Saying No to Neglect — Part Two
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Saying No to Neglect — Part Two

Nehemiah 9:38–10:39  (ID: 1744)

In response to the proclamation of God’s Word, Nehemiah and the people of Israel made a binding agreement that they would not neglect the house of God. But what did this mean practically? Alistair Begg teaches that responding to God’s Word from the heart realigns our focus. Like the Israelites, we must consider God’s purposes over our preferences, our responsibilities over perceived rights, and long-term priorities over immediate satisfaction.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Nehemiah, Volume 3

God’s Glory in Our Goodness Nehemiah 9:38–13:30 Series ID: 11603

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me, if you would, to the book of Nehemiah, in the Old Testament, and to chapter 10.

Let’s have a brief prayer before we seek to study this:

Lord, this is our prayer:

We want to know you,
[To] live our lives to show you
All the love we owe you;
We’re seekers of your heart.[1]

We ask that you would help us now, that you would give to us concentration and receptive hearts. Guard and guide my words, that we may hear your voice and, in hearing it, understand and obey it. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In our studies in Nehemiah, we’ve been following the account of God’s dealings with his people at a particular point in the history of the nation—at a time when they were under the leadership of two men in particular, Ezra and Nehemiah. There’s absolutely no question that the events that we’re considering were long ago and far away. For some of us, that’s enough to conclude that there can be no possible application to our day, since we have this kind of smug idea that our day is like no other day and only what is very immediate can be applicable.

Well, in actual fact, the more we study the Bible, the more we realize that there are timeless principles contained in it which are relevant to every age and to every generation, especially—and this is our emphasis in these studies—amongst those who are seeking to ask the question: What does it mean to do God’s work in God’s way?

And this morning, as we pick up the account essentially at 10:30, I want to take some time to remind us just how it is that the people of God found themselves at 10:30 and how we are tracking with them to that point.

All that has been taking place in these last few studies for us emerged as a result of a simple request which is recorded in 8:1. And if you turn to chapter 8 for a moment, and to the first verse, you’ll see what I’m referring to. The people had “assembled … before the Water Gate,” and they came and asked Ezra if he would be good enough “to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.” So they gather together, and they ask their leadership, “Bring out the Book.”

The more we study the Bible, the more we realize that there are timeless principles contained in it which are relevant to every age and to every generation.

Now, we have made much of this in the past, and deliberately so. And we’re about to reinforce it again this morning, and I hope that it will become apparent to you just why we choose to do so. And perhaps for some who are visiting and may be surprised at this kind of emphasis, then this clarification will prove beneficial in your mind also.

As a result of this request to “bring out the Book,” we’re told that Ezra and his helpers began to teach from the Book to this large assembled congregation. And the way in which they approach it is largely framed by 8:8: “They read from the Book of the Law …, making it clear … giving the meaning so … the people could understand what was being read.” And so we say again and again, and we labor hard to make the point, that our purpose in opening up the Scriptures—in putting Scriptures in the pews, in encouraging people to carry their Bibles and to read them—is because we recognize that it is through God’s Word that he chooses to speak. And it is very important that we would then understand it and apply it.

It’s very possible for us simply to have some kind of emotional surge. One of my friends was telling me he was playing golf in Scotland, and one of the foursome, who was being caddied for by one of these ancient men against the wall of the old, ancient course in St. Andrews—was caddying for this man—and he hit a pitching wedge from close to the green, and he flew the green, and it careened down the other side, and the caddy said to him, “Aye, you had a rush of blood to the head.” And this idea of just a sudden surge which produces a sort of involuntary response, it’s not unusual when you get around religion. And indeed, there are some groups of people who foster their religious experience on just that kind of thing. And if they don’t get some kind of rush of blood to their heads or to some promontory of their body, they are forced to assume that the event has really been convened in vain, because it is only at that point that we can assume that God has really done anything.

Now, we need to wean one another away from that kind of expectation—not that we would be engaged in some kind of emotionless experience of Christ (love could never be such a thing, nor could devotion and obedience) but that we understand clearly that the Book was read so that they might understand it and then, in understanding it, that they may put it into practice. Because we may be stirred in a moment without ever being changed. We may be challenged and moved and unchanged. We may be the makers of great resolve, and by the time two hours has elapsed since that great stirring of heart and mind, we may be no different from what we were before.

That is why, incidentally, we read from James chapter 1: “Do not merely listen to the word [of God],” he says, “and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”[2] We all know how easy it is to read things and believe that just because our eyes were cast over them, that somehow we had internalized them, and we were about to do them; and then we go in and take the test, and we discover that all that happened was that our eyes happened to be opened over a book that was open, but nothing took place between the contact of our eyes and the page and all that was involved beyond that.

So I say to you this morning: whenever God’s people are concerned to bring out the Book and seek humbly to understand it and to obey it and to apply it, whether it was six hundred years before Christ or two thousand years after Christ, it will always have a radical impact upon them. It will always have a radical impact upon them. It will impact who we are—our identity. I spoke in recent days with an individual who came and said, “My life is full of questions. I want to know who I am. I want to know why I exist.” And the pages of Scripture provide those answers for those who are really seeking. It will impact who I am, what I do (my activities), where I go (my geography), and how I live.

Indeed, the writer of the book of Hebrews is so consumed with the power of the Word of God that he makes this graphic statement in Hebrews chapter 4: “For the word of God is living and active.”[3] You may want to turn to that and look at it just so that you can make sure that it’s there. And if you underline your Bible, you may want to underline that sentence: “For the word of God is living and [is] active.” You understand what that’s saying? It’s saying that this book is alive! Somebody once asked Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great preacher in the Victorian era in London, how you defended the Bible. His reply was “I don’t defend the Bible. You don’t defend a lion. You simply cut it loose.”[4] And the Bible is living, and it is active.

This, of course, is the discovery that is made by those whose eyes become opened to the truth of God’s Word. Because by and large, people think of the Bible as some kind of boring and inactive piece of work: “Why would I have one? Why would I read it? Why would I keep it? Why would I sit in here for this jolly long time, listening to this chap talk about it?” Not because he’s good at talking about it but because it’s living and active.

You see, we’ve all taken courses at college and university which, when you read the sheets and got the booklist for it, you looked at your friends in the class, and you said, “This is going to be unbelievably boring. I mean, I can just tell from looking at the course outline, this will be dreadful—unless, of course, we get a great teacher who will be able to enliven a dead subject.”

And there’s lots of people who attend upon the considerations of religion in much the same way. They come along, believing somehow or another that what we have here is a dead book, and we need an enlivened teacher to bring death to life. Let me tell you something: there is more life in this book than there ever will be in all of me. There is more power in this book than there will ever be in the brightest of statements or the cleverest of sermons or the most emotionally stirring songs. When that conviction takes hold of a heart, then the Book becomes central in our lives.

The writer to the Hebrews goes on to say that not only is it “living and active” but it’s “sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to [the] dividing [of] soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” Now, I don’t fully understand all of this, except that it seems like it really cuts through it. That’s what it’s saying. And “it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”[5] That’s why people come, and they are worshipping, and they say, “You know, I don’t know how it is that that fellow knows so much about me. I mean, he must have been reading my diary during the week, that he would speak in the way that he spoke, because it was as if he knew the inside of me.” None of us who teach or preach here know the inside of anybody else. But God’s Word knows the inside. And God’s Word is able to bring healing, and able to bring encouragement, and able to pick up the downtrodden and set right those who are off track, all because of the power of the Word.

So when the people said, “Bring out the Book,” they were in for something. And every time God’s people say, “Bring out the Book,” they’re in for something.

The power of the Word and the work of the Word work hand in hand. When Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16, he says to him, “All the Scriptures that we’ve been given are God-breathed, and they are profitable for a number of things.”[6] Let me tell you what they are: “for teaching, rebuking, correcting … training,”[7] and equipping. What should we teach? The Bible. What is the basis of a rebuke? The Bible. Where should our correction come from? The Bible. How should we be trained to serve? From the Bible. How will we be equipped to be all that God intends us to be? The Bible.

God’s Word is able to bring healing, and able to bring encouragement, and able to pick up the downtrodden and set right those who are off track.

Growing up as a child in Scotland, we used to sing this chorus that said,

Read your Bible, pray every day,
Pray every day, pray every day;
Read your Bible, pray every day,
And you’ll grow, grow, grow.

And we each go, “And you’ll grow, grow, grow,” and hit the girls on either side. “And you’ll grow, grow, grow!” “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.” It’s absolutely true! You’ll know if you’re growing. ’Cause you cannot, I cannot, grow in grace and in a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ unless the Word of God is taking root within my life—unless I’m beginning to discriminate between the true and the false, the wise and the foolish, that which is in accord with God’s plans and purposes and that which is absolutely spurious.

False Prophets and Useless Words

Now, I mention this—and I’d like you to turn to another Old Testament passage for just a moment, to the prophesy of Jeremiah. Jeremiah chapter 23. In direct contrast to the Word of God, which is powerful and effective, the words of false prophets are absolutely useless.[8] And in Jeremiah’s day, God speaks to his people through his servant Jeremiah, and this is his concern: that his people would become discriminating in determining who and what they were going to listen to.

Now, loved ones, we’re talking about an event that took place 600 years before Christ, and we’re now 2,600 years away from that, approximately, and I want to say this to you: what God said by his prophet all those years before Jesus arrived is as up to date as today’s newspaper. And I’ll tell you why: because we are living now, in this final decade of the twentieth century, in an era which manifestly, obviously has concluded that the answers that science has offered are inadequate answers to the basic questions of life—to the “Who am I? Why am I? Where am I going? Does it matter? What will happen when I’m gone?” Science has been unable to answer those questions.

Those of you who read the newspaper will notice just yesterday, I think it was, that the last day of June—and this will be troublesome to those of you who are detail people—but the last day of June and the last minute of the last day of June will be sixty-one seconds and not sixty seconds. Now, you think about that too long, it can really freak you out—kind of like, “Wait a minute! Who said? And why?” And the basic answer is this: that the atomic clocks of man go absolutely dead on. The earth turns and can slow down or speed up. And so the atomic clocks of man—last day of June, last hour of the day, last minute of the day—will have to be reset according to the way in which God continues to order the spheres and the planets and the time.

Now, you say, “Oh, that’s very interesting! In fact, I met somebody just this week, and they told me a wonderful thing about that. They had this big crystal that was hanging from their rearview mirror. Maybe they’d been listening to your sermon, Pastor, about the importance of the rearview mirror, and they decided that they would hang a crystal on it to remind them just how important it was. But they were telling me all these amazing things about the various dimensions of spirituality that they’ve been discovering. And you know, I didn’t know what to say.” Well, loved ones, I’m here to tell you: you’re going to have to—and I’m going to have to—find out what to say, just as they needed to find out the difference in Jeremiah’s day.

Now, listen to this as I read it. You needn’t follow along—only if you choose. Listen to this. This is God speaking through his prophet: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.’”[9] This is Jeremiah 23:17:

They keep saying to those who despise me,
  “The Lord says: You will have peace.”
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts
 they say, “No harm will come to you.”

I have to beware of turning this into the body of my message this morning. But if it happens, so be it.

In other words, there will be great crowds of people who will march down the streets in defiance of the very straightforward proclamations of the Word of God. And at the head of the parade will be false prophets, who will say to the people who despise the very clear dictates of the Word of God, “You will have peace. You may live in a blatantly homosexual lifestyle, and no harm will come to you. You may live in violation of your marriage vows, and no harm will come to you. You may have yourself as god, your crystal as your shrine, your little Buddha as your emphasis, and only peace will be your experience.”

But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord
 to see or to hear his word?
 Who has listened and heard his word?
See, the storm of the Lord
 will burst out in wrath,
a whirlwind swirling down
 on the heads of the wicked.
The anger of the Lord will not turn back
 until he fully accomplishes
 the purposes of his heart.
In days to come
 you will understand it clearly.

Now listen to this:

I did not send these prophets,
 yet they have run with their message;
I did not speak to them,
 yet they have prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
 they would have proclaimed my words to my people
and would have turned them from their evil ways
 and from their evil deeds.[10]

Now, loved ones, this is a very important point of discrimination. Whenever you hear somebody or read a book or see a television program—one of these 48 Hours, or 20/20, or Inside Edition, or Limited Edition, or who knows what edition—when you see this stuff that is guaranteed to intrigue and to mystify and to draw in, a fundamental question is this: “Does this prophet call for repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ?” If the answer to that question is no, then they are irrelevant, and they are wrong. Enough said. No need for further conversation.

Do not send me their books. Do not ask that I watch the programs. Do not send me their tapes and their videos. Because I’m dying under the weight of all this material that you keep sending me that you’re intrigued by. If I may say so graciously to you: Grow up, and be discriminate, and learn how to chuck this stuff! You don’t need me or others to tutor you on this. You understand the Bible. You read the Bible. You can tell whether somebody is bringing something that is in accord with the words of Jesus. What do you need to know about somebody who looked up into the bright light of the operating room, and the next thing they saw was their Aunt Fanny from Minneapolis, and then the next thing they saw was a long corridor, and then the next thing they saw was a chariot? Who in the wide world cares?

Jesus said, “I[’m] go[ing] to prepare a place for you. … If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there [you] may be also.”[11] “Lord, we don’t know where you[’re] going, [and] how can we know the way?”[12] “Watch Inside Edition.” No! “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no [one] come[s] [to] the Father, but by me.”[13]

Now, you say, “Well, you’re a bit of a dimwit. We’ve known that for a while. Your mind does not run in scientific lines. You’re strange in that respect.” I know all of that. I’m just trying to save you a lot of silly reading, save you a lot of stupid conversations, save you a lot of lying in your bed and looking up at the ceiling and wondering. These prophets speak, but they don’t turn people from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.

“I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name.” Well, what do they say? “They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’”[14] Isn’t that it? Have you ever seen so much about dream therapy in all your life as in the last four or five years? You could live in absolute purity with your children and end up in jail in this crazy world in which we live. All that needs to happen is that your daughter goes slightly doolally at one point in her life, goes to see one of these individuals who track her back through her dreams, real or imagined, and explain the fact that she drives up the wrong side of the street on basis of the fact that somehow or another, she was abused when she was a child.

They say, “I had a dream! I had a dream!” How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship.

In other words, this is devilish. This is satanic. And the activities of these people, witting or unwitting, under the guise of religion and spirituality, is not to draw people to the one true living God, but it is to draw them away from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in a great quest for spiritual fulfillment.

Now look at verse [28]: “Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully.” Next time I get to preach to pastors, this is my text. I decided that in the first service this morning, when I was preaching earlier.

“Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”

You see, there is no greater privilege in all of the earth than to be given the opportunity to teach from this book. Because it is alive, and it is active. It cuts through it, exposes attitudes and the judgments of hearts. It is able to correct, and to rebuke, and to train, and to teach, and to build up, and to equip in righteousness. And it is vastly different from the spiritual rhetoric of false prophets 600 BC and 2000 AD.

You see, loved ones, don’t assume that we’re going to be able to pass this baton of faith into the hands of our children and our grandchildren just too easily. And we may make it through unscathed and be caught up to glory and go on to heaven, but there’s a generation coming behind us right now, as you know. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand, we obey, we apply the Word of God.

Now, this is what’ll happen. People will tell you that you are a bigot. If you can’t cope with that, you’ll never manage this. People will tell you that you are conceited. We are conceited if it isn’t true. If it is true, we’re just being honest. You see, there is no falsity in our day. There are no false prophets and true prophets, for there is no standard by which we may gauge falsity. There are just prophets, and every idea is as relevant as the next, and preachers are just individuals who speak with greater forcefulness and emphasis than others do, but we may as well set their words aside.

Well, that was the great danger in the days of Jeremiah. It’s the danger today, and it was a danger in Nehemiah’s day. And in every generation, when the people of God are stirred to ask the question, “How, then, shall we live?” it is to the Scriptures that we look for answers.

Now, that actually brings us to this morning’s message—which, of course, has already become a series. And let me just lead into it and draw this to a close here.

In 9:[38], the people made “a binding agreement”; they put it “in writing.” By 10:29, they amplify the nature of the agreement, whereby they’re going “to obey carefully all the commands” and “regulations and decrees of the Lord our [God].” And there’s a summary statement at the end of chapter 10 which provides us with a succinct expression of what this binding agreement’s really about. And there you find it in the final sentence, in quotation marks, there in 10:39: “We will not neglect the house of our God.”

Well, we need to ask: What did it mean in their day, in practical terms? In the day-to-day operation of their lives, what did it mean for them to make this kind of affirmation? And what will it mean for us to say “We will not neglect the house of our God”? Well, let me answer that in three ways, and then we’ll just tackle the first of these as we have time.

For them to determine that they were going to say no to neglect meant, first of all, the realigning of their focus; it meant, secondly, the redirection of their families; and it meant, thirdly, the reconstructing of their finances. The realigning of their focus, the redirection of their families, and the reconstructing of their finances.

Obeying God from the heart will realign our focus.

We will always be able to tell when God is at work within our lives as a result of a number of tests. But one of the first tests is “Where are you looking, and where are you heading?” The second test will be “And how’s it going in your bed at home and around your breakfast table at home and at night when you finally close things up for the day? How’s it going in your family?” And the third test will be “Excuse me, could I borrow your checkbook? Not because we want to write checks; we just want to see the stubs.” Because it will be by the stubs of my checkbook that you will be able to determine a tremendous amount about my priorities, and I yours. It will be around my dining room table that you will be able to determine a tremendous amount about my faith, and I yours. And it will be directly in relationship to my focus that you will be able to determine a great deal about what it means to say no to neglect.

Realigning Our Focus

Well, let’s just lead into this first one, in terms of focus. Realigning our focus. We have one point remaining, and it goes like this: obeying God from the heart will realign our focus.

In our recent trip to Europe, we flew a fair number of legs. I can’t remember all of them now. But in one, from Amsterdam to Lyon, we were on a very nice, brand-new KLM Fokker 100 jet. It seats, I think, about 140 or something like that. It’s quite small but fast. My colleague, Jeff, sort of barnstormed his way into the cockpit at one point in this short flight. The door was open, and he went in—he’s a friendly sort like that—and introduced himself to the pilot and the copilot. He had gone, I thought, to the small room adjacent to the cockpit, but he clearly wasn’t there. And after a while, he came back all beaming and explaining that he knew everything about this plane and made me horribly jealous. And so he said, “Do you think you would like to go?” And I said, “Well, yeah.” I said, “You know, it would be nice.” So he went back up, and he said, “Can my friend come?” You know, we’re like a couple of school kids on this plane. And he said, “Do you mind if my friend comes up?”

Well, so, I went up, and, determined to outdo him a little, I resolved that if at all possible, I would get these cockpit gentlemen—that’s the pilots, called by another name—to close the door and let me sit in there with them for the rest of the flight and actually to land on the runway at Lyon in the cockpit—which is exactly what happened! And Mills never saw me again until the end of the flight.

But as I… The gentleman was very nice; he said, “Perhaps you would like to sit here?” (He was from Alabama, you will be able to guess.) And so I sat down on the seat with him, and he began to explain everything. He had flown on automatic pilot from a thousand feet off the runway, and he was pointing out that it only took very small adjustments to make major, significant changes, because the plane was going at some five hundred miles an hour. So a very small matter of alignment made a huge change.

And at one point he said, “For example,” he said, “if I take it off automatic pilot and I go like this…” And he banked the plane in the middle of the flight, and I knew Mills was back there going, “He’s flying it now!” you know. “He’s flying the plane!” And he said, “No, I don’t do this.” He put it back on, put it on automatic pilot again, and he explained to me in such a way that by the time the thing landed—you know, I had actually conjured up in my own mind that, you know, although I was in the middle and wasn’t holding anything, that I was really flying the plane. And God, seeing the rising pride in my heart, made it such that when I tried to disengage the jump seat, I dropped it flat on the floor and ended up flat on my bottom, with the door open and everyone in the plane looking down and saying, “Who’s the idiot lying on the floor?” So, that was me.

But really, it’s no different from what you find when you learn how to ride your bicycle. Because when you start to teach your children to ride the bike, the great temptation is to make these elaborate moves. You say to them, “You don’t have to turn the handlebars like that. Just a little movement will keep you on line.” Or in golf, alignment is everything. You can hit the ball three hundred yards, but if you’re not lined up right, you’re hitting over your neighbors’ houses. Alignment is everything. And what happened was that when these people got serious about the Bible, it realigned their focus.

What did that mean? It meant this. Number one… Note these down, and we’re through. Number one: they began to think in terms of God’s purposes as opposed to their preferences. God’s purposes as opposed to their preferences. Back at 8:13, when they had opened the Book and had it explained to them, they found out that they were supposed “to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in all of Jerusalem.”[15] That was enough for them. They said, “It’s perhaps not necessarily what we would prefer to do this afternoon. We had a number of things planned. It’s not necessarily what we hoped for in the next few weeks. We had our agenda written out. But God’s Word has said it; therefore, we will do it. So we will go and gather sticks, we will build booths, we will build them on our roof, and we will face the scorn of the surrounding neighborhood.[16] But God said it, and his purpose matters more than my preference.”

I don’t want to anticipate all of the rest of my message, but God’s purpose for you in marriage, in terms of marrying within the faith and marrying a believer, if you profess faith in Jesus Christ, matters more than your preferences. “Oh, but I met this girl, and she’s gorgeous, and she’s so kind, and her mother likes me.” Well, that’s all good. But are you prepared to bring your preference and submit it to God’s purpose?

“Well, I think if I only just… I don’t have to actually lie to get this job. I just have to kind of lie. And I think once I get it, I’ll be able to witness, you know.” Uh-uh. God’s purpose is absolute truthfulness. We don’t have to sacrifice his purpose on the basis of our preference. And the degree to which we do takes us into By-Path Meadow.

They realigned their focus and began to think in terms of God’s purpose as opposed to their preference. They began to think in terms of their responsibilities as opposed to their rights. In 10:32 we read the phrase “We assume the responsibility.” Verse 35: “We also assume responsibility.” And in verse 34, in a wonderful picture, they “cast lots to determine when each of [the] families [would] 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.”

In the most intensely practical terms, since they carried out sacrifices every day, you can’t have a sacrifice that burns without a fire that has a flame. You can’t have a fire with a flame unless you have wood for the fire. You can’t have wood on the fire unless someone brings the wood. And nobody will bring the wood. If it is everybody’s business, it’ll be nobody’s business, and everyone will be looking around, saying, “I’m sure somebody’s getting the wood.” Nehemiah was too smart to go for that, so he assigned it: “This will be your day to keep the fire burning.”

And so the families would awake in the morning, and father would say, “Today we get the wood to keep the fire burning in the house of God.” Would to God that fathers would have just that kind of perspective when we think in terms of worship, when we think in terms of witness, when we think in terms of service, when we think in terms of filling the nursery, when we think of doing the car park attendants, when we think of the ushering, when we think of the making of the coffee. What are we doing? We’re essentially bringing the wood to keep the fire burning. Every person accepting their limitations and assuming their responsibilities.

In realigning their focus, they began to think in terms of God’s purposes as opposed to their preferences; they began to think in terms of responsibilities as opposed to rights; and finally, they began to think in terms of the long-term effects as opposed to the short-term enjoyments. I don’t think it’s possible to do anything in life, in love, in business, or in church when you only think short-term. Sure, there must be short-term goals. But the only thing that sustains you is that you have a long-term focus.

You see, if you think, for example, about coming to church this morning—and now the message is almost over; we’re going to sing a song, and it’s done—and you say to yourself, “You know what? I didn’t really like this one as much as last week. I didn’t… You know, I didn’t… I don’t know what it was. I just, you know, I didn’t get anything. You know, I was just… Therefore, I’m ticked! I was in there for an hour and a half, between parking and sitting down and… Good night!” So what did you want? A “rush of blood to your head”? To be impressed? To be excited?

When the people of God come to terms with the Word of God, they will understand that the long-term implications, the strategic plan over the long haul—for life, and for love, and for home, and for future, and for destiny—is of far greater significance than any immediate satisfaction, enjoyment, or absence of it that may be immediately obvious.

So the challenge is this: “Okay, let’s bring out the Book.” What happens when we bring out the Book? We get our focus realigned. If our focus is realigned—and we have every right to ask people… And this happens all the time when you’re standing on the tee. Someone will say to you, “Which way are you pointing?” Or better still, they say, “Where do you think you’re pointing?” That’s what they always say to me: “Where do you think you’re pointing?” I say, “I think I’m pointing to that exit sign.” They say, “No, you’re pointing to that exit sign. And if you don’t turn around, you’re in trouble.”

That’s the “one anothers” of the Christian life. I teach this. I don’t know the ins and outs of your life, but somebody does. You need to go away and say to one another, “Which way do you think you’re pointing? Are you pointing in such a way that God’s purposes take precedence over my preferences, that my commitment to my responsibilities matter more than the enjoyment of my rights, and that the long-term implications of what it means to follow Christ matter more than any short-term buzz that I may enjoy?”

Those people got it right for a while. God grant that we may do also.

[1] Beverly Darnall, Dick Tunney, Melodie Tunney, “Seekers of Your Heart” (1985).

[2] James 1:22 (NIV 1984).

[3] Hebrews 4:12 (NIV 1984).

[4] C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ and His Co-Workers,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 42, no. 2467, 256. Paraphrased.

[5] Hebrews 4:12 (NIV 1984).

[6] 2 Timothy 3:16–17 (paraphrased).

[7] 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV 1984).

[8] See Jeremiah 23:16.

[9] Jeremiah 23:16 (NIV 1984).

[10] Jeremiah 23:18–22 (NIV 1984).

[11] John 14:2–3 (KJV).

[12] John 14:5 (NIV 1984).

[13] John 14:6 (KJV).

[14] Jeremiah 23:25 (NIV 1984).

[15] Nehemiah 8:14–15 (NIV 1984).

[16] See Nehemiah 8:16.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.