At this time in the history of Nehemiah, we find that the Persians were on many fronts addressing challenges throughout their nation. From the wars on various fronts to the administration of their new purview as a nation, the Persians found out very quickly that they were faced with a very expensive task before them. Because of these significant expenditures throughout the kingdom, the Persians raised the taxes leveed on the people. It is estimated that the Persian king collected about 20 million darics a year in taxes. A daric is a gold coin, so this was a lot of money, but it took a lot of money to run the nation of Persia. To illustrate the significance of the amount of taxes collected. It was custom in those days for the Persians to melt down the gold coins and pour the gold into jars for storage or payment. In fact, Alexander the Great later on found one of these stored satraps of this gold, when he came upon about 270 tons of gold and 1200 tons of silver bullion. As a result of this intense taxation many people throughout had to sell their land and stuff in order to pay their taxes. In fact, those that were poorer could not sell their land so they landed up selling their children to pay the taxes that they faced. Because land was sold to pay for taxes, food production decreased throughout the land, so there resulted by estimates a 50% increase in prices throughout the land. This is what the people of Israel faced that day and what we will discover today is that unfortunately they do not respond well to trial within their midst.
Scripture – Nehemiah 5
5 Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.” 3 There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.” 4 Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”
6 Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words. 7 I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. 8 I said to them, “We according to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?” Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. 11 Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. 13 I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.
14 Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, for twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor’s food allowance. 15 But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God. 16 I also applied myself to the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table one hundred and fifty Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now that which was prepared for each day was one ox and six choice sheep, also birds were prepared for me; and once in ten days all sorts of wine were furnished in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the governor’s food allowance, because the servitude was heavy on this people. 19 Remember me, O my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.
Engaging the Word
In this fallen world, as we spoke last week it is inevitable that each of us will go through times of spiritual discouragement in our lives. As we spoke last week there are definite spiritual steps that we are called to take in our journey which will provide a more than conqueror spirit in each of us. However, not all conflict in our life comes from outside. Sometimes conflict comes from within the body of Christ and today like last week we are going to talk about the spiritual steps each of us are called to take as believers. If we have been a church for any significant period of time, we are well aware that there occurs conflict within the church, sometimes to the point where splits occur. Our Lord desires that his church reside within the bond of love that he calls us to but unfortunately too often this is not the fruit within the body. So today, if you or I experience conflict within the body of Christ what are we called to do as believers?
No matter what the cause of the disunity within the church or even within our homes, each of us as children of God are called to resolve conflicts in a biblical manner. In Ephesians 4 and Romans 14, Paul tells us to be diligent “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). That we should “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). If we desire to experience God’s blessing in our lives or within the church, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:11 that we “must seek peace and pursue it”. Hiding our hearts within the sand on issues of conflict is not what our Lord desires. We must pursue peace in a godly manner. So today, how do you and I do this in our homes and how do we do this within the body of Christ?
In this passage of scripture in complete we see as the people of God completely disregarded the Mosaic law that forbade a Jew from loaning money at interest to a fellow Jews in need. The wealthier Jews were not only charging interest (“the hundredth part” [5:11] means 1% per month, or 12% per year), but also they were taking Jewish children as slaves as collateral for the loans. These people were operating as heartless businessmen, putting their own financial gain as foremost, without regard for how it hurt their poorer brethren and their families. This problem was brought to Nehemiah and immediately he saw these problems as serious enough to stop the work on the wall long enough to get them resolved. Nehemiah in this passage of scripture provides an illustration for us today on the way we are called to use biblical principles for resolving conflicts in our lives. These four critical principals are critical to addressing issues within our lives and within the church.
Walk in the Light as He is in the Light
The apostle John tells us in 1 John 1:7 , “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” This verse in 1st John tells each of us to walk in the light of our Lord so that we might experience his truth in our lives. This truth is not always easy to easy to see and sometimes it is even harder to embrace in our lives and in the life of our relationships. When we have experienced conflict within the body of the church and within our own homes, it is easy to embrace the hurt that is carried with that conflict. It is however harder to see the truth that our Lord desires to reveal within that conflict. Our Lord tells us in Matthew 18:15 that if conflict exists between us and a brother or sister that the first step that we are to take is to go to that individual who has wronged us and try to get things resolved. However at this point, the people brought their complaint to Nehemiah, or at least he heard about it because evidently those who had wronged had not responded to the people’s cries. There is a basic and yet often overlooked principle, first we are called to deal with the conflicts that exist within our lives and then if they are not addressed we are then to take it to our spiritual leaders.
A leader cannot deal with problems that he is not aware of and sometimes he cannot deal with problems even when he is aware of them. But without exception, it is impossible to deal with problems when you do not know about them. I am amazed at how often people air their complaints to everyone except our spiritual leaders who could perhaps do something to help. We often have an excuse: “I just wanted to see if anyone else felt the same way that I feel.” Or, “I just need to air my feelings.” Or, “The pastor is too busy and he won’t listen to you anyway!” So we circulate through the church, stirring up dissension and disunity, but the leaders don’t even know that there is a problem. Walking in our Lord’s light does not mean that we are called to bring disunity by sharing our conflicts with all those around us. Rather if we are to bring unity and fellowship within the body we are called to first address those conflict directly with our brother or sister and if there is a struggle still, we are called to bring it to our spiritual leaders not those who will sympathize with us.
A Holy Response
A second critical element when dealing with conflict within our homes and within the church is spoken within the way in which we respond. Nehemiah is an example of godly leadership here. He could have told these people, “I’m busy on this wall. Come back in six weeks and we’ll talk.” Rather Nehemiah immediately responds in a righteous anger. In verse 6 of this passage we see as Nehemiah becomes angry by what he hears is going on amongst the people of God.
It may be a bit of a surprise some to read in verse 6 that Nehemiah got very angry when he heard these complaints. We are often reminded within James 1, the anger does not provide the righteousness that God desires. However, how do you and I put this within the context of this passage in Nehemiah or the one in which our Lord responded within the temple. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” So how do we as believers experience a holy response without experiencing the sin of anger within our lives? A righteous anger is experienced within a holy perspective, a sinful anger is experience within a selfish desire. In other words, a righteous anger is focused upon that which brings forth sin and separation from God. Whereas a sinful anger is focused upon the wrong that is done upon me.
For example, if someone says something that is cutting or hurtful to us, how do we respond? Do we throw our guard up? Do we no longer talk to that individual? Do we no longer trust that individual? This are elements of fleshly protection for oneself to which we focus our response upon the wrong that has been done to us and ways to which we can either protect ourselves or get even. So what does a holy response look like? In the same situation a holy response is one to which we reach out to this same individual searching for that which we have maybe done to spur the hurtful or cutting remark. This founded upon a desire to see unity between us and that individual. It is founded upon a desire to experience spiritual growth for both us and that individual and lastly it is a desire to experience the love that God so graciously gave us to those around us. Now granted spiritual unity is not always experienced in these moments, however if we embrace a holy response it is then that we can stand before our Lord in truth and it is then that the fullness of Christ glory can be experienced within our midst.
Self-control in Christ
Before Nehemiah contended with the ones guilty of exploiting the poor, he consulted with himself (5:7). This is very significant! He didn’t go off in a rage to blast those who were wrong. He stopped, cooled off, thought and prayed things through, and only then took action. In Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” We as believers are called to a life of exercising self-control in every aspect. If we have ever had a moment in which we have said or done something out of hurt or rage, too often we look back upon these moments with regret and at times disgust with ourselves. A Christ like disciple is one who searching after Godly response in all occasion, including those in which we have experienced hurt. Our lives as believers are often marked or spoken for by the way in which we search after the heart of God, particularly in these moments. It is for this reason that our Lord calls upon us to pray in season and out of season because in embracing prayer in these moments, we can experience spiritual self-control beyond our fleshly endevours.
One reason that Christians hesitate to confront those in sin is the fear that the one confronted will point his finger back at the one doing the confronting, exposing areas where he is in sin. So they say, “Judge not, lest you be judged,” and let things go.
Nehemiah shows us that if we are to respond to conflict in a Godly manner, we must be above reproach. Nehemiah had spent his own money to redeem fellow Jews from slavery (5:8). He had loaned them money without interest (5:10). We don’t know at what point Nehemiah had been appointed governor, whether before he went to Jerusalem the first time or sometime after the wall was finished. But in 5:14-19, he adds his own example as governor over a 12-year period, not out of pride, but to give an example to other leaders to follow. Paul also tells us, to follow him as he follows Christ. As illustrated by both men we are called to be examples to those around us, but the only way in which we can be example is by truthful personal examination. I find so interesting that too often we want to go and address situations with our brothers and sisters, yet if we just take the time to consider our own ways (as Haggai tells us), we will soon see that too often there are issues within our own lives. Experiencing the fullness of Godly unity within the body of believers requires that we take personal examination beyond examination we share upon others. It requires, that we walk in the light as He is in the light before we draw others to walk in the light with us.
Our journey as believers is at times trying, not only within the world that surrounds us but also within the church body in which we live. Our conquering of the calling of spiritual unity in our midst is one that cannot be taken lightly and one that calls upon us to experience these four measures of spiritual grace. It requires that we let our Lord’s light shed the truth of his presence in those conflicts within our lives so that we can address the wrongs or sins within our midst and not the revenge that the world desires to use. It requires that we respond in Holy response rather than the hurt that too often is allowed to carry us. It requires that we live a life of self-control in all situations, including conflicts, so that our Lord’s heart might be revealed through our response. Finally it requires that we live a life of personal examination desiring to experience the light of our Lord in our lives before we shed the light of our Lord upon those around us. It is in these measures that we can fully experience the fullness of God’s glory in our midst within our homes and within our church.