We are winding down our series in the book of Nehemiah. I am praying that we end by the beginning of December! We have been talking about building God’s people. We saw a revival break out in Neh. 8 causing them to get back to God’s Word and to God in Neh. 9, which happens to be the longest prayer in the Bible, a beautiful confession of their own failures, but also focusing on the faithfulness of God. The key word in Neh. 8: Revival. The key word in Neh. 9: Remembrance. Now we are in Neh. 10 and the key word will be “Rededication” or “Recommitment” and we will see that a rededication or recommitment comes out of convictions.
Conviction. This is a word that needs to be brought back into our vocabulary. The dictionary says conviction is a “strong persuasion or belief the state of being convinced.” It is a settled decision. It is a fixed strong belief. It is the confidence that something is true and because it is true, it has defined and impacted our actions, our words, our thoughts and everything we are. Because of our convictions, when the pressure mounts and we are tempted to go the way of least resistance and the easy way out, the way of what people say (which might be contrary to our conviction), we are not moved. We have made up our mind. That is what I mean by being a person of conviction.
I like the following description of conviction by J. Hampton Keathley. He says that there are three components of a person that characterizes biblical conviction: (a) a commitment to Scripture as one’s authority, (b) the construction of specific beliefs and convictions based on that authority, and (c) the courage to act on those convictions in faith. Hopefully we will see these three parts in Neh. 10.
Because we do not have people of biblical conviction, we have Christians who are Christians when it is convenient. We have Christians who are Christians when it adds to their comfort. As a result of not having convictions, we have Christians going the way of culture. Culture pollutes their thinking, resulting in polluted living, breaking down the home, the church and society. This is the most important need in our churches today! Let me give you some Scriptural support. In 1 Thess. 1:5 Paul says that “the gospel came to you in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Paul says toward the end of his life that he suffers for the gospel because in 2 Tim. 1:12: “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” Joseph was a man of conviction when he stood up against Potiphar’s wife in Gen. 39, when said, “how can I sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). In Rom. 4:21, Paul says that Abraham was "fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” In addition, Daniel refused to compromise his convictions in the face of an antagonistic Babylonian culture (Dan. 1:8; 6:3-5). The author of Hebrews says Moses chose to be “mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time” (Heb. 11:25). Where are believers like this today?
Conviction is more than opinion. You hold an opinion, but a conviction holds you. Are you a person of biblical conviction? If you want God to build you so that you can build something for Him and be used by Him, you need to be a person of biblical conviction. In today’s text, you will see that the people of Israel were people of conviction.
Let’s get into God’s Word with this first thought:
I. Biblical conviction commences with the leadership (Neh. 9:38-10:27)
Let’s pick up the story at Neh. 9:38. Actually in the Hebrew text, Neh. 10:1 starts right here. It starts with “because of all this.” Because of what? I like what John Piper says, that it is because of “all the centuries-long, great, mighty, awesome, covenant-keeping, loving work of God—because of all that] we are making an agreement—a covenant—in writing.” So far we have seen that there has been a lot of spiritual fervor, joy in the Lord and mourning over sin. However you cannot always live on an emotional high. When you come down from the mountain top you have to face the daily grind. So they lay out a specific plan to put the truth of God’s Word into daily practice, by rededicating themselves to the Covenant God had made with them centuries before.
It must be said here that the New Testament does not command that we should make oaths in writing in order to walk with the Lord and serve Him. We are under the New Covenant. What we are seeing here was a rededication to follow what was the Old Covenant. God established the Covenant with them at Mt. Sinai, written on a stone (Ex. 31:18). They renewed it in Deut. 29:10-13 and again here. It was a very serious thing. Numbers 30:1-2 says, “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the Lord has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” Not following through meant bringing on the judgment of God. So this was serious business with God. Have you ever seen married couples renew their vows? This chapter reminds me of that! In the New Testament, God expects us to obey Him in response to all that He has done for us in Christ.
Notice the people who are first to sign on the dotted line. There are 84 names here. Look at who heads up the list. Nehemiah and then Zedekiah is listed, who was probably his assistant. Next to them were 21 priests, the heads of priestly households (Neh. 10:2-8). This is probably why Ezra’s name is not listed, because he evidently belonged to the priestly family of Seraiah (Neh. 10:2). Neh. 10:9-13 lists the head of Levitical households, with six names of people ministering at the revival in Neh. 8:7. The last group in Neh. 10:14-27 consists of 44 heads of leading families. What we see in this is that those in leadership set the example for others. They were committing themselves to the Lord to do what they expected people under them to do.
I think almost everyone here is leading someone right now. Whether for me as a pastor, or if you are part of the Servant Team, or if you are leading us in worship as the worship team, or if you are leading your home as a husband or a parent or if you are leading children, or Sunday School or youth group or whatever it may be, the truth is as Gene Mauch says, “You can’t lead anyone else further than you have gone yourself.” You might not like that title of being called a leader, but that’s what you are.
I think some redefining of what leadership truly is need to be done here. What was the first command Jesus gave to those He called to be His disciples/leaders? “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19). I think the biggest problem comes in my life (and I think for many people who are leaders) is we get caught up in what it means to be a leader that we forget that we are first followers. I remember Dr. Joe Stowell saying in a conference once that our Christian culture promotes leadership so much sometimes (how many books in Christian stores are found under “leadership”? but have you ever seen a section for “followership”?) that it causes us to forget that our position (youth leader, servant team, worship leader, husband, parent, SS teacher, pastor etc.) is different from our calling. Our calling is to be a follower first. Positions come and go. Our calling is forever. Followers are top of the chain in the Kingdom of God. If you are going to be an effective leader with some biblical convictions in your life, you have to be a good follower first. So stop telling people that are listening to you to have convictions if you don’t have any yourself. Here we see that biblical conviction commences with the leadership first.
II. Biblical conviction is a commitment to God’s Word as your authority (Neh. 10:28-29)
In Neh. 10:28-29, we see that the rest of the people join their leaders to renew the covenant. Notice how they describe themselves in Neh. 10:28: “all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God.” This has always been the problem of the Jews. They were called to be separate and be distinct from their idolatrous neighbors who wanted them to worship their gods, marry their people and be part of their lifestyles. While the Law told them to be good neighbors and even good customers, the primary command was to be separate. This is the message of Leviticus. When God had told them not to eat certain foods, for example, it was only because the peoples of the nations around them worshipped some of these animals and God did not want His people anywhere near those things that might lead them astray.
But separation here is from the peoples of the land to the Law of God. Warren Wiersbe says, “Separation is simply total devotion to God, no matter what the cost. When a man and woman get married, they separate themselves from all other possible mates and give themselves completely to each other. It is total commitment motivated by love, and it is a balanced decision: We separate from others to the one who is to be our life’s mate.” Separation he adds is devotion to the Lord and His people, not just isolation from people. Some groups like the Amish, or early church fathers, have taken this teaching to the extreme where they have no access to anyone beside their community.
Notice also in Neh. 10:29 that they are welcoming a curse as well if they fail to abide by the covenant. Again, this is part of the Old Covenant. The curse refers to Deut. 27:15-26 and Deut. 28:15-68, where numerous blessings and curses will result depending on whether Israel kept or forsook the covenant. Are Christians under God’s curse if we disobey Him? Yes and No. No in the sense that Gal. 3:13 tells us “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.” If you are truly saved, you do not need to fear God’s eternal judgment for your sin. However, being under grace does not negate the principles of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7-8). We also invite God’s discipline to teach us to fear sinning (1 Cor. 11:27-32; Heb. 12:5-11).
But notice their commitment to God’s Word as their authority first. Underline the word “all.” They are not going to a buffet with God’s Word, picking and choosing what they like and throwing out what they don’t like. This is where your convictions start. God’s Word was not going to be an optional guide for them. It was His will to be completely and whole heartedly followed. If they wanted all of God, they need to follow all of His Word.
In the New Testament, Paul says the Word should be honored the same way. Look at Col. 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Each of these words is pregnant with meaning. The very reason he says, “let” implies that action on our part. We have let it into our lives like we let someone into our house. In fact the word “dwell” means “to take up residence” or “to be at home.” So Paul is saying that believers should let the Word of God make a home in your heart. Put a welcome mat out for the Word.
Then he says, “richly” which means “extravagantly.” In other words, there are no boundaries. Stephen Davey adds, “A believer does not say to the Word, ‘Come into my life, but stay over there in the corner. Don’t go into the family room. Don’t go into the bedroom. Don’t go anywhere, except to church with me on Sunday. And whatever you do, don’t go to work with me! Just stay here in your designated place, until I need you!’ No this verse urges the believer to let the Word have full reign in every compartment, department, and segment of life.” So here Nehemiah and the people are saying the same thing: “We will allow the Word of God to determine everything about our lifestyle!” The way you view God’s Word indicates how you view God.
Biblical conviction is a commitment to God’s Word as your authority.
Due to time constraints, I’m going to stop here for now and we will pick it up next week, Lord willing. We are going to see how their commitment to God’s Word as their authority helped them to apply it in specific areas of their lives. So we will get into specific convictions the people of Israel had and the implications for us as well.
As we close here, I want you to know that my greatest sorrows come when believers do not live by convictions. But I must admit as well that the greatest failures in my life have come when I do not live by biblical convictions. This happens first and foremost when I get caught up in my position that I forget my calling. It was good for me this week being in this text to see that I need to change my prayers from “Lord, help me to be a good leader” to “Lord, help me to be a good follower of you.” See, as I learn to follow the Lord’s leadership in my own life, I will naturally be a good leader or husband or father or brother, etc. Let us not forget that! Biblical convictions will flow out of desiring that.
Secondly, how inviting have you been to the Word of God this week? Has it dwelled in you richly? When we do not invite the Word of God into our lives, we are not inviting God in! It is no wonder we fall so easily when pressure hits us! We have no biblical convictions because we have no time in God’s Word. Let’s pray to the Lord that we will not be wishy-washy, comfort and convenience Christians, but people of biblical conviction, immovable to the circumstances or pressure around us, because we have planted our feet…better yet, cemented our feet into the concrete of God’s Word.
Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.,Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
J. Hampton Keathley III, “Mark #6: Biblical Conviction” http://bible.org/seriespage/mark-6-biblical-conviction accessed October 28, 2009.
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1990-1999) (Desiring God; Minneapolis, MN, 2007; 2007).
Wiersbe, Be determined.