The Generosity of Nehemiah
I believe the world is hurting. One way that I think we can show our hurting world the loving God we serve is through our generosity. The world deeply longs to see more cheerful and generous givers, so I want to write about generosity today from the Old Testament. I want to show you Nehemiah, an ancient picture of generosity that still applies to us today.
Nehemiah 5:14-19 says:
“Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people.
But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations.
Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.”
We see from this passage that there are three aspects to Nehemiah’s generosity:
First, we notice Nehemiah’s position. As the governor, Nehemiah would have seen the problems of the people and all of the issues that were going on, but he also would have enjoyed some really nice things.
He tells us they actually had an allowance for the governor that he could take advantage of to entertain the many guests who come into the city, and he chose not to use it, which is kind of amazing. If you work at a company that gives you an allowance to take clients to lunch, you use it. Most everybody does. He chooses not to use it.
His example of generosity starts with the way he views his position. From that position, Nehemiah can hear the cries of the people. When compassion interrupts, you let it. You let it interrupt. Nehemiah does. He sees the reality of the injustice. Nehemiah knew the injustice that was going on in Judah was one that should not be ignored. Nehemiah knew what was at stake if he chose not to let compassion interrupt his great plan.
Nehemiah knew what was at stake, so he stopped. Position matters. God gave Nehemiah that position, and he chooses to use that position of privilege to do something about injustice. He allows his heart to be moved by compassion and, rather than building his own empire, he was a good steward of the position that was given to him and entrusted to him. He never forgot God’s number one priority is the people. God’s priority is always the people, not the stuff and not the things of this world.
Generosity starts with position, and I’m convinced we are all in the position to be generous.
What position has God appointed you to? What rights do you have? How can you use that position, whatever it is, to give generously to others and reveal God’s nature to our world?
Second, we see that Nehemiah’s motives were an aspect of his generosity. One of his motives is reverence for God. Verse 15 says: “But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.”
As the governor of Judah, Nehemiah was entitled to land. He could have easily taken a percentage of the grain, a percentage of the income.
But Nehemiah was counter-cultural, because he saw God first. When God is first in our lives, everything changes, and it did for Nehemiah, and we have the strength to do boldly generous things also.
Nehemiah was also motivated by his sense of justice and compassion for others. In verse 17, it says, “Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table…” He was generous with what he had, and kind to others.
When we give out of whatever capacity we can, our heart grows. It grows in generosity, faith and understanding of who God is. We begin to look and act more and more like Jesus.
What are the injustices in the world that are hardest for you to ignore? Which injustices drive you to change the channel or change the conversation or tune out because they’re too hard? Lean into that discomfort. Don’t become numb to the injustice of the world, but ask God to give you a generous heart toward it.
Third, Nehemiah knew where his reward was coming from as he gave generously. Look in verse 19. “Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.” This part of Nehemiah’s generosity could easily be misunderstood, but what Nehemiah is actually saying is, he trusts his reward comes from God.
He’s not saying, “Look at me! I am sinless. Look at me and how wonderful I am!” Rather, he’s claiming everything he did, he did it with good faith and with good motives, and he showed a confidence that God would be the judge of that.
Nehemiah was willing to let go of the rewards that come from the world, and he chose instead simply to look to God to reward him.
Nehemiah teaches us a lot about generosity, doesn’t it? It starts with the position we hold, and we’re all in the position to be generous at some level, because we’ve been given much. We have our life, which means we have time. Our time is a great gift we can give others. Our position, our ability, our talents, our treasures, and all of the things we have are places from which we can be generous, and our generosity is motivated by God’s love for us in his generosity he has for us and his desire for us to love others.
Our generosity, as Nehemiah teaches us, is not rewarded by the world or even by ourselves. It’s rewarded by God himself in his way and in his timing.
Think about your motives, position and your belief in God. How can your faith inform your generosity and show the love of Jesus to our world this week? What can you learn from Nehemiah’s generous example?