Laying down our rights for the sake of the Kingdom. (Nehemiah 5:14-19)

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Our text for today is Nehemiah 5:14-19.

Last week we looked at Nehemiah 5:1-13 and saw a beautiful picture of the gospel and what it expects from us. Nehemiah urges the people to forgive each other’s debts so they can all buy grains and keep their families alive so that the kingdom work can continue.

We learned that even we should be in a position to forgive those who hurt or frustrate us in words or deeds. And the reason we do that is because God forgives us of our sins and shows love in that manner. Our offense to God is not a small thing but still he chooses to forgive. We looked at three ways of how to do that –

  1. Hold back our anger
  2. Forget the hurt and show love
  3. Stop talking about them

This week we will look at how Nehemiah sets an example to the people for the extension of God’s Kingdom and also conveys a key Kingdom principle that every Christian should follow.

[bctt tweet=”Laying down our rights for the sake of the Kingdom” username=”gatheringmumbai”]

While reading this passage, I realised that it is Nehemiah who is writing these things as a personal note maybe in his personal dairy about the events that are happening during the time the wall is being built, and the whole conversation seems to be addressed towards God and not to any man because he ends the passage by saying “Remember me favourably, my God, for all that I have done for this people”.

That shows me that he is not writing these accounts to prove anything to any man, I don’t even think that Nehemiah intended that his personal notes should be displayed publicly when he was writing them down.I God in his sovereignty planned that these notes should be added to the scriptures because Nehemiah was under the influence of the Spirit of God while he wrote them.

The reason I pointed it out to you is so that we understand that these are not boastful words of Nehemiah where he is trying to show off his achievements. But they are a humble declaration to God with an expectation of a reward from God alone.

He starts by saying in v14

Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor.

One key lesson Nehemiah is teaching us is that leaders must be above reproach, proving to be examples to the flock as written in 1 Pet 5:1-4.

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

By all means Nehemiah had all the rights to enjoy what was offered to the Governor for his service towards the people. He rightly could have demanded a food allowance as his predecessors had done by taxing the people and then sending  servants out to collect the tax with force. The governor had a right to such an allowance, and Nehemiah could have imposed it upon the people.

But Nehemiah set aside his right to the governor’s food allowance and apparently bore these costs out of his own pocket. 

Many Christian leaders fall into the trap of thinking that their position gives them certain rights and power over the people. But when we look at Jesus as our example, we see that he laid aside all His rights, took a form of a servant and was obedient even to death on the cross.

Nehemiah gives two reasons why he started that trend for his people by laying aside his rights. First, He feared God (5:15b), and he was concerned “because the burden was heavy on this people” (5:18b). Every person who is leading and discipling another person must constantly remember that he is only a servant under God, and that he must answer to God someday. This is not “our” church; it is Christ’s church and we are just His under-shepherd. Fearing God means that we should not do things as others. We must fear God first and foremost.and, we must care about hurting people. To add to the burden of those who are already burdened would be insensitive and unloving.

Second; in doing so Nehemiah was setting an example of putting the work of God ahead of his own personal interest.

Another similar example in the bible is Paul, a man I personally admire the most and desire to follow in his footsteps. In 1 Cor 9:1-15 he writes

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?

Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyardand does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast.

I am not trying to argue whether ministers should be supported financially or not. (I want you to hear what I say and not what I don’t say) It is all a question of what is better for the cause of the gospel and the extension of His kingdom.

If it is better for a minister to be able to devote himself full time to the care and teaching of God’s people, he should be supported. And there is nothing wrong about it.

But if it is better for him not to be supported that way, he shouldn’t.

There is something wrong with a minister who will only minister to God’s people if the money is right.

Nehemiah decided to lay down his rights for food allowance and other benefits because that was a better option to consider since the bondage was heavy on the people.

[bctt tweet=”This passage conveys a Kingdom principle that is applicable to every Christian.” username=”gatheringmumbai”]

I believe that Nehemiah & Paul is not just setting an example as a leader to other leaders but they are also conveying a Kingdom principle that is applicable to every Christian.

We read that in Phil 2

Read Phil 2:1-4

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

The principle is “Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others

And it points back to the gospel again in the following verses.

We see this principle in action in the book of Acts 2:44-45 ….. people were concerned about each other’s needs instead of holding back their money and possession and looking at their own interest. The result was v46-47 A growing church.

In the light of what we heard today lets search our hearts. What is that growing concern about the Kingdom of God that bothers you time and again? Like for example – It could be a concern for the lost and unsaved people of the world, it could be a concern for the state of the churches around us, it could be a concern for the orphans and the under privileged children in our city, it could be a concern for the widows and the aged people who are left on their own without any love and care, it could be a concern for the sick people who have lost hope. And what is it that God is asking you in particular to lay down and make a difference.

Nehemiah didn’t just lay down his rights but he gave out of his own pocket. And he did not give only his money and food but also gave himself for the service of the people.     

What is it that God is asking you to do? And to what extent are you willing to go to fulfill that call?

The Story of Eric Liddell is a beautiful example of a man who sacrificed and gave away his rights for the sake of the Kingdom.

One interesting thing I want to point out at the end of the passage is that Nehemiah was not working for man’s applause, but for God’s “well done.”

V19 – Remember me favorably, my God, for all that I have done for this people.

Matthew Henry (Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Scripture Truth Book Company], 2:1085) writes, “He mentions it to God in prayer not as if he thought he had hereby merited any favor from God, as a debt, but to show that he looked not for any recompense of his generosity from men, but depended upon God only to make up to him what he had lost and laid out for his honor; and he reckoned the favor of God enough.” We all should labor for God’s approval and reckon it enough, even if people do not say ’thanks’.

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