In Nehemiah chapter 5, Nehemiah learns that the returned exiles are being taken advantage of by their own people.The people mortgaged their fields, vineyards and homes to get food to eat. They borrowed money against their fields and vineyards to pay their taxes. They were forced to sell their sons and daughters into slavery in order to service there debt, because “other men have [their] fields and vineyards” (v. 5). Nehemiah accused the officials of oppressing the people for their own gain and demanded an end to the exacting of interest (a practice explicitly forbidden in Deut 23:19-20). “Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them,” Nehemiah commanded (v. 11). He made them swear an oath under threat of judgement from God (v 13), and the people agreed.
Nehemiah then leads by example in modeling generosity. Rather than taking the food allowance that were his right as governor of Judea, he forsook his rights; he did not take his daily ration of forty shekels of silver, as the previous governors had. He and his servants did not lord their position over the people, but worked with them on the rebuilding of the wall, and accumulated for themselves no land. He even hosted large dinner parties at his home nightly for in excess of 150 people, with all food provided at his own expense.
What do we learn from this chapter? We learn how we ought to treat others— we learn the importance of true generosity.
I have a couple of practical examples:
My wife and I run a graphic design business and we deal with a variety of different types of clients on a regular basis. We have some really great clients—and have had some really lousy ones. A while back, we made a decision that, as a general rule, we would not work with Christian businesses or individuals. Why? Because they have historically been our worst clients (outside of biological family). Many expect free work, deep discounts, or, even when they agree to a quote, have either grumbled about the price after the work was done or simply not paid at all(!)
We need to understand that when it’s known that we are Christians, especially in business, we must be above reproach. That we means pay our bills promptly. Don’t wait for day 29 of your net 30 term. We never go back on our word—we are to say what we mean, and mean what we say. And we are to never take advantage of our Christian brother or sister; we don’t grumble about how much prices or demand a deal just because we go to the same church. As business owners, we are to never gouge our clients. We don’t overestimate our work or have a higher mark-up than is reasonable (I’m looking at you, Christian bookstores); charge fairly and appropriately. Remember, too, that if a client genuinely has financial difficulties, give grace to that client. Do not be like the unforgiving servant of Matthew 18:21-35. Don’t be a doormat, but do be graceful and forgive debts as necessary. Money is never worth the damage to a relationship that comes from being heartless.
Next example: You’re at a restaurant on a Sunday after church. You’ve prayed over your meal, had a good conversation with your friends and/or spouse about the sermon you’ve just heard and you’re about to pay. You’re looking at your bill, and trying to decide how much to tip. The service wasn’t all that great; the server brought you fried eggs instead of scrambled and your toast was a little darker than you’d prefer. Oh, and the coffee was terrible.
How much do you tip? Think carefully.
Do you have an answer? That’s right, tip generously!
How we tip says a lot about our character. Do we love money more than people? Do we appreciate the gift that God has given us that we were not merely undeserving of, but ill-deserving? Our servers are deserving of the same grace and generosity that Jesus has showered us with and a practical way to do that is to tip well, regardless of how great the service was, especially if it’s known that you’re a Christian.
We need to remember that our reputation matters; how people see us is how they see Jesus.
So, here’s the big question: how do people see you today?
How do they see Jesus?
Something to think about today.
The artwork above comes from Justin Gerard’s Nehemiah and the Wall. Visit 12stoneart.com to download a free wallpaper based on this artwork or purchase a print.