One of the obstacles to the faithful and fruitful spread of the gospel must no doubt be the sin of lying. Erik Raymond from The Gospel Coalition writes, “Gossip is the RPG that blasts holes in the fabric of the church.”
Both the individual Christian and local churches are at times at the receiving end of such destructive missiles. At such times, it is helpful to remember a similar struggle that Nehemiah faced. I write in the hope that these truths will encourage you.
Lies and gossip are not new threats that the church has to face, but they are still just as damning and destructive if our hearts and eyes are not fixed on the sure Word. Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
I am convinced that the end goal of all lies is to make us afraid and to doubt and waver in our faith. Fear can paralyse us, make us useless, and cause us to sin, just like it did to Gideon hiding away in a winepress. What we believe is inevitably what we will act on. Our belief always affects our behaviour.
Roughly 2,460 years ago, Nehemiah faced the same strategy of Satan. The infamous Sanballat and Tobiah were spreading malicious gossip and lies in an attempt to stop the work of the Lord. Their threats against the Israelites to stop building the walls of Jerusalem backfired and instead motivated the children of God to work harder and faster. Nehemiah’s wise counsel to the Jews was simply, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome.” In spite of their threats, the good work advanced. The enemy had tried mockery and failed. They had attempted force, but learned, to their dismay, that the Israelites were ready to resist to blood in order to complete the work of the Lord. So when these strategies failed, Sanballat and Tobiah turned to deception, lies and gossip. The enemies of God called Nehemiah to a meeting in a village with intentions of killing him. But Nehemiah recognised the deceptive plot and answered them in this manner, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3).
After four further invitations were denied, Sanballat sent an open letter to Nehemiah. Nehemiah 6:5, tells us specifically this was an “open” letter. Official letters were normally sealed so people could not read their contents. Obviously, Sanballat wanted people to read this letter while en route so that gossip would spread. This was the beginning of the smear campaign. Not much has changed in our modern age.
With “open letters” posted on Facebook and other social media, lies and malicious slander are often published with the same evil intent. It may be new technology, but it is the same strategy of Satan.
Sanballat’s intentions where to create fear and distrust among the Jews as all gossip and lies are designed to do. His accusations against Nehemiah were clearly false and malicious, accusing one of the godliest men alive at that time of selfish ambition and rebellion.
Nehemiah’s response is recorded in v. 8, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” The enemies of Nehemiah continued their malicious course. After realising they could not entice him to the village, they hired a corrupt, false prophet to offer him safety in the walls of the temple so they could kill him in the sanctuary of Jehovah (so much could be said about that!). Nehemiah’s God-given wisdom teaches us an inspired lesson in v. 13: “For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin” (cf. vv. 14, 19).
Nehemiah made the connection between lies, fear and sin. Fear causes us to behave in such a way that we forget the promises of God and, rather than trusting His character, sin. The Westminster Confession says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I think the chief end of Satan is to cause us to sin by being fearful because of his lies. The apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:7–8, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord … but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” Paul explains the serious threat that fear is to the gospel itself. Nehemiah refused to believe the lies that Satan was propagating and believed the promises of God. Instead of being fearful he became fruitful in his work for the Lord.
Our mission is not to build physical walls but to be involved in the Great Commission by building the kingdom of God. Lies and gossip are tools the devil uses to make us afraid so that we will come down from the walls and hinder the work of making disciples.
As one commentator said, “Shame is the child of doubt as well as the child of fear!” Fear will always keep us hiding away in the darkness of winepresses instead of shining our lights on a hill for the world to see the glory of God. Let’s never forget that Christ is not just a teacher but the Saviour! How will lost sinners come to the Saviour unless someone tells them about Him? Our fears cripple us and shame us as we live with regrets of not taking opportunities God has given us to share Christ with others at school, work or home. But more than that, they rob God of all the glory that He deserves.
Think about the last time you were too afraid to share the gospel of the one who took you out of darkness into His marvellous light. If we believe lies and fear man, and what man will think of us for declaring the praises of the living God, we hinder the work of the gospel.
Satan does not care what we believe as long as it is not the truth. Let’s resolve to fear God, worship Him alone who is truth, and not believe the lies of the devil and thereby sin against God. Let’s not be distracted from the task the Lord has given us by believing lies. As John Piper urges, don’t waste your life. For the sake of the gospel, let us fix on the sure Word, rise above all obstructions and overcome every trial. God’s cause (the Great Commission) will triumph. Let us take to heart the words of the apostle, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).