Summary: Often our greatest challenges are not from outside but inside the church. When problems develop remember that we are family, remember the task and remenber others are watching.
During the Gulf War more people died of friendly fire that from enemy fire. In other words, more people died from the hands of their friends than their foes. Unfortunately the church can sometimes be like that. Very often the greatest resistance we have to building up the church is often not from the outside but from the inside.
I had several friends who went through seminary with me in youth ministry. They had a call of God on their lives and passion to reach young people. More than half of them have left ministry today because of the pain and resistance they experienced from the church.
Nehemiah 5:1 Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. 2 Some were saying, "We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain." 3 Others were saying, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine." 4 Still others were saying, "We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others." 6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. 9 So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them--the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil."
While the Israelites were facing pressure from the surrounding peoples they were also facing problems from within. The work of building the walls meant that the people had no time to produce food and feed themselves and their families. Some of those with more resources available to them were using this opportunity to "lend" food to others but at a high price. Many could not afford to pay and were having to sell their land and even children in order to survive. These problems were not he result of enemy attack but from people within the walls of the city they were helping to build.
In the church we also see that sometimes our greatest obstacles to building come from within the walls of the church. I saw a movie once where the person was being chased by a monster and they thought “if only I can make it to the house I will be safe”. Only latter did they realize that the monster was actually already in the house.
It is like that with the church sometimes. People come from difficult lives and painful weeks to church. They think "if only I can make it until Sunday I wil find the strength and encouagement to keep going". They let their guard down only to be hurt by fellow Christians from within the church.
Conflicts are inevitable in the church because it is made up of sinners – just like me and you. The issue is not whether conflict will develop but how do we handle it when it does and continue to move forward and build up God’s kingdom.
1. Remember you are Family (vs. 7) … from your own countrymen
Nehemiah confronted the nobles with the fact that they were “exacting usury from your own countrymen”. They were hurting people that were part of their own family. When you do that you are only hurting yourself in the long run.
We need to remember that we are all part of the family of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We will be with each other for a very long time so had we had better learn to work on our differences now.
I learned from living on a ship for 2 years that you had better settle issues with people quickly because there is no way to avoid them.