The Character of Greatness - Part 2
We continue with our look at Nehemiah, a profile of a man who achieved greatness in the service of God. We are studying his life in order to understand some of the qualities involved in becoming great in the Kingdom of God. In the previous chapter, we learned that the marks of personal greatness for the Kingdom of God are far different than what people strive for to be great in the world. In the world we confer greatness on those who are famous, wealthy or perhaps they're skilled in some thing or another and extraordinarily successful as a result.
In our study, we have seen that to be great in the Kingdom of Christ, one needs to cultivate things like obedience to God's word, the virtue of humility or service to God's kingdom. These are the types of things that we measure to determine if someone is great in the God's kingdom.
In our last chapter about Nehemiah we added the element of prayer and said that sincere, respectful, honest, intelligent, specific and patient prayer is also a hallmark of the person who aspires to greatness in the Kingdom.
I also reviewed some of the facts about Nehemiah's personal situation and his calling into service:
- He was the slave of a foreign king who held the Jews in exile.
- Several groups of Jews had been released over the years in order to return to their homeland to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem.
- However, the nations that surrounded the rebuilt city were opposed to this construction and tried to shut it down.
- A delegation of Jewish leaders was then sent to Nehemiah asking him to intervene with the king. They complained that the protective wall around the city was destroyed and because of this they were vulnerable to attack from individuals and nations around them.
Nehemiah prays to God for help and his prayer is answered as the king permits him to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall and provides him with all the supplies needed to do the job. In this chapter we will add one more quality seen in those who are great in the Kingdom and that is effective service.
Nehemiah showed his faith and his maturity by going directly to God in prayer when faced with a challenge. Once God answered his prayer, however, Nehemiah demonstrated that he could also work effectively to take advantage of the blessings given to him. We pick up the story of Nehemiah and his return to Jerusalem in Nehemiah 2:11. Note that first and foremost Nehemiah had a strategy. Effective service goes beyond asking for blessings and opportunities. When they come, a person has to provide effective service to turn these things into a reality. The next section will demonstrate the five aspects of Nehemiah's approach to his task that produced effective service.
1. He had a plan
11So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding. 13So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon's Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. 14Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was no place for my mount to pass. 15So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned. 16The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.
- Nehemiah 2:11-16
Alan Redpath in his book, "Victorious Christian Service" says that a failure is not a person who fails to achieve his goals - no, a failure is a person who has not established any goals or plans. God never leaves his servants without a plan:
- Noah had a plan for the ark.
- Moses had a very exact plan for the tabernacle. In Exodus chapters 20-34 we note that at the beginning of each chapter God gave Moses a plan of action. We then note in Exodus chapter 35:1 to 39:43 the Jewish leader and the people do exactly what God had laid out in His plan.
In the same way Nehemiah had a plan from God concerning what was to be done. To be great in the Kingdom we must be ready to put God's plan into action, not our own plan.
2. He mobilized everyone to the task
17Then I said to them, "You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach." 18I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king's words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, "Let us arise and build." So they put their hands to the good work.
- Nehemiah 2:17-18
Chapter 3:1-32 explains how Nehemiah organized the task to be done by all of the people working together. There was a fellowship of purpose and a complete participation in the overall effort. Each person rebuilt the wall nearest his own home and, because of this, was motivated to do a good job because if you had poor workmanship, it would be your home put at risk should the enemy breach the wall. We see, therefore, that Nehemiah did more than distribute the work, he also distributed a sense of ownership and responsibility to all of those who were working the plan.
3. He worked hard - 4:1-6
Building a wall was hard enough work but Nehemiah faced opposition to the construction they were trying to complete which made the task that much more difficult.
1Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. 2He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, "What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?" 3Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, "Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!"
- Nehemiah 4:1-3
They were mocked by others while they worked and faced a kind of psychological warfare wherein their pride was subject to attack by their enemy's ridicule.
4Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. 5Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. 6So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
- Nehemiah 4:4-6
The people's response to these attacks was to simply bear down. Nehemiah didn't whine or complain to God, he refused to be frightened or discouraged. They weren't just busy, they poured their hearts into the project. This was important because both their lives and futures were at stake.
In the pursuit of effective service there is no substitute for hard work. It is, at times, inconvenient, discouraging to the mind and body, and expensive, however, in the end making an all-out effort is an irreplaceable component for a successful mission.
4. Nehemiah worked without fear - 4:7-23
7Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. 8All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. 9But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night. 10Thus in Judah it was said,
"The strength of the burden bearers is failing,
Yet there is much rubbish;
And we ourselves are unable
To rebuild the wall."
11Our enemies said, "They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work." 12When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, "They will come up against us from every place where you may turn," 13then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. 14When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: "Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses."
- Nehemiah 4:7-23
When their enemies mobilized to attack them, Nehemiah reminded the people whose side they were on. The difference between the Jews and their enemies was not the size of their armies but who they were fighting for and who their leaders were.
In the final verses of chapter four, we see the people responding to Nehemiah's call to not be afraid and remember that their protector was God Himself. All great servants of God had this in common (Elijah, David, Paul the Apostle). They were unafraid of their enemies and undaunted by their tasks because they were confident that their protector and supplier was the Lord.
If God is for us, who is against us?
- Romans 8:31b
5. Nehemiah finished - chapters 5-6
Building the wall was challenging enough but as I said, Nehemiah had many other obstacles and distractions.
- We see a dispute arise among the rich and poor Jews because the poor were unable to pay their debts to the rich.
- Nehemiah encouraged the rich citizens to forgive the debts of the poor so that the work could go on.
- In addition to these local problems, he was still responsible to the king for governing the territory while supporting 150 people from his personal resources.
- We read about his enemies trying to stop the construction by applying political pressure in denouncing him unjustly to the king.
- There was also a plot to kill him.
- Finally, there was pressure to make him compromise the project by exchanging a guarantee of peace for a cessation of the work.
All of these problems were taking place at the same time but in the midst of these we read a key verse:
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days.
- Nehemiah 6:15
They finished the wall! Nehemiah did not focus on the obstacles, he focused on the wall and completed it in 52 days!
This was quite a feat when you consider that this structure surrounded an entire city, was wide enough to ride a horse-drawn chariot on and high enough to post lookouts. Great servants of God glorify Him by finishing, not just starting. It's not considered effective service if you don't finish what God has given you to do.
Nehemiah added effective service to an already strong prayer life. His service included certain key elements.
- He was careful to follow God's plan.
- He included everyone in God's service
- He worked hard
- He worked without fear.
- He focused on the task, not the obstacles.
His effective service educates us today on how to minister and serve the Lord and thus be considered great in the Kingdom, something we should all strive to be since this is pleasing to God.
What, then, does effective service in today's church look like?
1. Today's Servant Works God's Plan
Some will ask, "What plan?" God hasn't appeared to give us a special plan. In answer to this I say that today's servants work the plan given us by Christ, the same plan that will remain until He returns.
- II Timothy 3:16 - Tells us where to find the details of the plan, the Bible.
- I Timothy 2:4 - Tells us what the plan is.
- Matthew 28:18-19 - Tells us how to accomplish and perpetuate the plan.
That the church seeks and saves the lost has always been God's plan and will remain so until the end of time. If seeking and saving the lost is not the major plan we are working on in the church then we've got the wrong plan.
2. Today's Servants Work Together
Paul, the Apostle, encouraged the early church to work together. It seems that this has always been a challenge.
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
- I Thessalonians 5:11
Everyone in some way is serving someone else. No heroes, no one-man shows, no solitary Christians, no system where we pay the "minister" to serve everyone else. Each servant has some kind of service to render. In our Christian lives we should be experiencing three things: our service to others, their service to us, and a shared concern about the overall welfare of the church felt by everyone in the church.
The Jews working with Nehemiah were concerned about the entire wall, not just the part closest to their house. It was their wall, just as it is our church, not my church or the minister's church. As servants, we work together to build it up and any weak part is a concern to all because all of us are affected by the one among us who is weak.
3. Today's Servants Work Hard
Many people become Christians but few Christians actually become effective in service because they don't like to be inconvenienced or asked to sacrifice. We get a lot of lip service but very few put their backs to the work. It requires effort to:
- Battle sin effectively
- Worship effectively
- Pray effectively
- Give effectively
- Serve effectively
The result is that we have many people serving with their lips and only a few serving with all their hearts and hands as well as their pocketbooks. One of the major reasons why various religious sects are growing faster than the church is because they work harder at spreading false doctrine than we do at spreading the Gospel!
Seed is seed, if you work harder at sowing weeds than sowing wheat, you're going to get more weeds than wheat.
4. Today's Servants are not Afraid
The results of sin and the threat of death are all around us, every day, even in our own lives and families. Satan uses every device to frighten us into thinking that:
- God has abandoned us
- We are not worthy
- The task is too great, we are too small
- We don't have enough to do the job
- Our enemies will win or they're right and we're wrong
The list of discouragements and threats go on and on but the promise of God to His servants remains the same today as it was then:
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:20
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 4:19
God promises to be with us and provide everything we need to do the job. What better guarantee can we ask for? God's great servants are not afraid because the one who protects, provides and promises is God Himself.
We may be bruised and scarred, even die in battle but the victory is secured so we should never fear.
5. Today's Servants are Finishers
Finishing, that is what great servants strive to do:
- Noah finished the ark.
- Moses finished the journey.
- Solomon finished the temple.
- Nehemiah finished the wall.
- Jesus finished His work on the cross.
- Peter and Paul finished their mission by bringing the Gospel to the world.
Why were they able to finish?
- Because they stayed focused on the finish line, not the obstacles.
- Because they knew that starting was easy and finishing was difficult. They knew this going in and they accepted the difficulty as the price to pay for finishing.
- Because they knew that the prize (heaven, being considered good and faithful servants, being great in the Kingdom) this prize only goes to the finishers, not the starters.
Effective servants finish what they start and in doing so, are rewarded with greater opportunities for service.
Nehemiah shows us some of the elements that go into effective service, a virtue necessary to be great in the Kingdom. Hopefully, we've seen how these principles can be applied to our own service in the church today. Finally, I hope that we've also seen the relationship between effective service and greatness in the Kingdom.
- Effective service leads to opportunities for greater and more dynamic service in the Kingdom of God.
- Greater service enables one to bear more fruit to the glory of God and this makes one great in the Kingdom, not to mention joyful, full of peace and confident in our salvation.
I believe that this is what we all should be striving for in life, to be great in the Kingdom. Nehemiah, one of God's great servants, shows us how effective prayer and effective service helps in reaching that goal.