When Faith and Hard Work Collide

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To work well in service to God also means to work as His people—as valued individuals and as a unified body of believers.

Reading Nehemiah 3, we can’t help but notice the names of real, historical individuals recorded for us in Holy Scripture: each one Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 2.11.34 PMwas needed, and worthy to be written down for generations to read. But we must note as well the effect of all these names together, all these individuals joining in the task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall: “So we built the wall,” Nehemiah says (4:6; emphasis added).

God calls out not just individuals but a people—first the descendants of Abraham but finally all those who by faith are redeemed through Abraham’s promised seed, the Lord Jesus Christ. My identity in Christ is as a member of His body, the church, and any work I do for Christ, I do as a member of that body (see 1 Cor. 12:12-26).

Once we have put our faith in Him, this is our eternal identity: we become part of God’s called-out people.

The work of God’s people demands humility, as many come together to serve the Lord to whom we all belong. In the lists of Nehemiah 3 appear those of the highest positions along with groups of more common laborers—all joining together to rebuild this city of God’s promise.

The proud Tekoite nobles in verse 5 are at this point an exception that proves the rule. Almost as if they are ashamed of their nobles, the ordinary men of Tekoa take on an additional section (see 3:5,27). In chapter 4 Nehemiah shows his leadership by leading the way in self-sacrificing and unceasing participation.

Without masterful organization, all the humble participation in the world could not make for the quick kind of progress we see here. Nehemiah knows that God’s work must be done decently and in order. Be sure to note the structured progression of workers carefully described section by section in chapter 3—as well as the logic of the placement of many of them. Clearly, faith in God and ordered planning merge beautifully in this rebuilding project. Both the faith and the order are severely challenged in chapter 4.

To work as God’s people means we will face scorn and opposition from the world.

We see this dramatically in chapter 4, as leaders of the surrounding nations jeer and threaten these Jews who are rebuilding their broken-down walls. The wisdom and work of God often appear as foolishness to unbelievers (see 1 Cor. 1:17-25). But it is potent foolishness—foolishness that threatens—and so its opponents threaten back.

Until Christ comes again, believers will be under attack. The apostle Paul makes clear against whom we Christians wrestle: not flesh and blood, but “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:10-12). Nehemiah’s response to opposition shows, finally, that he leads God’s people in this work sustained by faith in the Lord God. Such faith does not mean less hard work, but it means that in all our work we know what Nehemiah knows: “Our God will fight for us” (4:20). This faith is demonstrated in the immediate and continued prayers of Nehemiah and his people in the face of opposition (4:4,9). This faith is demonstrated in Nehemiah’s wholehearted encouragement of his people: “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome “(4:14). This faith is demonstrated even in Nehemiah’s unrelenting planning in the face of conflict.

Prayer and wit and sweat all merge in this scene. Verse 9 well summarizes the continuing combination of faith and hard work: “We prayed to our God and set a guard.”

What a challenging picture for God’s people today: excellent work in service to God as His people willingly and humbly come together, unified under a wise leader who orders them well and who teaches them to put their faith in the faithful Lord God, persevering even in the face of opposition.

To read more, check out Rebuild: A Study in Nehemiah, by Dr. Kathleen Nielson. Rebuild: A Study in Nehemiah is part of The Gospel Coalition Women’s Initiatives. To learn more about The Gospel Coalition, click here.

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