And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. (Nehemiah 8:2)
At the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, evidently there were, besides the Jews, other people living there from the surrounding nations. “On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever … Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” (Nehemiah 13:1, 3). So, it is interesting that when “all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel” (Nehemiah 8:1), those that gathered there were “all that could hear with understanding” (v.2).
The word translated “understanding” is the Hebrew word biyn which means to “separate mentally” or to “distinguish.” These who gathered here were those who could understand the language of the text. And for those times when the language was “rusty,” “the Levites, caused the people to understand the law … So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (vv. 7-8). The congregation was composed of those with a common language, a basic knowledge of the Mosaic law, and a common desire to attend to the Word of God. This meeting was not intended for outsiders.
One of the fallacies of the seeker-sensitive movement is that worship services are designed to attract outsiders into the congregation. In doing so, the “insiders” are fed a diluted spiritual meal and the outsiders do not benefit from it either because they lack understanding. When the church body gathers for worship, the service should serve, in the first place, to worship God, and secondly to edify the believer – the understanding listener. Ravi Zacharias in his latest book, Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality, says that worship “is the submission of our will, heart and purpose to the sovereign will and the person of God who created us and loves us. Worship is a relationship from which all inspiration flows and the relationship through which all of our needs are met” (173). An unbeliever does not have that relationship and therefore cannot truly experience worship. I am not suggesting that we should not invite unbelievers to our worship services, but our worship services should not be modified solely to cater to their “sensitivities.” That sort of manipulation is profitable for neither the unbeliever nor the believer. If a true seeker enters into the congregation, the Holy Spirit will deal with him/her (John 16:7-14) without any modifications to the worship service. In this way “all that hear with understanding” will benefit.
… God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
In this day of rampant relativistic humanism, there is “the truth.” It is not based on the on the fickle whims of men, but on the immutable Word of God. “The truth of the LORD endureth for ever” (Psalm 117:2). “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Psalm 119:160). “ For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).
Man’s “truth” is mutable. What is “true” in one century is proven false in the next. It was once true that the sun circled the earth; now we know that the earth circles the sun. The “science” of man is ultimately flawed because man has limited knowledge and understanding and because it originates from a faulty source – man himself. Jesus says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). That is an incredible assertion to make, if the claimant is incapable of validating it. Anyone making such a claim in the world of science and academia today would be laughed to scorn, and yet Jesus makes such a claim without hesitation because He can, and did, validate it with His own death and resurrection.
Our verse contains one of the greatest, if not the greatest, truths: that God “will have all men to be saved,” and thereby “come to the knowledge of truth.” God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (1 Peter 2:9). “This is a [“truthful” or “trustworthy”] saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). The “truth” is that in God’s plan of salvation, there is room for ALL. The companion truth is that not all will make it. Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). There IS room for all, but not all will find room.
So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month of E’-lul, in fifty and two days. (Nehemiah 6:15)
We are a highly distracted society. We carry our telephones with us. We pack our lap-tops and iPads around to coffee shops where we can access the internet and check on endless email. Those who are really up-to-date on technology carry their telephone, email and internet in a compact gadget that fits comfortably in the palm of the hand. So many automobile accidents are caused by people talking or texting on their cell phone while driving instead of paying attention to the job at hand – driving! Even during church services, grownup adults continually check their iPhones for messages, sports scores or check their Facebook for updates. Then at home the distractions continue with over 200 channels from which to choose on television. It’s a wonder that we get anything accomplished, especially as it relates to the work of God.
Nehemiah had a task. God had placed in his heart the desire to rebuild the fortifications of Jerusalem. Unlike us whose distractions are often self-inflicted, Nehemiah’s distractions were from without, from enemies who wanted to derail his God-given assignment. First his enemies laughed at him (Nehemiah 2:19). Then they mocked and ridiculed (Nehemiah 4:2-3). Next they threatened attack thereby demoralizing the people (Nehemiah 4:11). Then there was dissension within the ranks due to abuse of the poor by the nobility (Nehemiah 5:7). When these distractions failed to stop his progress, his enemies resorted to plots to assassinate him (Nehemiah 6:2, 4). Through all of this, Nehemiah maintained his focus on the goal of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and the task was completed in just fifty-two days.
Paul encourages us to focus on our God-given goals with these words: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Sometimes the distractions that keep our mind off of the things and the work of God are not self-imposed as in the case of Nehemiah. Sometimes those things are distractions placed there by our enemy, and yes, those can include our gadgets or the entertainment, in whatever form, we seek. But the Devil is not omnipresent and does not deserve all the blame for all of those distractions; we can do pretty well on our own. So, whether our distractions are assaults from without or self-inflicted, we should keep in mind: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith;” (Hebrews 12:1-2). John the Beloved put it this way, “all that is in the world … is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:16-17). Stay focused on the job at hand, and on what is truly important!
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:1-2)
Back in the seventies there was a saying going around in Christian circles exhorting Christians: “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” So effective was that campaign that today it appears that the saying was taken to the extreme so that we are now producing Christians that are “so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good.”
It is sad to see so many formerly strong fundamental churches pandering to the whims of an increasing populace with an insatiable need for entertainment. They call this being “seeker sensitive.” This is an oxymoron because the Bible says that “there is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:11). Many churches have lowered their standards in attempt to win those who have no standards and end up neither pleasing God nor pleasing man. Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10); He did not come to be sought. Jesus was not a panderer. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking eternal life (Matthew 19:16-22), Jesus did not offer him the easy way out, nor did He go after him when “he went away from him sorrowful” because he had great possessions.
The standard for the Christian is the heavenly standard: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). We are to “seek those things which are above” (Colossians 3:1), and to set our “affection on things above, not on things on earth” (v. 2). We need to understand that “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:17). Our love for the lost should never exceed our affection for the things above. We must “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15), but never at the cost of compromise.