Patrick Ireland was the student in the Columbine shooting who was repeatedly shown being rescued from a window. The deadly event on April 20, 1999 caused the Littleton, Colorado young man to suffer paralysis. Resisting the temptation to become a helpless victim, Ireland fought back to regain mobility. Now at the age of 27, he has few lingering effects from the gunshot wounds to his head and leg. On the tenth anniversary of that terribly day, Ireland was quoted giving his philosophy of life: “I choose to be a victor rather than a victim.” I like that. I am not sure if Ireland is a believer, but if he can live with that kind of a conviction, how much more should we as believers!
We have been talking about biblical convictions as part of building God’s people, which has so far involved revival (Neh. 8) and confession/remembering God’s faithfulness (Neh. 9). We said last week that biblical conviction had three components:
(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. We saw their commitment to Scripture last week and today we will their construction of specific beliefs based on Scripture and we will end in prayer for courage to act on those beliefs by faith.
We saw the people of God come down from the mountaintop of revival, religious fervor and excitement to make a plan to carry out a commitment to love and serve God in the daily grind. We said the way to do that was to develop some biblical convictions. Because we don’t have convictions, we easily fall when the going gets tough. Nothing is holding us when we feel the strain of people getting to us or circumstances or trials. We shared two thoughts:
I. Biblical conviction commences with the leadership (Neh. 9:38-10:27)
We saw that the leaders were the first to take the step to say that they will commit to follow God and His ways. Everyone rededicated their lives to God, but the leaders set the example. We learned that if whether we are a husband, parents, youth leader, Sunday School teacher, pastor, part of servant team, someone who is discipling someone else, etc., we are all leaders. As leaders, we must set the example first for people to follow, because we cannot take anyone where we have not gone. Secondly, remember that:
II. Biblical conviction is a commitment to God’s Word as your authority (Neh. 10:28-29)
So how do you begin to have a biblical conviction? The people of Israel teach us that you first submit to God’s Word as your authority. We are not just making up our convictions from out of thin air. We are getting them from the Scriptures. If you want to help people have some biblical convictions, you don’t want to give them your opinions, bring them to God’s Word first.
Commit to Scripture as your authority. From there, here is the next thought:
III. Biblical conviction is a construction of beliefs based on God’s Word (Neh. 10:30-39)
The rest of this chapter is about the specifics of that commitment. This is true application of God’s Word. They heard God’s Word read to them and they immediately thought to themselves, “What does this mean in my own life?” This is a good lesson for us as we hear God’s Word. We need specific, measurable applications. Our professors in seminary would always challenge us in our assignments and papers with the question, “So what?” and what “I will” statements come out these truths you stated? Notice the “we will” statements in this community (Neh. 10:30-31, 39). I see three major categories in which they made specific applications:
a) Purity of Lifestyle (Neh. 10:30)
The first conviction they put into writing was not to intermarry with unbelievers in Neh. 10:30. Some have taken this as a biblical mandate to marry within your own culture. This is not what this is teaching. For the Jews, marrying outside their race meant marrying an unbeliever. Ezra had to deal with this a few years before (Ezra 10). We know Tobiah, Nehemiah’s enemy, intermarried with the Jews and so did his son (Neh. 6:19), causing so many problems for God’s work. This was a real issue for them now.
Perhaps when God’s Word was being read, they heard Deut. 7:3-4 being read. Here we see the reason why God did not want intermarriage: “For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut. 7:4). This seems to be a huge problem for the Jews. Interestingly, if you have been doing the Bible reading plan, you may have read about King Solomon this past week. He seemed to marry not just one unbeliever, but women from every nation around him and eventually turned his heart away to other gods (1 Kings 11:1-8). His idolatry eventually led directly to the kingdom becoming divided. Later Ahab married Jezebel, leading to worship of Baal in the northern kingdom, with disastrous moral consequences as well as the murder of many prophets (1 Kings 16:29-33; 18:4, 13, 22; 1 Kings 19:10). Centuries later, we find the Jews were still doing the same thing. Unfortunately, the people here in Neh. 10 fell from their conviction about intermarriage by the time we get to the end of Nehemiah.
Although I think everyone here knows this, but it needs to be said to our single members here. You need to have your #1 conviction regarding your spouse to be that he/she is a believer. I say it now because I have known too many believers who said this was their conviction before marriage who have settled and compromised later. Yes, I have seen God redeem marriages where the unbelieving spouse comes to the Lord, but that is an exception to the rule. I know far more marriages where the spouse is still unsaved and the marriage is broken, some with kids having gone the way of the unbelieving parent. Marriage is hard enough with two believers! Scripture teaches us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). Some have dismissed that to say Paul was speaking about not starting business partnerships with unbelievers and that he was not talking about marriage partners. However, it is clear from 1 Cor. 7:39 where Paul urges someone whose spouse has died to go ahead and marry, but only to a believer.
For some odd reason, I have seen godly parents recommend the most pagan of people for their saved children. Their conviction seems to be more out of that person’s profession or family reputation or looks, etc…everything except salvation! It is opposite of what the parents are saying here in Neh. 10:30. To our single brothers and sisters, you need to stand firm against this temptation to settle when the pressure mounts. And as for those of us who are parents now or will be parents, let us pray to the Lord and instill in our children in time this conviction of God’s will for their spouse (if our kids are saved) is that he/she needs to be a believer.
This is one application for the conviction that I need to have purity in my lifestyle. But we also need to have convictions about other areas in this category. I cannot come up them for you, but I can share some that I and we have made as specific application of the biblical conviction to walk in purity, specifically sexual:
· I will have an internet filter on every computer I own.
· I will go to sleep when Jenny goes to sleep. I don’t want to put myself in a position for my flesh (Rom.13:14) to be fed (Gal. 5:13-17) by being alone with the computer and television at night.
·We will never allow our kids to have a computer in their own room.
I have more, but I am sharing these as examples that you need to have for yourself, so that when the pressure hits, you know where you stand in regards to a lifestyle of purity. You will have different ones depending on your season. It will be helpful for you to think of them in categories like entertainment convictions, convictions about relating to the opposite sex, convictions about internet use, etc. Have those convictions and ask people to hold you accountable to them.
Let’s look at the second area where they had convictions:
b) Faith in God’s Provision (Neh. 10:31)
They move from convictions about purity of lifestyle with some convictions about having faith in God’s provision in their lives in Neh. 10:31.
They singed their names to say, “We will not do as the world in the following ways:”
It needs to be said that these are unique commitments to the nation of Israel bound by the Old Covenant. Paul tells us in Galatians 4 that believers are not bound to special days or festivals. However there are timeless principles here that were true for them as well as for us. Now why did they pick these specific ones? Like intermarriage, these were areas where they were not really sure what God wanted (at least until the Law was read to them in Neh. 8) and they struggled with obeying. They did not want to be wishy-washy anymore about it. They weren’t going to tolerate it anymore and pray that somehow it gets fixed. That is what a conviction does. It does not allow me to ask, “How close can I get to the edge and not fall off?” Instead, it says, I want to run as far away from the edge as possible to protect myself and the reputation of God in my life.
People here probably had all kinds of different opinions about what it all meant. For example, there was no clear cut rule about buying anything on the Sabbath from foreigners. Ray Brown says the Sabbath law was instituted for four reasons: honor God, enjoy rest, help others and declare truth. It was set apart from other days and given to God so that they might offer their worship to him, undisturbed by the inevitable distractions of everyday life. You were to be refreshed physically and spiritually and take time to think about others in need and encouraging someone. The Gentiles did not think of any day as special, so when they would come to sell or buy and see the Jewish shops closed, they will inevitably ask why and the Jews could witness about God to them. But some might say that is another day where you can make some money! Yes, it also taught the Jews to have faith in God’s provision for their lives. For us, Sundays are set apart by God for rest and worship with your family and fellow believers.
The same reason goes to why God said no organized farming in the seventh year. What? Don’t plant anything in the seventh year? But that’s a whole year’s worth of harvest lost! You see, this was God’s built-in curriculum of faith. The course was called Trust 101 and every Israelite had to enroll. Obeying God means trusting Him! It taught the Jews that God owned it all. They were not the owners, just the managers. Also, in Ex. 23:10-11, it was for the poor people to collect a modest food supply. Apparently, “when the fields were left fallow for a year, a certain amount of produce would automatically re-seed, and in time the fields could yield a modest natural harvest.” In essence, it taught the Jewish people to be like God. It was a compassionate God telling his children that they must be like Him. He cares passionately for the widow, fatherless, orphan and foreigner in Israel (Deut. 10:17-18; 24:17-22; 26:12-13; 27:19).
The canceling of debt the seventh year again shows God’s values: people matter more than things and the welfare of the debtor took precedence over the prosperity of the creditor. You may remember in Neh. 5:1-19, Nehemiah had to deal with rich Jews charging interest to poorer Jews. Again, the plight of the poor was a real problem they faced at the time. According to Ray Brown, the burden of repayment was often crippling to the debtor. More often than not, they were in debt not because of careless mismanagement, but often due to family deprivation, such as death or serious illness of the father, collapse of a family business or sometimes famine. As a result, many would sell themselves or their children to slavery to pay it off. Now most likely the law said the creditor in the seventh year was not to collect any money, to allow the debtor more time to repay. It was an act of compassion.
In all of these laws, we see an overarching theme: trust God to provide. This is a timeless biblical conviction. I will trust God to provide for me. For each of us in different ways, He has a built-in curriculum of faith. My family and I have been tested with this many times! It was on a bench right outside McManus/Evans dorms at Wheaton College, when I was sitting there in front of that fountain one November evening about 11 years ago now, struggling about what to do with my life, where the Lord asked me, “Do you love me?” I knew what He was getting at. He wanted me to serve Him. I had fought the call for a while, but He wouldn’t let me go. I remember my lips trembling and my heart so fearful with what that meant. I said, “Yes Lord, I love you.” I surrendered my life to serve Him full-time. A million thoughts raced through my mind. How am I going to get a job? Who’s going to want to marry me? Am I going to be poor? Am I a missionary? I had so many doubts. But one truth always comforted me: IF HE CALLS YOU, HE WILL PROVIDE FOR YOU. That truth was a conviction that I had.
We will be constantly tested if believe this. I think I shared this with you before, but I remember right before Abbie was born, I was laid off from Moody. We had a baby shower and had gotten so many clothes. But I still did not have job. We had to move in with my in-laws. One day I was really discouraged. I have a baby coming and no job. We had some convictions about Jenny working part-time and serving in ministry. As I was sitting in the bedroom, I looked up at all the clothes Abbie was going to wear. Jenny had arranged it according to month. By this time, we also had a play yard for her and tons of diapers. I laughed and thought, “If only Abbie knew that all of these things are already provided for her even before she was born!” Then it hit me. “Robin, as an earthly father you have taken care of your child even before she born, but how much more have I already taken care of you?” Believers, I stand here before you to testify to the fact that we can bank on this conviction: God will provide for His own!
The last conviction they constructed from God’s Word was:
c) Support God’s Work (Neh. 10:32-39)
The largest portion of their conviction had to do with the Temple. The Temple was rebuilt about 80 years before. The phrase “house of our God” is found in every verse from Neh. 10:32-39, except in Neh. 10:35 where it says, “house of the LORD.” The key to this section is found in Neh. 10:39: “We will not neglect the house of our God.” The most important conviction they had related to the worship and service of God. The Temple stood at the heart of the people’s religious, moral and political life. It represented symbolically the presence and power of God in their midst. Again, we are not under the Law of Moses, but the principles here are still true for us. We must be committed to support God’s work. I am not going to go into every little detail here, but glean out some truths that we can learn from their conviction to give to God’s work. When I talk about giving here, I am talking more than financial, but of yourself, your time and resources as well. First of all, jot this down:
1) They took responsibility
Notice the terms “We also take on ourselves the obligation” (Neh. 10:32) and again in Neh. 10:35: “We obligate ourselves.” They took ownership of the ministry. The ministry did not just belong to the priests or the Levites or temple servants or Ezra or Nehemiah. I am so thankful to those of you who take responsibility for so many areas of this ministry! I pray everyone has that conviction here at Living Hope that the ministry belongs to everybody.
2) They gave regularly
There was nothing haphazard about their giving. They weren’t depending on feeling the right way first before they gave. It was very systematic. Notice the word “yearly” in Neh. 10:32. Look down to Neh. 10:34 and see where it says “year by year” and again down at Neh. 10:35. Financially speaking, this teaches us that having consistency and order is a good thing, especially when you give to God’s work. So your conviction has to be, as I am able, I will give this much to the Lord’s work consistently. 10% of your gross income is a good start. 1 Cor. 16:2 tells us to give financially as the Lord has prospered us, i.e. proportionately. Each of us must decide how much and to what ministries, etc. as the Lord has generously provided for us. But more than that, it is important that you are consistently attending church and giving yourself on a regular basis to His work (Heb. 10:24-25). Is that your conviction?
3) They gave sacrificially
Notice in these verses also the repetition of the word “first” (Neh. 10:36-37). The firstfruits were the choicest by far. It was the best part. To offer these was a wonderful way to declare that the Lord is the giver of all good things and all things belong to Him and He is worthy of the best we can offer. Do you give your best when you come to Living Hope? Or are you tired, half-hearted and lazy in your worship? This was a sacrifice to do this. God so loved the world that He gave HIS BEST.
I have noticed in churches that a lot of people serve only if they see what’s in it for them. Let me tell you that is not what ministry is about. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It is not always convenient to serve and to give to God’s work. You might not always get appreciated. You might not always get noticed. It is sacrificial.
I thought it was interesting that to keep the fires burning at the altar (Lev. 6:12-13), they needed wood. Look at Neh. 10:34. They decided to cast lots to determine who would go out and collect the wood for this work. This was not a financial sacrifice, but it required a lot of time and energy. Time is a very costly commodity. Time to practice for worship, time to drive here, time to prepare lesson plans, time to clean up, time to buy snacks, time to build relationships, etc. Do we have a conviction that we will devote our time to God’s work? Sir Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).
Do you have any biblical convictions? Today we looked at three areas: purity in our lifestyle, faith in God’s provision and supporting God’s work. I would encourage you to be specific. Do not just say, “I need to work on purity.” Say, “I will install an internet filter on my computer and I will get accountability in my life for this area today.” Don’t just say, “I need to trust that God will provide for me.” Say, “Whenever I am tempted to doubt God’s provision for my future, I will look back at my journal or my past and review His faithfulness.” Don’t just say, “I need to more faithful in giving to missions.” Say, “I will go home today and talk with my spouse (if applicable) about how we can support a missionary from Gospel for Asia.”
Lastly, I would close by looking at our definition of biblical conviction again. We said it had three components: commitment to God’s Word as our authority, construction of beliefs based on that authority and finally, courage to act on these by faith.
Only time will tell if the people of Israel had the courage to act on their convictions. We need to pray for courage. The Bible says that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). Will you ask God to give us courage to not to give up our convictions, even when it seems absolutely hopeless? May the Lord walk by you today and whisper in your soul, “Be strong and of good courage.”
 Beaumont Enterprise 4.20.09, p.9A from In Other Words: A Free Weekly Email of Facts and Humor for Christian Leaders compiled by Dr. Raymond McHenry accessed November 7, 2009.
J. Hampton Keathley III, “Mark #6: Biblical Conviction” http://bible.org/seriespage/mark-6-biblical-conviction accessed October 28, 2009.