Psalm 66:1 (in the NIV) declares!
Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!
Loud, exuberant, whole-hearted praise & thanks to God is always appropriate! A subdued, disengaged time of worship when the gathered church meets, or a worship-deficient personal life-style is just out of place with the reality of who our God is and what He has done for us.
Having re-built the wall, re-populated the city, renewed their faith and their covenant with God, having renewed their contributions to God’s house now it was time for praise and thanks.
Nehemiah and Ezra organise a praise party, a celebration of glorious praise befitting of the exhortation of Psalm 66:2.
Two great choirs are amassed to help in dedicating the city to God. A dedication that was to be full of gladness, thanksgiving, singing & musical instruments… The worship was lead by singers with Jezrahiah as their leader and the time of worship was so great, so gloriously magnificent that the ‘joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.’ (vs43)
Corporate worship is so important to God’s people. God gifts people with singing ability, with worshipful hearts, with skill on instruments and with leadership and the best use of those gifts is to cause God’s people to remember, to reflect and to thank God in songs of exuberant praise that are worthy of our magnificent God.
Oh, how I love to worship with God’s people in moments like this! May our praise, our thanks and our worship in church always reflect our magnificent God, who He is and what He has done for us. I urge you to bring your part every-time we gather – together making His praise glorious! Amen.
In chapter 10 we read all the names of the people who as representatives signed the renwal of the covenant with God. And we read details of how they renewed their contributions, their giving to the temple so that something could happen…
God’s design was always that 11 of the 12 tribes had been given land so that they could work the land and provide for themselves and that they should also bring their tithes into God’s storehouse which in turn would provide for the 12th tribe – the Levites who weren’t given their own fields/lands and so couldn’t provide for themselves but needed to rely on the other 11 tribes as they devoted themselves to serving in worship and ministry.
God’s design was that 1 tribe would consecrate (set themselves aside to focus on something) themselves so that they could serve God and serve the other 11 tribes by ministering to them. And God’s design was that the other 11 tribes would commit to that 1 tribe in providing for them and would benefit from that 1 tribe in that they would be ministered to by that tribe.
God’s design is still the same, some are gifted and then set apart to give all their time to serving God by ministering to His people for their benefit, and those they minister to would in turn provide for them. A symbiotic relationship that serves God’s purposes in all people.
The renewal that started as Ezra read out the from the Book of the Law in 8:1-8 continues into a second day of rediscovering God’s word. In verse 13 we read that a group of people; heads of household, levites and priests got together for the express purpose of studying God’s Word together.
As they do so, they uncover a festival (the festival of Booths/Tabernacles) that had been ignored. It was a festival that looked back on the goodness of God’s care and provision for the people of God during the Wilderness years. They instruct the people to not mourn but to rejoice and to partake in this 7 day festival of feasting, sharing and joyful thanks to God.
So what? What relevance does this have to your life and mine?
Two things strike me from this verses.
1. Reading in Community
This rediscovery of God’s will for His people came about because a group of people got together to study God’s Word together. Historically, God’s word has not been read primarily in private but was more a communal activity.
We find this hard to imagine in our era which has the Bible unprecedentedly available on every device we own, and many believers frequently having more than one Bible in their homes.
There is something powerful about reading God’s Word in community, with others, allowing God to speak to you through others and to others from His Word. I love how this renewal of this festival God had initiated 1000yrs earlier was re-discovered as it were by the returning exiles as they read God’s word, studying it together.
I urge you to, not just read the bible alone, but to find ways to read it ‘in-community’. This will not only stimulate group learning but will also help to keep you from incorrect conclusions as you read and also provides some form of accountability for what you’ve felt God say through His Word.
This is one of the reasons in our church we have a Bible Reading Plan! By doing so, we are creating the context where by you and I can read the same passage in a day and share with one another even if we are not physically able to be in the same room.
You can also read in community, with your TRIO (A TRIO is 2-3 Christ followers who have committed themselves to an intentional spiritual friendship focussed on helping one another to follow Christ and His mission for their lives and the church) and or your Community Group.
2. The Ultimate Fruit of Repentance
The second stand out in this passage, is that the re-sensitisation to God’s word, the realisation by God’s people that they had sinned and failed to obey God’s commands did not only result in repentance and contrition.
When we have sinned and we see it, contrition (sadness over our sin) is appropriate but it is not appropriate to stay in that place! Contrition is part of repentance, it makes repentance possible in one sense but for repentance to be complete it needs to make way for the ultimate fruit of repentance which is JOY.
Where there has been true repentance joy is appropriate because having seen one’s sin, and having taken responsibility for one’s sin, and having asked God to forgive you of your sin, and having turned from your way of sin to a new way – then joy is the only appropriate response.
Scripture is clear that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because God is faithful to forgive the repentant sinner, joy is the appropriate response for those who have been forgiven, as joy honours God as having forgiven.
Therefore, to wallow in self-pity and shame does not honour Jesus but rather implies that Jesus can’t or hasn’t forgiven you, or implies that what Jesus did on the cross was not enough or that God has withheld forgiveness from you.
Friend, when we see that we have sinned, wronged God, wronged others, contrition is appropriate but it leads to what is ultimate because of Jesus – the joy of having been forgiven and set free.
So, face up to your sin, be sad about it but then repent and be forgiven and then rejoice in your great Jesus who is able to save you to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Amen.
What do you do with sections of Scripture that just seem like they are just long lists of people or places, when they seem boring or just plain irrelevant to your life or are just detailed for you to care?
The lists in the bible contain some gems! You just need to take the time to look for them.
In this list we have here in Nehemiah 3 we have a record of all those who responded to the call by Nehemiah in 2:17&20 to rise and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, detailing what they contributed to the rebuilding project and where they worked.
So, what gems are there in this list?
1. God sees everything
The very fact that all these people’s names are here all recorded for us underlines what elsewhere Scripture explicitly teaches – that God sees everything. God sees, He looks for obedience and service (that’s the majority of this list), and God sees disobedience/unwillingness (see vs 5). Our lives and how we live them really matter! The details of our lives matter to God and so it should matter to us. How we respond to the Gospel, how we spend our days is all recorded in God’s books (Revelation 20:12) because God is looking to reward us for obedience and faithfulness with that which He has entrusted to us.
2. Kingdom advance is a community thing!
God’s plan to restore Jerusalem was not a private project of Nehemiah’s. No God mobilised a whole host of diverse people to work together, to literally work alongside one another. In this one chapter the phrases ‘next to him’ or ‘after him’ are mentioned 27x in just 32 verses! The big idea is that this was a joint effort, the purposes of God was achieved in community, partnering with others.
3. Know what’s your responsibility
Verse 28 says of the priests repaired a portion of the wall ‘each opposite his own house’. So often we are waiting for someone to do what we have seen needs doing! “Who’s going to reach those children/mom’s/school’s…..?”, “Who is going to gather the young adults?”, “There isn’t great pastoral care in this church!”, “Who’s going to fix that tap at the church building or door that’s banging…?”
If you have seen something, if you have been sensitised to a gap in your church’s ministry to people may I suggest that maybe you now have a responsibility, a mandate from God to do something about it! Serve where God shows you need, where God sensitises you to things others might not have seen, take responsibility for your portion, a portion of the wall, something you can say over; “I’ve got this, you can count on me!”
4. Don’t ever think we graduate from serving
In verse 5 we read that the novels ‘would not stoop to serve their Lord’. This is not a good situation. It appears as though this group of people thought that helping with the rebuilding project was beneath them, it wasn’t for them. Serving, getting stuck-in in practical ways is something we should never graduate from. After all we serve Jesus who came not to be served but to serve and give His life for us… May we always be like Jesus.
5. Serving in families
In verse 12 we read about Shallum who repaired the wall, ‘he and his daughters’. May we be like this guy and his daughters, families on mission together, serving God as family units! Parents that might mean supporting your child as they want to serve on sound, or set-up or children’s ministry, dropping them off early fetching late to enable them to serve. Children that means sacrificing time with mom or dad sometimes so that they can minister to people or take responsibility, it might mean sharing your home with others who are being ministered to through a Community Group or something of the sort… Let’s be such families that live not just for one another in the family unit but seek to encourage and support one another as we serve God with all of our unique talents and abilities.
So there they are, five little gems in this passage. Did you uncover any more as you read? Never disregard any section of Scripture but ask God to show you the gems.
How should a community of believers (a church) treat someone in their community who is persistently disregarding the clear instructions on how to live a God honouring life?
These people Paul is referring to have been persistently disregarding the apostles teaching on what a right response to the gospel looks like in life. This person or group of people had already been urged to change through his first letter (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and are disregarding the life modelled by the apostles (vs7-8) & the apostles teaching (vs10).
So how should we handle such a person, where there is disregard for the clear will of God in terms of some serious misbehaviour? 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives us five practical guidelines on when, why and how discipline should be exercised:
(These 5 points are inspired by John Stott’s commentary on Thessalonians)
- The need for discipline arises when there is consistent deliberant disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture. The issue is not ignorance regarding God’s will, but a disregard for God’s will and a disregard of the appeals of the community of faith.
- The nature of the discipline which was required by the apostle was a measure of social exclusion because softer approaches had been disregarded already by the person(s). Discipline should start soft and private, but becomes more more insistent and public in nature if people persist in their disobedience to God’s revealed will. Persistent unreported of disobedience should result in some degree of exclusion (‘not to be associated with’ see vs6 & 14), the congregation was to ‘take note of that person’ and together to not ‘mingle or associate with’ them (vs14). The phrase used can have differing degrees of exclusion, ranging from total separation (as in 2 Corinthians 5:9-13) to more moderate avoidance of free and familiar fellowship (as at Thessalonica) according to John Stott.
- The responsibility for administering discipline to a persistent offender belongs to the congregation as a whole. Paul does not address his instructions merely to the elders of the Thessalonian church. Leaders may need to take the initiative, but then a corporate response is needed by the whole church membership.
- The spirit in which discipline is to be administered must be friendly, not hostile. It is to be done ‘gently’ (see Galatians 6:1-2). In 2 Thessalonians we find the apostle saying; ‘Do not regard him as an enemy’ (15a) rather the spirit here is to, ‘warn him as a brother’ (15b).
- The purpose of this discipline is positive and constructive. Although being excluded will result in shame (vs14b), the intention however is not destructive but meant to cause the person(s) to come to their senses, see the seriousness of their sin and repent. John Stott says; “Paul’s intention is not that he be excluded from the community, but reinstated in it.” We remember that Jesus’ instructions on this matter was that our desire should be that we could win our brother/sister back, be reconciled (Matthew 18:15-17)!
As this first letter to the Thessalonians comes to a close the Apostle Paul gives some a variety short instructions on a range of issues of what the transformed life and community of those who are following Jesus ought to be like.
Imagine all of these instructions, and all the more specific or focussed encouragements for right living through this whole letter (faith, hope & love, sexual purity & living with a biblical eternal perspective) being lived out! What an incredible church, a community of faith that would be.
When there is a long list of exhortations like this, one can get caught in ‘skimming mode’. You can’t possibly focus on so many things all at once. My encouragement is for you to read through the list and to ask the Holy Spirit to just take His heavenly highlighter as it were and highlight that which He wants to speak to you about today. Then meditate on those things, stop and ask the Holy Spirit to convict of wrongdoing maybe and or to encourage you as to the change that’s required in you.
So read through this diverse list, pray that our church would be all these things, but ask the Holy Spirit to highlight what He wants to work on in you at the moment and then take time to dwell on that, to hear what specifically needs correcting or changing. Then repent or make changes accordingly.
- Honour/respect leaders who’s job it is to at times admonish you (vs12)
- Live peacefully with one another in the church (vs13)
- Warn/admonish/correct gently those who are idle (vs14)
- Encourage those who are fainthearted (vs14)
- Support/help those who are weak or those without strength (vs14)
- Be patient with all! (vs14)
- Don’t take revenge on anyone (vs15)
- Always seek to do good to one another and to all people (vs15)
- Always rejoice (vs16)
- Always pray and do so without stopping (vs17)
- Always give thanks to God at all times as this is God’s will for you. (vs18)
- Don’t quench, don’t extinguish the work of the Holy Spirit amongst you (vs19)
- Don’t despise prophecy treating it as though it has no value (vs20)
- But test/examine/discern prophecies to know what to approve/act on (vs21)
- Hold fast only to that which is good in prophecies (vs21)
- Abstain/keep oneself from every form of evil (vs22)
May God who is the One who will sanctify us (make us more and more like Jesus), may God who is the One who will keep working in you to make you blameless on the Day of Jesus, may God who is the One who called you to Himself, may God produce the change that’s needed in you and in me. (vs23-24) Amen.
In the month of October we are going to be reading through Paul’s letters to the believers he left behind in Thessalonica, the church that was formed through his brief preaching in that city.
We start, today by looking at the record the book of Acts has of the genesis moment of this church in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9).
Having been beaten, imprisoned then miraculous released from prison in Philippi for preaching the good news about Jesus, Paul & Silas are ejected from Philippi and move on to Thessalonica and within days they are preaching the Gospel again in the synagogue at Thessalonica;
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2-3)
Don’t miss this. Paul and Silas have just miraculously been released from jail and having been beaten for the Gospel by the authorities in Philippi and they don’t go into their shell, they don’t back-off their God-given mission, not even for a moment.
The Gospel was their priority and preoccupation. They had good news about Jesus that the world around them needed to hear.
Can you say that sharing the Gospel is a priority in your life?
What small changes can you make to change this if change is needed?
Amazingly it appears as though Paul & Silas were only in Thessalonica for about a month or so. They proclaim the Gospel in the Synagogue for only three weeks and then hostile opposition forces them out of the city…
And yet during that time it’s recorded that Gospel seeds had been sown;
4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17:4)
When the Gospel is preached, it’s power is released and new communities of faith are formed. This brand new church community began to form in response to the Gospel message. A new community of faith was formed, made up of God-fearing Greeks, some of the Jewish people from the Synagogue and a number of leading women in that city. Paul recounts in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-9 how they were saved when they ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’
And this is the church that Paul writes his letters of 1 & 2 Thessalonians to. He had only preached there for a month or so, and yet the Gospel is so powerful that lives are transformed, people who were previously not connected become a community of faith that endures despite significant threat and opposition and becomes a church of Jesus Christ.
Are you convinced of the power of the Gospel to transform lives and form community?
When we share the good news about Jesus, always remember it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and so you can be confident that it will bring about transformation in people’s lives. So keep sowing Gospel seed everyday, wherever God sends you in your everyday life.