IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT





Loving Leadership

Date: Sep. 1, 2013

Author: Bob Henkins

Nehemiah 13:1-31

Key Verse: Nehemiah 13:31b

“Remember me with favor, my God.”

Here we are in the final chapter of Nehemiah. It seems like it went so fast. Many people say that the book of Nehemiah is good for those who want to learn about how to lead people. They say that it’s about good Biblical leadership and that Nehemiah teaches godly principals of how to lead people. And when I asked myself this question, why is Nehemiah a good example of a godly leader, I came to this conclusion, because he’s a loving leader. That’s why I titled today’s message “Loving Leadership.”And I know what some of you might be thinking right now, “Are you crazy. Are you reading the same thing as we are? Because I see him evicting people and throwing their stuff out on the lawn, I see him firing their leader and yelling at their officials, I see him putting the city on lock down and threatening those who are trying to get in, and lastly I see him cursing at people and beating them and pulling their hair out.” Are we reading the same book, because that doesn’t seem very loving. And if this is your definition of love, I would hate to see you what he does to those he didn’t like.

So he’s a loving leader, what do I mean by that? I believe that if you want to be a good leader, you need to be a person that loves and fears God because as history proves, when people rise to the top and attain power, over time they get corrupted by that power. That’s our sinful nature. And so sinful people need to be held accountable for their actions otherwise they may become pushovers or worse, tyrants. And through our study of the life of Nehemiah we can summarize his life as loving God and loving people. And this is what I think the secret is to being a good leader – to love God and love his people. And I read that archeologists found a plaque that was dated to back to the time of Nehemiah and it was a quote from Deut 7:9 which says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” And so I believe that this is what Nehemiah was trying to do: he was trying to teach God’s people about God’s covenant of love that would span generations of their descendants – to love God by keeping his commands. And so when we look at Nehemiah’s actions, at first glance they might seem anything but loving, just as if we saw a parent emotionally spanking their child doesn’t seem loving, but what we didn’t see was just before the spanking, the child was reaching up to the stove to try and pull down a pot of boiling water upon them. The parent’s discipline may seem harsh but it’s done out of the extreme love they have for their child because they know the danger that’s coming and so their actions are out of love trying to protect their precious child. And that’s the picture I want you to see from this chapter today.

In this last chapter we find that after staying in Jerusalem for twelve years Nehemiah finally goes back to Persia. All the work that he set out to do is done. The wall is rebuilt and the people moved back in and leaders have been appointed. The church is going and the people are studying God’s word again, There seems to be a revival because all the people repented. Their hearts were so moved that they made a binding agreement, like a contract, with God.(9:38) All of them bound themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the law of God. Specifically they made 3 promises, 1) they would not give their children in marriage to people of other religions, 2) they would keep the Sabbath holy and not do any work, and 3) they would not neglect the house of God. All the people were in agreement and so they had a great celebration. It is a wonderful story of revival. So Nehemiah says, “My work here is done,” and he went back to the king. Most stories would end here, except they might say, “and they lived happily ever after.” But not this story because God is telling this story and he tells the truth. And the truth is rarely do stories end like that.

So while he is away, God’s people fell into sin, forgetting all the promises they made to God and went back to their old way of life. Depending on what kind of person you are, if you’re the one who see’s the glass half empty or half full, when you look at this chapter you will either be full of despair because of how the Israelites returned to their old ways, or you may be encouraged by how Nehemiah loved God’s people. When Nehemiah learns this, could have said, “That’s it. I’ve had enough.” But out of his love for God and concern for his people, Nehemiah decides to help them. This is what made Nehemiah such a great leader. A true leader is one who sincerely loves and helps others to come back to God, no matter what. We can see the image of Jesus in him and my prayer is that we may learn from Nehemiah how to be a loving leader. Let’s take a look at how Nehemiah loves God and how he loved God’s people.

The Bible says that we love because God loved us first. (ref) We can see the evidence of this in this throughout the book of Nehemiah and the whole Bible. God showed his love by helping them to rebuild the wall. Against all odds, the Israelites rebuilt the wall in 52 short days. This task was so amazing even their enemies acknowledged that their God must have helped them complete it because they were doing everything they could to stop them. We can see evidence of God’s love in this chapter. Take a look at verses 1 & 2. “On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.)” Here we see how God protected his people in a time that they didn’t even know what was going on. And he turned a curse into a blessing. Not only this we see in verse 15 that God had provided them with the Sabbath, which is supposed to be a day of rest, so that our tired bodies can be restored. Not only the people needed a Sabbath, but the land needed one as well. This was God’s blessing and love that he gave to us. Other evidence of God’s love can be seen in verse 23 where he talks about marriage. This was one of God’s biggest blessings to us. When God saw man in the Garden of Eden he saw that it was good for man to be alone so he made a woman and the two became one. And the last piece of evidence of God’s love that I’d like to point out is that God provided good leaders for them to help them and teach them. It was people like Nehemiah that helped them to remember God’s love and provision for them. He helped them to regain their dignity and to study God’s word which is so important. Good leaders are hard to come by. Just take a look at what is going on in Syria these days. Who knows what is really going on but I’ve heard report that the government has used chemical weapons upon their people and over 100,000 people have been killed. They have used sirin gas and napalm and their skin has been burned and falling off. Having godly compassionate leaders is such a blessing. You don’t realize it until you don’t’ have it.

And because of God’s love to him, Nehemiah loves God. And we can see this clearly because of Nehemiah’s prayer life. You only pray to God if you love him or need his mercy. And Nehemiah prays and prays and prays. He’s praying all the time. The book starts out with him praying to God before he goes into see the king and it ends with him praying to God to remember him in verses 14, 22 & 31. This reveals his deep relationship with his heavenly Father. Nehemiah’s pattern was, to reads God’s word and pray – that’s his two way communication.

We can also see his love for God in the way that he honors God. Our God is the Almighty creator God who made the heavens and the earth and everything in it and he deserves our respect. We see in this chapter how Nehemiah treats God with the honor and respect that he deserves. In our time it seems like people have lost respect for God. We may not give God his due respect while living on the earth but one day every person that has ever lived will have to stand before God and give an account for what they have done in with their life and we will surely give him respect then. In verses 4-6 we see how he honors God’s house. When Nehemiah finds out that Tobiah, who is an Ammonite, has turned the temple into his own personal summer home, he is furious. (And I think that’s is so funny that he has to include in verse 6 the fact that all this happens when he is not there) You remember in verses 1&2 we are reminded that the Ammonites are Israel’s enemy. And while they may not be at war, they are different religions. So this would be like a muslim, hindu or an atheist taking up residence in the Temple. It’s just unbelievable that they would let this happen. As it turns out Eliashib, the high priest’s son, was married to Sanballet, who was also a different religion, his son. And Sanballet and Tobiah were close friends. And so Sanballat uses his connection to Eliaship to get Tobiah a room in the Temple. And this drives Nehemiah ballistic and the next thing you know is all Tobiah’s stuff is flying out of the window. Then he has the room cleaned and the proper belongs to brought back in. Nehemiah honored God’s house.

And what we have to learn here is sometimes when we decide to honor God we are going to offend people. There was no way to honor God and not offend Tobiah. And what it comes down to is this, when it comes down to it, who are you going to honor, God or people? Do we honor God and offend people or honor people and offend God? I’m not saying that we should use this as way to be rude to people to do what we want, but it’s very difficult in a politically correct society to honor God without offending someone, and we can’t be afraid to be offensive when it comes to honoring God. For example he takes the Sabbath seriously. In verse 17, Nehemiah rebukes the officials because they aren’t following God’s law. And Nehemiah loves God and wants to follow God’s commands and he offends them by rebuking them because they are not taking a Sabbath. And lastly I want to point out is that he loves God and shares in God’s anger. As I said earlier our generation is so politically correct and the thought is that anger should not be displayed. It’s not acceptable in society to get angry and we should be accepting of everyone and be tolerant. (They want tolerant but they are far from tolerant – but I will leave that for another time) We are made in the image of God and we share his characteristics and one of his characteristics is anger, so it’s ok to express anger. But our problem is that we do not know how to show anger in a godly way. It’s because of our sin that we get it all twisted up and don’t express anger in a righteous way. Jesus expressed anger, he turned over all the money changers’ tables that were in the Temple. We can kind of see a parallel between Nehemiah and Jesus when it comes to honoring God’s house.

Nehemiah’s love for God is pretty clear. Next let’s take a look at how he loves God’s people. What does it mean to really love others? There are at least two ways that we can love people, we can love them humanly and spiritually - just as God made us both body and spirit. We need to be loved and cared for in both ways, both are important and cannot be neglected. But ultimately the spirit is of more importance because the body is temporal but the spirit is eternal. And so what we see here is Nehemiah loving God’s people humanly and spiritually.

First we see that he is concerned about them. In verse 6, sometime later he asks his boss, the king, if he could go back and see how they are doing. He was gone for anywhere from a year to seven years. However during this time he still thinks about them. He doesn’t forget them or think that his work was done. He has a loving shepherd heart for them and just like Paul he wants to visit them.

In verse 7 we see that when he visits Jerusalem, he learns about the evil that Eliashib, the high priest, has done. We already talked about Tobiah shacking up in the Temple but then there was all the offering portions that were supposed to go to the Levites had not been given to them. As a result all the Levites left and went back to their homes because they needed to survive somehow. Because all the Levites left, none of their duties were being done. So Nehemiah shows his love for them by confronting them. We need to be held accountable and sometimes we need to be confronted. If you are in ministry, you cannot be afraid to confront someone if you see that they are not obeying God. Especially someone in a leadership position needs to be able to confront and accept being confronted if they are wrong. Confronting people is really difficult. However if we really love them, we will confront them because we don’t want to see them fall into sin and bring destruction on them. For example is we have a friend and we see that they have had too much to drink and they want to drive home, we confront them so that they don’t have an accident and kill themselves or anyone else. Confrontation is not a negative thing, it’s really an act of love and it’s very hard to do. The easy way out is to do nothing at all – like what Adam did in the Garden of Eden when Eve was tempted. But that doesn’t help. But when people are confronted they take it the wrong way as if they are being picked on, but that is not true. Confrontation is an act of love when done the proper way. Of course we are sinful and we can screw it up, but I won’t go there now.

In verses 12 & 13, Nehemiah continues to show his love for them by establishing proper leadership and firing those who are doing what is wrong and hiring those that are responsible. And when he puts them in charge he gives people responsibility. He acknowledges their God given abilities and puts them in a position to use their gifts to glorify God. He puts his trust in them, when he gives them responsibility, he also trusts them to get it done. Nehemiah gives them a godly good example to follow just as St. Paul said follow me as I follow Christ. Nehemiah displays courage when making tough and unpopular decisions. And it’s after each of these unpopular decisions that he prays his “Remember me God” prayers.

In verses 15 – 22, Nehemiah reveals his love for them by helping them to keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Because God knew how much we need to rest. The people’s promise at the end of chapter 9:37-38 where they are crying out to God because they were under oppression was completely gone. As soon as God had saved them, they went back to rest, but their rest was not true rest because they were working all the time. So in verse 18, he tries to protect them from God’s wrath – from repeating history by desecrating the Sabbath. How many times do we repeat history doing the same sins over and over? So Nehemiah steps in and put his men to lock and guard the gates. If they can’t discipline themselves, he will help them by setting up limits. Not only that he defends God’s people from the ungodly. The ungodly will try to persuade us not to follow God. Satan uses all kinds of tricks to do this. If we don’t have a defender or defend ourselves, we will fall to his deceptions. Bringing in fish – time sensitive, it could go rotten, they appear to have valid reasons but we should not be fooled by their clever arguments. He was going to kick their butts if they didn’t listen to him.

He helps them to keep their marriage pure. He teaches them to marry godly people, to be equally yoked as the Bible says. So that their love will go deeper than just a physical love but to a spiritual level when husband and wife can truly become one in body and spirit. Not only that he brings up in verse 26 how Solomon, even though he was considered to be the wisest man that ever lived, was led astray because he had wives that were different religions. Nehemiah also helped them to raise their kids in a godly way. Some couldn’t even speak their language, how could they study God’s word? The fathers were responsible for their family’s spiritual growth. Us fathers get to share God’s name. We call him “heavenly Father,” what a privilege we have.

Throughout this book we see the theme of rebuilding. How does this connect? We need to come back to our faith in the Lord. For God keeps his covenant of love. We have to continually rebuild and not become habitual in our life of faith. We must rebuild, renew and refresh again and again and not get set in our way.

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Daily Bread

Prepare the Way for the Lord

Luke 3:1-20

Key Verse: 3:4

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.

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Intro Daily