In the book of Nehemiah, we read of how Nehemiah involved the people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, a task of utmost importance for the following reasons. Firstly, the rebuilt walls would provide them protection from their enemies (Neh 1:3). Without walls, their enemies could invade and pillage them easily, robbing them of a sense of security and peace of mind. Secondly, the rebuilt walls would prove God’s favour (Neh 1:9). The Jews were scattered among the nations because of their unfaithfulness and even though they have been restored to their homeland after 70 years of captivity, at the back of their minds they could be wondering if God had truly forgiven them of their grievous sins. Thirdly, the rebuilt walls would portray God’s blessings (Neh 2:20). Perhaps the Jews might question that even if God had forgiven them of their sins, would He still bless them as before? These fears and doubts would surely be put to rest with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. True enough, when the walls were rebuilt in a mere 52 days (Neh 6:15), even their enemies could perceive that “this work was wrought of our God” (Neh 6:16). In this article, we shall examine how Nehemiah got the people to rise up and build the walls of Jerusalem and learn from him how we too can involve our brethren to rise up and build up the Lord’s church, a task of paramount importance for the new congregation that we are close to starting, as well as for those who remain in LAP.
There are some who look beyond themselves and consider the big picture. I think no one would have minded repairing the pool of Siloah and the king's garden (Neh 3:15), but I can imagine that not many would have volunteered to repair the Tower of the Ovens (Neh 3:11), a place of extreme heat, or the Refuse gate (Neh 3:14), a stinky place where rubbish was brought out. But someone had to do the “dirty” job and kudos to Malchijah and Hashub for doing so. In the church, we are blessed to have good brethren who also look beyond their self-interests and seek “the things which are Jesus Christ’s” in serving as elders (Php 2:21). While many of us enjoy spending time with our families during the weekend, these men spend time preparing lessons and attending meetings to agonize over the work of the Lord. While many of us take leave for holidays, these men take leave to comfort the bereaved at funeral wakes and cremations. No wonder Paul exhorts us to “esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake” (1Th 5:13).
Instead, most would prefer to work in areas that relate to their welfare. Nehemiah assigned some to work at locations which relate to their work, with the priests building the Sheep Gate, where sheep were brought in for sacrifices (Neh 3:1), and Hashabiah making repairs for his own district (Neh 3:17). He also assigned some to work at locations which were near their houses (Neh 3:10,23,28-30). He assigned others to work at prestigious locations, with another Nehemiah making repairs in front of tombs of David and the House of the Mighty (Neh 3:16), and Ezer repairing the front of the Ascent to the Armory (Neh 3:19). These men would surely have put their best efforts in repairing these sections because it was in their personal interests to do so. Sometimes people do not want to serve in the church because we put them to serve in areas that they do not have an interest in (e.g. someone who loves children might probably enjoy teaching children classes more than visitor classes), so perhaps if we can assign them to serve in areas that they have an interest in, more might be willing to be involved in the work of the Lord and they “will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day” (Rut 3:18).
There are some who push themselves beyond the comfort zone. Consider Eliashib and the priests who built and consecrated the Sheep gate (Neh 3:1). They could very well have said that this was the work of the masons and their work was in the temple, yet they were willing to learn a different skill set to help in rebuilding the walls. In the church, we are blessed to have good brethren who also stretch themselves to help to teach and serve in the Chinese congregation. Chinese was my most hated subject in school, so these brethren that learn to read and write in Chinese from scratch so as to serve the Lord really have my utmost respect.
Instead, most would prefer to work in areas that relate to their talents. Nehemiah assigned some to do building work (Neh 3:2-3), some to do repair work (Neh 3:4), and others to do fortification work (Neh 3:8). I would think that probably those who had the most experience and knowledge were put to do building work, while those who were clueless about building work, such as the goldsmiths and perfumers, were put to do something simpler such as repair and fortification work. Sometimes people do not want to serve in the church because we put them to serve in areas that are not suited to their talents and they become discouraged and give up after awhile (e.g. someone who has stage fright might probably enjoy writing articles more than teaching Bible classes), so perhaps if we can assign them to serve in areas that are suited to their abilities, more might be willing to be involved in the work of the Lord (Rom 12:6-8).
There are some who will not lift a finger to help the work, such as the nobles of Tekoa, who “put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (Neh 3:5). Perhaps these people thought the menial labour beneath their status, or perhaps they were busy conspiring with the nobles of Judah and Tobiah in trying to hinder the work (Neh 6:17 c.f. 2Th 3:11). In contrast, we see various other groups of people coming together to work for God, such as the temple ministers (Neh 3:1,17,22,26,28), civil leaders (Neh 3:9,12,14-19), businessmen (Neh 3:8,32), even foreigners (Neh 3:2,5,7,13,27) and women (Neh 3:12). In the church, there might be some that will stubbornly refuse to lift a finger to help in church work, but thankfully these are the exceptions rather than the norm, and most people do want to be involved in the work of the Lord, be it the church workers, leaders, working members, even foreign brethren and ladies.
However, the underlying issue is more of differing expectations. Of course, some sacrifice of time and energy is required in serving God, but we can help brethren to become involved by accommodating their schedules and using whoever is available and willing to serve. Sometimes people do not want to serve in the church because we demand too much from them (e.g. insisting on having Bible class teachers that can teach for long durations when they are only able to commit for a few lessons) and we do not give them enough opportunities (e.g. always using experienced teachers instead of developing and using our young people), so perhaps if we can be more understanding and accommodating in assigning them to serve according to their availability, more might be willing to be involved in the work of the Lord (1Co 12:21-22).
Just as it was important for the people of Nehemiah’s time to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, it is even more important for us as “living stones” to build up the “spiritual house”, the church (1Pe 2:5). The physical walls protected the Jews from their enemies, but the church provides us protection from the pressures of life (Mat 11:28). The physical walls proved God’s favour upon the Jews, but the church proves God’s favour upon us (Mat 18:20). The physical walls portrayed God’s blessings upon the Jews, but the church portrays God’s blessings in Christ (Eph 1:3). Brethren, we need to rise up and build the Lord’s church, so that the church can fulfil its full potential with the “effectual working in the measure of every part” (Eph 4:16).
As with any work, there will always be 2 kinds of people – those who do not want to do their fair share of work e.g. the nobles of Tekoa, who refused to help with the work (Neh 3:5) and those who do more work than others e.g. Meremoth, who repaired another section of the wall even though it was not his house (Neh 3:4;21), and the Tekoites, who repaired another section of the wall even though it was not their city (Neh 3:5,27). Brethren, what kind of worker are we? Let us remember that the work of the Lord is a “great work” (6:3) and He will “prosper” the work (2:20) so long as we all have a “mind to work” (4:6). Let us rise up and build!