Nehemiah—Put on Love
This morning we will be taking a look at the importance of love in the process of building, re-building and repairing those low places in our lives. The story of Nehemiah highlights the broken down state of the city of Jerusalem and its broken walls and gates. Initially he mourned and fasted for a few days and then over a period of four months he prayed and sought the Lord as to his involvement in this situation. With the help of God, he secured the favour of the king of Persia, rallied the troops, so to speak, and began to rebuild, and he overcame the attacks of the enemy. How was all this possible? He prayed out to God and he continued working. It is exciting to see how Nehemiah overcame such challenging circumstances and was able to complete the rebuilding process in 52 days.
This morning I want to take a more spiritual approach to the Book of Nehemiah. One of the approaches we are taking to our study through Nehemiah relates to our lives being rebuilt and the discovery that everyone is a gift and has gifts and talents to share with each other.
An allegory of Nehemiah:
An allegory is a story, poem or picture that can be interpreted with spiritual or hidden meanings; “the moral of the story is…” Let’s apply this to the Book of Nehemiah. The Temple is one’s inner heart and spirituality (spirit). The city of Jerusalem can be seen as a person’s life (soul); the walls broken down speak to the lack of boundaries and low places in one’s life, while the gates burned with fire relate to being defenceless against the enemy. The areas surrounding the city speaks of production, farming and fruitfulness (body). There are people who have your well-being in mind and look to see hope and a future. They are committed to rebuilding process - spirit, soul and body. There are others who seek the continually devastation of your life and are committed to your destruction.
As we study the Book of Nehemiah I see parallels to our spiritual walk with Jesus. Without a doubt we know that Jesus came to redeem and restore the lives of those on earth. Everyone who truly calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13). This salvation is a rescuing, a bringing into safety, a delivering from sin and satan, a healing from illness (spirit, soul and body), bringing into unity with God and the Christian church, a removing from threats or danger, a providing for the poor and needy, to be made well, to restore, to recover, to keep alive, and much more. This is what God’s wants for everyone.
However, we must all admit that there are areas in our lives where we find low places in our walls, so to speak. There are certain gates or entrances that are not secured and allow easy access for temptation or the Tempter himself. There is a possibility that our inner (temple) life does not have a stable foundation. All of these challenges affect us spiritually, relationally, and financially and it is God desire to rebuild and repair.
The story of the jigsaw puzzle…
God is a Rebuilder:
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “I know that God is rebuilding my life, but why can’t he work faster?” This is one of the questions that Pastor Jack Hayford, a well-known Foursquare pastor, asks in his study of Nehemiah. All to often Christians can feel that their walk with Jesus is a struggle. God does not want this. We need to grow in our faith just as Nehemiah rebuilt and repaired the walls and gates of Jerusalem.
Here is a quick thought about Christian theology. Jesus is our Saviour; his finished work on the cross secured salvation for all. The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Comforter who puts salvation into action in our lives. Jesus justifies and the Holy Spirit sanctifies; Jesus redeems and Holy Spirit rebuilds. This rebuilding process requires prayer and work on our parts as we trust in Jesus as our Saviour and give our lives to Holy Spirit as our Helper. We are challenged in this process to be patient and faithful just like Nehemiah.
One of the questions Christians wrestle with is “what about holiness?” The immature believer feels threatened by the thought of holiness; holiness is something unattainable or holiness makes me feel condemned. I believe that holiness has two aspects to it. Firstly, we are holy because Jesus has secured before God, by his blood, our righteousness and position as sons and daughters (positionally holy). Secondly, we are being made holy, we are learning how to practice holiness. I see being made holy as being made whole. Those low places in our lives are obviously unholy. The broken gates that allow for temptation to overcome us are unholy.
There are times we struggle with depressive thoughts. Or maybe we are troubled by fears and anxieties. Others of us are unable to resist certain temptations. These challenges in life are those low places in our walls or the gates that have been burned with fire. God desires to rebuild and repair those areas of need in our lives.
How is rebuilding put into practice?
Over my years of pastoring I have wrestled with this question. Obviously God has a significant part to play, after all he saves and sanctifies our lives. As well, we have a part to play, we engage actively in all kinds of spiritual disciplines and the bottom line for believers is all about a lifestyle of obedience. There are times in my life where it seemed like all I did was remove the rubble and broken bricks piled around me. Other times all I could do was marvel at God’s glorious grace setting me free. Sometimes the enemy would attack with condemnation. Other times God would be very specific with conviction of sin.
In the context of Nehemiah, they kept their eyes on the vision before them, next they removed the rubble and then then began to rebuild.
This reality in Nehemiah’s day reminds me of Col 3:1-17 which highlights this rebuilding process. Paul places the vision of Christ before us, then he helps us to remove the rubble, so to speak, and then begin the rebuilding process.
1. Vision First
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
We all understand the need for rebuilding in our lives but we must follow God’s order for a healthy experience. I believe one of the foundational principles in this process of being made whole is perspective. We need to think and act and live with a heavenly perspective. We need to have a vision of Jesus our Saviour and begin to think about our reality from above.
2. Put off
Paul tells us there is to be a continual “putting to death” (to stop a reality with lethal determination) of those things that cause rubble in our lives. We all have an earthly sinful nature and Christians are not to build their lives using these bricks.
Col 3:5-9 - Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices…
Focusing on the rubble and ruin for extended periods of time takes our eyes off of our Redeemer. However, we all have those places in our walls that are broken and those gates that offer little or no defence. We need to take a moment to recognize and renounce them and let them go. We need to throw them onto the rubbish pile (the Dung Gate) trusting in our Saviour for salvation and walk away with the Holy Spirit’s help.
3. Put on
The rebuilding process continues with Paul telling us to “put on the new self”. Paul uses the imagery of taking off dirty clothes and putting on clean clothes; similar to Nehemiah and broken rubble verse new bricks. Paul describes the unity we have in Christ and then lists the wholesome practices of a believer.
Col 3:10-14 - and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let’s refer back to Nehemiah for a moment. The workers on the wall removed the rubble and repaired the wall by adding new bricks. These new bricks are represented in Colossians as holiness, love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love…
I see love as the mortar holding on the bricks in place. We are told in 1 Cor 12:31 - But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. We are all gifted in some form or fashion and this is what makes us special and unique. Paul goes onto to say in1 Cor 13:13 - And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. These two passage simply tell us that love is paramount in the process of rebuilding. One can be talented and gifted as they “work on the wall” but they don’t have love; this is not good.
We have seen in the study of Nehemiah the process for rebuilding Jerusalem. Nehemiah gave leadership and oversight to the vision for establishing the Glory of God once again in Israel. He prayed and put into action all that he needed to restore the walls and gates. He overcame the challenges before him and the enemies that opposed him. His hard work along with the families working alongside him allowed him to restore safety to Jerusalem in 52 days.
The same can happen in our lives as we allow God to rebuild those areas in our lives that need it. As we embrace Jesus as our Saviour, as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit unto “wholeness” we can find our lives becoming all that God has intended. This is a process in which we are personally involved. We can all choose to let go of the bricks in our lives that
cause there to be rubble. At the same time, everyone here is both gifted and talented and can offer great strengths as we build our walls and gates, so to speak, both individually and corporately as a congregation.
In 1 Peter 2:4-5 we are told that we are living stones being built together into the house of God with Jesus himself being the Living Stone - “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
This morning we have had the opportunity to write some of our strengths and gifts on a “brick”. We have already placed on our wall some of the temptations we all face on a regular basis. I want you to go and place your brick on the wall and as you do so take off one of the “rubble bricks” and throw it into the garbage. This little exercise will remind us to put off those things that contaminate our lives and at the same time to put on the wall our gifts and talents.
We do this as individuals but we share in this as a community. Talk to three other people about the gift and talent you are putting on the wall.
Commit to working together for the Glory of God…