Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 22 February 2023:
Nehemiah 5:5, 7, 8 — We are powerless because our fields and our vineyards belong to others…. You are exacting interest, each from his brother…. We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!
Today’s readings have an important message to the church about financial debt, about which I am tempted to write pages; but I won’t. Bottom line: Wealth is a form of power, but financial debt has rendered the people powerless. Recognizing that I stand in a very small minority, I don’t believe God desires His Kingdom people to be in debt to the world, and I don’t believe that God intends for His people to charge interest on what they lend to each other. The Bible clearly points out that the borrower is the slave to the lender, and God’s people must not sell themselves into slavery to the world as we are slaves to Christ and Christ alone. Nehemiah comments that the Jews had been working hard to “buy back” their Jewish brothers from the hands of the Gentiles. However, even some Jews were taking advantage of other Jews by charging interest on debt, and Nehemiah harshly rebukes these moneylenders (even 1% interest was too much). It is also important to note that those trapped in debt were even more vulnerable during times of financial crisis. Because they had no savings or contingency fund, they had to go into deeper debt to pay expenses such as taxes – their hole only got deeper. Interestingly, one of the Hebrew words used for debt has its origins in the Hebrew word for snakebite – debt is a poison that kills you slowly.
Today, Christians are in heavy debt to ungodly institutions while reportedly only about 2-4% of the church tithes. The vast majority of Christians who say that they are “homeowners” actually only “own” debts to financial institutions who really own their homes. Additionally, some denominations spend more money to pay off building debt than they do to support missionaries. Again, that building debt is being paid to ungodly institutions. The Church body is working hard to make the world rich. Is this what God intended? What would happen if Christians put the same amount of money they currently pay to debt interest into the work of the Church? Just one example: If you take out a five-year loan on a new car (something Christians do all the time), you basically pay for that car twice, except half of the money goes into the pockets of moneylenders instead of towards another car. Instead, why not buy two cars and donate one to a missionary team? Wouldn’t that choice more effectively support the Great Commission? I think so.
I believe that we are to be free from debt to ungodly institutions and that we have a responsibility to get other Christians out of slavery “as far as we are able.” In that, I believe Christians should lend to other Christians without ANY interest, and that we should use our resources to help other Christians remain financially free before we pursue independent luxuries. Nehemiah lived far below his means that he might ease the financial burdens of others; he did this “because of the fear of God.” (Nehemiah 5:15) When that young couple in your church struggling to make ends meet needs a new muffler on their car, will they go to the church for financial help or will they put the expense on their credit card owned by ungodly institutions? When people criticize others for making bad financial decisions, are those people willing to take the time to teach, coach, and mentor them into better financial decisions? Does your church now the financial debt of the body? Does your church have a plan to get out of debt (both the institution and the people within the institution)? Tithing is much easier without debt. The tithe is another instrumented intended for the church to use to keep people out of debt, a storehouse for needs. Christians are called to tithe into the storehouse but ALSO give gifts and offerings beyond the tithe to address genuine needs of others. Today, when most Christians have financial needs, they go to worldly banks rather than the church and other Christians – this is a serious problem that is disempowering the church and empowering the world.
Nehemiah 5:9 – So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies?”
Taking advantage of others and refusing to give to those in need is not only ungodly but also defames God before unbelievers.
Nehemiah 5:10 – Let us abandon this exacting of interest.
Once again, God does not want His people gaining wealth by lending with interest to people in need. Nehemiah demanded that there be NO interest on debt. Christians should give to other Christians freely, exacting no interest at all. The Old Testament direction was that on every seventh year, all debt was erased, a testimony to God’s grace. There is no reason why we shouldn’t retain that practice today. God wants His people to gain wealth through productivity, not by feeding off of the productivity of others through interest on debt. Also, God does not want His people to be enslaved by debt to others.
Nehemiah 5:14-19 – I also persevered in the work on this wall….
Nehemiah did not accept any special treatment and did the work of all the people. Additionally, he led by example in generosity. This is what leadership looks like.
Nehemiah 5:15 – The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.
Nehemiah made sure that he did not profit from his position of leadership because that is ungodly. Is that what leaders do today?
Nehemiah 5:19 – Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
Nehemiah found his riches in his relationship with God.
Acts 10:28, 34, 35 — God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean…. Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
What an incredible moment in history (His-story) we read today in Acts 10! In this chapter, God tears down every man-made social stratification and all positions of human pride to distinguish between only two groups of people, those who fear and obey God and those who don’t. Some specific points to think about below —
“There was a man named Cornelius… a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” One of the primary character traits of a true disciple is generous giving to the poor and needy (‘alms’ are gifts to the poor, above the tithe). Remember, just yesterday we read that Tabatha “was full of good works and acts of charity.” (Acts 9:36) Charity is the evidence of righteousness used for both Job and the Proverbs 31 woman. It is the mark of genuine worship and love for God, and it separates the true disciple from the hypocrite (actor). The generous giver is blessed by God. Twice today, Cornelius’ giving is praised — “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God…. Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.” (Acts 10:4, Acts 10:31) The kind of giving the Bible talks about is radical, shocking giving, hands wide open. The Christian sees the need and then meets the need. Cornelius was known by both God and the community as a generous giver. Are you? Is charity one of the primary character traits others would use to describe you?
Cornelius was also recognized as being a person who prayed continuously, and his prayers were heard by God (powerful). Again, the true disciple is known for prayer. How about you? Are you known as a person of prayer? Note that Peter’s special vision of revelation was received during his time of prayer (Acts 10:9-6). What is God revealing to you in your times of prayer?
“[Cornelius] called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him….” Everyone knew Cornelius was a believer, but Cornelius also knew who among both his servants and soldiers were believers to be trusted, and Cornelius “related everything to them.” Cornelius was a servant to Rome, but more importantly a servant to God who apparently had figured out how to do both at the same time, building ‘Christian’ fellowship groups within his work environment. Note that for this special assignment, Cornelius used his position and specifically assigned believers to carry out a mission directed by God for the Kingdom of God. Do you know who the believers are where you work? What are you doing together within your work environment to share the Gospel?
“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him…. And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.’” (Acts 10:25-29) I don’t think our generation can fully appreciate the shocking significance of the events that occur in Acts 10: A Roman Centurion kneeling in reverence before a devout Messianic Jew who had agreed to enter his home despite Jewish law, all to mark the commencement of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. A Jew visiting a Centurion, and a Centurion bowing down to a Jew would have created a shocking, unthinkable scene in that day, challenging the deep-rooted beliefs and customs of all involved. However, the god-fearing men put God’s commands above all else and obeyed without hesitation. The power of God destroys all barriers. God does not celebrate diversity; He provides unity in Christ. God created the ‘universe’ – the combination of two words, unity and diversity. God brings different things and people in perfect order when He is as the center. This is not a “Coexist” moment where Cornelius and Peter make a public political statement of social tolerance or say, “I’m ok, and you’re ok.” No, this is two servants of God surrendering to the will of God for the glory of God. The message is “none of us are ok, apart from Christ;” however, “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43).” Race, ethnicity, gender, social status, etc. are not virtues. But nothing of man apart from God is virtuous – no man can boast. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). “So let no one boast in men.” (1 Corinthians 3:21) “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” God shows no partiality; do you? In God’s economy, there are only two classes of people – saved and unsaved. Christians should reject all other social classifications or stratifications as measures of ‘worthiness’ or ‘unworthiness’.
“To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43) This is the Gospel we are called to preach. There is no other name by which a person may be saved but the name of Jesus. Who will hear the Gospel from you today? This week?
“’Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.” (Acts 10:47, 48) Baptism was immediate.
In Acts 10 we see a great example of the ‘tactical’ execution of the Great Commission given to us in Matthew 28 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Peter went to make disciples of ‘all nations’ (he didn’t have to go far to do that), he taught them what it means to “obey,” and he baptized them, all under the power and authority of Jesus which removed all human obstacles. How are you participating in the Great Commission in your town?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 22 February 2023: Find out who the Christians are where you work, fellowship with them, and pray that God will use you as a team to fulfill the Great Commission.