The Christian’s relationship with any nation-state is fraught with tension and difficulty: presenting oneself as an obedient subject while maintaining a greater loyalty to God and the Kingdom of Jesus. This challenge is all the more complicated in the United States of America, a representative republic. How can we most effectively serve Jesus in America?
All of us live under some kind of authority. How can we do so in ways which glorify and honor God in Christ?
Jerusalem was in disrepair, lowly and humiliated. Nehemiah had a heart to restore its standing. God would support and sustain them; the people needed to work; they needed to be encouraged. And they needed each other.
But it came to pass that, when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews.
And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, seeing they are burned?”
Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, “Even that which they are building, if a fox go up, he shall break down their stone wall.”
Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn back their reproach upon their own head, and give them up for a spoil in a land of captivity; and cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee; for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.
So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto half the height thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
But it came to pass that, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem went forward, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth; and they conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to cause confusion therein. But we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them.
And Judah said, “The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.”
And our adversaries said, “They shall not know, neither see, till we come into the midst of them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.”
And it came to pass that, when the Jews that dwelt by them came, they said unto us ten times from all places, Ye must return unto us. Therefore set I in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in the open places, I set there the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows.
And I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, “Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, who is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”
And it came to pass, when our enemies heard that it was known unto us, and God had brought their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the wall, every one unto his work. And it came to pass from that time forth, that half of my servants wrought in the work, and half of them held the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the coats of mail; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. They all builded the wall and they that bare burdens laded themselves; every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other held his weapon; and the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.
And I said unto the nobles, and to the rulers and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another: in what place soever ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us; our God will fight for us.”
So we wrought in the work: and half of them held the spears from the rising of the morning till the stars appeared. Likewise at the same time said I unto the people, Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and may labor in the day. So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard that followed me, none of us put off our clothes, every one went with his weapon to the water (Nehemiah 4:1-23).
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen (2 Peter 3:18).
Peter provided what he expected to be his final exhortation; he left a message ringing in the ears of all Christians: grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Growing in grace means dispensing with Neo-Stoic moralism and trusting in God and His strength; growing in knowledge goes well beyond grasping facts intellectually to something far more profound. We can choose grace in faith based in knowledge of Christ’s love or we can choose self-righteousness in moralism obsessed with rules; we cannot choose both!
Blessed are the poor? Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Suffer without responding in kind? To the world, the life God expects Christians to live is sheer foolishness. But to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
God is one in relational unity and seeks unity with man His creation. But sin and death separated us from God. We couldn’t solve that problem; thanks be to God for the ONE Man who could.
We need to grow in Christ. Great! But how are we supposed to do that? The Hebrew author points the way forward in Hebrews 5:12-14.
For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Wherefore leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit (Hebrews 6:1-3).
Peter wrote to Christians in Asia Minor as “elect exiles”. He wrote from “Babylon”. The theme of life in exile pervades his letter; we do well to learn from him how to live as exiles in a strange land.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied (1 Peter 1:1-2).
And if ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear: knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was manifested at the end of the times for your sake, who through him are believers in God, that raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God (1 Peter 1:17-21).
Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well. For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward (1 Peter 2:11-18).
Have you believed, confessed, repented, and been baptized? Great! God’s plan for your salvation has not ended; it has just begun!