August 24 I Monday
1 Corinthians 7:1-19
“I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against You. We have acted very wickedly towards You. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws You gave Your servant Moses.” —Nehemiah 1:6-7
Nehemiah was heartbroken when he received word that the city walls of Jerusalem were in shambles and the people in great distress. He wept and fasted for days, all the while praying to God on behalf of the Jews. The opening verses of this devotion are part of this prayer, but interestingly, Nehemiah never viewed himself as an outsider of Israel, but an equal party with the Jews in their disobedience.
Nehemiah was a Jew, born into captivity and eventually served as cupbearer to the king of Susa, the capital city of Persia. The Persian Empire had swallowed up territories that the Babylonians had conquered, including Judah, but they were much more sympathetic to the plight of Israel, and allowed the return of Jewish exiles to Jerusalem. For 140 years since the Babylonian invasion, Jerusalem had been left in ruins. Even though Nehemiah was born long after the Babylonian invasion, he still identified with the sinful, broken people of Jerusalem. The breakdown of the city walls represented the breakdown of the people’s relationship with God. Consequently, disgrace, trouble and brokenness characterized the city.
Nehemiah was a man with a contrite heart and filled with compassion for the state of Jerusalem and his people. He did not help by patronizing them, as if reaching down from a position of superiority, but included himself and his family among them. We will only effectively minister to others when we recognize our own vulnerabilities and failures, but many Christians have bought into the lie that we must appear to be perfect. We know God holds us to a higher standard because we have His Word, so we do our best to avoid un-Christ-like behaviours that might shock our non-Christian friends.
People will not be drawn to Christ if we, as His representatives through whom He lives and acts, are judging and patronizing others, while camouflaging our own downfalls. We are right to have concern for the godlessness of our society, but the biggest problem is not the sin out there, but the undealt-with sin within ourselves. Jesus condemned attitudes of self-righteousness; He ate with sinners and offered them forgiveness because they recognized they had a problem. God knows we will never be perfect on this side of heaven. But as He did with Nehemiah, God calls us to minister to others out of our own failures, sin and brokenness, so that they will see the transformation taking place in our lives does not derive from our own merits, but from a relationship with Christ.
Prayer: Father God, I know I am a sinner and can never be perfect on my own. Grant me the courage not to hide my failures from others, but use them to show how a relationship with You can make the difference. Praise You!