“When Rebuking and Correcting Equal Love”

Nehemiah 13

Mark Ackerman was playing college football. He had grown up in church but was walking away from God rather than with Him. One of his teammates, a 280-pound defensive lineman, had recently been radically converted. Big Warren Choice had been well known for his rough lifestyle, and everyone noticed when he became a Christian. Warren even stood before the school “at convocation and related how his life had been changed because he had trusted Christ, and he invited the school to watch him live it out. My friend Mark thought Warren was a fool for doing that because he knew Warren would blow it.

One night guys from the football team were sitting around playing cards, and Warren began to talk with Mark about where his life was going and how it would be for him when he stood before God. Mark began to say that he wasn’t a bad guy and that he knew he was going to heaven. Warren knew how Mark was living because it hadn’t been that long since Warren himself had been living in a similar way.

Warren said to Mark: “Ackerman, you’re going straight to hell, and you’re going to be the first one in line.” Mark would have liked to have taken him outside to settle the issue, but he was a 180-pound wide receiver who couldn’t very well do that to a 280-pound defensive lineman.

That night when he went back to his room, Mark lay in bed and knew that what Warren said was true. The strong words Warren spoke to Mark led Mark to trust in Christ as his Savior and Lord. Both Warren and Mark are in ministry today.

[Excerpt From: James Hamilton. “Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah.” Apple Books.]

Mark’s first reaction to confrontation sounds familiar doesn’t it? His first reaction was defiance and anger rather than humility and repentance. When confronted many twist the issue and the person doing the confronting is the one who has the problem. Many times friends who confront another friend, end up losing the friendship. I think that is one of the main reasons we rarely choose to confront each other. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all accept the fact that as humans, confrontation will always be necessary? Especially for those of us who are Christians? 

As believers in Jesus Christ, we should listen and ponder a confrontation, spoken in love, from a brother or sister in Christ because we know God uses such things to help us grow. However, our humanity often gets in the way. 

What does the Bible say about confrontations? Hebrews 12:5-6 tells us that when you are confronted in your sin, if true, it should convict you and bring you to repentance. This is God’s way of showing His merciful love. 

Roman 2:4 reads like this:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Why is it that our humanity rejects God’s merciful love when it is meant to lead us to repentance? 


Notice the order, 

  1. Confrontation
  2. Repentance
  3. Correction
  4. Restoration

So if we ignore confrontation, we are refusing God’s love, we are rejecting His kindness. 

However, should we respond in humility, when we are confronted, and follow through with repentance, then correction we manage to restore. We restore our relationships with those around us and more importantly we restore your relationship with God and open the way for God to demonstrate His love. 

We all comprehend the person who pridefully refuses to repent. We also recognize that it becomes harder and harder for people to approach that person which leads to it being harder to restore relationships. Pretty soon, people stop trying. 

The Bible tells the story of a particular group of people who provide us with countless stories of confrontation and forgiveness, the Israelites. Today’s story in the final chapter of the book of Nehemiah gives us another example of God’s kindness and willingness to forgive. 

The book of Nehemiah began with Nehemiah taking on the task to lead the returnees in rebuilding the wall. Once the wall was completed, both Ezra and Nehemiah realized the people needed some rebuilding. First the people recognized and established their identity as Israelites, God’s chosen people, in chapter 7. 

Then in chapter 8 Ezra read the Torah, and the people were convicted of their sin. They confessed and repented of sin and cried out for mercy in chapter 9. This brought them to reconfirming their covenant with God in chapter 10. There were three specific stipulations to that reconfirmation of the covenant: 

  1. No Intermarriage – dealing with their idolatry not their race
  2. The upkeep of the temple and maintaining the worship of God
  3. Selling and buying on the Sabbath

We read in chapter 13 that all three aspects were broken. Nehemiah heard what had happened and decided to return to Jerusalem to set things right again. Nehemiah may have been the one who came to confront, however, God was showing His love by sending Nehemiah.  

By returning to Jerusalem, Nehemiah was demonstrating how God would not give up on His people.

The first verse begins with an interesting fact. 

“On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people…”

Conviction of sin begins with the reading of God’s Word. This isn’t the first time in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Israelites have listened to God’s Word and been convicted. The crazy thing is they keep getting convicted for the same sins. 

Like that doesn’t happen to people today?

For instance, the intermarriage sin keeps happening. I suspect there had been some rationalization going on, such as, there not being enough young Jewish men and women to pick from? Whatever their excuse, they had chosen to marry outside their faith. 

As a result of intermarriage, Tobiah, you remember the guy who taunted and jeered at the beginning of the book against the rebuilding of the wall? Well, he finds a way to get inside the wall, by having someone in his family marry into the family of the priests. With this arrangement he was able to finagle a large room of his own inside the temple. This left no room to store the necessary grain offerings and incense and temple articles or the allotments needed to give to the Levites and the priests. Which meant the people were not able to worship on the Sabbath.  

Nehemiah did some investigating and discovered that indeed, the Levites and singers hadn’t been taken care of so they left and went back to their own fields. Tobiah was no idiot. He figured out a loophole and connected himself with the high priest and had worked it out so he was the person indirectly in charge at the temple. 

Israel was no longer enjoying the justice of a righteous God who ruled over them from His dwelling place in the temple. They had become subject to a thug. If you know anything about thugs, you know that you get what you want from them by giving them what they want, or by being connected to the right people. Those situations don’t lead to justice, they lead to abuse. And when there is abuse, those on the inside cannot see or feel clearly. That’s when God sends someone from outside the situation to confront. Someone who can state the truth without having to face personal consequences. 

Check-in time. 

Is there a persistent sin in your life that has you trapped? If the sin is persistent and you are struggling with it, that is a good sign. Your struggle means God hasn’t given you over to it. 

Conviction from God means He continues to show you kindness by leading you to repentance, just as He did with the Israelites. 

Or maybe you are more like Nehemiah. Your cause for discouragement over sin isn’t in your life, but is in the life of someone you love. I encourage you to pray and ask God if He wants to use you as an instrument of His love toward that person. 

We read that Nehemiah had returned to his job as cupbearer for the king, in Persia. However, upon hearing about the situation in Jerusalem, he returned with a level of passion similar to what we read in Ezra, where people’s hair gets pulled out. 

Here is where Nehemiah deals with the second breaking of the covenant. 

He began cleansing the temple by throwing all of Tobiah’s household possessions out of the storeroom meant for grain offerings and temple articles. This was a foreshadow of Jesus’ righteous indignation in Matthew 21 when He entered the temple and started overturning tables and dumping bags of money of the money changers. He then began the rebukes. He rebuked the officials, verse 11. He rebuked the nobles, verse 17. He rebuked the Levites, verse 25. Notice in verse 14, Nehemiah prayed. 

“Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.”

Nehemiah wasn’t on a power trip. He was on a mission to keep his people faithful. He was a man of prayer. 

Lastly, Nehemiah needed to remind the Israelites the importance of the Sabbath. It may look like Nehemiah was being legalistic, however, if we remember the purpose of the Sabbath as a protected space in which Israel could meditate on the Bible and worship. This was set aside so they could enjoy their relationship with God. 

Check-in time. 

Within this story there is a principle that should be valuable to us: the principle of having boundaries around our time we spend with God, reading and meditating on His Word. We live in a world that seems to be spinning faster and faster. It is full of electronic toys bringing us media outlets and keeping us busy beyond belief. The countless distractions eat away at the seconds and moments until we get to the end of our day, exhausted and we realize the window of time to spend with our Bible is gone. Ask yourself this: Am I able to sit still over the Word of God and read it slowly and meditate on it? Keeping the sabbath puts this on the calendar. 

I would invite you to seek to apply a Sabbath-kind of boundary in your life. Maybe that means that when you know what your slot of time is to read the Bible, you say to yourself, “I’m not going to read the Bible anywhere near the computer.” Or, “I’m not going to read the Bible with my phone at hand, because I don’t want to be wondering whether someone posted something funny on Twitter.”

Culture hasn’t changed since Nehemiah was around. In order to keep God front and center in our lives, we have to be vigorous, or the world will suck away all the moments we have to read the Scriptures and pray and meditate and spend time with our friend, Jesus. 

Nehemiah cleansed the temple, then he focused on cleansing the people. Because they had intermarried, half of their children couldn’t speak Hebrew. This was a problem. This meant they couldn’t read the Scriptures. How would they remain faithful to God? Nehemiah was on a roll and continued his rebukes. He beat some men and pulled out their hair. It wasn’t like he was on a rampage going wild pulling out people’s hair. There were prescribed punishments in the Torah. A beating was less than a stoning, and the hair punishment was a public shaming ritual meant as a rebuke for their shameful conduct. Again, we see that Nehemiah followed this with a prayer that his desire was to set things back to being holy. 

There will come a day when God’s people will no longer need a Nehemiah. When we will no longer need someone to call us to repentance. 

Until then, in order to be able to love each other and maintain healthy and happy relationships, we need the Nehemiah’s in our lives to confront us with our sin and we need to respond in humility and repentance when confronted. That is my prayer for each of us. 

Let’s pray.