The Preacher’s Lament

THE PREACHER’S LAMENT

By Wayne S. Walker 

     Most congregations I know of are made up of some very fine people.  However, I have received the impression that in many places the members seem to be too involved in the various activities of life—job, home, school, etc.—to be the kind of Christians that they should and could be.  And this is quite frustrating to anyone who is trying to be a gospel preacher.  Whether they realize it or not, many local churches do not really need a “full-time preacher.”  A “pulpiteer” to speak twice on Sundays would be quite sufficient for things to continue as they are. 

     Another attitude which manifests itself, though probably unconsciously also, is that many people feel that when they have been to the church building for one (or more) services a week, they have completely fulfilled their “Christian duty.”  There seems to be little personal involvement.  It would not be right to make a statement such as, “The members aren’t doing anything,” for this could not be proven to be true.  However, in many cases, there is precious little evidence for what they do.

     In order to augment activity on the part of each member, various congregational works that could be tried have been suggested in business meetings—radio broadcasts, newspaper articles, weekly teaching bulletins mailed into the homes of prospects, a personal evangelism program, etc.  Yet, in nearly every instance, someone is always able to come up with a thousand and one excuses why we couldn’t and shouldn’t do it.  The primary reason given, of course, is that “we cannot afford it.”  It is true that the financial condition in many churches isn’t too good.  But sometimes we don’t express enough faith in God.

     Instead of sitting around doing nothing (except paying the bills on the upkeep of the building) because “we don’t have enough money,” why don’t we try doing what God commands us to do whatever it costs (within reason, of course), and trust in Him to supply our needs?  Some of the “good business sense” displayed by brethren in the work of the church is nothing but plain, old stinginess and unbelief!  And if it doesn’t cost all that much money, then probably “we just don’t have enough time to do it.”  Brethren, when shall we learn that if we are too busy to be personally engaged in the Lord’s work, then we are simply too busy?

     There are other problems that have to be dealt with.  One is hospitality.  I hesitate to bring this up for fear of sounding solicitous, but I refer to it to make my point.  How often is the local preacher where you attend invited out by members?  To answer, consider the following question.  How often do you invite the local preacher to your home?  Not necessarily only to eat, even though this is quite all right, but just to visit and enjoy one another’s company?

     Preaching can sometimes be quite lonely because preachers may not have as many social contacts in the community as the members who have lived there longer or work there might have.  And it is even lonelier when he is all but left alone by the brethren.  And what about showing hospitality to other members too?  In addition, do you ever ask any of the Sunday morning visitors to go home (or out) with you for dinner?  Read Romans 12:10, 13, 20-21; Hebrews 13:1-2; and 1 Peter 4:8-10. 

     Another similar problem is friendliness.  Often, we will have new people move into the area, attend a couple of services, and never come back.  I mentioned this to a member once, and he replied, “It certainly isn’t because we aren’t friendly.”  But are we really as “friendly” as we think we are.  Now, I realize that many of these visitors are shallow, weak individuals with little conviction and sometimes not too friendly themselves.  Maybe they are looking for social gospel tactics that we cannot participate in.  If they truly loved the Lord, they would return to hear the truth regardless of whether the church was “friendly.”

     But what do they see when they visit us—a group of vibrant, enthusiastic, concerned Christians, or a bunch of Sunday bench-warmers?  As an example, one Friday night of a meeting I attended there was a large number of visitors from other congregations.  I’m sure that everyone at least spoke to everyone else.  But it wasn’t long until all the visiting men were in one corner talking to each other, all the visiting women were in another corner, all the local men in another, and all the local women in still another.  Friendly?

     A third problem concerns visitation.  Quite frequently when someone from the community attends the services, the preacher will nearly have to beg one of the members to go see them with him.  There is little individual initiative in all too many instances.  And almost never will anyone come to the preacher and say, “So-and-so seems like a good prospect; would you go with me to visit him?”  A few may ask him to go see somebody, but when he asks if they would go with him, the answer is almost always, “Oh, no!  I could never do that.”

     Thus the preacher’s visits do not prove very effective.  Is it that some feel that once they have a full-time preacher, he is there to do all the work and everyone else can use his time as he likes?  There are still other problems as well—attendance, contribution, class participation—few of these activities ever seem to be what they ought to be.  These subjects are preached on many times but with little response.

     Because of the above-mentioned problems, preachers sometimes feel as though they are beating their heads against a wall.  There are better things for a preacher to do than to have to beg, cajole, and plead with members to do their jobs in the kingdom while trying to do his own work.  And because a “negative” spirit seems to prevail in such places, the preacher may decide to look for some other place where he can do more for the Lord’s cause and feel more useful in the vineyard.  And then brethren wonder why preachers move so often!

     I hope that this hasn’t sounded too harsh and pessimistic.  It is not meant to be.  Certainly not all congregations are such as I have described, nor even the majority, and there are in general many fine brethren of deep conviction and zeal all over.  But I do wish to call certain items to your attention, because from my own limited experience and from talking to others, the situation described in the preceding paragraphs  is more common than it should be.  Is there something you can do about it?

     —Taken from Torch; Nov., 1980; Vol. XV, No. 11; pp. 14-17

     [Editor’s note:  I first wrote this article some 32 years ago, when I was a young, relatively inexperienced, and single preacher.  It reflects two or three rather difficult situations in which I had found myself in those early years of preaching.  If I were writing it today, I probably would say some things a bit differently and hopefully not sound so negative.  So please don’t “read between the lines” and get a false impression or reach a wrong conclusion.  We love the congregation at Elm Grove and are very happy here.  However, the problems that I addressed are very real and still exist in many instances.  Each of us should examine ourselves and ask, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”]

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Unity: “Keep the Unity of the Spirit”

UNITY: “KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT”

By Wayne S. Walker 

     “And all that believed were together, and had all things common” (Acts 2:44).  This verse describes the unity possessed and maintained by the early disciples who assembled as the church in Jerusalem.  It might be good to review some of the events that took place on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 which brought about this church’s beginning.  First of all, the Holy Spirit came to the apostles in fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2 (as well as Jesus’s promises in John 14-16).  As a result, there was gospel preaching.  We have the sermon of Peter recorded.  He told the Jews that Jesus was Lord, the resurrected Christ, the Son of God.  They believed him; and as they realized that they were the ones who had put Him to death, thereby murdering the very Messiah for whom they were looking, they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  They recognized that they were sinners and inquired what to do to be saved from their sins.

     Peter instructed them concerning what to do.  “Repent ye, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (verse 38).  It was with these, and many other, words that he exhorted them to “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.”  Following this, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized”—they obeyed what he had told them to do—“and there were added unto them the same day about three thousand souls.”  Later the inspired historian says, “The Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved” (verse 47).   So when these people repented and were baptized, they received the remission of sins, or were saved, and became a part of Christ’s church.  They continued steadfastly as a local congregation in Jerusalem (verse 42).  And verse 44 indicates the state of unity that existed in the local congregation there.

     Unity is a very important subject.  The Psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).  In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed that all His followers might be one—united.  And Paul pled for unity in Ephesians 4:3, saying, “Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Even though through the years what is called Christianity has been divided into a number of specific religious organizations, in our day we see in many cities throughout the land where several churches in town join together and hold “union meetings”—joint services—in an effort to appear more united.  The past fifteen or twenty years have seen a good number of denominational mergers in which two different and separate denominations united to for one huge super-denomination.

     For instance, about 1959 the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, each one itself the result of a merger, merged to form the “United Church of Christ.”  Later in the early to mid sixties, the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merged to become the “United Methodist Church.”  Also, within denominational structures, such as among the Lutherans and Presbyterians, various synods or sub-groups have combined.  And even among our brethren, there have been numerous attempts to unite various segments of those who claim to be descendants of what is called “the restoration movement” by means of so-called “unity forums.”  Thus we can see that people are interested in unity, at least in one sense or another.

     Let us make a study of unity in which we shall identify ten characteristics of these first-century, New Testament disciples of Christ in the Jerusalem church which caused them to be so united.  1. They held only to the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42).  2. They enjoyed one another’s companionship, not only in regular worship assemblies conducted by the church, but also in social associations maintained by individuals in their homes (Acts 2:46).  3. They faced opposition and persecution with faith in Christ, patience, joy, and hope (Acts 4:13, 19-20; 5:29, 41).  4. They prayed together (Acts 4:23-31; 12:1-5, 12).  5. They practiced true benevolence (Acts 4:32-37).

   6. They recognized and benefitted from the effects of church discipline (Acts 5:1-14).  7. They spread the gospel throughout their local community of Jerusalem (Acts 5:28, 42; see also 2:47, 4:4, 5:14, 6:7).  8. They solved their own problems according to the apostles’ word without wrangling or resorting to outside interference (Acts 6:1-7).  9. They disputed, debated, and contended for the faith; they were not afraid to tell people the truth (Acts 5:9-10, 7:51-53).  10. They were “missionary-minded” and helped to spread the gospel throughout the known world (Acts 8:4-5, 14; 11:19-23).  All of these things undoubtedly played a part in bringing about the kind of unity that characterized the early church.

     Look at Acts 2:46-47.  “And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart; praising God, and having favor with all the people.   And the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved.”  I am persuaded that one of the reasons why the Lord was adding to the church daily was that the Jerusalem church was genuinely united; and when the people saw that this was the case they became interested and, upon investigation, just naturally wanted to become a part of it.  I am also convinced that many churches today do not grow as they should or as they want to simply because they do not exhibit a spirit of unity so that anyone would even want to become involved.

     We talk a lot about “restoring the New Testament church.”  What we usually mean is to restore the New Testament plan of salvation, form of church organization, order of worship, and pattern for the work of the church.  And these things need to be restored, for sure.  But somehow in all of this restoring, we forget, or conveniently ignore, the need to restore the sense of unity among first-century Christians.  Do you want to know why?  Well, it might just be that we can restore the salvation, organization, worship, and work quite easily without much individual effort on our part.  But to restore New Testament unity among the members of the local church seems to require a little more dedication and commitment than many of us are willing to give in our modern, busy age.  And again, maybe that is why we are not growing as we should.  Think about it!

     —taken and slightly revised from Torch; October, 1980; Vol XV, No. 10; pp. 5-7 & 23

The Story of Absalom

THE STORY OF ABSALOM

(2 Samuel chapters 13-19) 

by Wayne S. Walker

     “Sons were born to David in Hebron:  His firstborn was Amnon by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite; the third Absalom the son of Maachah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Higgith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah.  These were born to David in Hebron” (2 Samuel 3:2-5). 

     David had other sons later, notably Solomon who succeeded him as king, but these six were born in Hebron.  Of the six, we know a little bit more about three of them–Amnon, who violated his sister Tamar; Adonijah, who tried to seize the throne when David was old; and especially Absalom, who will be the subject of this study.  We are going to look at the story of Absalom primarily in his relationship to David.

Absalom’s Father 

     Absalom did not have a perfect father.  David was a man after God’s own heart and is a great hero who demonstrated many good character traits as an example for us, but he was not sinless.  We remember how he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband Uriah killed in battle to cover it up.  Notice what Nathan told David in 2 Sam. 12.10-11.  “Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.  Thus says the LORD:  Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of the sun.”  This does not mean that God would specifically cause this to happen just to punish David, but that He simply foresaw what would occur as a result of David’s actions.  David’s own misbehavior in this instance may well have been a factor in his son’s misbehavior.

     David did repent.  “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD’.  And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die'” (2 Sam. 12:13).  The outpouring of David’s penitent heart is found in Psalm 51.   Yet, even though David received forgiveness, there were still consequences to his actions that he had to bear.  “However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die” (2 Sam. 12:14).  A person may repent of a lifetime of alcohol abuse, but he may still experience many bodily and mental infirmities as a result.  A person can be forgiven for murder, but he will still have to serve his sentence in jail or even suffer execution.  A person may repent and be forgiven of homosexuality, but if he has AIDS he will likely die from it.

     Parents certainly have a responsibility to their children.  We are to take the words of God and “teach them diligently to your children” (Deut. 6.6-7).  We must “train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22.6).  We are told to “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6.4).  This may be one area in which David failed.  At least concerning Adonijah, we read in 1 Ki. 1.6, “And his father had not rebuked him at any time by saying, ‘Why have you done so.'”   When we fail in our duties as parents, for whatever reason, we can be forgiven, and we should certainly be thankful that forgiveness is available, but sometimes consequences still remain.

Absalom’s Choices 

     However, even though David’s own behavior may have influenced his son, Absalom still made his own choices and decisions.  Indeed, there may have been various influences which pointed Absalom’s life in a certain direction and led him to think as he did, yet he chose his own path.  He chose to allow hatred and anger to simmer in his heart that led to his murdering his brother Amnon (2 Sam. 13.19-29).  He chose to undermine the king’s authority and gather around him a band of men to seize the throne from his father (2 Sam. 15.1-10).  No one put a spear to his head and compelled him to do these things.  He charted his own course.

     The same thing is true for us.  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (Jas. 1.13-16).  God did not make us so that we have to sin.  The devil doesn’t force us to disobey God.  If we think otherwise, we are deceived.  You do not have to yield to temptation, but you can “resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4.7).

     Therefore Absalom was and everyone else is responsible for their own choices, and will be judged accordingly.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5.10).  Parents may point a child in the right way or in the wrong way, depending on how they raise him or her, and they will be responsible for what they have done, but the child ultimately has to make his own decisions and will be held accountable for them.

Absalom’s love from David 

     It is especially touching to note that in spite of Absalom’s rebellion, he was still loved by his father.  Consider David’s reaction to Absalom’s death.  “Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept.  And as he went, he said thus: ‘O my son Absalom–my son, my son Absalom–if only I had died in your place!  O Absalom my son, my son!'” (2 Sam. 18:33).  Sometimes, our children may hurt us and bring heartache.  We may not approve of what they do or endorse their actions, but we still love them, as David did.

      I still remember a dear elderly brother in a congregation with which I labored some thirty years ago.  He was trying to be just as faithful as he could be.  However, many times he sat and told me how that when he was younger and his children were still at home, he was not faithful to God or interested in spiritual things.  As a result, he did not take his children to church services regularly nor communicate to them the importance of being right with God.  He himself eventually repented and came back to the Lord.  He tried to talk to his children after that, but they would not listen.  Yet, he still loved them and hoped that someday they would see the truth.

     This kind of thing reminds us of God’s love for us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3.16).  God made us.  All human beings can be thought of as His offspring by reason of creation.  Yet we sin and we hurt Him.  However, even though we are rebels, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5.8).  Then, even after we become His spiritual children, we sometimes sin, yet He still loves us and calls us to come back, promising us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).  He loves us so much that He does not want us to be lost but to come to or return to Him that we might have eternal life.

Conclusion 

     The story of Absalom is a sad story.  It is sad for him, because he died in his sin, and that also should be a warning for us.  “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1.7-9).

      However, it is a sad story for David as well because he lost a son whom he loved.  Unlike David, God is the perfect parent, yet so many of His children turn away–His children by creation who reject Him, and even some of His children by spiritual birth who go back into sin.  Yet, another lesson that we can learn from this story is that no matter what we do, our God still loves us and has made all the provisions necessary for us to be saved.  “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3.9).  What a wonderful love!

     –taken from Expository Files (March, 2012; Vol. 19, No. 5; pp. 8-10); and Truth Magazine (September, 2012; Vol. LVI, No. 9; pp. 24-25)

A Cupbearer for the Lord

A CUPBEARER FOR THE LORD

By Wayne S. Walker 

     Nehemiah was among the Hebrews who remained in the Persian Empire following the seventy years of Babylonian Captivity.  When Cyrus allowed the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, along with all other captive peoples to their homelands, not all of them went back.  Many remained in Persia, and some even came to occupy positions of importance in the government.  Nehemiah was one such individual.

     On one occasion, Nehemiah needed to ask a favor of the King, and before doing so said a quick prayer to God for divine favor in his query.  “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  He then explained why he made this entreaty of the Lord.  “For I was the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11).

     Originally, the function of a cupbearer was to taste (either for quality or for poison or for both), carry, and serve wine to his master.  In a case like that of Nehemiah, a cupbearer for royalty was not just a personal servant but also a trusted confidant and advisor.  Thus, it was an office of great responsibility, power, and honor in the Persian Empire.

     Yet, the very reason why Nehemiah was making his request of the King was that he was greatly troubled.  Word had come back from Judah through a man named Hanani, who may have been one of Nehemiah’s brothers, that the situation was bad in Jerusalem.  Some 75 years earlier Zerubbabel and Jeshua had taken the first group of released captives back and amid much opposition rebuilt the temple.  Many years later, just a few years before Nehemiah’s time, Ezra had taken a second group back to restore the worship.

     However, Nehemiah learned that the survivors in Judah were in great distress and reproach.   The wall was broken down, and the gates were burned with fire.  Therefore, he determined to ask King Artaxerxes if he could take a leave of absence from his job and return to Jerusalem with the aim of rebuilding it.  His foremost desire was to serve the Lord by helping God’s people.

     As Christians, we have many opportunities to serve the Lord too, regardless of our station in life, our secular job, or our peculiar abilities.  Of course, God does not necessarily require us to leave all our other responsibilities to do so, as Nehemiah chose to leave his job in the palace.  However, we can learn many important lessons and greatly benefit from studying the life of this man who went from being a cupbearer for the King to being a cupbearer for the Lord.

Nehemiah was concerned

     Notice Nehemiah’s very first reaction upon hearing the bad news about Jerusalem.  “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4).  Nehemiah could have thought, “I chose not to return to Judah but remain here in Persia, and I have a very responsible job serving the King, so what is going on in Jerusalem really does not concern me,” and simply ignored what he had been told.  However, he was so concerned about the condition of his fellow Hebrews “back home” that he wept, mourned, and fasted for many days.

     Nehemiah was concerned about the physical state of his countrymen in Judah.  We need to be concerned about the spiritual state of people, especially those who are lost in sin.  Paul certainly was.  “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.  For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3).  We are always very concerned over friends or acquaintances who are being treated for cancer, or lose their homes in a fire, or are laid off from their jobs, and this is good because we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  But are we as concerned about their souls?

Nehemiah made the necessary preparations

     As soon as Nehemiah understood the great need, he evidently decided that he wanted to do something about it.  But what was the very first thing that he did?  He prayed.  “And I said: ‘I pray, Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned’” (Nehemiah 1:5-6).  Before we ever undertake any endeavor for the Lord, we should always ask God’s help and blessings in prayer.  “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22).

     However, Nehemiah did not just pray.  Nor did he merely sit around, wringing his hands and saying, “Woe is me.”  He had the ability to do something about it, so he took personal responsibility to do what he could.  Even as he came before the King to make his request, he was still praying in his mind.  “Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’  So I prayed to the God of heaven.  And I said to the king, If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it’” (Nehemiah 2:4-5).  We may not individually be able to do everything that needs to be done, but there is almost always something that each one of us can do.  “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

     Once Nehemiah decided that he needed to do something, he got busy.  After receiving the King’s permission and assistance, he went directly to Jerusalem and, when he had settled in, immediately set to work to determine exactly what needed to be done.  “Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode.  And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire” (Nehemiah 2:12-13).  Nehemiah understood that his work needed to be accomplished as quickly as possible.  We also need to realize that whatever work the Lord has for us to do in this life, we have only a limited time to accomplish, so we must get busy.  “I [we] must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).

     One other thing that Nehemiah did in his preparation was to enlist the cooperation of others.  He called the priests, nobles, officials, and others to explain his plan (Nehemiah 2:16-18).  Their response was, “Let us rise up and build.”  Nehemiah knew that he could not do it all by himself.  He needed help.  As a result of his recruitment we read, “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel.  Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built” (Nehemiah 3:1-2).  Chapter three goes on to identify all the people who worked on the wall from gate to gate to gate and ends by telling us, “And between the upper room at the corner, as far as the Sheep Gate, the goldsmiths and the merchants made repairs” (v. 32).  This takes us right back to the place of Eliashib and the priests.  In order for the Lord’s cause to be promoted most efficiently, members of each local congregation must learn to cooperate and work together.  “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

Nehemiah stood firm against opposition

     Not everyone in the region was happy with Nehemiah’s work, especially Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian.  They tried several methods in their attempt to stop the efforts.  First, they used mocking and ridicule.  “Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall’” (Nehemiah 4:3).  Notice Nehemiah’s response—he again went to God in prayer.  “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity!” (v. 4).  And what did the people do?  “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (v. 6).  God’s people today can expect ridicule too.  “Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).  The best way to deal with scoffers is simply to pray and just keep on working.

     Second, the enemies attempted to stop the work by threats of force.  “Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.  Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:7-9).  To deal with this, Nehemiah prayed, then set a watch and made plans to defend the workers.  In the work of the Lord today, we usually have little to fear from threats of physical force, but we do have a spiritual enemy, and we need to be watchful and prepared as Nehemiah was.  “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  

     Third, the enemies sought to promote compromise.  “Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.’ But they thought to do me harm.  So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?’” (Nehemiah 6:1-3).  On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable request.  “Let’s talk.”  But Nehemiah knew that their real goal was to stop the work, so he just refused.  There will always be temptations to compromise with the world, so we simply must refuse to do that.  “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

     Fourth, the enemies used scare tactics to discourage the Jews.  “Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand.  In it was written:  ‘It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.’  Then I sent to him, saying, ‘No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.’ For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, ‘Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.’  Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:5-9).  Basically, Nehemiah ignored them.  Yes, he answered their ridiculous charges, but rather than letting himself become distracted and deterred, he just went on—and kept on praying, too.  Thus, when enemies try to scare us, we should do what Jesus tells us in Matthew 15:14.  “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”

Nehemiah accomplished his work

     The most obvious accomplishment was that the wall was completed.  “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days.   And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God” (Nehemiah 6:15-16).  Again, Nehemiah did not do all this work himself, but he was the kind of leader who, when he fulfilled his own personal responsibility, was able to encourage others to join in and help.  And when each one of us fulfils his or her personal responsibility and work together, we shall get things accomplished.  “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

     Another accomplishment was to have the law read for all the people.  “Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.  Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law….So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:1-8).  While Ezra was the spiritual leader, as governor Nehemiah was responsible to see to it that the spiritual needs of the people were met.  Today, all of us can read the word of God for ourselves, and we need to be doing so, like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11).  Then we need to be teaching it to others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

     Still another accomplishment was to bring the people to confess their sins.  “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads.  Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers” (Nehemiah 9:1-2).  While Nehemiah’s name is not mentioned specifically in this context, the event took place during his time as governor, and such a man as Nehemiah must have encouraged it.  Of course, God has not set up any kind of confessional booth, but when we sin, we need to confess our sins to the Lord and seek His forgiveness.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

     One final accomplishment was to end the practice of intermarriage with pagans which brought impurity among the Israelites.  “In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people.  So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves’” (Nehemiah 13:23-25).  As Nehemiah went on to say, God had forbidden this practice to Israel, and when they failed to obey God’s will, as Solomon had done, the result was sin and apostasy.  Today, it is so important for us as Christians to make sure that we keep ourselves pure from the evil of this world.  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

Conclusion

     Just as Nehemiah and the Israelites were trying to build up the wall of Jerusalem and restore the order of God’s law, so faithful Christians in all generations have sought to build up the church and return to God’s pattern as revealed in the New Testament.  And we need good men like Nehemiah to lead us in striving to accomplish our work.  However, elders, preachers, Bible class teachers, and other leaders cannot do it all by themselves.  All Christians need to recognize their own personal responsibilities and labor together to make sure that the Lord’s will is done.

     —taken from Expository Files, Aug., 2012; Vol. 19, No. 8; pp. 24-36