Dear radio friends,
One of the clearest proofs of the inspiration of the Bible is its realism. The Scripture tells us like it is. It does not paint a romantic picture, a storybook ending of God’s people living in near-perfection and obedience on this earth. But it tells us of sin and grace, of our failure and God’s faithfulness, of repentance and pardon, and, ultimately, of the faithfulness of God.
So it is with the book of Nehemiah. We might have thought that the book of Nehemiah, as we come today to chapter 13, would be brought to a more cheering end. In chapter 12 we have seen the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah and the priests and the rulers and the people have divided themselves into two groups on the walls, with the temple and the city down beneath them. And they have joined together in unison to sing psalms of praise. The trumpets have blasted the note of victory and triumph. And we read in chapter 12:43, “The joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.” What a wonderful way to bring the book to a conclusion.
But, no. Chapter 13 follows. And chapter 13 will not leave us a misleading impression of Judah’s spiritual life. It will tell us of sin, of neglect, of lust, of foolishness. It will tell us of God’s faithfulness and God’s commitment to His people.
We will read in chapter 13 that the people of God in the days of Nehemiah were well-nigh destroyed by world conformity, by neglect of God’s house, by setting aside the Sabbath day, by treating marriage with impunity and impurity. How applicable that is to us as the church of Jesus Christ. Always, always the church must be on guard. Always the church must bring the truth of the Scriptures. Always the church is in need of men of God to lead the church to be faithful the Word of God.
The distressing thing that we are going to see in chapter 13 is that the sins that are committed and which Nehemiah corrects are all sins that they had vowed they would not commit. You will recall that, a few weeks ago, we looked at the renewal of the covenant, as they renewed the covenant in chapter 10. It was a spiritual high-water mark. The people of God had come under the power of God’s Word. And they had signed their names. They had vowed that they would do the following things: 1) Separate themselves from the people of the land. 2) Not forsake the house of God. 3) Not buy on the Sabbath day. 4) Not give their daughters to heathen men as wives. Now, in chapter 13, we will find that each one of these things that they vowed not to do they in reality commit.
So, I say again—always, always the people of God need the Word of God, need the true teaching and preaching of the Word of God, need biblical leadership in the church and in the home. They need pastors, elders, deacons – men of God who are sold out to the Scriptures.
We are also going to see in chapter 13 that there was a period of time when Nehemiah left Jerusalem to return to the king of Persia. When his influence was taken away from the people of Judah, the standards immediately began to fall down.
We need, as the church of God, always to be faithful to the Word of God. In chapter 13, verses 1-3, we learn of the call of God to a separate life. It was on the day of the celebration of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem that there was a public reading of God’s Word. In that reading, the people heard the requirement that the Ammonite and the Moabite might not come into the congregation of the Lord. “On that day [the day of dedication] they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever” (v. 1). Note, if only briefly, the powerful benefit of reading God’s Word in the public worship service. There is a special dimension of the power of Scripture felt and present when it is read in the worship service of the church. Never, ever, underestimate it. It is not a time for daydreaming. It is not a time to stare out the window. It is the time for you to listen, as the Scriptures are read by the pastor. Because, as God’s people are gathered in worship, the Holy Spirit comes in a powerful way to honor the very Word that He has given and inspired. In the congregational reading, the Word of God comes in a special, powerful way to pierce, to lay bare the heart, perhaps to show us the evil that we have allowed to come into our lives, to comfort us.
They read, on the day of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem, from Deuteronomy 23:3-6, where there was a prohibition of the Ammonite and Moabite entering into the congregation, grounded in the evil that those two nations had done against Israel. Both had tried to prevent Israel from entering into the land of Canaan. That had happened when Moses led the people of God through the lands on the east side of the Jordan. The Ammonites, we read, “because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water.” The Ammonites had committed a sin of omission, of callous indifference to God’s people. Israel was exhausted. They asked the Ammonites for permission to buy necessities in their markets. They had promised to stay on the highways and nor forage or plunder the vineyards or wells. They would not go through the nation of Ammon as Sherman marched through Georgia. They would keep themselves respectful. They asked only for a few things. But they were denied. Cruelty toward the people of God was exercised. They were told, “You may not pass through.” And Ammon came out to fight Israel.
Then the Moabites. Of them we read in Numbers 22, that they hired Balaam, that Balaam should curse Israel. Balak, the king of Moab, hired the wicked prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel. Three times he had attempted to do that. Each time his cursings had been turned into blessings. Moab wanted to call a curse down from heaven on God’s people. Moab plotted and schemed to destroy Israel.
Now the requirement was that the Moabite and the Ammonite should not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever. The idea is that they could not enter as an Ammonite, as a Moabite, as one who was given unto the service of the gods of those nations. It was not a racial or national prohibition. These were the ones who were worshiping other gods. These were the people who had done their utmost to destroy Israel. Therefore, the prohibition was that Israel was to be separate from them.
What is God’s requirement of us? The requirements of the Scriptures is this. That we, as Christians, live a life spiritually separated from the sin of this world. And that we do so because we are the friends of the living God. That spiritual separation is defined in the Bible not first as being fulfilled in a physical separation. It is a spiritual one. Yes, there are physical aspects to the holy, separate life. Psalm 1:1: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” There are places, as Christians, we may not go: bars, parties where there is drunkenness and fornication, various places perhaps on the Internet. Always we must ask, as a child of God: “Would I want the Lord to return and find me in this place?” There are people we may not make our friends: the profane, the vile, those who live their life in profanity against God.
But, I say again, the prohibition for us is not physical separation, not that we leave the world, not that we put up walls and think that by simply separating ourselves in a physical way from the world, we thereby live a holy life. We must not forget that we carry the world of sin within our hearts. The Word of God tells us that we are in the world, but we must not be of the world. We must be of Jesus Christ. The world, apart from Jesus, lives life out of its principle. That principle is the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (I John 2). By the grace of God alone, we who know Jesus Christ now live our life out of a different principle: the love of God, the seeking of the things that are above. Physically we are in this world. We go to our jobs. We live in our neighborhoods. We go about our business. We live within the world. But we are called to live a holy life in this world, separate from sin.
Do we welcome the Ammonite and the Moabite into our life, into our heart, into our thoughts? Do we welcome into our heart those things that God hates? Look at your heart,look at your inward life. What do you allow within your heart? Cruel indifference toward your fellow saint, even as the Ammonites toward Israel? Envy and jealousy, as the Moabites, plotting to bring your fellow saint down and to ruin his reputation? Do we allow into our heart covetousness, greed for the things of this life, an insatiable thirst for all the things that the world considers so important? Do we let the lusts of the flesh – pornography, fornication, cursing and swearing – enter our life, enter our heart, under our breath?
You cannot, as a child of God in Christ, peacefully co-exist with any known sin within your heart. You must unceasingly fight it or you will be conformed to it. We must remain separate from the world of sin, the world of temptation. One of the blessings of daily communion with God is that He will show you those things that are temptation to you, that draw you away from His face. What are those things in your life? Do you analyze them, do you seek to find those things to which you are most susceptible, those sins that tempt you the most?
Then we are called to remove ourselves from those paths of temptation. It might be a magazine. It may be visual for you. It may be certain talk – talk that gets you started. And, before you know it, once you are started you go on and on and say all kinds of things that are hurtful and shameful. It may be times when you are feeling sorry for yourself. Do you know those things that tempt you? Do you remove yourself from those things?
We must be separate, separate also from the sinful things and sinful entertainments of this world. We are to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11). But rather, we are to reprove them. That word “reprove” means “to convince them of their sin by means of clear argument from the Word of God.”
Why? Why did God call His people in Nehemiah’s day, and us in Jesus Christ, to this separate, holy life? A number of reasons.
Because the world of sin seeks our destruction. The world seeks the destruction of the church. The world is not neutral. It can put on a kind face. It can put on a tolerant smile. It can, apparently, make itself to be indifferent. But underneath, the world of sin hates the cause of God because that world is ruled by the prince of darkness. And it will not stop at anything less than spiritual genocide of the people of God. The Ammonite and the Moabite reacted against Israel as they would react against no other nation. To any other people of the world, they might have said to them, “Well, of course. Of course you can come through. We’ll help you. We want to prosper you on your journey, on your noble quest.” But when the children of Israel asked, Ammon had no human kindness, no flow of sympathy for beleaguered travelers. Their word was: “Get out.” And, “Don’t pass.” And, “We will come out against you.”
The Moabites did not exercise religious tolerance. The Moabites did not say as Israel appeared on their borders: “We should talk about pluralism.” No, they were against them. Why? Because God was in Israel, because Christ was promised to Israel. And, apart from grace, man and the world of sin stands in enmity against God and His Son. We read in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between thee and [the seed of] the woman,” between the church and the devil. We read in Romans 8:7, “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” We read in John 15 these words of Jesus: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” We read in II Timothy 3:12, “All who will live godly shall suffer persecution.” Sin is hatred of God. If you are in the world, you have not been made to know your sin and you live yet in love of your own way of sin. Then you will hate God. Because that is what sin is: hatred of God. There is no truce there. There is no coalition, no cease-fire. Therefore, when the church and the child of God fly the flag of God, of love for God, obedience to God; when the church lifts high the cross as the only way of salvation, only in Christ and no other way – then the church comes under the hatred of the world. The fangs of the devil, the hatred of the world, is unleashed against the church. Perhaps the world and the devil use now the means of seduction in an attempt to get the church to compromise. But that will not last. The world of sin is intolerant of the church. Why? Because the world of sin is the enemy of God.
We read again in Romans 8:7, “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” You see, salvation is a matter of spiritual conquest. It is when God has come to subdue your heart, to take you away from the realm of darkness and hatred of God and to bring you on bended knee to love God and to obey Him. But that will bring reaction. It will bring the hatred of those who yet walk in the way of darkness; intolerance against you, against the God that you confess.
But there is another reason why Israel and why we are called to spiritual separation. That is because of the friendship of God. Separation from sin and sinful living is not only a flight away from something, it is also a pursuit of someone. A holy, separate life is the pursuit of godliness and of God. Only God can make a Christian. Man can make the outward. We can say, “Don’t, don’t, don’t do this. Stay away from that. Don’t go there. Dress this way. Go to church.” But that is not the heart of Christian living. It is not first the outward. Why does the Christian desire to do those things? There is one answer. Because he loves God and he enjoys being with Him and in His company.
Do you understand that? Separation from sin is only serving a purpose. That purpose is the desire to be devoted more and more to God. Is that why you want to live a godly, different life? Is that why you want to keep the Lord’s Day? Is that why you go to church? Is that why you flee fornication and love purity? Is it because you have to? … orbecause you want to – because you understand that the embrace of sin means that you cannot know experientially the embrace of your heavenly Father? Is that why temptation and materialism and all the other sins are resisted in your heart and in your life – because you have come to love and honor God?
You see, this is all rooted in the love of God as God. For God’s sake, for Him, the Christian lives. God creates this separation when His grace shows us who He is, that He has loved us and forgiven us in Jesus Christ and has purchased us to be His own in the blood of His Son. You who love the Lord, hate sin, for He is just and pure. “For Christ the King forsake the world and every former friend.” The separate, Christian life is a life dedicated to God, godliness, and Christ. Separation from the world does not mean that we are some kind of cult, that we are ruled by some external form. But it means that our hearts are married to God. We love Him and seek His honor and His glory. That is why we love the church. That is why we love God’s house. That is why we love our families. That is why we love God. That is why we want to be faithful to God. Underneath the Christian life is the only loving principle in this world, the only solid, good truth in this world – God. Because God is glorious, because God is right, because God is life, because God is truth, we therefore want His smile upon us.
And for that smile of God and embrace of God we are ready to endure the reproach of this world. We read of Moses in Hebrews 11 that he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king. Why? Because he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. Because he saw God.
Let us apply then today this Word of God to our lives. Let us ask God for His grace that we live a spiritually separate life from temptation and from the world of sin – a life that in principle is the expression of love for God.
This brings comfort, great comfort into the Christian life. The Christian life is not a morbid, sour, depressing thing. It is comforting. It is a wonderful, exciting gift of God. We are always desiring to see how God will reveal more and more of Himself to us, of how God will turn the latest attempt of the devil to destroy us on its head and lead us to victory.
The life lived to God is a confident, victorious life. A life separated unto God is the only life worth living.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the Word and pray for its blessing in our hearts today. Through Jesus Christ, Amen.