With A Shovel And A Sword
Every country needs to deal with a certain dilemma: development or defense? A country needs to put in resources into developing and building itself up; but it also needs to allocate resources into the military sector for the defense of the nation. The problem is how much to allocate for each; not every country has found the right balance. On one hand, it would not be prudent to spend big on defense, when the country is still struggling with poverty; on the other hand, development will go to waste when the country has not adequately dealt with the threats of invasion and rogue militant groups.
The Jews faced such a quandary during the time of Nehemiah, when they were trying to build the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah had seen the desolation of the walls, and stirred up the Jews in the work of rebuilding (Nehemiah 2:17). We see that the Jews made good progress in the rebuilding work, because “the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). However, enemies sought to hinder them in the work of building (Nehemiah 4:6-8). Hence, they had to set up defensive measures as well. The builders worked in such a fashion: “every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon” (Nehemiah 4:17).
Just as the Jews were involved in the work of building, Christians are involved in the work of building as well. We have not been tasked to build a physical wall or building, but we are to build up a spiritual house: “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). As a church, we form God’s spiritual building, and we are to labour to build it up.
We can build up God’s house by adding stones into it; individual Christians are the living stones in God’s spiritual building (1 Peter 2:5). That is the work of evangelism, which Jesus has commissioned all Christians to do (Matthew 28:19-20). The church as a whole needs to be involved in the work of preaching the gospel to the lost; we all need to support the evangelism activities that the church organizes. On the individual level, we can also do our part to build up the church, by sharing the gospel with our circle of friends, and bring them over to Christ.
God’s house is also built up by strengthening the stones within. Christians are to seek the things that serve to edify one another (Romans 14:19). We need to mutually encourage one another, and one way to do so is to be present whenever the church assembles together (Hebrews 10:24-25). The church has programs to foster closer relations between Christians, and Bible class programs that serve to build up our faith: we need to support these activities. On the individual level, we can help to build up the church by looking out for opportunities to encourage our fellow Christians, especially those who are beleaguered by the storms of life. Even a simple note of encouragement can go a long way.
Certainly, it is important for Christians to be involved in the work of building. However, we must not forget the work of defending. Just as the Jews had to defend against those who hindered them in the work, Christians need to defend against those who hinder the gospel. There are those who teach falsehoods, and deceive many with their erroneous teachings (Titus 1:9-11). Paul warned concerning following those who teach a perverted gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). Seeing the importance of maintaining and defending the purity of the truth, we all need to study diligently so that we can rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Furthermore, we need to defend the church from such who teach falsehoods. When the church has identified a false teacher, he needs to be marked and avoided (Romans 16:17). We are also to withdraw our fellowship from false teachers (2 John 1:9-11). For such disciplinary measures to be effective, the whole church must be united in the disciplinary process.
Both building up and defending the church are vital for the church to grow, just as countries must both develop and defend in order to succeed. If we only build but fail to defend, our enemies will hinder us from building. If we only defend but fail to build, we will find that there will be nothing left to defend. The church must have equal emphasis on the two. Unfortunately, there are those who would sacrifice one for the other. Some are willing to tolerate false teachers and even welcome them into their fold, since we are “all trying to preach the gospel of Christ.” However, the apostle Paul wrote: “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). In failing to defend against such false teachers, the whole church will soon fall into error and depart from the grace of Christ. On the other spectrum, there are those who would be so engrossed in defending its borders that it neglects the work of building. That church will die quickly; death being the inevitable consequence of a failure to be fruitful in the work of building.
Nehemiah and the Jews acted wisely in both building and defending, and were duly rewarded with success in rebuilding the wall (Nehemiah 6:15). Christians need to realize the importance of being involved in building up the church, and also in defending against falsehoods. Let us continually equip ourselves to build and to defend: with one hand a shovel, and with the other hand, a sword.