Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 23 February 2023:
Nehemiah 6:6 – In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king.”
Rumors started as insecure people assumed the worst motives of God’s people.
Nehemiah 6:9 – For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
The ungodly will always threaten and attack God’s people.
Nehemiah 6:12 – And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.
Not everyone who claims to know God’s will actually does, and many claim to speak for God in order to deceive you (or to lie to themselves). It is critical that you know how to distinguish between God’s word and false prophecy. Anybody who says, “God told me….” when God really didn’t or who uses God’s written word out of context is a false prophet. Fortunately, Jesus taught us how to identify the false prophet — “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20) What is the fruit? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….” (Galatians 5:22, 23) Not every dynamic preacher is a true disciple.
Nehemiah 6:16 – And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
God works through the faithful to reveal Himself to a watching world.
Nehemiah 6:17-19 – Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.
There remained disunity within the church despite God’s activity. It seems we will always have someone in our group subverting progress. Jesus had Judas. Jesus didn’t kick Judas out, and it appears that Nehemiah did not directly resist those working against him. Nehemiah simply stayed focused on accomplishing God’s will. Don’t worry too much or get distracted by those who resist the truth or what God would have you do. Stay focused and let your persistence overcome the resistance.
Acts 11:17 – If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?
God’s work isn’t limited by our rules or by our limited interpretation of His rules. We operate under the authority and power of Jesus Christ, not the authority and power of people.
Acts 11:20-21 – But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Jesus’ disciples preached the Gospel, despite being persecuted for it. Many believed and some didn’t. We are likewise called to preach to many, some who will believe and some who won’t. We cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 11:26 – “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
The plot thickens as we see how God puts disparate (not desperate) people and circumstances together to build His church and spread the Gospel to all nations. Antioch was an important, cosmopolitan city of influence, full of Jews and Gentiles. Antioch is first mentioned in Acts 6 when, during a time of dispute between the Hebrews and Hellenists, seven devout and reputable men were selected (as deacons) to equitably care for the needs of the people. One of those seven was Nicolaus, a proselyte (convert to Judaism, and subsequent believer in Christ) of Antioch.
Today, we read that during the persecution and scattering of the church after Stephen’s execution, some believers went to Antioch, “speaking the word to no one except Jews.” However, some others also went to Antioch “preaching the Lord Jesus” to the Hellenists as well, “and the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21) When the church in Jerusalem heard of the work God was doing in Antioch, they sent Barnabas, “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.” (Acts 11:24) Then, Barnabas went to Tarsus to get Saul and bring him to Antioch. Why? Likely Barnabas recalled what God had proclaimed of Saul, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles.” (Acts 9:15) For a whole year, Barnabas and Saul taught the church in Antioch, transforming new believers into real disciples. They weren’t just preaching (kerygma), they were teaching (didache), moving from the basics to deeper understanding and application.
As a result of Barnabas’ and Saul’s teaching and discipling in Antioch, “the disciples were first called Christians,” separate and distinct from the Jews or any other religious group or faction, an identifier that is used only two other times in the Bible (Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16). The evidence of Barnabas’ and Saul’s leadership in Antioch is perhaps best revealed by Antioch’s eagerness to send relief to their brothers in Judea during a world-wide famine. (Acts 11:27-30)
- Matthew 28:18-20 — And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
God’s people are called to make disciples, disciplined, trained believers who are fully equipped to obey God and multiply the faith. Those who have been reached by preaching must be subsequently discipled – this is the Great Commission. Discipling requires consistent effort over time. A discipled church is an effective church, ready to subsequently fulfill the Great Commandment of love and the Great Commission. Is your church known most for its preaching or its disciple-making? Who is discipling you, and who are you discipling in Christ? What is the fruit of these discipling relationships?
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 23 February 2023: Today, get a piece of paper and draw out your discipleship tree – who is discipling you and who you are discipling. If your tree looks more like a small sprout, pray that God will grow it and fill it out – “But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:20)