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The People Had A Heart To Work

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Arise And Build!  All Things Are Possible With God’s Help

The People Had A “Heart” To Work

Nehemiah 4:1-6

“Wheelbarrow” Christians

       At the entrance of one of the great manufacturing plants in America is a sign that reads, “If you are like a wheelbarrow - going no farther than you are pushed - you need not apply for work here!”

In spiritual endeavor, too, one must always manifest personal initiative and zeal and be willing to go the second mile.

       Obviously, this little illustration is about the proper attitude.  Having the proper attitude is crucial to accomplishing what God wants us to accomplish.  In the book of Nehemiah, we find a group of people who had the proper attitude with respect to work.  Although Nehemiah is a book about leadership, leadership is worthless, if the people don’t have minds to work.  Where does the mind to work come from?  It comes partly from the motivation of Nehemiah and partly from the people themselves.  No leader can motivate people who do not want to be motivated.  As a matter of fact all people are already motivated.  They are motivated to accomplish that which is important to them.

       Secondarily, before we get into this, we must understand that God is a God of work!  The Bible states in:

John 5:16-17 (NASB-U), “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. [17] But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working’” (emphasis mine).

       Did you hear Jesus’ words?  “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”  God works, the Son of God works, and God created us to work!!!  That’s right!  Work is not a part of the curse, but was before the curse.  The curse was that work would be less productive and done with sweat.

       Consequently, we are to work for God now!  We think of this as having a job at the church, but 98% of believers will never have a job at the church, so we must learn to work for God wherever we are.  The same is true of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Only a very minuscule part of the Jews ever worked in the Tabernacle of Moses, The Tent of David, the Temple of Solomon, or Herod’s Temple.  They worshipped in the holy buildings, but they worked in the market place.  Therefore, we must learn to worship and work!  We worship in the church, but we work for God in the market place, i.e. on our jobs.

       And, finally, we shall work in eternity, i.e. we shall reign with Jesus!!!

       So, the proper attitude towards work is not only biblical, it is crucial to our ability to please God!!!

(Now, let’s survey the verses before us and see what happens when people have the proper attitude about work.  Please notice with me Nehemiah 4:1-6.  I will read this aloud for us.  Let’s look first at:)

I.     The Attack (vv. 1-3).

(First of all, we can see that the attack upon the Jews came in the form of resentment.  Resentment is anger that has soured through rumination.  Rumination is what a cow does.  He regurgitates his food and chews it again.  Rumination is thinking about something over and over, until it becomes more negative.

       First, we see:)

A.    The Resentment (vs. 1).

The opposition that Nehemiah and the Jews faced was the fury, anger, and resentment of Sanballat.  We see here the principle that those who seek to do the work of God will face opposition!!!

Many of us think that the will of God protects us from problems and troubles.  Not so!  On the contrary, doing God’s will guarantees us Satan’s wrath.  You would think that Sanballat would be inspired by the work of the small band of Jews, but he isn’t.  He is resentful because he represents Samaria to the north and is an enemy of the Jews.

       How do we respond to such anger and resentment?  Paul gives us one answer in:

Ephesians 6:10-13 (NASB-U), “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. [11] Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. [12] For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. [13] Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

The struggle is not against people; it’s the schemes of the devil, the rulers or demonic principalities, the world forces of this darkness, the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places!  And all of this takes place in the context of an evil day!!!

(Not only do we see resentment, but we can also see:)

B.    The Ridicule (vv. 1-3).

One of the main sources of opposition we must face is the poison arrow of criticism.  Most of us cannot stand criticism, yet Jesus perpetually faced it.  He was criticized by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, the High Priest and His own people.  He was criticized on every hand.  If they did it to Jesus, they will certainly do it to us!!!

I have suffered great criticism, it is painful, but I will not let it determine my destiny.

Some have been asking me, “Then why are you still talking about it?”  A great question!  The answer is:  God has commissioned me to teach about these things for three reasons:

1.     Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it;

2.     We have not learned what we should have learned from the past; and

3.     There are still those among us who are trapped in the past, who may hear me and still be set free.

Even as those who criticized Jesus did not realize who or what they were criticizing, we should be careful about criticizing that which we do not understand.

       Not only do we see criticism, but also the open mocking and ridicule of Sanballat and the wealthy Samaritans.

       It is important to note that constructive critics usually come to the source, while destructive critics usually do their criticizing behind your back.

       Sanballat went to his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and mocked those who were rebuilding the wall by:

Questioning their strength through calling them “feeble Jews.”

Questioning their motives with the question, “Are they going to restore it for themselves?”

Questioning their ministry, ability, and authority, “Can they offer sacrifices?”

Questioning the feasibility of their plans, “Can they finish in a day?”

Doubting their understanding of the job, “Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?”

       If you are a teacher, ministry leader in this church, or just a believer, you have probably been mocked in many of these ways.

I have been mocked in all of these ways.  When I organized this church, and I prefer the word “organizer” or “establishmentarian” to founder, because of the words of the hymn which state, “The Church’s one Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,” stating there is only one foundation or founder of the Church, i.e. Jesus Christ; be that as it may, I was told:

·        “You can’t start a church!”

·        “You don’t have any denominational backing!”

·        “You are not dynamic enough!”

       It was rumored that I wouldn’t go along with the church program, which was partly true—at first—and that I left in an uproar, which was not true.

       It was said that I just wanted to do something for selfish reasons.

       My spirituality was attacked:  I was told that I hadn’t been saved long enough.

I was told that I didn’t know what I was doing.

Our plans have been mocked.

Our early buildings were laughed at and called warehouses.

I was told as we prepared to purchase Thornton Street, Brown Street, rent J.C. Penney’s, buy land and build the Worship Center and Educational Building that we were making a mistake and getting in over our heads.

We were criticized again when we began working on the Great Worship Center.

We have even been criticized for our aggressive evangelistic policies.  Some have said, “Do they think we can get all of Akron saved?

Now we have purchased the Buchtel Plaza and everybody is not going to be happy about that!!!

In verse three, we see Tobiah the Ammonite join in the mocking and ridicule.  It is interesting to note that “Ammon was often in league with other nations against Israel, as, with Moab (Deut. 23:3-4); with Moab and Amalek (Judg. 3:13); with the Syrians (2 Sam. 10:1-19); with Gebal and Amalek (Psalm 83:7), and was almost always hostile, both before and after the captivity.

It seems that the one time that people can get together is to criticize and mock someone else.

Please be aware of the fact that the doom of Ammon, which is prophesied, in Ezekiel 25:5, 10; Zeph. 2:9) has been literally fulfilled” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary).  Those who mocked Israel were destroyed and every mouth that is raised against us shall be silenced!!!

       We have also been mocked and ridiculed by enemies.  Here are some of the cruel things that have been said about us.  Heading the list is that

·        We are a cult.

·        Everybody that joins The House of the Lord has to turn in their W-2 form.

·        I think I am too good to visit with other churches.

Etc., Etc., Etc.

       But, God will take care of our enemies as He took care of the enemies of Israel.  There is no weapon formed against us that can prosper!!!  God is our Protector, our Shield, our Stronghold, our Refuge, our Rock.

(So, how should we respond to criticism, mocking and ridicule?  We can answer this question by considering Nehemiah’s appeal.)

II.    The Appeal (vv. 4-5).

We should respond to criticism, mocking, and ridicule as Nehemiah handled it, by making an appeal to God.  Nehemiah prayed about it.  Nehemiah got righteously angry about it.  These people were opposing the work of God and Nehemiah prayed that God would return their own words upon their own heads.  Nehemiah prayed that God would not forgive their iniquity.

       When you hear this kind of ridicule concerning yourself or The House of the Lord, put it in the hands of the Lord.

Romans 12:19 (NASB-U), “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

Jesus also gives some advice on this situation in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:43-44 (NASB-U), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [44] ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”

Responding in prayer and yieldedness to the will of God, when facing ridicule, will keep you from experiencing undo anger, unforgiveness, depression, stress and burnout!!!

       One of my favorite stories reveals an important principle that I live by.  The story is the story of Shimei and David, when David was fleeing from his son Absalom.

       As David was fleeing, Shimei cursed David.  The Bible states in

2 Samuel 16:9-12 (NASB-U), “Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head.’ [10] But the king said, ‘What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah?  If he curses, and if the Lord has told him, “Curse David,” then who shall say, “Why have you done so?”’ [11] Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, ‘Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite?  Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. [12] Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.’”

David reasoned, “Perhaps the Lord has told him to curse me.  Let him do it, and perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and give me good instead of cursing!  David depended upon the sovereignty and divine providence of Jehovah God!

       Satan uses criticism to discourage us.  Perhaps that is why someone referred to discouragement as leukemia of the Human spirit!!!  But, we must see that criticism in the light of the sovereignty and divine providence of Jehovah God!  Evidently, God is allowing that cricisim?!

(We now know how we should respond when we are ridiculed, i.e. to appeal to God in prayer.  But, how should we act when we are criticized, mocked and ridiculed?  Let’s turn from the appeal to:)

III.   The Activity (vs. 6).

The Jews also responded to the ridicule with diligent work.

How should we handle ridicule?  By praying to God and diligently working for the Master.  Work takes our minds off of the unimportant things that our enemies might be doing and saying around us.  Work causes us to have a more positive attitude.

I’m going to work while it is day, for the night is coming when no man can work!!!

(Let’s look at the attitude which the Jews had in the midst of all of these trials.)

IV.   The Attitude (vs. 6).

The attitude of the Jews is illustrated in the last phrase of verse six,

“...for the people had a mind to work.”

This is one of those unfortunate translations of the Bible that is further compounded by Evangelical theology.  I have heard this preached and even preached it myself from the perspective of the mind, but the Hebrew word is not the word for mind, but rather the word for “heart.”  It is the Hebrew word lebThe word is variously translated inner man, mind, will, emotions, and heart.

       I have done in-depth study on this word and I believe it represents the intellect, emotions, and will with the emotions dominant.  From the perspective of cultural anthropology, in Mediterranean culture, the heart represented emotion-fused thought!  The heart represented the whole person!!!  The heart was the center of the personality.  Over and over, God talks about and requires wholeheartedness.

       So, this is actually a short-sighted translation.  It is not, “The people had a mind to work,” but “The people had a heart to work!”  This suggests that the people put did the work with emotion-fused thought, with the center of their personalities, with all that they were, with their intellect, emotions, and wills!!!  This suggests all that they were!!!

       The activity of work comes from the proper mind set, the proper will, or the proper attitude.  This certainly suggests an attitude that is intense!!!  But, what is “attitude”?

attitude - “4d a persistent disposition to act either positively or negatively toward a person, group, object, situation or value” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary).

The people had a persistent disposition to act positively towards working on building up the walls and repairing the gates of Jerusalem.

       We need a persistent disposition to act positively towards rebuilding the walls and repairing the gates of the Church of Jesus Christ!!!

       Now, “work” is such a foreign word to Americans, perhaps we had better define the word ‘work.’

Work - “1. activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something:  a:  sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result.”

Attitudes stem from values!  Values are “The standards or principles, in terms of which choices are made among alternate courses of action.”[1]  When we have a biblical value for work and for God’s people in the local body of Jesus Christ, we will have a positive disposition or attitude towards working to rebuild the walls and repairing the gates of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Now, no doubt prayer had a lot to do with the attitude which the Jews had.  Prayer was, at least in part, the significant emotional event which was molding their attitudes.

Sustained By A Right Spirit

       A Christian lady had always been faithful in the work of the Lord, and she was greatly loved by everyone who knew her.  Even when faced with trying circumstances, she displayed a beautiful spirit.  One day a friend asked her why she never seemed to be disheartened by life’s difficulties.  She replied, “I have special ointments for all such problems.  For vexations caused by people I apply affection.  For those caused by circumstances I apply prayer.  If infirmities or unexpected obstructions hinder my well-laid plans, I use the simple phrase, ‘Thy will be done.’”

       Let’s get a heart to work on the task of saving souls, loving the brethren, and building the walls of Christianity and the local church.  Let us cultivate a heart to work.

(Now is the Day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] International Social Sciences Council.

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