Sermon, 3.8.09"No Longer Slaves" Rev. Erik Bonkovsky Nehemiah 5:1-13
In this passage, Nehemiah has found out that some of the Israelites are taking advantage of the economic situation of those who are working on rebuilding the city. They were buying the workers' children as slaves and exacting interest from them on fields and vineyards. As Nehemiah sees it, this is undoing all the good work they've been doing: "We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!" (verse 8).
This may seem irrelevant to modern times, but we are in bondage to our sin. It is our master.
We act as slaves by:
- Making laws for ourselves and then measuring ourselves by those laws
- Putting on a show or puffing ourselves up for others
- Trying to do tangible things in order to make others value us
We enslave others by:
- Expecting all this "good Christian" stuff from them instead of just loving them
- Subtly taunting them with all the great things we're accomplishing
- Judging them, and being quick to point out their faults in a Pharisee-like tone
- Guilt-tripping and manipulating them
Why do we do things that enslave ourselves and others? Do we see God as some great slaveholder, and us as his slaves? It makes sense that if we feel enslaved to God, we're going to feel that way toward others: lowly, not good enough, under obligation. But the Bible makes it clear that though our disobedience has mortgaged us to God, Jesus has paid our mortgage. We are not as slaves to God, but as children (Romans 8:15). We are not to slink away from God in disgrace, but to approach the throne of grace boldly (Hebrews 4:16).
When you remind people of the grace of God, you can't put conditions on it. You can't say they need to do the right amount of groveling, and then they can receive grace. That's not how it works. Grace is unconditional and free, and the only requirement is reaching out and accepting it -- thereby choosing daily not to live in bondage to some made-up human standards, self-imposed or otherwise.
Yet, though I am not what I ought to be nor what I wish to be nor what I hope to be I can truly say, I am not what I once was.
-- John Newton