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Jan 23, 2011

Fresh Finances

Passage: Nehemiah 10:31-39

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Fresh Beginnings--Nehemiah

Category: Nehemiah--Fresh Beginnings

Keywords: money, finances, blessings, firstfruits, blessings


Nehemiah spends 2 chapters (5 & 10) addressing the need for Israel to manage their finances in a godly way if they wish to remain under God's blessing. This message looks at the New Testament parallels and differences to Nehemiah's instructions.


Fresh Finances

Series:  Fresh Beginnings—Nehemiah

January 23, 2011 

Anybody here today have WAY TOO MUCH MONEY?  I’m not talking about just having a LOT of money; I’m talking about feeling like you have so much money that it’s a burden to you? Just on the long shot that there is someone like that sitting here today, we have a special support group for people like you.  It just meets quarterly…and it’s called our “Finance Committee”! J 

Well, having lived and worked in some very poor places in the world…and having read the statistics about American’s wealth in comparison with the rest of the world, I can pretty safely say that most of us in this gathering are in the top 10% of the world’s richest people…even if you don’t recognize it.  [See www.globalrichlist.com for calculator.]

  • If you make just $5000/year, you are still richer than 85% of the world alive today.  (Just don’t tell our politicians that, O.K?  They don’t need any more “rich” to go after!)
  • If you make $25,000/yr, you are richer than 90% of the world. 
  • If you make $35K/yr, you are richer than 95% of the world.
  • I you make $50k/yr, you are richer than 99% of the world (which makes you the 59,089,289th richest person in the world).
  • If you just won the Megamillions and got $90 million like our “neighbors” in Ephrata and Post Falls, you are in the top 1/1000th of the world’s wealthy-99.999% of the world is poorer than you…unless you are the estranged husband of the Post Falls woman who won…in which case your attorney just got very wealthy too! J

If you haven’t figured it out by now, guess what the topic of today’s message is about?  [Money…sort of.]  We’re in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, chapters 5 and 10 today.  Both of them deal with matters of money, wealth, and how we not only handle them but how we either use or abuse them. 

But before we dive into the Word of God today, I want you to do a little group exercise.

Connect Experience:  In groups of 4-6 people, take the 3 sheets of paper you have and write down as many categories of spending as you can think of that come under, in your opinion, each of the 3 possible budged headings:

1.)     Survival expenses (things I must purchase regularly in order to survive):  [like rent/mortgage, water, heat, food, transportation, medical, etc.]

2.)    Standard of living expenses (expenses I choose to incur based on the standard of living/spending I choose to have):  [type of transportation, clothing; size of mortgage; educational advancement, etc.]

3.)    Fun-Money expenditures (things I spend money on that are not necessary but which I choose because I like to and can):  [entertainment, cable, travel, eating out, vacations, sports, leisure, etc.]

Then put the sheets in the respective buckets/boxes up front here.  We’ll read them later.


Nehemiah chapters 5 & 10 both deal with the financial lives of God’s people in Jerusalem at the time. 

For this morning’s purposes, let’s work in reverse: 10:31-39.  We’re jumping into the text where Nehemiah has assembled the nation for a time of repentance and confession.  Now they are making a binding agreement with God about all sorts of practices they will and will not do…like not giving their children in marriage to the surrounding pagan nations.  From vs. 31 on, much of it has to do with finances. 

APP:  Have you ever made any “binding agreements” with God about your finances?  I think it’s a good idea to do that, because without drawing a line in the sand or certain minimums, it is far too easy to fudge on them little by little. 

So let’s start reading in 10:31.

31 “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.

 32 “We assume the responsibility for carrying out the commands to give a third of a shekel each year for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the bread set out on the table; for the regular grain offerings and burnt offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, at the New Moon feasts and at the appointed festivals; for the holy offerings; for sin offerings to make atonement for Israel; and for all the duties of the house of our God.

 34 “We—the priests, the Levites and the people—have cast lots to determine when each of our families is to bring to the house of our God at set times each year a contribution of wood to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the Law.

 35 “We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the LORD each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree.

 36 “As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there.

 37 “Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and olive oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work. 38 A priest descended from Aaron is to accompany the Levites when they receive the tithes, and the Levites are to bring a tenth of the tithes up to the house of our God, to the storerooms of the treasury. 39 The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and olive oil to the storerooms, where the articles for the sanctuary and for the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the musicians are also kept.

   “We will not neglect the house of our God.”

By chapter 10 here, the people of God have actually rebuilt the wall and are starting to experience the blessings of living in a protected city. 

      But Nehemiah knows that it is a short trip from enjoying the protection of a city that enables you to work and increase your standard of living AND becoming people who abuse that wealth by making it your god.  Back in chapter 5, it was already happening.  So in chapter 10, Nehemiah calls the people and their leaders to come and sign their John Doe to an agreement with each other and with God.  What he is asking of them are simply what God had already set out for them in the Torah when he set up the Mosaic Covenant with Israel.  These aren’t new IRS regulations; they’re the same ones they had for hundreds of years.  

APP:  That’s a good reminder that we need to periodically review the foundations of our faith.  We can be in a place in life where God has blessed us, where we’re making progress and life is getting better.  But if we don’t keep being reminded of what it is God wants us to DO with all that blessing, it’s going to be short-lived and unsustainable. 

So, most of chapter 10 it is about what particular use of their wealth?  [Notice the last line of vs. 39“We will not neglect the house of our God.”  All of this financial instruction had to do with God’s house and the relationship maintenance of that and giving to God through that had to the people.  How Israel cared for the ongoing worship in God’s house and the people who led that worship was a huge part of God’s instructions to them about their relationship with Him.] 

It is interesting that when God brought spiritual revival to his people, one of the first things to be affected was their financial support of kingdom ministry.

      Let’s look at the kinds of things God’s people were agreeing to in order to live under God’s ongoing blessing in the Old Covenant/ Agreement.

  • Vs. 31—Business practices--wouldn’t do business on the Sabbath even though others enticed them to do so.
  • Vss. 32-33—Benevolant practices—would make sure the maintenance costs for the Temple worship were covered. (Notice, it’s not a “graduated tax” here.  Rich or poor, you paid the same.)
  • Vs. 34—firewood for use in the offerings.  Required labor, time and effort from everyone.
  • Vs. 35—“firstfruits” = the first/best part of their income/ earnings every year.
  • Vs. 36—firstborn of both children and cattle.  Reminded them that the first and best again belonged to God.  Both required “redemption”…buying back from the priests.
  • Vss. 37-39—the tithe/tenth of all their income/produce/ farm goods, etc. to the Levites…who then gave 10% of that to the priests.  This would have been support for the payroll for Temple workers. 

APP:  Now, it would be a wrong application to jump from their experience directly to ours and start laying out percentages God’s people should be giving today or exact amounts like are covered here. 

Q:  What is the rule of thumb when interpreting the O.T. in light of the N.T?  The rule of thumb in interpreting which laws come over from the O.T. into the N.T. believer’s life is,

1.)     “Is this command repeated in the N.T.?  If yes, then we must do it. 

2.)    If not, is a similar principle repeated in the N.T.?  If yes, then we must do it.

3.)    If the answer to both is, “no,” then we don’t have to worry about trying to keep this part of the law. 

So, are these particular commands repeated in the N.T?  NO.

Are the principles behind these commands repeated in the N.T?  YES

Which ones?

  • Financial support of church teaching and leading elders, I Timothy 5:17—“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”
  • Support of the work of the church?  Well, as long as that “work” is what God calls the “work” of the church. 
    • Does building church buildings fall into that?  Not specifically... though the Bible doesn’t forbid doing so.  It’s just silent about it. 

      But it’s not silent about some other kinds of giving: 

  • benevolent giving to other needy believers (I Jn. 3:17; James 2:15, 16), churches (2 Cor. 8-9), and needy people (Mt. 25:37-40).
  • support of missionaries (Acts 15:3; Phil. 4:14-19);
  • older widows (over 60) w/out family to care for them (I Tim. 5:16)
  • evangelistic outreach and making friends:  Luke 16:9—“…use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
  • helping God’s servants/family:  Mt. 24:45, 46--“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.”).  
  • percentage giving:  I Cor. 16:2—“On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.”
  • Generous & joyful giving:  2 Cor. 9:6-7—“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

So let me ask you, in all these things, what were the major underlying PURPOSES God gave both the O.T. saints and the N.T. saints for giving

  • Maintain the worship life of God’s people.
  • Help the poor
  • Support those who led them spiritually.
  • Express their love, gratitude and obedience to God.
  • Advance the Gospel/witness of God’s people.
  • Develop that God-like quality of generosity.

What did it say when the people stopped doing what God had commanded? 

  • They valued something else above their God; they were actually worshiping something else.
  • They really didn’t think God’s word and commands were important for meaningful relationship with God.

What does it say to God when WE do the same thing with the N.T. commands on giving?  [The same thing.]

Q:  When it came to your 3 lists, was “tithing” and giving to God’s Kingdom work on your “survival expenses” list or not?  “Standard of living” list?  “Fun-Money” list? 

Q:  Which list would it have been on if you had made one without discussing it with the group?

MOSAIC  BUDGET presentation


So let’s go now to Nehemiah 5:1-19.

      In chapter 5, Nehemiah is beginning to hear rumblings about a problem that had been developing over many decades.  It had to do with 4 different groups of God’s people:

  1.  Vs. 2—people who owned no land and therefore had no way of growing crops.  They were starving and simply needed food.  [
  2. Vs. 3—landownder who had mortgaged their property in order to buy food.  Inflation was so bad that the combination of debt and inflation had pretty much whipped out their equity. 
  3. Vs. 4—People who were having to sell their land in order to pay the taxes imposed by the Persian king. 
  4. Fourth group was made up of wealthy Jews who were exploiting their own countrymen by loaning them money and taking their lands and their children for collateral. 

The problem was not that this last group was loaning money.  That was permitted in the law.  Mortgaging land and even selling oneself into slavery was permitted.  What was not permitted was the charging of interest (in Nehemiah’s time probably 1%/mo = 12%/year, see 5:11) NOR the keeping of land or servants past the “Year of Jubilee” (Lev. 25).  Every 50 years, the mortgages and servitude were to be cancelled by the masters and mortgage holders, i.e. the wealthy.  All debts were to be forgiven, all servants set free and all land restored to its original owners and their families. 

      What was happening here was that some of the people of God were exploiting the misfortune of others.  Greed had taken precedent over love, mercy and compassion. 

So after Nehemiah reads them the riot act and calls the nobles and the rich to knock off the exploitation of those in desperate need so they can build their own wealth, he tells them that if they want an example of how it is to be done, then take a look no farther than his own finances.

NOTE:  Good leadership will be people who quietly sacrifice for the good of those under their care.  They will also be people who, if their example was followed, would transform the whole system into something just, righteous and loving. 

Nehemiah mentions 4 things he did that others with wealth and resources should be doing too.

  1. For the last 12 years since he was appointed to be their governor in Judah, he hasn’t touched the portion of the taxes the king had levied on them that he had a right to use for his own officials and household.  In other words, Nehemiah didn’t use the official expense account he’d been given.  The reason he didn’t do that is given at the end of vs. 15“…because of the fear of God.”  It was his relationship to God that informed and determined how he managed his finances.  APPHow do we become people whose relationship with God actually determines how we handle our finances?  (We develop a healthier respect for God than for our own wants; we will be found always talking with God about our expenditures, money management, financial decisions…and always listening to God through his Word and Spirit to DO as He does with people—blessings for everyone, the just and the unjust (Mt. 5:45), but especially God’s family (Gal. 6:10).
  2. Not only did he not use everything that was rightfully his as a government official (something that wise government officials do in hard economic times), but Nehemiah put his servants to work rebuilding the wall (5:16).  He put more “skin in the game” than anyone else by putting everyone in his household on the wall-building brigade. 
  3. He scrupulously avoided building his own land holdings (5:16b). 
  • APP:  unfortunately the history of American Christianity is filled with supposed “spiritual leaders” and “men/women of God” who have approached the care and feeding of God’s people as a means of lining their own pockets. 
  • ILL:  A church that used to be in Spokane where the leader used the labor of his people, particularly single women, to purchase, upgrade and remodel numerous houses that were all under his name to the tune of 1.6 million dollars!
  • ILL:  TV preachers by the boatload.  “The Crystal Cathedral’s $50 million bankruptcy! 
  • Safeguards against this kind of wealth-building?  Transparency and honesty!  That’s why we make Mosaic’s budget public every year.  Copies are available at the back table today or you can ask any of the leaders for a copy any time.  [Show where it goes through the PowePoint graph.]
  1.  Nehemiah shared his own food with others…at his own expense (5:17-18).  He regularly fed over 150 guests, both residents and visitors.  That’s a pretty big food budget, right?
  • APP:  Practicing hospitality at one’s own table has always been God’s way of helping his people get his heart about sharing, giving and loving those in need. That’s something WE should be doing as a church and in our homes.  That’s why ALPHA is such a great ministry:  it allows us to use both our homes and this place to practice hospitality while inviting people to encounter our God too.  It gives all of us an opportunity to serve others with Christian hospitality.
  • APP:  when is the last time we had other people into our home for a meal?  When was the last time you served a meal at City Gate or Cup of Cool Water or Alpha or 1st Covenant Church?  Does God just want some of his people to build this kind of heart of compassion?  No. 

So, why does God give us money, income, Social Security, wealth and resources?  Why does he call us to be people who give and share of everything we have—time, money, expertise, physical labor? 

  • To build His Kingdom.
  • To walk by faith…and build our faith.
  • To make Him attractive to all around us.
  • To share in His heart and desires.
  • To become like Jesus whom we serve.


  • Is that what you are doing with your resources, your income and your wealth?  If you are, you know what a blessing and joy it is.  If you’re not, you will never know the joy, the freedom, and the blessing God has for you until you do.
  • What is God inviting you to do differently with all the financial and physical resources he’s given you?  What additional step of faith is he putting on your heart today?  I don’t really care whether it involves Mosaic or some other ministry.  What I do care about is that it grows our heart to be more like Jesus’ heart.   

CLOSE:  Read the items listed on the different sheets used at the beginning.  Have you changed your mind about any of them?