How far do you need to rewind your life until you arrive at the season financial struggle? There are many reasons why we answer the way we do. Some circumstances are beyond our control, while some only have us to blame. I know what it’s like to barely make it financially. Everybody is there at some point during their lives. I also know what it’s like to have money in the bank. I know what it’s like to wonder if that dream vacation will ever happen or if I will ever own that one thing I’d really like to have.
In all of the different circumstances that we have lived through, I do not know what it’s like to truly be poor. We have always had a place to call home. We have always had electricity. We have always had running water. We have always had at least one vehicle that works properly. Our family doesn’t have a clue what it means to go hungry. We think we know, but our definition is far from reality. Our definition lies somewhere in the refrigerator that is full without anything to eat. Many of you might say some of the same things about different times in your life.
The Jewish community had a tough life. Nehemiah 5 touches on what I think is just the surface of how hard life was for this group as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Poverty made a significant impact that verse 1 tells us there was “a great outcry of the people”. The next four verses describe three reasons for this poverty.
Nehemiah 5:2-4 – For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards.”
The first reason for the poverty was over-population. Verse 2 says “we are many”. The primary complainers who the people with the largest families. They viewed their children as an inconvenience rather than a blessing. There are many parallels of this complaint in the American culture. I recently learned that Europeans have children at a rate of 1.9 per family. The American rate is 2.1. Many people in the western culture are not even replacing themselves. Some suggest one of the reasons is that children are an inconvenience to careers, goals and a list of others things. Another interesting part of the Pew Research study showed “the average Muslim man in Europe produces three children, but it is unclear whether Muslim families include just those three children or three children for each wife (Muslims are traditionally allowed up to four wives).”
One important theme came to the surface as I studied this week. Spiritual poverty versus physical poverty. This theme led to one prevailing. Has our pursuit to stay clear of physical poverty driven us to a place of spiritual poverty? I have lots of thoughts about what drives us into spiritual poverty that I don’t have time to go into right now.
The second reason for the poverty was a recent famine. We don’t know the details of the famine. However, as a result, verse 3 tells us they were mortgaging fields, vineyards, and houses to get grain. The wealthiest of Jews took advantage of the situation in a way that violated God’s commandments. They knew what they were doing before they took actions. The words of Leviticus had been thoroughly digested by the Israelites.
Leviticus 25:35-37, 39-42 – “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.
If your brother becomes poor beside you and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: he shall be with you as a hired worker and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own clan and return to the possession of his fathers. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves.
The third reason for the poverty was taxation on their property. They were so poor they were unable to meet the basic needs for their families. They had to mortgage their property to financially survive. The taxation drove them to sell their children into slavery. They were hurting. God heard the outcry of his people. He loved them deeply regardless of their actions or faithfulness. God revealed to his people the highest level of generosity that one could imagine. God received maximum glory as he revealed his generosity to the people of Israel.
How do we experience the generosity of God?
The first step to experiencing the generosity of God is found in verse 1, “there arose a great outcry of the people and their wives.” The whole assembly cried out to God because of their circumstances. You can have the best preaching in Warren; you can have the best worship leader in Warren; you can have the best children’s ministry in Warren – all things you should strive for. If you are not the church that cries out to God most frequently, none of those things will matter. The generosity of God will never come into this place until the whole congregation learns the discipline of praying together.
The second step to experiencing the generosity of God is found in verse 6, “I was very angry when I heard their outcry”. The word for angry means to “have a strong feeling of displeasure, with a focus of an action to follow”. Displeasure that forces action! Do you remember a time in your life that you were so displeased with a situation the displeasure forced you to take action? Throughout the rest of chapter 5, Nehemiah’s displeasure forces action to take place. Without action, Nehemiah’s displeasure does nothing for those in Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s actions were necessary to realign Jerusalem to experience God’s generosity during the rebuilding process and beyond. I heard the following quote from Reggie Joiner at an Orange Conference several years ago. “Some churches will never change until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain associated with change.”
I want to encourage you to come to the “IDEA” meeting on August 24. Be part of the conversation. More importantly, get focused on the actions to follow. Implementation in a way that gives God maximum glory is vital to the rebuilding process. God’s generosity can flow throughout this church, but the church has to do its part.
The third step to experiencing the generosity of God is described in verses 17-18, Nehemiah was a generous person. The text tells us Nehemiah was generous to three different groups. Those like him in faith and ethnicity filled the first group. The religious and government officials were placed in the second group. The third group lived in the region, but probably not Jewish. This step isn’t about tithing, although you should be an obedient follower of Jesus and give God what is already his. This step is about correcting the physical poverty in Warren and Huntington County. Let me ask a few questions. With no boundaries and no restraints, how would you begin to correct the physical poverty in Warren and Huntington County? What if First Baptist Church made such a difference outside these walls that people would notice poverty disappearing? What if the physical needs of Warren become almost non-existent? What if people wished other churches would be as generous as First Baptist Church? What if this church was known by #warrenfirst? What if every conversation and every dollar spent ran through the filter #warrenfirst? The generosity of God would pour out all over this place. You might disappoint some people along the way, but I would rather disappoint people than God any day of the week.