“Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?” Nehemiah 5: 9
There are several reasons to live a moral and upright life. A child learns right and wrong by avoiding pain or punishment. Lawrence Kholberg, a psychologist who developed theories about development of moral stages in children, says that as the child grows into adulthood the moral decisions based on punishment and self-interest should give way to a principled conscience and a moral system.
For a Christian, moral behaviour should spring basically from the love for God and obedience to his commandment or at least from the fear of disobeying God. These reasons are all honourable as they are God-centred. But when our moral action is based on only avoiding punishment, we have not developed a moral system at all. We are still infants.
Nehemiah finds Israelites in this kind of undeveloped situation when he comes to Jerusalem as its governor. He comes there to rebuild the wall and to make Jews and Jerusalem independent. A fortified city would be a safe place from frequent attack of the enemies. He mobilised the people so that they would be united in building the city. But suddenly he found out that the nobles and officials in midst of him were the true source of oppression of the same people he wants to protect.
They practiced ushery and kept fellow Jews as slaves. Nehemiah describes the situation in the following words: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us.” (v. 8)
The situation was pathetic.
Nehemiah could not appeal to God’s command or the love of God, he only summoned the least of all reasons. “Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?” (v.9) He was hoping that at least because of the fear of ridicule by their enemies, they would avoid it. This is not the best reason to do good things, but when the conscience is weakened to the lowest level this is the only reasons that could be appealed to.
Contrasting the behaviour of nobles and officials, Nehemiah’s conduct as the governor of the province is worth noting. He did not eat the food allotted to the governor for twelve years so that there wouldn’t be extra taxes on his fellow Jews.
What made him do that? He says, “out of reverence for God I did not act like that.” (v.15)
As we mature in Christ, our concern should not only be about whether we do good or behave badly but whether we do good for the right reason. What is our motivation to do good? Our motivation should be the love of God and not the fear of people finding out or punishment.
Do we have godly reason or a non-reason to be moral?