Title: KNOCKED DOWN, BUT NOT KNOCKED OUT
Text: Nehemiah 4:1-9
There’s a cost to being a leader. One of those costs is receiving criticism. Criticism comes in the good times and the bad. If there’s anything constant, it’s that there are people in the crowd who think they are the God-appointed voice of how they think things should be done.
Nehemiah comes face-to-face with critics in our study tonight. It isn’t the kind of criticism that is merely a grumble or a grip. He was met with an obstacle that proposed a strong opposition.
All of us face criticism from time-to-time. You can’t avoid it. So we would do well to see how Nehemiah faced it. The Apostle Paul faced it, and wrote about it. “We are hard-pressed on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but are never deserted; we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! We always carry in us the brand marks of the body of the crucified Jesus.” (2 Cor. 4:8-10 Phillips translation) Notice Paul says, WE are always carrying about the brand marks of the body of Jesus. If you are a Christian, the jackals will nip at your heels and the snipers in the bush will take their pot shots.
We are skipping chapter 3 of Nehemiah where he elaborates over the various workmen he appointed to do different parts of the job. An engineer would appreciate this chapter, but we are going to pick up the action in chapter 4. Read Text.
1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the intensity of Sanballat’s criticism in verse 1? From verse 2, how does Sanballat add to his sin? (He gossips and stirs up others to join in on his critical mood.) Ps. 35:15-16
Insight: Those that wag their tongue in derision add to the misery of the one they target by spreading malicious speech to others. If the tongue sins in one area, you can just about count on it being unbridled and sinning in another area right behind it.
2. In the majority, when someone inspires others to take on an overwhelming task, there is respect and admiration. What is revealed in the heart of those who are just the opposite and incite opposition?
3. What’s needed in the heart of one who is a habitual critic?
4. How do you deal with change and mandates that are handed down from above? What would you suggest for the one who struggles with that?
5. Everyone has Sanballats in their life. According to verses 4-5, what was Nehemiah’s first reaction to him?
(He kept his cool and talked to God.)
Insight: The words in this prayer indicate what he’d like to happen to them, but when you feel revenge welling up inside, it’s best to leave it to God to execute. Instead of striking back, he spent some therapeutic time on his knees, bearing out his heart to God. Heb. 10:30
6. It takes two to argue. What happens to an argument when one person refuses to participate? (It dies on the spot.) What have you found that works for you when you find yourself being sucked into an argument?
Insight: We regret the words that fly off our tongue thoughtlessly…peaceful is the tongue that takes a moment to ponder them in secret before the Lord before speaking.
7. Is all criticism wrong? (No. Some of it is motivated by genuine concern and is well worth considering.)
8. Fill in the blank: Critics demoralize; leaders ____________ . (Encourage, motivate, inspire.)
9. According to verse 5, what affect did the criticism have upon the builders?
10. From verse 6, what was Nehemiah’s second reaction to Sanballat’s criticism? (He stayed at the task. After getting off his knees with renewed strength, he pumped some of that determination into his workers. “Pass me another brick!”)
11. What was the attitude of the people as they worked? (Their heart was engaged in the work; they went about it vigorously.) Ps. 110:3
12. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the intensity of Sanballat’s reaction to the progress of the wall in verses 7-8?
Insight: Nothing riles a critic more than having their criticism result in more progress. That reminds me of a prophesy: Rev. 22:10-11.
13. How did Nehemiah respond to this intensified reaction of the critics (v.9)? (He did not take matters into his own hands; he matched the intensity of the opposition with intensified prayer; but this time he brought the workers with him to the throne.)
Criticism can be demoralizing and discouraging. It can cause us to say or do things we later regret. If we are going to lead, we are going to face opposition. But we don’t need to look at it as a sign of failure. Even some of God’s greatest servants were met with criticism…and even His Son.
We’ve seen from our lesson that it’s essential that our first response to opposition needs to be prayer. There’s no better place to cool down your heart and get the right perspective than on your knees. But prayer isn’t the only thing we need to do…we need to buckle down and finish the task at hand.
We would do well to listen to their comments and see if they have any validity. But if you detect needless nagging, we must not let it deter us from following God’s directions.
It’s easy to identify with Nehemiah. Let’s take the opportunity to examine our hearts to see of we have been a Sanballat to someone else. Have you born a critical spirit towards another? Perhaps a reminder from God’s Word will help. Prov. 12:18-19; 15:4; 16:24; 18:21; Eph. 4:29