Posted: 22 Jan 2011 11:00 PM PST
ONE OF THE MOST STRIKING EVIDENCES of sinful human nature lies in the universal propensity for downward drift. In other words, it takes thought, resolve, energy, and effort to bring about reform. In the grace of God, sometimes human beings display such virtues. But where such virtues are absent, the drift is invariably toward compromise, comfort, indiscipline, sliding disobedience, and decay that advances, sometimes at a crawl and sometimes at a gallop, across generations.
People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.
That is the sort of situation Nehemiah faces toward the end of his leadership in Jerusalem (Neh. 13). He has been away for a time, required by his responsibilities toward the Emperor Artaxerxes to return to the capital. When he comes back to Jerusalem for a second term as governor, he finds that commercial interests have superseded Sabbath discipline, that compromise with the surrounding pagans has displaced covenantal faithfulness, that greed has withheld some of the stipend of the clergy, and therefore their numbers and usefulness have been reduced, and that some combination of indiscipline and sheer stupidity has admitted to the temple and to the highest councils of power men like Tobiah and Sanballat, who have no interest in faithfulness toward God and his Word.
By an extraordinary combination of exhortation, command, and executive action, Nehemiah restores covenantal discipline. Doubtless many of the godly breathe a sigh of relief and thank God for him; no less certainly, many others grumble that he is a busybody, a killjoy, a narrow-minded legalist. Our permissive and relativizing culture fits more comfortably into the latter group than the former—but that says more about our culture than about Nehemiah.
Genuine reformation and revival have never occurred in the church apart from leaders for whom devotion to God is of paramount importance. If, absorbing the values of the ambient culture, the Western church becomes suspicious of such leaders, or else reacts with knee-jerk cultural conservatism that is as devoid of biblical integrity as the compromise it opposes, we are undone. May God have mercy on us and send us prophetic leaders.
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