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Facing Internal Opposition, Part 1

From the series Keep Pressing Ahead

Few things in life are as painful as having a good friend or trusted advisor turn on you. Have you ever been there? Well, if you’re facing opposition from those in your inner circle, join Chip and learn how to neutralize the opposition and bring unity back to the relationship.

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Message Transcript

What I want to do with you is talk about how to face internal opposition. When external opposition fails to thwart God’s work, you can almost guarantee that you’ll have the next attack, and it will be from within. And if you, like me, got shocked when, “Lord, I’m doing exactly what You said,” and it gets harder, instead of easier, and you go, “What’s the deal?” Once you realize that’s normal and to be expected, that’s helpful.

But then, when I take the next step, and the people that I think should be for me, and supporting me, and family, friends, people in my small group, maybe a pastor – and they’re the people that are the problem – I don’t know about you, but I just go nuts.

How do you handle that one? Well, here’s what I want you to know. When that happens, you’re not alone. It happened to Jesus, didn’t it? And, by the way, this isn’t always from bad people. Sometimes it’s from the most well-meaning people that really have what they think is your best in mind.

Peter tells to Jesus, “Don’t go to the cross. That’s not a good plan. I rebuke you!” And, of course, later Jesus rebuked him and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Judas – of course, his motives weren’t good at all. And all the while, he set up Jesus for a financial kickback that he would get by turning Him in.

And so, here, Jesus – He’s got all this opposition from the Pharisees; He’s got all these issues He’s facing. One of His closest friends is a point of opposition over here, a Judas betrayer over here, and then, on the very last night, He’s got twelve guys arguing with one another about who is the greatest!

So, if it happened to Jesus, it’s going to happen to you. And the apostles, as they started, you can just jot in your notes, “Acts 6; Acts 15.” The Church multiplies. Tens of thousands of people come to Christ. And pretty soon, they’re arguing some cultural issues: “Your group is getting more than my group,” the Hellenistic or the Greek Jews versus the Jewish Jew’s widows. And then, Paul and Barnabas – great friends – they have a little tiff. Part of it is philosophical, and maybe part of it is personality. But great friends are now rubbing each other the wrong way.

And here’s what you’ve got to understand: When you do what God wants you to do, and you take a step of faith, you may find that your spouse isn’t on board, that your parents think you’re crazy, that some of your closest friends will just come to you privately and say, “What are you doing? What were you thinking? That’s not a good, secure plan.”

You need to understand, that’s par for the course. Opposition comes from without, opposition comes from within. I actually put a definition: Strife. “Angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; vigorous or bitter conflict, discord, quarrels, struggle, competition, or rivalry.”

When you decide to say, “I’m going to be an R12 Christian, and I’m going to live before God. I’m going to get in community. I’m going to get on mission. I’m going to discover who God made me to be, and I’m going to make a difference for the eternal God of the universe,” I will tell you, external conflict is coming, and internal opposition will occur. And in chapter 5, Nehemiah is going to teach you, and teach me, how to face it.

Lessons from Nehemiah 5: Internal strife occurs – here’s the overarching thought – when the “me” principle overrides the “us” principle. The “me” principle is, “me,” “mine,” “What about me?” Even though we’re Christians, even though the Spirit of God lives inside of us, under pressure, we can think more about us than about what God is doing in all of us.

Philippians 2, verses 3 and 4 – you might jot it in the corner of your notes. It says, “Let nothing be done out of selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind consider others more important than yourselves.” At the heart of internal conflict is greed, and selfishness, and pride.

Now, I want you to open your Bibles, if you will, Nehemiah chapter 5. If you’re like me, and didn’t grow up with the Bible, open to the middle and find Psalms, and go left a couple books, and you’ll get there.

Nehemiah chapter 5 opens up – now, remember where we’re at. He’s left Persia. He’s the right-hand man of the king. He’s gathered a group of people. The wall has started to be rebuilt; the wall is half finished. The enemies have threatened their lives. They have prayed; they have prepared. They’re up at dawn, until dusk. They have their swords on their side. Half the people are guarding; the other half of the people are working. They’re keeping their clothes on at night, and they’re doing this work. And God is fulfilling His promise to Nehemiah, and He is realigning His historic purposes.

And so, you think things ought to be really going well. “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against the Jewish brothers. Some were saying, ‘We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.’ Others were saying, ‘We’re mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our homes to get grain during the famine.’”

And then, the third group: “Still others were saying, ‘We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and our daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.’”

Now, you need to get a little picture of what’s going on here. Number one, you have a food shortage. Apparently there was a famine during this time, and it probably started well before the rebuilding of the wall. And so, you get a food shortage, and some people that don’t own any land are basically saying, “We don’t – we’re trying to build this wall. We’re trying to do God’s will. We got a bigger problem: We’ve got to eat.”

Some people who do own land, their problem is, their debt ceiling eclipsed. Unlike the government, where they can have meetings, and figure out where you want to put how many trillion dollars, once your collateral for your home, once your collateral for your vineyards…and now, they’ve actually sold their children, sons and daughters, as slaves. They’re basically saying, “We’re done. We’ve got nothing else to mortgage.”

And then, the third group is, they’ve got high taxes. The Persian king, on all the places that were subject to him, would exercise a tax. And so, these people are saying, “You know something? Hey, Nehemiah, I really appreciate this plan. I know God’s in it, and we’re all excited, and we’re half done. Um, but, you know, we’re rebuilding this wall to fulfill God’s plan, and, um, my home is gone, my vineyard is gone, and my fellow Jewish brothers – you know, these guys that we’re working hand in hand, arm in arm” – because in chapter 3, remember? They all worked by affinity groups. “The wealthy people have taken this opportunity to take everything I have, and everything I own. So, what’s the use of building this wall?”

In fact, the opportunistic situation you have is – what’s going on, literally, is lone sharking. Now, I’m – literally. I looked it up on Google, just to make sure it wasn’t as crazy as I thought it was.

This used to happen. The mafia used to be really big in this, actually, I learned. And I logged in Google, “loan sharking,” and I found out where I can get a super-high interest for a week, and if I don’t pay in a week, the interest goes up, and I think someone will break my legs or something, even today. I’m not quite sure how it works. But it’s crazy.

And so, what happened was, there were some Jewish brothers that had resources and finances, and so people needed grain, so they kept loaning them money. “Well, you can’t pay? Well, if you can’t pay, I’ll take your house. If you can’t pay, I’ll take your vineyard. If you can’t pay, I’ll take your son. If you can’t pay…”

And when it says, “The daughters are enslaved,” it’s not just like they were a household slave. The word here has the idea that some of them became someone’s second wife. And these guys are saying, “Where’s the love in the room?”

And so, the conflict – now, put yourself in Nehemiah’s situation. He’s looking at this, and now here’s what’s happened: The result is disunity. The result is, these people that are supposed to be hand in hand, working together, building the wall, doing God’s will – all of a sudden there’s this great outcry; there’s this disunity. There are people that don’t like each other, and they’re all Jews, and they’re all on the same team. And so, you’ve got a very difficult situation.

And so, from Nehemiah’s perspective, the agenda is faltering. He’s left his comfortable position. He’s making a sacrifice, but these people were at each other’s throats. So, here’s the issue: What do you do when you face that kind of internal opposition? What do you do? How do you respond? Let’s pick up the story in verse 6. Verse 6 goes on to say, “When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.” By the way, there’s a time to be angry. He’s ticked off! Man, this is so unfair; this is so wrong. He goes on to say, “I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and the officials.”

The word pondered – literally, he says, “I consulted with myself.” He’s really, really mad, but instead of making a quick, rash decision, or saying something, he’s very angry; he’s white-hot angry. And then, he’s having this private conversation: Self, what should I do about this? What’s the wise step? How do I address this? I can’t just run on emotion.

And then, he confronts, or accuses, the nobles and the officials, “And I told them, ‘You are exacting usury from your countrymen!’ So I called a large assembly to deal with them and I said: ‘As far as possible, we have brought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!’ They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.”

He basically says, “You understand, we have been in exile. The Gentiles – we have been slaves. I personally have taken some money, and others have taken some money, and we have bought our Jewish brothers back from the Gentiles. Now we’re in Jerusalem, we’re aligned to do God’s will, and now they’re being sold into slavery to one another? To you guys?”

This is literally like your hand is in the cookie jar, and someone is going, “Do you see that, or not?” And do you notice their response? Absolutely quiet. They just know, “Yeah, you’re right.” Now, he goes on: “So I continued, ‘What you’re doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I, my brothers, and my men are also lending the people money and grain.’”

So he says, “I’m giving people food, I’m lending them money, but I’m not charging them interest. I’m not taking their homes, and their vineyards.” “But let the exacting of this usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, and also the interest that you are charging them – the hundredth part of the money, the grain, the new wine, and the oil.” And then, notice their response, “‘We will give it back,’ they said. ‘And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do what you say.’”

Notice, in your notes, his emotional response is anger under control. Okay? Anger under control. Notice the verse underneath: Ephesians 4:26. I gave this New Testament passage. It says, “Be angry” – it’s a command – “yet do not sin.”

Anger motivates you to act. But notice the second thing he does: It’s thoughtful confrontation. He doesn’t go off. He doesn’t just start screaming. He consults with himself, he evaluates the situation, and there’s thoughtful confrontation. Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, Now, I’ve got a pretty significant issue. And here’s what it is, and it’s in my family, and it’s really exactly what you talked about. But I don’t know how to address it. I’m not sure, exactly, what I should do.

And let me give you the basics here. You can study it for yourself, but Matthew chapter 18, verses 15 to 17 – just watch the progression. Because what we tend to do, when something like this happens, is, we go to someone else, and start talking about it, instead of, Here’s the biblical process for thoughtful confrontation.

“If your brother or sister sins” – and they can be inside your home; they can be in your small group; they can be in the church, but, “If a brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

“But if they will not listen” – step two – “take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church” – the idea, to the church leadership – “and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Doesn’t mean you don’t love them, but you’re not going to afford the same fellowship and relationship that you would with a brother or sister in Christ.

The third thing that happens is public accountability. You notice that they respond, and then, he doesn’t just say, “Okay, I’ve addressed the issue. I was really mad; I’ve thought about what to do,” but then, he says, “There’s got to be a follow through; there’s got to be a plan, so that what we’re talking about now” – because what happens in every situation? It just slides back to the way it used to be.

So, follow along, if you will, and notice what he does after they say, “Okay, we will do exactly what you say.” Verse 12, second half, “Then I summoned the priests and I made the nobles and the officials take an oath to do what they promised.” In other words, he went public. He calls an assembly. He says, “We’re going to look at this. There’s going to be public accountability.” And then, he calls the priests, and he says, “Priests, you represent God; nobles, you’ve been loan sharking, right? You took these people’s land?” “Yeah.” “You took their kids?” “Yeah.” “You did this; you did – okay, right? Ready? You said that you would stop it. Take an oath right now, before God, in the presence of these priests.”

And it says, “I also shook out the folds of my robe and I said, ‘In this way may God shake out of His house and possessions every man who does not keep this promise. So may such a man be shaken out and emptied!’ At this the whole assembly said, ‘Amen,’ and praised the Lord. And the people did as they promised.”

Now, what you need to understand about the culture, here, is, in the front folds of your robe, you would keep your personal possessions. And so, Nehemiah makes them take an oath, and there’s a large group, and they’re on the spot. He’s telling it like it is; he’s using the moral authority that God has given him.

And then, he unfolds his, and his personal stuff falls on the ground. And, basically, it’s a curse. “May God do to you just like all my personal stuff, and all – may He take every aspect of your life, and cause it to roll to the ground, if you don’t keep your promise.” And so, he publicly charges them. He has them verbalize what they’re going to do; he gets people on a follow-up plan. And so, what he does is, he provides public accountability to move forward.

Now, what’s this got to do with us? 1 Timothy chapter 5, verse 19, says, “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that others may take warning.”

All I want you to see is, even in the New Testament, when there are issues where it’s…these aren’t gray areas. This isn’t my opinion versus your opinion. This is when, in the Church, people violate the clear truth of God’s Word.

And when they violate it, this is someone with the courage, who does it lovingly, kindly, under control, but says, “That behavior, or that attitude, is destroying the unity, and when the unity is destroyed, and we’re not on the same page, the work of God gets thwarted.”