The sufficiency of the gospel, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg – Bible Studies Material on 1 Cor 1:17-31

Introduction

In our previous lesson, we studied about the division in the Corinthian Church and Paul’s response to it. This material focuses on Paul’s skillful response to the issue by pointing them to the sufficiency of the gospel of Christ.

Understanding the context of 1 Cor 1-2.

The Corinthian believers were divided and not living up to who they were in Christ. For they were mixing the Gospel with the wisdom of the world. They were also glorying in humans and were thus confused about the meaning of the Gospel ministry.

Proofs about the sufficiency of the gospel

Paul deals with the wisdom of the world in contrast to the wisdom of God, and in 1 Cor 1:17-3, gives certain proofs to show that the gospel is sufficient for all people.        

a. Paul’s commission (1 Cor 1:17)

Paul’s conviction was that he was sent to preach the Gospel alone, not the Gospel plus human philosophies. This implies that we must guard against mixing anything with the Gospel.

b. Personal experience (1 Cor 1:8)

Both Paul and the Corinthian Church had experienced the Gospel’s power personally. Therefore, the gospel is the power of God for those who are been saved. From the perspective of Paul, however, it is foolishness to those who are perishing.

c.  Scripture (1:19-20)

Paul quotes Isaiah 19:12, 29:14, and 33:18 to prove that God does not need the world’s wisdom; in fact, God will destroy it!

d.  Human history (1 Cor 1:20-21)

With all its “wisdom,” the world was not able to find God or salvation. When we trace human history, we discover a record of humans gaining more and more knowledge, but less and less real wisdom, especially about spiritual matters. Romans 1:18-32 seems to imply that the world turned from God. God’s plan was so simple and unique that it seemed to be foolishness to the world! God saves those who believe in what is said about Jesus Christ.

e.  Paul’s ministry (1 Cor 1: 22-25)

Paul had preached to Jews and Gentiles across the Roman world. He knew that the Jews looked for miraculous signs and the Greeks looked for philosophical wisdom. But God bypassed both ways to make salvation available through a crucified Jesus. This message about a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block to the Jews, whose idea of Christ was far different.  It was foolishness to the Greeks because it seemed contrary to their philosophical systems. But Paul saw that this “foolish Gospel” was God’s power and wisdom to those Jews and Greeks who were called. Jesus is our wisdom and power; He is all we need.

f.  Their own calling (1 Cor 26-29)

“If God needs human wisdom and glory,” says Paul, “then why did He ever call you?” There were not many mighty people in the church at Corinth, not many nobles or worldly-wise people. But God still saved them! God deliberately hides His truth from “the wise and prudent” and reveals Himself to the humble. Think about the history of the Bible and recall how God called the “nobodies” of history, making great leaders out of them—Abraham, Moses, Gideon and David.

           g.   The Sufficiency of Jesus (1 Cor 1:30-31)

Every saint is “in Jesus the Messiah” (1 Cor 1:30-31) and Jesus is to every saint all that he or she ever needs. When it comes to spiritual things, we don’t need human wisdom or power because we have Jesus. He is our redemption, our righteousness, our wisdom, our all. To add anything to the Messiah or His sacrifice on the cross is to diminish Him and His work and rob them of their power. Whenever believers take their eyes off Jesus and start depending on, trusting in, and glorifying human, then they cause divisions. Such divisions rob the church of its power.

Conclusion

This lesson has looked at Paul’s response to the issue of division in the Corinthian Church. To Paul, the reason for the division in the Church was their misunderstanding of the Gospel message. They confused the message of the gospel with the message of humans. As a response to this challenge, the sufficiency of the gospel has been looked at. In this case, Paul’s experience and ministry of the gospel, history and scripture all prove that the gospel is sufficient for all.

Questions:

  1. What was the main reason for division in the Corinthian Church?
  2. Give four proofs that show that the gospel is sufficient for all people.
  3. The Gospel is centered around the crucified Christ. Explain.

Paul’s response to the division in the Corinthian Church, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Text: 1:10-16

Introduction 

In the previous lesson on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, we learnt that Paul introduces his letter in the form of an overture by commending the believers at Corinth. Paul does that by reminding them about their spiritual blessings in Christ. The Corinthians were called, graced and gifted by God and they had hope from God and testimony for God. Having tactfully commended them, Paul begins to discuss their weaknesses and for that matter their sins. This lesson then focuses on the matter of church divisions.

The challenge of division in the Corinthian Church

Paul responds first to the matter of church divisions that had come to him from the household of Chloe, and also from the friends who visited him (16:17-18). It is apparent here that bad news of church problems spreads so rapidly while the good news of the Gospel never seems to spread quickly at all. To Paul, therefore, there were divisions and contentions in the church (1 Cor 3:3, 11:18, and 12:25) that was obvious even at the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:20-34)! Paul pleads with them to be “perfectly joined together” (1 Cor 1:10). The Greek used here for this appeal is a medical term that refers to the setting of a bone that was broken or out of joint. The implication here is that whenever believers cannot get along, the body of Christ which is the church suffers.

Reasons for the division in the Corinthian Church

Paul explains why the Corinthian Church was divided. They had their eyes on the people who were their leaders instead of on Christ. It seems clear here that in the first place, the believers were trusting in the wisdom of men (1 Cor 2:5). Secondly, they were glorying in the works of men (1 Cor 3:21) and, in the third place, they were comparing one servant with another and boasting about men (1 Cor 4:6). In 1 Cor 3, Paul proves that this obsession with human leaders was a mark of carnal living, demonstrating that these “spiritual Corinthians” were actually babes in Christ.

The four factions in the Corinthian Church

This section of our studies focuses on describing the divisions of the groups that existed in the Corinthian Church. These groups centred around individual leaders in the Church. It is important to point out that the understanding of this situation of the Corinthian Church concerning their spiritual allegiance around persons has a greater understanding of all the issues discussed in the entire letter of 1 Corinthians.

  1. One group followed Paul, and they may have been predominantly Gentiles because he was the apostle to the Gentiles. John Drane describes this group as the “‘Paul Party’ who would consist of libertines, people who had heard Paul’s original preaching on the freedom of the Christian and concluded from it that, once they had responded to the Christian gospel, they could live as they liked.”
  2. Another group followed Apollos, the learned orator (Acts 18:24-28), probably because they enjoyed his wonderful speaking. In the observation of John Drane, “‘Apollos Party’ was probably devotees of classical Greek outlook. Acts 18:24-28 tells us that Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, an eloquent man, well versed in the scripture. In Alexandria, many Jewish teachers lived and taught. One of them was Philo (20 BC-AD 45) who sought to show that all that was in Greek philosophy had actually been foreshadowed by Moses and other Old Testament writers. Apollos’ group is likely to enjoy teachings of this kind.”
  3. The third group, probably Jews, leaned toward Peter, the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7). John Drane observes that they were the “‘Cephas Party’ is believed to be legalists who like the Judaizers in Jerusalem, believed that the Christian life meant the strict observance of the Jewish Law, both ritual and moral. Many of them had probably been Jews or Gentile “God-fearers” before they converted to Christianity.”
  4. The fourth group tried to prove it was more spiritual than the rest by following “Jesus alone” and rejecting human leaders. According to Drane, “‘Christ Party’ probably consisted of a group of men and women who considered themselves to be above the groups that had developed around the personalities of ordinary men. The assumption is that they wanted the same direct contact with Christ (Himself), in the same way as they had experienced direct mystical contacts with gods in the pagan Eastern Mystery Religions.”

How Paul skillfully responds to the issue

Paul explains that Jesus is not divided. We are all part of one body (1 Cor 12:12-31). Jesus, not human leaders, died for us; and we are baptized in the name of Jesus, not the names of human leaders!  Paul goes on to say that he is happy he did not baptize more believers in Corinth than he did, lest the division be even worse. Paul’s helpers in the ministry did the baptizing since Paul’s special commission was to evangelize. This fact does not reduce the significance of Baptism in any way. Acts 18:8 informs us that many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized, so Paul practised water baptism.

Conclusion

This lesson has focussed on Paul’s address on the issue of division in the Corinthian Church. To Paul, the divisions existed because the Corinthianshad their eyes on their leaders instead of on Christ. It seems obvious that comparing one servant with others and boasting about men (1 Cor 4:6) is not good for Church health. Consequently, any mark of division in God’s Church shows carnal Christian life. We are therefore encouraged to maintain the unity of the church.

Questions

  1. How did Paul get to know the problems of division in the Corinthian Church?
  2. Describe the division in the Corinthian Church.
  3. What causes division in contemporary Churches, especially African Churches in the diaspora?
  4. How did Paul respond to the issue of division and what can we learn from it?

Knowing our spiritual blessings in Christ (1:1-9), Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Text: 1 Cor 1:1-9 (NIV):

1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction

This lesson introduces us to the in-depth verse-by-verse studies of the book of 1 Corinthians. Most tactfully, Paul opened his letter by reminding the believers of the wonderful blessings they had in Christ in chapter 1. Paul does that before reproving them for their sin. For they were living beneath their privileges as believers. It seems to Paul that the Corinthians were not walking in a manner worthy of their calling in Jesus (Ephesians 4:1).

Spiritual blessings in Christ

Paul identifies some of the spiritual blessings of the Corinthians that they were ignoring and thus depriving themselves of spiritual power.  These include:

  1. Called of God (1 Cor 1: 2)

To Paul, the Corinthians were called by God. This means that they were sanctified (set apart) and members of that elect group, which is the church.  Paul is by this assuring the Corinthians about who they were in Christ. To Paul, therefore, they were not living like saints, but they were saints!

2. Grace of God (1 Cor 1: 3-4)

Grace means that God gives us what we don’t deserve; mercy means He doesn’t give us what we do deserve. This grace came through Jesus Christ by faith.

3. Gifts from God (1 Cor 1:5 and 7)

Paul expresses his deep appreciation to God for endowing the Corinthians with many spiritual gifts. Paul discusses spiritual gifts later in chapters 12-14.  The Corinthians were wonderfully blessed with spiritual gifts, especially the gifts that have to do with an utterance (1 Cor 14:26). The Corinthians were enriched with knowledge, too. To Paul, however, despite all their gifts and knowledge, they lacked love (1 Cor 13:1-3). They could not get along with each other. It is worthy of note that spiritual gifts do not take the place of spiritual graces.

4. Testimony for God (1 Cor 6)

Everything Paul said concerning what Jesus could do for them came to pass in their lives. Thus Paul was convinced that God’s Word came true in their lives.

5. Hope from God (1 Cor 7-9)

To Paul, the Corinthians were eagerly waiting for Jesus to return in addition to possessing every spiritual gift. Meanwhile, they were not living in the light of Christ’s coming (1 John 2:28). Paul seems to imply here that though the Corinthians were sinful on earth, God would be able to present them as blameless in heaven. This passage should not be used as an excuse for sin. It should rather be seen as an encouragement that God is faithful even though we may fail God.

Conclusion and application

This lesson has sought to introduce us to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It has been established that Paul has sought to commend the Corinthians by reminding them of their spiritual blessings in Christ. They were the called, sanctified people who were endowed with much grace, gifts and full of hope. Most importantly, these virtues serve as an overture of what Paul would write about in the story that follows. To begin, Paul’s description of himself as a called to be an Apostle in 1 Cor 1:1 is later elaborated in 1 Cor 9. Paul’s address of the Corinthian believers as “those who are sanctified” and “called to be saints” in 1 Cor 1: 2, will later, however, demonstrate several ways that they have failed to live holy lives. Next, Paul’s commendation of the Corinthians as endowed with the grace of speech and knowledge in verse 5, will later be taught by Paul that eloquent speech and great knowledge have no value apart from Christian love. Relatedly, Paul’s mention of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 1:7 introduces the reader to what would later be discussed in 1 Cor 12-14. Significantly, reading 1 Cor 1:1-9 should remind us about the need to show deep appreciation to God and to the people who are in Christ about their God-given blessings before any attempt to remind them of any kind of possible spiritual weaknesses that they might face.

1 Corinthians Introduced, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

In our attempt to build relationships in Christ as our focus, it is important to study the book of 1 Corinthians.  This lesson studies the introduction of 1 Corinthians. Here the overview, the city of Corinth, the Church and the theological themes will be looked at in brief.

Overview of 1 Corinthians

Like a chameleon lizard which changes its colour according to its surroundings for protective reasons and to aid in its survival, many Christians easily change their lifestyles to fit in and adapt to their environment.  However, believers of Christ are new creations.  They are born from above and changed from within.  They have values and lifestyles that confront the world and clash with accepted morals.  Unlike Chameleons, true believers don’t blend in very well. 

The believers in Corinth were struggling with their environment which affected their relationships. They were surrounded by corruption and every conceivable sin.  They felt the pressure to adapt.  They knew they were free in Jesus, but what did this freedom mean?  How should they view idols or sexuality?  What should they do about marriage?  What should they do about women in the church?  And what should they do about gifts of the Spirit?  The church was being undermined by immorality and spiritual immaturity.

Paul heard of their struggles and wrote this letter to address their problems, heal their divisions and answer their questions.  Paul confronted them with their sin and their need for corrective action and a clear commitment to Jesus.  Paul’s letter to the Corinthians calls all believers to be careful not to blend in with the world and accept its values and lifestyles.  We must live Jesus –centred, blameless and loving lives that make a difference for God.  As we read and study 1 Corinthians, let us examine our values in light of complete commitments to Jesus Christ.

Paul as the author

Paul was a Jew by birth and from the tribe of Benjamin. His Hebrew name was Saul. He had a Roman citizenship in which his Roman name was Paul. Before his conversion, Paul received training as a Pharisee and Rabbi under Gameliel. Paul could speak Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. It can be said that this dynamic and diverse linguistic background of Paul to some extent contributed to the reason why God commissioned him as an Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul was indeed a man of rich multicultural background. Paul’s initial Israelite religious heritage and practice grounded in the Old Testament and shaped by his Pharisaic commitment probably prepared him to be a man of prayer and a man who had in depth knowledge in the word of God. An experience that shaped Paul’s spirituality was his encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus.

How many letters did Paul write to the Corinthians?

It is commonly believed among bilical scholars that Paul wrote four letters to the Corinthian Church with two letters being lost. His first letter is described as the previous letter which was lost (I Cor. 5:9). Paul’s second letter has thus come to be known as the 1 Corinthians. The third letter is reffered to as the severe letter which also got lost (possibly part of which is recorded in II Cor. 2:1-11; 7:8-12). Then he wrote the last letter which is now II Corinthians.

The City of Corinth

Corinth was a  very important seaport city of Greece that was characterized by commerce, culture, and corruption. Lawsuits were the mode of settling disputes. Even sons could sue their fathers. Religiously, the people of Corinth were noted for their worship of Aphrodite who was the Goddess of Love. To the service and honour of this goddess were 1000 cult prostitutes. There were also mystery cults from Egypt and Asia. Having a population of about 700,000 people the city was also described as an immoral city. To say a “Corinthian girl” meant a loose person. Moreover, the phenomenon of worldly wisdom was perceived to be a religion. Thus there were the Gnostics, Epicureans and Stoics.

The Church

Paul visited Corinth on his second missionary journey, in 50 AD, after he had met with seeming failure in cultured Athens (Acts 18:1-17). He made friends with two Jewish tent-makers, Aquila and Priscilla, and stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. He reasoned with Jews in the synagogue week after week.  Silas and Timothy joined him after they had completed their ministry in Berea. The ruler of the synagogue, Crispus was converted and baptized by Paul (Acts 18:8, see also 1 Corinthians 1:14-16). Jesus gave Paul special encouragement to stay in Corinth (Acts 18:9).  After a year and a half, he departed for Ephesus. He left behind a church richly gifted in spiritual things (1 Corinthians 1:4-7), but sorely tempted by the worldly wisdom and the wickedness of the city itself.

In 55-56 AD, on Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, he returned to Ephesus where he remained for nearly three years (Acts 20:31).  Since Paul had been in Corinth, the spiritual conditions in the church had greatly deteriorated.  He may have received reports about this from friends in the church.  While Paul was in Ephesus, he likely wrote the Corinthians a letter mentioned in 5:9 [which we do not have] warning them not to associate with immoral and wicked “believers.”

From members of Chloe’s house (1:11) Paul learned that the Corinthian church had divided into factions.  He also received an inquiry from Corinth requesting his advice and guidance on certain questions of interest to the church (7:1). Probably, a delegation composed of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus may have brought these questions to Paul (16:17). based on the reports and the request, Paul wrote I Corinthians during the later part of his stay in Ephesus and sent it to the church.

Overview and Content of I Corinthians

This book is important theologically and practically.  Theologically, Paul presents many vital truths dealing with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the role of the Holy Spirit in spiritual gifts. Practically, this letter demonstrates the personal abilities and character of Paul as pastor and church leader.  It demonstrates Paul’s wisdom and concern for the congregations and provides principles for us to follow as we deal with problems in our own churches.

Questions

  1. Explain the difference between Paul and Saul.
  2. To what extent can the city you live in be likened to the City of Corinth?
  3. What does it mean to “Corinthianise?”
  4. Give three ways in which the struggles with the environment affect your relationships.

“Born again” as a term for salvation, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg Bible Study Material

Text: John 3:1-8 NIV

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[d]

Commentary

This phrase “born again” refers to the inner spiritual renewal as a result of the power of God in a person’s life. The phrase “born again” comes from John 3:3, 7, where Jesus told Nicodemus, “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Jesus meant that all people are so sinful in God’s eyes that they need to be regenerated (re-created and renewed) by the sovereign activity of God’s Spirit (John 3:5–8). The only other occurrence of the term “born again” is found in 1 Peter 1:23. The phrase “new birth” occurs only once – in 1 Peter 1:3. The activity of God’s Spirit that regenerates sinful people comes about through faith in Jesus (John 3:10–21). Without faith there is no regeneration, and without regeneration a person does not have eternal life.

Regeneration occurs at the moment a person exercises faith in Jesus. At that point, his sins are forgiven and he is born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. The new birth is a decisive, unrepeatable and irrevocable act of God. Similar words in the Bible describe the same concept. Paul said, “If anyone is in the Messiah, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Again speaking of John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that to have eternal life he must be born again. The term “new birth” denotes the fundamental change that occurs when a person surrenders his life to the Lord Jesus and is saved. His nature, desire, thoughts and the direction of his life are now in the hands of Jesus who is directing the changes.

Resisting the schemes of the enemy (Neh 6:10-14), by Rev Dr. John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

At this point in our studies on the book of Nehemiah, it has become clear that Nehemiah has faced number of oppositions in his task of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Yet with a sense of focus, prayer, discipline, hard work and teamwork, Nehemiah has continued to build the wall to near completion. This study on Nehemiah 6:10-14 seeks to paint the picture of the schemes that the opponents to the project used and how Nehemiah dealt with them. The enemies used the schemes of enticing Nehemiah to sin, becoming cowardly and so to discredit him.

Nehemiah overcame the temptation to hide in the temple to save his life (Neh 6:10-11)

Neh 6:10-11 identifies a man named Shemaiah who seems to be a “secrete informer.” His effort was to hinder and discredit Nehemiah’s work. It is most probable that Shemaiah had to some extent barricaded himself as a way of showing fear and thereby motivating Nehemiah to do likewise. As a “secret informer,” Shemaiah attempted to give Nehemiah a piece of secret advice that the enemies had plotted to kill him. They would come at night to kill him, so the thing to do was to hide for protection in the temple. To Nehemiah, however, he was not to show such fear. He would not run away and would not go into the temple to save his own life. Thus, Nehemiah refused to take Shemaiah’s advice.  What makes this advice a temptation to sin was that, as pointed out in Neh 6:13, such an act would be a perversion of the purpose of the temple and a violation of its sanctity. For only priests should enter there and so to use it for personal protection would be disrespectful to its purpose. Moreover, demonstrating cowardice to flee and hide would be a hindrance to the work. In this case, Nehemiah could not effectively work from a place of hiding. If the people saw him being so cowardly, they too might become afraid and hide to protect themselves, instead of working.

Worth emphasising here is that we need to remember that sin is wrong in and of itself, even when done for personal protection from persecution. We are not to allow people to intimidate us to sin or to be disrespectful or cowardly. When we do that, then we allow them to discredit our work and defeat our efforts for good. It could be observed that merely fleeing in and hiding itself is not sinful. Some New Testament apostles, preachers, and Christians often fled for safety. They did not, however, stop their work of preaching the gospel.

Nehemiah discerned that the enemies had hired a false teacher to put fear into him (Neh 6:12-14)

Nehemiah discerned that Shemaiah’s advice was not from God or in harmony with God’s will. Shemaiah had been hired by Tobiah and Sanballat who were the enemies of God’s work. Shemaiah had presented this advice as something God would have Nehemiah do, or perhaps even something that God had revealed by prophecy (compare verse 14). It is dangerous to follow messages that claim to be from God, especially if those messages contradict God’s will.

This story implies that many false prophets are teaching for hire. They appear to have been paid by people to teach as they do. Do we have such prophets in contemporary times?

Nehemiah refused to compromise so he would not subject himself and his work to reproach. It has been already noted that Nehemiah realised that Shemaiah had been hired to tempt him to be afraid, hide in the temple and consequently sin. The overall intention was to discredit Nehemiah for his sin and cowardice. Had Nehemiah listened to this advice, he would have shown cowardice, neglected the work, and abused the purpose of the temple. It is clear from this passage that when people cannot intimidate God’s people to stop working for God, they often try to discredit them so other people will not listen to them or follow their teaching. They may try to do this through false accusations. If that plan does not work, then they try to get us to sin, so they can have grounds to accuse and discredit us. A similar issue is reflected in the story of Balaam and Balak (Revelation 2:14).

The implication from this matter is that leaders need to live courageously and in purity. At all costs, we need to avoid sin in the context of false teaching, temptation, threats, and intimidation. Failure to live pure lives will discredit our work and hinder God’s purpose.

Nehemiah again prayed to God to deal with his enemies (Neh 6:14)

Reading the book of Nehemiah indicates that Nehemiah was a man of prayer and so recognized the value of prayer in times of temptation and opposition. Nehemiah repeatedly turned to God in prayer for strength to deal with the enemies. The content of the prayer was that he asked God to remember the sinful acts of Tobiah and Sanballat. Nehemiah then mentioned prophetess Noadiah and other prophets who were involved in the attempt to make him afraid. This indicates that many were involved in the temptation of Nehemiah and that their attempt did involve the use of prophecy to try to frighten him.

The example of Nehemiah’s prayer shows that it is not wrong to call upon God to bring justice and punishment to evildoers. We are not called upon to take personal vengeance. Instead, we should leave vengeance to God. Reminding God that such people do deserve God’s punishment is appropriate.

Questions

  1. To what extent can a ‘prophetic message’ be a scheme of the enemy against our lives?
  2. In which forms do some people discredit Ministers of the gospel in contemporary times?
  3. Is it sometimes appropriate to pray to God to deal with our enemy?

Knowing the strategies of the enemy, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Nehemiah 2:19-20 brings out the theme of opposition first identified in 2:10. The main opposing figures are two. They are Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. Later accounts include Geshem the Arabian (Neh 2:19; 4:1). These men were greatly upset that someone had come to help the Israelites with their problems. Like Nehemiah, those serving God will inevitably encounter opposition. In this study, therefore, an attempt is made to look at the strategies that these identified adversaries used to oppose Nehemiah in building the wall of Jerusalem. Accordingly, we will look at how Nehemiah skillfully responded to these adversaries and thus what we can learn from each strategy. Before looking at their strategies, it is important that we briefly study their backgrounds.

Knowing Nehemiah’s Adversaries

Nehemiah’s efforts to building the wall encountered opposition by some people who could be identified as enemies. It is interesting to imagine that some people could just stand out to oppose a good project. Insightfully, it could be observed that these men were all enemies of the Jews.

Nehemiah 4:2 tells us that Sanballat belonged to the army of Samaria. This presupposes that he was part of the mixed breed of Samaritans who had been brought into the land by the Assyrians after they removed the northern tribes of Israel into captivity. In this case, they were not real Israelites and had no inheritance in Israel (2:20). Worshipping God was a perversion. They professed to serve God but included idol worship. Tobiah was an Ammonite. The Amonites were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot. The Ammonites lived near the desert east of the Jordan River.

Geshem was an Arab. The Arabians have not been mentioned much in the Old Testament and they appear to have traveled from place to place without settling in any one area. By this time, however, at least some of these people must have lived in or near the area of Jerusalem. So they were not happy to see the Jews prosper.

All three of these men had some local authority and influence. It is most probable that they were among the governors because they reacted immediately after Nehemiah reported about his project.

It is most probable that our human opposers might be influenced by long family history or cultural traditions. It is worth trying to briefly look at some background information of our adversaries for a possible wise response.

The strategies that the enemy used to oppose the work

  1. Grieving  (Neh 2:10)
  2. Mockery (laughter) – (Neh 2:19)
  3. Wrath and indignation (Neh 4:1-3)
  4.  Fighting – (Neh 4:7-8)
  5. Subtlety or crafty (6:5-7).
  6. Accusation – (6:5-9)

Let us arise and build (Nehemiah 2:11-18), Rev. Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg, Bible study material

Introduction

This studies on Nehemiah 2:11-19 focuses on the dynamics of sharing a vision and motivating others to engage in projects for transformational development. It brings out the essentials of motivating others for transformational development in the Church and our communities. In this light, the steps that Nehemiah took when he arrived in Jerusalem for the building of the wall of Jerusalem, to be discussed include, taking reflective rest, examination of the broken wall, inspiring confidence in some core team, communicating the vision and owning the vision by the people to rebuild the wall.

Examining and analysing the situation (Neh 2:11-15)

Upon reaching Jerusalem, as a first step, Nehemiah rested for three days. What he did in these three days is not clear in the passage. However, it is most probable that he used the time to thoughtfully plan his vision and mission. To accomplish a great task, planning should be key. Second, Nehemiah went on his fact-finding mission to have a fresh experience of the broken wall. In this effort, he went alone, especially at night. Worth learning from Nehemiah is that he did not only rely on the reports on the wall. He took time to investigate for himself before taking the next step.

Sharing the vision to rebuild the wall (Neh 2:16-17)

Nehemiah kept his plan of rebuilding the wall secrete. For the other officials of the Jews knew nothing about his plan. He had told them nothing of his purpose nor of his examination of the wall. In these verses and at this point, however, Nehemiah met with them and explained to them his intention. As a first step, Nehemiah motivated them by describing the problem they were facing. He explained to them about the distress they find themselves in because of the broken wall and the burning of the gate. It is important to state here that although the people knew the problem, they had not yet thought of the seriousness of the problem. In this case, Nehemiah encouraged them to build the wall so they would no longer be in reproach. The wall gave them security, power and influence. Also, building the wall related to restoring their favour and sense of dedication to God.

In relating Nehemiah’s call to rebuilding the wall to the building God’s church, it could be observed that sometimes, God’s church faces some internal and external problems. Sometimes the church has only a few committed members. Other times there are some doctrinal challenges, problems about immorality among members and the inability of the members to get along with other members. In all these challenges, the members need to be motivated to work and as a first attempt, we are called to describe to them in honest terms the problems that they face.

Nehemiah communicated his credibility and how God has been to him to the leaders

In motivating others to join in the project, Nehemiah also shared his credibility with the people. First, he told them about the good things that he had already accomplished. Nehemiah had the favour of God and that of the king in the diaspora. It is important to emphasize here that Nehemiah constantly gave God the credit. Establishing integrity and winning the confidence of people is essential in successful leadership.

Favourable response of the people: The call to action (Neh 2:18)

Having received Nehemiah’s vision, the people responded by saying, “Let us rise up and build!” They strengthened themselves for the work. For that reason, they made the necessary preparations. They did not just talk about what needed to be done. They immediately proceeded to do what was needed to accomplish the job. They moved from talking to action. This positive attitude is what is needed today in building God’s Church and God’s Kingdom.

Worthy of note here is that many people are willing to do something for God if they have good leaders to challenge them. The world and God’s churches need dedicated leadership for transformation. In Nehemiah’s time, the wall had been broken for so many years. Yet they had no leader to motivate them to work till Nehemiah came to the scene.

Conclusion

Having a dream of a better future is one thing. Sharing the dream with others to own it and getting them involved is another thing. In Neh 2:11-18, Nehemiah describes how he took the necessary steps in sharing his vision and motivating others to get involved. It is important to observe that meaningful communication is an essential step in bringing about the transformation of our communities. Share the dream and be willing to get others involved. The positive response of the people has a lot to tell us. The goal should be towards joining the vision and the task of building God’s Kingdom without being concerned about who gets the credit. God’s name would be glorified at the end of the project. Let us, therefore, arise and build, for there is more to be done in God’s Kingdom. The call to action is now.

Reading Nehemiah 2:1-12 from the perspective of Emotional Intelligence, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This study focuses on reading Nehemiah 2:1-10 from the perspective of emotional intelligence. It applies the essential elements of emotional intelligence in understanding how Nehemiah related with the King, made requests and thus obtained permission and other resources to embark on his vision of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. To do that, the meaning of emotional intelligence is first looked at.

Understanding emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) has to do with the ability to recognize, understand and manage one’s own emotions for personal development. Emotional Intelligence has the other objective of recognizing, perceiving and influencing the emotions of others for meaning impacts.

Studying Emotional Intelligence brings to light the knowledge that emotions can influence our behaviour and impact people either positively or negatively. It thus brings out the dynamics of learning how to manage our emotions and that of others. Managing emotions is especially important in all aspects of personal and interpersonal relationships at our workplaces, in the context of our marriages and family relationships. Most importantly, it helps us to get along with people in the Church which is the household of God.

As a psychological term, Emotional Intelligence is built on the foundation that emotional conditions determine thoughts. The condition of our emotions affects how our brain functions thereby affecting how we make decisions and relate with others. In this light developing our emotional intelligence is needed for the success of both our personal and professional lives. On the one hand, Emotional Intelligence equips us to engage in sensitive conversations without hurting feelings. It also strengthens us in managing our emotions when we are stressed up and thus feel overwhelmed. In other words, by studying about our own Emotional Intelligence, our relationships with others could be improved.

Applying Emotional Intelligence elements to read Neh 2:1-10

By applying the perspective of Emotional Intelligence to read Nehemiah 2:1-10, the basic elements of Emotional Intelligence which are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills will be used. Self-conscious people are aware of their feelings and motives and how their emotions affect themselves and others. Self-regulation has to do with controlling oneself in order not to make impulsive decisions. In this light, one thinks about the consequences of an action before making decisions. The component of motivation relates to purpose and productivity. What this means is that an emotionally intelligent person has the benefit of having the big picture (purpose) in mind and how one’s actions contribute to the success of that goal. Empathy is meant emotionally intelligent people empathize with others and their situations. Here, that person tends to be a good listener, slow to judge, and understands the needs and wants of others. From this perspective, an emotionally intelligent person is often regarded as a loyal and compassionate friend.

Regarding social skills, the emotionally intelligent person can collaborate with others and to work in teams. That person tends to possess strong communication skills and ability and so tends to be a very good leader.

In reading Nehemiah 2:1-10, we will therefore discuss how these elements apply to the roles played by the characters: Nehemiah, King Artaxerxes and Sanballat and Tobiah.

Self-awareness – showing emotions in the face (Neh 2:1-3)

In exercising his official duties as a Cupbearer as pointed out in Nehemiah 1:11, Nehemiah presents himself as serving wine to the king. Worthy of note is the fact that “wine” in the Bible does not always mean fermented or intoxicating wine as the term generally suggests today (Isaiah 16:10; 65:8; Jeremiah 48:33).

Normally, Nehemiah appeared to be a happy person. For he writes that he had not been sad or sorrowful in disposition when he was in the presence of the king. However, being cheerful and full of smiles is not always possible. For burdens sometimes weigh the hearts down, steal the facial glory and saddens the spirit. On this occasion, Nehemiah appeared to be sad, and the king noticed it and asked about the cause. When asked his sadness, Nehemiah admitted and explained his heart burdens.

Nehemiah also admitted his great fear. Serving God is not always easy. Sometimes, there are emotional challenges. To begin, Nehemiah had great sorrow when he heard of the troubles in Jerusalem. Here, he had great fear before the king. It is important to state that those who please God are those who manage their emotional fears and griefs. Nehemiah had every reason to be afraid. First, he was about to make a request of the powerful human king at the time. Second, it was probable that the King could become angry and so punish Nehemiah. Last, Nehemiah had every reason to be afraid because it was improper for a cupbearer and other servants to allow their personal lives to affect their service and demeanour before the king.

Empathy- Perceiving the emotional state of others and seeking for ways to help them

King Artaxerxes knew Nehemiah was not physically ill. He therefore concluded that it was sorrow of heart. The king perceived the condition of Nehemiah’s heart (Proverbs 15:13). The king was indeed a perceptive and wise king.  After receiving the answer, he went further to look for a possible way he could help Nehemiah by asking what Nehemiah wanted. Most appropriately the king asked for specifics in that he wanted to know how long the trip would take.

Self-regulations – Nehemiah managed his fear and grief through contemplative prayer

Managing our emotions by facing our emotional fears and grief thereby conquering them to do God’s will despite hardships pleases God. In managing his fears, Nehemiah appealed to the invisible higher authority who is God. Paul entreats the Philippians to cast all their cares onto God.

Motivation – Nehemiah explained his reasons for his deamenour and made requests

When asked about his demeanour, Nehemiah explained that it was reasonable for him to be troubled considering the problems in his homeland. For the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. This is the city where his father had lived and been buried. Motivated by his vision, Nehemiah asked the king for permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the city.

Social Skills – Nehemiah respected authorities

In his response, Nehemiah first expressed great respect for the king. He said, “Let the king live forever!” In modern times, that would be, “Long live the king!” This was a common way of praising the king. It demonstrated how people valued the king and wished that his service continues (1 Kings 1:31; Daniel 2:4; 5:10; 6:6,21).  Social skills teach one to speak respectfully to people in positions of power, especially when we have a great request to make of them. It also has to do with humility towards one another and that of developing team skills.

Conclusion

Contrary to the emotions exhibited by Sanballat and Tobiah in Nehemiah 2:10, King Artaxerxes was happy to grant Nehemiah’s request. When people are emotionally intelligent, they empathise with others in their needs. In this case, the king was favourable and granted all Nehemiah’s requests. Nehemiah gave thanks to God for this favourable result. He had repeatedly made request of God for these blessings, so it was only right that he then give God credit when the blessings were granted. We should remember this too in our prayers to God.

Praying through the content of Nehemiah’s model prayer (Nehemiah 1:5-11), by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Nehemiah 1:5-11 summarises Nehemiah’s prayer after he heard of the distress of the Jews in Jerusalem. In this case, Nehemiah’s prayer contains praise, confession of sins, an affirmation of God’s promises and petition. It is important to state that a prayer that aims at transformation should be fashioned along this line. The content of Nehemiah’s prayer serves as a prayer model for contemporary Christians.

Nehemiah praised God (Ne 1:5)

Nehemiah adored God as the God of heaven who is great and awesome. He addressed God as the one who keeps the covenant of love with those who love God and obey God’s promises. Indeed, the God that Nehemiah prayed to is the one true God, who is the ruler of heaven and earth. In prayer, we ought to remind ourselves that God deserves our worship and praise. Acknowledging the greatness and awesomeness of God should therefore be our foremost priority whenever we come to God in prayer. This model implies that our prayers should not just be in the form of making requests before God. Praising God is always appropriate before we ask something from God.

Nehemiah confessed sins (Ne 1:7)

The second element of Nehemiah’s prayer was the confession of sins, not just his own sins but also, that of the sins of his people, Israel. For this motive, Nehemiah repeatedly used the plural personal pronoun “we.” This effort implies that Nehemiah was not only concerned about his sins, but he identified himself in the corporate sinfulness of his people.  For the corporate sins required corporate confession.

In this regard, Nehemiah confessed and acknowledged his own sins in addition to the sins of his family and the people of Israel. He openly admitted their corrupt conduct toward God. To him, they had not kept God’s commands, statutes, and ordinances as given through Moses. Although Christians are not under law but grace, yet we are called upon to confess when we sin (1 John 1:9).

Nehemiah recalled God’s promises (Neh 1:8-10)

Having prayed for forgiveness of sins, Nehemiah recalled God’s promises to return the people of Israel from captivity. God had told Israel that God would disperse them among the nations should they become unfaithful. However, if they repent and keep God’s promises, they would be brought back to their promised nation (Deuteronomy 4:25-31). To Nehemiah, his people had been unfaithful and as such were scattered. Nehemiah was hereby urging God to keep the second part of the promise, namely, to return the people when they repented and bless them again in the land.

Learning from this model of prayer, therefore, Christians are called upon to claim God’s promises in prayer. In prayers, we are to trust God to fulfil God’s holistic promises which are for our spiritual, social, material and emotional wellbeing. Most importantly, Christians are enjoined to know Scripture and pray according to Scripture.

Nehemiah petitioned God (Neh 1:11)

Nehemiah’s prayer concludes by asking God for help.  Some Christians begin their prayers here instead of first adoring God, confessing our sins and reminding God of God’s promises. From the perspective of Nehemiah, therefore, an adoration should precede supplication. In this model prayer, Nehemiah was not requesting on his own behalf.

It is important to pray for ourselves and the things that we need. However, remembering to pray for the needs of others especially God’s people should form an essential part of our prayer life. Nehemiah pointed out that he prayed specifically for favour before the king. He wanted God to bless and prosper him in his attempt to request something from the king. Among others, therefore, as Nehemiah did, we are to pray to God for the things that are profoundly important in life, especially for God’s blessings of our work for God. We are to pray for God’s strength, prosperity and blessings in our lives.

Conclusion and application

The content of Nehemiah’s prayer which involves adoration, confession, scriptural promises, and petitioning God should serve as our model prayer. Effective prayer for the total transformation of our lives and communities should contain these elements. It is important to remind ourselves that these elements could be related to the content of the Lord’s prayer as thought by our Lord Jesus Christ in Mathew 6:9-13. In analysing the Lord’s prayer, it is clear, the Lord Jesus taught us to adore God and thus hallow God’s name, confess our sins, affirm scripture and petitioned God who is addressed as our father in heaven. In this light, a Christian has prayed well if he has prayed through these models.

DEVELOPING VISION FOR TRANSFORMATION, REV DR JOHN KWASI FOSU

Studies on Nehemiah 1:1-4, 10

Introduction

Having studied the introductory material on the book of Nehemiah, this material begins our verse-by-verse studies of the book. The first chapter of the book gives a detailed account of how Nehemiah developed a passion to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Though in a foreign land, when Nehemiah heard about the situation of his homeland, he took appropriate steps to solve the problem.

Steps to developing a transformational vision

In developing a vision for transformation and particularly learning from the example of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 1 invites us, first to know who we are and determine to make impacts wherever we find ourselves. Nehemiah 1 invites us, second, to be abreast with the current state of affairs or information by asking questions, and third, to retreat in fasting and prayer thereby seeking divine strength. For relevant applications, these themes are studies together with contextually relevant applications.

  1. Nehemiah introduced (Nehemiah 1:1, 10) – Determine to make impacts wherever we are

The book of Nehemiah is introduced in Nehemiah 1:1 as the words of Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah. This description could mean, either he wrote the book, or that the story records his life and words but someone else actually recorded it.

Not much is known about Nehemiah apart from what is written in this book. The name Nehemiah means the Lord comforts. Nothing is known about his father Hachaliah. Nehemiah was identified as an important person in many ways. He had the strategic responsibility of being the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11). The Persian king readily made him governor of Judea (10:1). Thus, just like Daniel and Esther, he was a Jew who became prominent in the diaspora. He was in the citadel of Susa.

Relevant implications

Studying Nehemiah’s background identifies two implications. First, not much is known about Nehemiah’s background. However, in looking at his father’s name, it is most probable that Nehemiah did not hail from a prominent family. In developing a vision for transformation, it is important to remind ourselves that what matters most is where God is leading us and not where we are coming from. God is always interested in our availability and not our qualifications. Most importantly God qualifies the called.

Second, being a cupbearer in a nation of his captivity implies that he was loved by the people and he knew what it is to survive in a diaspora. It is most probable that he passed the challenging test of integration.

2. Desire to see God’s work and God’s people prosper – Ask questions to develop a vision

While in a diaspora, Nehemiah received a visit from one of his brothers, Hanani and other men who came from Judah with him. Nehemiah demonstrated his concern by asking these men about the welfare of the Jews who had returned from captivity to Jerusalem. Answering this question led to a discussion that informed Nehemiah about the problems in Judah, which in turn introduces the theme of the book. The visitors told Nehemiah that the remnants of the people in Jerusalem were facing severe problems and so they were in distress and reproach. The wall of the city of Jerusalem was broken down and the gates burned with fire.

The Babylonians had done this when they overthrew the city (2 Kings 25:8-10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Jeremiah 52:12-14). Ancient cities needed walls for protection from enemies. A city with a broken wall, therefore, symbolized a city in defeat and desolation (Nehemiah 2:17). It was this information that deeply grieved Nehemiah and thus saw it to be an opportune time of restoration and rebuilding the nation.

Relevant implications

Forming an essential part of our desire to see God’s work and people prosper is asking questions and being abreast with what is happening today.  Many problems confront God’s people in contemporary times namely worldliness, neglect of God’s work, increasing rates of divorce and remarriage, perversion of church organization and work, immoral entertainment, humanism, family problems, lack of dedicated leaders, profanity, smoking, alcoholism and negligence in spreading the gospel. Whereas some of God’s people are doing well to solve some of these problems, others have their walls completely broken down and the gates have been burned. In this light, asking questions and being informed serve as our creative attempt to develop visions for transformation.

3. Seek divine strength through repentance, fasting and prayer – Draw strength from God

Upon hearing the condition of God’s people, Nehemiah wept and mourned, fasted, and prayed to God. He did that for “many days,” and not just a few minutes. It is important to emphasize here that fasting was Nehemiah’s means of expressing sorrow and grief, associated with a prayer to God (Cf. Ezra 8:21; 9:3ff; 10:1ff).

Relevant implications

There is one thing knowing about a problem and there is another thing showing deep concern thereby seeking to help the situation. This is demonstrated through prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting are ways of going to God for strength and help. Grieving and complaining over a situation does not solve the problem unless one goes further in taking appropriate steps to overcome the problems.

Conclusion

God has a plan for us. Developing transformative vision serves as the starting point of walking in God’s design for our lives. Reading Nehemiah 1:1-4 informs us of the need to make impacts wherever we are, develop Godward vision and take appropriate steps to solve problems we encounter. In all these, Nehemiah made prayer and fasting his utmost priority to draw strength to carry out his vision.

Overview and outline of the book of Nehemiah, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This material looks at the general overview of the book of Nehemiah. By so doing, the general features that include the major characters, key words and division of the book. It is anticipated that this background study will enable us get a balance perspective.

Significant features

The book of Nehemiah covers a period of about 12 years from 445 – 433 BC (1:1 and 13:6).  The key words and important emphasis are political and spiritual restoration.  Nehemiah 1:4 – 11, 2:17, 5:14, and 6:15 constitute key verses of the book.  Key characters are Nehemiah, Artaxerxes, and Ezra.  Chapter 6 is the key chapter.  It is about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. 

Divisions of Nehemiah

A basic outline divides the book of Nehemiah in 2 parts. First is the reconstruction of the walls, chapters 1 – 7.  Second is the Nehemiah chapters 8 – 13. These chapters have to do with the restoration of the people.

Overview 

The walls of Jerusalem were almost rebuilt after 464 BC when Artaxerxes the 1st began his rule in Persia.  Then, Nehemiah heard that opposition led to their 2nd destruction and he felt intense sorrow (1:3 – 4).  Hearing the situation, Nehemiah spent 4 months in prayer.  Since no one was to be sad in the king’s presence, Nehemiah was afraid when the king noted his sadness (2:1 – 2).  However, this provided an opportunity to request a leave of absence from the king’s service in order to go to Jerusalem.  Nehemiah was given permission to go and was given access to building materials for the project.

The people at Jerusalem shared Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls.  In chapters 4 – 6, opposition arose from the enemies on the outside and from certain Jews on the inside.  Being a man of prayer and wisdom, Nehemiah led the people through the difficult days.  In only 52 days of work, the walls of Jerusalem were completed (6:15).  There was still much work necessary in strengthening the walls and in rebuilding the city itself.  Nehemiah organized the city and a militia to defend it.    

It is a mistake to think that Nehemiah was only interested in a physical restoration of the nation.  In Nehemiah  8:1 – 18, we see that he was deeply committed to teaching the nation to live according to the Law of God.  Ezra read from the Law (the Scriptures) and explained its meaning to the thousands who gathered.  Genuine revival occurred based on the Word of God.  Genuine revival brings about changed behavior.  These chapters record not only the confession of sin (9:2 – 3) but also a change in living (10:30 – 39).

When Nehemiah left Jerusalem, much of his influence also left.  During his absence, certain sins were tolerated in national life.  Nehemiah returned 12 years later (13:7 – 11, 23 – 25) and he dealt with the offenders.  With the reforms of Nehemiah, the Old Testament closes.  After this, there is no inspired record for over 400 years.  The next Word from God will be the angel Gabriel announcing the coming birth of John the Baptist.  The book of Nehemiah closes the history of the nation of Israel.

Conclusion

In many ways, the time of Ezra and Nehemiah could be related to ours. God’s people had been in disobedience, which led to the Babylonian captivity. For some leaders had begun the work of restoring the people to God’s service. However, there were still many problems and the people continued to fall into sin. The ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah were to provide transformational leadership to continue the restoration and to challenge the people to spiritual faithfulness.

Essential themes in the book of Nehemiah, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

In our previous studies, we learnt that the book of Nehemiah was written to show the work of God through a godly leader, Nehemiah.  This study material aims at highlighting some essential themes one encounters upon reading Nehemiah. Among others, these themes include leadership, vision, prayer, resilience and spiritual warfare, and spiritual renewal. It is important to first study these themes in the book of Nehemiah to gain a detailed perspective on the entire book.  

Leadership

Leadership is the first and most important theme to discover upon reading the book of Nehemiah. For Nehemiah demonstrated excellent leadership. Nehemiah was ready to obey God’s call to lead.  Some successful leadership traits identified in the book of Nehemiah includes careful planning, teamwork, problem solving, and courage to get the work done (Nehemiah 2:11-21). Nehemiah, therefore, combined tremendous faith with hard work needed for good leadership. He demonstrates what it means to be a godly leader. Leadership is not just about gaining recognition and holding a position of power. It is about assuming responsibility that demands planning, hard work, courage, and perseverance.

Vision

The theme of developing godly vision and for thus accomplishing it comes out clearly as we read Nehemiah. Although the early Jewish returnees had completed the Temple in 515 B.C., yet the city walls were broken. Among other things these walls were significant in that they represented power, protection, and beauty to the city of Jerusalem. The walls were also needed to protect the Temple from attack and thus for continuous worship. As Nehemiah heard about the condition of the wall, God put the desire to rebuild the walls in his heart, giving him a vision for the work (Nehemiah 2:17-21). Reading Nehemiah should therefore, orient us to ask, are there broken “walls” in our societies and churches that need to be built today? Visions are borne out of the recognition of deep needs around us and in our world.

Prayer  

Prayer can transform people and societies. Reading the book Nehemiah reveals that as Nehemiah was called by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he prayed for forgiveness, favour, strength, wisdom and for protection. Nehemiah presented everything to God in prayer as a way of responding to problems (Nehemiah 4:4,9; 5:19; 6:14). In this perspective, prayer serves as God’s mighty force in solving problems today. The example of Nehemiah reveals that prayer and action go hand in hand. For that reason, prayer serves as a means in which God guides our preparations for achieving our goals, teamwork, and hard work.

Resilience and strategic warfare

The book of Nehemiah reveals how leaders and for that matter all seeking transformation are to resist oppositions and to behave in difficult times. Having begun the work, Nehemiah encountered opposition in the form of scorn, slander, and threats from enemies. He was also confronted by fear, conflict, and discouragement from his own workers. Yet these problems did not stop Nehemiah from completing the work. To accomplish any difficult task, one must be ready to overcome difficulties. For there are no victory without troubles and no testimony without growing through test. Demonstrating resilience means that we are to face difficulties squarely and press on to finish the task.

Spiritual renewal

To Nehemiah, rebuilding the wall was not complete until the spiritual lives of the people were rebuilt. For this reason, Ezra instructed the people in God’s Word so they could recognize the sin in their lives and thus took steps to deal with it (Nehemiah 8:1-12). It is not enough for one to admit his or her sin. Instead, spiritual renewal must result in transformative lives. God requires our complete devotion of heart and minds (Nehemiah 13:14, 22, 29, 31). In other words, God wants to be in the center of our hearts.

Reflections and Conclusion

Reflecting through the themes in the book of Nehemiah as presented in this material, the idea of what it means to lead comes to mind. In this case, Nehemiah demonstrates what it means to combine zealous human efforts through detailed planning and hard work with God’s divine empowering and wisdom. For Nehemiah intermittently affirmed the hand of God upon his life for the task ahead of him. Notwithstanding, he assumed his human responsibility of careful planning, hard work and resisting the enemy. Worth noting here is that these themes, as surveyed, are essential aids in our journey of transformation.

Introducing the book of Nehemiah: Inspired to transform lives and communities, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg welcomes you to 2021, especially as we embark on the theme of divine transformation. In this year, it is anticipated that the members of the church will be strengthened in their hearts, minds, emotions and actions to the transformation God wants us to be. In the light of this theme and for our weekly bible studies we seek to study the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. In addition to surveying the content of the book, we will explore its major themes such as prayer, leadership, hard work and discipline, vision and planning and provision of God.

The main purpose of this lesson material is to look at the general overview of the book through surveying its background information such as its authorship and date, purpose and historical background. Most importantly, these studies would be looked at from the perspective of lives and communities.

Historical background of Nehemiah

Under King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took most of the inhabitants into Exile in 586 BC. In 2 Kings 24:14, King Nebuchadnezzar, “… carried all Jerusalem into exile: all the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans—a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.” Gloomy as it was, God promised them future restoration. For inherent within the nature of God is that God gives hope to God’s people in that God does not abandon them nor leave them without hope (Jeremiah 29:11-14).

In the light of God’s restoration plan, in 539 BC the Persians and Medes, led by Cyrus the Great, defeated the Babylonians and ended the Exile. In the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah, God’s people returned to the Land of Promise in three distinct groups in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The first was under the leadership of Zerubbabel. In this group, the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and restore the sacrificial system (Ezra 1-6). Under the second group, led by the scribe Ezra, the people returned to Jerusalem to start a spiritual and social renewal among God’s people. Ezra purposed to rebuild the religious life of the community by teaching them the Torah (Ezra 7-10). Nehemiah was called by God to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city (Nehemiah 1-6) under the third wave of the returnees. Along with the scribe Ezra, Nehemiah, they rebuilt the spiritual life of God’s people (Nehemiah 7-13).

The Author and date of the book of Nehemiah

Some scholars have claimed that the inspired writer of the book was Ezra because Ezra and Nehemiah as Old Testament books were historically put together (as evidenced in the Septuagint and Vulgate). However, as the title of the name of the book suggests, it is most probable that Nehemiah is the author of this book (1:1).  Further, the fact that the first-person pronoun, I was predominantly used in the book supports Nehemiah’s authorship.

Who then was this Nehemiah?

The name Nehemiah means the Lord comforts. Reading the book of Nehemiah shows that Nehemiah was found serving in Susa, the winter residence of the Persian kings. Though Nehemiah is an Israelite, he served in a position of great trust and responsibility. In Nehemiah 1:11c, we read that Nehemiah serves as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. His job is to ensure that the king’s wine is not poisoned, but safe to drink. In this case, Nehemiah had full access to the king. Upon learning that the walls of Jerusalem are broken down and that God’s people are vulnerable, Nehemiah asks and receives permission from King Artaxerxes to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city. The cupbearer to the king then became a builder of the wall, and in the process, rebuilds God’s people into a nation. What a great life of transformation!

Obvious in the book of Nehemiah is the beautiful balance in the life of Nehemiah.  He balanced a zealous human effort and detailed planning with God’s divine empowering.  Living and ministering with Nehemiah during this same period was Ezra.  Besides, Malachi preached during this time. 

Date of the book of Nehemiah

The date of writing would be around 440 – 423 BC during the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. 

Purpose of the book of Nehemiah

The book was written to show the work of God through a godly leader, Nehemiah.  Nehemiah leads the 3rd and last group of exiles back to their homeland.  The book records the building, fortifying, and re-establishing of the city of Jerusalem and its people. 

Conclusion and application

This record of events in the book of Nehemiah demonstrates that one person can accomplish much when he/she is empowered, encouraged, and called by God. Reading Nehemiah as diaspora Christians should challenge and orient us to the task of returning to our homelands, if in persons are not possible, then in terms of mobilizing resources for building our homelands. Hopefully, studying the book of Nehemiah will lend us the needed support and insight for developing vision and leadership, and inspiring confidence to transform lives and communities.

Glories of humble beginnings, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Humble beginnings characterise people God uses. In other words, preparations in the wilderness precede great ministries. It is said that a journey of thousand miles begins with a step. All the exciting things you see today have their beginning smaller than the end.  This means that you must have a starting point in everything that you intend to achieve in life. There are references in the Bible. David started as a shepherd, but he became a king at the end of his life. Joseph started as a slave in Potiphar’s house but later became a prime minister of Egypt. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ had a humble beginning of being born in a manger. This study looks at the lives of Moses, David, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ with particular attention to their humble beginnings.

Moses

Like the birth of Jesus, the circumstance surrounding Moses’ birth was that of danger. Being prevented from childhood death, baby Moses was left to float alone in the river. As preparation for his ministry, Moses spent 40 years in Egypt to learn the ways of the world, the flesh and the Devil. Afterward, Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness before his ministry began (Exodus 3:1). In the wilderness, Moses had to learn the truth that walking with God was more valuable, precious, and rewarding than anything that the world and the Devil could offer (Heb.11:26). As Moses kept the sheep he learned the ways of God.

David

David is another person who had a humble beginning. Being the youngest among his brothers, David was left to tend sheep and so learned the lessons of faith while keeping sheep. His concern for his beloved sheep, enabled him, through the Name and power of God, to kill the lion and the bear that threatened to kill his sheep. Most probably, David’s devotion to his sheep caused God to refer to him as “David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart.” David’s father, Jesse did not even think that David should be present when Samuel asked him to bring his sons before him. For he had left him outside looking after the sheep (1 Sam16:1-13). Even Samuel, who was a godly and wise prophet, initially thought that Eliab was God’s choice, until God revealed Eliab’s heart to Samuel, and showed that the uninvited and despised boy David was God’s choice. David also spent many years in the wilderness, being pursued by Saul (1 Samuel 23:14, 24).

John the Baptist

The life of John the Baptist is summarized in Luke 1:80: John the Baptist grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. The wilderness in this part of the world of John the Baptist was hot, dry, lonely and harsh. This suggests that John the Baptist had lonely and difficult beginnings. Waiting in the wilderness is more difficult than the stress of work and the pain of persecution.  

Jesus

Reading about the birth of Jesus in the gospels, the humble beginnings of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ becomes clear. For the baby Jesus, who would one day become a Man of miracles, teaching, and compassion began life in a manger. In the wisdom of God, God chose this stable in Bethlehem to be the birthplace. Most probably, God chose such a place to demonstrate to us the value of coming to God in humility. God could have chosen anywhere for Jesus to be born. Jesus, the King, was born in a manger and thus became vulnerable like every other human being. Jesus was born to parents who were looked down upon by many people. Before the commencement of His ministry, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert (Matthew 4:1-2).

Conclusion

Reflecting on the humble beginning of our Lord and Master Jesus, it could be said, therefore, that no matter how small your beginning maybe, you have a promise of a better future. You are therefore encouraged to recognize the value of small beginnings. Start with what you have and like Jesus, Moses and David, despise not small beginnings. Instead, despise the shame of small beginnings. Have you ever had a “wilderness” experience characterized by a period of loneliness and struggle? If yes, it is most probable that God may be preparing you to be one of his significant leaders.

Prophecies concerning Christ’s birth, Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

One of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ has to do with the manner of His birth as foretold in the Old Testament. This write-up therefore briefly looks at the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ’s birth. It shows that Jesus indeed fulfills the prophecies about the coming messiah. Thus, the prophecies concerning Christ’s lineage and birth is therefore presented in this material.

Prophecies Concerning Christ’s Lineage

Virgin Birth

Genesis 3:15 is biblically known as the protevangelium because it is the first prophecy (good news) about Christ. There will be enmity between Satan and Messiah, here identified by the phrase, “her seed.” The phrase “her seed” concerns Mary alone and points to the virgin birth since the Messiah is born of Mary alone. Matthew 1:16 also emphasizes this in the phrase “By whom” (GK. hes), a feminine relative pronoun, emphasizing Jesus was born without Joseph’s participation or sexual influence.

Line of  Abraham

In Genesis 12:2, God promised Abraham, “I will make your name great,” suggesting that the Messiah would come from the posterity of Abraham and that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Matthew 1:1 and Galatians 3:16 interpret this promise (Genesis 13:15) as being fulfilled in Christ.

Line of  Isaac and  Jacob

It was through the descendants of Isaac that God would establish his covenant and institute his blessings (Gen 17:19). The line of Messianic blessings narrows further in that the blessing will not flow through Ishmael, but rather through Jacob (Gen 25:23; 28:13). Numbers 24:17 stresses a ruler (“scepter”) will come through the descendant of Jacob who will crush the enemy and have “dominion” (v. 19; cf Romans 9:10-13).

Line of  Judah

Genesis 49:10 affirms that the Messiah (as King) will come from the tribe of Judah. Messiah, of the tribe of Judah will possess the “scepter.” The king held the scepter in his hand when speaking in Public assemblies; and when he sat upon his throne he rested it between his feet, inclining towards himself. This verse also explains that Judah will sustain a lineage “until Shiloh comes.” Shiloh is variously interpreted: as a title of Messiah meaning “Man of rest;” of Messiah as a pacifier, peacemaker.” Messiah will be a man of peace. The phrase “until Shiloh comes” may be translated “Until He comes to whom it belongs.” And to Him shall be the world in the millennial kingdom.

Line of  David

Messiah will be a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). In this promise to David (v. 16), the Lord indicated his descendant (the Messiah) would have an everlasting dynasty. (“house”); He would rule  (“throne”) over people (“kingdom”), and His rule would be eternal.” Psalm 89 expands this promise.

Prophecies Concerning Christ’s Birth

The Manner of Christ’s Birth

Isaiah 7:14 promised a sign to the unbelieving King Ahaz. The prophecy was that a virgin would bear a son who would be called Immanuel – God with us.In all seven occurrences in the Old Testament, the term “virgin” Hebrew almah never refers to a maiden who has lost her virginity. The passage has both a near and far fulfilment: in the immediate future, it was fulfilled in the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:3), and in the distant future it was fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. See Matthew 1:23 for a commentary on this verse.

The Place of Christ’s Birth

Micah 5:2 identifies the birthplace of Christ as Bethlehem, a small town, too insignificant to be listed among the towns of Judah (Josh 15:60), distinguished from Zebulun (Joshua 19:15). See Matthew 2:6 for the commentary on this verse.

Conclusion

This study about the prophecies concerning Christ’s birth in the Old Testament has demonstrated that Christ is indeed the subject of the Old Testament although not in the same exclusiveness as we find in the New Testament. As part of our preparation for Christmas, it is important to remind ourselves that Christ is the long-awaited Messiah and thus qualifies to be our Lord and saviour. Worshipping Christ in this Christmas season should therefore occupy our topmost priority.