[otw_shortcode_info_box border_type=”bordered” border_color_class=”otw-black-border” border_style=”bordered” shadow=”shadow-down-right” rounded_corners=”rounded-10″]This sermon is part of our Expository Preaching Collective on the Book of Nehemiah. Follow the link below to know more about What Expository preaching is and Why is it important to us. (Click here)[/otw_shortcode_info_box]
How many of us would generally evaluate the risk involved before we take any financial decision for ourselves or our families? It’s interesting that when it comes to moral issues specifically sin; we don’t usually put any thought to it. The harm in making sinful investments outweighs and outdoes any of the great mistakes we may make in our career or finance because it deals with the worship of God negatively. I believe today’s passage offers a sober warning and reassuring hope for us. It tells us two things about making sinful investments:
1) Sin damages the worship of God individually
2) Sin contaminates the worship of God corporately
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Read Nehemiah 13:4-14 (Click text to read)
1) Sin damages the worship of God individually (v4-7)
In these few verses we see two main characters being described. Eliashib and Tobiah. Let’s try and find out from Nehemiah what we can know about them.
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- Eliashib was the high priest at the time. His grandson was the son in law of Sanballat the Horonite. (v28)
- He had a huge responsibility of leading the people in spiritual matters.
- He had the responsibility of ministering to them and ministering on their behalf by offering sacrifices in the temple.
- He also had the responsibility of looking after the Levites and the priests by making sure that the tithes and the offerings that were brought to the temple were distributed to them.
- Eliashib was related to Tobiah.
- He was an enemy of the people of God.
- He hated the idea of Nehemiah seeking the welfare of the people of Israel. (Neh 2:10)
- He despised and jeered at the people while they were rebuilding the walls. (Neh 2:19)
- He accused the people of rebelling against the King.
- He and his counterparts became very angry when they saw that the work of the walls continued in spite of their threats. (Neh 4:7)
- Even toward the end of the rebuilding process, we see how they tried to deceive and make Nehemiah afraid in order to somehow make the work to stop. (Neh 6:19)
We know how the broken walls were a picture of the spiritual state of the people of Judah. They were in shame and in spiritual ruins. But God lovingly pursued them and repaired their hearts! Therefore when Tobiah tried to attack the people of Judah and attempted to stop the work, he wasn’t just being an enemy of the people he was being an enemy of God!
Now this enemy of God was given the storage place that was meant to store tithes and offerings that supported the ministers who were given the great responsibility to lead the nation in worship! By whom? Eliashib the high priest. Nehemiah returns back after his absence to discover the “wickedness and evil” that was done by Eliashib. Now what made this act to be really evil? Not only was it because he was the enemy…there were some more reasons to this:
i) Disobedience to the direct command of God. (Deut 23:3-6)
As a nation, the Moabites and Ammonites always intended to harm & destroy the people of God. It came through sexually immoral practices and marriages that led people into idol worship. God loves his people too much to allow them to be harmed by these nations and that’s why he commanded them to not enter the assembly. God is a loving protective father!
ii) Failure in guarding the sanctuary kindles the wrath of God (Num 18:1-7)
It’s clear from this passage that the fury of God will pour out on outsiders and the priests for ritual trespasses. We might think “what’s the big deal”. It’s just a room in a temple. Why should God become so angry? Well would you be able to enter the President’s office as and when you like? No. You require special permission. What stops anybody from just entering the presence of God? God’s holiness and our unholiness!
You know the Bible tells us in 1 Cor 6:19 :
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
2 Cor 6:16 :
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
This verse tells us that this temple is devoted exclusively for the Living God! It cannot be shared with idols! Cannot! Plus, it’s His stamp on us signifying His very close union. It’s a very special relationship that he shares with us.
Eph 2:21 calls us a “holy temple”. We are set apart and pure!
Now the question is how have we been guarding our temple? Just like Eliashib, have we allowed relatives like Tobiah in this temple? And these relatives are the sin idols we identified last week. We’ve known this sin and indulged in it too long. Now it’s too hard to part ways with it. Are there relationships in our lives which are tainted and scarred with sin? What are the habits and sin patterns that we have continued to give shelter to? What about our speech? Has sin penetrated through our conversations? What consumes our thoughts throughout the day? We inevitably worship what we end up thinking about most. What about pleasure? What is it that you delight in the most? Is it God or is it sin? What is it that has been your source of security this past week? If this one thing or person was taken away from you, you would find it so hard to survive. Is there a comfort in this life that you cannot live without? How much do you end up thinking about yourself during the day? Is sin and self the core foundation of your pleasure and excitement each day?
Brothers and sisters, let’s understand this clearly. Our God hasn’t changed. He is still Holy as He was in OT. If we are keepers or guards of the temple that is there in us, we will need to give an account for it. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived. There is grace but is should never be used as a license to sin!
2) Sin contaminates the worship of God corporately (v10-11)
10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations.
The sin of Eliashib was now affecting other people as well. The Levites and singers who were dependent on the tithes and offerings had fled to their fields because they needed to find an alternative to sustain themselves. At what cost? The worship of Almighty God!
Brothers and sisters, let’s understand that sin is not just something that we’ll need bear the consequence of but what’s at stake is “the worship of God”. Let’s come out of the self-centered view of sin where it only affects us: it affects the worship of God corporately too.
How? By dwelling and continuing in sin:
a) We pollute the image of God in our minds: God is probably thought about as someone who doesn’t really judge sin, who doesn’t really have a high view of holiness etc. We’ve made God out to be like one of us.
b) We corrupt the image of God to each other and the world: If the “people of God” love sin, live in sin, breathe sin what image of God are we sharing with the world? It’s not a great, wonderful, glorious God. God is zealous about His glory. And that’s why God has also graciously provided church discipline as a way of maintaining the purity of His people. And also, people’s sin eventually finds them. Secret sin never quite remains a secret for too long.
Our sin obstructs and damages our worship & our sin contaminates other people’s worship. Worship is to bow down out of reverence to someone. The first reference in the Bible was in Genesis 22 when Abraham says that he is going on top of Mount Moriah to “worship”. God’s desire and design for us was to fall down in worship at the gaze of His glory and wonder. What sin did when Adam and Eve fell was to blur that image. So instead we started worshipping people, possessions and pleasures only to bring upon us judgment for forsaking life and choosing death! The reality is by our sinful nature, we have chosen death! Even the most righteous man on the earth currently would still find idols lying in His heart. But God is so faithful and merciful…he sent His only Son to this earth. He worshipped God fully and perfectly. It was pure and pleasing worship! He then died for us all – ungodly, idol worshipping and hypocritical people so that the blinders could be opened in order to recognize our God as the God of glory! Our response is repentance and faith. What does that look like according to today’s passage? What should the approach to sin and idolatry be in our life?
Let’s compare it with Nehemiah’s response.
1. Angry (v8)
2. Threw the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chambers. (v8)
3. Cleansed the chambers, put back the vessels of the house of God with grain offering and frankincense. (v9)
4. Appointed reliable men as treasurers. (v13)
I believe these are parallels for us today:
1. It needs to begin with hatred toward the sin. Motivated by the zeal for the worship of God personally and corporately.
2. Drastic measures need to be taken to uproot the idols from our life.
3. We must replace the idols with elements of worship (Scripture, prayer, service, witness)
4. We must have reliable resources to help us maintain the standard of worship: We cannot truly claim to be repentant of habitual sins apart from Christian community. Eg: my struggle with pride. In God’s grace He has graciously provided means of grace of dealing with our toughest struggles with the help of community.
Which idols of yours have been challenged head on this morning? Do you understand how the glory of God is being compromised by your sin? Do you see how your sin is affecting the worship of your other believer brothers and sisters? Let’s turn to Christ and accept His way of turning away from idols. What is God calling you to do today?