Abounding with Thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7)

On October 3, 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that a National Thanksgiving Day be held on the last Thursday of November. He called for this day because “we are prone to forget the source from which [our blessings] come.” He spoke of our need to be mindful of the “ever watchful providence of Almighty God.” In the midst of tremendous turmoil in the nation, he spoke of “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” He called for all citizens to observe this day “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” He continued. “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.” On November 20, 2022, let us heed this call and “abound in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7).

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Receive Christ

If you want to abound with thanksgiving; surrender your life to Jesus. Paul wrote, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord…” (Col 2:6). Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ (Messiah) and He is the Lord. You cannot accept Jesus as Savior without surrendering to Him as Lord. Remember our definition of a disciple from Matthew 4:19. Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” A disciple is one who: 1) follows Jesus, 2) is being changed by Jesus, and 3) is committed to Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost. 

Walk in Christ

If you want to abound with thanksgiving, surrender your life to Jesus and “walk in Him” (Col 2:6). When the Bible speaks of the Christian’s walk, it is referring to a way of life and/or behavior. It refers to the lifestyle of a Christian who is living for Jesus. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). What does it mean to walk “in Christ”? Paul uses two illustrations: agriculture and infrastructure.

Firmly Rooted in Christ (Source)

Paul’s first illustration is from agriculture. If you have ever grown plants, you know that they need good soil and plenty of room for the roots to spread. This illustration speaks of the organic growth that should occur in discipleship. “Having been firmly rooted” in Christ means that He is the soil into which your roots grow. The spiritual growth we need comes from being nourished through Jesus. He is the source of our faith and growth. 

Being Built Up in Christ (Strength)

Paul’s second illustration is from construction. The first rule of building is to make sure you build on a strong foundation. Jesus spoke a parable about building your house on the rock. He said, “everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). The foundation is important as well as the process of building. This illustration speaks of the intentionality that should occur in discipleship. Being firmly rooted in Christ we need to be built up in Him. Disciples are made as members of local churches who pray, read the Bible, serve Christ together, and use their spiritual gifts for the glory of God and the good of others.

Established in Your Faith in Christ (Shield)

You are being instructed in Christ to be firmly rooted in Christ and be built up in Him. This results in you being established in your faith. As you navigate the trials of each day, your faith is confirmed and strengthened. Peter wrote, “the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).

Abounding with Thanksgiving

When you are walking with Christ, you can abound with thanksgiving. When Paul speaks of abounding, he is talking about having more than enough! Your cup overflows! You have so much thanksgiving that you have to share. God wants Christians to abound with thanksgiving so that we can share it with others. Is this true of you? 

Abraham Lincoln was not the first President to make a Thanksgiving declaration. In 1789, President George Washington issued the following proclamation: 

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions–to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

https://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-source-collections/primary-source-collections/article/thanksgiving-proclamation-of-1789/

Seek the Lord in prayer. Confess your sins and give Him praise for His mercy upon you and our nation. Pray for our nation. Pray that marriage is held in high esteem. Pray that all life is valued. Pray that true religion is encouraged. Pray that our government rewards righteousness (as defined by God) and punishes wickedness (as defined by God). Remember, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps 33:12).

The Will of God (Romans 12:2)

As a pastor, I get a lot of questions and one of the most common ones is: “How can I know God’s will for my life?” This is a good question to ask as it indicates a desire to follow God and to live a life pleasing to Him. In this sermon, we shall consider this question more closely.

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The Will of God Defined 

What is the will of God? The Greek word for will is thelēma. God’s thelēma refers to what God desires and/or has determined shall be done. In the context of the question at the beginning of this sermon, it is what God wants/desires for your life. Paul told the Romans that the will of God is that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). It is that which God has determined is pleasing to Him. Being pleasing to Him, He calls for it to be obeyed so that it resounds to His glory and leads to human flourishing. With this definition, we may safely conclude that God’s will for your life is to be a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. Based on Matthew 4:19, A disciple is someone who: 1) follows Jesus, 2) is being changed by Jesus, and 3) is committed to Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost.

The Will of God Demonstrated

God’s will for you is to be a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. How can we prove that? Look at the testimony of Scripture. Remember, the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” RC Sproul helpfully articulates it for us: “God’s will for each of us is that we grow into spiritual maturity, that our lives become more fully set apart and consecrated by the Holy Spirit, and that our minds are changed.” The answer to the question: “How can I know God’s will for my life?” is always “To be a mature disciple of Jesus Christ.” Paul makes this even clearer in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 when he says “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” 

If this answer seems too simple, consider what Paul wrote in Colossians 4:12: “Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greeting, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.” When we speak of the will of God for our life, this is something that we should be fully assured of. As mature disciples, the Bible says it is the will of God that we: 

  • Give ourselves in service to God and others (2 Cor 8:5).
  • Work wholeheartedly for the good of others and for the glory of God (Eph 6:5-6). 
  • Abstain from all sexual immorality (1 Thess 4:3).
  • Give thanks in all things (1 Thess 5:18).
  • Avoid the lusts of the flesh and live holy lives (1 Peter 4:2).
  • Do what is right and silence foolish men (2 Peter 2:15).

We are also told that it is the will of God that:

  • His will be carried out on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10).
  • Whoever does the will of God is a member of Jesus’ family (Mark 3:35).
  • The Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints (Rom 8:27).
  • Christians receive the promised salvation after enduring (Heb 10:36).
  • Christians live forever after the world and its lusts pass away (1 John 2:17).

The Will of God Discerned

The answer given above is simple, but it gets more confusing when we drill down a little bit. For example, you may be thinking: “That’s great, pastor, but that’s not really what I was asking. In other words, how can I discern God’s will for my life in the everyday aspects of life? I want to live a life pleasing to God; so, how do I do that in regards to my employment, housing, relationships, etc.” These are great questions to ask and can only be answered when we start from the perspective of being a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. Then you may be able to discern His will for your life as you: Pray, Stay, and Obey.

Pray (without complacency)

The most important step in discerning the will of God is to pray. James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith, without doubting” (James 1:5-6). Ask God to reveal His will for your life and believe that He will give you the wisdom you need. As you pray, seek counsel from godly people in your life. Don’t give up. Persist in prayer.

Stay (without complaining)

As you pray, stay where you are and be faithful where you are. This does not mean that you cannot make any change, but that you are committed to staying faithful to do what God already has you doing. Rather than worrying about what you could be doing or think you should be doing, recognize where God currently has you and be obedient. Don’t complain but remain faithful. Note: if you are in sin or a sinful relationship/situation, cease immediately. It is never God’s will for you to sin.

Obey (without compromise)

As you pray and as you are obedient where you are, obey all the commands God gives you. If you discern that God is moving you to another job, ministry, etc. obey immediately. Do not disobey God because you are nervous, scared, fearful, etc. Be open to God’s direction and seek counsel from godly people in your life. God works to confirm his commands through the Holy Spirit, the Scripture, godly people, and circumstances. Don’t compromise with God; obey God. Place your “Yes!” on the table and obey all that Christ commands.

Application

How can you know God’s will for your life? First, live your life with the primary aim to be a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. Second, pray for God to give you wisdom (James 1:5) and to guide your steps (Prov 3:5-6). Third, be faithful where you are. Fourth, obey all of God’s commands and say yes to His call in your life. If you want to know God’s will for your life, make sure your life is fully surrendered to God. Remember that we are in a relationship with Jesus and He cares for us greatly. Trust Him. Trust that Jesus knows what is best for you and what is best for the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt 6:33).

The Continual Need for Reformation (Nehemiah 13)

At the end of Chapter 12, Nehemiah went back to Susa to report to the king after spending 12 years in Jerusalem. “After some time” (13:6), Nehemiah asked the king to allow him to return to Jerusalem. When Nehemiah arrived back in Jerusalem, he found that the situation had grown very dire and the people were not being faithful to the Lord. It was around this time (440-420 BC) that the Jewish people received “the oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi” (Mal 1:1). There were six primary commitments that the Jewish people had made to the Lord in the “oath of obedience” (Neh 10).

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When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem he discovered that they had violated their promises. Specifically:

  1. They promised not to intermarry with the people of the land (10:30), but “the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab” (13:23). 
  2. They promised to do no work on the Sabbath (10:31), but they were working (13:15).
  3. They promised to regularly give the required temple tax (10:32), but we can infer from the rest of their failures that they neglected this as well.
  4. They promised to take care of the provisions for the temple, such as gathering the wood that was needed for the sacrifices (10:34-35), but “Elisashib the priest…had prepared a large room for [Tobiah], where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests” (13:4-5 & 13:31).
  5. They promised to give the firstborn of all to the Lord (10:36), but “for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and one of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people” (13:24).
  6. They promised to be faithful to give the tithes the Lord commanded of them (10:37), but “I discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them” (13:10).

Nehemiah, who had worked very hard to rebuild the wall, renew the Covenant, and reform the people, realized that the need for reformation amongst God’s people is continual. As long as sin is in this world, God’s people must be vigilant. 

Exclusion & Expulsion

Christians should be vigilant to exclude and expel those things in our life that do not contribute to our spiritual maturity. What in your life needs to be removed? What is hindering your relationship with Jesus Christ? What is keeping you from having peace and joy? Paul told the church in Colossae, “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry…put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Col 3:5-9). Hebrews 12:1 says, “Lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles.” Get rid of the Ammonites and Moabites in your life. Cast out the Tobiah in your temple!

Sanitation & Restoration

Christians should be vigilant to regular cleansing and restoration. As you cast out of your heart what is not pleasing to God, replace it with what is pleasing to Him. What is not in your life that needs to be there? What do you not have enough of in your life that needs to be put on? Once again, Paul said to the church in Colossae:

Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him…and so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, but on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against any one; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col 3:10-17)

Hebrews 12:2 says, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” After you drive Tobiah out of the temple, fill it with what is pleasing to God. Obey the Lord’s commands. Give faithfully of your time, talent, and treasure. 

Remember Them & Remember Me

At the end of the book of Nehemiah, he prayed two very important prayers: Remember them and remember me. These prayers are significant because it shows that Nehemiah is working according to God’s strength and trusting that God is in control. Nehemiah prayed for God to judge his enemies. He prayed, “Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites” (13:29). Nehemiah prayed similarly in 6:14). Nehemiah is asking God to bring perfect justice to them in accordance with His holiness and righteousness. Nehemiah knows that God is the perfect Judge. Nehemiah prayed for God to bless him. He prayed, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:14, 22, & 31). He prayed in Nehemiah 5:19 “Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

Just as Nehemiah worked very hard to bring reformation to God’s people, let us work for reformation. Until the day Jesus returns or death takes us to Him, as long as sin is in this world and our enemy roams, Christians must be vigilant. Put off what is sinful and put away what hinders. As the Apostle Paul said, “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealously. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom 13:13-14). O my God, remember them and remember me!

The Need for Reformation (Nehemiah 11-12)

October 31st is a very popular day. Many people immediately recognize it as Halloween, but there is a much more significant aspect to this day. 505 years ago a German monk named Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church in Germany and from there launched the Protestant Reformation. Luther knew the Church needed reformation (i.e., making significant changes that bring improvement). Thankfully, the Church of Jesus Christ recovered the key biblical doctrine of justification by faith and rejected false teachings as purgatory, indulgences, and papal authority. Just as Martin Luther called for reformation among the Church in 1517, approximately 2,000 years earlier Nehemiah called for reformation among the Jewish people. In 2022, we need reformation.

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The Repopulation of Jerusalem (11:1-12:26)

In Nehemiah 11, we learn that “the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities” (11:1). We see that some people volunteered to live in Jerusalem (11:2) while others were selected. We learn that some of the sons of Judah and Benjamin went (4) to live in Jerusalem. There were some from the priests (10), the Levites (15), some temple servants (12), and singers (22) who went to praise the Lord and give thanks (12:24).

God’s works are powerful and He accomplishes all His good work. It is remarkable that God chooses to work powerfully through His people. As we learned in chapter 7, God not only wants Jerusalem’s walls to be rebuilt, but he wants Jerusalem to be filled with His people. The repopulation of Jerusalem was a means of reformation. God called the people to repopulate Jerusalem so that it would be filled with men, women, and children. God desired that Jerusalem would be full of activity. Above all, God desired that Jerusalem be filled with men, women, and children who praise His holy name. Warren Wiersbe said, “Never underestimate the importance of simply being physically present in the place where God wants you.” 

The Dedication of the Wall of Jerusalem (12:27-47)

The wall was completed. The gates are rebuilt. Jerusalem is quickly becoming repopulated. The people have celebrated the Feast of Booths and confessed their sin. What’s next? It was now time to dedicate the wall. Nehemiah said “they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres” (12:27). It was time to celebrate what the Lord had done and to praise Him. Notice how they dedicated the wall: purification, adoration, and consecration.

Purification

Nehemiah records for us: “The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall” (12:30). According to the Law of Moses, they would bathe and wash their clothes. They would separate themselves from those who had disease and clean any areas that were defiled and/or contained mildew. They purified themselves as an act of worship. It is important to remember that we purify ourselves by submitting to God’s method of purification. In the New Covenant, we are purified by the blood of Jesus when we are born again and become a Christian.

Adoration

Nehemiah then “appointed two great choirs, the first proceeding to the right on top of the wall toward the Refuse Gate (12:31)…the second choir proceeded to the left…above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall” (12:38). These two choirs along with others “took their stand in the house of God (12:40)…and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar” (12:43). The people rejoiced because the Lord had heard their cries and blessed them. We should cry out in praise: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing…To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion for ever and ever” (Rev 5:12-13).

Consecration

After they purified themselves and worshiped the Lord, they consecrated themselves and their possessions for the worship of the Lord. Nehemiah wrote, “On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who served” (12:44). They are gathering their contributions and “they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers” (12:45). We also read: “So all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah gave the portions due the singers and the gatekeepers as each day required, and set apart the consecrated portion for the Levites, and the Levites set apart the consecrated portion for the sons of Aaron” (12:47). The leaders and the people are giving themselves and their possessions as a sacrifice unto the Lord.

Always Needing Reformation

We are in need of improvement. We need reformation and revival. Prayerfully consider what significant changes God is showing you that need to be made in order to bring spiritual improvement. God has chosen to work through His people. God doesn’t have to do His work of redemption through us, but that is how He has chosen to do it. 

Remember how you came to become a Christian. Reflect on who were the instrumental people that led you to Jesus. With our Refocus initiative, we are calling upon God to do a mighty work of renewal and reformation among us. We know that we are powerless to effect change in ourselves but we know that God can change our hearts. We know that we are ineffective to change the behavior of others, but we know that the same power at work within us to change us can also change anyone. As the old hymn goes: “O Lord, send a revival! Lord, send a revival! O Lord, send a revival, And let it begin in me!”

The Renewal of the Heart (Nehemiah 9-10)

When we last left the Israelites they were celebrating God’s goodness through the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Booths was a time to rejoice and remember how God led the Israelites through the wilderness into the Promised Land. Now that the feast is over, it is a time of fasting, weeping, and contrition. With the Feast of Booths accomplishing its purpose by God, the people are convicted of their unfaithfulness and the unfaithfulness of their ancestors against God. We read “On the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them” (9:1). Nehemiah 9 is one of 3 “National” prayers of repentance. The other two are found in Ezra 9 and Daniel 9. These prayers of confession on behalf of the nation are rooted in God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:14 that David’s son would build a house for the Lord and in Solomon’s prayer of dedication in 1 Kings 8. The prayer entails:

  • Humility and Confession of sin (1-2),
  • Acknowledgement of God’s majesty (6),
  • Remembrance of God’s justice and faithfulness during Israel’s history:
    • the Abrahamic covenant (7-8), 
    • the events of the Exodus from Egypt (9-18),
    • the years of wandering in the desert (19-23),
    • the conquest of Canaan and subsequent backsliding (24-31),
  • Humility and Confession of sin (32-37),
  • Commitment to keep God’s laws (38 & 10:1-39). 

With this prayer in mind, we shall take time to discuss the importance of prayer and important aspects of prayer that God delights in.

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The Importance of Prayer

Prayer is an act of worship. Specifically, prayer is communication with God. It is the intentional act of speaking to and listening to the Creator of the Universe (God). Because prayer is an act of worship, prayer can only be directed to God (Father, Son, and Spirit). You cannot and must not pray to anyone or anything other than God. A Christian may ask a fellow believer to pray for them, but a Christian never prays to them (living or dead). 

The Types of Prayer

Greg Frizzell has summarized the five main types of prayer found in Scripture:

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Praise. 

This type of prayer focuses on giving thanks to God and praising Him. It is vital that we come to God in prayer and offer Him thanksgiving and praise. It doesn’t matter if you feel like praising and thanking Him, do it because He is worthy! Consider His characteristics, His names, His work, His salvation. Praise His Holy name! Examples include: Nehemiah 9:5 “O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise!” and Nehemiah 9:17 “But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

Prayers of Confession. 

This type of prayer focuses on the confession of sins. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Every Christian has been freed from bondage to sin and is now able to “put to death what is earthly [sinful] in you” (Col 3:5). Confess sins of thoughts and attitudes, sins of speech, relationship sins, sins of wrongdoing, and sins of failing to do what is right. Remember “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Example: Nehemiah 9:16, “But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; they became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments.” 

Prayers of Petition. 

This type of prayer focuses on asking Jesus to meet your needs. It is rooted in God’s Covenant and faithfulness. Take note that it is important to know the difference between your needs and your wants. Jesus never promised to give us all that we want; but did promise to meet our needs. Jesus tells us to “ask, seek, and knock” (Matt 7) and He will give. Come to God and ask Him for what you need that will help you carry out His will for your life. Pray for the physical, mental, and spiritual needs you have. Come boldly to Him asking Him to supply all that you need. 

Prayers of Intercession

This type of prayer focuses on making petitions on behalf of others. Pray about what they need and ask God to give it to them. This is a very important type of prayer because you are thinking less about yourself and more about others. Ask for God’s help for physical, mental, and spiritual needs others have. This prayer is an indicator of your love for others so don’t neglect it. See Ephesians 3:14-21 and Nehemiah 9:32.

Prayers of Meditation

This type of prayer focuses on listening to God. As we said earlier, good communication is both talking and listening. Every type of prayer thus far has involved us talking to God. Meditation is important because it is prayerful listening (1 Sam 3:10). Take time out of your busy, hectic life to be alone with God. The emails, text messages, and Facebook notifications can wait. Listen to God and allow the Holy Spirit to search you and guide you. Use this time to hear from God so that you can obey God’s commands. See Nehemiah 10 where the Israelites committed themselves to specific ways they will obey God’s commands.

Nehemiah and Ezra called the people back to the pure worship of God. Today, we are in just as much need of revival as they were. Our Refocus emphasis will be mocked if it is done in our own strength with little to no discernable impact among us and our community. But, if we pray and have faith; we will move in God’s strength and see mountains moved (Matt 21:21). Are we willing to humble ourselves before God? Are we willing to obey? Trust God!

And There was Great Rejoicing! (Nehemiah 8:1-18)

In 586 BC, Jerusalem’s wall had been torn down and the gates had been burned by the Babylonians. Jerusalem was desolate and God worked through Nehemiah to rebuild. In 445 BC (141 years later), the walls were rebuilt in 52 days in spite of great opposition. A significant victory was achieved but the work was not over. In Nehemiah 8-10, the focus moves away from the rebuilding of the wall and focuses on the renewing of the Covenant. It is not enough that the people return to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall; they need to return to the Lord in repentance and faith.

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In Nehemiah 8, Ezra the scribe reads the book of the law to the people. Remember, Ezra was the scribe who “had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ez 7:10). When the law was read, the people wept over their failure to keep the law. Ezra and the Levites comfort the people with God’s mercy and grace. The people rejoice and obey the Word of the Lord. Let’s look at this more closely as we consider the audience, the sermon, and the response.

The Audience

We learn in Nehemiah 8:1 that the people were unified. Nehemiah records, “And all of the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate” (8:1). One indicator of God’s stirring His people is their unity; especially in the face of opposition and adversity. How do they respond when things get difficult? Do they turn from or to the Lord? 

Why were they gathered in unity? The people “asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded to Israel” (8:1). They wanted to hear from God. Another indicator that God is working in His people is their attentiveness and appetite for the Word of God. Our attention span needs to grow when it comes to prayer, Bible reading/study, and sermons. Paul wrote to Timothy telling him, “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). We need to stay spiritually hungry for God and His Word. Nehemiah says, “all who could listen with understanding…those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law” (8:2-3).

The Sermon

The people were gathered to hear the Word of God. I love the image of Ezra standing behind a wooden podium (e.g., pulpit), “opening the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people.” You may have already figured this out, but this is the basis for our current layout. This is not a strict command for all churches, but the symbolism is rich. The preacher and the podium are elevated because the Bible is elevated. The podium holds the Bible and the preacher stands behind the Bible. The Bible is the central focus of our service because the Bible is divinely inspired, divine instruction that is true and trustworthy. We do not worship the Bible, we worship God alone. Having said that, I like how the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) speaks of the Bible: “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man…It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” The Jewish people, in this instance, would stand when the book of the law was read and then they would answer “Amen”, lift up their hands, and then bow low with their face on the ground. 

The book of the law was preached. Ezra opened the book and other leaders provided understanding to all the people who were gathered. We read that they were “providing understanding of the law to the people while the people stood in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, explaining and giving insight, and they provided understanding of the reading” (8:7-8). 

The Response

Initial Reaction (Grief)

The people wept when they heard the words of the law. This was an understandable reaction because they recognized they were not obeying the Lord’s commands. They knew that Jerusalem was in ruins because of their sin and idolatry. All of God’s curses had been justly carried out upon them and they were still not walking in complete obedience.

Appropriate Response (Joy)

The law was read and Ezra and the other leaders spoke gracious words to the people. Ezra knew that God is gracious and merciful and he said to the people: “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep…Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength…Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved” (8:9-11).

Appropriate Response (Obedience)

Then [they] were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law” (8:13). They were hungry for more. Nehemiah records for us: “They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month…The entire assembly of those who returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths…and there was exceedingly great gladness” (8:14.17). The Feast of Booths (Sukkot) is one of the main feasts in Judaism and it is held at the end of the harvest as they gather produce from their field. It was a seven-day festival in which they live in booths. Why were they to live in booths? Leviticus 23:42-43 says, “You are to live in booths for seven days…so that your generations may know that I made the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt to remind them of wandering in the wilderness.” Sukkot is a festival of remembrance.

It is remarkable that many years later Jesus would be at Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths and say, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, From his innermost being shall flow rivers of water” (John 7:37-38). Jesus didn’t read from the book of the law, He fulfilled the book of the law. He proclaimed “the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19). That is cause for great rejoicing!

Rebuilding the Walls: Part 3 – The Assembly (Nehemiah 7)

The book of Nehemiah does more than share with us the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. It also shows us the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem; namely, the people. It is not enough that the city walls and gates are rebuilt. The people of God need to return to Jerusalem and worship the Lord on Mount Zion. In Nehemiah 7, we learn about God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises. We see how God worked through Nehemiah to rebuild the leadership and membership of Jerusalem, and rebuild the worship of Yahweh.

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Rebuilding Leadership

The wall was rebuilt in 52 days (6:15) and it was clear to the people and their enemies that “this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16). The wall was finished, but the work was far from over. Enemies were still plotting and scheming. Nehemiah knew what needed to be done next and he turned his attention to establishing faithful, godly leaders. He said, “Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, then I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many” (7:1-2). Nehemiah needed leaders who could be trusted. He instructed them: “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot” (7:3). Normally, gates are opened in the morning and closed at night. Nehemiah instructs Hanani and Hananiah that they must remain closed until midday because of the possibility of attacks from their surrounding enemies. While standing guard “shut and bolt the doors. Also, appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house” (7:3). 

Faithful leadership is vital. The Apostle Paul left Titus in Crete “that you could set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as  directed you” (Titus 1:5). These men were to be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6). Just as Jerusalem needed godly leaders, the Church needs faithful men who fear God more than many (7:2). We need godly Christian men who have demonstrated faith and fear of God. Godly leaders are used by God to preserve and carry on His work. Godly leaders are a blessing to God’s people. Weak leaders are a curse to God’s people. Godly elders work “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to  mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13)

Rebuilding Membership

Nehemiah records that “the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built” (Neh 7:4). God put it into Nehemiah’s heart to assemble the leaders and establish membership/citizenship in Jerusalem. The list in Nehemiah 7 is almost identical to the list recorded in Ezra 2. This list is important because it establishes God’s faithfulness to keep His covenant promises. God promised exile if the Jews rebelled against him (Deut 28) and also promised that if they returned to Him in repentance and faith “then Yahweh your God will return you from captivity and return His compassion on you, and He will gather you again from all the peoples where Yahweh your God has scattered you” (Deut 30:3). The names may be hard to pronounce but they serve as confirmation that God has kept His promise to return His people back to the Promised Land. Warren Weirsbe commented: “Reading this long list of difficult names might be boring to the modern student, but these people were God’s ‘bridge’ from the defeats of the past to the hopes of the future…and made it possible for Jesus Christ to come into the world.” 

Membership is not a trivial matter. Some of the men could not prove their ancestral genealogy was Jewish and they “were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood. The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim” (7:64-65). In our day, Church membership is vital to the health and strength of the Church. At First Baptist, we take membership seriously because we made a covenant before God and one another to help one another grow in spiritual maturity. 1 Corinthians 12 shows us that we are all members of the body. Each one of us has been gifted and called for a specific role to play for the good of the body. Paul wrote: “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). 

Rebuilding Worship

The walls have been rebuilt. The Temple has been rebuilt. Nehemiah has assembled faithful leaders and has established appropriate members. What is all of this for? All of this leads to worship. We are told that “the whole assembly together was 42,360” (7:66). Added to this was their servants, the singers, and their animals. In verses 70-72, we learn that the people gave towards the work. The parallel account in Ezra 2:68-69 says they “gave a freewill offering for the house of God to restore it on its foundation. According to their ability, they gave to the treasury for the work…” In addition to their offerings, they gave themselves to worship. Nehemiah says, “now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants and all Israel, lived in their cities” (7:73). What a contrast verse 73 is to verse 4. Where once was a barren, empty city is now a thriving city of worship!

God is calling His people to truly worship Him. Jesus said, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23). Stephen Olford wrote: “What a mind-boggling concept–the Father is seeking us! He seeks us in our totality. He wants our spirits in adoration; He wants our souls in contemplation; He wants our bodies in dedication; He wants our service in consecration.” The mission of the First Baptist is Helping People Experience Life Transformation. What is behind the need for transformation? Worship! Those who are transformed by Christ worship Him!There is no higher calling upon our lives than to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. Worship is a lifestyle. Christians worship Christ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Pray for God to continue to provide us with godly leaders because God is worthy of our worship. Let us take membership seriously because God is worthy of our worship. Let us worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Pray for God to work through us.

Rebuilding the Walls – Part 2: The Attacks (2:9-10; 2:19-20; 4:1-6:14)

Nehemiah has a burden to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem. He has secured permission from the king and rallied the workers. Things started well so it is not a surprise that they encountered significant opposition. Warren Wiersbe noted: “When things are going well, get ready for trouble, because the enemy doesn’t want to see the work of the Lord make progress.” In today’s sermon, we will see the three phases of opposition and notice how Nehemiah responded. In this, we pray that God would strengthen us in our good work when we encounter opposition.

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Phase 1: Ridicule & Anger

The first work of opposition usually comes through ridicule and/or mockery. We learned earlier in chapter 2 verse 10: “When Sanballat…Tobiah…heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.” Later, in 2:19, “when Sanballat…Tobiah…, and Geshem…heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’” In chapter 4, Sanballat mocked the workers; calling them “these feeble Jews” (4:2) and Tobiah mocked the work: “Even what they are building–if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down’” (4:3).

Phase 2: Intimidation & Fear

If ridicule and anger does not work, the enemy will escalate the attacks to intimidation. “Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it” (4:7-8). Sanballat, Tobiah, and others realized that they needed to escalate their attacks. This was concerning to Nehemiah and the Jews because Sanballat was a Horonite from the north of Jerusalem. Tobiah was an Ammonite from the east of Jerusalem. Geshem was an Arab from the south of Jerusalem. The Ashdodites were from the west of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was surrounded by enemies.

Phase 3: Deception & Harassment

If ridicule and intimidation do not work, our enemies will escalate the attacks by adding deception and slander. Nehemiah and the people were blessed by God to rebuild the wall in 52 days. “Now when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it, although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.’ But they were planning to harm me” (6:1-2). They pretended to meet with Nehemiah peacefully (maybe deceive him into letting them “help” (e.g., sabotage) in the work. 

Phase 4: Slander

If none of the above works, the next phase is to specifically target the leader with slander. If Sanballat and the others couldn’t get the people to stop following Nehemah’s leadership through ridicule and intimidation, they figured they needed to try to disqualify Nehemiah from leadership through slander. Sanballat wrote an open letter saying, “It is reported…that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together” (6:5-7). The opposition continued to threaten and intimidate. People tried to kill Nehemiah (6:10) and “Tobiah sent letters to frighten me” (6:19).

Responding with Grace and Truth

In spite of such tremendous persecution and opposition, how did Nehemiah respond? He responded with grace and truth. Let’s look closer at how Nehemiah responded:

  • Ignore Ridicule (if you can) – Nehemiah heard the reports about Sanballat’s mockery and chose to ignore it (2:10). Warren Weirsbe wisely said, “When the enemy laughs at what God’s people are doing, it is usually a sign that God is going to bless His people in a wonderful way.” Nehemiah chose to not reply to his enemies but instead took his concerns to God in prayer.
  • Refute (with facts) – Nehemiah responded to the lies of Sanballat when accused of rebelling against the King. At first he responded by praising “the God of heaven” who “will give us success” (2:20) and rebuking Sanballat by telling him (my paraphrase) “this is none of your business so stay out of it.”
  • Pray (without ceasing) – When Sanballat and Tobiah mocked their work, Nehemiah prayed for God to hear their cries for help and to judge their enemies. 
  • Work (with confidence) – While praying, Nehemiah and the people kept working. They were not to stop the work in order to dwell on their problems. They devoted themselves to the good work. He said, “We prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night” (4:9). In other words, pray for God’s protection and lock your doors!
  • Encourage (with wisdom) – They were struggling to continue but saw Nehemiah was wise in the work and made preparation for the protection of the workers.
  • Rebuke (with grace and truth) – Nehemiah not only kept his eyes on the problems outside of Jerusalem, but also on the problems within. He called them to treat one another justly. The rulers and nobles were exploiting the people by lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest. Nehemiah stopped this practice among the rulers and refused to do it himself.
  • Stand (in faith) – Nehemiah responded to the slander of his enemies by seeing through their deception and refusing to “take the bait.” Nehemiah responded by refuting the lies of Sanballat. “Such things as you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind” (6:8). Nehemiah prayed, “O God, strengthen my hands” (6:9). 

As we begin a great work of God, let us stand firm. Remember Jesus! He was full of “grace and truth” (John 1:17). Let us have wisdom to know when to respond and when to ignore. Refuse to back down or compromise when you are obeying God. Pray always. Stop reading hate mail. Devote your time to God and His mission. Fix your eyes upon Jesus! If God’s enemies are opposing you, it’s probably because you are doing something they don’t like.

Rebuilding the Walls – Part 1: The Assignment (2:9-3:32)

Nehemiah leaves the King with his approval and sets on a journey towards Jerusalem. It is estimated that this trip took many months and there were many dangers on the way. His next steps included: reporting to the governors, rallying the Jewish officials, and rebuilding the walls.

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Reporting to the Governors (2:9-16)

On his way to Jerusalem, Nehemiah “went to the governors of the region west of the Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters” (2:9). The king’s letters allowed Nehemiah to pass through the region in peace on the way to Jerusalem. After some initial displeasure from some (more on that next week), he arrived at Jerusalem and inspected the walls for himself. Nehemiah wanted to make sure that Hanani’s report was as bad as he said. 

Rallying the Officials (2:17-20)

After surveying the walls with his own eyes, Nehemiah said to the officials in Jerusalem “You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace” (2:17). He then added, “I told them how the gracious hand of my God had been on me, and what the king had said to me” (2:18). The officials “were encouraged to do this good work” (2:18) and replied, “Let’s start rebuilding” (2:18). While the officials were encouraged, others discouraged the work.  

Rebuilding the Walls (3:1-32)

Nehemiah knows that “The God of heaven is the One who will grant us success. We, His servants, will start building” (2:20). The work was monumental. In some instances the workers were building new sections of the wall. Sometimes they were only repaired. The walls were built in sections between 10 gates that are mentioned. They are the:

  • Sheep Gate was used for bringing in sacrifices for the temple.
  • Fish Gate was used for the fish from the Sea of Galilee or the Mediterranean.
  • Old Gate was where the elders of the city would meet to discuss community matters and settle disputes (Joshua 20:4, Ruth 4:11, Proverbs 31:23)
  • Valley Gate is probably named that because it overlooked the Hinnom Valley, one of the several valleys surrounding Jerusalem.
  • Dung Gate also called “Refuse/Rubbish” Gate where the garbage and ash from the temple was removed from the city to the Valley of Hinnom, where they were burned.
  • Fountain Gate was the primary access to the fountain, the Siloam Pool, from which the city of Jerusalem received its supply of fresh, clean water.
  • Water Gate, like the Fountain Gate, was close to the source of the city’s water supply (maybe the Gibeon spring).
  • Horse Gate was close to the King’s stables. 
  • East Gate located in the East looking towards the Mount of Olives.
  • Inspection Gate led into the Temple courtyard, where people come to worship God.

Rebuild for God’s Glory. Jerusalem was to be rebuilt for God’s glory. As we learned in chapter 1, Nehemiah began with prayer. Nehemiah remembered the Covenant God made with Israel. Jerusalem is in ruins because the Jewish people have rebelled against God and not kept His commands. Just as the Lord promised, Jerusalem was captured and the people were sent into exile as punishment for their sins. Also, just as the Lord promised, “But if you return to Me and carefully observe My commands…I will gather them from there and bring them to the place where I chose to have My name dwell” (1:9). The Lord chose Jerusalem as His place. Psalm 48:1-2 says, “The Lord is great and is highly praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain, rising splendidly, is the joy of the whole earth. Mount Zion on the slopes of the north is the city of the great King.” Jerusalem is in ruins and is to be repaired and rebuilt for God’s glory.

Rebuild for the Good of One Another. Jerusalem was to be rebuilt for the good of the Jewish people. Walls and gates provide security. With the walls and gates broken and burned down, the Jewish people are “in great trouble and disgrace” (1:3, 2:17) “despised” (4:4) “a reproach” (5:9). Jerusalem, then and now, is surrounded by enemies who desire their annihilation. 

Rebuild Together. Jerusalem was to be rebuilt in unison by the people. The rebuilding effort was nothing short of remarkable. We learn later that the wall was rebuilt in 52 days (6:15). As Nehemiah makes clear: “this task had been accomplished by our God” (6:16). How did God choose to complete this work? He used Nehemiah and the people and brought them unity to rebuild together. Warren Wiersbe notes: “Thirty-eight individual workers are named in this chapter, and forty-two different groups are identified. There were also many workers whom Nehemiah did not name whose labors were important; and each worker–named and anonymous–was assigned a place and a task.” Tom Bradford adds: “What we find in Nehemiah is that the wall rebuilding project was divided into about 40 sections, and a family or a group adopted one or two of those sections according to their reasonable ability to do the task. The tremendous community cooperation and the willingness of the vast majority of the Jewish society around Jerusalem to participate are on display in Chapter 3.” A lot of workers rebuilt a particular section of the wall and/or gate. There were some who refused to work (3:5), some who did a lot (3:13), and some who worked in multiple areas (3:4&21). 

United we Build

In Nehemiah, we see God do amazing things through Nehemiah and the people. When God moves among His people, we see unity and purpose. We see unity among God’s people even in spite of opposition from others. We see good accomplished for the glory of God and the good of others. God works powerfully through His people giving them “the mind to work” (4:6). D.L. Moody once said, “A great many people have got a false idea about the church. They have got an idea that the church is a place to rest in…to get into a nicely cushioned pew, and contribute to the charities, listen to the minister, and do their share to keep the church out of bankruptcy, is all they want. The idea of work for them–actual work in the church–never enters their minds.” The church of Laodicea was not in danger of bankruptcy (Rev 3:17) but they were in danger of being vomited out of Jesus’ mouth (Rev 3:16). We need a burden and we need to work. Our obedience needs to be borne out of love for Christ.

God is always calling His children to the next step of faith. Will we be obedient to God’s call? We could choose to ignore God’s call and try to remain comfortable. If so, as we desire comfort we will grow cold. We could choose to heed God’s call and obey His commands. If so, as we desire obedience we will grow in love for God and one another. Let us not choose the path of the nobles of Tekoites who refused to work. Let us not choose the path of Sanballat and criticize the work. Let us grab our tools and start rebuilding!

Fear God & Keep His Commands (Ecclesiastes 12)

Each year during the Festival of Booths (Sukkot), the Jewish people read Ecclesiastes. Sukkot is one of the main feasts in Judaism and it is held at the end of the harvest as they gather produce from their field. It is a seven-day festival in which they live in booths. Why were they to live in booths? Leviticus 23:42-43 says, “You are to live in booths for seven days…so that your generations may know that I made the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt to remind them of wandering in the wilderness.” Sukkot is a festival of remembrance and it is fitting that the book the Jewish people chose to meditate on during this festival is Ecclesiastes. Rabbi Barney Kasdan wrote: “In the midst of the joy of the harvest and material blessings, we are reminded of the frailty of life. Who can control the twists and turns of life? The sukkah [booth] reminds us that there is a much bigger picture than even our current situation.” 

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In Ecclesiastes, Solomon–the wisest man who ever lived–discusses the futility of life under the sun. Life on earth is vanity (e.g., fleeting and frustrating) apart from a personal relationship with God. So far, we have learned of the vanity of: wisdom, pleasure, toil, relationships, religion, wealth, and justice. These things are not necessarily bad, but are unable to provide us a life of relevance and meaning apart from Jesus Christ. We have also learned that we can have a life of meaning through Jesus as we: 1) Embrace God’s appointed seasons, 2) Recognize God’s assigned authorities, 3) Enjoy life, and 4) Reject foolishness. Our study of the book of Ecclesiastes comes to a close with these words from Solomon: “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands” (Ecc 12:13). As we close, let us remember what “all has been heard” so that we can better understand and appreciate the conclusion of the matter. 

Fear God, Unbelievers!

If you are not a Christian, you should fear God. You should fear God because He is the One who has authority over your soul. Jesus said, “But I will show you the One to fear: Fear Him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the One to fear!” (Luke 12:5). God, the Creator, can stop your heart from beating at any moment. God grants us our breath and can stop our breath at any time. Not only that, He has the authority to forcefully throw your soul away from His presence into the eternal place of fiery torment. God not only has the authority to cast you into hell, His holy hatred of sin and His justice demands it. Every sin that you commit accuses you before God as a lawbreaker. James 2:9 says that when the royal law is violated “you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” God convicts unbelievers of their sin in order to bring the fear of God into their heart so that they may call upon God and be saved (Rom 10:13). Those who are not born again (John 3:3) will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). No one will be able to make a special deal with God. The only thing that remains is “a terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries” (Heb 10:27).

Fear God, Believers!

Believers should fear God, but not in the same way as unbelievers. Fear in this context doesn’t mean terror because born again Christians are never in danger of God’s damnation (Rom 8:1). Fear in this context means worshipful reverence, awe, and respectful submission. The fact that “all is vanity” (Ecc 1:2) should drive people to take refuge in God, whose work endures forever (Ecc 3:14) and who is a rock for those who take shelter in Him (Ps 94:22). The fear of the Lord is something Christians need to be taught. Psalm 34:11 says, “Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” Our former pastor Terry Eades said in a sermon about the fear of the Lord from this pulpit over twenty years ago:

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10).
  • The fear of the Lord is something that we must choose to practice. (Proverbs 1:29).
  • The fear of the Lord begins our journey towards God. (Proverbs 2:5).
  • The fear of the Lord helps us avoid sin. (Prov 8:13 & Prov 16:6). 
  • The fear of the Lord helps us to live longer. (Proverbs 10:27).
  • The fear of the Lord gives confidence in life. (Proverbs 14:26-27).
  • The fear of the Lord helps us be humble. (Proverbs 15:33). 
  • The fear of the Lord gives us riches, honor, and life. (Proverbs 22:4). 
  • The fear of the Lord keeps us from envying wicked people. (Proverbs 23:17).

Keep His Commands

We should fear God and keep His commands. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey My commands” (John 14:15). Obeying Jesus’ commands should not be controversial. It is a central aspect of the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). When we obey Jesus’ commands we align ourselves with His will. Alistair Begg described modern life as a constant attempt to outmaneuver boredom. The Christian should never be bored because we always have good work to accomplish for the glory of God and the good of others. Ecclesiastes shows us the vanity and boredom of life apart from Jesus Christ.

When we keep Jesus’ commands we acknowledge our identity as His child (John 1:12). Our old life is crucified and our new life has begun. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, “I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20). Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:50).

We obey Jesus’ commands because He is Lord. Far too many people are fans of Jesus until He makes moral demands on their life. Sadly, not everyone who speaks well of Jesus is actually talking about Jesus from the Bible. We consider ourselves slaves to God. Jesus said, “When you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’” In other words, we serve the Lord because He is worthy of our service and we lament that we cannot serve Him more. He loves us so much that He gave His life for us. Therefore, we want to give our lives for Him.