Build With One Hand, Fight With The Other Part Three
Topic: Marriage Passage: Nehemiah 4:10–4:20
Please turn with me to Nehemiah chapter 4. This morning is the last message in what was meant to be just one message for Father’s Day but turned into three messages that I’ve called Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other.
To quickly set the context, it’s sometime around 450 BC, and for over 100 years the walls of Jerusalem have been in ruins leaving the city open to attack and in a state of disgrace. But God raises up a man named Nehemiah and he begins to lead the Jews to rebuild the wall. Let’s pick up the story in verse 10:
As they begin the daunting task of rebuilding the wall, God’s hand is clearly upon them but they begin to hit some serious roadblocks, the biggest one being that they have enemies who are furious by the report that the wall is being rebuilt and led by Sanballat and Tobiah, these surrounding nations plot together to enter the city by stealth and kill the workers and their families before they know what happened. The Jews get wind of this plot and change how they work – they continue to build, but now their weapons are always at their side. Nehemiah reminds them that their God will fight for them, and then calls them to fight – fight for their families and fight for their homes. Now as they work, they carry bricks with one hand and a sword in the other.
For the past three weeks we’ve been superimposing that picture of building with one hand and fighting with the other over God’s call to us – especially the men –to build up our families and to fight for our families. Building healthy families takes work, and the family is under attack by real enemies. On Father’s Day we considered how we need to build up and fight for our children. Last week we considered how we need to build up our marriages and this morning I want us to consider how we are to fight for our marriages – and the Lord has laid two specific enemies on my heart: laziness and unfaithfulness. There are other enemies, but these are two serious enemies that most of us will have to face at some point, and they are each devastating to marriages in their own way. One has the power to erode the wall, the other has the power to explode the wall. The good news is that as we fight, our God fights for us so we don’t need to fear but we do need to fight.
II. Fight for our marriages with the other
1. Fight against laziness
We may not think of laziness as an enemy– it’s kind of cute and furry like the creature named the sloth. But over time laziness is very destructive. Listen to Proverbs 24: 30
I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, 31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 32 Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. Prov. 24:30-34
It’s the description of a life that’s deteriorating from neglect, but it could just as accurately represent a marriage falling apart from neglect, a neglect that eventually leaves gaps in the wall through which our marriages can be attacked. Few things threaten to stop the work of building our marriages like laziness. And for guys especially, the problem is deceptive because it’s a targeted laziness. We work hard in other areas but can be slothful in caring for our marriages.
If your life is fairly typical, you’re probably pretty busy. And then, for us guys, we want our chill time, right? To find time to be alone with our wives and invest in our relationship takes both time and effort. It takes time to communicate about the important things in life. For a couple’s friendship to deepen there needs to be time to laugh together, make memories together, share honestly together and have fun together and that takes planning and initiative. It takes work. And then working through conflict in a Christ-honoring way takes time and effort too. Paul says not to let the sun go down on our anger – lest we give a foothold to the devil. If one night opens the door to spiritual attack, what might months and years of unresolved conflict leave us vulnerable to?
What this means is that healthy marriages need to be maintained and laziness isn’t good at maintaining things, so the effect of laziness on marriage is a gradual deterioration. Not all at once, but slowly, over time, little by little, choice by choice. That’s the lesson the Teacher observes: the lazy person’s life is a series of little choices – they don’t intend to sleep their life away, they just want a little more sleep. They don’t want to veg their life away, they just want to veg out a little now. Tomorrow they’re gonna be all over it.
Grace in motion
Like the enemies of the Jews, laziness doesn’t come at us in an all out frontal attack, it sneaks up on us before we even know it’s there through one small choice at a time. So the way to fight laziness is by asking God to help us make different choices and then by making different choices. In his book, What Did You Expect?? Paul Tripps speaks of “grace in motion”. That is, grace that God gives us as we do what we’re supposed to do. But we need to do it. Nehemiah says, and “let’s fight!” and then “our God will fight for us”. As we fight, God will fight for us, that’s grace in motion and it’s how God works in areas of sanctification.
God will help us make different choices as we make different choices. God’s too wise to give us an easy way to do the hard things. If you are convicted of some area in your marriage that is neglected, I want to encourage you to put grace in motion by making different choices than you’ve been making. Fight the excuses that will pop up, fight the lie that all you want is a little more resting of the hands. Wherever you see laziness at work, fight, and you’ll find God is fighting for you.
2. Fight against unfaithfulness
The second enemy that the Lord put on my heart to talk about is the uncomfortable subject of marital unfaithfulness. Nothing has the potential to damage and even destroy a marriage like unfaithfulness, and unfortunately none of us are exempt from this war. Over the years I’ve seen Christian couples torn apart by adultery but I’ve also seen couples wonderfully preserved from adultery and I’ve also seen God’s power hold marriages together and even strengthen them in the wake of flagrant adultery – amazing testimonies of the power of Christ to transform the heart of an unfaithful spouse and pour supernatural forgiveness into the heart of the betrayed spouse.
But adultery rips apart marriages, it breaks the vows, breaks the trust, damages the relationship in a way that cannot be restored quickly, it sows seeds of spiritual death that reap a barrenness that is beyond words. The best time to fight is before the enemy enters the city – before adultery is committed.
So what steps can we take to fight against unfaithfulness? The first line of defense is, of course, a good offense - building the wall of our marriage – working on strengthening our marriage, things like loving our spouse, cherishing, honoring, investing in your friendship and working at honest, loving communication. Some of what we talked about in last week’s message.
Set a watchman on the wall
But if our marriages are built up through diligence, our marriages are protected through vigilance - keeping our eyes open for temptation, compromises, enemies disguised as friends, because the safest time to see these enemies are when they are still a long way off. The Bible uses the image of a watchman on the wall. Isaiah 62:6 says,
On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent.
In this passage God is speaking of the Jewish prophets, but it borrows from the practice of setting watchmen on the walls to lookout for approaching enemies and sound the alarm when an enemy was sighted. We need to set a watchman on the walls of our marriage so we are on the lookout for any approaching enemies and can sound the alarm when an enemy is sighted. What are we watching for? Let me point out two things that should raise alarms:
Alarm #1 – Watch your heart
The first and most dangerous line to cross is the emotional line. A lot of people who commit adultery say, “It just happened! Before I knew it we had crossed a line” In a sense they’re right and in a sense they’re wrong. The nature of adultery is both sudden and gradual at the same time. Let me explain.
Proverbs 7 warns of a young man lacking sense being tempted by an adulterous woman (which isn’t to blame women for adultery, remember Proverbs was written to boys and the adulteress personifies the temptation to cross the line of adultery). Verse 22 says, All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast til an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.
All at once – suddenly, in a moment, without time to think he makes a decision that will cost him his life. As this young man finds himself caught in a trap and an arrow piercing his soul, he will feel like it happened so quickly he didn’t have time to respond. All at once…
But it actually took quite a long time to get to that all at once. He deliberately took the road to her neighborhood, deliberately went by her house. Rather than avoiding her, he put himself in her proximity. He was flirting with the forbidden. And by doing so he has put himself in a place to hear her persuasions and assurances and justifications and temptations. They work on him, edging him ever nearer to a decision and then, all at once, he gives in. It’s sudden. But it took a long time to get there.
We need to watch our hearts. That friendship at work that is so harmless, just a cup of coffee, just a lunch together, just harmless conversation. Maybe even about spiritual things. I have a friend who found he was having deep spiritual conversations with a Christian woman at work, deeper than he could have with his wife– what could be more innocent and godly – until he left his wife for the woman. By the grace of God he later repented and his wife forgave him and they’re together to this day – 30 years later.
Listen, I know this room is full of men and women who are committed to be faithful to our spouses, but we cannot think this is a danger that we are exempt from. We are at war and the enemy of our souls is subtle and is a master at spinning webs that entangle our souls.
• Ladies, beware of that guy that seems so more attentive than your husband. Don’t think it’s harmless to enjoy his attentions – don’t ignore the growing desire to be around him, the little contrivances that put you in his presence. It’s an illusion that the enemy is setting up to trap your soul and kill your marriage. He’s attentive because it’s not work to him – it’s acting. God doesn’t want you to fall for the devil’s illusion – He wants to help you and your husband work at the real thing, but it takes work and it takes fight. Sound the alarm and run!
• Guys, that woman at work that seems to understand you more than your wife. Your wife nags, she understands. She sympathizes. Here’s the truth: it’s not that she understands you more than your wife, it’s that she doesn’t know you the way your wife does. She still believes the illusion of who you pretend to be, but your wife knows who you really are – and God wants to help you be the man who works at strengthening your marriage rather than cross the line and break your vows while chasing an illusion.
I think you’re getting the idea that the best way to fight unfaithfulness is to watch and run. The young man in Proverbs lacks sense (is an idiot) because he flirts with death. It’s not the all at once that makes him a fool; it’s the steps that led to that all at once that was foolish.
Alarm # 2 – Watch your company
Gonna be real brief here – but watch out for being alone with members of the opposite sex in situations that could be compromising and be quick to bring along others to help safeguard the situation.
ILL: When I was in my twenties the Lord protected me from a bad situation. I was working a job and I knew my boss’s marriage was in trouble. Every now and then he would take me out to dinner after work hours and share how his marriage was struggling and I would witness to him about Christ.
One night I got a call from my boss’s wife (who I knew and was friendly with). It was about 8pm and she said that her husband went out for the night and she heard a sound that frightened her – would I come over to check it out for her and be with her? I was young enough and dumb enough to be concerned for her but the family I lived with – when I shared what the call was about – was wise enough to suggest I take a friend with me. So I called her back and told her I was going to pick up a friend and be right over. She said it was ok, she didn’t need me to come.
Later another guy at that same workplace got into an affair with her – and it was ugly when it came to surface and my boss and his wife eventually ended up divorced. God spared me a lot of heartache and protected my Christian witness. Watch your company – when in doubt bring a friend along. The enemy isn’t a person – they’re in his sights as much as we are - but the enemy uses people to spin webs and set traps to get us to all at once plunge to our doom.
When it comes to protecting our marriages from unfaithfulness, vigilance is key. Setting a watchman on the wall to watch and sound the alarm.
So this message is for those who are nowhere near adultery – maybe not even married yet. This is the perfect time to set a watch to protect you from the gradual steps that lead to all at once. Develop deep convictions about how you’re going to protect and guard your marriage.
But maybe someone here is on the edge of that slippery slope – you’ve not crossed the line but you enjoy that person’s company a little too much. This message is for you – fight by running! Don’t hesitate and don’t think it’s no big deal. Make the choice right now, today. Don’t leave undecided about what you’re going to do. Let light into it by bringing company into it – let your spouse know, share it with other guys or gals. Your life depends on it. Adultery kills marriages, but it also kills souls – arrow will pierce your heart – and it is a spiritual killer. Remember, there are no adulterers in heaven.
Finally there may be some here who have broken their marriage vows. Maybe you live with the pain, the guilt, the regret. Maybe it destroyed your marriage, or maybe your spouse forgave you. Maybe when I just said there are no adulterers in heaven it hit you like a sledgehammer. That is what the Bible says, but that’s not all it says - there is an ocean of hope and redemption for you – listen to 1 Cor 6:9-11
Or do you not know that the unrighteous2 will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,3 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor. 6:9-11
The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. None of us were righteous, none of us were qualified for the kingdom, but Jesus died for the ungodly to provide a way for us to become godly through faith in his atoning death. If you’ve repented and asked God to forgive you through Christ, you’re not an adulterer anymore, that’s not the name written on you anymore. Paul says, and such were some of you. But not any longer – you were washed. Sanctified. Justified. All by the blood of Christ and by the power of the Spirit of God. Receive his forgiveness and walk in the hope of mercy.
God has called us to build up our families and fight for our families. Men, that calls rests especially strongly on our shoulders. It’s a call to action. It’s a call to do: to build, to fight. But God gives us amazing promises: as we build, His hand will be upon us for blessing. As we fight, our God will fight for us. And in the end, it won’t be what we accomplished that amazes us, but what He accomplished through us. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome. And build up and fight for your family, for your children, for your wife or husband, for your home and as you do, you will find grace in motion. Let’s pray.
More in Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other
June 24, 2012Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other Part Two
June 17, 2012Build with One Hand, Fight with the Other Part One