The book of Nehemiah in the Bible serves as a great metaphor for living the spiritual life. In the book, the Temple represents our heart (where God meets with us); the city of Jerusalem represents our mind; the walls of the city represent our spiritual walls and the health of our relationship with Christ, and the gates of the city represent our eyes, ears and mouth.
Nehemiah built the city walls and installed the gates to protect the city and the temple. Walls keep bad stuff or bad people out. Gates allow good stuff and good people in. But sometimes, the gates allowed bad stuff and bad people in. It’s not what the gates were designed for, but it happened because those in charge of the gates weren’t guarding them like they should.
The Book of Nehemiah, one of the history books of the Bible, continues the story of Israel’s return from the Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah was a Hebrew in Persia when the word reached him that the Temple in Jerusalem was being reconstructed. He grew anxious knowing there was no wall to protect the city. Nehemiah invited God to use him to save the city. God answered his prayer by softening the heart of the Persian king, Artaxerxes, who gave not only his blessing, but also supplies to be used in the project. Nehemiah is given permission by the king to return to Jerusalem, where he is made governor.
In spite of opposition and accusations the wall was built and the enemies silenced. The people, inspired by Nehemiah, give tithes of much money, supplies and manpower to complete the wall in a remarkable 52 days, despite much opposition. This united effort is short-lived, however, because Jerusalem falls back into apostasy when Nehemiah leaves for a while. After 12 years he returned to find the walls strong but the people weak. He set about the task of teaching the people morality and he didn’t mince words. “I argued with those people, put curses on them, hit some of them and pulled out their hair” (13:25). He reestablishes true worship through prayer and by encouraging the people to revival by reading and adhering to the Word of God.
Nehemiah led the Israelites into a respect and love for the text of Scripture. Nehemiah, because of his love for God and his desire to see God honored and glorified, led the Israelites towards the faith and obedience God had desired for them for so long. In the same way, Christians are to love and revere the truths of Scripture, commit them to memory, meditate on them day and night, and turn to them for the fulfillment of every spiritual need. Second Timothy 3:16tells us, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” If we expect to experience the spiritual revival of the Israelites (Nehemiah 8:1-8), we must begin with God’s Word.
Each of us ought to have genuine compassion for others who have spiritual or physical hurts. To feel compassion, yet do nothing to help, is unfounded biblically. At times we may have to give up our own comfort in order to minister properly to others. We must totally believe in a cause before we will give our time or money to it with the right heart. When we allow God to minister through us, even unbelievers will know it is God’s work.
Apply the metaphor to our spiritual lives. We build our spiritual walls each day as we engage in spiritual disciplines (reading the Bible, praying, obeying God…). We put a lot of work into building those walls, because we want to do our best to follow the Lord. But there’s a problem. Sometimes, we don’t do a very good job of guarding our gates (our eyes and our ears). We allow bad stuff to come into our city (our mind), and give it access to our temple (our heart). All the hard work we put into building our walls is now compromised, because we didn’t guard our gates.
Genesis 4:7(HCSB) 7 If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
The Enemy will get into our hearts and minds any way he can. If we’ve built strong spiritual walls with no gaps in them, he’s going to attack us at our gates. We need to be as diligent about guarding our gates as we are about wall-building. So, the question is, are we?
I think we underestimate the power of media in our lives. Not just “the media,” though I’m including them. I’m talking about all the types of media that we watch or listen to in a given day or week. Music, television, magazines, newspapers, email, advertisements, gossip… We let that stuff into our brains! Are we being selective enough?
We shouldn’t be naive about this. There is programming going on. When we open our eye-gates and our ear-gates to the media around us, it gets into our brains. If enough gets in, it will make its way to our hearts. That’s okay if we are only opening our gates to God-honoring messages. Program away! It will help us walk straighter. But most of us are not guarding the gates carefully enough, and bit by bit, we are filling our minds with things that don’t honor God.
When I teach kids, I do an illustration of this with a large bowl of water and some food coloring. I tell them that the bowl of water represents their minds as God created them – pure and clean. The food coloring represents some of the bad stuff we can let into our heads – profanity, the Lord’s name used in vain, music with inappropriate themes, movies with inappropriate scenes, jokes with inappropriate punch lines, stories told from inappropriate motives…
Each time I mention a new bad thing that can get into our minds, I have one of the kids drop a little food coloring into the bowl. By the time I’m done, the pure, clean water is dark and murky. It doesn’t take much to spread all throughout the water – just like it doesn’t take much bad stuff in your gates before your thinking starts to change. “It’s not so bad.” “Everyone is doing it.” “You can’t get away from it – you just have to ignore it.” “That’s just the way things are these days.”
Our brains are incredible. They can hold more data than any computer on earth. But the bad news is that they never purge all the bad information and images we put in them. Once it’s in, it’s in for good and forever. Our only hope is that we can dilute it by allowing more good stuff in our gates. That’s hard work, and it takes time.
Nehemiah set up rules for guarding the gates of Jerusalem, and he got rid of all the riff-raff that were hanging right outside the gates. Maybe we should do the same. A few gate-keeping rules might do us some good.
These are the places where things come into our minds. It’s important that we exercise some control in this area, because what gets in begins to influence how we think and how we act over time.
There’s one more gate that I may not have mentioned; it’s your mouth gate. While the ear and eye gates control what comes into your mind, the mouth gate controls what comes out of it.
You may have heard this expression before. GIGO means “Garbage In – Garbage Out.” It mainly refers to computers (i.e., don’t blame the computer…if you put in bad programming, you’re going to get a bad result.), but it applies to our mental computers, as well. If you stock your brain full of garbage, be certain that it will find it’s way back out – usually through your mouth gate.
Men, if we allow large shipments of sexual images to enter our eye gates, it won’t be long before it affects our thinking. We will start to see women more as objects than as people. When enough shipments come in, some of that thinking will find its way across our lips; I almost guarantee it.
We’ll find ourselves making lewd jokes or engaging in sexual innuendo. We’ll talk about co-workers and neighbors in terms of how they look rather than focusing on their more meaningful qualities. We’ll find it hard to resist the double entendre when we hear someone make a harmless remark.
Women, your temptation comes through both your ear gates and your eye gates. If you listen to frequent gossip and critical assessment of those around you, it will start to color your thinking. Before long, you will find yourself evaluating people in just the same, graceless way. If you watch shows or read magazines about shallow, superficial judgments of others, you will struggle not to descend to the same behaviors in your personal life.
You’ve heard the principle, “what goes up must come down.” How about “what goes in must come out?” The more junk you allow in your ear gates and eye gates, the more likely it is to find it’s way into what you talk about and how you talk about it. Jesus was communicating this principle when he said:
Matthew 15:17-20 (HCSB)17 “Don’t you realize that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. 20 These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
Be careful what you allow in through your gates. When your heart and mind are full of garbage, you won’t be able to hide it long before the neighbors start noticing what you’re putting on the curb.