(Today’s post by Wayne Bunting)
After spending some time in the book of Ezra, we now delve into the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah has a lot of similarities with Ezra. Both books detail the same basic story regarding Israel’s return from captivity in Babylon to their homeland, Israel. The Jews returned home in three waves. The first two happened in Ezra; the last is detailed in Nehemiah. Nehemiah is the last historical narrative in the Old Testament of the history of Israel before Jesus comes. Nehemiah was a cup bearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes (Persia had taken over the Babylonian empire). He was given permission by Artaxerxes to take leave and to go restore the city of Jerusalem which had been previously destroyed. Nehemiah was in an important position in the Persian Empire. His life would have been one of success by our current measures. And yet he left it all to pursue what the Lord had put in him to do.
In Nehemiah the Jews had long been removed from Israel. In their place people from other nations had settled in (which is where a lot of the people who oppose the building in later chapters come from). When God’s people returned they found themselves suddenly in the midst of outsiders who opposed them with no separation between them. There was a sudden need for a wall to be built so that God’s people could live separate from and protected from the influences and threats of others. This is where Nehemiah comes in. God softened the heart of king Artaxerxes and allows Nehemiah to return for this purpose. His past experience as a cup bearer in the court of Artaxerxes afforded him the knowledge, skill, and power to accomplish this task.
In the church today we can see the same situation. More and more the church’s situation in the western world is one of an outsider with regards to society as a whole. There is a great need for the maintaining and (sadly) an establishment of a wall to be built. I am not saying that a wall of absolute divide should be established between the world and the church. But I am saying that there needs to be the standard of God’s purity, truth, love, Holiness, and right doctrine in the church that is set apart from the world. The church is called out of the world because it is, through Christ, brought into the Holiness of God. And the world has nothing to do with, and is not a part of this Holiness, which is why it is lost and needs Christ. It does not just simply need love; only loving people with God’s love will result in the same end result for the world that hating them will. Loving people with God’s love AND calling them to repentance from their sins into salvation is what brings people from darkness into light.
But the walls that separate the church and the world are being very rapidly torn down, and as a result the ways of the world are infiltrating the church in the same way an army would invade and overthrow the city of Jerusalem if it lacked any walls. Many are called to be watchmen who metaphorically sit on the walls of the church and warn of impending dangers that threaten her. I think that one of the greatest dangers that the church is being invaded with is the idea of twisted love, that ultimately loving the world is what the church should strive for. If we as the church love others, and stop there and go no further; if we do not present a path of repentance from sins, then the world that we are seeking to love will in the end go to hell. I don’t know about you, but that is about the most absurdly unloving thing that we can do. So before you go on Facebook and talk about how we just need to love others, know that “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5). I’m not saying that we should all light torches and chase down the sinners. I am saying that we should love; the church does need more of this, but we should not stop at love; we should seek to save the lost and build up the church at the cost of their hatred of us. Because to save the world out of darkness is to see the wrath of that darkness fight against us in the process. We war against spirits, and part of that is seen in the opposition that we face currently in the form of being accused as judgmental because we assert what sin is, and the need to repent from it in order to know God. So we should not shy away from doing what we are born in Christ to do. On the flip side, just calling out sin without showing love to the world will cause problems as well. Truth and love need to together shape our lives as Christians, and also our mission as the church.
In addition to this, part of understanding that our standards are vastly different from that of the world, and understanding the need for an establishment of a wall of standards in the church arises in the form of what our purpose and calling in Christ is. We have a tendency to coincide our achievements and the measure of what we attain to in life with that of the world. This is also something that has torn down the walls of the church and has invaded it. Nehemiah was a man of tremendous prestige and success. But he left his position that afforded him these things and pursued the less glorious task of God’s calling. And through him the walls of Jerusalem were built despite opposition and the nation of Israel was allowed to be fully established as the people of God amidst pagan nations.
So for any of those who are afraid of leaving high positions, positions of power, of money, or prestige for the sake of doing what appears to be dirty work for the kingdom of God, I say that you should realize that if we seek to view what we do with our lives with an eternal focus, with a focus that we are accomplishing the task of bringing in the kingdom of God onto the earth, then you will truly see the grand high calling that God has for each and every one of us. Sometimes this may look like a lower task than what the world envisions as success. Many of us may be called to do things for God that are not glorious, or even seem to lack any sanity at all with regards to earthly wisdom (Like becoming a missionary who makes no money instead of doing something that does make money). But if we know Christ then what God has in store for our lives will many times appear to be a very foolish thing in the eyes of the world. We must (And I include myself in this) be willing to be foolish for the sake of God’s kingdom, for the sake of reaching the lost with the gospel, for the sake of building up the church into the maturity that Christ wants.
On the other side of things, this does not mean that Christians should shy away from pursuing certain positions or opportunities in life just because they don’t seem spiritual enough. In the book of Acts a man named Stephen served the church by waiting on tables and serving the widows in the church. Not a glorious job at all, but within this his passion for the Lord gave him the opportunity to be the church’s first martyr after he expressed his passion for God and the wisdom that he had to those who opposed the church.
The point is that we must follow God wherever He wants us to go. God calls people to be both businessmen and prophets. The early church of the first few centuries spread throughout the Roman world by people like businessmen and slaves, common people who traveled around as their jobs and took the gospel with them wherever they went. No matter what God calls you to do, do it with a full heart for the Lord. This is the only chance we have at this short life, and what we do in this short period will echo throughout eternity.
So what is God calling you to do? Boldly seek it.