This morning, as I finalized this blog, I learned of the terror incident in Florida. The point made near the end of the sermon is important for Christians: We must not think that violence is compatible with the Gospel of Peace. The slaughter of other human beings is not the way to bring about a Kingdom of Peace. We need a national and international “politics of reason,” and Christians ought to oppose the politics of violence. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
One of Kathy’s favorite movies is called “Amazing Grace.”  Amazing Grace is the story of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was born in 1759, the son of a wealthy businessman. In 1780, he was elected to Parliament. Five years later, he became an evangelical Christian. Two years after he became a Christian, he became involved with the British anti-slavery movement.
From that time until his death in 1833, Wilberforce was involved in the attempt to outlaw the slave trade and then to eliminate slavery from the British Empire. He died only three days after he learned that his life’s work had been successful.
Powerful interests in Great Britain opposed Wilberforce and those who wanted to eliminate the slave trade. In the late 18th and early 19th century, Britain was the most powerful trading nation in the world. Its most important trade route involved purchasing slaves in Africa (mostly trading European goods), selling them in the West Indies, purchasing sugar tobacco and cotton and other New World commodities in the West Indies, and then transporting those goods to Europe, where the entire process began again. This amounted to about 80 percent of Great Britain’s foreign income at the time.
In other words, there were a lot of people, companies and businesses that directly and indirectly benefited from the slave trade. Not surprisingly, overtly and covertly, they were able to delay the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain for almost half a century. Wilberforce was threatened and vilified. Many supporters grew weary of the campaign. Nevertheless, he and others kept up their opposition to slavery. Today, Wilberforce is remembered as a Christian who put his faith into practice in a way to change the world.
It would be nice if everyone agreed with our ideas concerning how to improve and rebuild our nation’s culture. However, we need to be realistic: Not everyone will agree. Therefore, Christians must learn to deal with opposition as we seek to renew and improve our nation.
Opposition to Nehemiah.
Our text for this blog is from the fourth chapter of Nehemiah, which is devoted to the opposition Nehemiah incurred as he sought to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”
Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart (Nehemiah 4:1-6).
Prayer: God of Every Good Work, please be with us as we seek to learn how to be forces for renewal of our culture. Today, we especially ask that we learn how to face opposition in a Christian way. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Various Kinds of Opposition.
For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at Nehemiah. If you’ve read the book, you are familiar with the names “Sanballat the Horonite” and “Tobiah the Ammonite.”  When Nehemiah began his renewal efforts, he realized that not everyone would agree with his project. In particular, he knew that the enemies of Israel might very well oppose what he was doing. Early in Nehemiah, two individuals emerge as particularly opposed to what God’s chosen leader was doing: Sabballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. 
It appears that Sanballat was an “Ephriamite.” This means, that he was a descendent of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. If you remember, when the Kingdom of David split apart after the reign of Solomon, ten tribes, led by the tribe of Ephriam, split off and formed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Eventually, they were conquered by the Assyrian Empire (722 B.C.) and forcibly intermarried with the Assyrian conquerors. Their religion was not the same as Israel’s. For example, they did not worship God in Jerusalem but on their own mountain, Geranium (see, John 4:19-24). These are the people that by Jesus’s day were called the “Samaritans.” Today, Samaria is part of the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Tobiah the Ammonite was also not Jewish. The Ammonites generally controlled an area south and east of Jerusalem. Tobiah appears to be the ruler of what in Nehemiah’s day was called, “TransJordan,” meaning on the east side of the Jordan River. Today, this would be part of the nation we call “Jordan.”
These two individuals were not just powerful in their own areas, but also in Judea where Jerusalem is located. Jerusalem, if you will remember, was in Judea which consisted of the tribal areas belonging to the tribe of Judah and Benjamin. It had been conquered by the Babylonians (586 B.C.). By Nehemiah’s day, this little area was all that was left of David’s Kingdom. Today, that area would be roughly the area surrounding the city of Jerusalem and its suburbs. It was surrounded by larger and more powerful neighbors.
Sanballat had a daughter who was married into the family of the High Priest. He seems to have been influential in Jewish affairs, and some of the nobles probably supported him rather than Nehemiah! In Nehemiah 13, we find that Tobiah actually had a room in the temple area from which Nehemiah ejected him (See, Nehemiah 13).
Basically, Sanballat and Tobiah were overt enemies of Israel. The nobles of the Jews tried to play both sides of the fence and sometimes covertly harmed the project (3:5). They had farms and wealth. They had learned to get along with the enemies of Israel, and while they were willing to support Nehemiah as an emissary of Artaxerxes, they were not wholly committed to the cause. They supported whoever was in power at the moment—and they knew Nehemiah might fail. In that case, they wanted to be on the winning side. Their motto was sometimes, “Get along and get ahead.”
The final kind of opposition that Nehemiah faced was that natural human opposition to any project that comes when people get tired and lethargic and begin to lose hope. We’re told in chapter 4 that people began to complain about the work as they became exhausted (v. 10). These people complained that the work was too hard and the progress to slow. They were losing hope because the job was hard and taking longer than they hoped.
As we seek to renew our society we cannot expect everyone to agree with us or to share our passion for renewal. For example, a lot of money is made in America selling pornography. If Christians oppose pornography, as we should, powerful economic interests will not agree. They will be our Sanballat’s and Tobiah’s.
If we seek to renew the media in order to to eliminate some of its raunchier aspects, the people that make money off those raunchy aspects, will not agree. Those people that have business and social relationships with people who do not agree also may not agree. They are the “nobles” of our culture.
We can expect that a lot of people are going to get tired along the way, just as the Jews got tired of building the wall. Renewal is hard work. People by nature do like to work hard over long periods of time. Perhaps the greatest opposition Christians may face in the long work of renewing our culture will come from those who simply get tired of the good work and the pressures and sacrifices involved.
Our nation has decayed over a period of more than a half century, and the roots of our decay go back much further. We cannot expect a quick, easy victory over embedded ways of thinking and behaving. The task of renewing our culture will take a lot longer than most of us think.
Responding to Opposition.
Nehemiah’s response to opposition can give us clues concerning how we might react when our attempts to renew our culture meet with opposition. Here are five:
First, Nehemiah prayed. Nehemiah frequently prayed when under pressure (Nehemiah 1:5-11;2:4; 6:9; 4:4-5). One of the most important things we can do is to remember to pray when we face opposition in attempting to rebuild our nation and culture.
Second, Nehemiah was vigilant. No sooner did Nehemiah learn that his enemies were plotting against the Jews than he began to form those who were building the wall into teams. Some built and some were guards who kept a lookout for an attack (4:9, 13, 16, 21).
Third, the people of Israel were diligent in rebuilding the wall. On more than one occasion, the people were threatened or tired, or in danger. They did not allow this opposition to stop them from rebuilding the wall. Instead, under Nehemiah’s leadership they continued to rebuild the wall (vv. 6, 16, 21).
Fourth, the people of Israel and Nehemiah were courageous. Both Nehemiah and the Jewish people continued to work despite the danger of attack. I’m a worrier by nature, and I think a lot of people worry about what will happen if we begin to take stands in order to renew our culture. It’s important to be wise and to not provoke attack; however, we cannot allow opposition to silence us. There is an old saying that there is nothing more likely to allow evil to triumph than for good men to do nothing.  This is true. Renewal takes courage.
Finally, Nehemiah was wise and shrewd in how he responded to plots. On several occasions Nehemiah’s enemies attempted to trick him. First, they tried to get him to meet them in secret so that they might harm or kill him (6:1-5). Next, they spread false rumors that Nehemiah was planning a revolt against the Persian Empire (vv. 6-8). Then, they attempted to get him to seek sanctuary in the Temple, trying to make him seem to be a coward (vv. 10-13). In each of these situations, Nehemiah saw through the schemes and strategies of his enemies. As we try to renew our culture, there will be those who attempt to trick us into saying or doing things that are unwise. We must be prepared to respond with wisdom, insight, and restraint.
Remember Who You Are.
As Christians attempt to internalize Old Testament teachings, it is important that we view the Old Testament through the lens of Christ. The Apostle Paul faced many of the same problems Nehemiah faced. He faced opposition, physical danger, and trickery (See 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). By the end of his ministry, he had learned to see those who opposed him in the light of Christ. Here is what he wrote to the Ephesians:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17, Emphasis Added).
By now, everyone is aware that I believe one of the worst aspects of our contemporary politics is the constant personalization of political disagreements. We have talked about negative politics before. Paul seems to be aware that Christians were, and, and will be tempted to to personalize our opponents. He reminds us that we have been placed here to love people, all people. Our battle is not against other human beings. Instead, our battleis against bad ideas, programs that won’t work, morals that will destroy human lives, a lack of respect for other people, lust for power, violence, and all the other evils that infect our politics and culture.
Our real enemies, and the real threats to renewal of our culture, are not people. To fight the battle the way Jesus would have us fight the battle requires devotion to truth, willingness to live in a moral way, commitment to peace, faith, and assurance of our salvation. Most of all, we need to be filled with the Spirit of Christ so that what we say and what we do advances God’s kingdom of love.
Blessed Are You….
Jesus reminds us in the Beatitudes that we are blessed when people insult us and persecute us because of our devotion to what is right (Matthew 5:11-12). Several years ago, we were sitting next to James Quillin at a meeting. James was the pastor of Highland Heights Presbyterian Church, a statesman in two Presbyterian denominations, and a good friend. During the course of the meeting, several people attacked us for things we were saying and doing related to the renewal of our then denomination. James, at one point, looked over at me and said: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11). Then he just smiled.
The fact is if we want to renew our culture we must face opposition. The key is learning to face it with the wisdom and courage of Nehemiah and grace Jesus showed when he faced those who opposed him.
Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 Stephen Knight, wr. Amazing Grace dr. Michael Apted (Four Boys Films, 2006). The writer Eric Metaxes has also written a book about Wilberforce. See, Eric Metaxes, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2007).
 As always, I am dependant upon more than one source for the historical details. See, “Sanballat and “Tobiah” in Ronald F. Youngblood, ed, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1986, 1995).
 Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite early appear as opponents of what Nehemiah was doing (See, Nehemiah 2:10-11, 19-20, 4:1-3, 6:1-9). There is one other figure mentioned, Geshem the Arab (Nehemiah 2:10, 19; 6:1-14). I have not mentioned Geshem in the sermon or in this blog, preferring to concentrate on the two most prominent opponents of Nehemiah’s efforts.
 This quote is attributed to the British statesman, Edmund Burke, who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing (www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/ edmundburk377528.html).