What does it mean to you to serve the Lord? If you were to write out a covenant describing a life that is fully committed to the Lord, what would you include? Today’s read of Nehemiah 8-10 provides a practical template for our own obligations as God’s people. The Israelites come together and sign a covenant as to how they will live, now that God has restored them to the land.
What prompts this covenant? As the people gathered, they looked around at the beautiful new walls, the sturdy, protective gates, and the temple, and realized that God had kept His promises to them, but they had failed in their responsibilities. Something was missing. They had forgotten how to live as God’s people, so they asked Ezra to bring out the book of the Law and remind them. They knew that if their hearts were still far from God, the city would never truly be restored to a place where God’s name and glory dwelled. They wanted more than beautiful buildings. They wanted the presence of God back in their lives.
Ezra would have read from the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. All the laws and statutes and commands and decrees. All the descriptions of sin offerings, burnt offerings, guilt offerings. All the rules about purification and holiness. The ten commandments. This is what the people would have heard that caused them to fall on their knees in repentance, and then stand and worship God as a community. And these are the words that would have prompted a written and signed covenant to testify of their desire to truly be God’s obedient people.
While we no longer are obligated to offer sacrifices (because Jesus was the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world), I see six principles in their covenant that we also should hold fast to in our relationship and commitment to our Savior.
1. A commitment to obey God’s Word. The New Testament alone is filled with instructions on how a Christ-follower is to live.
2. A commitment to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, whether in marriage, business or any other covenant. God knows our hearts are easily drawn away and desires to protect us.
3. A commitment to honor the Sabbath. God’s original plan of working six days and resting on the seventh began in the Garden of Eden and is still valid for us today. How different our lives would be if we truly celebrated a Sabbath spirit of rest of worship every week.
4. A commitment to make confession and repentance of sin a priority in our lives. While the cross lifted the penalty and power of sin, we still live in its presence in fallen, human flesh. When we sin, we should respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and desire to live in close fellowship with the Lord.
5. A commitment to live generously and forgive our debtors. Jesus elevated forgiveness not just to those who owe us money, but to those who have wronged us. We should hold our material possessions loosely, being willing to give and share out of our blessings, both spiritually and physically.
6. A commitment to make the house of the Lord a priority, refusing to neglect it. Corporate worship was central to the life of the Jews. The church is dear to God’s heart and every Christ-follower should be part of a local congregation, where they can truly grow as a disciple, and fulfill our mission as disciple-makers.
Are you a Christ-follower? How’s your covenant with God? God has always kept His promises to us. Should we not also keep our commitment to live with devoted hearts and a willing mind to obey all that He asks?