This morning I want to focus on the never ending fight against our enemies.
This scene from All Quiet on the Western Front comes near the end of the movie. It’s WWI, the soldier has survived endless attacks, and many of his friends have not made it through the war. Now, the soldier is writing one last letter home to his girlfriend saying he would see her soon. . .
In war, a moment of distraction, a lack of wisdom, a lull in personal discipline can be costly. Notice that he goes down the line making sure each soldier stays sharp even though there is not much shooting, yet he fails to operate with the same sharpness. In a war, this can be costly.
1 Peter 5:8 – “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
The Devil is looking to take a shot at you as a leader. In your business ethics, your family, and your faith. My effort this morning is to raise your level of alertness, to consider distractions the enemy might be using to take you out.
The enemy assault happens in three waves for Nehemiah in chapter 6.
First Wave: vs. 1-4
Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner.
They were saying, “Come on Nehemiah, we just want a meeting, just a few minutes of your time for us to sit and reason together. It sounds like a reasonable request.
But Nehemiah knew this “reasonable request” was the work of the enemy. Nehemiah knew if they could separate him from the project just for a moment, they could take their shot. They knew that if they took out the leader, the whole project would come to a grinding halt.
These enemies are persistent. They know Nehemiah might say no one time but if they keep coming, in a moment of distraction, in a moment of foolishness, in a moment when Nehemiah is worn out, he might give in.
Nehemiah’s response: (vs. 2b-3) They intended to harm me so I sent a messenger to say: “I am doing a great work and cannot come down.“
Routine Yet Difficult Discipline
I am calling Nehemiah’s response to this attack routine yet difficult discipline in warfare.
It’s routine because by chapter 6 Nehemiah is on a first name basis with his enemies: Sanballet & Tobiah. These two jokers oppose Nehemiah before he even laid the first brink in the wall (2:10). It’s routine because whenever these two show up ,Nehemiah knows they are looking to derail him. They show up again at the midway point (Chapter 4) and now at the end of building the wall (Chapter 6) Even in chapter 13, Nehemiah has to drive away the son-in-law of Sanballat.
Nehemiah had to drive away critics his entire life. Even the son of the critic! Nothing brings out critics better than vision and leadership.
It’s difficult because it gets tiring having to fight off relentless frontal attacks. However they might appear: you might be in a business field full of unethical practice, and although you know the practices are wrong, it gets tiring fighting against them every day. You might struggle with sexual purity, and it’s tiring having to constantly re-direct your mind and desires as you work on a computer all day.
One thing from the text that helps is “I am doing a great work and cannot come down.”
Often the best way to answer criticism is to simply keep moving forward. If you chase down every critic, you become paralyzed, or you look busy but you aren’t really making forward progress.
Constantly answering critics can be derailing, Martin Luther King Junior addressed this in the opening paragraph of his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham jail, I came across your statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticisms …If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything else…and I would have no time for constructive work.”
“I am doing a great work.” This work for Nehemiah was not just building a wall but staying on course for the vision God planted in him. He was focused on His assignment and didn’t want to foul that up. Nehemiah was motivated to fight against distractions, foolishness, and tiredness.
Question: What are difficult but routine attacks you tirelessly face in your work and in your soul? What constant criticisms could become paralyzing for you if you let them? (These criticisms might come from the outside or even false narratives you repeat to yourself in your mind).
Do you have a vision of yourself that helps motivate you? As a man of God, as a partner in work with God, as a husband representing Christ, as partner in the mission of the church that helps motivate you?
Second Wave: vs. 5-9
In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
The opposition created fake news, can you believe it? This sounds like the current American news, political system, and twitter, yet this was 2500 years ago! The report said, “Nehemiah, you intend to rebel against the king, set yourself up as king and set up false prophets who will back you up!”
I believe Nehemiah’s response was wise, but why?
Proverbs 26:4-5 – “(4) Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. (5) Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
These two verses back to back can be confusing. The truth is this is not contradictory advice, it is wisdom advice.
Sometimes you have to call something out like Nehemiah did, yet sometimes you are best to remain silent. How do you know when to speak and when to remain silent: In the culture, in your business, in regards to your reputation, in conversations with your family?
Notice the attack is designed to stir-up fear (vs. 9). Fear is a tool constantly used by the enemy. It is a trait of the “Roaring Lion in I Peter 5: 8”. Fake news and false accusations are enough to be derailing.
Question: When have you noticed fear driving you to do things you shouldn’t have done or to stop you from doing something you should have done? ILL – Fear very nearly caused me to not become a Pastor.
Then in verse 9, “I prayed…”
Please notice the constant habit of prayer for Nehemiah. This is impressively found all the way through the book!
Third Wave: vs. 10-13
10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” 11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me.
Nehemiah doesn’t go visit with his enemies, but he thinks he goes to visit with his friends: Jewish prophets who worked in the temple. They understand Nehemiah’s life had been threatened so they suggest going into the temple for safety. Bu Nehemiah knows he is not allowed in the temple. It would be a gross violation of God’s instructions and shameful in the eyes of the Jewish people who are helping him build the wall. He smells a trap! These people are wolves in sheep clothing hired to trap Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s response is 360 Degree Vision.
Nehemiah sees the routine frontal assault, he confronts the “fake news” but Nehemiah knows, in war, the enemy never stops the assault. Nehemiah doesn’t foolishly stand up at just the wrong moment and get shot down. He knows the enemy might sneak up from behind when he is not paying attention.
I wonder if you have this kind of 360 vision? I believe the best way to have it is to have other mean who are fighting alongside of you.
What are difficult but routine attacks/criticisms you tirelessly face in your work and in your soul?
Do you have a vision of yourself: as a man of God, as a partner in work with God, as a husband representing Christ, as partner in the mission of the church….that helps motivate you? Do you have 360 vision?
How do you know when to speak and when to remain silent: In the culture, in your business, in regards to your reputation, in conversations with your family?
When have you noticed fear driving you to do things you shouldn’t have done or to stop you from doing something you should have done?
Friends and Brothers,