Builders of the Ministry


King Nebuchadnezzar first marched into Jerusalem in the year 606 BC (cf. 2 Chr 36:5–7; Dan 1:1). Many of the Jews were sent into exile, including King Jehoiakim. Twenty years later, in 586 BC, because of the persistent wickedness of the Jews and the rebellion of king Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar’s army marched into Jerusalem and razed it. The temple and palaces, as well as the wall of Jerusalem, were torn down (2 Chr 36:19).


Fifty years later, or seventy years after the first exile in 606 BC, the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer 25:11–12) was fulfilled, and the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. The people were eventually able to complete rebuilding the temple after the LORD sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to preach to them. The wall of Jerusalem however remained in ruin and, as long as it remained in ruin, Israel could not defend herself and so to function as a proper nation again.


There were some attempts to rebuild the wall during the reign of king Ahasuerus (of Queen Esther) and the initial years of king Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:6–7), but their efforts were brought to a stand-still and whichever parts of the wall were built were destroyed by the enemies of the Jews by the sanction of Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:12, 23).


It was only in the year 446 BC, more than 90 years after the Jews first returned from exile, that Nehemiah, who was still serving in the Persian court as the cup bearer, heard about the situation in Jerusalem, and after much prayer, as recorded in Nehemiah 1, he asked permission from the king to return to help the people rebuild the wall. The king granted him leave, and so in Nehemiah 2, we see Nehemiah arriving in Jerusalem, and conducting an inspection of the wall. Three days later, he announced to the people, that they should rebuild the wall. The people unanimously agreed, and so begun the rebuilding process.


Nehemiah 3 records for us how the work was carried out. This chapter is a very important chapter for the archaeologists and historians because it contains a detailed description of the topography of ancient Jerusalem. We are, however, not so concern with that. Our concern is the lessons we may draw from the description of the people involved in the rebuilding work.


The building of the wall, after all, provides a very beautiful analogy for the work of the church. As the work of rebuilding the wall required much effort, it being “great and large” (Neh 4:19), so the building of the church is no mean task. As the rebuilding of the wall required teamwork and contribution from every member of the returnees and their families, so the ministry of the church cannot possibly be shouldered by the officers of the church alone. But while the rebuilding of the wall involves the piecing together of rocks and boulders, the work of the church involves the building-up of “lively stones” (1 Pet 2:5).


With this in mind, let us consider some of the participants in the rebuilding of the wall that we may learn some lessons pertaining to our individual contribution in the work of the church.


The High Priest and the Other Priests


The list of workers begins with Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests (v. 1). I believe that it is no coincidence that these priests should be listed first. Israel was properly a theocracy and secondarily a monarchy and, in the absence of the monarch, the high priest would naturally be esteemed as the most important person amongst the exiled. With this in mind, the hands-on contribution of the high priest is instructive.


In the first place, it demonstrated his humility. He could have excused himself by saying that the nature of his work is religious, and so he should leave the work for others to do. He did not do so and so provides an excellent lesson for the officers of the church. Sometimes, it may be prudent for the officers of the church to step back and allow the members of the church opportunities to contribute to the work. For example, in PCC, I think it is a good idea that we leave our Psalters on the chairs after the service and the officers of the church do not attempt to collect them. Why? So that the children will be given opportunities to contribute to the work, by collecting them! Nevertheless, the officers of the church must be willing to do the most menial and unrewarding tasks when necessity arises.


Remember how our LORD washed the feet of His disciples and said:

Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him (Jn 13:13–15).


If Jesus, the LORD of Lords, the King of kings, was willing to stoop down and do such a menial and humble task as washing His disciples’ feet, then surely, those who are called to be His servants in the church, must be very willing to do the same. Christian leaders, we must remember, must never be lords over the Lord’s heritage, but be examples and servants to the flock (cf. 1 Pet 5:3; Mk 9:35). All officers of the church must be willing to pour out their lives for the members of the church sacrificially. They must constantly be thinking of what examples they are setting for the members of the church.


Consider the priests. Consider how they 
Led by example.


The Tekoites


But what if the leaders of the church do not set good examples? What if you are a member of the church and you notice the poor example of one or two of the leaders? Well, the temptation to judge, murmur, and to think lowly of these leaders, will no doubt be very strong. But I would urge that we should refrain from doing so. What the Scripture teaches us concerning not judging others (Mt 7:1–4) and esteeming others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3) must also be applied in our relationship with the leaders of the church too. Moreover, the Scripture also teaches us to be respectful to such as are older than us even when they err (1 Tim 5:1). The same principle may be applied to the officers of the church. An officer of the church who persists in bad example, without valid reasons despite entreaty from members and fellow officers of the church, may eventually have to face the discipline of the church.


In the meantime, what should you as a member do? I believe you should pray. But beyond that you should learn from example of the Tekoites.


Notice that in verse 5, the Tekoites were repairing a section of the wall, but their nobles would not lend a hand. The Tekoites were, however, not discouraged. In fact, to the shame of their leaders, the Tekoites not only diligently worked on the portion they were assigned, but repaired an additional section of the wall as well (v. 27).


This surely is an excellent lesson for us. If your leaders are not setting good examples in any aspect of Christian life, you must still do what is pleasing to the Lord. You must work doubly hard that peradventure the Lord may grant repentance to your leaders when they see your good example.

Consider the Tekoites. Consider how they Laboured the harder.


The Men of Jericho


Jericho is situated more than 20 kilometres northeast of Jerusalem. Of all those who participated in the rebuilding of the wall, the men of Jericho (v. 2) dwelt furthest from Jerusalem. In that sense, it would appear that having a wall in Jerusalem would benefit the men of Jericho least. If there was going to be an impending invasion, for example, it would not be easy for them to flee to Jerusalem to benefit from the protection there.


But the men of Jericho came. They could have excused themselves from coming, by appealing both to inconvenience and the fact that they would not reap any immediate benefits from the wall. But they came anyway. In doing so, they exemplified the teachings of Paul: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil 2:4).


In these days of consumerism and selfish individualism, many will be tempted to do only such things as will benefit them directly in tangible ways. Sadly, this attitude has also crept into the church. Many of us today will join a local church as members only when we perceive we can benefit from being members in the church. And many of us attend worship to receive rather than to ascribe worth and glory to God. One tell-tale sign of this attitude is that evening worship services for which “interesting topics and speakers” have been scheduled will generally be better attended than those with “routine” Gospel messages and regular preachers. In the same way, many of us will be willing to serve in the church in visible capacities rather than in the background. So many a modern Christian will be keen to be a Sunday School teacher, but reluctant to come early on the Lord’s day to get things in order for the worship service.


But we should rather learn to give without thinking of receiving. The Lord Himself teaches us: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).


Consider the men of Jericho. Consider how they 
Look beyond their own interest.


The Goldsmiths and Apothecaries


The goldsmiths, and apothecaries or perfume-makers, were involved in rebuilding the wall too (vv. 8, 32). These could simply have excused themselves by saying: “We are highly skilled professionals, and the things we do are so refined, how could we be involved in burdensome work of construction?” But no, they came too. The job may be too menial and mundane for their skills. But it did not matter they could contribute to it nevertheless. They might not know how to build, but they were willing to learn.


This is how a church must function. Many of us have special skills, but these skills are not always needed, or there might be too many persons with the same skills, in which case we must be willing to serve in another area. “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” (1 Cor 12:17). If there is a number of persons skilled in desktop publishing, but only one is needed, then the rest must learn to contribute in other areas. Then again, there are some areas of service in the church which may require much effort and commitment, but little skills, such as logistic arrangements. Are we willing to contribute in these areas too though we may have professional secular callings? The Apostle Paul teaches us: “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil 2:3b).


Consider the goldsmiths and apothecaries. Consider how they 
Lowered themselves.


The Daughters of Shallum


Here, a surprising group of builders: women (v. 12). At least it must have been somewhat surprising for Nehemiah, for he made special mention of them. Shallum the son of Halohesh was building on a part of the wall. Whether he had sons or not, we do not know, but one thing is certain, he was building the wall with his daughters!


Now, we must realise that the work of building the wall is no delicate matter. The wall was probably made up of massive rocks hewn from the surrounding hills. Some of these rocks must have been so huge that they require several men to lift. To make matter worst, Jerusalem sits at the top of a hillock, and when the wall was broken down, some of the blocks would have fallen down the slopes, and many of them would be buried under much soil and debris. The builders had to dig these up, haul them up the hill (they did not have modern machines), and put them back in place and cement them down with limestone mortar. It was a very tedious and, in some sense, dirty job.


The women could easily have excused themselves for their lack of strength, but they did not. They came, and they contributed to the work. Now, we can apply the example of the women’s contribution generally to encourage those of us who feel feeble or inhibited to serve because of various limitations, such as very taxing workloads in the office. But let’s think for a moment of how women can contribute in the church. Is it true as someone said: “women in a Reformed church are to be babysitters and cooks only?” I think not. Though, because of the inability of men in these areas, the sisters’ contributions are much appreciated here, the sisters can help out in many other areas too. Who says that only the men can work in the PA team? Who says the women cannot help arrange chairs? Who says women cannot in private conversation help to “expound… the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26)? Who says women cannot contribute much to the prayer life of the church? Though they should not pray publicly, their agreement in public prayer and their private prayers are invaluable for the work of the church. And who says, being a godly mother is not serving in the church in an important role? And besides, is it not true that many a minister of the Gospel has his hands strengthened because of the motherly counsels and encouragement of older women in the congregations (cf. 1 Tim 5:2). The fact is that every hand and every willing heart in the congregation can contribute significantly to the work through various legitimate ways.


So let us consider the daughters of Shallum. Consider how they 
Lend a hand.


The Merchants


The final group of builders we should consider here is the merchants (v. 32). Merchants are essentially businessmen. Most businessmen are opportunists by instinct and training. This time of great activity as the wall was rebuilt would certainly be an excellent time for businessmen to make some profit. They could, for example, profit by selling trowels and drinks. But they set aside their pecuniary interest, and decided to join in the work. By their laying aside their selfish ambitions, they exemplified Paul’s instruction to “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory” (Phil 2:3a).


Such an attitude in every member is important for the successful building of a local church. Where the members of the church are pursuing their personal interests, opinions, and preferences, the church will be bound to be disunited. How could she be united when her members are pursuing their individual agendas, which can be very different? This is why the Lord appoints officers in the church to lead the church. The officers, particularly the elders in the church, are responsible to set the direction of the church according to the dictates of the Word of God and the state of the flock (Prov 27:23; Jn 21:15–16). Sometimes they may not represent the majority of the members, and sometimes they may even set directions for the church, which may not be agreeable to certain members of the church. Now, unless the members are convinced by Scripture that the leaders are wrong, they ought to submit to the leadership (cf. Heb 13:17). In other words, members should learn to set aside their personal opinions and prejudices in order to work in concert with the other members in the church according to the direction and pace set by the appointed officers. This, I believe, is how a church should function and grow.


Consider the merchants. Consider how they 
Laid aside their personal interests.


Conclusion


When we look at the varied backgrounds, gifts and stations in life, of the participants in the building of the wall, we are reminded of the very important principle of participation in the church. The church is like a body, for as the Apostle Paul says: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1 Cor 12:12).


Every one of us whom God has placed in the church has an important part to contribute in the work of the church. Let us consider the builders of the wall, and think for a moment how we too can have a role in the body of Christ



JJ Lim