Responding to the Word of God – Nehemiah 8:9-12

Don’t Just Read The Word Of God – Respond To It

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

Massive Mourning

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

As we read the word of God, our hearts should react.  The Israelites who were gathered before Ezra when Nehemiah was the governor over Jerusalem after the wall was rebuilt in fifty-two days experienced great mourning when they heard the word of God read to them.  Jesus indicated that this was to be our state of heart as well when we hear the word of God and we realize that we are falling short of it.

The word of God is not merely words inspired by God and written by men for us to give historical records and inspirational thoughts; rather, the word of God is living and active:

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 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.

The word of God is able to show us exactly who we are in our inward attitudes as well as our outer words and deeds.  Scripture is able to accurately pinpoint the weaknesses and failings in our character, thought processes, and beliefs.  It is able to do so because it is both alive and absolute truth:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

When our hearts respond to the word of God, we are ready to be trained by it.

Supernatural Strength

Nehemiah records that the ordeal in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem was taxing on the people.  Anyone who has been under the threat of violence, where working with one hand and your other hand on your weapon is not a very peaceful ordeal.  The Israelites experience this even today on a near day-to-day basis with the threat of suicide bombers, shootings, beatings, and missiles being directed towards them.

The last thing that God’s people needed right now was to become overwhelmed with dread at the thought of just how far short they were from the glory of God.  Nehemiah commanded that the people not grieve on this day, for it was holy to them.  They were to embrace the joy of the Lord.  This is their strength, and our strength as well.  God has sovereignly paid for our sins with the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.  Our natural response is to mourn over our sin.  But we should then embrace the joy of our salvation, for it is in that joy that we have strength.

Pain, suffering, misery, mourning, and many other physically and emotionally draining situations sap our strength from us.  When we have joy in hope (the certainty of outcome, not wishful thinking), we are able to look at these difficulties and put them in their proper perspective.  Until we are able to grasp the joy of the Lord, we will be subject to the storms of emotion.  Life is hard.  For many, life seems impossible.  When every breath is a challenge, and the situations of life threaten to rob every aspect of normalcy in life from you, only the joy of the Lord can lift you out of the pit of despair.

Stay Still

The Levites (the Levitical priests) had counseled the people to be still.  Elsewhere in the word of God, that phrase is used as well:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

But what does it mean to “be still”?  One of the best translations of this phrase is “cease striving”.  As humans, we have a desire and drive to do things our way.  We tend to rely upon the gifts and resources that God has provided to us rather than on the provider of the gifts and resources.  When we rely upon God, we will cease striving.  Our hearts will “be still”, for we will be expectantly waiting for God to act, rather than acting on our own.

Cheerfully Celebrate

God had done a mighty work in and through those who had rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem.  The Israelites were told to celebrate this great victory that God had given to them.  Do we take the time to celebrate what God has done in our lives?  Do we publicly acknowledge the victory God has given us over our enemies?  Do we embrace the joy of the Lord in such a way that it is winsome to others?  How we respond to what God has done and is doing in our lives is very important to God.

Embrace Erudition

All of this was very important because of one thing: the people had understood the meaning of the word of God.  We too should seek and embrace the word of God and its meaning in our lives.  Learning the word of God should be foremost in our minds:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

[Blessed is the one…] whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
“Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.”

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I living in the joy of the Lord?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, Your joy is made complete in me through the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, for my sins.  Thank You for this gift, and for Your joy.  Help me to know Your word and to embrace Your word in my heart and my mind.  May Your law be on my lips when I first wake in the morning until I go to sleep at night.  Help me to understand Your word better so that I can live it out in my life.  Help me to cease striving, and to fully receive Your Spirit without measure.  Give me the desire and ability to die to myself so that the Holy Spirit can display Your character through the life that You have provided to me.  Help me to rely upon You more each day and less upon myself.  Help my heart to be attuned to Your word and Your direction so that I might live in a way that pleases You more.  Forgive me for my sins, and help me to have a heart that is sensitive to You.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Legalism and God – Galatians 2:4-5

Do Not Allow Anyone To Enslave You And Take Away Your Freedom In Christ

4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Fake Followers

Do not be deceived:  not everyone who calls themselves a “Christian” is a disciple of Christ.  Many people labor under the false moniker of Christianity and in doing so, lead people astray or into bondage.

I was one of them.

I came out of the Mormon church.  Not understanding that being a disciple of Christ involved relationship with our Creator, I believed I was a Christian because I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.   So do the demons, and they shudder at the thought.  I thought that was all that was required to be a Christian.  It wasn’t until God confronted me with a final warning to turn to Him and follow His Son that I actually became a Christian.  I did not just need to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was His Son, I needed to become a disciple of Christ to be a Christian.  I had to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was LORD – and accept the relationship and the responsibilities that accompany that profession.

I did great damage to the cause and name of Christ, living a life that was not only indistinguishable from the rest of the world, but in many respects, even worst that than most people.  Anyone who looked at my life as I “proudly” declared myself to be a “Christian” would have immediately rejected Christ out of hand because my example was so bad.  I didn’t understand that when I claimed the name of Christ, and then lived a terrible life, I was bringing shame upon the One whose name – His character – I was made to show to the world as an image-bearer.

There are many false followers of Christ.  Every one of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and each one of us will continue to struggle in one way or another with sin.  We must remember that we will never be perfect image-bearers of Christ in this life.  But let us not dishonor God intentionally, and if you are watching us, please be aware that we are flawed because of the curse of sin, and will not ever perfectly follow Christ [in this life].  That being said, be wary of those who don’t even have the appearance of discipleship in their lives.  And extend grace to those who are earnestly following the One True God, even and especially as we stumble in our failures while we seek to walk righteously before our God.

Subversive Spies

Those who are steeped in legalism become spies for the enemy.  They seek out those who don’t follow the same onerous, “You must do this exactly right or you aren’t a Christian” man-made rules that place a burden upon the shoulders of men and women.  They seek to impose their pious righteousness upon others to make sure they are doing everything exactly right.  They hate the freedom that God has granted the disciples of Christ, and spy them out in the hopes of winning them over to “their side”.  But remember this:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Encroaching Enslavement

When we begin to believe the lies that surround legalism, we become sucked into believing a lie, and we become enslaved in bondage.  Bondage in this sense is the feeling of oppression that comes over us as we desperately attempt to do whatever we need to do in order to ensure that we are fulfilling a specific aspect of the law so that we don’t sin against God.

The following is a worldly example that is meant to show the danger of this.  Some people believe the myth that if they step on a crack in pavement, it will somehow bring them bad luck.  People who accept this as truth will go to great lengths to avoid stepping on cracks and so avoid the pain and suffering that “bad luck” brings them.  As disciples of Christ know, God is sovereign, and there is no such thing as “luck”.  However, once we submit to this “rule”, our lives become burdened with an unnecessary rule that is supposed to help us, but rather complicates our life, makes us miserable and fearful, and generally causes us to miss out on the freedom and joy of walking freely where we would like to walk.

Foundational Freedom

Christ died to set the prisoners free.  We were once slaves (prisoners) to sin. The interesting part is that human beings have been, and always will be, slaves to someone or something.  Sin has enslaved us to do the will of Satan.  When we are free, we then choose who or what will then be our target of worship.

The act of worship is what makes us slaves.  Whether we worship God as His bond-slaves, worship our jobs, worship our “idols” (sports stars, TV stars, film stars, leaders of the world, etc.), worship the created things (sun, moon, stars, Gaia, animals, insects, birds, fish, rocks, trees, etc.), even worship ourselves, we will worship something or someone.  And when we worship, we will follow the rules that we believe are given to us by the very person(s) or thing(s) who/that we worship, thus putting us into a form of bondage if we do not worship God.

And though God has given us freedom to worship Him in truth and righteousness, we need to be careful about what we do with that freedom:

23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say-but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”-but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God- 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Standing Strong

When faced with legalism, it is the right and duty of every disciple to stand strong and remember that Christ died for you on the cross so that you could be free from such bondage.  Stand strong against such people, and prayerfully consider your response to them, because they truly believe in their hearts that they are correct, not realizing the bondage they have placed themselves in.  If you are strong and mature, gently guide them through the scriptures and help them to see the freedom that they have in Christ.  If you are younger in your faith, or don’t know the scriptures well enough, find shelter with another body of believers who are not steeped in legalism, or you yourself may find that you have become their prey.

Guarding the Gospel

And in all things, guard the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with fervency steeped in love, grace, and gentleness.  Do not allow others to besmirch the name of Christ who claim to be His followers, but gently guide them to the truth.  And if they refuse, understand that a seed has been planted, and God may want another to come and water it, and another to come to harvest it.  Do your part, and guard the gospel:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Do I live part (or all) of my life in legalism?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You have freed us from the bondage of sin so that we can worship and obey You in freedom.  Help me, Father, to walk in the freedom that was purchased with the tortured, shed blood of Christ.  Help me to walk in a way that honors and glorifies Your name.  Grant me the strength to go on when I am weak, and help me to study so that I would be an approved worker, handling the word correctly in truth.  Give me boldness before those who unknowingly oppose You in legalism, and guard my heart when I engage others that I will not be misled by smooth talk or intellectually compelling arguments.  Instead, help me Father that in all things Your word would be the defining word of truth in deciding what is right and what is wrong.  Give me discernment as I encounter these difficulties, and help me to rightly judge them and obey Your word in freedom.  This I ask in the name of Your Most Holy and Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?


This post has been edited for clarity and spelling errors.

Surrender to God – Luke 9:23-24

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

We are given three instructions for discipleship:

  • Deny yourself – Stop acting like the universe revolves around you, see to the needs of others, live according to the Spirit √
  • Take up your cross daily – Bear up under the burdens (responsibilities) of your faith and the responsibilities you have accepted either willingly or as a result of your actions √
  • Follow me – Wait!  What?

How can we follow if we don’t see where the other person is going?  In order to follow Christ, we must walk in His footsteps.  The Greek word for this is akolouthei.  It is an imperative command.  We are expected (commanded) to do it.  The meaning is to walk alongside someone, in lockstep, hips next to each other.  We are to do what Jesus did:

  • Yield every aspect of our lives to the Holy Spirit, regardless of our estimation of our ability to do it by ourselves
  • Depend completely upon God to provide for our every need
  • Spend regular time communicating with our Father in Heaven in prayer
  • Getting direction from God for our daily activities
  • Fast and pray regularly to draw close to our Father in Heaven
  • Study God’s Word to be an approved workman
  • Request that God reveal His calling in our lives, and fulfill that calling, even if it means going to our death

There are others, but this is a good starting point.  To follow Jesus does not mean to walk ahead of Him.  When we do that, we can’t see where He is going, and may miss a critical turn or stop. To walk behind Him at a distance is to miss what He is doing and not being a part of what He has planned.  It is only by akolouthei that we are in the right place, at the right time, doing the right things, for the right reasons, that the outcome would glorify God.

So, let’s ask the question: where am I in my akolouthei?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, I come before You to spend time with You today.  Please see to all the needs of Your servant.  Grant me strength to do what You have called me to do today.  Reveal Your will for me as I offer my body as a living sacrifice to You, that I will be able to fulfill it with Your strength, guidance, and discernment.  Help me to walk alongside You as You work in the world today.  Show me where You are working so that I may join You and use the gifts that the Holy Spirit has provided to me to glorify Your Name.  May all praise, glory, honor, strength, and dominion be Yours and Yours alone, forever and ever.  Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?