[Audio File at Bottom of Link]
Today’s message is entitled “Motives and Mortification.” I want to work carefully in this text so the Spirit is given full reign to convict our hearts and transform our lives. In doing so, I pray that I can cut to the heart of the issue in this text, for at first glance we may come away from this text with another law or shallow application.
Just to catch you up: we are studying through the book of Nehemiah together at the beginning of this year, as we believe that God is leading our church to seek the welfare of our city in a unique way, and so we’ve turned to Nehemiah as it is a book about God using his people to seek the welfare and rebuild their city. God is the hero of the book, but He uses a humble and faithful man, Nehemiah, to accomplish his will.
In Nehemiah Chapter 5 we are introduced to another incident that took place as the inhabitants of Jerusalem worked on building the wall around their city. If you remember, chapter 4 was about the opposition they faced from those outside of Jerusalem, who opposed the rebuilding of the wall, and we talked about battling and building. Now the people are facing a different type of peril, one that comes from within their own community and again threatens to destroy God’s work.
Neh. 5:1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
Basically, Nehemiah wakes up one morning to find that the Occupy Jerusalem movement started, and what he hears horrifies him. Here’s what Nehemiah finds out: the motives of some of his most important supporters are bent toward evil, toward their own greed and glory rather than God’s greatness and glory. Go back with me to chapter 2, to that moment we looked at a few weeks ago, that crucial moment when the vision of rebuilding a city for God’s glory, was transferred from Nehemiah to the people. Remember what happened? Nehemiah comes to town, inspects the walls and then gathers “the priests, the nobles and the officials and the rest who were to do the work.” NB: The nobles and the officials and the people. Nehemiah shares with them what God has put on his heart, and they said [who said? The nobles and officials and people], “Let us rise up and build.” Nehemiah realizes that it is important to get support of the nobles and the officials – and he does, praise God. Again, in chapter 4:14, when facing external attack and opposition, Nehemiah gathers the nobles and officials and the people and encourages them to remember the Lord and to fight – again, he needs the support of the nobles and the officials. These may be some of Nehemiah’s best friends and closest allies. They are working shoulder to shoulder with him. Yet Nehemiah’s sole focus is let’s build this wall for the greatness and glory of God, however now he finds that his friends have other interests in mind. They are not interested in building the wall – they are interested in building their wealth and the building of the wall was the means to that end. What a racket! As long as the work on the wall continues, these guys were in business, making money of the interest they were forcing the people to pay. This was forbidden in the Old Testament law, particularly you were not to charge interest on a loan made to a brother within the community.
Deut23:19 “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
Here the Jewish people were re-entering the promised land, and were in direct violation of God’s commands! Nehemiah’s own friends, ardent supporters of the work, were doing this evil thing. Of course they were supporters of the work! It was making them rich! And this was going on behind Nehemiah’s back! Neh. 5:6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.
1) Don’t assume everyone is in it for the right reasons. Just because someone is contributing or supporting the ongoing expansion of God’s work, does not mean that they are seeking the right end.
- Acts 4-5: Annanias and Saphira: A Good Reputation
- Acts 8: Simon: Spiritual Influence
- Philippians 1: Phil. 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. People were preaching Christ while Paul was in prison seeking to cause Paul pain. Competition or pride.
2) Test your own motives. Nehemiah: 7 I took counsel with myself. Before Nehemiah brought charges against the nobles and officials, he took counsel with himself.
- DC Talk: Christian artist. “Is this one for the people | is this one for the Lord? | Or do I simply serenade for things I must afford | You can jumble them together | but the conflict still remains | holiness is calling in the midst of courting fame
- Are we building our church for God’s glory or our own?
- There is a bit of mixing: remember our verse for the year – seek the welfare of the city – for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
3) Repent. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
There we go – a happy ending. Not yet. It’s not the end of the chapter. See Nehemiah knows that to be sorry about sin is not enough – sin must be put to death. This is our second word today – mortification. Big word that simply means – to put to death. ‘
Mortification Neh. 5:14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
Nehemiah protected himself from evil motives, and against the charge of evil motives, by setting specific boundaries over his life. Nehemiah had come back to Jerusalem for one purpose – to rebuild the city for the people of God – not to line his own pockets with wealth. It was to be about God’s name, not Nehemiah’s name. To keep his flesh in check, because of the fear of the Lord, Nehemiah mortified his flesh.
To mortify,’ says john Owen in “on the mortification of the flesh”, ‘is to put to death or crucify any living thing or principle, to take away its strength, so that it cannot act according to its nature.’ Or again, ‘to mortify is to extinguish and destroy all that force and vigor of corrupted nature which inclines to earthly, carnal things, opposite unto that spiritual, heavenly life and its actings, which we have in and from Christ’ (Vol. 3, p. 540). To kill your sinful nature is not to destroy it absolutely, but to render it powerless.
How do we mortify sin?
1) We Fear God Rather Than Men: Verse 15. Continual repentance. Fearing God rather than men. How many times have we tried to beat sin because we worry about what other people think of us?
2) We Cut Ourselves Off From Opportunity to Sin: Nehemiah set boundaries over his life, so that he would not be able to give in to his baser motives. He reversed policy, not taking the food allowance or acquiring land.
3) He Lowered Himself:” For Nehemiah, he had to work, or he might give in to the temptation that he was Lord and better than those working. He worked alongside of his servants.
4) He Showed Hospitality to Others: Nehemiah used every opportunity to bless others routinely having 150 men, showing hospitality and providing for them out of his own pocket. Our flesh turns everything inward, Jesus turns us outward. We cocoon. He set up his home as a basis for ministry.
We mortify the flesh by making our lives about Jesus. Whether we are at work, or at home, whether alone or with others, we make it our goal to please him.
What are you pursuing?
How can you protect ourselves from yourselves?
How can you make your pursuit about Jesus and others?