OT: Nehemiah 3:15-5:13
Well, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't completely enraptured while reading about Shallun son of Col-Hozeh repairing the Fountain Gate or about the work of Binnui son of Henadad, ruler of the half district of Keilah, or all the other people who built places that mean nothing to me (15, 18). However, as foreign and disorienting as all the historical details of the project were, I could see clear, metaphorical implications in the undertaking (and I'm not the only one). The basic contours of the Israelite project are general enough to be applied to all kinds of different situations (clearly), but the way I applied it today was in the idea that the church is supposed to work together to build the kingdom of God in this world. I picture us all using our lives to spread God's love and His message of hope through our relationships with and acts of service for others. And I got a few lessons from the example of the exiles:
1. Work in you own area. Now, I know that God moves people everywhere, and many wonderful Christians are called to travel the globe to spread God's love to some of the most remote and forbidding corners of the world. And that is awesome. But for the rest of us who have not felt a particular call to go global, there is always the idea that we are responsible for the patch of land where God put us. Bloom where you're planted, in other words. I noticed that in the rebuilding project, most of the men took responsibility for the district in which they already ruled, and many took the initiative to rebuild the area around their own house (22-24, 28-31). That example tells me that, while I should rightly be concerned about what is going on in Africa, and while I should do what I can to help the church in other areas, I need to first take responsibility for my own neighborhood and my own town. How many people are hurting around me? How many are poor, hungry, sick, desperate, and in need of God? I'm willing to bet that the answer is a lot.
2. Don't expect it to be easy. It always seems to me that the hardest part of a project to do good should be the actual doing of it. And yet, bizarrely, it seems that whenever you try to actually do something constructive for others, all these random obstacles come up, many from other people. People protest, people discourage, and people try to stand in your way. (Not always, of course, but I have met with this phenomenon in my lifetime.) And, as with Nehemiah, those people can come from without (Sanballat and co.) and even from within the brotherhood (the brothers who were "exacting usury"). So weird.
3. You have to do the positive and fight the negative at the same time. The workers on the wall had to have not just a shovel, but a spear (I'm not sure if they used shovels; I just liked the alliteration). And while they (and we) had to stave off flesh and blood opponents, I also applied that image to the enemies within us. Again, you'd think that the main challenge would be to do the good, but there is also a challenge to continue to fight the temptations to do bad, which often plague me even harder while I'm doing good. Again, weird. And yet, I find that, like the apostle Paul, "When I want to do good, evil is right there with me" (Rom. 7:21, a passage that maybe isn't supposed to apply to me as a Christian, but whatever).
NT: 1 Cor. 7:25-40
So, about this whole, "remain as you are" thing. Paul has been giving that advice a lot in this chapter. Yesterday, he said, "Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so" (20-21). Today, he says, "Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife" (26-27). Paul makes it clear that this is just his own advice, and that it is not wrong to ignore it (25, 28), but he does believe in the truth of his opinion--after all, he thinks that he, too, has the Spirit of God (40).
And what is the crisis referred to in verse 26? He appears to elaborate on it in verses 29-31: "What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." Hmmm. When I read this, my first interpretation is that Paul thinks that Jesus is coming back any second. Thus, he feels a real sense of urgency about the focus of the Christians. There is no time to marry, to mourn, or to enjoy this world. It is about to end!
So, my first question is, "Is my interpretation of the 'crisis' correct?" If the answer is yes, my second question is, "Seeing how Paul was wrong about that, does this passage still apply to me at all?" My tentative answer is, "Yes it does, but not completely." After all, our time is short. We believe that Jesus could come back at any time, and, even if He doesn't, our lives are merely a vapor anyway. Thus, we should not view earthly treasures as ours to keep, and we certainly shouldn't be engrossed in them. Nor, given the brevity of this life, should we let ourselves be completely overwhelmed by either mourning or contentment for any excessive period of time.
At the same time, I think marriage is a good example of where Paul's theory of the end of the world causes him to have a slightly different opinion than my own. Now, I certainly agree with his argument that when you are married, you don't have as much time to serve God by preaching the Word, or feeding the hungry, or any of those outward ways of reaching out to the world. Before I got married (well, really, before I had kids), I had way more time to serve the church and to serve my community for God. That is just a fact. At the same time, while I do differentiate between God and Greg, I don't know that I see "pleasing the Lord" and "pleasing my spouse" as two separate things. Maybe this is b/c I'm married to a godly man, who doesn't want me to do things that displease the Lord. Or maybe it's b/c I see marriage as being from God, as (among other things) a means to understand Him better. Whatever the reason, I just don't have a mental dichotomy when it comes to serving God and serving my family. Dying to self is dying to self, in my book. And I realize that we are not supposed to limit our service to our family (definitely not!), but I do believe that I am serving God when I am serving my family.
Thus, I don't see them as a distraction from God, as Paul seems to imply, but as a means of serving Him even more.
A personal testimony describing the importance of confessing one's sins before God.
One proverb praising diligence and condemning haste; another against dishonest gain; and a third predicting the fall of the wicked.