Our society has a serious problem: we are scared of commitment. “Commitmentphobia” (as it has been coined) is not only affecting men with cold feet but also keeping many Christians distant from the core group of the church. The consumerism of our American culture has fed the downward trend of commitment in both marriage and church membership. Church shoppers & hoppers now have more influence in a church’s direction than Christ Himself. For instance, most new ministries are not started with the question, “How can we better glorify God?” but rather, “How will this affect church growth?” Tragically, many churches have become seeker-sensitive instead of Savior-sensitive. The cure: a church in covenant, committed to Christ and to each other. (Nehemiah 9:38)
The Value of Church
As a means of review, please let me remind you of two previous articles: A & A New Community. Church is important because of Christ’s commitment to us. Hebrews 10 emphasizes that we have been given access into the Holy Place by His precious blood – the full atonement for our sins (v19). In addition, we have an advocate who is appearing (even still) before the throne of Almighty God, interceding on our behalf (v21). And, based on what we have, we are urged to respond with faith, hope, and love. Drawing near to God in faith (v22); holding fast to hope in the promises of the Word (v23); motivating each other to love and to good works (v24). This happens when we purpose to gather together and encourage each other (v25) – but not just on Sunday!
The Value of Covenant
A covenant is a ‘clear expression of a church’s commitment to love one another as a community of faith.’ It is a promise of action to each other, before God. Even though churches are not commanded to adopt covenants in the New Testament, they can be very beneficial (plus, there is a Biblical precedence in the Old Testament – below). Just like good employers provide job descriptions and good parents post chore-lists for the kids – good churches make their expectations clear to the membership. This is why a covenant can be so valuable. Think of it this way… where do most marital problems start? Unclear, improper, or unrealistic expectations, right? If you asked the average church member what membership really means, would they have a clue? In fact, in most places, membership is an unclear enigma – it is meaningless, because it is not clearly defined and because the so-called members are not truly committed.
The Value of a Church in Covenant
In Nehemiah 9:38, the people of God committed themselves by signing a covenant. This was important to them – to set up a monument of commitment for God, for each other, and for the generations to come. This covenant was grounded in the Word of God. Nehemiah 8:1-8 tells of how much they loved and respected the Bible (Moses’ Law). When Ezra the priest stood up on the pulpit to read, they all gathered in unity (“as one man”). When he opened the Book, they stood. When he prayed, they worshiped by raising their hands, shouting ‘Amen, Amen’ and falling on their faces. He then gave them some interpretation and application of what he read. This went on for six hours… and nobody moved. (Compare that to today’s church.)
This covenant was to be sustained by God’s grace. Nehemiah 9:1 records the events of another service (about 3 weeks later). This time, God’s people spent three hours reading the Word and three hours in prayer. They recounted God’s choice of Abram and how God moved him and changed him. They remembered how God brought their ancestors through the Red Sea, gave them the Law, fed them with manna, and made water to flow from a rock (v5-15). They also rehearsed how that their fathers had, with hard hearts, disobeyed God and practiced wicked and abominable acts (v16-18). But then they remembered how that God was gracious and merciful, even with a people who had squandered so many second chances (v19-20). We too should remember that where we are is only because of the grace of God. Our church is full of people who have agreed: Only by the grace of God, we are what we are!
This covenant was important because it promoted the good of one another. Nehemiah 10 lists all who signed the document with a heart full of commitment. They committed to purity & godliness, to help each other, to worship together, to support each other (v29-35). Again, this was a clear promise to God and to each other. They even agreed that if they went backward, they would be cursed. What an intensely intimate moment this would have been. All of these people, agreeing together to show ultimate love for each other.
This covenant demonstrated the glory of God. Anytime we follow the example of Christ, we give Him glory. This was such an occasion, it demanded a celebration. I mean no disrespect when I say that God & His people should know how to party – we have something to party about! They dedicated the finished construction of the walls by climbing up on them (12:31) and got loud (v43). The critics had predicted that little foxes would tumble the walls – now they held God’s people. This wall still stands around the Holy City as a testimony to a committed people – the people of God.