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WHAT’S YOUR HEART CONDITION?
In the midst of this project, Nehemiah is faced with an issue that at first glance seems like it really has nothing to do with rebuilding the wall. But it did.
Because the issue he dealt with was a heart issue. Greed, taking advantage of the situation for personal gain, you know, how we treat one another. In other words, issues we face today. Nehemiah knew that once the wall was rebuilt people were going to have to learn how to get along because they would be in closer proximity to one another. He went to the heart of the issue, their hearts, to make the needed adjustments to stave off future troubles.
Let’s look at it as we answer the question, “What’s the condition of your heart?”
Nehemiah 5:1-13 , “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.” Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine (maybe caused from the influx of many people all at once, food became scarce).” Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king (of Persia’s) tax on our fields and vineyards (food, shelter, ways to earn money, these are genuine needs). Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry (with righteous indignation). I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them— 1% (possibly a month, 12% a year) of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.” “We will give it back,” they said. “And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say (according to God’s Word).” Then I summoned the priests (God’s representatives) and made the nobles and officials take an oath (before God) to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe (pulled my pants pockets inside out) and said, “In this way may God shake out (empty out) of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied (of all their profits and possessions)!” At this the whole assembly said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised (according to God’s Word).”
Nehemiah was upset because this was a direct act of disobedience & disregard of the command found in Exodus 22:25, “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.”
These rich Jews were blessed by God and were in a position to be a blessing and help to their fellow man, but instead took advantage of and exploited the situation for their own personal gain.
Think about what’s in your pockets or purses right now. Wallets, keys, check books. They represent much of what we “own”. Our cars, homes, etc, and our checking, savings, & investment monies. Do you “own” it or does it “own” you?
Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11, “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”
God used Nehemiah to call these guys out on their tight-fisted grudging heart, their greed, and their selfishness, and remind them of what they should be doing instead.
The World’s Plan- “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can.”
God’s Plan- “Do what you can, when you can, how you can, with what you have, as unto the Lord.”
God desires us to be a conduit, not a reservoir, a channel, not a pool, a funnel, not a bucket.
Should we invest wisely? Yes. Should we be good stewards of our resources? Yes. Should we take care of our family’s needs? Yes. But we should also be willing and ready to give to everyone that is in need. Be openhanded & open-hearted, willing to share God’s bounty with others.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
These men had the opportunity to be generous and willing to share, but instead put people in a place of bondage for their own personal gain. They didn’t see the big picture and were looking our for themselves only.
I’ve struggled at times with being willing to share. I must admit I’m not by nature the most giving, generous person in the world.
I meet others who are givers and find myself at times envious of them. They have no problem giving of their time, talent, and treasure to others. They seek out opportunities to give, and gladly do it from their hearts, not out of compulsion.
It’s a want to, not a have to. And that’s the hurdle I often am required to jump over as it relates to giving.
I know it’s RIGHT to be a giver. I know I’ll be blessed when I do. It’s just getting over that hump, whether it be fear, selfishness, greed, inconvenience, or maybe even cynicism or indifference.
There are so many voices giving me reasons to NOT be generous, to NOT give, to NOT care, telling me to look out for #1, to let the “other person do it”, to take advantage of the situation, to “get while the gettin’s good”, but none of those will come back to bless me, instead they will come back to my detriment.
That’s what God’s Word says, His Word that seems convoluted from the world’s vantage point, who’s warped standards are celebrated and practiced by a selfish, greedy, unregenerate culture.
Proverbs 11:24-25 says, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
This really seems counterintuitive. Give and you gain even more? True, in God’s economy. Be generous and prosper? Yes, but not just in finances. Prosperity comes in so many different forms.
3 John 1:2, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health (prosper) and that all may go well with you (prosper), even as your soul is getting along well (prospering).”
The prosperity gospel that is so appealing to Christians says, “Give to get”, as if God is some sort of slot machine. Put a token in, pull the lever, and win the jackpot!
This feeds our fleshly pursuits and is justified, like many doctrines in the Church today, by Scripture taken out of context and manipulated to fit our selfish, carnal lifestyles.
While our main focus it seems is mostly the pursuit of the almighty dollar, God’s primary focus is the prosperity of our souls as we are in pursuit of the Almighty Christ.
The Jewish men Nehemiah confronted had the pursuit of the almighty dollar in their sights. They had forgotten the command of God. They had as their singular focus getting rich, at the neglect of their right relationship with God. And just as Esau did, they traded their God-given birthright for a measly cup of soup.
He would that we would prosper in all areas of our life at the same pace, level, and intensity as our relationship is prospering with Jesus Christ.
Out of this prosperity comes the genuine reflection of His care & concern, His love & compassion, to the world around us. It’s the outpouring of our inner prosperity that manifests itself in genuine giving of our whole being to mankind, just as Jesus Himself did for us.
It’s the mark of a true and matur(ing) Christian.
It was out of His great love for us that He gave His life for us. The Cross the was the ultimate expression of that love.
He expects us to do the same. We give expecting nothing in return. We give because we’ve been blessed to be a blessing. We give without holding a grudge. We do what we can, when we can, how we can, with what we have, as unto the Lord, and know God is pleased as we honor Him with our lives.
Did you know that everyone reading this has a heart condition? Not that you need to go to the doctor and get checked! That’s not what I’m talking about!
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 says, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Jesus taught us in Luke 12:32-34, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The Jewish men’s hearts were tested, and they failed the test. Their true colors came shining through when they began to mistreat the people and manipulate the situation for their personal gain.
The condition of our physical heart is tested when we do a stress test. You may have gotten on one of those machines to see how much stress your heart can take. Based on its results, a diagnosis is given and a plan of action is formulated.
I’m convinced that many hearts today are being tested and stressed as a result of this message. No one likes their wallets or purses messed with. But based on your response, and only you and God knows what’s going on right now, you can come up with an accurate diagnosis and commit to a plan of action to make things better.
So, how’s your heart doing right now? 10 milligrams of generosity, STAT!
So, God has blessed us in so many ways. And He’s blessed us to be a blessing. He desires to prosper us in all areas as our soul prospers in Him. And He’s continually testing our hearts in this, checking to see where our treasure truly lies.
But how we give is just as important as what we give.
Jesus described how we should give when He said in Matthew 6:2-4, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
It would be like me standing here and telling you of a wonderful opportunity I had this past week to help a stranger on the street. Yeah, I put him up in a hotel, fed him a great big meal, bought him a suit & a new pair of shoes, and gave him some cash for his journey. Praise God He gave me the opportunity! ZONK! I just lost my heavenly reward!
I’ve heard of people boasting in such ways over the years, talking about themselves in such a way to glorify themselves instead of God. But God blesses those who give in secret.
Let me challenge you to do a generous deed anonymously this week. You name it. It could be anything, and it doesn’t have to involve money. Get creative. Ask God to show you. But do it without the person or anyone else knowing. When you do, you’ll discover this wonderful feeling inside your heart, and you’ll be well on your way to being the kind of person this message today is describing, one who is a conduit of blessing for the Lord’s purposes.
This wasn’t just an OT command, by the way, but it was in fact expanded upon in the NT when the Church first begun.
The beginnings of the Church were marked by this selfless, caring lifestyle. Acts 2:42-45 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”
They not only didn’t charge interest, they did in even expect to be paid back! They pooled their resources to make sure the widows, orphans, and other needy in their congregation never went without.
We have a needy family fund here at Faith. Over the years we’ve seen folks give into it so that when the needs arise, which they always do, we are able to take care of them so that no one struggles. It’s a tangible love of Jesus expressed by this precious Body of Believers, and I thank you for your continued generosity towards it.
One of my favorite truths in God’s Word is, you can’t out give God.
Jesus said in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
You can try, but the more you give, the more you will receive…..so you can give more!
Nehemiah reminded the Jewish men of what God’s Word commanded, and they repented and decided to give back all the stuff and the interest as well, not just 1%, but 1% a month, which equals 12%! They set themselves up to be blessed by God to be a blessing.
I spoke with a pastor friend of mine this week who told me he hadn’t made any more than $17K in any given year. Yet he told me story after story of resources of food and other ministry items that had flowed through him over the years to minister in his community.
He hadn’t had much of a personal income, to be sure, but hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed through him over the years as a conduit to touch his community for Jesus Christ.
He is rich in the treasure that will last, the one stored up for him in Heaven.
As you are faithful in the little things, He’ll give you more in which to be faithful, because He knows He can trust you.
God has blessed us in so many ways, and we are blessed to be a blessing. He wants our lives to prosper in every area as our souls prosper in Him. He’s concerned about our hearts, though, and will test us to make sure our treasure always remains in Him. So we give – secretly, generously, as unto the Lord, with a glad heart.
Let’s give our whole lives generously for the cause of Christ, including our money, our words, our thoughts, our bodies, our marriages, our occupations, our relationships, our studies, our abilities, our possessions, our everything!
The Bible says God shakes us continually, so that only what cannot be shaken remains.
He will continually shake out the wrinkles in our lives, the pride, the greed, the lack of concern, and lay us bare if need be so that what is left is humility, generosity, and genuine love for others.
To their credit, these wealthy Jews didn’t push back and resist, but yielded quickly in obedience to God’s command. They all said, “Amen”, and praised the Lord.
May we do the same as the Holy Spirit tests our hearts and lovingly corrects us so that we can have shaken out of us the wrinkles of our fleshly ways and clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ.
Can you say Amen? Can you say, Praise the Lord?