After building the wall in Jerusalem and overseeing a revival among the people, Nehemiah returned to King Artaxerxes (Neh. 13:6). While away, people quickly lost the ability to maintain the work. Some failed to separate from foreigners (Neh. 13:1-3), going against their own vows (Neh. 9:2, 38). Eliashib, the high priest, made room in a large temple chamber for Tobiah, one of Nehemiah’s foremost enemies (Neh. 13:4-9). This minimized the importance of the tithe.
While the swift religious and moral decline of the people might discourage us, Nehemiah’s response should inspire us. His employment in Susa never distracted him from persevering in the work that originally burdened him. He maintained a passion for the glory of God and for the reformation that the people experienced.
In his book, God in the Wasteland, David Wells defines worldliness as, “whatever makes sin look normal in any age and righteousness seem odd.” Some ‘enlightened’ Christians might interpret Nehemiah’s actions in this chapter as strange. He is too uptight about form and order. He’s too legalistic about obedience to God’s law.
- He angrily tossed Tobiah’s furniture out of the temple.
- He cursed and beat (even pulled out the hair) of some of the men who married foreign women (Neh. 13:25).
Taylor Swift would certainly urge him to calm down; he’s being too loud.
We are far too easily influenced by a world that encourages us to forget our faith in God and to relax our commitment to His service.Rather than calming down and pretending to have so much in common with the world, we might want to ensure that we haven’t become an enemy of God in the process (Jam. 4:4). Reformation follows a common pattern that requires courage, loyalty, and a tireless zeal for God. May God light such a spark among us this morning!
Read Nehemiah 13:10-14.
This reform follows closely with the previous verses. He removed Tobiah’s furniture from the chamber, had the area cleansed, then restored the vessels and offerings. He must have learned of the neglect to collect the grain (5, 9, 12), wine, and oil while restoring the grain to the large chamber (9).
Whatever the source of his information, Nehemiah wasted no time correcting the problem. He confronted the officials and directly questioned how they could have allowed the temple to be neglected (10:39). The Levites were forced to return to their fields in order to sustain their families because the officials failed to preserve the temple offerings.
Nehemiah confronted the officials who were already in Jerusalem, then gathered the Levites and singers (12:28-29) and placed them in their stations. This was their lawful service, and the officials should have ensured they could perform their duties. But their neglect jeopardized the Levites livelihood. Rather than relying upon the officials to remedy the situation Nehemiah set people back into their positions himself.
The Expectation for Confrontation
Tim Ferris “Your success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.”
My friend, Josh Long, has written a business book called Bottleneck Breakthrough. Each section deals with various challenges businesses face as they grow. In his chapter on confrontation, Josh writes:
“Every great leader and entrepreneur I’ve ever studied accepts that confrontation is to be expected. And every person I’ve ever seen who fails to step up to their fullest potential hides from it. It’s that simple.”
Great leaders are willing to confront others in order to remove the distractions and dysfunction from key relationships in the company. Confrontation is not merely a problem for businesses, it is necessary wherever a community exists—including the Church.
Develop the Courage to Confront
Confrontation is not easy, but you can develop the courage to have difficult conversations. This is especially needed for church leaders. The Apostles were not afraid of confrontation whenever the gospel was under attack (Acts 15; Gal. 2:11-13).
We ought to praise God when leaders are willing to confront those compromised or neglecting their responsibility. Pray that our denomination multiplies leaders with Nehemiah’s courage.
We need to discern the difference between a bold leader who will stand firm against opposition and a quarrelsome leader (1 Tim. 3:3) with a quick temper (Tit. 1:7). We need leaders who won’t evade confrontation, but neither will they needlessly stir it up. A quarrelsome person creates controversy as soon as the dust settles, but a godly leader is willing to confront whenever necessary.
The goal is not to prove your superiority or exert your authority, but to remove any dysfunction from the body of Christ. Whenever leadership avoids conflict, division follows. The unity we are trying to preserve by avoiding confrontation, becomes the very thing that we lose when we fail to act.
Nehemiah’s leadership foreshadows our Savior whose greatest confrontations were with the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. Jesus did not hold back when he was challenged by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. Those who place their faith in Christ do not receive a spirit of fear, “but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Confrontation opens the way for…
The tithes of grain, wine, and oil were restored. The people don’t appear at all reluctant. This was the fault of leadership. Nehemiah remedies the situation and appoints four reliable men as treasurers. Their sole qualification was reliability.
Why was Nehemiah concerned to appoint reliable men? Apparently, the great failure of the leadership was an inconsistency or laziness to do their work. Nehemiah appointed faithful, trustworthy brothers who would take their work seriously.
Apparently, the priest, scribe, Levite, and assistant provided additional accountability to the officials. These four treasurers ensured that the Levites and singers did their job properly, and that their work was free from the interference of other leaders.
Religious Authority in the New Testament
The New Testament recognizes two offices (elder, deacon). “Overseer” and ”elder” are used interchangeably in Acts 20. Rather than recognizing a third office (bishop), Paul only gives qualifications for two (1 Tim. 3, Tit. 1).
However, Paul does make a distinction between elders who rule and those who teach and rule. These latter elders are worthy of “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). Teaching elders, like me, not only have the same authority as ruling elders, but they also receive financial compensation. They were not to have worldly cares so they could devote themselves to the work of the Church.
What’s my point? Under the old covenant, an entire tribe of Levites were devoted to the maintenance of temple worship. Similarly, it takes reliable leaders to maintain a new covenant community.
Serving the Church
We still need men and women who are willing to serve the Church. While officers must be men who meet the qualifications, any member can serve on various committees that keep this place functioning, clean, and safe.
The most pressing need among volunteers is reliability (Acts 6; 2 Cor. 8:16-21). We need folks who are consistently willing to serve. See one of the officers (listed on the back of your bulletin) if you have not found a place to utilize your time and talent.
We aren’t looking for volunteers who are talented with a toilet brush. We don’t only want people who know how to mop and setup chairs. We don’t expect the people who serve to do so because they absolutely love whatever task has been assigned to them. We appoint teams and committees because we want to arrive on Sunday morning without having to walk past knee-high grass into a filthy building.
We want everyone to be able to enter those doors and not think about the building at all! We want our hearts to be turned toward God in reverent worship. When our eyes are distracted, we can be certain that our hearts are disengaged as well.
Jesus said that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). When we serve others we are following after the example of Jesus when he washed his disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:15). Jesus took care of the physical needs of his followers, loving and serving them, in order that they might do likewise.
Ultimately, it is the power of the cross that enables us to be forgiven. And out of gratitude for what Christ has accomplished for us, we devote ourselves to serve the body of Christ, that the proclamation of the gospel might not be hindered in any way.
Confrontation is followed by Restoration and then joined by…
I don’t think I’ve ever prayed anything like this before. It sounds presumptuous or self-promoting. How do we reconcile the sacrificial service that Jesus exemplifies and calls us to echo, with Nehemiah’s prayer to be remembered? Was he concerned about his rewards in heaven? Was he expecting recognition?
We understand praying for God to bless someone else, but to request a personal blessing feels a bit off. Does this prayer reveal Nehemiah’s pride and selfish ambition? Although it is not a request as audacious as James and John (Mt. 20:20-28), it seems to have the same flavor.
But, if that is your instinct in reading this prayer it probably isn’t accurate. Nehemiah prayed something similar after describing his generosity (Neh. 5:19), and he will do so two more times (Neh. 13:22, 31).
- He acknowledges the one he’s serving. He did this for the house of God and his service. He’s writing this down in his memoir, not proclaiming it throughout the land.
- He seeks the favor and recognition of God, not man. That’s not a bad thing. Nehemiah did these good deeds for the temple, not for the accolades of men.
Praying to an Audience of One
Sometimes, we appear more interested in critiquing the prayers of others than praying ourselves. We are quick to detect the things we think we would say differently, but in reality we end up saying almost nothing to God ourselves.
If we did pray, and we prayed in ways exemplified in Scripture, we would not be ashamed to bring our personal goals, ambitions, and desires to God. He may change our heart in the process, but he won’t turn us away when we come to him with a childlike faith.
Children, do you go to your parents with exciting stories of your accomplishments and success? Do you seek their affirmation? Of course you do. It’s natural and good to hear “well done” from your parents.
I know I should be a lot quicker and freer in giving affirmation. But, God is not troubled by the requests of his children. He is not bothered by their appeals for his attention. He is not at all reluctant to supply the affirmation we seek. In fact, Scripture is full of his encouragement to you!
Seeking God’s Affirmation
Let us strive to pray like this with integrity and honesty. That means we will have “good deeds” to bring up. The Hebrew word translated “good deeds” (חֶ֫סֶד) typically refers to God’s covenant love, loyalty, and faithfulness. In other words, Nehemiah was asking God to remember his devotion to the covenant community. We should exhibit a similar devotion to the covenant community out of a love for God.
Kidner If we cavil at his plea to be remembered, he could pronounce us too sophisticated; and the Gospels would support him. It springs from love, not self-love, as his tireless zeal for God has testified. To hear God’s ‘well done’ is the most innocent and most cleansing of ambitions.”
Confrontation, Restoration, and Supplication are aspects of reformation. The issue of the tithe is the focus of this particular reform, but typically…reformation follows a common pattern that requires courage, loyalty, and a tireless zeal for God.
Apart from the work of Christ, and the help of the Holy Spirit, we will never manage more than a short-lived commitment. But, when our weary hearts are strengthened by the gospel, we will “strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).