Violating the Spirit of the Law

Scripture: Nehemiah 5:11, Exodus 21:2-7, Micah 6:8
Date: 11/02/2019 
Lesson: 5
'We need to be careful not to let rules and regulations become an end in and of themselves rather than a means to an end, which is to reflect the character of Jesus. What are ways that, even unintentionally, we can follow the letter of the law while violating the spirit behind it?'
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Jean Ross: Good morning, friends. Welcome again to "Sabbath School Study Hour," here at the Granite Bay Seventh Day Adventist Church. I'd like to welcome those who are joining us, literally across the country and around the world, part of our extended Sabbath School class. And we want to thank you for being a part of our study time today. We also want to welcome our regular members, Sabbath School members, here at church, and also those of you who might be visiting with us today. We are glad that you are here. We've been studying over the past few weeks our new lesson quarterly dealing with the two Old Testament books, Ezra and Nehemiah.

Today we find ourselves on lesson number 5 and it's entitled, "Violating the Spirit of the Law." And Jesus had quite a bit to say about that. That's lesson number 5. Now if you don't have a copy of today's lesson, those of you who are viewing, if you'd like to receive a copy, all you need to do is just go to Again, that's and you'll be able to download a copy of today's lesson. It's lesson number 5 in our study of Ezra and Nehemiah.

We also have a free offer we'd like to tell you about. It is a book entitled "Tiny Troublemakers," and this is our free gift. We'll send it to anyone who calls and asks. The number is 866-788-3966 and all you have to do is ask for offer number 196 and we'll be happy to send it to you. You can also read it online if you'd like. You can download a copy of the book and to do so, you need to text the code "SH133" to the number 40544. You'll then get a link and you'll be able to download the book and read it on your phone or tablet or whatever it is that you have. Well, at this time, before we get to our study, we want to invite our song leaders to come and they will lead us in our song this morning.

♪♪♪ female: Thank you, Pastor Ross. As always, before we begin studying together, we love to sing together. So I invite you to go to hymn number 312, "Near the Cross." And as we were practicing this morning I was thinking of these words: "Jesus, keep me near the cross. There a precious fountain free," free, "to all, a healing stream, flows from Calvary's mountain." That's where we need to be, at Jesus's feet near the cross every day, every minute of every day, until He comes again and we see Him face to face. I am looking forward to that day and we are going to sing about it and I hope that you will sing that within your heart every day this week. All four verses.

♪ Jesus, keep me near the cross. ♪

♪ There a precious fountain, ♪

♪ free to all, ♪

♪ a healing stream, ♪

♪ flows from Calvary's mountain. ♪

♪ In the cross, in the cross, ♪

♪ be my glory ever, ♪

♪ 'til my raptured ♪

♪ soul shall find ♪

♪ rest beyond the river. ♪

♪ Near the cross, ♪

♪ a trembling soul, ♪

♪ love and mercy found me; ♪

♪ there the bright and morning star ♪

♪ sheds its beams around me. ♪

♪ In the cross, in the cross, ♪

♪ be my glory ever, ♪

♪ 'til my raptured ♪

♪ soul shall find ♪

♪ rest beyond the river. ♪

♪ Near the cross! ♪

♪ O Lamb of God, ♪

♪ bring its scenes before me; ♪

♪ help me walk from day to day, ♪

♪ with its shadows o'er me. ♪

♪ In the cross, in the cross, ♪

♪ be my glory ever, ♪

♪ 'til my raptured ♪

♪ soul shall find ♪

♪ rest beyond the river. ♪

♪ Near the cross I'll watch and wait, ♪

♪ hoping, trusting ever, ♪

♪ 'til I reach the golden strand, ♪

♪ Just beyond the river. ♪

♪ In the cross, in the cross, ♪

♪ be my glory ever, ♪

♪ 'til my raptured ♪

♪ soul shall find ♪

♪ rest beyond ♪

♪ the river. ♪♪

Jean: Dear Father in heaven, we thank You once again that we have this opportunity to gather together in Your house to open up Your Word and study. And Father, we recognize the Bible is Your book and in order for us to have clear understanding of the Word we need the Holy Spirit and so we invite the Holy Spirit in a special way to speak to our hearts and guard our minds, Lord. Lead us into clear understanding of how we can worship You in Spirit and in truth. Thank You for your promise to be with us in Jesus's name, amen. Our lesson this morning is going to be brought to us by Pastor Luccas.

Luccas Rodor: Happy Sabbath. It is so good to see you all and it's so good to be here with you all, not only with our local church but also with our extended church that is watching from around the world. Happy Sabbath. I hope that you appreciate this lesson as much as I did this week. There was a lot to learn this week--in this week's lesson, especially by example. You know, we see one of the biblical giants in the Bible. Honestly, this one, he's more of a back, you know, background giant. You don't see him that much. You don't hear about. At least, you know, I never did an in-depth study about Nehemiah or Ezra. We read the books and Bible in a year but I had never learned this much about these two men and this week, 'specially, about Nehemiah. What a man. What a leader. And what a Christian, right?

So this week's lesson is entitled, "Violating the Spirit of the Law," and, you know, this is an old theme but it has never been so important, so modern, so up to date, as in our last days. It's very easy for us to violate the Spirit of the law, especially when, you know, we keep to the letter of the law, forgetting the reason of the letter of the law. So today's lesson has to do with that. Lesson 5, "Violating the Spirit of the Law."

Our Sabbath--our memory verse and I have a great appreciation for memory verses. When I was a child, my mom used to make me memorize a memory verse every week, you know, and it was a special moment. I feel very sad when I see Sabbath School nowadays being something kind of set aside, you know? We have around the world this is a phenomenon that goes on around the world. You have people arriving only for worship, you know? People only arriving for what they call the main hour and a lot of people thinking that Sabbath School is something that you can set aside. It's not. Sabbath School is the foundation of who we are. That's where we learn. You know that if you watch a Sabbath School, there's a study, I don't remember if it's seven or nine years, but if you study your Sabbath School lesson for seven or for nine years, a period of time, it's like going to seminary school. It's like learning, you know, a full class about the Bible, full--a full seminary about the Bible. So please not only value this moment but call people to go to your local church if you're watching online and invite people here to come and study with us. This is a very important part about who we are. This is--this is part of the foundation, right? This is where we study. We open the Word, we study these precepts, these doctrines, and we study these biblical figures. Please, please, consider this as something vital in your experience with Christ.

Our memory verse comes from Nehemiah 5:11 and it says: "Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them." Now, we've been studying this lesson now for, this is our fifth week, and we've heard already about Ezra and Nehemiah, we've heard a little bit about the dates, you know, involved, the context of where they're coming from, about what's happening in that time. We've learned a little bit about the challenges and the oppositions that they faced.

Now, we're going to start getting in depth in what they were facing, chapter to chapter. And the--I want you to remember here, as we start, I need you to remember that the return from exile, the return from Babylon, for these people, it was not a walk in the park. When you read the books, these two books, you notice that wherever you turn in their return to Jerusalem, they're met with opposition, they face obstacles, they have many enemies all around them. As they return, they find that old-time enemies were now in possession of the land: enemies such as the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Ashdodites, the Arabians and, more recently, in their context, more recently, imported from Syria, we find the Samaritans, all of which bitterly and craftily, they oppose the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem. We find that constantly.

But here's the thing. You know that when it comes to external enemies, external enemies, they have this tendency to unite people, right? You know how they say that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, you know? So external enemies, they have this way of uniting people. Now, it's an entirely different matter when we talk about internal enemies. The problems from within. You see, the devil, he doesn't--when he doesn't succeed in external attacks, when he isn't able to conquer someone or something externally, he then starts from within. He starts from within. External enemies, they divide people--they unite people. But internal enemies, what do they do? They divide. It was one of Napoleon's strategies to divide and to conquer, right? And that's also one of the enemy's strategies. He divides to conquer.

Being greedy--being greedy means placing ourselves above others. And that's the problem that we're facing in this lesson. It's--this is the sin that we find. That's one of the enemy's most successful and most effective weapons in spiritual warfare. It's greed. If he succeeds in making us think about us instead of thinking about everyone, about the others, about our neighbors, if he's successful in making us think about us, about what we want and what we need, he's victorious before we even know that he's been at work. That's the kind of sin that greed is. Greed has this power of making you delusioned about the needs of others. You only think about yourself. We only think about what we want, what we need. Being greedy means placing ourselves at the center of everything and insisting in achieving, no matter the cost, no matter what the cost might be to anyone else, on achieving what we want. It means exploiting others so that we can be happy. It means using people so that we can achieve what we want. It doesn't only mean--here's a funny thing about greed. It doesn't only mean wanting things my way, but expecting people to also want that. Ever seen that in greed? In greed, you find--you often find some very delusioned people where they think--they sincerely think that what they want, what they need for them is what everyone should want, what everyone should need.

Why is it that greedy people are never happy? Have you ever seen this play out in the life of someone? Someone that's very greedy, people that are very greedy, they're very selfish, that live for themselves, they usually are not very happy people. They're not very satisfied people in life. They're always wanting more. There's this author called Thomas Merton and he was right when he said that "to consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell."

The lesson this week deals mainly with greed. Greed not coming from enemies without but from enemies within. Nehemiah is a very--Nehemiah 5, I'm sorry. Nehemiah 5 is a very revealing chapter when it comes to the depths of sin in the heart of humans and how each of us should and need to learn how to serve one another. And this chapter and this is what we're going to go through today, this chapter can be divided in three parts. Basically, three things happen in this chapter, three things.

First of all, we find in Nehemiah chapter 5, verse 1 through 5, we find a problem. We find a grievance. The people of Israel, they cry out. And what's interesting is, is the mention of the word "great," okay? So first of all, in chapter 4, verse 19 we find that they're doing a great work. Do you remember that? Nehemiah considers his work to be what? Great. It's a great work, it's a great work. So in the midst of this great work, in the midst of this great work, we hear a great outcry and this appears in chapter 5, verse 1. There is a great outcry. In the midst of this great work--what was the great work? The reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem. The reconstruction of Jerusalem. This was the great work--we find a great outcry. And this great outcry is directed towards whom? The great God. And we find that in chapter 1, verse 5. There's a great work going on. In the midst of this great work, there's a great outcry, and this great outcry is directed towards the great God.

Now what is surprising here, what really surprises me, is that these people in their great outcry, usually in the Bible when you find people crying out for unjustice or something like that, you find them crying out because of--because of enemies. So for example, the chosen of Israel in bondage in Egypt. Who was the enemy? Egypt. The children of God, they might cry out in Babylon against the Babylonians and you find one of the most beautiful psalms, the Mosaic psalm or actually it's one of the psalms written as a collective lament, crying out against the woes of exile.

Who was the enemy? The Babylonians. But here, you don't find them crying out against an external enemy. The enemy here isn't--is not someone from without, it's from far away. It's not an external enemy. The enemy here is from within. The enemy here are the Israelites themselves, their own compatriots. Here we find that Israelites were exploiting their own countrymen through the economic situation of the land. Things were so bad, and this is how we know that it was so bad, that even the wives--the wives, the women, they were crying out. Usually, women, they wouldn't participate in protests or in these kinds of outcries. And this time, in this patriarchal society, the women, they wouldn't participate of these protests. But here in this book we find that everyone is involved because things were so bad and the enemy was from within.

In the middle of this crisis we find, basically, four groups of people, okay? And I always like in these situations in the Bible when you find crisis, you find outcries and you find a dramatic situation, it's always interesting--try to do this in the future. It's always interesting for you to see who are the groups of people involved? In this case, you have, basically, four groups.

First of all, you have a group of people that were not landowners. They owned no land. But they were going hungry. You see, the population was growing, food was scarce, and people were going hungry. They needed something to eat. And so they turned their cry to Nehemiah, the leader.

The second group were those who did own land, they did own land, but they had to mortgage their property to buy food. And this appears in chapter 5, verse 3. Apparently, high inflation made the price of everything spike. Inflation and debt, they're capable. And you guys, you know, we know this. Looking around the world today in situations such as Venezuela, we see that inflation has a very high capacity of deflating, of decapitalizing, a nation, anyone, very quickly. So the second group were landowners who had to mortgage their land to do what? To buy food, right? That's in the beginning of chapter 5.

Third, there were those who complained about the high taxes and they were obligated to borrow money to pay them. So this appears in verse 4 of chapter 5. So to obtain these loans, they needed to forfeit some kind of collateral. They needed to give a pledge, all right? Which means that sooner or later, they ended up losing some of their assets. Every year the king of Persia, he would charge heavy tribute, every taxes, and very little of that money would actually go back to the province. So here, we're really talking about taxation without what? Representation. Usually, these things, they would come, they would take their tributes, their taxes, but not much or anything would go back to the provinces in any shape or form. So here we're having the people paying this very high tax and nothing was coming back to them. Does that sound familiar? We find that around the world also, taxes going up, people having a harder time of paying for their taxes.

The fourth group was made up by Jews who exploited their own brothers and sisters, offering them loans and taking their lands and their children as collateral. You know, when you talk about--usually, when we study the Bible, I don't know about you. This happens to me. This has happened to me very often. When studying the Bible, I sometimes tend to think of it only as something very ancient, forgetting that many of the problems faced by these people, these were still people. These were still people and something that I have learned and I'm sure that you can, if you've traveled a little bit, you'll notice this: people anywhere in the world, people are people. People are people. You have different cultures, you have different kinds of practices and traditions, but in the end, humans are humans. And we suffer the same main problems everywhere in every period of time. The problems may change their face, but they stay the same.

You see, the devil, he's not very original in what he does. He's good at camouflaging his tactics, but usually he sticks to the same. Why would he change? His tactics work. So sometimes I forget or I used to forget that these were real people living in real times with real problems. And these problems, they're very relatable. That's something that I find very clear in this--in the study of this lesson. These problems, they're very relatable for us living today. This fourth group of people, they were people who exploited their own brothers and sisters. They exploited their own brothers and sisters. In Leviticus chapter 25, verse 39 and 40, we read: "And if one of your brothers who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and he shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee."

Was this text here being followed? No, this text was not being followed. The law was not being followed in this case. We find in this situation, we find children having to choose, needing to choose, between service or hunger. And the Bible, the Spirit of the law, the Spirit by which God revealed His law, it was contrary to this. We find this additionally in Deuteronomy, in many texts, but I'm going to mention a few. We just read Leviticus. Look at what Deuteronomy 23:19-20 says: "You shall not charge interest to your brother--interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest. To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess."

They were instructed to treat each other with respect, with love, even when they received some kind of collateral. This we find in Deuteronomy 24:10 through 13, where it says: "When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to get his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring the pledge out to you. And if the man is poor, you shall not keep his pledge overnight. You shall in any case return the pledge to him again when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his own garment and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the Lord your God."

Additionally, Exodus 22:25-27 says: "If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your brother's garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious." And even when taking a fellow Israelite as a slave, the Bible had instructions: "If one of your brethren," this is in Leviticus 25:35 through 38. "If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury of him or interest of him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan."

Have you ever heard someone say that the God of the Old Testament was a cruel God? Was a God of vengeance, a hard God, a dictatorial. Obviously, they've never read texts like this, because what I see in these texts is a God who is doing everything that He can to curb the natural culture of a people towards love. Do you see that in these texts? God is saying, "Look, if you go to someone's house and he has to give you a pledge, don't go barging in, demanding and taking whatever you want. Do not do that, because I am the Lord your God and if he cries out, I will hear." What God says is, "Wait patiently outside. If you do take that pledge, return it to him by the end of the day, no matter what. Even if he still owes you, return it to him, so that he can sleep well, so that he may bless you."

You know, I'm a very anxious person and if, you know, if I were living in that situation as a very, very, very poor person and someone came and took one, you know, something of mine, a coat, a garment, and it's the only one I have, I would not sleep well at night because of the cold and because I'm anxious because I lost one of the only things that I have. Do you see how God, He cares for even the smallest feelings of His people? This is a loving God.

Now, one thing that is very important for us to maintain in our mind is the concept of slavery. You see, when we think about slavery today, we think about, well, something terrible which slavery is, but in biblical times slavery was a bit different. We kind of have to forget the concept of slavery that we have where people own people, and in ancient Israel slavery was more of an economic resource. So let's say that I am very poor. I'm a very poor person and let's say that Pastor Jean, he's a very well-to-do, you know, merchant in the city. And, in the course of time, I have to take a loan from him and I am unable to pay back that loan. What can I do? I will become his servant. I will become his servant to pay off my loan. Now, that's what slavery meant in Israel at least in this period of time. It's more of an economic resource than anything else.

So that's what we find here. But even that can be exploited and we find God severely regulating that. If you read Exodus chapter 21, you'll find the Lord severely regulating even slavery and servitude. You see, God, He works in time. God is an atemporal God in the sense where He is not affected by time, He Himself. But He is affected by time because He loves us and we are temporal creatures. So He comes into time and He has to deal with culture and traditions. You see that in many instances of the Bible God, He has to wink at certain things.

For example, we find in the Bible that some of the kings and some of the Bible characters, how many wives did they have? Many. You read about Solomon and David, they had hundreds. I can't keep up with one. Imagine having hundreds. Do you think that's ideal? Of course not. That is not what God has in mind. When we read the Creation, God created one man, one woman, in a marriage, in a--as a couple. But the Lord had to wink at that. That was part of their culture. He taught what was correct. He taught what was right, and the true followers, they would do what was right. But you find certain people deferring from what is ideal because of sin.

And here's something else. Servitude, slavery. That's something that existed in their culture and God, He had to work through a process to reduce that and ultimately eliminate that. As you see history progress, you find that God's people, their notions on morality, their notions on what is right and what is wrong, they change. You know, sometimes we're very impatient with God, when God is so patient with us. The best way I can think of, of explaining this is, for example, how many here are parents? I'm not raising my hand because I'm a parent. I'm not, okay? I'm--but there are many of you here who are. So when you have a son or a daughter and they're two years old and they do something wrong, something bad, you discipline them in a way that a two-year-old will understand that they did something wrong, right? Correct, that's--you won't discipline them as an adult or as an older child. But as that child grows, he becomes 5 or 7 or 10 years old, and 12 and 15, you change your way of teaching them, don't you? Of course you do, you have to. You can't discipline a 15-year-old as you would a 2-year-old. Unfortunately, there are many people that do that and we have a whole generation of children who are unfit to be adults. So, that's right. That is right.

So it's the same thing with God. Dealing with humankind, dealing with the Israelites, God started as a parent teaching that child in the infancy and as these children grow older, you find God changing the way that He disciplines and He teaches them. You find that. That's progressive, that's called present truth. That's what we call present truth. The Lord educates us. And here we find Him in that process of history, educating His people, so here He severely regulates--He severely regulates slavery.

You see, both the people and the land, they belong to the Lord and He would not allow them to be exploited by themselves for personal gain. That was one of the main benefits of the Year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee which was meant to balance the economic system of Israel so that the rich wouldn't become richer at the expense of the poor becoming even poorer. Every 50 years all debts were erased, all lands were restored to their original owners, and all the servants were to be freed. Now, this fourth group, the group of richer merchants, they had been enlarging their wealth at the expense of the poor class. They used their power to steal from some, to enslave some others. Now we have to remember that greed was one of the main sins condemned by the pre-exile prophets.

When you read the condemnation given against Israel, before they went to Babylon in exile, one of the main sins that they were transgressing, that they were committing, was the sin of greed. You find this in the book of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos. They're condemning greed. And now, after the exile, after coming back and having an opportunity to start fresh, human nature is showing up again and they're going right back to where they were. You see, God cares for the poor. God cares for those who are incapable of defending themselves and their cause. He will not leave unpunished those who take advantage of their weakness. In these circumstances, God becomes the power of the powerless.

The second part of this lesson, we shift then to what happened because of the outcry. We hear this great outcry in the midst of this great work, directed towards a great God, and what happens? A great assembly is called for. This people's outcry, they reached God because these rich merchants, they were violating the spirit of the law. You see, some of what the rich were doing against the poor, it was even legal. It was legal.

For example, a father and mother, they could become a servant or they could sell their children. It was legal. By the letter of the law, that was legal. But seeing how God's purpose is the purpose of freedom, of liberating people, of delivering people and redeeming people, He regulated that practice in Israel. Loans were permitted by law. Loans were permitted. But the interest rates that were charged by the Jewish--that were charged by the Israelites, they were about 12% which was small comparatively when you compare it to the nations around them. Some of these nations, they charged 50%, up to 100%, of interest. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine someone charging 100% of interest from you? So these Israelites, they would charge about 12% but even that was forbidden. They could not do that. That did not correspond with God's will.

Nehemiah, when he hears this, he becomes outraged. He becomes angry, indignant with what's happening, even though it could be considered legal. He acted immediately. You see, the spirit of the law had been violated so Nehemiah, being the man that he was, he acts. It was a duty of his, as a governor, but as a Christian, to act, to defend God's people. God places Himself beside those that are oppressed and helpless. He was the one who commissioned this prophet to become outraged at the injustice committed against the poor.

You know, the ability to become outraged, to become indignant with unjustice, that is a very biblical trait. You find that in many biblical characters, many. For example, in James 4:17 we read: "Therefore to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." You see, the concept of sin in the Bible, my friends, it's a very deep concept. And, unfortunately, one of the enemy's tactics is to superficialize sin.

You see, there are at least 11 words in the Bible that define sin. At least 11. And what's interesting is that not one of them are synonyms. They're not synonyms. Sin, if you ask a good Adventist, what is sin, what will he tell you? Sin is transgression of the law. That's right, that's correct, it's in the Bible. But that is not all. There is more. Sin is not only transgression of the law but as we read here in James, we read, "To him who knows to do good and does not do it, that is also sin." This is what we call the sin of omission. Sin is not only what you do, it's what you don't do. But there's even more. In Romans 14:23 we read: "For whatever is not from faith is," what? "Is sin."

So not only is sin what you do, sin can also be what you don't do and sin can also be why you do it. Not only what you do, not only what you don't do, but why you do it. Here, the apostle, he dives into the depths of human nature to the level of motivation. And these are only three concepts of sin. In the Bible you find at least 11.

Sin is not so simple, my friends. It's not only shutting off your outward sins that you become a saint. That's not how it happens. It's a process. So here, we find that--Martin Luther King, he once said that "Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it polite?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a point where one must take a position that is neither safe nor polite nor popular but one must take it because his conscience tells him that it is right."

Nehemiah, he did not shirk from his duty. He ultimately bore the best example but we're going to get to that. We'll get to that. First of all, he called for a huge assembly and this is chapter 5, verse 5 through 13. Now, it's one thing for you to confront your enemies. It's another thing for you to confront one of your own, isn't it? Who were the people here in this assembly? You have some very powerful people, some very influential people. Some people that Nehemiah might need to govern Israel. And here in Nehemiah, he's endangered of losing some very powerful and important friends. But that's not what he's thinking about. Justice, the spirit of the law, was above all other considerations. The justice not of the letter of the law but of the spirit of the law.

Nehemiah's outrage--and this is what we find interesting in Nehemiah, he was a very controlled person, very self-possessed. We don't find his outrage in this excess of fury, but an expression of holy zeal against how the merchants and the rich were oppressing their brethren. You see, Nehemiah, he was not a politician to ask, "Is this going to be popular? Is this going to be a safe decision?" No, Nehemiah, he asked, "Is this right?" And that's how true leaders act. Is this right? Now, I need you to remember that this problem, it wasn't created because of the reconstruction of the walls.

The situation was not the reason for this crisis. It only revealed it. And that's sometimes what happens at church. You see, the circumstances that we go through oftentimes will tell you of what spirit we are. Have you ever seen that? A person that in normal circumstances appears to be very good, very holy, but then in a situation of crisis--you know, crisis, it doesn't usually create character. It reveals character.

Character doesn't usually create--crisis usually doesn't create character. It reveals your character. Nehemiah acts. Verse 7 tells us that he--verse 7 tells us his thought process. It tells us that after serious thought, which literally means "My heart considered inside of me," he sought God's guidance. He controlled his feelings and thought in order to offer his people constructive leadership. It's not by chance that Nehemiah's seen as a model of such effective leadership in the Bible. He then decided to call this great assembly, this great meeting. And Nehemiah's reprimand to those exploiting the people was made up of five different appeals. That's what you find in his speech.

In Nehemiah's speech, you find five different kinds of appeals. If one doesn't work, the second one will work. If the second one doesn't work, the third one will work. The first appeal is an appeal for love, reminding these people that they were exploiting their own brothers. The word for brothers here appears four times in this speech. The law of Moses forbade the Jews of charging interest.

Isn't it fascinating what the Bible has to say when it comes to money? The Bible has a lot to say about money. On the lips of Christ, the only subject that passes--that surpasses the subject of money is when Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven. Other than the kingdom of heaven, what Jesus most talks about is money because Jesus knew that money changes the way that we see people and the way that we treat people. It's fascinating what the Bible has to say about money. Unfortunately, we find--we find in religion today something called the theology of prosperity where apparently people aren't reading their Bible.

The Bible has a lot to say when it comes to money. The second appeal we find in verse 8. He reminded them of God's redemptive purpose for Israel. In the past, God had freed them all from Egypt. He had just redeemed them from Babylon and what's ironic is that the Jewish rich lenders here, through greed, once again they were enslaving the people. They had left Egypt, they had left Babylon, but now in their own home they were becoming slaves. Verse 9, the third appeal, the governor, Nehemiah, he presents before these guilty lenders, the witness of Israel as a nation to the neighboring countries.

You see, God, He had called Israel to be a light to the Gentiles, even in Old Testament times. This is found in Isaiah 49, verse 6. They were called to be a light to the nations around them. The irony here is that while they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem to try to get back or to try to create their own identity, the identity as a nation, they were transgressing the reason for Israel's existence. As they tried to rebuild the walls, as they tried to regain their identity, they were transgressing that very identity in doing what they were doing.

To sum up, it's a lot better to lose money but to retain the privilege of serving God. That's what Nehemiah says. The fourth appeal which we find in verse 10 through 11 is Nehemiah's personal appeal. He appeals to his personal witness, his testimony. He lent money to those in need without charging interest, nor depriving them of what they had left as collateral. Nehemiah did this. He lent them money but he charged no interest. In other words, Nehemiah, he wasn't the type, "Do as I say but don't do as I do." The famous person who walks the walk but doesn't talk--talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. Have you ever seen any of those? People that might even talk the talk but they're not available to walk the walk.

Nehemiah led by example. What a powerful characteristic of leadership. He led by example. The fifth appeal we find in verses 12 through 13. If nothing else would work, he reminded them about the judgment of the Lord. How do you flee from that? Psalm 139 says: "Where will I go? I go to the North, I can go to the South, I go to the East and there you are." You can't run from that. Praise the Lord you can't run from that.

The third portion of this lesson, this last portion of the lesson, we find first we had the great outcry. Then we find this great assembly coming together and discussing this whole Nehemiah and his speech, and then you find the oath that was made. Nehemiah made them swear an oath before the priests and the other officials of the city. He then gathers up his clothing in an example, in a symbol, of God's condemnation against the leaders that did not carry out their vow. This done, the congregation answered with a collective "Amen" they agreed to that. They were willing to that, which is something that you find--you know, I find interesting. These leaders, they--apparently, it struck home. Nehemiah's speech struck and they praised the Lord. That's what the text says. It says they praised the Lord.

You know, I always find it interesting when after some kind of either reprimand or bad situation people in the Bible praised the Lord. You find Job doing that. After all that had happened, Job, he rent his clothes and all that and he said, "Naked I came into this world and naked I will go out. Praise be the name of God." And then he worshiped God. How do you understand that? And you have Paul, the apostles in the prison, they praised God as they're bound. And here you find these people in this time of distress, they then praise God. In this case, I can understand the praise. God raised up a great leader to help them go through this time of crisis.

You know, many times, many times, effective leadership is the solution to many problems. And the contrary is also true. Bad leaders are the cause of many problems. Does that sound familiar to you? Around the world you'll find this. Okay, I'm not talking only about home. Wherever you find bad leadership you'll find a country in crisis. In this case, the people praised God because they had a great leader. You know, Dwight Moody once said that "a holy life will produce the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns; they only shine."

Nehemiah was a lighthouse. You know, Nehemiah, he never had the chance to read Philippians 2, verse 1 through 3, that beautiful text where we read about that beautiful exhortation for fraternal love and the example that Jesus gave of subservient love. But even though Nehemiah never read that text, never read that poem, Nehemiah practiced the spirit of that passage in his life. During the 12 long years of his first term as governor and then Nehemiah, he served in two terms. You find the second term in Nehemiah 13:6 through 7. In both terms as leader, he used his influence to help people, not to build himself of kingdom.

In those days and in our days, most people have become these leaders, they use their influence, they use their authority and their power to build up their own agenda, their own appearance, their own kingdom. You don't find that in Nehemiah. He was a steward. As children of God--as children of God, our example, our supreme example, is Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, my dear friends, there are many people today who take others as their example. Some people see a senator or a mayor or a president or a king or a prime minister as their great example.

For Christians, we have but one example: Jesus Christ. Christians follow Christ. That's what it means to be a Christian. On the path of true Christian leadership. Actually, on the path of true leadership, there is always a cross upon which the Christian leader must consent to be nailed. Upon the path of leadership there is always a cross upon which any and every Christian leader must consent to be nailed.

The question that we leave this lesson with is, well, how can I apply this to my life? I'm not a governor. I'm not this kind of leader. We can just think about it. First of all, Nehemiah, he didn't use his official funds to cover his own expenses. How can you apply that to your life? There are many ways. Nehemiah didn't use the people, he didn't exploit people, to achieve his personal interests. He paid for his own expensive--expenses, taking care not to exploit anybody. You find this in many texts such as Nehemiah 5:15, contrary to what we see all around us every day. Nehemiah, he walked in the fear of the Lord, upholding his integrity, his character. If there was something that was valuable to Nehemiah, it was his integrity, it was his character.

Another thing that I learned personally from this man is that he led by example. Nehemiah was right there putting on the brakes, you know, holding the sword in his hand, defending the city. Nehemiah wasn't a kind of counselor who just appeared a few times, you know, to tell people. Have you ever seen someone like that? That loves to give you ideas about what you should do. I know a few people like that. "You know, you should do this. You should do that. I have a tip for you. I have this for you." It's all good and fun to counsel people but you have to be willing to also do what you're counseling people to do. You need to lead by example.

If you want someone to do something that you yourself are not willing to do, my friend, there's something wrong with your counsel. You have to be willing to submit to your own counsel. We see that in Nehemiah. Nehemiah was an example in yet another manner. He did not only pay for his own food but he shared what he had with others. He used to feed more than 150 guests. Chapter 5:19 indicates what is probably my favorite and most relevant characteristic of the service that we find in Nehemiah. Nehemiah acted the way he did only to please whom? God. Nehemiah didn't act the way he did for flattery. He didn't want to be patronized. He didn't want to be recognized. He didn't do what he did for compliments or for rewards. Nehemiah wanted to serve God. That was his interest. That's what he wanted.

So for those of you, for those of all of us, who are called for spiritual leadership and, my friends, all of us are called for spiritual leadership, this isn't something optional. At home or at work or at school, every person who has a relationship with Jesus Christ is called to bear witness of that relationship. You know what that "bearing witness" means? It means spiritual leadership. That's what it means.

There's no escaping this. So be who you may be, you were called to be a spiritual leader of God. That's what the Bible tells us. So for those of all of us who are in positions of spiritual leadership, this chapter provides some very important lessons. First, and I'm going to speed through this. First, you can expect problems when you're dealing with people. Where there are people, there are problems, okay? Where there are people, there are problems. Don't be surprised if when you're, you know, teaching or when you're leading, people, they have conflicts. You see, wherever the gospel prospers, the enemy will do everything he can to bring chaos. Where there are people, there are problems. Second of all, face your problems boldly. There are some people who like to bury their problems and the only result of that is that these problems, they grow deeper roots and more bitter fruits. Deal with your problems. Face them. In Portuguese we have a saying that says, "Take the bull by its horns, look it dead in the eye, and face it." That's what Christians are called to do. We're not called to be, you know, shying away from our problems. No, we have to face our problems.

As a good leader, face your problems. Deal with them as fast as you can. Third, certify yourself that your own integrity remains intact. A guilty conscience destroys the spiritual authority needed for effective leadership. A guilty conscience will destroy the spiritual authority that you might have for your spiritual leadership. So don't have a guilty conscience. Keep your integrity intact. Finally, understand that each problem that you may face, every problem that you might face, is an opportunity for God to act. Every problem, every challenge, every obstacle, is a great opportunity for God to act in your life. So even so, we can praise God for our problems because He will then act, He will then work, in our life.

You see, my friends, solving problems in God's service is not primarily an intellectual exercise. It's a spiritual experience. It's a spiritual experience. If we depend on the wisdom from the world, we will only obtain what the world has and that is very little. If we depend on the wisdom from above, then we will have what heaven has to offer and that is everything. So true Christian leaders are ordinary people that have that extraordinary desire to serve God, to be the spiritual leaders that they can, to be true leaders, lead by example, lead by love. So apply these principles in your life and I'm sure that you will be the very effective leader that God has called you to be.

I thank you for being here for our Bible study hour this Sabbath. I am very excited for you to participate with us next week. Don't forget our "Tiny Troublemaker," our free offer that appears if--you can obtain this if you text the letters and the numbers "SH133" to the number 40544 and you'll be able to have a digital copy of this free offer or you can call 866-788-3966 and you will be able to get a free copy of this at your home. May God bless you. May God be with you. Have a very good day.

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Doug Batchelor: Port Royal here in Jamaica was once considered the most wicked city in the world. They had more bars and brothels per square foot than any other place on the planet. It was said to be just full of cutthroats and pirates but during this time the king of France, Louis XIV, he began to persecute the Protestants and the Huguenots in the kingdom and many fled. That's when Lewis Galdy and his brother Laurent came to Port Royal. When Lewis Galdy arrived, he was absolutely dumbfounded at the unrestrained immorality, violence, and extravagance that filled Port Royal. That's why nobody was surprised when the judgment of God finally happened.

Just before noon on June 7, 1692, there was a massive earthquake that affected the whole island, Port Royal in particular. Two-thirds of it slid into the sea. Then came a tsunami. Thousands perished. Unfortunately, even Lewis Galdy was swallowed up in the earthquake. You know, much of Jamaica is rock but Port Royal was built on the sand and so when the earthquake struck, the sand virtually liquefied, swallowing much of the city and thousands of people. Lewis Galdy was buried alive, but while underground he was still conscious and he prayed. He resigned himself to his fate, prayed to the Lord, and then another miracle happened. There was an aftershock with volcanic activity that exploded, blowing Lewis Galdy out of the earth, hundreds of yards, off into the sea, where he had a pretty hard landing but he was able to swim until he was rescued. Lewis Galdy dedicated the remaining 47 years of his life to serving Jesus in this island and he's even buried here still today.

You know, the Bible tells us just before Jesus comes back conditions in the world will be very much like they were in Sodom and Port Royal. There's going to be a tremendous earthquake and even islands will be swallowed up. But God's people don't need to be afraid. The same way that the Lord took care of Lewis Galdy, He will take care of you. It says in Psalm 91 that you might see 1000 fall at your side or 10,000 at your right hand, but only with your eyes will you see and behold the destruction of the wicked. He can protect you and resurrect you.

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Doug: Friends, one of the amazing things that you'll often find in the South Pacific Islands, like here on Fiji, is the Vivi plant. Now, in North America if you want to build a fence, you've got to get fence posts and then you put the wooden fence posts in the ground and then after a few years they're going to rot and break off unless they're specially treated. But here, they've got these trees, the Vivi tree, they can cut them right out of the woods. They'll take a stick, they stick it in the ground. And because they have so much rain and precipitation, it begins to sprout and turns into a living fence post. It makes up its mind that it's going to flourish wherever you stick it, which is a good lesson for you and me.

So you might wonder sometimes if you've got a purpose in life. You might feel like you're growing sort of sporadically in every direction and then along comes this person who cuts you down and carries you off. He sticks you in the ground but you look back and you say, "There was a plan. There was a purpose." God knows how to teach us how to prosper where He plants us. You might wonder why the Lord has put you where He has in life but you can put down roots and you can grow and you can serve a great purpose for God. You know, it's like God says in Jeremiah chapter 29: "I know the plans that I've got for you to give you a future." God has a purpose for your life, friends, and He can help you to prosper and grow wherever you're planted.

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