Summary: Our relationships within the body of Christ affect our witness outside the church.
This week I came across these words that were written by Chris Tomlin in his preface to Francis Chan’s book titled “Crazy Love”:
“Isn't it interesting that in Acts 11, at the end of verse 26, it says, "The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." What I find interesting is the simple thought that the Christians didn't name themselves. But rather, they were called (or named) "Christians" by those watching their lives. I wonder if it would be the same today. Could someone look at your life or look at my life and name me a Christian? A humbling thought for sure.”
Those words certainly got me to thinking about my own life, but after reading Nehemiah chapter 5 this week and discussing with the men in the Bible study on Monday morning, it got me thinking even more about the church as a whole. When people outside the body of Christ look at us and how we treat each other, would they still name us Christians? And based on what they observe, is the idea of being part of a body that consists of those who claim to be followers of Jesus something that is attractive to them?
Nehemiah chapter 5 is one of the many passages we find in the Bible that has a wide variety of possible applications in our lives. And there is no doubt that we could legitimately pursue any number of them this morning. For instance, there are certainly some principles that apply to our finances, and especially about the potential dangers of debt, here. Nehemiah exhibits some great leadership principles in this chapter, especially the importance of leading by example. There is much to learn here about how to deal with conflict and we’ll touch on that a bit.
But I really want us to focus this morning on how our relationships with each other impact our ability to reach others for Jesus. That idea is expressed by Nehemiah right in the middle of the chapter in verse 9. Will you read that verse out loud with me?
So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?
(Nehemiah 5:9 ESV)
Here Nehemiah is clearly worried that the way his fellow Jews are treating each other is causing the nations around them to taunt them and in the process to belittle the God whom they are supposed to be serving. So exactly what is causing that to happen? In order to answer that question, we’ll go back to the beginning of Nehemiah 5. Once again this morning, you’ll need your Bibles so you can follow along as we go through this chapter together.
Before we begin, let me just give you a heads up on the message this morning. There is no “fill-in-the-blanks” outline this morning. There won’t be a lot of PowerPoint slides for you to look at. I have given you plenty of space in the sermon insert to make any notes that might be helpful to you as we go through the passage. But more than anything this morning, I think this is the kind of message that ought to cause us to think about how we live together as followers of Jesus, and which may not necessarily leave us with any pat answers on exactly how to address some of the questions that might come up.
I know that for some of you who are like me, this is a bit uncomfortable. I’m one of those people who hate movies that leave everything up in the air at the end because I like closure. And I like sermons that do that as well. So for me, this message is going to cause me to step a bit outside my comfort zone, too. But I think it’s good for all of us to do that sometimes. So with that in mind follow along as I begin reading in Nehemiah chapter 5, verse 1:
Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”