Takers & Givers

June 2, 2024 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: A Time to Rebuild

Topic: English Passage: Nehemiah 5:14-19

About three weeks ago, a journalist named Madeleine Rowley released information regarding a government program known as the Unaccompanied Children Program. This is a federally funded program, which means that it is paid for by our taxes. The program is charged with helping unaccompanied minors who enter this country.

The report was not intended as an attack on humanitarian aid. Instead, the article intended to highlight the amount of money being made by corporations and individuals involved in this effort.

You see, although the program is funded by the government, it is not fully implemented by the government. Much of the work is delegated to nongovernmental organizations that provide services near the border.

Rowley chose three organizations to highlight. And while there will be minors who benefit in some way from the work of these organizations, the article pointed out that the revenue for these three non-profit organizations had almost quadrupled over three years. It went from just under $600 million per year in 2019 to $2 billion in 2022.

More migrants will obviously mean more aid, but that doesn’t mean that everything the organizations do is justifiable. These organizations are now providing services like pet therapy, horticulture therapy, and music therapy—again primarily paid for by the taxpayers. In 2021, one music therapist was paid $533,000 by one of those organizations.

The CEOs and other executives of these organizations are also doing quite well. One CEO, back in 2019, had an annual salary of $244,000. Three years later, that salary was $520,000. Another of the CEOs currently makes more than $1 million per year, but that is a reduction in pay because in 2018 he was making $3.5 million. In 2022, one of the companies had a total payroll, which includes strategists and HR executives, of $465 million.

It’s no wonder that back in 2018, The New York Times released an article titled “The Billion Dollar Business of Operating Shelters for Migrant Children.” Again, the problem is not the humanitarian aid. It is that some people are being greatly enriched under the banner of helping others.

Last week, we saw that a very similar thing had been happening in Israel. Nehemiah was there to lead the people in rebuilding the wall, and that meant defending them from foreign enemies. But internally, there were problems as well. Due to the lack of food and excessive financial burdens, the nobles and the officials exploited the rest of the people. They were enriching themselves at the expense of the poor.

Nehemiah rebuked them and led them to national repentance. But he also led them by his example. In seeing others take from the people, Nehemiah documented the way he gave to them.

Specifically, two qualities of Nehemiah stand out in our passage today. We see his generosity, and we see his diligence. Rather than take from the people, Nehemiah was a man who contributed. Hundred of years before they were spoken, Nehemiah lived out the words of Jesus recorded by the Apostle Paul, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Nehemiah gave his money, and he gave his energy. He was generous, and he was diligent. That’s how he contributed.

Verse 14 tells us that Nehemiah served as the governor of Judah for 12 years. In that time, Nehemiah writes: Neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor.

As a government official, Nehemiah and his family could have their food provided by the Persian government. But where did the Persian government get its money? From the taxes of the people. So, in solidarity with the people, Nehemiah did not partake of food provided by Persian funds.

So, where did his food come from? Apparently, being a cupbearer provided very well for him. And he used that money to provide for his own needs. He stopped taking the government salary, so to speak.

Verse 17 tells us more about Nehemiah’s generosity. His household fed 150 men, and he also hosted, it seems, foreign dignitaries. Nehemiah was a good host, and he paid for it all with his own money.

How do we know he wasn’t just giving them peanut butter and jelly? Verse 18 says from his own expense, from his own funds, he was providing, every day, an ox, and sheep and birds. And every ten days, the wine was restocked.

If you went to visit Nehemiah’s home, you were going to be well taken care of, and it wasn’t like going to a union banquet, where everything came out of your own paycheck. This was paid for by the funds he had saved before arriving in Jerusalem. It came at great cost to Nehemiah.

But notice the end of verse 18. He says—Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people.

Unlike the greedy rich, who took advantage of the people, Nehemiah wanted to use his riches to help. That’s an incredible display of humility. And that humility is also seen in his diligence.

Look at verse 15. Nehemiah says—The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people.

But Nehemiah, in verse 16, says—I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work.

Money was tight. The demand for food was high. Therefore many people had to sell their land. High supply of land means lower prices. So, if you had the money, this was the time to buy. But Nehemiah says, “No. I’m not here to make myself rich. I’m here to contribute. I’m here to give, and I’m here to work.”

Is that the heart you have toward your family and toward the church? Are you more characterized by giving or by receiving? Are you more characterized by diligence or by laziness?

There is a group of you that I know are more characterized by receiving. In fact, you contribute relatively little to the finances and to the work of your family and of this church. I’m not going to rebuke you, but I just want to point out who you are. It’s all of you little kids, right?

Children, especially the younger ones, you are not responsible to pay the rent or to buy soap and toothpaste for the family. But it’s not always going to be like that. At least, it shouldn’t be. As you grow up, yes, you will receive the freedoms and privileges of adulthood. But that also come with responsibility. So when your mom and dad ask you to clean up your room or take out the trash or pick up the mess outside, they are helping train you to be someone who gives and who contributes, rather than someone who takes.

For you members, as you think about our church, think about how you contribute—not just financially—but in ministry, and in discipleship and in edification and in evangelism and in meeting the needs of others. What a wonderful example Nehemiah ought to be for all of us.

Our unity is on display when we go enjoy ourselves in the picnic. But it’s also on display, and I think in a much more meaningful way, when you sacrifice your time and energy for the sake of others, and for the sake of Christ’s mission.

How do you grow in that? How do I move myself in that direction? The answer is theology. You need a better understanding of who God is and how He operates.

Why do I say that? Because that’s what motivated Nehemiah. We saw the two qualities of Nehemiah—generosity and diligence—but now, let me briefly show you two divine motivators.

The first is at the end of verse 15. Why didn’t Nehemiah, like the men before him, use his position and his authority to his own advantage? The end of verse 15 says—I did not do so, because of the fear of God.

Here's the theological point—God will judge. God will judge. If you abuse or waste what you have—if you use your strength, or your authority, or your status to take from others—or if you refuse to use it to help others—God will judge you. He won’t ignore it. Nehemiah feared God because He knew God would judge Him.

The second theological point is the positive side of that truth. It is that God will reward. God will judge and God will reward.

Nehemiah understood that his powerful God would take care of him. As he wrote in his journal about his own generosity and his own diligence, and the cost that this was to him, he trusted that God would take care of him.

Look at verse 19. Nehemiah writes a brief prayer—Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people. Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

God sees everything. He sees the ways you abuse or neglect to serve others. And he also sees the ways you contribute to His people and to His purposes. There is no greater investment you can make, of time or money or energy, than to give it to for the people of God and the purpose of God.

Kids and adults, you are going to have a chance to practice generosity today in small ways at the picnic. Who gets to eat first? Who gets to play with the ball? Who gets to sit in the shade? Who gets to use the swings? Let those seemingly small decisions help develop your heart toward serving others and contributing to their benefit.

And then, let’s see how God work in you and through you in bigger ways as we keep working together for the glory of Christ. How is it that God would have you contribute?

You contribute by showing up to service and to class and to the FLGs. You contribute by talking to and encouraging and praying for others. You contribute in your giving. You contribute by helping others when it’s needed. You contribute by serving with a ministry for the kids or for families.

When you hear the announcements, you aren’t just supposed to think, “Well, I’m not interested. I’m not going.” Instead, ask yourself, “How can I contribute and help that?”

You can be diligent. You can be generous. You can be a contributor. And God will see it, and He will bless it. He will reward us.

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