“The Danger Of Drifting” Nehemiah 12:44-13:31 4/21/02
INTRO: Few years ago I read about a woman vacationing on Gulf Coast.
Covered self with suntan oil, stretched out on a raft in shallow water near beach.
Went to sleep. When she woke up, about two miles from shore.
Tried to kick back but raft bumped by sharks.
Finally rescued after drifting seven miles down the coast.
Christians can do the very same thing spiritually.
Thinking everything is fine you can almost imperceptibly begin to drift.
Care less and less what God’s Word says about important subjects—
money, marriage, worship, priorities.
Become lazy and careless in spiritual exercises. Compromise morally.
Your love for Jesus begins to fade, desire for righteousness, obedience fades,
you start to make compromises till one day you look up and say—
where am I?
The book of Nehemiah does not end with a upbeat climax, with a let down.
The climax of the book is what we read and studied last week—
dedication service for the wall. Culmination of Nehemiah’s work.
People full of joy for what God had done.
Committed to worship. Committed to living in obedience to God’s word.
Willing to make the hard but happy choices that God had called them to make.
But then, Nehemiah records that people drifted away from their fervor for God.
Evidence of their drifting away seen in treatment of worship, money, marriage.
By the force of his personality Nehemiah was able to set some things right again.
But you are left with the distinct impression, this was a losing battle.
When Nehemiah was gone, people would probably drift again.
If the history of Israel any indication, would certainly drift away from God again.
Why is this chapter in the Bible? (Bible full of stories like this, very realistic.)
1. A warning about spiritual drifting. It is real. No believer is immune.
2. A call to honestly assess your spiritual condition. Wake up, look around.
3. An incentive to rely on Jesus Christ to preserve you from drifting,
and if you are, to rescue you and bring you back.
Long reading. Rest of chapter 12, first three verses of 13 are residue of revival.
People committed to obeying God, keeping His laws, worshipping him—years
Then, starting in verse 4, things started to slide, learn in verse 6 Nehemiah away.
When he returned, discovered other problems—tried to set things right.
SCRIPTURE READING: Nehemiah 12:44-13:31
TRANS: Study this chapter and subject of spiritual drifting under two headings:
Conditions for drifting. Rescue from drifting.
Not going to spend much time considering the three areas in which they drifted,
will cover that in our very last lesson.
Just going to look at drifting generally.
MP#1 Conditions For Drifting
Three conditions described that seem to make spiritual drifting more likely.
Certainly others. You may have experienced others could add to this list.
But these three are here.
1. When external constraints are removed.
The external constraint that was removed was the physical presence of Nehemiah.
Let’s look at the chronology of this chapter in context of the book.
Some of the time references are confusing but the overall picture is clear.
5:14 “from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed
to be their governor in the land of Judah until his thirty-second year, 12 years”
Nehemiah served a 12 year term as governor (446 BC)
6:15 “So the wall was completed on the 25th of Elul, in 52 days”
After, assemblies, feast of tabernacles, repentance, revival, dedication of wall.
Whole process took about 5 months.
Chapters 1-12 about first 5 months of 12 year governorship.
What about the remaining 11 ½ years? Nehemiah records nothing specific.
But what he implies from 12:44-13:3 is that people kept promises.
They were committed to worship, committed to avoiding influence of pagans
They settled down to the ordinary, weekly worship of God.
13:6 “In the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the
king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem. Here I
learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the
courts of the house of God.”
Twelve year term as governor ended, Nehemiah returned to Susa or Babylon.
Continued work as cupbearer, after a time (few years?) petitioned the king
for another term? return on some official business.
When he got back, found that people had drifted spiritually.
Had compromised in three areas they had specifically promised to be faithful in:
Providing offerings necessary for the temple worship, keeping Sabbath holy,
not marrying the unbelieving foreigners who lived around them.
As long as Nehemiah was there—12 years, kept promises, grew spiritually,
when his presence removed, they began to drift.
Nehemiah’s presence served as an external constraint—when he left, people drifted.
This same thing is repeated in many different forms.
How often have you heard about children, godly homes, professing Christians,
Leave home to go away to college and then they drift.
Surprised how often I have talked to adults who say—
My parents never go to church any more—say Christians.
All of my growing up years they were very consistent.
But when I left home, brothers and sisters left, started going less and less.
Now they never go—concerned about their spiritual life, more materialistic.
Seems like they went for us and now have no reason to go.
Happens sometimes when Christians move to a new city, leave old church.
They are out of the fellowship and they start to drift, more and more excuses.
I’ve found personally that vacations often have the same effect on me.
Unless I make a conscious effort to spend time with God,
can come back physically and mentally rested and spiritually dry.
Because the constraint of the normal weekly schedule, preparation for sermons
is removed, and I drift.
External constraints—people, schedules, church life—helps to holiness.
Sometimes removed as a test. When they are, beware of drifting.
2. When times are good financially.
Do you remember how bad things were when Nehemiah first got to Jerusalem?
There was a famine. Jerusalem and Judea an economic disaster, exploited.
By rebuilding the wall, Nehemiah brought stability, economy changed.
Chapter 13 learn that merchants from all over are bringing goods to Jerusalem.
Even Phoenicians, men of Tyre bringing fish from Mediterranean.
Times had changed. There was lots of money being made.
What happened while Nehemiah was away? People began to drift.
And much of their spiritual drifting had to do with their financial success.
Their money and wealth brought stability and security—good, from God.
But they became a substitute for God, started to love money, trust it.
At least two areas of spiritual drifting, support of temple worship by offerings,
abuse of the Sabbath directed tied to their financial success and desire for more.
They had more money to give to the priests and Levites, much more than earlier
But they started giving less and less. Finally, Levites had to go back to villages.
Sabbath, instead of a day of worship and rest, became a day of commerce.
Financial success is a gift from God, but it comes with a danger—drifting.
Very simple reason, start to worship God’s gifts, not the Giver.
Quit giving sacrificially—giving so much that you have to give up things.
Quit relying on God.
Know a Christian man said, “We were so poor growing up, didn’t have anything
to do but go to church.” Knew what it was like to trust in God for everything.
Knew what it was like to give sacrificially, and cheerfully.
He made a fortune, was very rich.
More money he made the more he drifted. More had to have, less he gave.
More he had to spend, less time he spent in worship.
Less he trusted God.
Like the seed in Jesus’ parable that fell among the thorns and weeds—
“the man who hears the word, but the worries of the life and the deceitfulness of
wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”
If God has blessed you financially, beware of drifting.
Don’t say—it’s all relative. I’m not rich.
Bible says people are rich, particular warnings to rich, responsibilities (I Tim 6).
3. When you have experienced a great spiritual victory.
When a person or a church has experienced a great spiritual victory,
they reap the benefits of that victory for months and years,
but then, there comes a time when that victory provides an occasion for drifting.
The rebuilding of the wall was a great victory—spiritual.
Restoration of the identity and worship of God’s people.
So important, Nehemiah almost all of his memoirs to the accomplishment.
Lay the groundwork for all the spiritual growth that followed.
For 11 ½ years the people built on this spiritual victory—then started to drift.
I don’t entirely understand this spiritual phenomenon.
But you can see it in the lives of number of people in the Bible,
I’ve seen it in the lives of individual Christians and churches,
and I’ve experienced it in my own life.
What I think happens is this—in the middle of the battle, leaning of God.
Praying to Him, calling out to Him to help you.
Finding strength in the example of Christ, presence of the Holy Spirit.
Maybe it’s a battle over a sin, the spiritual condition of a person, church.
Then God gives the victory, maybe in a dramatic way.
And there are good things that come from that victory.
Then there is a shift, and you start to lean on the experience itself.
Quit the hard, daily spiritual exercises of coming to Lord for a fresh filling.
Lot’s of spiritual residue you can enjoy—and you start to drift.
Know a Presbyterian church—30 years ago, great outpouring of Holy Spirit.
Came as a result of years of faithful preaching and teaching of Word,
consistent worship and living the Christian life in the congregation.
People were saved, church grew, number of young men called to ministry.
And they went out and served with distinction in other parts of the kingdom.
After a time, church settled down to ordinary ministry. Strong ministry.
Then there was a shift, people started to live on those glory days.
Time came to call a new minister—people always talking about days of Rev. X
And the church began to drift—not doctrinally—but in love, in passion.
If you have experienced a spiritual victory, reaping the benefits.
Beware of drifting. Start to lean on the experience, not on Christ, starting to drift.
MP#2 Rescue From Drifting.
When a person is drifting, they often have to be rescued.
Grandparents lived in Ft. Lauderdale for decades, next door neighbors
decided to go to Bimini in their boat, small boat, outboard motor
Bimini only 60 miles straight east from Ft. Lauderdale. Enough gas. Make it.
Motor conked out—might not have been so bad, but in the middle of Gulf Stream.
A very powerful current, drifted for few days north, farther out into Atlantic.
Food and water ran out, finally rescued by passing ship.
Same is true of spiritual drifting. Christian must be rescued.
The hero who rescues it always the same—Jesus Christ.
Christ works in three ways with drifting Christians.
1. By commanding you to listen to His warnings and avoid drifting in the first
Why did God give us the Old Testament history of the people of Israel?
Many reasons, I Corinthians 10—as an example and warning.
“Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as
they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were . . . We should not commit sexual
immorality as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We
should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not
grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”
Paul mentions some stories from Israel’s history that applied to Corinthian church.
Could say, don’t drift spiritually like they did after Nehemiah left for Persia.
New Testament book of Hebrews filled with warnings about drifting.
Be alert. Take the necessary steps to avoid it.
If my grandparents neighbors had taken two outboards, or a radio,
talked some friends into taking their boat—would have been very different.
Warnings are given because Christ expects His follower to listen, be alert.
If you aren’t drifting now, close to Christ, use this time to prepare for days
might be tempted to drift. (different metaphor—stand firm, when evil day comes)
Look ahead at occasions that might lead to drifting.
But what about when a Christian or a church is actually drifting?
How does Christ rescue?
2. By the ministry of other believers.
The Lord used Nehemiah to bring the people back from where they had strayed.
Obviously, can’t copy Nehemiah’s exact methods.
Can’t beat, curse, and pull out hair—even if you want to.
Nehemiah’s circumstances were unique—legal power to enforce religious laws.
Political aspect to his actions—concern for Israel’s identity.
Emphasis on external behavior rather than a change of heart.
This is an Old Testament story, with all of the incompleteness of Old Covenant
Christ had not come, Holy Spirit had not been poured out.
There was not an emphasis on the new heart yet.
But there are two principles in Nehemiah’s response that applies to us.
1. He spoke the word of God clearly. This is what God says.
Doesn’t argue, doesn’t coddle. Knows the truth and speaks it convincingly.
Regarding Sabbath breakers—You know God’s law.
Isn’t this why God brought calamity on your forefathers? Do what is right.
Regarding those marrying foreigners—You know what God says about this.
Don’t you remember that this was the very thing that destroyed Solomon.
“Among the nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made
Him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.”
Implication being—are you wiser and stronger than Solomon?
God’s word—spoken and applied without excuse has to be used to rescue.
2. He got involved in the lives of God’s people. Even when it was messy.
Willing to deal with personal matters.
Didn’t say—that’s too bad, just have to see what happens.
If you are approached by a fellow Christian, has spiritual concerns.
Humbly accept him, even if it is awkward, even if you don’t want to hear.
He may be Christ’s instrument to rescue you if drifting.
Never forget time college roommate—You are far from God, aren’t you?
You don’t pray, don’t read your Bible—am I right?
Taken aback, irritated—admitted he was right.
Gave me a book, Charles Swindoll on Ecclesiastes. Read this. Used by Christ.
You must be willing to do that. When prompted by the Holy Spirit, concerned.
Think, need to come with something constructive.
But don’t quench the Holy Spirit. You may be Christ’s instrument to rescue.
3. By His loving discipline.
Nehemiah at his best was a foreshadowing of the Messiah.
Same is true of all Old Testament saints at their best—pointed forward to Christ.
At their worst, also pointed to Christ, by making people long for Him.
We want the perfect king, perfect priest, perfect prophet.
We see Nehemiah rescuing the people from drifting, bringing back.
Of course, get the sense that this is not going to last.
Someone greater than Nehemiah would be needed to turn hearts back.
What I want you to see in the restoring discipline of Nehemiah—Christ’s work.
If you drift, he will sometimes rescue by discipline.
Bring circumstances into your life to trouble you, bring you back to him.
He wants you to wake up, look around, realize your raft has drifted,
far from shore.
Wants you to realize all your frantic paddling to get some order back into life
not going to do any good. But He is there, hands out, ready to rescue.
Respond to His discipline. Don’t put it off, He is not going to leave you alone.
Most miserable person in the world is a Christian who is drifting, knows it,
knows Christ is there calling, trying to ignore.
Because you are sinning against love. That is unbearable.
Beware of drifting, especially when things seem good.
Johann Freystein, 1697
Rise, my soul, to watch and pray,
From thy sleep awaken;
Be not by the evil day
For the foe,
Well we know,
Oft his harvest reapeth
While the Christian sleepeth.
But while watching, also pray
To the Lord unceasing.
He will free thee, be thy stay,
Strength and faith increasing.
O Lord, bless
And let nothing swerve me
From the will to serve Thee.
May that be your attitude and prayer.
May the Lord deliver us, as a church, from drifting away from our love for Christ
and each other.