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Bible Study Notes of Rev.Dr.I.J.W.Oakley (13-11-2001 Framsden Baptist Church)
What we believe about God and His purposes and His Word
will make an enormous difference to our lives, character, Christian service,
attitude to worship on Sundays and our devotional life – if we act on what we
know. Knowledge about God is called theology or doctrine, but that is not all
there is. It is not the same as personally knowing Him. Even the Devil knows a
lot of doctrine and theology (James 2:19). It is essential, however, that we do
know doctrine – Paul’s letters are full of doctrine and theology, and on the
basis of it he speaks of how we should be related to God and how we live our
lives. The more we know about God and His will and purposes, and if we act on
what we know, the more enriched our lives, our fellowship with God, and our
service will be.
A young man of 20 years old once began his Sunday morning
sermon with, “The proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. It is
exceedingly improving to the mind. It humbles our minds and also expands them.
Also, it is consolatory – balm for every wound and [ointment] for every
sore.” That young man was C.H.Spurgeon, just a few months after becoming
minister of New Park Street Chapel in Southwark, (1855).
We are going to look at three things that Nehemiah tells us about God, and then see how this vision of God affected his relationship to Him and to God’s people. Ten times, Nehemiah speaks of “My God”. What did he believe about “My God”?
O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God (Nehemiah 1:5). Praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting…. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you (9:5,6). You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (9:17). In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong (9:33). God is the sublimest and most exalted and yet most humbling of all realities. “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” (William Carey).
The name Jehovah or Yahweh is a reminder that God makes
covenant and promises to His people. When two people marry, they make a covenant
and promises to each other. In the same way God has made a covenant with His
people. You made a covenant with him… You have kept your promise because
you are righteous (9:8). O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God,
who keeps his covenant of love (9:32). A covenant is also suggested when
Nehemiah speaks of “your people” (1:10) and “Our God” (4:4).
We are in a covenant with God whereby we are possessed by God and we possess God. This brings blessings from God and we give ourselves to Him and serve Him. He is faithful to us and we should be faithful to Him. So often we neglect the covenant, and make no mention of it in our worship and communion prayers. Yet at the Table we are remembering “The blood of the New Covenant”. Jeremiah speaks of the blessings and benefits of the covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), yet so often it does not enter into our prayers, and preaching. The covenant ought to be important, valuable and significant for us.
You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses (9:13,14). By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets (9:30). God had made Himself known to His people and what He wanted them to do. He had given promises and warnings that were wholly reliable. Nehemiah believed God’s Word, rested on it, and obeyed it.
These three basic convictions about God were absolutely
right at the centre of Nehemiah’s heart and mind and life, and he acted on
them. They explain everything about him – his concern that ruined Jerusalem
should be rebuilt, his leadership which continued despite difficulties and
opposition, and his courage in keeping on keeping on, i.e. his stickability. In
this he was like Moses, who persevered because he saw him who is invisible (Hebrews
11:27). He endured the pressures because the God of heaven, who is in a covenant
with His people and whose word is reliable, filled his vision. So he held on,
took risks and won through because his eyes were not on the adverse
circumstances and opposition, but on the Lord.
Also this vision of God influenced and determined his
spiritual life. His walk with God was saturated with prayer. Seeking God, His
glory, His will and His grace to carry out His will was always Nehemiah’s
prayer. All his work began and was maintained by prayer. Nehemiah knew the truth
of “Prayer changes things” and “No prayer, no power”, and hence this
constant private conversation with God seeking His direction and grace.
Nehemiah’s vision of God also led to a concern for God’s people. He longed
to see their city rebuilt and life ordered again by God’s Word.
His whole life was determined by God – who He was, what
He could do, His will for Nehemiah’s life, and His purposes for His people. It
was a God-centred life, everything revolving around God, while Nehemiah was just
His bondservant waiting on Him.
This needs to be the goal of all of us – to be God
centred, not church-centred, or Christian work-centred or myself doing my best
centred. Not me running my life and making my plans, doing my best, and just
asking God to help out with that, as though He were my servant. But God in the
centre, assuming control, living for Him to do His will and drawing on His power
to do what He wants.
It makes a great difference when Christ is in the centre
and self is on the circumference. Private prayer, rather than an obligation, is
the most natural thing to do. When we pray for things, it is always linked to
our relationship with Him. If we ask for better health, it is so that we can
serve Him more effectively. If we ask for success in an exam or some enterprise,
it is so that we can be more useful to Him, and so He will be glorified.
Christ at the centre should affect our decision-making.
When we are swithering over what to do, if God is in control of our lives we can
ask Him to make His will known to us, and that is the end of the matter. When we
come to church, our concern should be for Him, and this should cause us to
prepare our hearts and seek Him. So often, alas, we have things turned inside
out, and expect God to be there to serve us. In modern culture we have become so
subjective and stress our inner feelings and experience (just look at how many
modern hymns and worship songs begin with the word “I”!).
Dr Wilbur Chapman, an American Presbyterian evangelist, said his whole life had been altered by one sentence in one sermon – Our usefulness in God’s service is largely affected by this question: Do we work for God or do we allow God, by His Spirit, to work and speak through us? Chapman went home, and asked God that from that point onward he would be merely an instrument through whom Christ’s will would be done, and His words would be spoken. So he became God-centred. He himself was just an instrument.