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Nehemiah 5: Funding the Mission Print E-mail
Sunday, 08 May 2016

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In September of last year (2015), the president of the International Mission Board (David Platt) sent out an open letter about the current financial situation of the IMB. His letter begins: “Dear SBC Family,By now many of you may have heard that last week, IMB announced a plan to reduce the total number of our personnel (both here and overseas) by 600-800 people over the next six months.” That is 600-800 less missionaries serving in many places where there is little to no gospel witness. He goes on to give the reason for this move: “when we stepped back and looked at IMB finances since 2010, we realized that IMB has spent a combined $210 million more than people have given to us.” The Mission Board has been spending more than they have received to try and keep missionaries on the field. In order to make up for the shortfall, they have sold property, dipped into savings, and taken other steps to cover their spending. But of course, that cannot continue to happen. The truth is, there is not enough money to pay the missionaries that we currently have on the field. Some of that is perhaps due to poor stewardship and unnecessary spending, which I am sure will be considered during this process. But even then, the bottom line is that we are currently asking people who have given their lives to taking the gospel to unreached places to consider early retirement because we cannot afford to pay them. We are simply struggling to fund the mission at this point.

Truth is, the work of the Lord does require money and resources. Both Ezra and Nehemiah have been supported by the Persian kings to do the work that they were doing in Jerusalem. Both the rebuilding of the temple and of the wall demanded funding. And the Lord had largely provided for that through the pagan kings. Yet, we see in Nehemiah 5 that some of those helping Nehemiah rebuild the wall were struggling financially. Look at verses 1-5. It is important to note that the outcry here is not against the surrounding nations but against their Jewish brothers. Apparently those who were working on the wall were unable to tend to their fields and were having to mortgage their land and sell their children into slavery. They were committed to helping finish the wall, but they were paying a steep price. And it seems their wealthy brothers were not helping. Some were seemingly making money off of the situation and others were not helping to provide. It is a serious threat to the mission of rebuilding the wall. So Nehemiah steps in to address the problem by fighting for these poor brothers. What does he do?

He confronts injustice (v. 6-13)

Nehemiah is not happy about the situation. Look at verse 6. He did not like the fact that those who were helping him build the wall were being taken advantage of financially. So he addresses the leaders and condemns them for charging interest. Look at verses 7-11. The men in the community who seemingly had means, the nobles and the officials, were charging interest on their loans and their help of the workers. They were disobeying the Law (see Deuteronomy 23:19-20) and making it very hard on their brothers. Nehemiah confronts them, much like Ezra did concerning their marriages to foreign women (see Ezra 9-10). He tells them that what they are doing is wrong and bringing shame not just on the people but on the Lord as well. He calls on them to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations. They need to return to the Word on this point and love God more than they love money. They need to fear God by loving their brothers and helping them financially.

So how do they respond? Look at verse 12a. They respond by repenting and agreeing with Nehemiah. And they respond by saying that they will return the land and the produce just as he told them to do. So then, what does Nehemiah do? Something we might not expect. Look at verses 12b-13. Why does Nehemiah call in the priests? Why does he make them swear to do as they promised, even pronouncing a curse if they do not? In part, I think he does this because he wants to be sure that the families who are helping him are taken care of. And on the other hand, I think he knows how tempted we are when it comes to money. We might say we are going to do something, but when the time comes, we fail to keep our promise. It is a convicting thought to me. Good intentions will not fund the mission, only faithful giving can do that. Nehemiah confronts these men over their injustice and he holds them to their promise, which we are told they did in fact keep. Nehemiah was determined to confront this problem and find a solution.

Sometimes financial problems arise not because of a lack of funds but because of poor stewardship. It seems that enough money was present in Jerusalem for everyone to work and everyone to eat and everyone to do their part. Yet, when the men who had the money refused to be gracious and help, the others suffered for it. We have to be sure that we are good stewards of our money. We need to do this as individual families, as churches, and as institutions (like the IMB). I am thankful that David Platt is confronting the financial troubles facing the IMB in the way that he is. I pray with him that it will eventually result in better stewardship, which will encourage more and more giving so that more and more missionaries will be sent to places that need to hear the gospel. It is not fun, but we must be willing to confront at times.

He sacrificially gave (v. 14-19)

Nehemiah did not ask the nobles and officials to do anything that he was not willing to do himself. Even though he was the governor, he was willing to make sacrifices for the good of the people, especially those who needed help financially. Look at verses 14-15. The precedent was for Nehemiah to receive a food allowance as the governor and to collect taxes for these purposes. But Nehemiah did not do that. He was willing to make that sacrifice. Not only that, but he focuses on building the wall and does not acquire any land for himself. Look at verse 16. He remained committed to the mission of building the wall even though it kept him from acquiring land at this point. Finally, we see that he was willing to welcome many at his table and pick up the cost for those who daily attended. Look at verses 17-19. I think we do need to recognize that Nehemiah was a man of means. You have to have money to feed on an ox and six sheep every day. Not to mention the abundant wine. But Nehemiah was using his wealth in the service of others. He was willing to make sacrifices and avoid certain rights that he had as governor to be sure that others had enough. What makes a person do this? Why make such sacrifices? One of my commentator’s answers those questions: “Do you know what enables people to let go of privileges of their own choice? No one has forced Nehemiah to do this. What freed him from the enjoyment of those privileges? I’ll tell you what: his experience of something better than those privileges. Nehemiah knows something better than money and food: love for people and faith in God.” Have you experienced those things? Have you come to a point where you know that making financial sacrifices for the sake of others leads to blessing, even as Nehemiah says in his prayer? I pray that we do.

So how can we sacrificially support the mission in our lives? It begins individually with good stewardship of our finances. Like Nehemiah, we need to sacrificially give to support the mission of getting the gospel to those who have not heard. We need to support those who give their lives to preach the good news in hard places. We work and make money to support the mission. We must hold our leaders accountable, but we must be willing to give as well. We must be willing to make sacrifices individually. And we must be willing to make sacrifices as a church as well. I think we have tried to work hard in supporting foreign missions, but we must continually challenge ourselves to give all that we can to support the work of preaching the gospel to the lost. Nehemiah was willing to confront injustice and call his leaders to give an account. But he was also willing to give sacrificially. We must be willing to do that as well.

Yet, we must ask one more important question: why fund the mission at all? Obviously we are not called to build a wall that will protect the next generations of people living in our city, but why should we give money to make sure that the gospel is preached in all places? Why give money to the local church? Why give money to support missionaries? We do all that we can to support the preaching of Christ because He gave His all to save sinners like us. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is what Christ did for us. He took on flesh, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross for our sins. He paid the price that we could not pay by humbling himself and becoming nothing for us. He sacrificially gave more than we ever could. And He promised us that all who turn from their sins and trust in Him will one Day be with Him forever, where even the streets are paved with gold. So why do we give sacrificially to support the mission? Because Jesus is worthy of the spread of His glory!! He is worthy of men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation hearing the good news and placing their faith in Him. We give because He is worthy of their praise. So let’s confront injustice and give sacrificially to fund the mission. Let’s make sure that we steward our resources well to support those taking the good news to the lost for the sake of His glory. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 May 2016 )

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