Building for God
"A New Call To Personal Holiness"
Nehemiah chapter 10
"Now those that sealed", and let me remind you just now that that 'sealing' is speaking of a covenant that they all agreed - the word of God has been found again and read publicly, they have spent much time studying it and are now realigning their lives in obedience to it. They've discovered again the place of public and collective prayer, and now they're actually putting their names to an agreement and a covenant that they will do what they have said they will do. Now this is very novel, because often we - as you will find out in this lesson - will hear God's word and say: 'Yes, He's right, the word of God that I've heard this morning, I know that that is true', and we say 'I would like to do that'. We go away with great intentions, but we don't really put our names to it in the sense that we commit ourselves absolutely that we will follow this through. This is what they're doing, they're signing their names, the names collectively of their families, and saying: 'We're going to do what we say with regards to obeying God's word'.
Neh 10:1 Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah,
Neh 10:2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah,
Neh 10:3 Pashur, Amariah, Malchijah,
Neh 10:4 Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch,
Neh 10:5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah,
Neh 10:6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch,
Neh 10:7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin,
Neh 10:8 Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah: these were the priests.
Neh 10:9 And the Levites: both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel;
Neh 10:10 And their brethren, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan,
Neh 10:11 Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah,
Neh 10:12 Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah,
Neh 10:13 Hodijah, Bani, Beninu.
Neh 10:14 The chief of the people; Parosh, Pahathmoab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani,
Neh 10:15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai,
Neh 10:16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin,
Neh 10:17 Ater, Hizkijah, Azzur,
Neh 10:18 Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai,
Neh 10:19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai,
Neh 10:20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir,
Neh 10:21 Meshezabeel, Zadok, Jaddua,
Neh 10:22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah,
Neh 10:23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hashub,
Neh 10:24 Hallohesh, Pileha, Shobek,
Neh 10:25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah,
Neh 10:26 And Ahijah, Hanan, Anan,
Neh 10:27 Malluch, Harim, Baanah.
The Obligations of the Covenant
Neh 10:28 And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding;
Neh 10:29 They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes;
Neh 10:30 And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons:
Neh 10:31 And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.
Neh 10:32 Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God;
Neh 10:33 For the shewbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.
Neh 10:34 And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law:
Neh 10:35 And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the LORD:
Neh 10:36 Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God:
Neh 10:37 And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.
Neh 10:38 And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.
Neh 10:39 For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.
Now we have been conditioned in this day and age in which we live to only enter into things if they're a blessing, and if they will incur some kind of benefit to us. But what these people were actually doing is saying: 'Cursed be me, if I don't fulfil what I've just vowed before the Lord and signed with my own hand. I want to be cursed if I don't follow this through'. We can see the solemnity and the sobriety of this covenant that is being made here. Verse 30, they further agreed: "that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, not take their daughters for our sons: And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt" - now we'll explain that later. Verse 32: "Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God; For the shewbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. And we cast the lots
Brian Edwards, who has written a book summarising much of the revivals that have taken place in our modern history, and also outlining for us the intrinsic factors that brought - from a human level - those revivals to nations and communities of God's people across the world. In his book he really highlights those features to show us that if we want, in the most pure desires, to see revival in our own lives and in the lives of our churches today, we need to put these issues into place. Of course we've been seeing that in recent weeks, we looked at the subject of the word of God, and how it must have primary place in our lives and in our churches. We looked at the issue of prayer, and how we need to be in personal prayer, and together as God's people we need to be engaged in special times of prayer as well as our weekly times of prayer. But in this book on revival that I would encourage you to read, by Brian Edwards, he talks about holiness - and, as it were, he gives a new call to personal holiness which is exactly what Nehemiah is doing in chapter 10, and all the people as they unite together in this public covenant that they signed together. Brian Edwards says this in this call: 'God looks for men who will be willing to surrender anything and everything, so long as their life can be kept clean' - did you get that? I'll repeat it and continue the quotation: 'God looks for men who will be willing to surrender anything and everything, so long as their life can be kept clean. Without exception, those whom God uses in revival are men and women who fear God and sin, and nothing else. They take seriously the command 'Be holy, for I am holy, says the Lord''.
Now you can read any account on revival that you like, historically, factually, they will show you that there has always been a revival in holiness, a new call to personal and corporate holiness among God's people, before that revival came. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and that great evangelist of the awakening of the 1700s, the eighteenth century, declared in 1734 these words - I quote: 'My one aim in life is to secure personal holiness, for without being holy myself I cannot promote real holiness in others'. Isn't that striking? Do you know what's more striking? That was four years before his conversion! Oh, we know we can't have true holiness without true salvation, but here was a man who even in an unregenerate state knew that God blesses holiness, and without holiness - the book of Hebrews says - no man shall see God.
David Brainerd was a missionary among the American Indians, a pioneer missionary and a holy man of God, and he recalls the time when among those North American Indians, one night before a pagan heathen festival they were about to have, he went into the woods to be alone with God and to plead with God for their souls. His experience during that night is recorded, and reveals the kind of man that God can use in revival. This is a challenge to us all, listen to this quotation of his account: 'All things here below vanished', as he was in prayer, and he says, 'there appeared to be nothing of any considerable importance to me but holiness of heart and of life, and the conversion of the heathen to God. All my cares, fears and desires which might be said to be of a worldly nature disappeared, and were in my esteem of little more importance than a puff of wind. I exceedingly longed that God would get to Himself a name among the heathen, and I appealed to Him with the greatest freedom, that He knew that I preferred Him above all my chief joys'.
Can we say that this morning as God's people? That we prefer God above all our chief joys, specifically the pleasures of sin? Duncan Campbell, who you've heard me mention many times, who was used of God in those revivals in the Hebrides, specifically the Isle of Lewis. He describes his own experience of surrendering fully to Christ, all the keys of his life were handed over to the Lord, and the Lord came in and blessed him in a wonderful fullness that was used later on in his life. The story of how this happened was, he was in the Great War, and he was riding on horseback. He was shot off his horse and was seriously wounded in the battle - it was the last cavalry charge of the Great War. While he was lying there on the battlefield, a Canadian trooper was riding back to his base, and he lifted him and carried him on horseback back to the casualty clearing station. There, as Campbell was lying upon his back and reviewing his life, perhaps thinking he was about to die, he saw how empty his life had been even as a Christian. He testified that there on his back he prayed Murray-M'Cheyne's prayer - these words: 'Lord, make me as holy as a saved sinner can be' - and God came in a very miraculous way into his life.
Have you ever prayed that prayer? Could you ever pray that prayer? 'Lord, make me as holy as a saved sinner can be'. There were 84 men in chapter 10 of Nehemiah that put their signature to such a covenant as that, because they wanted God and the people to know that they were serious about obedience, holiness, and obedience in action to God's word. Some have called this 'the declaration of dependence upon God'. They were putting their names to this covenant that said they were going to follow God, and follow right through to the end whatever it cost. Twenty-two of these names in verses 1 to 8 were priests; in verses 9 to 13, 17 of the name were Levites; in verses 14 to 27 there are 44 different leaders of the people who are mentioned - names that all represent families in Judah! Not just individuals, but each name that you read here represents families, you can see that in verse 28: 'their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, everyone having knowledge', everyone who was at an age of understanding in spiritual matters was counted underneath all of these names.
Now we have seen in past lessons that reading God's word is extremely important, and we need to get back to the Book - that was the message in chapter 8 of Nehemiah. Then we saw how important praying is personally and as a church, putting prayer back in its place. You need a revival of God's word, you need a revival of prayer, if you're going to have a revival spiritually speaking and see the lost won. It's also a blessing - and I would encourage you to write down intentions that you have in the spiritual life, even get a spiritual record daily of your dealings with God, it often helps to write agreements down that you have before God, and vows that you make before Him - although as a dispensational people today we are not a covenant people - in that sense it's good to write down your intentions. But the fact of the matter is, we can do all those things: we can read, and pray, and write things down - but the most important thing of all is total obedience to God's word, and God's will, and holiness. Holiness!
You might say: 'Well, what is holiness?'. Before we sang our first hymn this morning, I mentioned that 'holy' simply means 'to be different, or 'to be separate', 'to be unique' - there is no one else like God, that is why we worship Him as such, because He is other, He is transcendent, above us and beyond us. So what we are saying is that holiness in our context in the earth is to be different from everyone else around us, to be separated from the run-of-the-mill worldling. Incidentally, I alluded to the declaration of independence, Chuck Swindoll illustrates this fact: that in the US Declaration of Independence, the people that signed it established their country's independence, but then at the end of the signing there are these words - a commentary on it, I quote it to you: 'It merely states intention and a cause for action', but the Declaration of Independence had to be converted into fact by force. They could declare independence from Britain and the British Empire, but the fact of the matter was that the United States had to go to war and put their force behind their incentive - action needed to be taken.
I ask you again: how many times do we hear God's word? How many times are we stirred? How many times are we blessed? But we walk away and we do not obey what we have heard from God's word! Now listen, chapter 10 of Nehemiah tells us that this declaration that these people signed, these families signed, affected their whole lives, every area of their lives. Here's my simple application and question to all of you today, and my own heart: does my, does your Christianity affect your whole life? It ought to if it is true Christianity at all. I love the quips of Vance Havner, that Southern American Baptist preacher, and here's one of his quotes that says so much and it's so contemporary to our age, he says: 'Most church members live so far below the standard, that you would have to backslide to be in fellowship with them' - isn't that staggering? Most church members live so far below the standard, that you would have to backslide to be in fellowship - 'We are so', he goes on to say, 'sub-normal, that if we were to become normal, people would think we were abnormal'!
So these people in Nehemiah 10 dedicated publicly that they were going to obey God's word, and not only did they dedicate publicly, they dedicated specifically in areas of their life that they were going to go through with God whatever it cost. Generally speaking it affected their whole attitude to God's will, they were saying to God: 'We're signing this to say that you're going to obey Your word - whatever it says, that's what we're going to do'. But specifically they outline three areas of their life where they were going to be obedient, hitherto they had not been. Here they are, and how they apply to all of us here today: one, the home; two, the society in which they lived; and three, the worship in which they were engaged. One, the home; two, the society in which they lived; and three, the worship and place of worship where they were engaged in adoring the Lord.
Let's look at the first, the home. In Nehemiah 10, what they're saying as they sign this covenant is: 'Our behaviour, specifically in our marriages, is going to come up to scratch from this day on. Our homes are going to be a different place'. Look at verse 30, where they say this: 'We would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, not take their daughters for our sons'. Now when Israel became a people before God, a chosen, a covenant people; they were given the law and God commanded them that their relationship with Him should be uncontaminated by the pagan influences of the nations round about. They were to be a beacon of light, they were to be a testimony to the nations around who were worshipping false gods, therefore they weren't to commit spiritual adultery with those nations if you like. If you take a very quick recourse right throughout Israelite history, you will see that their Achilles heel was their intermixing and marriage with other nations, whereby they came to worship foreign gods of pagan lands. Put very simply, they exchanged their sons and their daughters with these other nations, and therefore what came with it adhoc was an exchange of religions - they began to worship each other's gods. Eventually what happened was that there was a diluting of the fidelity of the worship of Israel's God, Jehovah, and you were seeing erected images right throughout the whole of Jerusalem and Judea, and they were worshipping false gods even under the name of Jehovah to keep everybody happy - their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, who were marrying into these other nations.
Now you might say: 'That's a terrible thing!', but you wouldn't be reading too far in the Old Testament to find out that great King David fell foul of this very sin. He married outside of the religion of the Jew, and Solomon his son did the same, and we find that both of them fell in this very area - and they haven't been the first, nor the last, to fall. We have it in the Scriptures in the New Testament, this principle that is given to us all: 'Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers' - now that's very clear! Believe it or not, that verse was not specifically to do with a man/woman relationship - we apply it in that way, but it was to do with any association or lack of separation in the believer's life from the world. Anything! You can apply it to business, you can apply it to the home, you can apply it to relationships between a man and a woman, you can apply it to ecclesiastical relationships between churches and religious organisations - in fact, do you know what you can apply it to? You can apply to the relationship between a husband and a wife - they can be unequally yoked together! What do I mean? One of the partners is seeking God with all their heart, and the other is holding them back! That is as much an unequal yoke as anything.
The question is: how is it in your home? This principle needs to be stressed today, perhaps, more than ever when the frontiers of light, as one has said, and darkness are being increasingly blurred, when people no longer know or want to believe something is right or is wrong. Do you realise that holiness affects our homes? It affects our marriages, it affects our relationships with our children, with our parents, with our spouses, with all - holiness, separation, saying: 'I'm not going to behave in my home', we're not talking about legalism now, but 'We're not going to behave just the way everybody else behaves because they behave that way'.
The home, what follows on from that, and it's still applicable to us, is the society. Behaviour specifically to them, in chapter 10, on the sabbath and the sabbatical year - but what God's word is saying here is that if your marriages and your families and homes are not going to be affected by worldliness, that will in turn be affected by how you relate to the society in which you live, what your relationship is to the world around you. Charles Swindoll has said that for Israel to be holy in an unholy world, they had to learn to resist the powerful urgings psychologists today call 'herd instincts'. 'Herd instinct', you know what it is - like people crossing the road in East Belfast like a herd of cows, they all seem to go in crowds - herd instinct, following the crowd, going with the crowd, going with the fashion. The pressure is upon all of us to conform to our peers in order to avoid ridicule, and rejection and persecution. The question is: how hard is herd instinct bearing on your life? What are the pressures from herd instinct in your life? Do you feel that you have to do this thing because everybody else is doing it? Do you feel that you have to give in to society pressures, even Christian pressures, because it is the thing to do and you would be the only one not doing it?
There was an experiment taken by Ruth Berenda (sp?), who I think was a psychologist among adolescents - I think I might have told you this before, but it bears repeating for illustration - she followed the study of adolescents and how they behaved to their peers. She and her associates brought 10 adolescents together into one room, and told them that they were going to be studied on their perceptiveness - in other words, how well they could see. To test this ability they got three cards together: A, B and C, and consecutively they drew lines on these three cards A, B and C, and they were going to ask these 10 adolescents which was the longest line. Unknown to one of those adolescents, the other nine had been tipped off at the beginning to say that the second longest was the longest, not the longest. So have you got it? Maybe you haven't! There's 10 kids all gathered together in one room, there's three cards with different lines drawn different lengths, and one of the children is ignorant of the fact that everybody is going to say the second longest is longest, and he's in the dark, he's ignorant to the fact. So they played this prank on the poor soul - he was probably psychologically damaged after it all! - and the experiment began, and the nine who were in the know, they all put their hands up for say card 'B'. This young lad would look around him, and the sweat would start to break, and then he would start to get deeper in his breathing, and then he began to put his hand up just because everybody else did. Now this test was performed in many places with many adolescents, and 75% of those one individual kids in the dark put their hand up because of the pressure of those around them. Isn't that astounding? The herd instinct, you do it because everybody else does it and you feel under pressure.
Now you might apply this to the world, but the fact of the matter is that the church in which we are living as Christians is operating on herd instinct - Christians seem to judge their standards today, and choose their principles, and what they should do and shouldn't do, by what other Christians do, not by what the word of God says! Can I say that when churches start saying: 'Such-and-such are doing this, therefore we ought to do this', we are in trouble! Not that everything that everybody else does is bad, but that we ought not to operate on the standards of other individuals, on a herd instinct mentality. Now we can sometimes, in our conservative wing of evangelicalism, we can give ourselves a pat on the back and say: 'Oh, we're great, we're winning on this one, we do that. We don't listen to what others say, we say that we obey God's word'. But you know, you can pride yourself in right position so much so, and say that you're directed by the word of God, when in reality you are not individually subject to God's word - that means personal holiness is not in your life! You've got all the right views, you dot all the right i's and cross all the right t's, but where is personal obedience to God's word in your life?
I think it was Harry Ironside who said: 'Is it not the fact that to many the voice of the assembly says this, or says that, because sometimes the voice of the assembly has been louder than the voice of God in the holy Scriptures? Sometimes the tradition of the elders have, in critical times, been more relied upon than 'thus saith the Lord''. We too can give in to doing things just because everybody else does them, and not question our individual obedience to God's word.
Take for instance the truth of separation. We believe in holiness, and we believe in separation in the sense that we should be separate from the world religious system, or if you want to say the World Council of Churches, or churches that are dabbling in the world or compromising with ecumenism and so forth. But many of us are satisfied with being separated ecclesiastically - we're free from this, free from that, and free from the other - ecclesiastically we're like that, but socially how separated are we? In our lives, personally, how different? And let me say this: some of the folk that we lambast in so-called established churches are more separated, socially and morally, than many of us! They're more holy personally, individually.
Let's do a very quick check of some matters that would assess our holiness. How does the spirit of the world come into our home? How does the spirit of the world come into our assemblies? How does the spirit of the world come into our marriages, our finances, our businesses, our careers, our occupations? Is the spirit of the world manifest in the entertainments that we enjoy? Just think about it for a moment: is it right to go here, there, and everywhere? That's the question, here's the question: what spirit is in that place? Is it the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God? What about the clothing we wear? Often the ladies get a hammering with this one, but that's because we are weak as men - that's why the ladies get the hammering, because the weak men can't control their emotions and their hormones at times, and that's why there should be modesty with sisters with regards to their clothing - not fashion, not what the world says or what it doesn't say, but what God's word outlines for us as holiness becoming the saints of God.
What about the company we keep? What about the music that we listen to? It doesn't say in the Bible: 'Thou shalt not listen to this, that, or the other' - but is what we are doing in this word, in our society, is it adding to our holiness or is it marring the lines of distinction between God's people and the world? Because here's the real issue here: conformity to the world among God's people adds to the loss of distinction - the two go hand-in-hand. When you conform to the world, people can no longer see that you're one of God's people, and that is what happened to the people of God here. Their day of distinction was the Sabbath day, and they just bought and sold like all the other nations, and the lines of distinction were being blurred in verse 31. So they had to make a decision that they were going to be different, they weren't going to set out the stalls on the Sabbath day. I'm not going into a tirade on the Sabbath, because we don't have time, but you know that it was a creation ordinance that one day in seven should be an ordinance of rest. Then when the law of God was given to the Jews through Moses it was established that that day would be a sign of the covenant between God and themselves, and it would be a distinctive thing that would show their covenant relationship as being different than the nations of the world. So it wasn't just a benefit to rest one day in seven, it was a spiritual thing that would show to other nations that they were God's people and they worshipped the true and the living God.
Now the Bible nowhere tells us that the Lord's day, Sunday, today, is the Sabbath. We are not Sabbatarian in that sense of applying rules and regulations of the Old Testament to New Testament truth, the Lord's Day is different. But let me say this: what we have done, I believe, is marred the lines of demarcation because there's a principle in the Lord's Day as well that tells us that we, meeting today on the first day of the week, are a new people of a new covenant, and we are distinct, we are different. If you want to know how to celebrate the Lord's Day, look at how the Lord celebrated it, look at how the apostles celebrated it, and ask: are we celebrating it, or are we marring the distinctions between us and the world? Are we going with the crowd?
He didn't just talk about the demarcation of the Sabbath day, he talked about the Sabbath year, the seventh year, which was the year of rest for all the crops. They weren't to till the ground, they weren't to plant it - and do you know what this was speaking of? It was speaking of faith. Now how do I know that? Well, simply this: if you were a farmer, and God told you in the seventh year that you weren't to plant any seed or take any reaping, you would have to have faith in God to believe that you were going to have your breakfast on the table every day, wouldn't you? You know as believers we read books and hear preachers that talk about living by faith, as if it was something to be done by a missionary or an itinerant evangelist, when we as God people were to live by faith every day of our lives! You might have income that is second to none, but this is the question that we need to ask that is intrinsic in holiness: are we looking to God for all that we have, and are we thanking God for every good and perfect gift, for it comes from Him?
It affected their homes, it affected the way they related to society, and thirdly and finally, and very quickly, it affected their worship. This follows on from what I've just said about the Sabbath year, because they were to give of their produce to the house of God, to the temple, to the tabernacle worship. In verse 32 we read that they were to support the temple worship with their finances and their resources, and verses 33 to 39 the gifts and sacrifices that they were giving were to support the ministry of Levites. They couldn't support themselves or farm, so people would take tithes now and again, like a welfare tax for the people of God who were serving the Lord, and it was given to them. Now Israel's place of worship is mentioned nine times in these verses, and it sums everything up in those last couple of words I read in verse 39, this was the principle they were to espouse in holiness, a new call: 'We will not forsake the house of our God'. The dwellingplace of God was not to be in tatters or forsaken!
Now let's be careful here, because we do not believe that God dwells in temples made by hands, or even church buildings made by hands; we are the church, we are the temple of the living God, living stones, built up as a holy people unto the Lord. Therefore we are God's house, and we are not to neglect ourselves, the presence of God in us! We ought to support the ministry of the gospel, we ought to support financially the work of God, we ought to look after the welfare of God's servants - but let's bring it into the New Testament age. What did Paul say in Romans 12 verses 1 and 2? 'I beseech you therefore brethren', by what?, 'by the mercies of God', thanking God for the good things that you have been given by Him - all those things ought to lead you to repentance! 'I beseech you therefore, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service: And be not conformed to this world', as J. B. Phillips says, do not be pushed into its mould, 'but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may do that good and acceptable, perfect will of God'.
Well, we're back at the start, aren't we? That total surrender to the obedience of God's holy Word - how you are you there? Giving your body - are you neglecting the house of God? You, and your dedication to the Lord, it can all be summed up in that. If we're ever to see a revival of God's work in this place, or in any place, there has to be a revival in personal holiness in our homes, our habits, in society, and in our worship.
I've shared this with you before, as I close, but I'm going to do it again because it's so powerful - and you'll probably not remember it anyway! In the Isle of Lewis revival, which I mentioned about Duncan Campbell, before the awakening the men of God in that place knew that they were in dire straits spiritually speaking. They lived in a place that had once experienced the refreshing of God's Spirit and the presence of the Lord. But their spiritual vitality had grown cold and indifferent, and in view of the situation it was shared by the Free Church Presbytery of Lewis that they should make a declaration as God's leaders in that place. In the Stornoway Gazette, the newspaper, and in the West Coast Advertiser, publicly - just like Nehemiah - they expressed their deep concern. This is the quotation of it, I'm not going to comment on it, I'm going to leave it with you - you mightn't agree with them all in everything they believed, but nevertheless they were men of God.
Listen: ''The Presbytery of Lewis, having taken into consideration the low state of vital religion within their bounds, and throughout the land generally, call upon their faithful people in all their congregations to take a serious view of the present dispensation of divine displeasure manifested - not only in the chaotic conditions of international politics and morality, but also and especially in the lack of spiritual power from Gospel ordinances, and to realise that these things plainly indicate that the Most High has a controversy with the nation'! They go on: 'The Presbytery affectionately plead with their people, especially with the youth of the church, to take these matters to heart and to make serious inquiry as to what must be the end should there be no repentance! They call upon every individual, as before God, to examine his or her life in the light of the responsibility that pertains to us all - that haply, in divine mercy, we may be visited with a spirit of repentance and may turn again unto the Lord whom we have so grieved with our iniquities and waywardness'. Amen.
Building for God
"In Honour Of The Ordinary"
Nehemiah chapter 11 today, and if you're a visitor with us we've been going through several weeks - with a few interruptions lately - thirteen weeks I think in total of this prophecy, Nehemiah. We've entitled it 'Building For God', and we've been learning many many spiritual principles, not just applying to individual Christians, but also to a group of God's people like this. We're looking this morning from chapter 11, and a little bit from chapter 7 going back a few chapters, at the honour of the ordinary - or 'In Honour of the Ordinary', so that is our title today 'In Honour of the Ordinary'. We'll just read a few verses at the beginning of chapter 11.
Neh 11:1 And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities.
Neh 11:2 And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.
Neh 11:3 Now these are the chief of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants.
Neh 11:4 And at Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin. Of the children of Judah; Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalaleel, of the children of Perez;
Neh 11:5 And Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Colhozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of Shiloni.
Neh 11:6 All the sons of Perez that dwelt at Jerusalem were four hundred threescore and eight valiant men.
Neh 11:7 And these are the sons of Benjamin; Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jesaiah.
Neh 11:8 And after him Gabbai, Sallai, nine hundred twenty and eight.
Neh 11:9 And Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer: and Judah the son of Senuah was second over the city.
Neh 11:10 Of the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin.
Neh 11:11 Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, was the ruler of the house of God.
Neh 11:12 And their brethren that did the work of the house were eight hundred twenty and two: and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashur, the son of Malchiah,
Neh 11:13 And his brethren, chief of the fathers, two hundred forty and two: and Amashai the son of Azareel, the son of Ahasai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer,
Neh 11:14 And their brethren, mighty men of valour, an hundred twenty and eight: and their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of one of the great men.
Neh 11:15 Also of the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hashub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni;
Neh 11:16 And Shabbethai and Jozabad, of the chief of the Levites, had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God.
Neh 11:17 And Mattaniah the son of Micha, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, was the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer: and Bakbukiah the second among his brethren, and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun.
Neh 11:18 All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred fourscore and four.
Neh 11:19 Moreover the porters, Akkub, Talmon, and their brethren that kept the gates, were an hundred seventy and two.
Neh 11:20 And the residue of Israel, of the priests, and the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance.
Neh 11:21 But the Nethinims dwelt in Ophel: and Ziha and Gispa were over the Nethinims.
Neh 11:22 The overseer also of the Levites at Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micha. Of the sons of Asaph, the singers were over the business of the house of God.
Neh 11:23 For it was the king's commandment concerning them, that a certain portion should be for the singers, due for every day.
Neh 11:24 And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabeel, of the children of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king's hand in all matters concerning the people.
Villages Outside Jerusalem
Neh 11:25 And for the villages, with their fields, some of the children of Judah dwelt at Kirjatharba, and in the villages thereof, and at Dibon, and in the villages thereof, and at Jekabzeel, and in the villages thereof,
Neh 11:26 And at Jeshua, and at Moladah, and at Bethphelet,
Neh 11:27 And at Hazarshual, and at Beersheba, and in the villages thereof,
Neh 11:28 And at Ziklag, and at Mekonah, and in the villages thereof,
Neh 11:29 And at Enrimmon, and at Zareah, and at Jarmuth,
Neh 11:30 Zanoah, Adullam, and in their villages, at Lachish, and the fields thereof, at Azekah, and in the villages thereof. And they dwelt from Beersheba unto the valley of Hinnom.
Neh 11:31 The children also of Benjamin from Geba dwelt at Michmash, and Aija, and Bethel, and in their villages,
Neh 11:32 And at Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah,
Neh 11:33 Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim,
Neh 11:34 Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat,
Neh 11:35 Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen.
Neh 11:36 And of the Levites were divisions in Judah, and in Benjamin.
Now that may seem a bit obscure, but just remember that my title this morning is 'In Honour of the Ordinary'. Now let me give you a background first of all from chapter 7, turn back a few chapters with me. We'll read again from verses 1 to 4: "Now it came to pass, when the wall was built", the wall of Jerusalem, "and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed, That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many. And I said unto them, Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar them: and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one to be over against his house. Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein" - note that - "and the houses were not builded".
Now let me just remind you of the situation so far: the city of Jerusalem had been without a wall for 160 years. If my calculations are correct, the Jews spent 70 years in captivity, and then an additional 90 years passed by before Nehemiah came on the scene, exhorting them by the word of God to build the wall again in Jerusalem. So for more, approximately, than 160 years Jerusalem was without a wall around her, and in fact she was little more than a pile of rubbish, a city of debris, a huge rubbish dump, and hardly anyone lived within her. She had no wall, she was destroyed both politically, nationally and religiously in the sense of that particular city, and she was an open prey to all her enemies. Now to add to that problem, after Nehemiah had rallied the people together, started to build up the walls, exhorted them to fight for the cause of God and to give their resources to the building of the walls and the rebuilding of Jerusalem again, the people built for themselves their own houses outside Jerusalem.
So what you have now is a ready-made city, the city is no longer filled with rubbish, it is a beautiful city, the wall has been built - but the people have built beautiful, equally beautiful houses for themselves in the suburbs outside the city wall, and they're now refusing to move into the city of God. Most of the Jews had forsaken an urban life in the holy city. Now just imagine for a moment the upheaval that this must have been for some of them to begin to move from the suburbs into an urban life in the city of God. Look at verse 1 of chapter 11: "the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities". We know that two rulers of the people went, they moved from the suburbs into the city of Jerusalem. Then they decided that one out of ten would also move into the city to begin the great exodus from outside inside. Then in verse 2 we noted: "the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem". So here is a group of unknown people who willingly offered themselves - they put their hands up and said: 'I'll go! I will go for the cause of God, and I will be one to pack my bag and leave my lovely luxurious home outside Jerusalem, and go into Jerusalem and live for God'.
The Bible says the people blessed them for it, 'Well done! You're tremendous, that's a great work you're doing, it's a great sacrifice that you're making. Praise the Lord for you, and I wish you God's speed as you go'. We don't really know the names of most of the people that volunteered to move into Jerusalem, but the fact of the matter is, one thing that I want us to dwell on today, one spiritual principle that would be very easy for us to gloss over and miss in this chapter, particularly in verse 2 is: the significance and the worth of what we do for God, even when it is unknown and our names are unknown. You see the worth of what we do for God is not determined by who knows about it, or who praises us for it, but it is determined by our faithfulness in it - the faithfulness in which we execute our work, even when it and we remain unknown and obscure.
Now this is so important: here's a group of people, we don't even know their names - we know some of their names, but later on we'll see that we don't really know who they are, and there's another group of 822 people who were involved in temple worship and we know about none of them whatsoever. What we are seeing is that these people, even though no one knows about them in scripture, God blessed them, the people blessed them for their sacrificial voluntary giving when it cost them everything. Now let me apply this contextually to our situation today in our contemporary world, and even our contemporary church, because today - I would have to say, even myself at times - we judge the Lord's work, and we are motivated in the Lord's work by fame, by popularity, by who knows us, by who recognises us, by who pats us on the back, by the renown that we have in Christian circles - we judge and measure the value of our contribution to the Lord's work by how well we are known and how well our work is known, who has heard about it. There's a grave danger here, because the Lord Jesus told us Himself in the Sermon on the Mount that perhaps the greatest works are the works that are unknown and unnamed.
Remember He was castigating the Pharisees for their alms-giving, blowing a trumpet and doing it in public, and He was teaching His disciples not to do the same. He said in Matthew 6 verse 1: 'Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven'. The greatest works, He is saying, are the silent works, the quiet works, the unknown works, the works perhaps that remain unknown for ever, that are totally obscure. Our problem is that we have been conditioned to believe the opposite. Ever since our childhood, even from a toddler up, we are taught that fame is success. If you're going to be successful, people will find out about it, and then people will know your name and your skills and so on; so success equals fame. If you're good at anything, people will talk about it, people will come to you, and there's a sense in which that is right and it's not inherently sinful - but we have been conditioned to believe that achievement therefore is to be known, worth means you will be known. As babies and toddlers we get praise when we do something right, we get praise as students at school when we do well, not when we fail. Therefore in life we are conditioned to strive to be known, for to be known is to achieve and to succeed - therefore to be recognised means that you must be worth while in life.
Now the problematic fallout of that is the converse, that if you don't achieve recognition, if you don't get famous, if you're not known for success, then you conclude: 'Well, I must be inferior. I mustn't be worth anything, I'm worthless' - and you can get what psychologists call an inferiority complex. 'I feel worthless, I'm useless. I have underachieved in my life, I don't have what's necessary to be a highflier' - and do you know what we can actually do as Christians? We can transfer that mentality into the spiritual realm, and we say: 'Because what I do for Christ and for God is unknown, and it seems to have little success, well I'm useless, I'm worthless' - a spiritual inferiority complex!
Now let me define what I'm talking about: have you ever heard a Christian say 'What could I ever do for God? Look at me, I can't preach, I can't sing, I'm no good teaching children, I'm not an upfront person, I'm not a platform person. I get nervous to do anything publicly, what can I do for God?'? Now we're not talking now about excuses like Moses made to God, when he said that he couldn't speak but the Acts of the Apostles tells us that he was mighty in word and in deed. Those were excuses, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about genuine feelings of inadequacy, a feeling that 'I'm really useless, I am useless. I'm insignificant, I'm small in God's whole programme, I'm not like you who preaches from the pulpit'. Therefore you think: 'Well, then I must be worthless, there's nothing that I can do for God'.
Now this will happen to you if you evaluate your worth by what you do, how famous it is, and who knows and praises you about it. If that's your motivation factor, you will get a spiritual inferiority complex. Let me illustrate it a bit more: it's no accident, is it, when people meet you perhaps for the first time, and they say first of all 'How do you do?', and then probably the next question that comes not too far behind it is 'What do you do?'. 'How do you do?', and then 'What do you do?'. We fall into the trap, don't we, because we define ourselves by the company that we work for, or the church that we preach for, whatever the organisation that we are affiliated with. Then that person, in a psychological equation, he values us or she values us by what we have just said. Therefore if you work for a company that is famous or known, you're worthwhile, you're a somebody - but if you're unemployed, what are you? We don't believe this, but this is the way our minds work - we're a nobody!
We judge ourselves by what we do and by who knows about it, that's why scientists attribute much of the trauma associated with retirement to a sudden loss of identity. 'I don't work for the company any more, so I'm a nobody. What do I do if I don't have that name over me?'. We do this in other realms - rarity determines value as far as we are concerned, diamonds are valuable because they're rare; the Prime Minister is valuable because there's only one, the same with the President in the States; rare stamps are valuable; rare animals and paintings are valuable. The common, as far as we are concerned, is not valuable; the ordinary is worthless. Now listen, God's mentality that is revealed within His revelation is this: the ordinary are to be honoured when they do My will! The significance and the worth of what you do for God is not determined by who knows about it and who praises you for it, but by the faithfulness by which you execute your work even when you and your work remain unknown.
Now let me show you this from God's word - but don't forget that, whatever you do, as we go along. Here is the first thing that I want you to notice: God ordains the ordinary for His work, God ordains the ordinary for His work. When God by election chose the Old Testament people of Israel in Deuteronomy 7:7, He said these words: "The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people". 'You Israelites, don't get a notion about yourselves, that you're something more special than the other nations of the word - I didn't choose you like that, I chose you for grace, unmerited favour. There was nothing in you that commended yourself to Me. I didn't choose you because you were a mighty nation, I chose you for the opposite: because you were weak, you were feeble, and so that my glory would shine forth in you and all the nations of the world would see Me and not see you'.
Now grace, in the New Testament, is little different on that score. Because when you look, and turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 25, Paul says: "The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence". I think it was Lady Huntingdon who said that she was thankful it didn't say that 'not any' who were noble were called, of course there are noble people called, but that is not God's normal way of working. He works through the despised things, the weak things, and when we look at the Bible we see many many examples of this: David and Goliath - who was it that slew the giant? It was the boy named David with a few small stones. Who was it that God spoke to when He could speak to another in the nation in that time of great need? It was to Samuel, 'Samuel, Samuel'. Who was it that the Lord turned to to do the miracle of the 5000 feeding? It was the boy with just five loaves and two fish. Look at the disciples! What a motley crew they were! That's who the Lord Jesus turned to, not the philosophers and the theologians of their day.
Take one disciple as an example - many have christened him 'ordinary Andrew'. Did you ever read much about Andrew? Andrew is universally regarded as the average man, ordinary Andrew, he's sort of in the background somewhere with regards to the disciples. He was the first of the twelve to follow the Lord Jesus, but we don't really see him as a prominent apostle. He's not included in the inner circle even though he was first to come to Christ - Peter, James and John, that was theirs. Andrew regularly was identified as the brother of Simon Peter, did you ever read that? 'The brother of Simon Peter', but Peter is never identified as the brother of Andrew! Everybody knew who Peter was, but who's Andrew? You can just imagine them saying 'Who's Andrew?', and they would reply: 'Well, that's the guy that always hangs around with Peter. You know Peter the great preacher? Well, he's always tagging along - I think he may be Peter's brother, but he's nobody really important'. He wrote no epistles, there are no miracles recorded from Andrew's life, he was not an eloquent preacher like his brother Peter - yet nevertheless God used him mightily. He was the first who came to Christ of the disciples, and he became an evangelist - he was the one who brought Peter to Christ! Look at the many who Peter brought to the Lord Jesus!
Now we don't believe in tradition completely, but sometimes there is the weight of truth in some of it - and tradition records that ordinary Andrew became a patron saint of no less than three cultures. Eusebius, the church historian, says that he was the first missionary to go to the north of the Black Sea, and so the Russians claim him as their patron saint. Another tradition makes him patron saint of Greece, for it says that he was martyred there on an 'X'-shaped cross, where he hung for three days praying for his enemies. Finally you know that the flag of Scotland is that white cross, that white 'X' on the sky blue background - and tradition has it that a monk brought Andrew's relics to Scotland, and the Scots were led into victory by an 'X'-shaped cross flying in the sky. We don't believe that, but the fact of the matter is: here is one who was ordinary, but God took his life and there are nations of the world that are claiming him for their own, because God honours the ordinary, God takes the ordinary, God uses the ordinary to do extraordinary things. I wish I had time this morning to show you some of the beautiful qualities in Andrew's life that were not found in Peter's or any of the other disciples - yet they're the type of qualities that we don't shout about.
One of the supreme glories of the New Testament gospel that we espouse and proclaim is this: the ministry goes forth the most through weakness. Weakness is the opportunity for God's power, our ordinary-ness for His extraordinary-ness. Do we follow this principle in our lives? Do we portray these principles in how we operate as a church and individual Christians? Listen to Oswald Chambers, what he says about this, and I think this is mighty: 'God can achieve His purpose either through the absence of human power and resources, or the abandonment of reliance upon them. All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on Him made possible the unique display of His power and grace. He chose and used somebodies as well, only when they renounced dependence on their natural ability and resources'. Do you get that? If you're a nobody and you've got nothing going for you, praise God because God can use somebody like you! But equally, if you've got something going for you, do you know what you need to do? This is probably a harder job than the nobodies: you need to resign those resources to God, and surrender them as nothing - because they are nothing without Him. In that emptiness He will come in in His fullness. God ordains the ordinary for His work, not supermen, not great men, not statesmen, ordinary men and ordinary women!
But let's see secondly that God honours the unknown for their willingness, God honours the unknown for their willingness. Just before we left to go on Beach Missions, I think it was anyway, they commemorated here in our nation the 60th anniversary of D-Day. You would have seen it on the television or in the newspapers, many veterans and respectful bystanders gathering around cenotaphs and burial grounds around cities and old battlefields on the continent of Europe to remember those who laid down their lives for our freedom. Some people would have attended services near what has been called the tomb of the unknown soldier. You may not know this, but the tomb of the unknown soldier is where an unnamed soldier who was found on the battlefield - nobody was able to identify him - was taken and was buried in a strategic place as a representative of all those unknown people and known people who died in World War I specifically. Those graves have become, to this day, memorials of all who have died in conflict - the war-dead right across the world. You can find it in France beneath the Arc de Triomphe, in the USA at Arlington National Cemetery, and here in the United Kingdom at Westminster Abbey - but what it is seeking to do is remind all of us, through one man who died unknown, no one knew what he did, how he died, who his family was, what he had achieved in his education, his reputation, his career - but although he was unknown, he died for us! That is there so that we will not forget, lest we forget the willing unknowns.
Now chapter 11, if you like, is the Flanders Fields of the Bible - the unknown heroes of the Bible, the crosses of the unknown, the obscure, the forgotten people. Verse 2 says those who offered, volunteered themselves to move from the suburbs into Jerusalem - the Hebrew word is 'nadab' (sp?), which means to 'impel, incite from within'. They had this generosity and this willingness within their breast - it's used of those who built the tabernacle in Exodus 35 - they sacrificed through whatever means they had for God's work, they grouped together in strength, skilled men in craftsmanship used their skills, the women in embroidery used their fingers, those who were able to weave weaved. They did what they could, they gave of their substance, they gave of their talents, they gave of their time for the service of the Lord. Do you do that? Do you give of your substance? Have you given to the Lord's work today? Do you give of your skills? I'm astounded at times when men of God and people of God charge the church of God exorbitantly to do something for them! Is that right? Do you give your crafts, your talents? Do you give your time for the work of the Lord? What do you do for the Lord? Maybe you're sitting here thinking, 'Well, what I do for the Lord isn't much. Even if I was to do something it wouldn't count, it would be insignificant' - God's word is saying this: the greatest work of all was done by people like you, people who could do little but did it with all their heart!
I want you to see, before we finish this message today, five groups of willing people who are unknown. The first is in verse 2, the unknown who volunteered to move. Do you see if the Lord was to put His finger on your heart, and say: 'I want you to leave Belfast', or wherever you live, 'and I want you to go to the backends of beyond and be a witness for Me, and you may see no fruit all of your life like many pioneer missionaries did' - would you go? Would I go? These people went, and all the Israelites blessed them - this is what happened: 'That's great, you're going, praise the Lord. We'll give you thousands to go, we'll send you, we'll pray for you - but don't ask us to go!'.
Then there was the second group in verses 10 to 12, and we read just at the beginning of verse 12: 'And their brethren that did the work of the house were eight hundred twenty and two'. Those people who worked inside the temple of God - think about this workforce! Eight hundred and twenty-two people in the one temple, and these people, none of them named specifically, all working for the Lord, many jobs to do. People would have taken them for granted, I'm quite sure - some who would have dusted, some who would have lighted the lamps of God, some who would be running errands continually for the animals and cleaning - you name it, things were being done continually, 822 people doing it! But God recognised it, God honoured it, because it was done faithfully! There were those who worked in the temple - what are you doing? Do you dust this place? Do you clean the toilets? Do you set up the chairs? Do you know that that is a mighty work in the eyes of God? A mighty work!
There was a third group who worked outside the place of worship, verses 15 to 16 - in other words the maintenance of the exterior, the beauty of the temple, the grounds around the temple. There were other works like judging and counselling people. My friend, isn't this marvellous? There's a work that any man or woman can do, whatever their skill may be: there's a work for Jesus ready at your hand, just a work for you the Master has planned! They maintained God's house, they judged and counselled people.
Fourthly there was a group in verse 17, and what a group this is, led by one man - verse 17: 'And Mattaniah the son of Micha, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, was the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer'. Here was a man who would stand up and lead the people of God in prayer, and I think it was chiefly him who was responsible on a human level to keep the temple alive before God, and keep the worship going! That's your job, some of you - do you do it? Are you priests before God, bringing up the people of God continually?
Then there's a fifth group of people in verses 22 to 23, a fifth group: 'The overseer also of the Levites at Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micha. Of the sons of Asaph, the singers were over the business of the house of God'. There was a little group of people who sang the praises of God in the temple of God with all their might - can you sing? You maybe can't sing on your own, but can you sing at all? Now I know some of you can't! But the fact of the matter is some of you can, and some of you can do something for the Lord - but this is the point: don't strive for praise! 'Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise: Thou mine inheritance, now and always'. Be content to remain unknown and obscure, faithfully doing what God has called you to do no matter how small you think it is - it doesn't matter! 'Whatsoever you do', Paul says, 'do it heartily unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive a reward of your inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Jesus Christ'.
Here are some practical principles for you today that will help you to realise the honour that God gives to the ordinary. First of all: your gift makes you valuable, if not necessarily popular. Your gift makes you valuable, if not necessarily popular. Do not evaluate popularity with worth. Every one of us, God's word says, has a gift - 1 Corinthians, we studied it in great detail not so long ago, chapter 12 verse 21 says this: 'And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness'. That means we all have a gift, because we're all a member, and we all have something to do - but those gifts that you cannot see, that are hidden, are the more honourable ones in the eyes of God! Your gift makes you valuable, and I tell you: it's more valuable, perhaps, if no one sees it. Don't judge your worth on popularity.
The second principal: every labour done in love is remembered by God and is never forgotten. No one might see what you're doing and how well you're doing it, but God's word says in Hebrews 6:10: 'For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister' - I will not forget you! Thirdly, our final rewards will be determined on the basis of personal faithfulness, not public applause. I'll tell you: there's going to be some surprises for you, and some surprises for me.
You've probably seen her name and forgotten it a hundred times, yet her words probably are known by heart by most of you. She's one of God's willing unknowns. She wrote the hymn 'Just as I have without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me' - her name was Charlotte Elliott. At one time in her life she felt very bitter towards God about the circumstances that she was in. She was an invalid from her youth up, and deeply resented the constraints that her handicap brought upon her. In an emotional outburst on one occasion when a minister visited her, she accused God and expressed those feelings to this man whose name was Dr Caesar Mallon (sp?). He listened very carefully to what she had to say, and he was touched deeply by her distress - but he insisted to her that her problem should not be levelled at the feet of God, but she should divert her attention from what she had wrong with her to what she actually most needed, and that was God's salvation in her heart. So he challenged her to turn her life entirely over to God, to come to Him just as she was with all her pains, with all her problems, and even with all her bitterness and anger.
Of course, like many people, she resented what he had shared with her, and she thought that he had given it to her in a most callous way - but God spoke to her through him. Eventually she committed her life to the Lord Jesus, and each year after that on the anniversary of her conversion Dr Mallon wrote Charlotte a letter encouraging her to continue strong in her faith. But even as a Christian, like many of us, she had her fears, she had her doubts, she had her struggles - and on one day, one particularly sore point, she felt unable to come to God. She felt her inability to effectively get out and serve God because of her handicaps, and the fact that she was an invalid. Her brother was an evangelist, and at times she resented the successful preaching and evangelistic ministry, and she just longed herself that she could be used of God - 'That I could get out of this chair and do something for God, my health is preventing it, why is this, O Lord?'. Is that you?
Then in 1836 on the 14th anniversary of her conversion, while alone in the evening, at 47 years of age Charlotte Elliott wrote her spiritual autobiography in verse. One of the prayers was like an outpouring of confession to God from her heart, the feelings, countless feelings that maybe you and I can identify with at times. It's in the third stanza of that hymn 'Just As I Am', and it goes like this:
'Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt.
Fightings and fears within, without:
O Lamb of God, I come, I come'.
That was her hymn. Many years later when reflecting upon the impact of his sister, the Rev Henry Venn Elliott said of Charlotte - listen carefully: 'In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit for my labours, but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister's: 'Just As I Am''.
Are you one of God's unknowns? Only eternity will reveal what your work has done for Him. Paul said: 'Take it away Lord!'. God said: 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in your weakness; for when you are weak, then I am strong'.
Has the Lord been speaking to you? Where are you? Are you resenting something that you have not gotten because of your service? Honour that is not due you, that you feel should be? Crucify it now with Christ, put it to death, live on for Him - and let us all imagine what a place this would be if all that we could do, we did with all our might.
Answer the questions below. If you miss a question, go back and study that portion of the class and then retake the test. Once you have received a 100% you may proceed to the next class. You DO NOT have to submit this test for grading. Only the final test will be submitted.