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Apr 12, 2015

Applied Spirituality

Applied Spirituality

Passage: Nehemiah 10:1-39

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Rebuilding the City

Keywords: business, family, marriage, secular culture, spirituality, temple, worship


Nehemiah 10 addresses the challenges of engaging surrounding secular culture while developing applied spirituality to worship, marriage and business.


Applied Spirituality

Series:  Rebuilding the City--Nehemiah 10

April 12, 2015

Interview: Pioneer Apartment team opportunity.

While we are waiting on God to open up a larger ministry center for Mosaic, we’re pressing forward with more ministry to downtown residents. 

God has opened a door we’ve been knocking on for years.  Now it is our turn to step out into the harvest field.

Luke 12:42-44

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 

Faithful in little >>faithful in much.  

  • What is the nature of the building, apartments and residents?
  • What are the opportunities for ministry?
  • What can someone do if they have more questions or want to join that ministry team?

PRAYER for this team and ministry


  • Every generation of God’s people, to lesser or greater degrees, must decide what is non-negotiable and what is optional about their faith. 
  • Every generation must wrestle with where righteousness ends and where worldliness begins. 
  • Every generation of Christ-followers must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice of their life and culture in order to follow Christ.

The challenge in all of this is not to become either legalistic or lawless.  Those are both self-focused extremes on the same spectrum.  Genuine LOVE lands us in the right place. 

  • What is so damaging about legalism?
  • What is so damaging about lawlessness/license

Sometimes we forget that our roots as a nation really came from a group of Christ-followers who were severely persecuted by the government of their day.  King James I was King of England & Ireland together.  He’s the one who commissioned the King James Bible.  But he had very little tolerance for anyone who tried to either “purify” the Church of England (thus the name, Puritans) or “separate” from it (“Separatists”, as were the Pilgrims who would reduce worship to primitive preaching, teaching, singing and free praying instead of the church liturgy).  

            King James, consequently, let his Bishops tax, hound, bully, imprison, bodily search and otherwise persecute such Separatists as they willed.  So those we know eventually as the Pilgrims sought asylum in Holland.  They were a community of about 600 at the time.  As foreign immigrants, they qualified for only the most menial labor and worked 12-15 hour days. They were aging prematurely. King James’ edict of 1618 that even Puritans were to be banned from England made return to their homeland virtually impossible.  And their children were being drawn away from Christ by the allurements of the Dutch culture and way of life. 

            So despite knowing that the death rate for the settlement of Jamestown in the New World was still well over 50%, some 200 of these Christ-followers counted the cost and decided to move to a hostile, unknown land where they would be free to both worship as they chose and spread the Gospel to a remote part of the world. 

            Such sacrifice and self-denial seems foreign to us in a day and culture that encourage us to abandon one biblical belief after another in return for being accepted.  But when Christ is your life, you know that even life itself is not worth holding onto at the expense of fidelity to Jesus. 

We’re back into the latter part of the book of Nehemiah today, chapter 10.  It’s a passage that confronts us with some of the decisions we will have to make and costs we will have to pay if we are to truly become a people set apart from the sins of our culture.  Today more than ever in our nation’s history, Christ-followers are having to choose between being maligned by the culture or being praised by Christ.  The middle ground of passive agreement with the culture is evaporating before our eyes. Spirituality that is genuinely applied to life is becoming generally rejected by our culture.   

            So what is worth hanging onto when it comes to applied spirituality?  What is worth paying a price to maintain and even grow in? 

            For the answer to that, let’s turn to Nehemiah 10 today.  Since we’re jumping into this story in the middle of a national event, let me bring you up to speed.  In chapter 9 (the longest recorded prayer in the Bible), you have the leaders of the people putting their personal “seals” and names to a written document detailing their past failures and present recommitments to God and his commands.  Verses 1-27 in chapter 10 are the names of the leaders and heads of households who signed this formal public declaration. 

            Have you ever been part of a public signing of a binding document before God and people

  • Marriage licenses?
  • Spokane Marriage Covenant in 2004 with 70 churches and pastors making commitments about marriage preparation in a city with a horrible marriage track record…and about the definition of what biblical marriage is in a nation of growing contra-biblical definitions.

When it comes to making binding spiritual documents, I think we need to be very careful. First of all, I can’t find a single practice of this in the New Testament.  That doesn’t mean it is necessarily wrong.  But it certainly means that it isn’t required by God for growth in Christ. 

            Secondly, binding spiritual documents can easily degenerate into deadening legalism.  Legalism replaces heart-transformation with behavioral conformity.  It sucks the leading of the Spirit of God out and replaces it with the laying down of a law. 

I tend to agree with Charles Spurgeon, who wrote (Autobiography [Banner of Truth], 1:103):

I have found, in my own spiritual life that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit. The habit of regular morning and evening prayer is one which is indispensable to a believer’s life, but the prescribing of the length of prayer, and the constrained remembrance of so many persons and subjects, may gender unto [lead into] bondage, and strangle prayer rather than assist it. To say I will humble myself at such a time, and rejoice at such another season, is nearly as much an affectation as when the preacher wrote in the margin of his sermon, “Cry here,” “Smile here.” Why, if the man preached from his heart, he would be sure to cry in the right place, and to smile at a suitable moment; and when the spiritual life is sound, it produces prayer at the right time, and humiliation of soul and sacred joy spring forth spontaneously, apart from rules and vows.

So I’m certainly not advocating a growing list of spiritual rules applied to our lives in an attempt to be more spiritual. 

But at the same time, we live in a very commitment-averse and commitment-phobic culture.  We make commitments to this job…as long as a better one doesn’t come along.  We make commitments to this spouse…as long as they hold up their end of the bargain…or a better-looking one doesn’t come along. We make commitments to this ministry or sport or diet or hobby as long as it continues to meet some need in us.  When that fades, so do we.

            At the least, perhaps we all need to think about writing down…of documenting…our commitments to the most important people and things.  We need to keep a record of the priorities we have chosen under the leading of the Holy Spirit so that we’ll not quickly stray or drift from them months or even years from now.  There is much to be lost by haphazardly approaching spiritual priorities.  There is much to be gained by focusing on and refining applied spirituality.  

Well, chapter 10 of Nehemiah is about what the average Israelite did to participate in personal and national applied spirituality.  As such, it has some pertinent challenges for us as Christ-followers today in a culture that is growing in its hostility to the applied spirituality of Christ-followers.

Nehemiah 10:28, 29

28 “The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, 29 join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God's Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes. 

Notice a couple of important priorities these people had clearly, definitively and directly chosen.

First (vs. 28), this was a group of people who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God....”

If we’re going to NOT do something, we need to replace it with DOING something else that is better.

  • If you’re going to stop using anger as our response to frustration with family, friends or coworkers, silence or passivity or apathy isn’t the solution.  Those can do just as much damage as anger.  We’ll need to replace anger with meaningful engagement… with listening and conversation…or prayer before we respond…or time to process before we answer. 
  • If we’re going to separate ourselves from the sexual immorality or materialistic values or entertainment addictions of our culture, sitting alone in a cold, dark room isn’t going to lead us to spiritual victory and Christ-likeness.  We’ll need to make new commitments and new alliances that replace those flesh-pampering activities and time with Holy Spirit-led experiences. 

But there can be no “applied spirituality” until there is “disengaged carnality.”  It is what Paul speaks repeatedly about when he talks about “taking off” or “putting off” the deeds of the flesh such as gossip, arguing and strife, sexual immorality, substance abuse, lying and angry outbursts (Gal. 5:16-24).  Then he goes on and calls Christ-followers to “put on” or “be clothed with” the fruit of the Spirit and the character of Christ.

So it is fair to ask the question, “In what ways should I be separating myself from the people/culture of the day?”  Unlike the people of Israel, we are not called to set up a nation-state that functions as a theocracy, passing laws and demanding conformity to a set Christian code of ethics by everyone in the country.  We are called to live in the world but not be of it. 

In fact Jesus prayed for us in this very point in John 17:14 when he said to the Father, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” 

Notice how here, too, our non-worldliness is integrally connected with our Word-of-Godliness.  That is exactly what we see in Nehemiah 10:38—“they separated themselves from the people of the lands TO the Law of God….”  It is the embracing of the Word of God as the dominate authority and guide in our lives that will set us apart from the culture of the day.

APP:  This is why we must be people of this Book.  We must not add to God’s word with legalism.  To declare wrong or unspiritual things which God has not made pronouncements about doesn’t apply real spirituality to us; it applies legalism and a confusion about what legitimate separation from the culture should look like.

If we’re totally honest, what kinds of things have some in the church today added to a criteria for genuine spirituality?  (Not drinking any alcohol, not smoking, not going to movies, playing cards, gambling, etc.  For some, any of those may be sin because they can’t handle it in any form.) 

            On the other side of that coin, we must not take away from the Word of God.  What are the things the church and significant numbers of American Christians are taking away from the Word of God when it comes to separating ourselves from the world

  • Not taking responsibility for educating our children in spiritual matters >> expecting someone else to do it.
  • Not distinguishing ourselves from the sexual compromises of the culture >>pornography, extra-marital sex of any kind;
  • Not keeping our vows or dying to self>>no-fault divorce; edifying entertainments, materialism>>prosperity gospel, etc.)

APP:  Some level of “separation” from the culture will always be necessary for the people of God. 

  • So where are you currently making choices of separation? 
  • What are you saying “no” to in the secular culture in order to say “yes” to the Word and work of God? 
  • Are the boundaries you have on money, work, recreational activities, sex, entertainment, education, counsel, friendships and more in line with the Holy Spirit’s desire for holiness and sanctification in your life? 

These are boundaries we should be verbalizing to each other—our families, our fellowship groups, our close brothers and sisters. 

APP:  One more issue on this verse.  Their level of commitment to the Word of God has got me thinking about a simple little change that I’ve observed happening to God’s people simply by nature of technology.  It has to do with how we physically carry the Bible.

            Maybe I’m showing my age.  But I’ve got the Bible on my smart phone too.  But I wonder what we’re losing by not actually physically carrying our Bibles anymore?  What are we losing visibly and in terms of modeling when our children no longer see us treat the Bible differently than the latest Kindle download?  What are we missing modeling to our work associates and fellow students when they no longer see a physical Bible on our desk or in our backpack?  What does it say about the priority of God’s word over every other word when we wear out smart phones far faster than we wear out a Bible? Just something to ponder and discuss…not a legalistic demand to make us either feel more guilty or more sanctimonious!

Before we move on, notice the level and degree of seriousness with which God’s people entered into this public agreement with God.  They promised to “enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God's Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes.”

As I said before, I don’t see Christ or the Apostles calling God’s people in the church age to make oaths that call upon God to curse us if we fail to keep our oaths.  James 5:12 simply says that our “yes” is to mean YES, and our “no” is to mean “NO.” 

            But I find the difference between the Israelite’s seemingly “extreme devotion” to obedience and to a godly way of life and our own avoidance of any formal public commitments to following even the commands of our Lord rather striking.  If people without the indwelling Holy Spirit were willing to bind themselves to the Word and ways of God like that, what is it that has moved us so far to the other end of the spectrum? 

We should not be afraid to say, “By the grace of God, we will live as a godly family!  By the grace of God we will call each other into greater and deeper obedience and godly lifestyles.”  Let’s not be afraid of spiritual commitments and proclamations that are on a different and deeper level than our routine sorts of commitments.  (Friday Men’s Group)

Now Nehemiah pinpoints a couple of specific areas where God’s people need to affirm their spiritual priorities and practice “applied spirituality.

Vs. 30—“We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.” 

Applied spirituality must grip our marriages and families if it is to grip anything.

We live in a very different culture than the Israelites did.  Marriages were usually arranged, so the parents had a decisive say in who their children married.  Not so much today in America. Parents are lucky if their children ask them what they think about their marrying someone.  It is just assumed that the decision all rests on the individual man or woman doing the marrying. 

APP:   Young adults, don’t write your parents out of your marriage decision.  I’m not saying that you must always go with their preference for you.  But don’t ignore the wisdom they have about life and you.  Honor them by really asking and really listening.  If they have serious reservations, take your time.  Find out what concerns them.  Weigh their priorities against God’s priorities for life and marriage. 

APP:  But more than that, I think this is a call to parents to take spiritual responsibility for their children.  Again, we are in a culture that is so individualistic that we rarely see household commitment to Christ or household salvation that we see often in the Bible.  But that is no excuse for abdicating spiritual training, education and formation to the Christian school or youth pastor or Sunday School teacher.  Don’t “give away” your sons and daughters to the pagan culture by failing to BE the spiritual leaders of your children. 

Parents, WE must be the ones who teach them wisdom from the Bible.  WE must be the ones who show them how to read and study it daily, how to pray, how to worship, how to be humble, be bold, be forgiving, be Christ-like.  We can “give” our sons and daughters to the culture of our day by simply doing little or nothing to guide our kids spiritually OR we can be THE most important spiritual mentors and coaches of their entire lives by leading in family prayer, leading in reading of the Word, leading in serving the needy, leading in making fellowship with the church a priority. 

IF they turn from Christ after having seen and heard and tasted all that, then they will have to give account to God, not you.  But if we don’t do these things, then we have, in our culture, essentially “given our daughters to the peoples of this land and taken their daughters for our sons.”   

If you are a parent and wondering HOW to do this, feel free to talk with any of our pastoral staff or anyone you know raised godly children in their day.  Take them to lunch or coffee and pick their brain, mine their experience.  Find out what worked and didn’t work for them.  Then, with your spouse, set a course that will lead to godliness for generations in your family tree. 

Now verse 31-- And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

            Here we have the other half of our lives—our work life!  Between family time and work time, that is probably about 80-90% of our life, right.  Applied spirituality is desperately needed in the business life of God’s people.

            One of the reasons God had sent his people into decades of captivity in Babylon and Assyria was their failure to obey his call to observe a Sabbath year of no farming and canceling debts every 7 years and a Year of Jubilee every 50th year where all slaves were freed and land returned to original owner families.  Those two practices were an automatic reset to business practices of overwork, of borrowing and of lending.  (See Lev. 26:34-35 & 2 Chronicles 36: 20-21; Jeremiah 25: 12; Daniel 9:2.)

            Can you imagine what it would do to both borrowing and lending, to credit card companies and to banks, if the maximum term of a loan was 7 years and more likely much less than 7 years?  Can you imagine how it would grow the faith of an entire nation to every 7 years trust God for an entire year of food, clothing and lodging? 

            How we handle our work, our business life and our finances is probably one of life’s biggest tests of “applied spirituality.”  And according to this passage, putting boundaries on when and where we will do work may be one of our biggest steps of faith.

            Now it is clear from the New Testament that keeping the Sabbath is no longer a sign of our covenant with God.  It is the one of the 10 Commandments not repeated as binding on the church by either Jesus or any of the N.T. writers.  We are free to see every day as holy or to view certain days as particularly holy.

            But that does not mean we are free to imitate our culture and make our work our god.  We are not free to let our work own us.  We are not free to neglect the spiritual privileges and practices God has called us to because we’re consumed by work. 

            Not only are our business schedules to look different than our secular counterparts; our business practices are to look different as well. The foregoing of planting and reaping every seven years meant that there would have to be some extra planning and extra saving every year leading to that seventh year.  Secular business people will spend most of what they make after taxes on themselves most of the time.  God’s people are to structure their finances differently.  They are to plan, to save and to give in ways that the pagan world may never understand. 

APP:   I’m constantly blessed in this city with seeing how many Christian business owners and employees really carry their faith into their business practices.  Not only do they run their businesses with integrity.  They deal with their employees with compassion and generosity. 

Their level of generosity on the part of Christian business people here is astounding.  We as Mosaic Fellowship have been blessed by business and professional people, some of whom don’t even go to this church.  I’m aware of gifts of hundreds of dollars weekly and of tens of thousands of dollars in one-time gifts that have come from godly business people.  Applied spirituality in business is one of the most potent testimonies to the depth of one’s faith and Christ’s work in a life. 

Well, the last half of this chapter (vss. 32-39) deals with how the Israelites were to support, encourage and maintain both the Temple and those who worked in the Temple.   I was tempted to simply summarize all the different offerings and gifts the people affirmed they would give.  But I’ve decided to read the whole list.  If these people were committed enough to model this level of giving year after year, it must be a model God really wants us to consider.  So follow along as I read.

32 “We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. 34 We, the priests, the Levites, and the people, have likewise cast lots for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers' houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law. 35 We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord; 36 also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; 37 and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. 38 And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. 39 For the people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the chambers, where the vessels of the sanctuary are, as well as the priests who minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers. We will not neglect the house of our God.”

WOW!  I guess not!  For the people of God, how they cared for or neglected the “house of God”-- the place where God said he would pour out his presence-- has always been a symbol of how they felt about God himself. 

The parallels are not hard to see even today.  The N.T. says that both our individual bodies and the combined “body of Christ” in the church gathered are the modern-day temples of God.  Applied spirituality has a lot to say about how we either care for or neglect these “houses of God.” 

The truly outstanding pattern set forth in this passage is that the people of God willing assumed responsibility for “all the work of the house of our God” (vs. 33).  The determined to give God the FIRST and BEST part of everything from children to chopped wood, food to finances.  Giving was seen as simply a thermometer of their spiritual temperature.  Ministry in God’s presence and in His Temple was the grateful response of people God was blessing. 

Peter and John both tell us that ALL Christ-followers are now part of that divine kingdom of priests to our God.  We are here to wait on God in this world. And we are in this world to help people relate to God through Jesus Christ. 

APP:  So have you decided to embrace your divine calling to do the work of God’s house?  Have you made the mental and heart-shift that sees Christ’s kingdom work as primary and other work as secondary?  Have you made that determination that you “will not neglect the house of our God,” the church? 

I’m assuming that is why you are here today.  I’m assuming that is why we sing and pray and fellowship and serve this community.  I’m assuming that any time I see the people of God gathering and offering time or money or abilities or service, it is because we are living out our call as the people of God to do “all the work of the house of our God.” 

So if you are looking for more or deeper ways to work that out here at Mosaic, please let us know. If you want to devote more of the best parts of your life and energies to the call of Christ on your life, let us know.  If you want to learn how to give the best and first part of your time, resources and energies to God’s “today-Temple”, His church, we’d love to help.

  • There is a building right over there (Pioneer) that needs your temple service.
  • There is a body of believers right here that needs your loving engagement.
  • There buildings and blocks and neighborhoods all over this city where God wants us to build His church and bless lost and saved people alike. 

So let’s declare in both word and action that “we will not neglect the House of our God.”

Questions for further study and reflection on Nehemiah 10

  1. This chapter is virtually a summary of the major requirements of the Old Covenant God made with Israel under the Law of Moses (see Exodus 20-31).  What are the different areas or categories of obedience to which God called his people Israel, according to this chapter? 
  2. Nehemiah 10:30 addresses marriage.  What commitments by parents regarding giving their children in marriage do you think should Christian parents make today?  What might that look like?
  3. Nehemiah 10:31 speaks about their commitment not to engage in commerce on the Sabbath.  What kinds of commitments do you think a Christian should make today regarding business practices, schedules and boundaries? 
  4. Nehemiah 10:31b speaks about forgoing crops every 7th year and canceling debts.  Read Leviticus 25 for the background to this. What steps of faith would this have required?  Do you see any New Testament parallels to these practices?  What steps of faith does God ask us to take when it comes to letting go of wealth and resources?  Why?
  5. Neh. 10:32-39 is all about caring for the Old Testament priests, Levites and the Temple of God through tithes and offerings. What different types of offerings were to be given?  How much?  How often?  Since the temple of God is now the New Testament church (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 2 Cor. 6:16), what does the Bible call us to do today to care for that current “temple”, the church?  What part do you see yourself responsible for, called to or gifted in regarding caring for the church today?  How is that an expression of your faith in Jesus Christ?