Nehemiah and Spiritual Gifts
The first sermon series I preached in Courts of Praise was from the Book of Nehemiah. I had been asking God as to what to share with this new-to-me congregation. The Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures from Nehemiah highlighted several aspects of Christian maturity that I believe God was speaking over us. Firstly, prayer, then leadership with both it’s opportunities and obstacles and then vision. Over the next month or so we will be learning about "spiritual gifts" using the Book of Nehemiah as our Scriptural text. I am grateful for the book by Warren Wiersbe - Be Determined in this study. Here is a little background as we begin…
The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah go hand in hand and have been seen by some scholars as one book. Both books record the events during the end of the Babylonian exile when the Jewish people begin to revive in hope. The kingdom of Media-Persia was now the controlling force in the world. The book of Ezra highlights the return to Jerusalem from captivity in two stages, first in 538 BC and then when Ezra returns in 457 BC. Ezra was committed to rebuilding the temple while Nehemiah, who returned 12 years after Ezra, was tasked with rebuilding the city’s walls and gates. In Ezra’s ministry hope begins to stir and with Nehemiah’s rebuilding their hope was secured.
For the Jewish people who heard and understood the prophetic ‘word of the Lord’ there was a stirring of hope. Before the exile into captivity, both the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel warned of coming judgment but they also declared the faithfulness of God to his covenant people. Jeremiah’s writings point out that their captivity would last for only 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10-14). Isaiah foretold over a century and a half before the captivity, the very name of the ruler who would initiate the return: Cyrus. Isaiah 44:28 - [It is I] who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundation be laid.’ ”The prophetic word of the Lord is such a positive experience. The Israelites were seeing the hand of God direct their lives once again after years of captivity and were encouraged by his favour.
In a similar way, I believe that for 2016 the Lord wants to stir hope in our hearts that he is good and has a great plan for this year, both personally and corporately as a church. I also trust the Lord to secure this hope in our lives by rebuilding those areas in our lives that our low and or broken. The rebuilding process always involves people. This is why spiritual gifts are so important as we move forward as a congregation. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Nehemiah will help us with the discovery of our spiritual gifts…
I have met many people in my years of Christian ministry who are very gifted. There are those who have correctly handled their gifts or talents and have brought great blessing to God and his people. This is so wonderful to see. Some have served the Body of Christ faithfully while others have served themselves. I have seen various levels of spiritual maturity as believers have engaged with their Spiritual Gifts and or Ministries. Many Bible scholars divide them into distinct sections of Scripture while others divide them into categories of “natural gifts” such as speaking, serving others and showing mercy, and “supernatural gifts” such as doing miracles, prophesy and speaking in tongues. Some denominations believe that the supernatural gifts were limited to the Apostolic age, and when the Scriptures were completed the need for these gifts lessened and ultimately disappeared. This is not true. I personally believe that we can receive multiple gifts as the Holy Spirit determines in a given time and situation. This following list is not exhaustive of the spiritual gifts listed in the Bible but gives a great introduction…
The Body of Christ has been divinely “gifted by God” is to equip the church unto maturity, to serve others and to testify of Jesus Christ. Each follower of Christ is “talented” and has been created for a wonderful adventure with God and his Church…
Nehemiah the person
Now lets return to the Book of Nehemiah and discover how he relates to spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ. Nehemiah, which means “The Lord has comforted,” was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes who ruled Persia. He was much more than a modern day butler. A cupbearer was an occupation of significant responsibility and privilege. Nehemiah’s occupation as cupbearer demonstrates that he was already a person of impeccable character and wise administrative skill. The cupbearer was often beside the king and served as his personal aide.
He was responsible for keeping the king’s signet ring and testing each meal and the king’s wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. The king wanted to be surrounded by the best of his kingdom, in appearance, in intelligence and in strength. If asked upon the cupbearer was to be able to answer and join into the conversation with appropriate knowledge.
How does this relate to us as followers of Christ? We too are to minister before a King, the King of Heaven. This is a place of intimacy and great privilege. God is looking not for the best but to bring the best out of everyone. In other words, whatever we do or say should be for the glory of our King, just as Nehemiah did for King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah brought his strengths and talents into play as her served before his king. So should we. As we shall see, we must be people who ask and inquire of the Lord, we must be people who care, who weep, who pray and who willingly volunteer for God’s work.
He showed care and concern…
Let’s look at Neh 1:1-3 - The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Simply put, Nehemiah cared enough to really ask about the circumstances of the Jewish remnant who were in Jerusalem. Nehemiah asked questions so as to be informed. It has been said that “knowledge is power” however in this case knowledge was used to bring to light some very disturbing news - the walls are broken and the gates have been burned. Nehemiah asked his friends because he cared about his people. He wasn't directly at fault for any of the circumstances, none-the-less, he cared… With the walls broken and the gates burned with fire the people of God were open to blatant attacks of their enemies.
How does this apply to us? Do we care about people? Are we willing to hear the truth whether good or bad? Are we genuinely concerned or just a bit curious?
Nehemiah was caring and his caring led him to tears.
Neh. 1:4 - When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. Some people see crying as a sign of weakness. In our “macho” society real men don’t cry, we tough it our or we try to fix it. But is Nehemiah’s case it was a sign of care and strength. He was burdened and did not try to run from it but took time to cry and weep because of the great affliction of his people in Jerusalem. Last week I mentioned General William Booth saying, “Try tears.”
Nehemiah’s caring and tears led him to fast and pray
Neh. 1:5–10 highlights the first of 12 passages of prayer in Nehemiah. The book opens with prayer and closes with prayer. The prayer bookends tell us a lot about Nehemiah. He depended on God in the midst of very difficult circumstances. There are several key points of this first prayer of Nehemiah:
- This prayer begins with ascription of praise to the “God of heaven, the great and awesome God”… Nehemiah began his prayer as we should begin our prayers: “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name” (Matt. 6:9).
- He is also a God who keeps His Word. The Lord covenanted with his people Israel, promising them blessing or cursing, depending on their obedience. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins, and the nation was feeble because the people had sinned against the Lord.
- The state of Jerusalem led Nehemiah to confess the sin of his people. It is interesting to note that Nehemiah identifies their sin and his sin because they were his people… This is a sign of great integrity of a leader, to identify with the sins of others…
- Nehemiah then reminds God about His Word to restore the people of God as they repent and turn back to him.
- This humble prayer closed with an expression of confidence. At the start of the prayer, he had confidence in God’s power. Now he expresses his confidence in God’s favour to work in the heart of Artaxerxes and secure all that was needed to rebuild the walls and gates. “Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man” (Neh 1:11b).
Nehemiah cared enough to serve or volunteer
There comes a time to act. Nehemiah showed great care, lots of tears and was committed to pray. However, that was not enough. His burden for Jerusalem grew as he cried through bleary eyes and yet his vision became clearer. He must act. As we pray, God tells us what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. And then God supplies the means to move forward. Nehemiah would set aside the comfort of palace life and begin a new journey of faith.
Does Anybody Really Care? This question confronted the people of Nehemiah’s day. Thankfully, Nehemiah was the kind of person who cared, cried, confessed and found new a confidence in God. This just begins our journey in the Book of Nehemiah. In the weeks ahead I desire to help us see the many opportunities with regards to using our spiritual gifts. As well, there are obstacles to overcome. Let’s suffice it to say that having a humble and a dependant- upon-God heart is a fantastic place to begin our study into spiritual gifts. Foundations are important and I see in Nehemiah as man who laid a solid basis for us to approach our spiritual giftedness and divinely given talents.
Let’s be a people who care enough about others to ask questions and get involved in their lives.
Let’s be a people who can understand and share with the feelings of others.
Let’s be a people who are quick to confess…
- Confess that we serve a great God
- Confess that we fall short of his glory
Let’s be a people who are dependant upon God and confident in his greatness