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(From Forerunner Commentary)
Few of us know much about Nehemiah or the times he lived in. Our mental picture of him is that he was austere, harsh, and perhaps even pharisaical. From what the Bible presents of him, he was undoubtedly serious about his responsibilities, brave, and circumspect, and he loved and feared God. His character displays a lofty nobleness. Regardless of our estimation, God thinks highly of him, and his life was so remarkable He included a few vignettes of it in His Word for our instruction.
When the Persian king appointed him governor of the Jewish exiles who had returned to the land of Judea from Babylon, Nehemiah discovered that the governors before him were in the habit of "squeezing" the people for their own gain. Nobody would have wondered if Nehemiah had done the same. Is that not the way people in government operate? Everybody does it! The people would have simply shrugged their shoulders, fully expecting it as the way things are done. It was the custom. Nehemiah's standard, however, was exceedingly higher: His hands must be absolutely clean.
Why did he do it? He feared God! Nehemiah's way of living reached down into the nitty-gritty of everyday life and may have involved considerable sacrifice. He would not operate the way the world does. Certainly, the laborer is worthy of his hire, but sometimes sacrifices must be made, and Nehemiah determined this was one of them. He would not conform to what everyone else did. Several other vignettes from the same book confirm this was not a one-time occurrence. Unless we are willing to say, "No," to what everybody else is doing, and do it often, our Christian life will be static from its outset.
God and the world do not have the same perspectives on how to live life. Once we have the right standards, God's standards, saying, "No," to ourselves is of paramount importance if we want to put on the image of God and remove the image of this world. The world, combined with our own carnality, keeps pressuring us to conform to its attitudes and ways, and if we are passive, it is easy for us to drift with its way of thinking. We must make choices. Sometimes, they are very difficult because of the sacrifice involved. In them, we will show whether we respect God and His purpose or this world.
The fear of God must become a foundation stone to us, one of the kind of nobility and strength of character Nehemiah possessed. It does not matter whether the issue is losing weight because of gluttony or eliminating debt because of covetousness. The people of the world take little notice of God until trouble is already upon them. But we must learn to do all things to glorify God, and it takes deeply respecting Him to do this. Honestly, would Jesus allow Himself to drift from His focus on glorifying God to become obese or in debt to the point of bankruptcy? His respect for—fear of—God would not permit Him to do these things.
The Christian has to rip himself from the world's way of thinking and doing. He must be a nonconformist in this regard. He must always understand that the world, though mentioning God frequently, does not fear Him, as its conduct shows. Romans 3:18 asserts, "There is no fear of God before their eyes." A Christian must consciously march to the beat of a different drummer.
Why do we not all conduct our life the way Nehemiah did? Partly because of laziness, to a degree because of cowardice, and sometimes because of ignorance. At times, we are so out of touch with God, we become swept up in sinful activity before we are aware what is going on. Yet, at other times, we fail because of this powerful sheep characteristic to give in to the impulse of the moment because everybody else is doing it. There is no tyranny like the tyranny of the majority. It can be every bit as harsh as the tyranny of a despot. Either can put us into bondage. Unless we are willing to look at things through the eyes of God and stand on our own two feet because we fear Him, we will be just as helplessly enslaved to the opinions of the hour as ever.
It is a historical truism that truth on an issue often lies with the minority. The opinions and ways of the majority are often impulsive, taking the path of least resistance without being concerned about the long-range effects. Those in the minority usually have the advantage of thinking things through because they know their ideas will be unpopular and resisted, and so they prepare themselves better.
God is most concerned about how things end, the conclusion of a matter. He wants us to understand what the fruit of an action will be. Nehemiah was willing to be different, a non-conformist if conforming was wrong. His respect for God and what God thought was greater than his fear of what men would think of him or what he would have to deny himself.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear
Evaluate yourself against these pressures:
Teens tend to be idealistic, and this is good. They often resolve to be serious, "hit the books" and spurn the drugs, sex, smoking, drinking and "hanging out" that they have seen others doing. But if the "right" fellow or girl appears, or if the teen is recognized by the "right" clique, his desire to be accepted by them pressures him to adjust his ideals to conform to them. His ideals or convictions are merely preferences.
A minister may search the Bible for truth and find something interesting that he believes and resolves to do and teach. When he tells his fellow ministers about what he has found, they may say to him, "I don't say you're wrong in this, but don't you think you should tone it down a bit? Make it less offensive, and then maybe we can cooperate with you and work on some of your objectives."
At first he may strongly defend his belief, but little by little, as he sees the reaction of his peers, he may begin to bend. He believes it and resolves to do it, but if he changes, his belief is a preference.
If the Word of God tells us to change something, we must change it! But we must be very careful about things previously proved from God's Word, believed, put into practice and then changed when some form of pressure is brought to bear!
This is perhaps the strongest pressure. When Jesus advises His disciples about counting the cost of commitment to Him, every person He mentions is a family member. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Usually no one can motivate you like a deeply loved mate. A husband may resolve to commit himself to a strong belief, but on telling his wife, she replies, "Please don't, honey. Do you realize what this will do to us and our family?" His resolve begins to melt because he knows he will feel responsible if, because of his belief, he inflicts discomfort or pain on an innocent bystander.
Fear of Lawsuits
Living in perhaps the most litigious society ever on the face of the earth, we are aware of the expense and hassle of going to court, even for the innocent. We may say, "I'm all for this, but I'm not going to get sued over it! You can't ask me to be sued—that's going too far! The news media will make me out to be a villain. They'll publicly hang me! At the very least I'll lose my hard-earned reputation, maybe my job and all my property because of attorney and court costs." This daunting pressure causes many to change their beliefs.
You may have never really been in a jail, but they are not pleasant places. Most prisoners want to get out as quickly as they can. In fact, some will risk life and limb to escape, knowing they will probably be unsuccessful. If they do make it out, they will most likely be apprehended and returned to "serve" even longer sentences. Jail is very damaging to a person's liberty and reputation.
Most people who go to jails never get past the visitor's area. I have been into the deepest bowels of several maximum security prisons to visit violent inmates on death row. They are horrible places.
In contemplating what it would be like to be in prison, remember that virtually every move an inmate makes is programmed by his captors. You would be isolated from your dearest family members and friends. You are told when to get up, when to eat, when to exercise, when you can read, watch TV, bathe or shower, and occasionally even when you can talk, go to the bathroom or sleep.
Additionally, the people around you have made a living of not playing by the rules. You would be stuck on their turf. Some are quite violent. It is a crazy, frightening environment for one accustomed to the comforts and control of home.
Would you really be willing to go to jail for your faith? Even when no one seems to understand why you would do such a thing? Would the pressure of facing jail make you change your beliefs? If so, your beliefs are preferences.
Maybe some of you men are saying to yourself, "Yes, I'd go to jail." But would you be willing to stand by and watch your wife go to jail? Some have faced that. Would you then pressure her to change her mind?
Do your beliefs mean so much to you that both you and your wife would go to jail, knowing your children would be taken by the state and raised by foster parents you do not even know?
The Pressure of Death
This final test is obvious, yet some have learned through experience that there is a fate worse than death. When a person's resolve over a belief fails, his guilt can be crushing. Luke 22:34, 59-62 shows Peter in such a circumstance.
Do you see the common factor in these? What does your belief mean to YOU? What are you willing to sacrifice in exercising your belief? If you feel you should do something but have the right not to do it, it is merely a preference.
A belief that is God-ordered is a conviction. It is not merely a matter of resolve or dedication, but a matter of believing with all our heart that God requires it of us. If we hold our beliefs as God-ordered, we will withstand all the above tests.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Are Your Beliefs Preferences or Convictions?
We generally think of this verse only in terms of a state of persecution, but its principle applies all the time. Life is a series of compulsions which lead us to choices. These compulsions come in two varieties: 1) forced, as by a gun to our temple which says, "Do this or else," and 2) unforced, just as each dawn comes regardless, gently persuading us to rise and meet our duties. Each pushes us to choose, and the only real difference in them is their strength.
We are surrounded by various elements that, forced or unforced, exert pressure to compel us to submit to them out of loyalty. Both good and evil are compulsions pressuring us to follow them. Our culture urges us to "go along." Family ties influence us to blend in. Our peers, friends in business, school, or neighborhood buddies, entice us to conform. These compulsions sweep us along, and all too frequently we go right into idolatry to satisfy our desires to be accepted and feel secure. But Peter and the other apostles said, "We ought to obey God rather than men."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
We all understand that sheep have a strong inclination to follow, to go along with what other sheep in the flock are doing. I once read that, if a shepherd is herding his flock into a pen, and he places a bar a foot or so off the ground across the gate so that the first sheep has to jump over it to get in, then he removes the bar, the following sheep will continue jumping as they pass through the gate based on what the leading sheep did!
Years ago, my wife and I owned a small flock of lambs in partnership with our neighbor. They escaped from our pasture one Sabbath morning by "worrying" a fence until they were able to push out through the hole. Once one lamb went through, the others followed. We did not know they were gone until a neighbor about a half-mile away called to let us know our sheep were on her property. They had followed a railroad track cut into the side of a steep embankment until the land leveled off in a wooded area. They were scattered in the wooded area.
As I approached, I began to speak to them. They turned and began walking toward our pasture. Soon, they had regrouped and begun following me. Although I was certainly concerned that a train might come along, my major worry was how I was going to get them up that steep ten-foot-high embankment, back through that narrow opening, and into the pasture.
When I arrived at that point, they were too timid to follow my voice and me up the embankment. The only thing I could do was wrestle and drag the sheep up and shove them through the opening. I thought I was going to have to repeat that same procedure with all of them, but to my delighted surprise, once I shoved the first one through the hole and into the pasture, the rest came on their own! What I feared actually turned out to be easy because of this strong instinct to follow.
Human beings tend to share this proclivity. We even call it the "sheep instinct" or "running with the herd." This influence moves people to buy and wear the same clothing because "everybody" is wearing whatever happens to be popular. It also motivates "keeping up with the Joneses." We are nervous about standing out from the crowd and perhaps becoming the objects of scorn and derision.
However, this proclivity works against us as Christians because it can easily influence us into going the way of this world. In this case, it takes a strong willingness not to conform to what everybody around us is thinking, doing, and perhaps even wearing. Such a circumstance will reveal who we really fear.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear
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