(Nehemiah 6: 11)
In the year 519 BC the Temple had been rebuilt by the returned exiles under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest. But for 60 long years the city of Jerusalem lay in ruins; the inhabitants of the royal city mocked and intimidated. For the city to regain its former glory, it would require a man of commitment and courage to rebuild the walls of the city and to establish it again in the eyes of all that it was the city of God, capital of the nation of Israel.
Such a man was Nehemiah. He did what was thought to be impossible - to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem despite the fiercest of opposition and discouragement. In our day we are challenged to build up the Lord's church in an ungodly and hostile world. Many as in Nehemiah's day are just content to leave things as they are, but if we are to be found as men and women of courage, then we need to learn from the example of Nehemiah. From the moment Nehemiah learned of the work that needed to be done he was to face opposition and discouragement.
Firstly from his own fears as we read in Nehemiah 2:1,2: "And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. Therefore the king said to me, 'Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.' So I became dreadfully afraid." It was wrong for anyone to come into the King's presence with a sad disposition. Nehemiah could have put his very good position at risk by his conduct. It would have been very easy on the spur of moment to excuse his sadness by saying that a relative had died or some other such story to try and extricate himself from a potentially damaging position. However he putting aside his own fears presented to the King the plight of his people and how he would like to leave the King's service temporarily to go and assist them.
Nehemiah was to face discouragement from Sanballat and Tobiah, two leaders in the land who were to mock the attempts of the Jews in their efforts to rebuild the walls (Nehemiah 2:19; 4:1). He was to be discouraged by the apathy of some of his brethren (Neh. 3:5). Whilst he was encouraging his brethren to be about the rebuilding, there were those who were content to just sit back and let others do the work. There was the opposition which came though the threat of attack (Neh. 4:7,8). Not only were the Jews to be mocked but there was the very real threat of war if they continued their rebuilding.
At a time when the Jews were struggling to re-establish their lives and their nation, Nehemiah had to contend with the nobles of his people who were sinning by taking advantage of others. They were charging usury of their countrymen and forcing them to sell their lands, vineyards, and sons and daughters to provide for taxes and provisions (Neh. 5:7).
There was the discouragement that comes through slander (Neh. 6:5-7). A false story was to be spread that Nehemiah intended to have himself made king in opposition to the king of Persia. Unless the work was stopped then this story would be made known to the king.
And Nehemiah was to face the threat of personal harm: "Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, 'Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.'" (Neh. 6:10,11)
The common denominator of all the opposition Nehemiah was to face was that he was doing and wanted to do the will of God. God's people will always face persecution and discouragement when they uncompromisingly do God's will. Jesus refers to this in the Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5: 10-12). As we seek to do God's will, we will face opposition and discouragement.
We will face opposition from our own fears. We naturally want to be liked and accepted - this is normal. However as Christians we live by a different standard than the world, as a result this will put us at odds with those of the world. This may cause rejection of us by family, friends or others we know. One of the most common hindrances to Christians doing the will of God is the fear of rejection. A number of years ago I remember a preacher who was stepping down from full time work; in a candid moment he stated that he was tired of being treated differently when he told others he was a preacher. He just wanted to go back to fitting in with the mainstream.
We are going to be mocked because we seek to live by God's way. We no longer swear, drink alcohol, gamble and so forth, and as a result the world is going to speak evil of us. Peter refers to this in I Peter 4;3,4. There are those who will ridicule us by calling us red-necked, Pharisaical, narrow minded, bigoted, etc. All of this for no other reason than that we are holding to God's standards of morality, beliefs and practices.
Apathy of brethren will discourage us from working for the Lord, as we should. There will be brethren who are just content to be spiritual spectators, watching as other work. I remember one hot summer's day at the place where I worked, that I was busy about the tasks I had on that day. However as I came into the workshop I saw most of the staff sitting on stools or chairs around a workbench just busy talking. I couldn't help but think, 'Why should I work so hard when no one else is?' That was until I remembered that I was working for the Lord.
In a similar way we can be discouraged by the apathy of brethren. In a congregation I once visited there was also visiting one Sunday a brother well known for his personal evangelism classes. It surprised me at the time that he was not invited to teach at least the Adult class. The following Sunday after he left, the preacher in his sermon chastised the congregation for their apathy, and said that he could have invited this brother to teach on personal evangelism, but why bother because no one by their actions seemed to be interested in personal evangelism. I believe he made a mistake, nevertheless it was because he was discouraged by the apathy of some.
We are also going to face discouragement from sinful brethren. We want to do what is right and to encourage others to do right also. Nevertheless there are some who are making no effort to overcome sin. They smoke, drink, gamble, give poorly, don't attend, gossip, lie, backbite and a host of other things. In these things there is not even an attempt to improve. There will be yet others who want to bring in false teachings and practices, for which there is no scriptural authorisation. These brethren are a discouragement by their attitude, their lack of commitment, and their indifference to God's word.
Adversity will come from slander. Those who strive to live in a godly fashion and teach the same will always have those who will accuse them of false motives and actions. I have heard of faithful brethren being accused of wanting to have the pre-eminence in the church, of being legalistic, of misappropriating church funds, or of being divisive, etc. There have been no grounds to these allegations, they have been prompted by jealousy and spite.
There will also be threats. What are the job prospects like for a Christian secretary who refuses to lie for her boss? Or what about the Christian who refuses to work overtime because it will interfere with worship, Bible Study or some other aspect of the Lord's work?
What about the situation in which one spouse wants to do God's will and the other is indifferent or opposed? In I Cor 7:15, Paul refers to some marriages which will break up because one spouse is a faithful Christian whilst the other is not. I know of some Christians, when their marriage has been under threat for doing the Lord's will, have compromised their faith for the sake of peace.
There are threats that we may face of a legal nature. In some parts of this country it is now illegal for parents to exercise corporal punishment in a Biblical fashion. I know of one instance in which government officials rebuked a Christian lady when she gave her naughty child a smack. In yet another legal area: unfaithful members who have been withdrawn from have instigated or threatened legal action as a result of this disciplinary measure.
The time may not be far off when the church is threatened legally because of our Biblical stand against homosexuality or women leading in the church. These instances are seen as unjustifiably discriminatory by our increasingly humanistic legal system.
There will also be threats of physical harm we may have to face. In New Testament times confessing Christ was potentially a capital crime. In some countries today, it still is. Recently I received an email telling of one fourteen old year girl in Pakistan who had become a Christian. Excitedly she went and told her Muslim parents, who when they received the news arranged for her to be executed.
Even in this country I know of brethren who have been threatened with harm to either self or property, purely because they are Christians. When we are faced with opposition and discouragement, what will our reaction be?
Nehemiah faced adversity to the point of receiving a death threat. Can we really imagine what this would be like, receiving a serious death threat for no other reason than that we were following God? It would have been so easy for him to flee and rationalise his actions: "I'm the Governor - it's important for us that I be kept safe"; "Once the threat has passed, then I'll come out and we will resume the work"; "I'm more useful alive than dead". Such an attitude would have represented a compromise of all that he professed, all that he was trying to do, and of his trust in God's care.
Thankfully Nehemiah stood firm: "And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in" Neh. 6:11. This stand of Nehemiah put him in the distinguished company of men like Meshach, Shadrach, and Abed-Nego, who when told to worship the image Nebuchadnezzar set up or be burnt alive in the furnace, refused. Or Daniel, who when he was told not to petition anyone else other than the king for thirty days, immediately went home and prayed to God. Or Paul, who for the cause of Christ, was beaten, stoned and was eventually executed because he would not back down. But most importantly, Nehemiah's stand puts him in the company of our Lord who refused to back away from the cross.
As a result of his stand we continue to be impressed by his faithfulness, purpose and courage until this very day. When our turn comes, will we be found standing fast? That we will face persecution is certain: "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." II Timothy 3:12. When faced with adversity through persecution, discouragement, and opposition, what will our stand be? Will we remain faithful to the point of death (Rev 2:10b)? Will we be able to say "Shall such a man (or woman) as I flee?" To answer that question we need to examine what sort of man Nehemiah was.
We note that Nehemiah was one of God's people - a Jew. But he was not just any Jew he was a faithful Jew. He was a man who was aware of his own sinfulness, a man of constant prayer, and also a man who was very much interested in the Lord's people and their welfare.
He was a man of purpose. When he saw that there was a need he resolved to do something about it.
He was a man of action. There is a saying: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." There is a degree of truth in this - often we see a need and resolve to do something, but for various reasons we end up doing nothing. When Nehemiah saw a need he just didn't talk and pray about it - he did it!
Nehemiah was also a man of principle. It would have been politically smart for him to have forged some kind of alliance with the people of the land - certainly this is what many of our political leaders would do today! However Nehemiah was not going to compromise with an ungodly people over what he knew to be right.
Coupled with his principles was his integrity. He spoke and encouraged what was right and he himself did what was right! We see it in his helping his fellows in the building of the wall and also in his fair treatment of his brethren. Each of these qualities go together like bricks in a wall, making for a faith which could say "Shall such a man as I flee?"
We need to be God's people. To be a people who have become Christians by believing in Jesus, repenting of our sins, confessing our belief in Jesus, and by being baptised for the remission of sins. However we need to move beyond this and be dedicated as Christians - to be faithful worshippers of God and to be vitally concerned about the Lord's work and His people. We cannot afford to spiritually meander, we must be people of purpose. Our greatest desires, and those which our goals are to be centred, are to be about the Lord's work and to seek first the kingdom of heaven.
We need also to be people of action. Not just hearers, but doers of the word (James 1:22; I John 3:18). We need to be more than seat warmers and spiritual spectators in the Lord's church.
Like Nehemiah we have to be principled. We do this by firstly knowing the will of God and then taking the position that if something is right, then it's right and we will not compromise. These principles are to then be translated into integrity whereby what we believe is consistent with what we both say and do. We should be people whereby our word, our profession of faith, is our bond. If we work at putting all these into practice then we will also be able to say rhetorically "Shall such a man as I flee?"
Nehemiah then was a man who faced much discouragement. However in the face of it he showed great commitment towards the Lord. Finally we consider the example he set for us. The whole purpose of the threat to Nehemiah was to cause him to sin (Nehemiah 6: 10-13). Had he fled into the temple then, if he had not been a priest, he would have sinned. Even if he were, such an action would have opened him up to the accusation that he was afraid. He would have been seen to be intimidated and he would have been seen to lack faith.
Fleeing would have ruined his leadership and authority and placed him in a situation whereby it would have been very difficult for him to recover. His action would also have been very discouraging for others. If he were seen to be afraid then the others also would have been made to fear and the work on the wall would have ground to a halt. However by Nehemiah standing firm in the light of the threats several things were accomplished. The wall was finished in a remarkably short space of time; God was allowed to defeat his enemies; Nehemiah's credibility was maintained; and he set an example for us today.
Persecution, opposition, and discouragement are Satan's very effective tools to have us leave off the Lord's work. When they come our way we need to consider what sort of example we will be to others, for none of us live entirely to ourselves. If we flee into silence, compromise or inaction we will have failed not only our Lord but also our brethren. We will also give a great opportunity for others to discredit the Lord and His people. If we fold in the face of adversity it is a difficult (but not impossible) position from which to recover our credibility as Christians.
Our example needs to be like that of Nehemiah's, whereby we make our stand
and come what may we will not be moved from doing what is right. If we do this
then we will allow the Lord to work with us and through us and we will be an
example for our brethren both now and into the future. This kind of
faithfulness, courage, and example will only come by living faithfully in the
little things of life each day. Let us work towards a faith, which will boldly
say: "Shall such a man as I flee?"