Doing a Great Work for God
And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.
Our text begins with the statement, "So built we the wall", but it ends with this statement, "so that we are not able to build the wall". The first "so" indicates that they were able to build the wall even under the adverse circumstances that were being put upon them by Sanballat and Tobiah. The second "so" indicates that there was something that was hindering the work. What was it that had caused the men of Judah, those that should have been the hardest workers, to feel that they could not go on? It was not because of the enemy nor was it because they did not want to do the work; the people were mindful, prayerful, and watchful. The major problem was the "rubbish" - the remains of the old wall and gates were hindering their work. In this rubbish lies a great lesson for us!
The men of Judah has said, "there is much rubbish". No doubt the Babylonians had done a good job of breaking down the walls of Jerusalem, and we can well imagine after almost 140 years what the rubbish must have been like. From a spiritual perspective, this rubbish was the legacy of sin. It was a product of the past that had not only become useless but was a hindrance to future progress. It was probably an eyesore as well. We all have spiritual rubbish in our lives because we all have a history of sin. We have all the rubbish of a sin nature inherited from Adam which continues to hinder us from what we could be, as Paul testifies, "the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Romans 7:19). What happens if you leave a house sit empty and not cared for? Eventually it begins to rot and decay, and dust begins to build up. It becomes unsightly, ceases to be usable, and just in the way. Likewise, that sin nature that exists in every person can fester and decay bringing with it a legacy of spiritual rubbish.
What spiritual rubbish exists in your life?
We could probably categorize the common rubbish in our lives under the following areas:
As a church, it is possible to have a legacy of false doctrine. For example, during the Great Reformation there was a great spiritual awakening surrounding the doctrine of salvation. At that time many of those who got saved out of the Roman Catholic Church left and started the denominations we know now as Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian. Though these new Christians now had a correct belief on salvation, they carried with them much rubbish from false Catholic doctrines such as infant baptism and sprinkling. Even though these Christians made great progress for God, think what they could have done without that rubbish in the way.
In our personal lives we experience the same thing: vain philosophy, mysticism, superstitions, prejudice, etc. Depending on when or where you were saved, you may have been taught error and had incorrect beliefs developed. When Simon the Sorcerer was saved, he still had with him the rubbish of believing that spiritual power could be bought with money (Acts 8:9-24). Not every one who is born again instantly believes right about everything!
While living in this world with unbelievers, it is dangerously easy to pick up false beliefs. In Exodus 32, while Moses was speaking with God on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel got the idea to make a golden calf to worship as Jehovah. Where did they get such a foolish idea? They learned such practices from the Egyptians, the world. Doctrine that is contrary to God is constantly spread through television, newspapers, books, and through acquaintances. We must be very careful to examine the teachings that we accept as truth, comparing them with the only true standard: the Word of God.
Another kind of spiritual rubbish which often exists in our lives is that of improper habits and poor character (pride, anger, unbelief, lying, cheating, etc.). Like Rachel who carried the idols out of her father's house with her (Genesis 31:19), when we get saved we often bring with us bad habits which we have learned in our past. These habits may not have even been perceptible while we were lost but later the Holy Spirit causes us to become aware of them. No doubt some of the rubbish from the walls of Jerusalem was hidden well below the surface. Some habits may seem insignificant, but we ought to remember that they are still rubbish, and rubbish will hinder us from doing a great work for God. Can a church develop bad habits? Sure, they are called traditions. A pastor may come up with some new idea for reaching the lost only to have the church extinguish it with, "That's not the way we do things around here". We might well call this a "rut".
Let us stop now and consider some applications about spiritual rubbish:
1. It is better to be saved when young before much rubbish is accumulated.
2. Older Christians must be patient with those who are newly born again.
3. We need to be very careful about what we learn from the world.
4. It is so important that the Word of God be our final rule for all faith and practice.
Imagine what it must have been like for the Jews when they began to rebuild the walls that would bring them peace and protection. They were working very fervently as Nehemiah said, "The people had a mind to work". The enemy was now threatening them openly, but still they worked. But then we read sadly that their strength and zeal began to fail them because of the rubbish. This seemingly small problem was now a major hindrance to the work.
First we should note that the rubbish had to go. Likewise, the spiritual rubbish in our life must be eliminated for the same reasons.
1. To ensure a proper foundation
They could not have begun building the new walls without first preparing the land. Before any progress would be made upwards, there had to be some foundations built downwards. In order to form a sturdy foundation, any rubbish found in the way would have to be removed. The Jews might have been able to finish much sooner if they had hastily built the walls on top of the rubbish, but such walls would never have stood up to any kind of pressure later. Many a church is started this way. In the excitement of the times it seems that the church is making great progress, but because the rubbish was not taken care of properly, the church dies out like a shooting star. The same thing takes place in the life of many a Christian as well, "...because they had no root, they withered away" (Matthew 13:5-6). The rubbish must be eliminated or else the foundation will not support the future building.
2. To enable more productive work
The builders could have chosen to set the walls just outside or just inside the previous walls. In this way they might not have had to excavate any of the rubbish in order to lay the new foundation. However, imagine if they had done this what it would have been like to get to where the work was. Perhaps they would have had to step up and over pieces of rubble. Perhaps certain areas would be completely impassable. Remember when Nehemiah made his tour around the walls, he had to turn back because "there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass" (Nehemiah 2:14). Think about how much effort has to go into building a new highway within an existing infrastructure. Sure the walls could have been built in this way, but at what cost? When we leave rubbish in our life or in our church, it often means that we can no longer use the most efficient means for accomplishing our great work. In order to be the most productive, the rubbish must go!
3. To eliminate the untidy appearance
What happens to the property value of a nice house when someone builds a dump next to it? It can be the most beautiful house in the area, but the surroundings can completely mar its beauty. The children of Israel could have built the nicest walls ever made, but if they had left the rubbish, no one would have been impressed. Spiritual rubbish has the same effect. A Christian who grows to spiritual maturity without eliminating the rubbish in his life will have the appearance of an adult who still sucks a pacifier (see Proverbs 11:22 for the Old Testament illustration). What does rubbish do to the image of Christ in our lives as seen by the world? What does a lost person think of Christ when they see a professing Christian with the same bad habits that they have? The rubbish must be eliminated because it flaws the beauty of the work.
Next we must consider that eliminating rubbish is very, very difficult. For the men of Judah, it was decreasing their strength. No doubt they were having to spend great amounts of energy to unearth and remove stones and debris, and then cart them off to a place where the rubbish could be dumped. Not only was their strength decaying, but their zeal was diminishing too. We can well imagine how discouraging it would be to have to spend so much effort just cleaning up the area. Perhaps also, there were some people that the "bearers of burdens" had to contend with defending the rubbish on the basis of its historical value. There can be no denying that the same difficulty exists for our church and our selves. There will always be that group who withstands the pastor's attempts to clean up the rubbish, just as our flesh will try to resist eliminating the mire and stench in which it enjoys being engulfed. Getting rid of rubbish is perhaps some of the most difficult experiences in the Christian walk. Yet, it must be taken away.
Since rubbish is so difficult to dislodge, we ought to think carefully how we shall live in order to prevent rubbish from accumulating. This is part of what Paul was referring to when he told Timothy, "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life" (2 Timothy 2:4). We need to memorize 2 Corinthians 7:1 and live by it, " Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Right living will prevent rubbish!
Here is another thing to bear in mind: we ought to get rid of rubbish as soon as we
can, for the longer we allow it to stay in our lives the more difficult it becomes to
eliminate it. The easiest time to deal with rubbish is the first time the Holy Spirit
points it out. The longer we wait, the more chance there is that God will not help deliver
us. After the death of Joshua, the Israelites failed to drive out the Canaanites so God
told them, "I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them" (Judges
2:21). If we fail to drive out the rubbish from our life, God may decide to leave it with
us. Christian, listen to the Holy Spirit and obey the first time!