Last week we began a 2-part sermon called “Rebuilding the Wall”. We are discussing Nehemiah, one of the most remarkable leaders in the entire Bible. As you might recall, the Jewish remnant in Jerusalem had begun the monumental task of rebuilding the fallen wall that surrounded the city. It had laid in ruins for almost 150 years, having been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar way back in 586 BC.
Nehemiah and his builders faced numerous obstacles as they sought to rebuild. The Samaritan and pagan population of the region was very much opposed to their efforts. Their leaders - most notably Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshum - exerted extreme pressure on the Jews in hopes it would frustrate and prevent them from rebuilding. These adversities against the people of God were coming from their enemies, or from “the world”. They were external influences that came in the form of mockery and ridicule, direct threats, and lies, deception, and trickery.
This morning we will examine other hurdles that stood in the way of the reconstruction. Not only were the Jews feeling the pressure from without, but there were also problems within. These internal issues threatened to derail their work just as as much, if not more, than the external issues. All too often the greatest danger to the church and Christians is not what our enemies might do to us, but rather what we do to ourselves and one another.
In my experience, I have discovered that we as Christians can and often do inflict greater wounds on each other than what the outside world does to us. We tend to destroy ourselves with gossip, bitterness, resentment, rivalries, and a host of other negative behaviors within the Body of Christ. Church-goers can be some of the most vicious people in the world… and unfortunately our own internal problems severely hamper Christianity and render us weak and ineffective.
This phenomenon was true in Nehemiah’s day as well. The remnant who strived to rebuild the wall was divided into factions, with some taking advantage of others. This created conflict and separation within the congregation, and led to feelings of apprehension and distrust. As their leader, Nehemiah knew that he must deal with these intrinsic issues, in order to restore the people’s unity and goodwill toward one another.
I. THE PROBLEM (Nehemiah 5:1-5)
There was a famine in the land during the time of the reconstruction. The common people were struggling to put food on the table, and were poor and increasingly desperate for money. There were those who had no land with which to grow crops, others who had to mortgage their land in order to make a living, and still others who had to borrow money in order to pay their taxes and meet their financial obligations.
The people began to cry out. Their complaint was not against the secular money lenders or mortgagees who were benefiting as a result of the people’s hardships, but rather against other Jews who were taking advantage of the situation for financial gain. The wealthier class of the Jews were issuing high interest loans to their own kinsmen, effectively forcing them to sell their families into slavery in order to pay the debt.
II. THE SOLUTION (Nehemiah 5:6-13)
Upon hearing what was happening, Nehemiah became angry and confronted the Jewish nobles and rulers. He called a great assembly to discuss the issue and to deal with it once and for all. He laid the charges out against the wealthy Jews, and reminded them of their religious responsibility under the Law of Moses to redeem their kinsman rather than to sell them as slaves to foreigners. To paraphrase, he accused them of “selling out their own brothers in order to make a buck”. They were speechless before Nehemiah, and their guilt was exposed.
Nehemiah urged the Jewish lenders to stop charging interest on their loans to fellow Jews. He held himself and those with him out as examples, stating that they were lending without interest. He further insisted that they immediately return all of the property, goods, and even a portion of the money that they had taken from their brothers.
The Jewish creditors agreed to Nehemiah’s request, and stopped charging interest on their loans to fellow kinsman. They returned the land that had been mortgaged and the money that had been taken. As a result, there was great joy among the people and they joined together in praise to the LORD.
III. THE EXTRA MILE (Nehemiah 5:14-19)
Nehemiah remained in Jerusalem serving as governor of the province for 12 years before returning to the king. As governor, he was entitled to charge his citizens a “food allowance” that would be used to supply his administration. This had always been the practice of the leaders before him. But, recognizing the great need of the people and their severe difficulties that they were facing, Nehemiah chose not to collect the “food allowance” during his term. Rather, he found alternative ways for acquiring the provisions he needed rather than passing this burden onto the people.
IV. THE RESULT (Nehemiah 6:15-19)
The same walls that had remained destroyed for almost 150 years were completely rebuilt in only 52 days, which is less than 2 months. What an astounding feat! It was crystal clear that this accomplishment was the work of God Almighty, an observation that led the enemies of Israel to become fearful and nervous.
Still the Jewish nobles continued their relationship with Tobiah, one of the men who had strongly resisted Nehemiah’s attempt to rebuild. Many were related to him, because he had married a Jewish woman and had a family by her. One of his sons had married a Jew as well. Thus, the nobles kept trying to talk him up, insisting to Nehemiah that he was a good guy (though Nehemiah knew better). Likewise, they would tell Tobiah everything that Nehemiah would say about him. Obviously, Nehemiah and Tobiah were not on speaking terms.
Often times the greatest deterrent against the people of God is the people of God! We constantly shoot ourselves in the foot by injuring one another. The army of God is wrought with casualties caused by friendly fire. Inner turmoil within the church in whatever form it may take stands as our most significant barrier.
Yet, if we can resolve our internal differences and come together as a people, there is no limit to what God can accomplish through us. Unity among the congregation, and mutual respect and appreciation for one another, is critical if we are to function healthily as the Body of Christ.
As we seek to rebuild our church, to renew its worship, and to revive our city we must realize that the greatest threat to our success is discord amongst ourselves. When we practice genuine brotherly love for one another, it is cause for celebration and praise. It is a sign of good things to come...
Do we have unresolved conflicts between people here in our church? Do we have folks trying to control, manipulate, or use one another? Do we make unreasonable demands of one another? Have we run people off because of our own unrighteous behavior? If so, we need to seek and offer forgiveness to and from each other. We will never move forward as a church until these internal problems are resolved and relationships are restored. So make them right… do it today.