I – Today’s Text: Nehemiah 5
II – Theme: We don’t need an “evangelism program,” as it were, because in God’s mind, the Church is His “evangelism program.”
When the world sees the Church (God’s people) struggling against itself and each other out of selfishness, the world mocks both us and Jesus. However, Jesus’ commandments to us are to “be a light that shines in the darkness (the world), so that God is glorified to the world” (Matthew 5:16); and He also says that the world will be able to recognize us as objective, certain truth—(that we’re Jesus’ actual disciples in a world where many false disciples claim to be true Christians)—because the world will see that we love one another just He has loved us (John 13:35)
Therefore, if the Church itself is God’s “evangelism program,” then we must know that His call to us to live by Jesus’ commandments we just heard means nothing less than this: (Mark Dever):
“Mutually loving relationships within the Church are designed by God to be attractive to an unbelieving culture.”
III – How We’re Approaching the Text
First, let me explain how we’re approaching the text today:
Expository vs Topical: Our study in Nehemiah is generally Topical in nature
Pros and cons to each: Exposition is more thorough; Topical teaching moves us faster through the text, and is more quickly applicable to our current church and life situation, which is what we’re trying to do with Nehemiah, so we’re finished with the book by the holidays.
Expository teaching is far and away the best and most common historical teaching method, and what we strive to do normally
Whether with Topical or Expository teaching, the way we keep up with how the message applies to us is by relating all that’s said to the theme that’s proposed at the beginning.
Now, with that caveat, let’s move on to the text:
IV – The Text, and the “5 C’s”
A – Overview:What’s Happening in Nehemiah 5?
Even though a great brotherly comaraderie was being established among the Jews who were working with Nehemiah to build the wall in Jerusalem, there was, nevertheless, a long-standing social, class, and ethical divide between the more wealthy Jews and the poor ones. And it had been going on long before Nehemiah returned from Susa, and was still happening currently.
The nature of the divide was simple: The wealthier Jews were taking advantage of the poorer ones. The rich Jews, through lending money with insane amounts of interest (usury), had come to control the food supply, because, when the poor Jews couldn’t pay the loans back, the wealthy ones seized their property. And when their property wasn’t enough, they seized their children, who then became work slaves and sexual slaves to their wealthy Jewish brothers. In all, Jews were holding other Jews (brothers and sisters) in bondage.
Nehemiah hears of it and, being the king-appointed governor of the area, calls out his Jewish brothers.
The wealthy Jews repent of their sin, and Nehemiah warns them that if they go back on their word, God will shake them out of His kingdom forever. In fact, since we know that God always finishes what He starts, if they’re “shaken out,” it means they were never His at all.
Finally, Nehemiah appeals to his own example of “not burdening his brothers and sisters, the Jews,” with an extravagant lifestyle—even though, as governor, he was certainly entitled to it. But the only way he could have lived extravagantly is if he had taxed the Jews and demanded interest from them when they were in need. And he did not do this, because he loved God, and therefore he loved God’s people.
B – Two Things to Note, Which Tie Nehemiah 5 to Our Current Situation As the Church, Today:
1 – Ekklesia (Greek term) is often used throughout the Greek translation of the OT, to translate the Hebrew word qahal (or kahal).
What this means to us, is that the same concept of God’s people gathered for worship…gathered for advancing His kingdom…gathered in community, that’s relayed in the OT (kahal)…is applicable to the NT concept of what we know as “Church” (ekklesia).
So when we see God’s people gathered, for whatever purpose, in the OT, we can safely apply the principles being taught to ourselves as a NT gathering.
That’s the first thing which ties Nehemiah 5 to our current situation.
The second thing that ties us together with Nehemiah 5 flows right out of what we just said about the OT and NT Church:
2 – Nehemiah 5:9: [Nehemiah said to the wealthy Jews who were taking advantage of their poorer kinsmen]: “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?”
And here we are, back to where we began, when I opened with, “When the world sees the Church (God’s people) struggling against itself and each other out of selfishness, the world mocks both us and Jesus.”
This is precisely Nehemiah’s concern! He’s extremely angry with the Jews who were taking advantage, because it was one of the primary reasons the enemies around them weren’t taking the rebuilding of Jerusalem seriously!
What the enemies (Sanballat, Tobiah, etc.) of Israel perceived would’ve sounded something like this (when Nehemiah says they “reproached Israel”): “You say God sent you here to rebuild Jerusalem? How are we supposed to believe that He sent you; how are we supposed to believe that He is the “one good and true God,” as you claim, if He has as His people those who would abuse each other?
Furthermore, because of your disunity we believe that it’s just a matter of time until we can take advantage of you, by murdering you, and taking this city back for ourselves. For, if you abuse one another in these ways, will you really come to the aid of each other when we attack you? No, we don’t believe in you, your purpose, or your supposed God.”
So, when we think of how these events connect directly to the relationship between the Church and the Culture-at-large today, can we see any similarities? Can we see how lost, un-churched culture might view us when they see so much abuse and advantage-taking from within our own ranks? Is it any wonder they’re reluctant to follow Jesus, when they don’t often see what difference He really makes in the lives of people who claim to be His?
One of their arguments against believing in Jesus as the only way to heaven, is frequently: “Doesn’t Jesus tell you guys that the way we’ll know you’re really His is if you love each other? Yeah, we’re not sure we really see that happening.”
That is what Nehemiah was dealing with in his day, and it’s precisely what we’re dealing with in our time. So, we really need an answer to this problem in the Church, and the perception it creates in the eyes of lost Culture.
And the answers we seek must be from God’s Word alone, if they’re to bear fruit!
Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., and has written a book called “The Deliberate Church, Building Your Ministry on the Gospel.” In it, he articulates “5 C’s” of vibrant, healthy church culture. He says that God, through His Word, ordains these 5 crucial aspects of being a healthy church in order to glorify Him, and at the same time evangelize the world.
Here’s where we remember and apply our theme, which is: We don’t need an “evangelism program,” as it were, because in God’s mind, the Church is His “evangelism program.”
Dever’s “5 C’s” are as follows:
A healthy, biblical church community is Covenantal. “That is, it’s a community of believers who have become part of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood (Jeremiah 31, Luke 22:20) and, as a result, have covenanted together to help each other run the Christian race with integrity, godliness, and grace. It’s a community of mutual commitment to doing each other good spiritually—bearing each other’s burdens, sharing joys, giving to support the ministry, exercising affectionate watchfulness over one another, and at times rebuking the unrepentant, or submitting to correction ourselves [on occasion]…”
That is what it means to be under God’s New Covenant in Christ, and to apply it to His Covenant Community, otherwise known as the Church.
A healthy, biblical church community is also Careful. We must be careful—deliberate—to show our deep concern for upholding every aspect of God’s Word in every aspect of our corporate life together. Every step we take in life—as individuals, and as the corporate body of Christ—must be taken as though we deliberately plan to serve the “functional centrality of the Gospel.” The Gospel is more than just the greatest work of God; it’s a life to be lived out.
A healthy, biblical church community is Corporate. That is, we are to be as equally focused—if not more so—on our corporate life together in Christ, as we are on our individual lives in Christ. The very nature of the Christian life is corporate, because we are the individual parts which make up the full “body of Christ.” His eternal “body” is corporate, not individual, therefore, we must learn what it means to avail ourselves of and rely upon the loving, mutual relationships in our covenant community that help us to overcome our life’s difficulties and to grow in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16; Hebrews 10:24-25).
The corporate life of the congregation should be central to the life of every individual believer, because we simply cannot live the Christian life alone….
(John 13:34-35; Ephesians 3:10-11; Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 John 4:20-21). Dever says: “We are saved individually from our sins, yet we are not saved into a vacuum. We’re saved into a mutually edifying community of believers who are building each other up and spurring each other on to love and good deeds.”
A healthy, biblical church community is Cross-cultural. The church is for everyone who will come and be part of it under Christ.
In other words, churches who “target” specific demographics because of any other factor than language, are in danger of a terrible misrepresentation of the Gospel and its “transcultural, unifying power.”
There is a cliché about the Western Church that is sadly very true: The most segregated day of the week in the West is Sunday. To this we say: God’s eternal kingdom is made up of more than people like us. In fact, it’s likely that, whatever your gender, your race, your cultural preference—you will be in eternity with more people who are not like you than you will be with people who are. So now is the time for the Church to come together across all those lines. What an incredible statement this could be (and is in some areas) to a lost culture who sees our segregation into “good culture fits” and again mocks Jesus Christ because of it.
Finally, a healthy, biblical church community is Cross-generational. As we’ve alluded to a lot here, the local Church is a family. As a family, both kids and adults of every age group should be doing life together for the sake of mutual encouragement and building each other up.
Older men and women should be helping younger men and women understand the reality of life.
As well, younger men and women in the church should be willing to submit to that encouragement. We actually have a great deal of that happening in this church! And hey, older men and women: let’s not forget, that we stand to learn a ton from the younger generations on what it means to effectively engage current culture. They know how to speak the language, whereas we often do not. Older folks: let’s be ready to learn from them too.
If you’re single, perhaps you could serve in children’s ministry, the nursery, or teach kids’ growth groups—which would grow them, and help you develop parenting skills for when you have babies of your own!
I want to quote Dever one last time here, on what it means for a healthy, biblical church to be Cross-generational. He says that it provides a powerful “evangelistic witness” to the surrounding culture in many ways:
“Visitors wonder why so many young people are at an older church member’s funeral, or how that widow or person in need has so many young people coming to her house to lend her a hand. The point is that, in the context of a niche-marketed society (like the one we live in), the church can stand out as a unique beacon in the community for being a web of warm Cross-generational relationships that are grounded in the Gospel.”
And here we are, back again to the essence of the title of today’s message, which is that we are to be the light in the world that glorifies God to the world.
The abuses we see in Nehemiah 5 are an example of what the Church is not. Nehemiah’s correction and the peoples’ submission to that correction, as well as the “5 C’s” of a healthy, biblical church are what the Church is.