#10 “Book of Nehemiah” Series
TEXT: Nehemiah 10:1-39
INTRO: The quality of "faithfulness" is the main structural support that holds up every institution God has created and is an integral part of a healthy civilization!
Faithfulness in our political system is a must for it to be healthy and beneficial ... when unfaithfulness manifests itself in any system all kinds of ills will show up!
Marriage cannot exist without faithfulness a part of its main structure ... it is a pledge and commitment we make to the one we love.
Even the business sector has discovered the usefulness of having employees being faithful to their particular job area ... one of the things that have made the Japanese business system work so well.
No pain is greater than the loss of faithfulness ... whether in politics or in institutions; especially marriage and friendships! Unfortunately the world’s values don’t always put a high priority on faithfulness, even when they say they do, they often practice “loopholes.”
ILLUS: A college man walked into a photography studio with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted the picture duplicated. This involved removing it from the frame. In doing this, the studio owner noticed the inscription on the back of the photograph: "My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity." It was signed "Diane," and it contained a P.S.: "If we ever break up, I want this picture back."
We who have been baptized have professed our love for God and for others. We belong to Christ. There can be no P.S. in our life given to God. We can never break up with Him. We are His. We belong to Him -- forever. -- Charles Krieg -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 97-98.
FAITHFULNESS is one of the most critical factors in being a Christian ... without this quality demonstrated routinely there is little hope for spiritual growth or fulfillment! Many Christians miss the joy of being a growing saint and being able to see fruit from their ministry because of the lack of faithfulness in their walk with God and with each other!
PROP. SENT: We cannot mature spiritually without learning the absolute necessity of faithfulness in all relationships ... especially in the institutions God has created, including our relationship with Him! Faithfulness and FRUITFULNESS go hand in hand, without one the other rarely exists!
I. ASPIRANTS OF FAITHFULNESS 10:1-29
A. Role Models 10:1-27
1. It was critical at this juncture that the leaders of the people took the initiative to seal with their own seals a proclamation to declare their willingness to be absolutely faithful to God's Word!
a. This was true of the secular leaders ... like the governor of Israel – Nehemiah, and the other political leaders of the community.
b. And the Spiritual leaders ... which in this case were also many of the political leaders like Nehemiah.
c. These role models can have a tremendous impact on the other people who were merely the residents of the city and nation!
2. One of the problems cited in a special article in Time magazine in a July issue (1990) of the twenty year old age group is that they had grown up without heroes, and thus as a group these individuals were somewhat passionless and not focused on important issues like those in previous generations.
a. Political heroes of the 1960's -- John F Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, etc. these heroes became the focal points around many of the younger generation that provided the passion for reactions that took place in the 60's and early 70's.
b. The point is not whether these were good role models or the reactions were all healthy ... but that heroes existed around which a young person could become committed to, producing a faithful following!
3. God help us ... we need to have spiritual role models for the younger generation to be inspired by ... to give passion to important issues of our day!
ILLUS: Author and business leader Fred Smith writes: One of my treasured memories comes from a doughnut shop in Grand Saline, Texas. There was a young farm couple sitting at the table next to mine. He was wearing overalls and she a gingham dress. After finishing their doughnuts, he got up to pay the bill, and I noticed she didn't get up to follow him. But then he came back and stood in front of her.
She put her arms around his neck, and he lifted her up, revealing that she was wearing a full-body brace. He lifted her out of her chair and backed out the front door to the pickup truck, with her hanging from his neck. As he gently put her into the truck, everyone in the shop watched. No one said anything until a waitress remarked, almost reverently, "He took his vows seriously." -- Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.
4. One of the key qualities of church leaders is that they must be faithful if it is to be inspired within the rest of God's people!
5. These role models in Nehemiah’s day set an important pulse beat within the whole community of God's people ... and fruitfulness and revival weren't far away!
B. Residents 10:28-29
1. It should be noted that because of the role models’ expression of sealing their commitment of faithfulness that all Israel, even from the youngest person who could understand, joined their leaders in binding themselves to be faithful to God's Word ... accepting the curses and the blessings that could come with either disobedience or obedience!
a. The passion is obvious in the story line here!
b. The joy is even obvious ... and the believability in the people that they can be faithful is expressed by the fact that they were even willing to accept the curses of disobedience should they fail!
2. Everyone is ready to accept the fruit that comes with faithfulness ... but I wonder how many would willingly accept the curses that come with disobedience?
a. They were not anticipating failure ... their confidence level was high!
b. The curses didn't seem an obstacle to them since their hearts were only filled with the passion of faithfulness!
3. When we marry someone we do the same thing ... we are not thinking about the consequences of unfaithfulness, yet we passionately state our willingness to forsake all others and cleave only unto our spouse, the ceremony of marriage is a joyful one ... and a bit of a gamble, we are gambling on the equal desire of our partner to remain faithful to that pledge of faithfulness!
ILLUS: In Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Chuck Swindoll writes:
On Sunday, believers arrived at a house church in the Soviet Union in small groups throughout the day so not to arouse the suspicion of KGB informers. They began by singing a hymn quietly. Suddenly, in walked two soldiers with loaded weapons at the ready. One shouted, "If you wish to renounce your commitment to Jesus Christ, leave now!"
Two or three quickly left, then another. After a few more seconds, two more.
"This is your last chance. Either turn against your faith in Christ," he ordered, "or stay and suffer the consequences."
Two more slipped out into the night. No one else moved. Parents with children trembling beside them looked down reassuringly, fully expecting to be gunned down or imprisoned.
The other soldier closed the door, looked back at those who stood against the wall and said, "Keep your hands up--but this time in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ. We, too, are Christians. We were sent to another house church several weeks ago to arrest a group of believers."
The other soldier interrupted, "But, instead, we were converted! We have learned by experience, however, that unless people are willing to die for their faith, they cannot be fully trusted." -- David Waggoner in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
4. The commitment to faithfulness here is stated in the general sense ... "WE WILL OBEY ALL THE DECREES OF THE LORD..."
a. Overall excitement about being faithful.
b. They will move from the general to the specific!
c. This is a normal process, the desire to being faithful should find a general excitement ... but following this there must be some specific attitudes and specific directions.
5. This stage of ASPIRING TO FAITHFULNESS was only a beginning ... the next step was to apply this desire to some real areas of their lives!
II. ATTITUDE OF FAITHFULNESS 10:30-36
A. Repentant 10:30-31
1. Too many Christians are more than happy to express their desire to be faithful to God but then never go the next step in the process of faithfulness which is to develop a new mentality … to begin changing so faithfulness can find a FULL expression and not just a verbal one!
2. Notice the people move to this second stage very quickly ... the passion to be faithful to God now finds some specific directions, not just a general statement!
3. These areas of repentance were areas of their failures!
a. They repent of their failure to stay pure as a people before God ... by unbiblical marriages.
b. By returning to honor the Sabbath day as a holy day and not just another opportunity to make more profits!
c. And obedience to the “rest” God decreed for the land every seven years.
d. This also included the pardoning every seven years of all their brethren's debts ... something Nehemiah had chided them earlier for because they were charging heavy interest to their poorer brethren and taking their children when loans were not paid in full!
4. This was a whole change of attitude for the people ... each of the items listed were the actual areas they needed to be repenting for.
5. They didn't complain about other people's unfaithfulness ... but focused on their own need to repent for their own unfaithfulness!
ILLUS: A missionary wrote me: "Sometimes adversity tempts me to discouragement in the face of seeming failure. But I take courage and press on anew, as I remember that God does not hold me responsible for success, but for faithfulness." Jesus didn't say, "Well done, you successful servant." -- Corrie Ten Boom in Each New Day. Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 3.
6. The attitude of repentance of one's OWN UNFAITHFULNESS is the next stage of growth ... too many Christians begin this stage by pointing out other people's lack of faithfulness ... this will only block their own growth!
B. Responsible 10:32-36
1. Notice the attitude of their emerging faithfulness ... “WE ASSUME THE RESPONSIBILITY…”
a. Personal responsibility is a must in the expression of faithfulness.
b. To look at others and complain about them or over them will only put you on a spiritual detour toward faithfulness.
c. When we can point at other Christian's faults or falls and use them to express more of our own unfaithfulness we have failed to develop the right attitude over faithfulness!
d. When we stand before God we will have to answer for why or why we were not faithful to Him ... and using other peoples’ good or bad examples won't wash with God!
2. Faithfulness is a personal responsibility ... nobody else can be used as our excuse for unfaithfulness no matter what they have done!
3. Healthy faithfulness says, “I ASSUME RESPONSIBILTIY FOR CARRYING OUT GOD'S WORD...”
ILLUS: Newsweek (11/19/90) ran an article titled "Letters in the Sand," a compilation of letters written by military personnel to family and friends in the States during the Gulf War. One was written by Marine Corporal Preston Coffer. He told a friend, "We are talking about Marines, not the Boy Scouts. We all joined the service knowing full well what might be expected of us." He signed off with the Marine motto, Semper Fi, Latin for "always faithful."
The Bible says, "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2). -- Richie Lewis in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
4. If there was a repentant attitude there will more likely be this second attitude of personal responsibility!
5. The trouble with some Christians are that they focus too much on the faults of others and then judge their own faithfulness better than the failing examples and so make themselves feel less guilty or arrogantly see how they are better and so no need to become more faithful themselves!
6. The right attitude of faithfulness is repentance of personal failures and accepting personal responsibility for being faithful no matter whom or what is around them as examples!
7. JESUS' RESPONSE SOMEDAY WILL BE, “WELL, DONE THOU GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT … ENTER ...”
a. Notice Jesus won't contrast you with someone else.
b. He will simply take notice of YOUR FAITHFULNESS alone!
III. ACTION OF FAITHFULNESS 10:37-39
A. Resolve! 10:32a, 39b
1. The process of faithfulness is not complete however if one simply stops at the desire to be faithful or even the attitude of faithfulness ... it must come to the final stage of ACTION!
2. Faithfulness takes a great resolve to commit ... it is not just a moment in time kind of expression … it is a way of life … a constant commitment that is made every day ... day in and day out!
3. The kinds of commitment they were going to make and carry out were regular and routine ... year after year after year!
a. It is so easy to make a commitment to God to be faithful when in the moment of an altar call when all the emotional elements are in full play, the real test of commitment will come from the weeks that follow and the daily grind and routine of life is in play.
b. It takes a great sense of resolve to remain faithful when the emotional factors are either not present or they run contrary to being committed in faithfulness!
c. Their resolve was a full one ... to call upon each other to all be faithful together as obedient ... each one doing their part.
d. Their faithfulness included such items as attendance, giving, proper respect for God's authorities, and the reestablishment of order that honors God through their mouths and through the wallets!
4. This certainly would take great resolve ... but the fruit of such action would be God's great presence and blessings upon them as a nation … they would enjoy the fruits of faithfulness in time.
5. They would also rediscover the joy that comes from being part of God's unique people ... their resolve was real ... and it had a real expression to it!
ILLUS: 1967. We were at war with Vietnam. And there I was, at the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was brutal.
I can still hear the raspy voice of the sergeant: "We are here to save your lives. We're going to see to it that you overcome all your natural fears. We're going to show you just how much incredible stress the human mind and body can endure. And when we're finished with you, you will be the U.S. Army's best!"
Then, before he dismissed the formation, he announced our first assignment. We'd steeled ourselves for something really tough -- like running 10 miles in full battle gear or rappelling down a sheer cliff.
Instead, he told us to -- find a buddy.
"Find yourself a Ranger buddy," he growled. "You will stick together. You will never leave each other. You will encourage each other, and, as necessary, you will carry each other." It was the army's way of saying, "Difficult assignments require a friend. Together is better."
Who's your "Ranger buddy"? -- Stu Weber, pastor of Good Shepherd Community Church in Boring, Oregon. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1.
B. Resources 10:37-39a
1. You will notice that their resolve took real expression!
a. One area of expression was their faithfulness to God and His Temple.
b. They once again laid a proper order for the Temple of God and committed their resources which were already stretched to the limit as mentioned in the earlier passages ... though later the temple tax was set at ½ a shekel, for now it was put at 1/3 (10:32) probably to help them in their extreme poverty!
c. The point here is that they returned to being faithful by faithful expression of their resources!
2. One sign of the faithful saint is how they are faithful to serve God with their resources and their gifts!
3. Faithfulness cannot minister to others if there are no real expressions to it, like our own modern proverb: “ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS!”
ILLUS: Mother Teresa of Calcutta once was asked, "How do you measure the success of your work?" She looked puzzled for a moment and then replied, "I don't remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love. This is the only success that really counts." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 470.
4. Faithfulness in aspiration, in attitude, and finally in action reflect the saint of God who is moving toward or in maturity!
a. This can often alone explain why some Christians sit still and do not grow while some newer Christians seem to thrive and grow so quickly!
b. Faithfulness is often the key that makes the difference!
CONCLUSION: The key to spiritual power and maturity is found in a single word: FAITHFULNESS! The problem of spiritual dryness is never the result of God’s failure to be faithful, or the faults and errors of other Christians ... they are the responsibility of our commitment to being faithful before God! It is faithfulness that separates the successful saints from the unsuccessful ones ... not the results of ministry. The Bible even recognizes the sad rarity of this quality in Proverbs 20:6 "Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?" This quality however needs to be the rule and not the exception as this proverb seems to hint at. How about you ... are you the rule or the exception?