Welcome to Christ’s Community Church, as we continue with part three of our series “Change Your World” we’re considering how to stand firm in the face of opposition so that you can walk the walk, talk the talk, and complete the work that God has for you. We’ve been studying the book of Nehemiah and if you remember Nehemiah was an exiled Jew who was serving as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, so basically he was a glorified wine tester with a twist. He would taste the wine before the King would drink it to make sure it wasn’t poisoned and to make sure that it wasn’t the king that died. We read that one day Nehemiah found out from his brother that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down, the gates were burned with fire, and Nehemiah was devastated, his heart was broken, and he thought somebody’s got to do something about this, it might as well be me.
So if you were with us last week, you remember that Nehemiah prayed and then went and asked the king for permission to go back and rebuild the walls. Miraculously, the king was favorable and graciously sent him back and even provided the resources he needed to return. Nehemiah traveled the many hundreds of miles back to Jerusalem, he surveyed the damage, and after 140 years of hopelessness, Nehemiah brought hope to the people saying “We can rebuild these walls. They started on the project and before long they made progress, but don’t you know as soon as they began to move forward, the opposition showed up.
You see, there were these others who were basically political opponents: Sanballat, Tobiah, and others who wanted to remain in control and they didn’t want the Jews to come into power again. And so, they were trying to protect their own interests and the bottom line is that whenever you step forward in faith, you step forward for God, your spiritual enemy wants to stop you. So today, I want to share with you about how to stand firm and defeat discouragement when you face opposition, because we all need to understand that there is a very real spiritual enemy who wants to oppose you. In fact the Bible is very clear in John’s gospel, chapter 10, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Another verse in Peter’s first letter to the Romans, 1 Peter chapter 5, he tells us, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
So the truth of the matter is that whenever you move forward and you’re doing something that God called you to do, your spiritual enemy will try to oppose you. And as we look at the story of Nehemiah, we think that there shouldn’t have been any problems, because here’s Nehemiah who turns his life over to God, he travels hundreds of miles to rebuild this wall for the people of God, and so surely God is going to remove every obstacle and there shouldn’t be any opposition, right? Well actually no, we need to understand that we don’t face opposition because we’re doing something wrong, we face opposition because we’re doing something right. And so the truth is, if we’re not doing anything significant our spiritual enemy ignores us, but when we’re doing something right or doing something for God our enemy rises up in opposition. Today as we look at the story of Nehemiah we are going see two different ways that our spiritual enemy tries to discourage us and how we can overcome that opposition. First your enemy, the devil, will do everything in his power using external forces to try to discourage you and cause you to quit. Number one, he will try to discourage you from the outside!
We can see this in Nehemiah chapter 4. Nehemiah was rebuilding the wall, and no sooner had they begun to make progress when the enemy showed up to discourage God’s people. Look with me at verses one to three, “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble — burned as they are?" Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, "What they are building — if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!" (Nehemiah 4:1-3). When Sanballat heard that they were rebuilding the wall he made fun of them and he ridiculed them. Another guy named Tobiah chimes in and says, “Even if a little fox climbed up there he’d break down the wall.” And so no sooner were the people of God making forward progress then there was this opposition from the outside.
The first way that your enemy will oppose you from the outside is that you will take two steps forward and suddenly you’re facing an obstacle, there’s some type of opposition, and you’ll feel like you’re taking three steps backwards. Now this can happen in many ways, but maybe God has spoken to you and you’ve decided you’re going to get out of debt. You’re tired of being in bondage to your creditors so you begin taking Dave Ramsey’s financial peace courses, your family’s on board, you’re working with the envelope system, your budgeting, and the next thing you know your car breaks down and it’s an $800 repair. It feels like two steps forward and three steps back. Maybe you’re feeling convicted and you determine to lead your family spiritually, so you sit down with your family, you’re praying, you’re having Bible study together, and out of the blue your teenager says, “I’m not sure I believe in God!” It’s just two steps forward and three steps back. You see, when you’re doing something right you can expect obstacles, because our enemy doesn’t attack when you’re doing something wrong, he attacks when you’re doing something right. Some of you have taken a few steps forward and you’re facing an obstacle and I want to encourage you this morning not to let an obstacle discourage you from doing what you believe God has called you to do.
The second way you will face opposition from the outside is with criticism. The Jewish people are rebuilding the wall when Sanballat and Tobiah came criticizing them and saying in verse two, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life?” The people were criticized from those on the outside and you’ll get that too. You know, maybe you’re excited about doing something significant for God, for making a difference in your world, and you feel like God is leading you to become a foster parent. You’re excited and you tell your in-laws that you’re beginning to take classes on fostering children, and your father-in-law looks at you and says, “What? You can’t even take care of the two kids you’ve got.” So you get criticism and suddenly your joy is gone. Or maybe you’re leaving a higher paying job, because God has called you into a specific area of ministry and a lower paying position, but it’s something that’s going to use your gifts to make a difference in the world, you can just sense it, you’re excited, and everybody’s like, “What are you smoking? Are you some sort of religious freak? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” And you were pumped up, you were excited, but as soon as you start doing something right your spiritual enemy shows up to try to derail you. And so you need to know that if you want to do something significant, if you want to change your world, enduring criticism is part of leadership. They criticized Nehemiah and if you’re going to do anything significant they are going to criticize you too.
Now I want you to look at Nehemiah’s response in verse four. He did two things to overcome discouragement from the outside. The first thing he did when they criticized him was that he took it to God. In verse four Nehemiah prayed, “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders” (Nehemiah 4:4-5). And then the second thing he did was that he got back to work! Look at verse six, “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart” (Nehemiah 4:6). They got back to work and the people worked with all their heart. Any time you’re criticized, you don’t need to become defensive, you just take it to God and get back to work. Now I know it’s not easy to be criticized or misunderstood, because we’re human beings, we’ve got feelings, but we can’t let the enemy’s criticism derail us into doing nothing. You just take it to God and you get back to work, because you don’t answer to the critics, you answer to God. “We will all stand before God's judgment seat” (Romans 14:10). Hebrews chapter 4 tells us, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). So when you’re doing something right, when you’re doing something for God, your enemy will oppose you from the outside with obstacles or criticism. And the second thing is that your enemy will oppose you from the inside.
Look at verse 10, “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, "The strength of the laborers is giving out and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall” (Nehemiah 4:10). Now remember these are Nehemiah’s people overcome by pessimism, speaking negativity, letting their insecurities show, and this is discouragement from the inside. Whenever you’re doing something significant, something good, you will face opposition, your spiritual enemy will try to discourage you from the outside and from the inside. The people cried out, “We don’t have what it takes, we don’t have the strength, there’s too much work to do. Who were we to think that we could do this?” And the enemy will discourage you from the inside. Whatever it is that God is leading you to do, wherever God is calling you to make a difference, whatever good thing it is: whether you’re going to defend the unborn, to help to feed the hungry, to minister to teenagers, or to take children into your home; the voice of opposition is going to say, “Who do you think you are?” Maybe you sat down to cry, you cared, you prayed, you stood up to act, you’ve got your plan, you’re excited, you’re going to stimulate the people, and that little voice of discouragement brings you down telling you, “That you’re just a student, you’re just a stay-at-home mom, you’re just an average guy who can’t even pay his own bills, who do you think you are?”
I guarantee that when you step out in faith to do something for God you will face opposition, not because you’re doing something wrong, but because you are doing something right! You’re going to face obstacles, you’ll be criticized, you’ll be misunderstood, and from the inside those closest to you will discourage you, you may even doubt yourself, because your spiritual enemy wants to stop the work of God. And I think that in itself should be a bit of encouragement, because you’re not being attacked for doing something wrong, you’re being attacked because you’re representing the Living God, and you’re being attacked because you’re doing something right. And I tell you, I understand this, because I get discouraged too, at times I get overwhelmed, and I feel like I can’t do it. I can identify with the laborers whose strength is giving out, who are groaning that we can’t rebuild the wall. And so for the remainder of our time, let’s look at how we defeat discouragement, let’s look at verse 14 and see what the Scripture tells us. Nehemiah says, “After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes." (Nehemiah 4:14).
This is powerful isn’t it? Nehemiah speaking of the opposition says, “Don’t be afraid of them!” If he were living in our days he would quote the New Testament saying: “Don’t be afraid of them, because first John tells us, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). He would’ve said, “Don’t be afraid of them, because Romans chapter 8 tells us, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Nehemiah would’ve said, “Don’t be afraid of them, because verse 35 tells us, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” No! Verse 37 tells us, “In all these things we’re more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
Nehemiah says, “Don’t be afraid…” Nehemiah verse 14, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Basically he tells the people, when you’re discouraged, when you’re overwhelmed, when you feel incapable or unworthy… If you want to overcome discouragement from the inside “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.” And when he says that to this group of Jews, that was a loaded statement, because this is their heritage, this was their ancestry. When he said, “Remember… he was saying remember when we were in bondage, Exodus chapter 3, remember when our fathers were slaves, remember when God raised Moses up from among us, remember when he encounters the burning bush, remember when God called him and said, “You deliver the people” and Moses didn’t feel capable, Moses said, “I’m too nervous.” And God said, “Who gave man his mouth? You go and I’ll give you the words to say.” Remember that God raised up Aaron, remember Moses standing before Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go!” Remember Pharaoh’s opposition and how God brought about 10 plagues that turned the heart of Pharaoh. Remember when he told us to leave, when our people were setting out, and the Egyptians pursued us. Remember when we were surrounded by the enemy on one side and the sea on the other and suddenly God parted the waters of the Red Sea in Exodus chapter 14, verse 21. Remember when our forefathers marched through on dry ground. Remember when God led us with a pillar of light by night. Remember when he fed us manna from on high. Remember the Lord our God when you’re discouraged. Think back and remember that our God is great and awesome!
That’s what Nehemiah told the people. And some of you it’s time to remember when you first encountered God. Maybe you were discouraged and without hope. God sent his son to live in you by his Holy Spirit. Remember when God provided, when God protected, when God showed you favor, when God prompted your heart. Remember when you’re discouraged. Remember the Lord your God. And the second thing Nehemiah tells the people is to fight for your cause. Not for yourself, but fight for something beyond yourself, because if you fight for yourself you may give up and surrender, but if you fight for someone you love, someone who needs you, someone who couldn’t make it without you, if you fight for someone else, God will give you a strength you wouldn’t have known on your own. This is what Nehemiah told the people in verse 14, “Fight for your brothers, your sons and for your daughters, and for your wives and for your homes.” When the people, when the workers, when everybody was discouraged and afraid Nehemiah quotes Paul’s words to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). We fight, because Christianity is not a playground, it’s a battleground, and Ephesians chapter 6 tells us we fight “Not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). You see, we have a spiritual enemy who shows up to oppose you, not when you’re doing something wrong, but when you’re doing something right. And so we need to fight like men and women of God, we need to get down on our knees and pray like Nehemiah. Because the Bible tells us in second Corinthians, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world… but they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).
And so we do what Nehemiah had his people do and I love this part of the story, Nehemiah tells us in verse 16, “From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked...” (Nehemiah 4:16-18). Nehemiah said, “...When the enemy attacks, we will fight off the enemy; but we can’t stop working, because that's how important this cause is.” Today, I don’t know what your burden is, I don’t know who you’re going to fight for, I don’t know if you’re going to fight for the unborn because they have no voice. Or if you’re going to fight for the victims of human trafficking because they’re innocent teenagers and little children that are being abused and no one cares but you. Or maybe you’re going to fight for the orphan, for the kids, for the single mom, or maybe you just need to fight for your own marriage. Church, it’s time to stand up and fight. Remember the goodness of our God who is great and awesome and continue to fight for this cause, because when you remember who God is and you fight for something outside of yourself, the Spirit of God will give you strength, because his “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When you face opposition and discouragement, don’t give up, don’t ever give up; because it’s not that you’re doing something wrong, it’s because you’re doing something right. Remember the Lord and fight for your cause and God will use you to change your world.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
September 25, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.