We are going through Nehemiah as we believe that God is calling us to do a work in seeking the benefit of our city and so we are hoping that we willed be spiritually prepared for the work that God has called us to do. Adam spoke on the first part of chapter four last week and touched on the theme of opposition and that the Christian life is hard, even at times painful, and I’m going to continue on in that theme as we cover the second half today. My message today is called “Battling and Building” in recognition of these two essentials elements of life. Battling and building. Let me explain how this works on some different levels and then we’ll jump into the text for God’s authoritative word.
Here is my thesis that I wish to explore today: much of our happiness and success in life, not to mention our endeavors in the Lord, stems from our preparedness and willingness to battle and to build. Here what I mean. Take your health for example. Here is the truth: although everyone gets sick, not everyone is healthy. You can be in great health and still get pneumonia or catch a virus or whatever. So every one will have to “battle” with sickness at some point in their lives – you don’t beat yourself up because you get sick – you battle the sickness. Yet some people get sick more often because they are routinely unhealthy. These people need to “build” health into their lives. Getting through a sickness is not the same as living a healthy lifestyle which promotes well-being. One is short-term crisis response, the other is long-term proactive habit-forming discipline. We could be talking about mental health as well – you may go through or have friends going through crisis – anxiety, depression, eating disorder, whatever – and we have to learn to battle to get through the crisis, yet they may also have to learn to build, how to renew their mind, how to take thoughts captive, how to pray and praise and build their life around the grace of the gospel. Leaving behind health, consider relationships. Your marriage will hit times of crisis, rocky times, arguments, painful seasons that you will have to battle through – not battle each other, but fight through the crisis. Yet, the secret to a healthy marriage is to continually be building, strengthening the relationship. Parenting’s the same: crisis are going to come, you are going to be in the depths of pain and you got to fight through it, but you also can be proactive in building a household of love and affirmation and godliness. Church is the same – we may face opposition or crisis together and need to be reactive at times, but we also labour and strive to build healthy community. Battling and Building. Let’s see what God has to say to us through Nehemiah.
Battling (Nehemiah 4:15)
In 15 we have one of the most anticlimactic verses in scripture:
When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work.
Just to recap for you, this is the third time the phrase “when our enemies heard” is uttered in this chapter. The first time, verse 1, “When Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews.” Scripture actually records their trash talk and Nehemiah prays and simply ignores them. Don’t get involved. Don’t strike back. Pray to God, let him take care of them. Keep building. The second time is verse 7, “When Sanballat and his friends heard that the repairing of the walls was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry.” They turned up the heat and made plans to attack. Again Nehemiah led the people in prayer, but now also set up a guard as protection and prepared the people to fight leading up to the great Braveheart moment of verse 14: “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” That’s where Adam left off last week. Escalating battle. The wall of Jerusalem becomes Helm’s Deep. Ready to fight, Get your battle paint! To arms, to arms! And verse 15: When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. Literally verse 15 says, God had broken their counsel. You can read to the end of this chapter and the rest of the book and not one arrow was fired by the enemy. All of the Lord of the Rings fans are like – where’s the battle? I told you – anticlimactic. I want you to notice a few things about the battle here:
• God had frustrated their plan: At first glance that is the interesting phrase, isn’t it? God frustrated their plan. How? In what way? Well what was their plan? Remember, we were told in verse 8: their plan was to fight against Jerusalem and cause confusion in it. This is probably the best translation. Another translation might read, to cause vacillation – doubt, division. Should we continue on in this manner? And if you remember from last week, they almost succeeded. The people of Judah tried to bring their young men home. Come home! Don’t fight! Come down off that wall – you’ll be killed. That’s when Nehemiah gave his braveheart speech, and, look here – that’s what won the battle. The Lord gave the people the spirit to fight! The victory wasn’t the winning of the battle, the victory was the willingness to fight. The battle is won without the drawing of a sword. Nehemiah recognized that the will to fight is a gift from the Lord!
• Satan is a coward: This is what I want to proclaim to you today – Satan is a coward! The will to fight is victory because Satan is a coward. James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. He will flee! Run to God, and resist the devil and he will flee!
Satan, you’re a coward! How do we resist the devil? 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Humble yourself under God, humble yourself before your brothers.
• Confession of sin.
• Take captive every thought (don’t be double minded)
• Remember that your brother is not your enemy.
• Remember that victory is the Lord’s.
Building (Nehemiah 4:15-23) When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work.
We returned to the wall: Nehemiah had indeed taken a few days to get organized to deal with the threat, but then they got right back to the work. There is no shame in Sabbath. Whether we are talking about physical or mental health, relationship issues, the mission of the church, whatever, there is no shame in taking time to battle before getting back to building. Two errors we fall into is that we just keep building, ignoring the warning signs, arrows flying around our had and we just keep driving ourselves until we crash never dealing with the crisis. The other error that we can easily fall into is to never get back to building. Here I am thinking of the church I just visited. They’ve been through crisis. They went through a church split, some of their leaders had family issues, they’ve been through pain, and their response has been, shut it down, circle the wagons, refuse to ask questions of mission and purpose and future. It’s not healthy to ignore the crisis signs and just press forward without Sabbath, but its also not healthy to remain on the sidelines. Once the immediate threat is weathered, Nehemiah gets them back to building, but, notice this – they build in a way to protect them against ongoing threats.
16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
Neh. 4:21 So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.
One question that encourages me as a leader here: Why wasn’t this Nehemiah’s plan from the beginning? Shouldn’t he had known that there would be opposition? Sometimes leadership is reactive. Nehemiah possibly never imagined that it would come to this.
• They divided the labour (verse 16)
o Some were building and some were ready to fight the leaders were supporting them and overseeing and ready to call to arms. Everybody had his role, people were using their gifts. Some worked, some served, and some waited for battle, sitting in armor waiting to go. Prayer ministry – labor. Here’s the plan.
• They equipped themselves to build and battle (17-18). This is vital. Some people go through their Christian life from crisis to crisis rather than equipping themselves for health, vitality and maturity.
o Christian identity: Victory over the Darkness
o Living by grace
o Discipleship: First Principles
• Marriage, Work, Purpose, Mission
• They came to the aid of others (19) Every one was ready to come to the aide of others. They encouraged each other: God will fight for us. Not messiah complex I can fix your problem – but pointing to God. Now I’ve seen this happen in our church as well – often it is not publicized.
o Fellowship groups.
o Other churches.
• They persisted. (21-23). Day and night.
o Move to Westboro. Not just an anointing service and initial outreach. We need to organize ourselves for continual sustainable prayer and community involvement.
o We persevere to proclaim the name of Jesus.
Jesus came to battle sin and build his church.