, in obedience, excluded anybody from foreign descent.

It must be noted that part of their celebration was being devoted to Scripture as they read and obeyed it. This must be true for us as well. If we are going to lead our lives and the people we serve in celebration, we must lead them to honor the Word of God and to submit to it.

Certainly, we see this throughout the Scripture. David, in writing the hymnal of Israel, began the Psalms encouraging the people to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night (Psalm 1:2). Similarly, in Psalm 19:7-8 he said this:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

David championed many of the benefits of honoring the Word of God. He taught that the Word of God revives the soul, makes people wise, gives joy to the heart, and gives light to the eyes (gives us direction). The law of the Lord is truly perfect; its benefits are legion. If we are going to live lives of celebration, they must be lives devoted to Scripture. The law of the Lord revives the soul and brings joy to the heart.

Are you living a life devoted to Scripture? Are you exhorting those you lead to do the same? Consider what Paul told his disciple Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Let us apply this exhortation to our own lives and also to those we lead. Certainly, not all are called to preach, but we are all called to teach as we make disciples of all nations. In order to live a life of celebration, we must be devoted to Scripture.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced joy by being in the Word of God, obeying it, and sharing it with others? How can you more effectively use Scripture to live a life of celebration?

Conclusion

How do we live a life of celebration? Christians practice the discipline of celebration by:

  • planning daily and special times of celebration
  • dedicating everything to God
  • leading with joy
  • participating in corporate worship
  • giving thanks in everything
  • continually confessing our sins
  • claiming the promises of God
  • investing in the house of God
  • and by being devoted to the Word of God

Application Question: In what ways has God challenged you to live a life of celebration in order to increase your joy and the joy of others?


1 Foster, Richard J. (2009-03-17). Celebration of Discipline (Kindle Locations 2931-2932). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Leadership

Lesson 5: Effective Discipleship (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8)

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August 21, 2016

I want to begin by asking two questions: “Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?” Hopefully, that one was easy. If you answered, “Yes,” the second, more intimidating, question is, “Are you discipling others?”

To define my terms: A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ. No one follows Him perfectly, of course. But as a disciple, the direction and aim of your life is to be obedient to Jesus Christ and His teachings as revealed in the Bible. To disciple others is to help them follow Jesus. Mark Dever defines it (Discipling [Crossway], p. 13), “Discipling is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ.”

In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His followers (Matt. 28:19-20), “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; …” The command to make disciples applies to all who follow Jesus, not just to pastors and missionaries. Every Christian has received a spiritual gift which he or she is to use in serving Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-31; Eph. 4:7-12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Part of the command to love one another involves helping others be what God wants them to be. That’s discipleship. So if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, God wants you to use your gifts to help others become more like Christ.

Discipleship should not be so much a program in the local church that some sign up for, but rather the culture of the church, where every member aims at helping others become more like Christ. It begins in our homes, with parents evangelizing and discipling their children. It should ripple out through the entire church, where we all are helping one another grow in godliness. In our text, Paul reveals three crucial ingredients for effective discipleship:

Effective discipleship is built on a godly message, a godly manner, and a godly motive.

The godly message is the gospel; the godly manner is evident love for others; and, the godly motive is to please God from the heart. If you’re clear on the gospel, evident in your love for others, and doing everything to please God who examines your heart, God will use you to help others grow to be more like Christ.

1. Effective discipleship is built on a godly message: the gospel of God.

I’ll say more about this, but for now I point out that in 1 Thessalonians 2 & 3, Paul is defending himself against vicious opponents, perhaps the Jews who drove him out of Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:14-16). They were trying to discredit Paul so that his gospel would be discredited. Paul mentions the gospel in verses 2, 4, 8, and 9 (as well as in 1:5 & 3:2). In verses 2, 8, & 9 he refers to it as “the gospel of God.” Paul didn’t make up the gospel. Rather, it came directly from God, who revealed it to Paul. To reject the gospel is to reject the living and true God who gave it to us.

The gospel stands against every other system of religion in the world, including some religions that go under the banner of Christianity. All these false “gospels” teach that the way you go to heaven is by some program of good works. Sometimes, as in the Roman Catholic Church, faith in Christ and good works are combined, just as the Judaizers in Paul’s day combined faith in Christ with keeping the Jewish law. By doing penance for your sins, going to church, moral behavior, helping the poor, and giving to the church, you accumulate merits to qualify for heaven.

But the gospel is that we are saved from God’s judgment by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, resulting in good works. Ephesians 2:8-10 states it clearly:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

The gospel is good news for sinners because it promises freely to forgive all the sins of those who believe. As Paul states (Rom. 4:5), “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Jesus illustrated the same truth in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The proud Pharisee thought that he was right with God through his religious practices, whereas the tax collector could only cry out (Luke 18:13), “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Jesus said that the tax collector went to his house justified, whereas the Pharisee did not. The best news in the world is that if you come to Jesus with all of your sin and cry out to Him for mercy through Jesus’ shed blood, He freely gives it!

So why does the gospel result in opposition? Why would anyone have a problem with such good news? The Bible is clear that self-righteous people hate the gospel because it confronts their pride. It takes away all grounds for boasting in our good deeds. The gospel requires that we acknowledge that we are sinners without any claim for heaven. The gospel reveals that my heart is as desperately wicked as that of the worst of sinners. So proud people oppose the humbling message of the gospel.

Also, unbelievers don’t like to hear about God’s wrath and judgment against all sinners. As a result they often oppose the messengers of the gospel. But even if they oppose us, we shouldn’t back off or apologize for the message. Paul was mistreated in Philippi for preaching the gospel, but when he came to Thessalonica, he preached the same message boldly in spite of the opposition (1 Thess. 2:2). We can’t compromise the message to win converts.

Effective discipleship rests on the foundation of the gospel revealed to us in God’s Word. False teachers don’t tell people about sin and the judgment to come. Rather, they build people’s self-esteem and tell them how Jesus can help them have their best life now. To build godly disciples we must build on the foundation of the gospel that comes from God.

2. Effective discipleship is built on a godly manner: evident love for people.

1 Thessalonians 2:7-8: “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”

When people feel the love of Christ through us, they will more likely listen to the gospel that we present. There is a difficult textual variant in verse 7. Some early manuscripts read “we became babes,” whereas a number of others read, “we became gentle.” The difference is either the presence or absence of a single Greek letter (nu, or “n”). “Babes” is the better attested and more difficult reading, in that it doesn’t seem to fit with the metaphor of the nursing mother in the last half of the verse. Paul usually uses “babes” in a negative way, to refer to those who are spiritually immature (1 Cor. 3:1). He uses “gentle” with reference to how the Lord’s bond-servants must relate to others (2 Tim. 2:24-25): “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind [“gentle”] to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth ….”

So it’s difficult to decide. If the original reading was “babes,” it probably has the sense of being gentle or defenseless, as a little baby is. But the image of a nursing mother tenderly holding her baby next to her, protecting the child from all harm, pictures the love that we are to have for others.

But may I point out the obvious (to any mother, at least): Babies are needy, often difficult, inconvenient, and time-consuming! They dirty their diapers, they scream when they’re hungry or don’t feel good, they throw up on you, they wake you up in the middle of the night, and they require a lot of attention. So do new believers! This means that you can’t love others unless you’re willing to sacrifice yourself and your time and be inconvenienced. But it’s through your love that they will grow.

Note, also, that these are emotional terms. The same emotional language permeates the rest of chapters 2 & 3. It’s obvious that Paul had deep feelings for these new converts and he let them know it verbally. Not only did he tell them of his affection for them, but also they had seen it when he was with them. He repeats “you know,” “you recall,” and “you are witnesses (2:1, 2, 5, 9, 10 & 11). Paul’s love for them was evident.

He says that they had not only imparted the gospel, “but also our own lives” [lit., “souls”]. Part of sharing your own soul is being vulnerable and open. You don’t try to present an image that isn’t who you really are. You live openly and truthfully before God and before others. When I became a pastor 39 years ago, I resolved never to project through my preaching or in my private dealings with anyone that I’ve got it together if that’s not true. If I’m preaching on prayer and I struggle with my prayer life (as I do), I’ll let you know that I’m struggling. You can’t effectively disciple others if you’re not truthful about your own failures and struggles.

So, effective discipleship is built on a godly message: the gospel of God; and, on a godly manner: evident love for people.

3. Effective discipleship is built on a godly motive: pleasing God from the heart.

We could also label this integrity before God. Paul reveals six ways he pleased God from the heart:

A. We please God when we seek His glory, not our own.

Paul says (1 Thess. 2:4), “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.” He adds (1 Thess. 2:6), “nor did we seek glory from men.” Paul lived with a Godward focus. He wanted to please and glorify God on the heart level. When he says that he didn’t please men, he doesn’t mean that he was insensitive toward people. He was careful not needlessly to offend others (see 1 Cor. 9:20-22; 10:33). He spoke graciously to people (Eph. 4:29). But behind his actions toward people was a primary focus to please and glorify God.

Pleasing and glorifying God must begin on the heart or thought level, since God examines our hearts. We can fool people by putting on a good front when we’re in public, but God looks on our hearts. When Paul says that he had been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, he’s referring to his heart before God. Paul’s heart was right with God and so God entrusted Paul with the treasure of the gospel. A man can be a powerful, captivating preacher, but in private he looks at pornography or checks out the sexy women. Or he may posture himself as a man of God at church, but at home he’s angry and abusive.

To begin at this, gain and maintain a clear conscience before God. As Paul told the Roman governor Felix (Acts 24:16), “I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” This means confessing all sins, including sinful thoughts. It means asking forgiveness of those against whom we have sinned. And then, positively, we aim to please God in all respects (Col. 1:10), not so that we look good to others, but so that God looks good through us. When you walk with that kind of reality and integrity before the Lord, He will use you to disciple others effectively.

B. We please God by enduring trials with steadfast joy.

Paul mentions how he and Silas had suffered and been mistreated in Philippi just before they came to Thessalonica. Acts 16 tells of how they were unjustly beaten without a trial and put in the stocks in jail. But at midnight, they were singing praises to God. He wrote Philippians from prison in Rome, where he didn’t deserve to be. Other preachers in Rome were unfairly attacking him. And yet Philippians overflows with joy in the Lord (Phil. 4:4): “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

And when Paul preached the gospel in Thessalonica, guess what? He encountered much opposition (1 Thess. 2:2)! But, rather than complaining to God about how unfair it was or threating to quit preaching unless he got better treatment in the future, Paul kept on joyfully preaching the gospel.

Over the years, I’ve watched many people who begin to serve the Lord in some ministry, but when they get criticized or their feelings get hurt, they quit. Often, they get angry with God or with the Christians who mistreated them. They drop out of church or at least keep their distance by just attending, but never serving again.

But serving the Lord is not a Sunday school picnic! It’s spiritual warfare! The enemy will attack, often from unexpected angles. When I first began as a pastor, I naively thought that the opposition would come from the world. But I’ve rarely gotten flak from the world. Unbelievers don’t care about what goes on in the church. The attacks come from within. So if you’re attempting to disciple others, expect to be criticized. Sometimes those you’ve spent a lot of time with will turn against you. Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Demas deserted Paul. It happens! But if we endure trials and hardship with steadfast joy, it pleases God and He will use it to help others grow in Christ.

C. We please God through pure doctrine.

Paul says (1 Thess. 2:3), “For our exhortation does not come from error ….” The truth of the gospel is foundational, but then it extends to all major biblical truth. God is the God of truth (Ps. 31:5; Isa. 65:16) whose Word is truth (John 17:17). In Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, he repeatedly emphasizes sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:6; 6:3; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 7, 9, 10). The word “sound” comes from the Greek word from which we get our word “hygienic.” Sound doctrine leads to spiritual health. Bad doctrine, like junk food, leads to spiritual sickness or disease. To disciple others effectively, feed them sound doctrine and teach them as they grow to feed themselves.

It’s amazing how much Paul had taught these new believers, many of whom were from a pagan background, in the short time he had been with them. He assumes that they knew about the doctrine of election (1:4) and the trinity (1:1, 5, 6). He had taught them about suffering (1:6; 3:3-4); the second coming (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23); moral purity (4:1-8); and many other truths.

Of course, we need to distinguish between the essential truths of the faith, which every true believer must affirm, and other doctrines, which may be important, but where godly people may differ. The gospel and all truths necessary for the gospel are essential. Some other matters, such as prophecy, spiritual gifts, church government and ordinances, or methods for ministry, are important, but not essential for the gospel. But in our postmodern era, when the whole notion of truth is challenged, we need to hold graciously but firmly to the truth of God’s Word.

But when you teach the truth, expect to catch flak! After exhorting Timothy to preach the Word, which includes reproving, rebuking, and exhorting, Paul warned (2 Tim. 4:3-5):

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

The reason Paul added “endure hardship” was that when you preach the Word faithfully, you will be criticized and attacked.

D. We please God through moral integrity.

Paul says (1 Thess. 2:3) that his exhortation did not come from “impurity.” In that day, as in the present, there were many false teachers who were motivated by sexual impurity. They purported to preach the gospel and teach God’s Word, but they used their status as public figures to prey on unsuspecting women. Peter warned (2 Pet. 2:14) of false teachers who had “eyes full of adultery,” who enticed unstable souls. He added (2 Pet. 2:18-19), “For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; …” To effectively disciple others, we must be morally pure. Again, this begins on the thought level.

E. We please God by financial integrity.

Paul states (1 Thess. 2:5) that he did not come “with a pretext for greed,” and then adds, “God is witness.” Greed and sexual lust are often linked in Scripture (Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5). Jesus mentions both in a list of sins that He says come from the heart (Mark 7:21-23). We can sometimes observe outward behavior and conclude that a man is motivated by greed or lust. But if we want to overcome these sins in ourselves to please God and to disciple others, we have to deal with them on the heart level.

Financial integrity requires being honest in all our financial dealings, including not cheating when we pay our taxes. If you’re paid cash for a job, you need to report it. If a clerk gives you too much change or doesn’t charge what you owe, you need to make it right. Greed is also the motivation for gambling and get rich quick schemes, both of which Christians should avoid. Greed keeps us from giving generously to the Lord’s work. To please God and to disciple others effectively, kill your greed.

F. We please God by avoiding all deception and manipulation.

Paul says (1 Thess. 2:3) that his exhortation did not come “by way of deceit,” and then adds (1 Thess. 2:5-6), “For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness— nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” “Deceit” was used for the bait that a fisherman uses. He puts a juicy worm on his hook so that the fish thinks he’s getting a delicious meal, but the fish ends up becoming the meal. A deceitful person who is pleasing men tells people what they want to hear so that they will like him, even if he knows it isn’t the truth. He dodges the hard truths of Scripture because he doesn’t want to scare people away, but in so doing, he gets them to believe Satan’s lies about God.

Flattering speech means pleasing people to gain an advantage. It’s always manipulative. Paul could have wrongly used his apostolic authority to lord it over people, but he didn’t do that. When he used his authority, it was to build up others, not to lord it over them (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10). To please God and disciple others, we need to be truthful and to avoid all manipulation.

Conclusion

Years ago, an agnostic was contemplating suicide, but he decided that if he could find a minister who lived his faith, he would listen to him. So he hired a private investigator to watch Will Houghton, a preacher who had become the president of Moody Bible Institute. When the report came back, it revealed that Houghton’s life was above reproach. He was for real. The agnostic went to Houghton’s church, trusted in Christ, and later sent his daughter to Moody Bible Institute. (“Our Daily Bread,” 11/83)

What would a private investigator dig up on you? Would you pass the test? God is the ultimate private investigator! He examines your heart! To disciple others effectively, you need a godly message—the gospel of God; a godly manner—evident love for others; and a godly motive—pleasing God from the heart. I pray that in our church we will develop a climate of discipleship—of deliberately helping one another become more like Christ.

Application Questions

  1. Discuss: Does the Great Commission (making disciples) apply to all Christians or only to those specially gifted for it?
  2. Why is it important to get the gospel right? How is Satan attacking the gospel in our day?
  3. How can a person who is inclined to be a people-pleaser become a God-pleaser? What steps should he or she take?
  4. What can you do to help this church move toward a culture of discipleship? What would you need to change to do this?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship

“Two Unbearable Words” -- The Nature of Christian Hope

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Two small words. When heard on the battlefield, in the hospital waiting room, or in our darkest thoughts, they bring despair. Two words that carry such anguish that no one can withstand their power. What, then, are these two unbearable words?

“No hope.”

Proverbs 18:14 tells us, “The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but a broken spirit who can bear?” A broken spirit is a spirit without hope. The loss of hope is a terrible thing. Without hope, life’s troubles bring discouragement, depre ssion, despair, and even death. We can bear the doctor’s frightful diagnosis with hope for a cure. We can endure the separation from a loved one with hope for a reunion. We can endure certain death with the hope of eternal life and infinite joy in the presence of God forever. But where no hope exists—we are undone.

The Nature of Hope

The word “hope” generally expresses two different ideas. The more common meaning, especially outside of the Christian context, entails wishful thinking, the desire for something we might not receive. For instance, we may hope for a new job, or pray and hope for good health, while not knowing if we will receive them. We may hope for a better day but not know what a day may bring.

Hope also refers to a desire for something we are certain to receive, an assurance concerning the future. This is Christian hope. However uncertain our circumstances, or however God may answer our prayers, we know for certain He will work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). As believers, we often have uncertain and certain hope at the same time. For instance, we may pray and hope for deliverance from a present trouble and not know if, when, or how God will answer our prayer (uncertain hope), while knowing He will ultimately deliver us and that our eternal destiny remains secure in Christ (certain hope). “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Uncertain hope involves the “secret things,” while our sure hope rests on the “things revealed.”

The Object of Hope

Like faith, hope depends on its object. Hope can be false when we look to something or someone that cannot fulfill it: “A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength” (Psalm 33:17). Hope can be uncertain when it stands on something or someone that may not be able or willing to fulfill it. And hope is sure when it rests in something or someone absolutely able and willing to fulfill it (Christian hope). Like faith, the object of our hope is Christ: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).

Christian Hope Stands on the Excellence of God the Father

God the Father began our hope by creating the plan for our eternal happiness and by sending Christ to accomplish it. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you, who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21).

Christian Hope Stands on the Excellence of God the Son

From a heart of love for His future bride, God the Son freely volunteered to become a man and purchase our hope according to the will of the Father. In so doing, His character and work would display the infinite excellence of God, the ultimate foundation of our faith and hope. Christ purchased us and qualified us to be His bride and God’s children, fitting us for heaven by satisfying God’s justice by perfect obedience unto death on the cross. By saving unworthy sinners, Christ satisfied God’s ultimate purpose to display His infinite excellence. In Christ we see God’s perfect power and faithfulness to fulfill His promises, His righteousness in satisfying His justice on our behalf, and His infinite love in suffering and dying to save us. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Christian Hope Stands on the Excellence of God the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit guarantees our hope. He unites us to Christ, gives us spiritual eyes to see God’s excellence and the truth of His promises, and dwells in us to produce hope, faith, and love toward God in our hearts. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge” (2 Corinthians 1:20-22).

Thus our hope stands on the infinite excellence of God, who will fulfill the hope He started, purchased, and produces in us. In the display of His glory in the person and work of Christ, He so exhibits His perfect character that He guarantees that He is able, willing, and certain to fulfill our hope in Him.

The Command to Hope

Like Faith, God tells us to have hope, while a lack of hope may stem from ignorance, a lack of attention to God and His promises, or unbelief. “O Israel, hope in the LORD, from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 131:3). “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him” (Psalm 62:5). “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). “Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

The Nurture of Hope

As believers, we can easily fall prey to discouragement in a world of bad news and blasphemy of the excellence of Christ and the Gospel. But, despite our difficulties and bouts of gloom, we can’t afford to neglect Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship, and ministry to others, because hope grows by an active love and pursuit of God in these things. Like faith and assurance, hope must be cultivated: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end” (Hebrews 6:11). Perseverance and Bible study strengthen hope, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5).

The more we know and love the infinite excellence of God in Christ, the more we long to be with Him where the beauty of His holiness shines the brightest. And the more we hope for heaven and His appearing, the more we will honor and obey Him, for a healthy hope not only produces comfort, joy, service, and prayer, it motivates faithfulness and purity. “The hope of the righteous is gladness” (Proverbs 10:28). “Give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer” (Romans 12:12). “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2b-3). And as our hope encourages these things, so our diligence in them increases our hope.

“For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you." And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us” (Hebrews 6:10-20).

Therefore, as the storm clouds gather we need not despair, for our hope will soon be realized by eternal joy in the presence of Christ. Until then, we serve Christ and His body and seek that others may know Him, even as we grow in the comfort of His promises, the joy of His soon appearing, and the infinite bliss of being with Him forever. Amen.

Related Topics: Christian Life

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