Welcome to Christ’s Community Church, this week we’re wrapping up our series from Nehemiah. Just in case you’ve missed the last three messages, many years before Nehemiah came on the scene, the city of Jerusalem had been defeated by the Babylonian army, the people were enslaved, and the walls of the city were destroyed. Some years later another more benevolent Babylonian king came into power and he began to allow the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. Slowly the city began to be rebuilt, but the walls remained as piles of rubble, leaving the city vulnerable to enemy attack. And so Nehemiah, a cupbearer to the king, asked to be given the opportunity to oversee the project of restoring the walls around the city of Jerusalem. Miraculously, the King approved Nehemiah’s request and he was sent to Jerusalem to begin the project.
So Nehemiah examines the walls and after specifically defining his purpose for the people of Jerusalem, he strategically laid out plans saying, “Here’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to rebuild this wall!” And as he shared his vision, he stimulated the Jewish people, and they were inspired that with the help of their God they could get it done. With his plan in hand, he recruited the people of Jerusalem to help him, and the project was underway. Of course as soon as he began to make progress he ran into criticism and opposition, he had to confront some corrupt leaders of the city, but he kept moving forward without becoming discouraged, because he remembered his God who is great and awesome. He joined arm in arm with his brothers as Paul tells us in first Timothy chapter 6, “Fighting the good fight…” (1 Timothy 6:12), fighting for their sons and daughters, fighting for their homes with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other.
Now today, we find ourselves at the most crucial point of this project, the 90% mark. The work is almost finished, the end is in sight, and this is where the enemy usually comes at us in one last ditch attempt to knock us off course and keep us from finishing. This is that moment where we’re tempted to give in and just let up a little bit. And so today we’re going to look at our enemy’s strategy, because the bottom line is this: the closer you get to finishing what God wants done the harder your enemy will try to stop you.
That’s exactly what happened to Nehemiah. He and his team of volunteers had finished the wall with the exception of setting the doors in the gates, when his enemies from chapter 4, you may remember Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, but they came and we’re going to see three ways, three strategies that your enemy will try to keep you from finishing what you began. They came to make one last ditch attempt to distract Nehemiah, to discredit him, and to cause him to compromise. We could call these the three temptations of leadership, because these are those situations that we all face at the 90% mark in just about every great project we pursue. No matter whether you are at the 90% mark, at the 10% mark, or maybe somewhere in between, you can be sure that you’ll face these temptations when you try to do something great for God.
As we look at Nehemiah Chapter 6 things are going to get a little weird this morning. It’s going to be the word of God with a little soap opera twist, a little murder plot, and so here’s what the Bible says in verse one: “When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it — though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates. Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: "Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono…” (Nehemiah 6:1-2). They were attempting to lure Nehemiah away from this project, to basically put the project on hold in its final phase by this fabricated emergency, but Nehemiah saw through it and said, “But they were scheming to harm me.”
I wonder how many of you have encountered that, you know, where the closer you get to doing what God wants done, the harder your enemy will fight to stop you. You’re doing something good, things are going well, and then suddenly you face opposition. For some of you, God has been moving you towards something and you’re about to accomplish it and then suddenly there’s this resistance. You’re almost there, you’re on the way, and your kid vomits all over you and the car, right? You’re losing weight, you’re exercising more, you’ve been eating better, and you’re down to the final 10 pounds, you’ve lost all this weight, and you go to the store and there’s a bulk sale on Twinkies. Anybody been there? So today we’re going to look at the enemy’s strategies to take you down off of the wall, to keep you from the work, and to stop you from doing what God wants you to do. The first one we’re going to see is that your enemy will try to distract you.
Maybe you’ve noticed how skilled some children are at getting their parents off course? You know firsthand how effectively they can wear their parents down, because they know that if they beg long enough, whine long enough, pout long enough, or hold their breath long enough, eventually their parents will give in and let them have their way. Now I’m not intentionally comparing your child to Satan our spiritual enemy, but I want you to know that the devil tries the same thing with us. He comes at you again and again and again, he puts people in your path to beg and plead, to demand and threaten, all in an attempt to wear you down and make you give in. He comes after you with the same problems, the same situations, the same temptations, hoping that eventually you’ll get tired of resisting. And every child tries this, but effective parents learn early that if they want to remain in control their household, their children must learn that no means no.
And that’s what Nehemiah told Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. They said, “Hey, let’s meet in Ono!” And Nehemiah said, “Oh no!” Look at verse three, he said, "I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?" (Nehemiah 6:3) So he said, “No, I’m not coming down, I’m doing something important.” And so our enemies need to understand, all who attempt to distract us need to learn that you won’t give in, you won’t back down, and you won’t get off course. Your enemies need to know that when you say no you mean no, the first time, the second time, the third time, and every time.
You see, there’s always the temptation, and maybe it’s even under the guise of friendliness, where people will come to you and try to steer you away from finishing the job that God has called you to do. And I want to encourage you, not to let yourself get sidetracked, but to stay focused, and stay on target. Your response needs to be the same as Nehemiah’s, because effective leaders don’t let the Sanballats in their lives set their agenda. Effective leaders stay focused on the wall they’re trying to build; especially when the end is in sight.
You have to have the courage to say no to distractions, even if they’re good distractions. You know kind of like our church, we’re not good at a lot, but we’re good at a few things. We’re good at connecting God and community, we’re good at serving, we’re good at giving things away, and we’re good at it because we do it out of love and we do it a lot. I think we’re pretty good at taking the Bible and communicating it clearly to people so they can understand and find Christ. I think we’re good at that, but we’re not good at everything. Yet people come up to me all the time and say, “Hey let’s do this or let’s do that.” You know like, “Let’s start a school.” And we could, but that’s not where we’re at. Just because you could do something doesn’t mean you should do something. Just because you’re asked, you’re invited, or you could, don’t let something good distract you from what God has already given you.
Nehemiah said, "I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down" (Nehemiah 6:3).
I think maybe we should take ownership of that and internalize that. I don’t know what it is for you, maybe you’re raising four children and you just need to embrace it knowing that during this season you’re pouring your life into your kids and even though there’s all these other opportunities you’re doing a great work and you can’t come down!
Maybe you’re building a business, you’re leading a ministry, you’re busy, and someone wants you to play on the softball team, go on a hunting trip or do whatever. You need to remember and tell them, “At this season in my life I’m doing a great work and I can’t come down!”
Maybe you’re a student, you’re working on getting your degree and you’re investing in your future. Maybe you’re serving God, you’re ministering to young adults or unashamed youth and a friend invites you to go to the beach for the week. Whatever it is, you need to remember that right now you’re doing what God has called you to do and tell them, “I’m doing a great work and I can’t come down.” Don’t let the enemy distract you from doing what God wants you to do.
So the first thing is that the enemy will try to distract you and the second thing is your enemy will try to discredit you.
When Nehemiah refused to meet Sanballat and Geshem they turned up the heat and fired back with false accusations. And you need to know that when you do anything for the glory of God, your spiritual enemy will try to discredit you, and we see the enemy doing this by spreading rumors. And so it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, the more you do for God the more people will gossip about you, misinterpret your motives, and misunderstand what you’re doing. Look with me at what happens in verse four:
“Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: "It is reported among the nations — and Geshem says it is true — that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: 'There is a king in Judah!' Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us confer together” (Nehemiah 6:4-7).
Five times they sent Nehemiah the same message, but the fifth time the messenger also had in his hand an unsealed letter. And basically what that means is that anyone could read the letter, everybody could talk about it, and so what Sanballat is doing is he’s trying to stir things up, he’s trying to discredit Nehemiah, he’s trying to cause trouble, and that’s what he wrote in this letter. Verse six basically said, “Nehemiah, people are saying that you’re trying to overthrow the government and set yourself up as king, but we’re going to tell the king about your plan unless you stop what you’re doing and come talk to us.” And so Sanballat’s strategy was to get everyone talking about Nehemiah, to get everyone worked up over what Nehemiah was doing, and to get everyone in a state of panic. He tried to discredit him by spreading rumors.
Now Nehemiah could’ve taken the time to make his case, to confront Sanballat, and to prove to that the rumors weren’t true. He could’ve argued the point, he could’ve quoted this person and that, he could’ve engaged in a public relations campaign to clear his name, but he refused to take the bait. Instead he said basically, “You’re making this up and there’s nothing to your accusations!” His exact words were in verse eight:
"Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head." They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, "Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed." [But I prayed,] "Now strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:8-9).
Nehemiah recognized that they were trying to distract him, he knew that they were trying to discredit him by spreading rumors, and he remained focused on the task at hand refusing to let them sabotage his efforts. He may have been like most of us, he may have wanted to respond, he may have begun to instinctively defend himself, but what he did was the best defense. The best answer to the rumors and accusations is to not come down, not lower yourself to their level, but to finish the work that God had called you to do. The best response is a finished wall!
So Nehemiah simply said, “That’s not true!” Then he prayed and got back to work. And you know, I hear rumors from time to time, I hear rumors about the church, I hear John doesn’t know the Bible, John preaches a false gospel, and it’s like blah, blah, blah… because it’s obvious that they’ve never been to this church, they’ve never listened to my messages, and just maybe they’ve never even read their Bible, been born again, and stepped out in faith believing the promises of God’s word. But you see, that’s what people like Sanballat do; anything to get God’s people sidetracked, anything to prevent the job from being completed, and so they’ll say anything they need to say to disrupt the work. And as effective leaders we must learn to stay focused on the job at hand, because we’re not here to win debates, we’re here to make disciples for Christ, we’re here to do a job, to see it through to completion, and to prove ourselves with results NOT with words. So we can’t let what somebody else says take us away from doing what God has called us to do. The third thing your enemy will try to do is to tempt you to compromise… to take the easy way out!
Look at verse 10; here we see a new character introduced, this is the soap opera part, this is the twist, this is the Jerry Springer moment, verse 10, “One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, "Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you — by night they are coming to kill you” (Nehemiah 6:10).
In other words he said, “You’ll be safe in the temple, they will never find you in there.” And so Nehemiah had a golden opportunity to give up, he could’ve bolted and no one would’ve blamed him. You know, people were out to kill him and I think at some point every leader is faced with this opportunity. I’m talking about the chance to quit with honor. The chance to fail without losing face. The chance to have an excuse for giving up. Except one thing. We will always have to live with the knowledge that the job didn’t get done, the project didn’t get completed, the ministry didn’t launch, lives didn’t get changed, because we took the easy way out!
But let’s look at what Nehemiah did in verse 11, “But I said, "Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!" (Nehemiah 6:11). Now he could’ve easily said, “Let someone else finish the job, I’m not willing to die for a wall,” but he was, because he was willing to die for what the wall represented: God’s call on his life. Mark Batterson said in his new book Chase the Lion, “We start dying the day we stop dreaming, and ironically, we start living the day we discover a dream worth dying for.” Nehemiah wasn’t willing to quit short of completing the task that God has given him to do and fulfilling the dream that God had place in his life. He wouldn’t compromise and take the easy way out.
In verse 12 he said, “I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.” And then he prayed in verse 14, I love how Nehemiah’s testimony is sprinkled with prayers, “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me” (Nehemiah 6:12-14). And so Shemaiah said, “Hey let’s go to the temple, because they’re trying to kill you!” But Nehemiah said in verse 11, “Should a man like me run away? Or one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” In other words, I came here to build a wall and I’m not stopping, I’m not giving up, because God has created me to do this in this season. And so as we close, when your enemy tries to distract you tell him, “I’m doing a great work and I’m not coming down.”
Let’s wrap this up with two more verses: verse 15, “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:15-16).
I love that, because everybody realized that what everyone thought was impossible had been done with the help of our God. You see, when your work is done, your work will speak for you, and it will testify to God’s presence in your life. Until that day comes, keep working, stay focused, and keep your eyes on the prize so that you can fulfill God’s call on your life.
Here’s the principle I want you to remember as you go out this week. Galatians chapter 6 tells us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). You see God’s calling you to be faithful, to be faithful to that burden, because he’s calling you to change your world. When you surrender to him, receiving his power, and using the gift that he’s given you, you can do what everyone else thinks can’t be done and God can use you to Change Your World.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
October 02, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.