Nehemiah 3:15-5:13, 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, Psalms 32:1-11, Proverbs 21:5-7
Today is the 12th day of August welcome to the Daily Audio Bible I’m Brian it is great to be here with you today as we move our way through the center of the week get ready for the back half. And we are continuing our journey through the book of Nehemiah that we have found ourselves in. And there’s much for us to learn from that book as well as the letter to the Corinthians, first Corinthians that we’re reading. So, let’s dive in and take the next step forward, which is Nehemiah chapter 3 verse 15 through 5 verse 13 today.
Okay. I want to spend some time talking about what we read in Nehemiah today because Nehemiah is just so helpful for us as we discern a calling and a direction and counting the cost and just trying to follow the will of the Lord as we understand where we’re to go and what we’re to do. And, so, I don’t want to miss that. But I want to second to just kind of catch us up in first Corinthians. We kind of passed this section today about, you know, whether you should get married or whether you should not get married or how you should stay how you are however that is and it causes this confusion where people, “like should I be pursuing a spouse? Should I…should my passions all be put into…into the things of the Lord? What should I do?” Because here it is in first Corinthians. And this brings up like a contextualization thing that we find in these letters. And it gets a little prickly, right? Because this is the word of God. And, so, we read this, and we go like, “this is the word of God for all time. And, so, it’s got have some sort of meaning now that it had then.” And, so, if you start discussing, “what…what…what…what might that be?” Well that’s when you get into this territory where…where you get people kind of making accusations like, “you’re just trying to make the Bible say whatever you want the Bible to say and you’re just trying to water down the word of God and…and…and my experience among scholarship, that’s really not the case at all. People are looking for the essence of what was trying to be communicated in context. And, so, when Paul says today like now, concerning the betrothed, so those engaged to be married. I don’t have a command from the Lord but I’m telling you what I think. I think that in view of the present distress, which is what they were going through at that time in the world, specifically in the region of the city of Corinth, where this church and these people were although all of these letters were passed around other churches. So, we can we say at this time, this present distress that he’s talking about. It’s good for person to remain as he is. So, if you’re married don’t try to not be married in. And if you’re free then don’t try to get married. But if you do it’s not a sin. It’s just that it’s gonna introduce all kinds of worldly problems that you have to deal with in your marriage instead of being able to focus wholeheartedly on God or just to quote Paul, “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about the worldly things, how to please his wife.” And then he goes on to say the reverse that the woman is in the same boat, basically. And, you know, I read is, and I’ve read this, you know…I don’t know… most my life, “the unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord.” I used to read and think, that’s not what. I’m anxious about the opposite sex. That’s what I’m anxious about. Because the natural order of things id for us to come together, reproduce and create the next coming generation. Like this is biological, this is spiritual, and this is reality. So, how is it that Paul is saying, “just however you are right now, just stay that way.” It’s because Paul’s conviction, and it’s not just Paul’s conviction, like it's…it’s a large part of the conviction in the letters in the New Testament. The conviction is that the world is passing away. In fact, let me just quote Paul. He says, “this is what I mean brothers. The appointed time has grown very short. From now on let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn, as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” That last sentence is the key one, “for the present form of this world is passing away.” And we could say, even though we are a couple of thousand years in the future from this letter, we still believe that trajectory. “The present form of this world is passing away.” That is our eschatological view, like that this is all going somewhere and what we now know is passing away, but something new will be reborn, right? And, so, it’s like, that’s why we watch the signs of the times. And that’s why we, every generation from that generation to this generation thinks this is the last one. The signs are all lining up. This is the end of it all. This is the big one. Paul thought that but not in the distant future, like imminently. This is one of the things that drove the church forward in its early inception, the imminent arrival of the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of God. And like I said, like generation after generation forward all the way until today continues to have that thread of urgency because it’s all throughout the New Testament since they believed this was in imminent thing. Then when we read it we are also in the same place. This is an imminent thing which leads us to live our lives accordingly which is appropriate, like with an urgency that there is something going on that we are a part of, and we are carrying that story forward and we may be in this transitional moment. Like, we should live accordingly. That’s living awake and aware. But I don’t think it’s like in any way sacrilegious or anything disrespectful at all to say what Paul thought about this imminent transition and what the earlier…early church writers, early things that we read in the New Testament, what they thought was imminent wasn’t. I mean we’re 2000 years from there. They have all passed on. They are all restored ad whole in God, but this story has continued forward. So, when we read some of these ethical things and this advice that Paul is giving along the way, not just right here, this isn’t just the only instance, it’s all throughout the letters. So, when we come across these things where we’re like, “how would that work? Like how…how…how do I live into that? How do I do that?” Let’s first understand they were trying to figure that out too. They were trying to figure it out against a backdrop in which this transition, this return, this reemergence of Jesus was going to happen any second. And, so, Paul gives advice accordingly. This is what he thinks. And, so, yeah, if that’s the case, if the return of Jesus is imminent, like any day…and I know this gets a little sideways because…because we read the New Testament and then we enter into that same story – any day, maybe today, hopefully today. And I feel that…like hopefully today. But we have 2000 years of history to say, “okay. It wasn’t like in the next month. It wasn’t even in like the next year. And what they…they thought they thought. And it’s not disrespectful to say that what they thought wasn’t exactly accurately right. We’re still here and it’s 2000 years later. So, that’s a fact that’s not, like just disrespectful. And, so, having context for what they were thinking and what they were trying to press into helps us define that place in our own lives to press into. But like suggesting that you shouldn’t be married you should stay how you are, like you shouldn't…you should pretend like nothing’s going on, like you’re not mourning if you are, you’re not sad if you are, you’re not rejoicing…if you’re rejoicing…like you’re just trying to focus here on the immediate task at hand then reading it 2000 years later can be confusing because it’s like, “okay I don’t know exactly what…how I’m supposed to be aimed. And, so, I’m pulled in all kinds of different directions because I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.” So, what I’ve learned and what I’ll point out as we continue through our year and as long as I am able to continue to do this however many more years into the future, but what I have learned as a student of the Bible as a student of our faith is that context actually matters a lot trying to peel back the layers over thousands of years of time. And, so, my motives for saying what I’m saying today have nothing to do with like trying to make a theological statement or create some sort of theological position. I’m like completely devoid of that at this point. I’m trying to say context matters when we try to do that work. And as we pass this specific section of first Corinthians where Paul’s saying, “like the whole thing is coming down. Like the whole thing is about to blow up, the end is upon us.” Well then, his advice is strong, true, and absolutely good but like just from a logical perspective, we would have to say if people stopped getting married, for the most part, in order to live and what Paul is saying, then by now 2000 years in the future the faith would not have flourished around the world, it would have died out because people stopped having kids because they stopped coming together in union and the union of marriage. So, you see, context matters. And that was an awful lot of words to say context matters but context matters. And that’s why we look at the context of things as we navigate.
And, so…and, so, now to Nehemiah. So, Nehemiah just helps us understand that there is a process when there is a calling and there are steps that need to be taken as…as we continue to try to live into what we feel like God is leading us to do. And when we watch Nehemiah we see a person acting in collaboration with wisdom really, So, Nehemiah has gotten to Jerusalem, he has cast the vision, the people have caught the vision, they have gotten on board, they are building this wall, which was the dream. This was the thing that Nehemiah wanted to come from Persia all the way back to Jerusalem to do, to protect God’s temple with a wall. And the building of this wall is happening faster than anybody would have suspected. It's…it’s actually happening. And, so, when we have prayed and planned and sought God and launched that’s what we would hope for is that things go faster than we even planned. But it…it’s like the idea that everything’s gonna downhill and we’re just going to be coasting into this new destiny that God’s dropped into our lap is unrealistic. Nehemiah faced all kinds of opposition in our reading today alone. So first was the…the…the outside voices of ridicule. Like, I’m quoting this out of Nehemiah. “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish and burned ones at that? Even if fox goes upon it it’ll break down their stone wall”, right? The voice of discouraging ridicule. So, like, when we’ve launched into something and our heart is in it, like we are working tirelessly and all of the risk that’s involved, our heart is invested, and then those of voices of ridicule, like “you think you can actually do something that’s gonna matter.” When those things come against us that can be the end of the dream. And if we think about it, we can probably confine places in our lives where it has been, like that it was just debilitating and we just couldn’t, we lost heart and we couldn’t find it. What Nehemiah does in the face of this ridicule is to cry out to God, to cry out to God, to name it, to say, “look at what they’re doing” and then to keep going, to keep moving forward. That’s what he did, and the wall was soon half of its height. Like it was all the way around and half of its height. Once that happened, then these voices of ridicule got more serious and threatening. And, so, yeah the psychology of it just kind of gets in your head. Like an army is going to swoop down and destroy us at any moment. All of these threats are coming against them. This wall that was easy to ridicule when it was just a pile of burnt up rocks is now actually becoming a wall and people are starting to see that this is going to happen and so they’re trying to intimidate the people to get them to stop building this wall, to come down off that wall and leave it behind. And in our own lives, like man, we reach a point where the dream was awesome but the blood and sweat of trying to make it happen is difficult. And, so, all of these threats that seem to come against us in all kinds of ways can get us off course or to give us…get us to give up completely. What Nehemiah did when he believed that the threats, like he was taking the threats seriously. They weren’t just words of discouragement. This was an actual, intimidating threat. What he did was prepare. Pre…like if you’re gonna attack us, it’s not…you’re not attacking an unprepared person or people. We’ll be ready for you. So, if that’s what you’re gonna do you’re not going to just take us out. We’re gonna stand here and oppose you. And, so, he armed everybody along the wall, even cut the workforce in half so that half the people could be on guard and ready while the other half of the people worked kind of one-handed while they had weapons ready as well. And as fast as the first half of the wall went up and things have ground to a slow process now, because everybody can’t work without fear and wholehearted…like everybody…everybody’s got to be on guard now that can be very discouraging when things begin to slow down. But let’s notice that even though things slowed down significantly…significantly in the book of Nehemiah they still moved forward. Like every stone that got laid was one more stone toward completion. Every brick that was put in the wall was one more brick forward. Like even though things have slowed down they were still going forward. And then problems begin to erupt from within the camp. Like this is the next thing that Nehemiah faces today. These people are building the wall, but they have other obligations and taxes to pay and land to maintain and it’s becoming very, very difficult. And, so, some of the more wealthy people are praying upon the more unfortunate people, even to the point of selling their fellow Hebrew brothers and sisters into slavery, a horrible thing. And Nehemiah finds out about this and he doesn’t just try to work the back channel of politics so that, you know…so that the behavior can continue but at a…in a different way or at a different rate of what…like he calls the whole thing out into the light. Like he drags this issue into the light and names it and confronts the people doing it. And they are ashamed because they have no defense against it. It is what they’re doing. And so often when we are on some sort of mission, man, its when things go sideways within…within the team, right, that…that there are problems in all these kind of back channels and this is where gossip festers. Nehemiah just drug it into the light right away and named it. And, so, in our reading it’s like ridicule, intimidation, threats, trouble from within the camp. These are all obstacles that Nehemiah faced while trying to achieve the dream, the dream that there would be a wall around the city of God, where the temple of God dwelled. And, so, we should, on the one hand, take heart. We’re not the only ones that go through this kind of stuff. This is how it works. But too, we see that however Nehemiah responds, however it is that he…he’s doing everything with wisdom, he’s doing everything ethically but whatever he does, he’s doing it in such a way that forward progress can still happen. Even if it slows to a crawl the thing doesn’t stop. It continues forward however it’s got to be situated so that it can.
Father, there’s a lot to here, there’s a lot here and we invite Your Holy Spirit, as we do every day because it’s You who will lead us into all truth. It’s You who will guide our steps. It’s You that we are depending. In fact You help us to realize how utterly dependent we are upon You when we see the context of the stories in the Bible, when we understand that these are examples and these people all had to wrestle with the same things that we wrestle with as well, that like we’re not just reading the superhero version of the faith where all of these people were just so powerful that they didn’t face any kind of challenges. They’re not exceptions, they’re examples, examples for us in our own lives. And, so, come Holy Spirit we become aware of You. And as we think about these things today, tomorrow, whenever it is You bring them to mind, however it is, that we are listening and that we are seeing where You are leading. We do need You now more than ever and You are not distant, and You are not unavailable. We are just largely unaware. So, give us eyes to see and ears to hear we pray in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.
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