We've been studying the life of Nehemiah in order to discover the pattern of living and the type of virtues necessary to be great in the Kingdom of God. As I said in our previous chapter, "Striving to be "great" in the Kingdom of God is a legitimate goal and one that God encourages us to use" (Matthew 18:4; Matthew 20:26). Striving to be great in the Kingdom is to make an effort to be more like Christ, and this is certainly pleasing in the sight of God.
In our study so far, we have learned that a group of Jews have come from Jerusalem to seek Nehemiah's help in building a wall around the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah's greatness is demonstrated as we see him go directly to God in prayer for help. Next, when God answers his prayer and moves the king to permit Nehemiah to return to do the work and also provides the materials to do the job, we see other elements in Nehemiah's character that separate him as a great servant of God.
For example, we observe as Nehemiah works God's plan in the rebuilding scheme; he then mobilizes everyone to serve and encourages the people to work hard and trust God. Finally, we note that he perseveres to the end despite the many obstacles he faced.
The following, therefore, are some (not all) of the virtues that make a person great in the eyes of God.
- strong prayer life
- eagerness to do God's will
- sensitivity to the body of the believers
- perseverance in work and faith
- courage to finish the task that you've been given by God
We see that after Nehemiah finished the job, God rewarded him. As we close out our brief study, we'll look at how God rewards his great servants.
The Rewards for Greatness
God rewards those who achieve greatness in His kingdom and the reward is not simply the promise of heaven. God rewards His good and faithful servants with greater opportunities to bear fruit to His glory. Someone may ask, "Well, how is this a reward?" It's a reward because the greater our service and fruitfulness, the greater our joy, peace and confidence in the Kingdom to come.
Nehemiah went from restoring the wall around the city of God's people, to restoring the people of God themselves. His reward for a good job on the wall was the opportunity to work on the nation itself.
We read that Nehemiah's restoration of the people took place in four stages. Those who have the responsibility of working with people can once again learn about great leadership from Nehemiah's approach.
Phase #1 - He restored order
4Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. 5Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first in which I found the following record:
- Nehemiah 7:4-5
Nehemiah began by establishing social order. In chapter 7:6-73, we see him organizing the people to live in various cities according to their genealogies. He appointed priests to serve at the Temple and gathered funds to pay for their work.
Once the wall was built and the people were secure, it was time to return to living an ordered life and Nehemiah followed God's lead in reorganizing the society.
Phase #2 - He restored organized teaching
1And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. 2Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. 3He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 4Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. 5Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. 8They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.
9Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law.
- Nehemiah 8:1-9
Nehemiah re-instituted detailed education for the people in the law and word of God (details in verses 10-18). He knew that the wall protected the city, but it was God's word that protected the heart. They had been defeated and exiled because of their sins and ignorance - Nehemiah addressed this danger repeating itself by educating the people in God's will.
Phase #3 - He restored pure and acceptable conduct
1Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. 2The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.
- Nehemiah 9:1-3
No more mixed marriages with pagans. The people acknowledged sin and repented. They recommitted themselves to God's service. Chapters 9-11 describe how the people publicly and sincerely rededicated themselves to holy living, beginning with an offering of their wealth to the service of the Temple. A change in lifestyle and conduct are not complete unless one also finds a way to directly serve the Lord.
Phase #4 - He restored acceptable worship
27Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28So the sons of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites, 29from Beth-gilgal and from their fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built themselves villages around Jerusalem. 30The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall.
- Nehemiah 12:27-30
We see in this passage the climax of Nehemiah's work in both the rebuilding of the wall and the people of God. He indeed achieves a great thing in God's eyes. He turns the people back towards God in acceptable worship. He rebuilt the wall. He reorganized the people. He taught them God's Word. He restored a sense of purity in their living. All of this was done so they could go before God and rededicate the wall, the city, the Temple and themselves back into God's service.
Nehemiah achieved the greatest task for a servant of God, he created another servant. Nehemiah's great achievement was that for a time he transformed the people of Israel into an entire nation of servants, wholly devoted to God's service.
Lesson from a Great Servant
In our quest to become great in the Kingdom, we can learn several key lessons from one who actually achieved that status.
Lesson #1 - Faithful in little, trusted with a lot
Nehemiah was a faithful slave to a foreign king and God gave him a wall to build. He continued to serve faithfully and so God gave him a nation to build. This same principle is at work today in our lives. If we're faithful in small matters as Christians (church attendance, study and prayer, personal conduct, etc.) God will give us greater opportunities for service and personal growth (teaching, leadership, evangelism, service to others etc.).
If our Christian experience is dull, it is usually because we're not in the action, we're not in the thick of battle and service. If we are faithful in doing the little things right, God will reward us with bigger opportunities for service.
Lesson #2 - There is only one objective
God's great servants in every age, including this age, are serving others with the goal of restoring them to a right relationship with God. We've seen from Nehemiah's example that there is a definite pattern to this task of restoring people to a right relationship with God.
A. Help restore order in their lives
Nehemiah sent them to their cities, established proper worship, etc. Today, we provide counseling, benevolence, assistance in getting them through a crisis, whatever that is.
B. We teach them God's word
Once they have found their balance, their safety and their needs are met, they need to hear the gospel. People need to hear the gospel if they are to be restored to God, it's not enough just to fill their bellies, you've got to fill their souls as well.
C. Integrate them
Nehemiah put all the people to work, first to rebuild the wall and defend the city, and then to worship God together. We have to integrate souls into the life of the church (pure living, fellowship, service). One or two ministers cannot have a meaningful relationship with 400 people. Somewhere along the line we need to each take someone into our lives in order to help them become truly integrated into the body of Christ.
And so, everything we do, in our service to God is related in some way to one of three things that I just mentioned. We're working or serving in an effort to either restore order and teach about the Christ or integrate people into the church.
Whether we smile and hug a visitor, deliver groceries, visit the sick, alone or imprisoned; teach, preach, clean, or serve in some way, everything works towards restoring other people to a right relationship with God. This is the goal of great servants in the Kingdom.
Lesson #3 - There's no day off
After completing two major tasks for the Lord, Nehemiah returned to Babylon to resume his position at the Persian court. Once there, he receives news that he is again needed back in Jerusalem. He returns to the city to find the people once again unfaithful to God:
- Mixed marriages with pagans
- Abandoning the care of the Temple and worship
- Breaking the Sabbath
Nehemiah does not allow this discouragement to defeat him as he once again works hard to restore order, worship and purity among the people. Of course, I'm not suggesting that there is no need for a time of rest, recreation and diversion. These are all important to stay healthy and to be able to do our work.
What Nehemiah's return teaches us is that the job goes on because the saved forget and become distracted, and the lost go further and further into the darkness without the light.
We have to be careful because many churches, after they finish a building/renovation project for example, want to sit back, relax and enjoy the new furniture for a while. They think that once the building is done, the big job is done.
Of course, we know the job is just beginning at this point. Our wall (building) has been built for many years now, our task today is to build up the church that meets in the building.
We need to build up the church so it can become active and effective in helping the community, nation and world - to be restored to a right relationship with God, and this requires those who aspire to be great in the Kingdom of God to complete this holy and blessed task.