As we closed out Nehemiah yesterday, I thought it wise to comment on something that caught me off guard. I was raised in the church. I have seen the best the church has to offer, and I have seen the worst the church has to offer. But one thing has been kind of constant in every church that I have ever attended, including the two that I have lead as pastor. It is this: the church does not do well in handling conflict or pulling those who are doing wrong up short. If I would use a single word to describe this aspect of church culture, I would say it is passive. There are many reasons for this that I can see:
First, adults in our culture do not take correction or rebuke well. In fact, most adults have a pretty strong independent attitude that does not take well to being corrected. People get offended, they get angry, some get vengeful…and it doesn’t seem to matter how lovingly or gently the correction is given.
Second, I know pastors are often reluctant to dole our correction because, to be quite frank about it, it endangers their jobs. Many a pastor has taken on someone of “importance” in a church and found themselves on the curb.
Third, I find that the church itself is so badly out of practice when it comes to correction or discipline that even when they decide to take action it goes horribly wrong for everyone involved. This leads to either more problems or an even stronger reluctance to take corrective steps the next time around.
As I read the end of Nehemiah’s story, I was completely knocked off of my feet reading about how he dealt with those who required correction. Nehemiah was not someone who beat around the bush, and he certainly wasn’t someone who let things slip. But I cannot imagine acting like he acted in today’s church culture. Take his actions in the last account of chapter 13 as an example. Some of the Israelite men had taken foreign wives and were having children who not only were of mixed blood but who did not even speak the Hebrew language. This made Nehemiah furious and he responds by not only pointing out the wrong but acting rather violently, beating some of the men and pulling their hair out (pulling hair out was an act of humiliation in that culture).
We would not tolerate leadership doing something like that today. But it does raise an interesting discussion about how appropriately we respond when people blatantly disregard God’s commands. One of the stipulations God laid out for Israel through Moses was that they were not to take foreign women as their wives or give their daughters in marriage to foreign men. Yet here we find the returning exiles doing just that. It is the disregard for God’s law as well as the disregard for God himself that makes Nehemiah so furious.
The people were to honour God in every way and in every area of their lives. Their disregard for this overall command is what lit Nehemiah’s fuse.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture
Tomorrow’s Reading: Malachi