Studies in Nehemiah. Consecration Of The People Of God Chapter 10v1-39. Introduction. Some time ago I visited an art exhibition and overheard another visitor commenting on a painting. He said, “I like it its different”.
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Of The People
Some time ago I visited an art exhibition
and overheard another visitor commenting on a painting. He said,
“I like it its different”.
We are often attracted to things that are different not just the kind of things produced in artists studios or manufactured in factory units but in the depths of the human soul. We are attracted to people when something different from the norm, or the run of the mill, manifests itself.
God calls his people to a different-ness and it is this character distinction that draws others to him and equips the church to achieve her evangelistic objective.
The people of God in Nehemiah's day recognised they had failed to live distinctive lives. They wanted to be different and to this end they decided to consecrate or separate themselves to God. Now we should note the public nature of this consecration. The people queued up to have their names written down v1-27. Why was this so important?
To behave in such a public manner has the effect of burning ones bridges. Retreat becomes much more difficult. This very public display stored in the memory banks of our minds reminds us of the stand we have taken for God.
Of course it's possible to commit oneself to God in a very quiet way, without anyone knowing. Such a step of consecration can be very real. However, we find scripture encouraging believers to 'go public' in their commitment on a number of occasions.
‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so’ Ps. 107v2 and ‘If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ Rom. 10v9.
God is not in the business of embarrassing us or of forcing us to violate our essential personality, nevertheless, this is an issue which we are all called upon to take seriously. Why?
One answer is found in the gospels. Think of Jesus gentle but firm dealing with the woman, who had been ill with the issue of blood? She was a woman of faith, who wanted to remain anonymous. She believed all she had to do was stretch out and touch the hem of Jesus' garment and she would be healed. When she was all set to slip away Jesus put on the brakes and asked, ‘Who touched me?’ Mk.5v31.
Why not let the woman slip away? Jesus recognised that her faith would be strengthened as she made a public profession!
This incident shows illustrates why it is so important that our faith and commitment is something that is out in the public domain. Among other things it is for our spiritual safety and has a positive restraining influence. We are marked as Christ’s men and women. It will help to keep us straight, if we recognise that others know that our lives are committed to God.
This public expression of commitment can be done in a number of ways. When a person comes to faith in Christ they will publicly profess their faith in Christ within the fellowship of the church and this may also involve baptism.
Ministers will sometimes ask their congregation to stand in their places to indicate their renewed determination to follow God.
In earlier generations our forefathers were encouraged to enter into personal covenants with God. These would be written down and kept inside their Bibles and referred to with the passing of the years.
The simple point being made here is the value of having some tangible reminder of commitment to God. It can stimulate an on-going commitment.
The practical nature of the people’s consecration is seen inv27-31. Any verbal profession which does not have a corresponding practical outworking is meaningless. Words are often cheap. God isn't fooled or flattered, when we
tell him how much we love him, if at the same time we have not resolved in our hearts and
wills that we intend to regulate our lives in a manner that will please him. A genuine consecration will always contain two quite distinctive elements:
A determination to separate ourselves from sin
A separation of ourselves to God.
Look first at the negative aspect of this people's consecration. They separated themselves from the inhabitants of the land in order to be identified as God's people v28. In calling a people to himself, God had called upon them to be holy, distinctive, to reflect his character and his values in the way they lived.
This distinctive, holy attractiveness was intended to act like a magnet drawing the heathen nations to God. It had an evangelistic goal! When the people of God fail to live like that, when they accept rather than challenge the world's values, then they will fail in their evangelistic mission.
This call to holy separateness is not very fashionable today. One reason for that is a reaction to distorted models of holy separateness. It is important to distinguish between authentic and distorted models of consecration. The first of the distorted model might be described as that of Pharisaic separateness.
Those influenced by it adopt a superior manner and look down their nose at others who are not part of their holy huddle and who struggle with consecration. They go through life toasting their spiritual superiority, 'here's to us, who's like us.'
The second distorted model is that of monastic separateness. The world is seen to be such a wicked place that the exponents of this view believe that by retreating behind monastic walls they will secure a place of safety from a polluted and polluting world. Incidentally, you do not have to live in a monastery to be infected with this kind of separateness. Some Christians do all in their power to withdraw from the society, while still living in their two bedroom flat. Jesus commands us to be “in the world but not of the world”.
We need to be rubbing shoulders with unbelieving men and women if we are to have an attractive and salting impact upon society.
The third distorted model might be described as a legalistic separateness. This brand of Christianity is unattractive and narrow. It reflects a negative attitude to the faith. Its recurring theme is, “We don't do that!”
Its exponents glory in the fact that they belong to a “Don't do this religion”.
All sorts of negative, overbearing interpretations are placed upon God's Word producing members who are prickly and sour.
Their approach to holiness has been described by one writer as 'sanctification in vinegar.'
All of these models a caricature of true biblical Christianity. In response we are not to abandon scriptural teaching on separateness but reaffirm what the Bible means by it. Clearly there are some things which the Christian may not do and certain places he dare not go.
One of the great concerns today is that many believers don't want to be different from the world. Many Christians want not only to be in the world but of it too. At a time when many out side the church are looking for a Christianity that is distinctive, many within the church are bending over backwards to remove these distinctives.
Our passage identifies two areas where the people of God were eager to show their different-ness. The first concerns marriage cfv30... With good reason God had told Israel not to marry into the heathen unbelieving nations around them. It is vitally important for husband and wife to be pulling
in the same spiritual direction, to have the
same goals, the same motivation and
appetite for the things of God.
Solomon, for all his wisdom, failed to see this
and it was not long before Israel's worship was contaminated by the idolatrous practices
introduced by his foreign heathen wives.
Paul in 2 Cor. 6.14 writes, 'Do not be yoked together with unbelievers'. Such marriages invariably harm the believer's growth and fruitfulness of his witness. Nor do they provide a conducive environment for rearing children. The child receives contradictory signals. One parent says, ‘God is important, follow him’but the other says,‘Do not let God enter your thinking’.
Knowing these dangers there will always be some who persuade themselves that, “In their case things will be different! The person they love will do them no spiritual harm”. And so they close their ears to the instruction of God's Word.
A young Christian woman asked to speak with a minister. He was the fifth minister she had consulted. She was looking for someone to tell her that they could see no harm in her marrying a non Christian for he was ‘a good man’. The minister explained that he was constrained by the teaching of scripture, in addition years of pastoral experience
could not allow him to offer no such assurance.
The woman stormed out in a temper.
She wanted to be able to set the
agenda for her consecration and
commitment to God. She refused
to place all that was precious to
her on an open hand before God.
The second way in which the inhabitants of Jerusalem were eager to demonstrate their distinctiveness was in their treatment of the Sabbath v31. By keeping one day in the week special Israel would show the surrounding nations that God was special. He absorbed their time and attention and was more important to them than monetary gain or personal gratification. Imagine the impact of that on a people with quite different value systems?
Do others see by the way in which we use the Lord’s day that God's is special to us?
Many people may have had experience of a legalistic approach to the Lord's day. So that has been turned into a day to be endured rather than enjoyed, sitting still for hours in stiff collars - no whistling, no laughter, no walking out of doors unless you were going to church etc.
In contrast, there is a liberating use of God's day, when we enjoy the company of his people, rehearse God's goodness and feed upon his Word. We need not fear being different, [though society seems determined to make it increasingly difficult for believers. If you want to keep your job you will work on Sunday. Your child’s place in the school football team means they play in Sunday morning matches.] It is costly to be a distinctive people.
You will notice in v32-39 that it is the negative aspects of separateness which make room for the positive. If God's people remain immersed in the things of the world, there will simply not be enough time for the development of all the positive aspects of worship. It is a simple principle of displacement.
The people of Nehemiah's day, having dealt with the negatives then discover they have time for the previously neglected aspects of worship. In the process notice that the church of God becomes the centre, the hub for the life of the people of God.
Clearly now the people have time for God and they sum up their consecration in the words, “We will not neglect the house of God”. They are not thinking merely of the building but of all that takes place in God's house and the witness to the wider community which results. At last time was being made for fellowship, prayer, worship and service. They gave themselves to these things with a fresh eagerness of spirit.
Are some of these positive benefits absent from your life? If so, will you like the people of Nehemiah's day making room for spiritual growth.