“Should Christians Serve in Government?”
“Nehemiah: the Believer Serving as Governor”
Sunday 10-17-04 PM
Introduction: We have been studying how the Christian and the Church relate to the State; what the obligations of the State are to its citizens and what the church’s and individual Christian’s obligations are to the State. Let me say that while I have enjoyed this study I recognize that it is not the favorite thing to study by many people in the church. This is a favorite topic of mine and since this is a political campaign year I had hoped it would be of some benefit to the church.
This will be the last study in this series for a long while however. I had originally hoped to a lot more by examining more of the biblical men and women who had dealings with the state in some way and I had wanted to study several individual issues, such as the just war theory, abortion, homosexuality, economics, etc. But the difficulties that go with being a bi-vocational preacher have to be dealt with and in this series the difficulty is that I just plain do not have the time to devote to the studies necessary for this series at this time. A Topical series like this is very hard work and requires way more time than I have available for a Sunday evening series.
While some of you were enjoying the series, the danger of shooting from the hip and mis-speaking here and offending someone unnecessarily was increasing. I think this is a time when I need to regroup and try a longer range preparation process. Plus, the national election is upon us in 2 weeks. This would mean that after tonight I would have next Sunday the 24th as my last sermon before the election since the 31st is going to be a 5th Sunday song service and the election is Tuesday the 2nd. I have been greatly encouraged by the interest of the younger crowd in this topic, however, and so I think there may be room for this type of series again at a later time.
Next Sunday night we will examine the issues of this current election by using some voter guides and the two party platforms as a guide and try to compare them with scripture.
But for tonight we will look at Nehemiah: the Believer Serving as Governor. We will examine a little bit of the historical background of Nehemiah’s day, and then look at the man himself. Then we shall examine his appeal to the King and his mission to Jerusalem and finish up by looking at his great work.
I. Historical Background
In 2Kings15 is the introduction of Assyria into Israel under the wicked King Menahem of Israel in about 743bc. After years of alternating between paying tribute and rebelling against Assyria, Israel’s capital, Samaria, was destroyed by Shalmaneser V, son of Tiglath-Pileser III, in 722bc and the people of Israel were exiled. Other people groups were imported in to Israel and the interbreeding that resulted was the source of the Samaritans, so despised in the NT.
The kingdom of Judah continued on however, though invaded by Senacherib King of Assyria in 701bc. God delivered Judah by sending a massive plague to destroy the Assyrian army in 2Kings19. Ominously though, in 2Kings20, the good king Hezekiah of Judah foolishly showed his treasures to the envoys of Babylon.
Over the next 100+ yrs Israel was served by bad kings with only a couple of exceptions. In 605bc Babylon, which had defeated Assyria, beat Pharaoh Neco at the Battle of Carchemish on the Euphrates River. This brought Judah under the authority of Babylon. This is when Nebuchadnezzar took the first batch of captive Jews to Babylon, including Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. After many short lived kings and much rebellion by Judah, Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586bc and carried off even more captives. Jeremiah the prophet spoke the Lord’s word to the captives and told them they would be held captive for 70 years in Babylon until the Lord would punish the king of Babylon. In Jer.29 he says “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer.29:5-7).
Now that passage alone is a great sermon on our topic of how to relate to the state. But for now it sets the background of Nehemiah who was probably born in Babylon as a descendent of an exile, probably a grandson of an exile. But now he is serving Artaxerxes, King of Persia. How did that happen?
In Daniel 5 is the story of how Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar was giving a banquet when God’s hand wrote on the wall. They called in the prophet Daniel and he read it and pronounced judgment upon the Kingdom of Babylon. That very night Darius king of the Medes and Persians invaded and killed Belshazzar. This brought the end of Babylon and the expansion of Persia.
Cyrus the Great rose out of a minor province and took over Persia, then the Medes, and headed west. He crushed King Croesus and the Lydians which also set the stage for the future conflict with Greece, and then he took out Babylon in 539bc. Cambyses succeeded his father Cyrus and ruled 530-522 and added Egypt into his domain, now the biggest empire ever in recorded history stretching from India to Turkey and Egypt. Darius Hytaspes ruled next (522-486) and it was this Darius who invaded Greece and was defeated at Marathon in 490bc by the Greeks. Darius was succeeded by Xerxes who also invaded Greece and succeeded in burning Athens but lost it all at the naval battle of Salamis when the Greeks followed Themistocles to glory.
Xerxes is mentioned in the Bible by his other name, Ahasuerus, and this is the great king to whom Esther was married. After Xerxes is Artaxerxes, reigning from 465-425. This is the king for whom Nehemiah was serving as cupbearer.
Just as there were several different deportations from Judah to Babylon, so too there were several different returns of the exiles to Jerusalem. The first group was in 538 under Cyrus, a second group in 458 under Xerxes and now the third group in 444bc under Artaxerxes. It is this group that Nehemiah leads and serves as governor under the Persian king Artaxerxes.
1. Here was a believer taking seriously the prophecy of Jeremiah 29 to seek the good of the land. There is no question of his faithfulness to God. He is a committed believer. Yet he is serving in the government of a pagan king.
2. He was born into the Persian Empire but he is of Jewish racial stock. The Persians had a great system of government in that they gave the people they ruled over a lot of rights and privileges. In a lot of ways it was a meritocracy, you could use your skills to advance and prosper regardless of your race. The Persians gave subject peoples a stake in society and leadership whereas the Assyrians ruled by fear and torture. So Nehemiah was born, educated in both the Jewish manner and the Persian, and he rose quickly thru the ranks to be cup-bearer for the king.
3. This showed a strong sense of responsibility and excellence in Nehemiah. He worked hard and sought the best for his government and king, without compromising his faith.
4. The Cupbearer was not just a servant who set the table. He was responsible for the King’s food supply and security. One of the most frequent methods of assassination was through poisoning. This was a high level security and supply position. He was also considered to be a companion of the King and was to be able to speak with the King as a friend and advisor.
II. Nehemiah’s Appeal
1. Made aware of the need- The reason I gave you the extensive historical background is to see that God places a single individual in the right place at the right time within the broad sweep of history to accomplish Gods will and plan. Nehemiah was the right man for the time. In 1.2 we see that Hanani, one of his brothers, had returned from Jerusalem with a bad report. He brought the news and implied request for help to that believer who was next to the king. When you are faithful and serve with excellence anywhere, but especially in the state, you are likely to be inundated with requests for help. Many you have to just say no to, but this one struck a chord in Nehemiah’s heart. He sat down and wept v.4. He responds emotionally and spiritually to the need.
2, He prayed. The believer in high places has a lot of praying to do!
3. Made an appeal. He could not go running to the king for every little thing and thus wear out his welcome. He drew his lines carefully, saved his political capital. He approaches the king in humility and makes his case. He begins by just stating the facts, and then the king asks what does Nehemiah want? He phrases the request in terms of pleasing the king, he has a plan that is detailed enough to answer the kings questions. In 2.8 he attributes success to God.
4. The king not only gives him all the money he needs and the diplomatic papers, he also sends an army guard along.
III. The Mission
1. Opposition by Sanballat and Tobiah. The believer in government will always meet ungodly opposition even when doing the king’s business. Expect opposition even from other believers. Later in Nehemiah we see believers who had compromised who were siding with the enemy. The godly leader must not allow opposition to deflect his faithfulness to his true calling. What if Nehemiah had backed down? Flip flopped or compromised?
2. Inspection, Nehemiah led by example, he went on a dangerous night recon, he did not sit in his office and make pronouncements, he got out on the ground and paid attention to detail. In v.16 he shows he can keep a secret too.
3. Motivational leader in 2.18 “Let Us start rebuilding.” In the face of mocking and ridicule they continued. He publicly professed his faith in God to do the work. In v.2.20 and he spoke directly against the opposition in v.20.
In 4,4ff he prays against his enemies and in 4.6 it says the people had a heart to work. Leadership.
IV. The Work
Cooperation, continued opposition, continued prayer and work.
In 4.16ff they formed a militia and worked with their spears and swords close at hand. A godly man willing to defend his people with violence. Spurgeon’s magazine Sword and Trowel. 4.23 watchfulness, always readyl
During the rebuilding he heard about the poor people’s plight and he ministered to them , he confronted the moneyed interests about their usury.
In 6.15 the wall was completed! Ch7 admin details after the main event is taken care of.
In ch8,9 he participates in revival. Ch13 several more governmental reforms.
Conclusion: It is not only permissible for the Christian to enter into politics and serve the community, state or nation, it is an excellent choice and a wonderful opportunity to do the Lord’s work in that capacity. Our nation needs some Nehemiahs! We need godly men and women to enter into public service through civil service and politics. If godly Believers abstain from serving in this capacity, who will we have in government? Ungodly pagans. And that just may explain why there is so much corruption, bad government and ineffective government.