Plan the Work, Part 4: Work the Plan
No matter how big or how small, with any project, there comes a time when you just have to get started. A few months ago Sears was having a sale on exercise equipment. I know that I need to lose some weight and get back into shape, so we bought an elliptical. I don’t know if you’re familiar with what an elliptical is, but it’s kind of a cross between a treadmill and a bike and a stairstepper. Well, first I had to find time to unload it out of the truck. That took a couple of weeks. Then I had to find time to get it out of the garage and put it together. That took a few more weeks. Now, I’ve got the thing put together and sitting in my bedroom. And do you know what? I haven’t lost a single pound yet. Maybe I actually have to get on it for it to do me any good. It reminds me of the poem I heard this week:
I spent a fortune on a trampoline
A stationary bike and a rowing machine
Complete with gadgets to read my pulse
And gadgets to prove my progress results
And others to show the miles I’ve charted
But they left off the gadget to get me started!
The remnant didn’t need a gadget to get them started. That’s what we see them doing in this chapter. And by doing the work the way they did in this chapter, they accomplished a task that was far greater than anything they should have been capable of doing. This ragtag, piecemeal remnant in Jerusalem did something they weren’t capable of. They didn’t have the resources to do it. They didn’t have the people to do it. They didn’t have the skill to do it. Up until this point, they didn’t even have the will to do it. As a matter of fact, up until this point, they didn’t really even see the need to do it. But now they did. And they did something so far over their abilities, that the nations around them were amazed. I’m sure even they were amazed. Do you know what happens when God’s people are able to do things they aren’t capable of doing? God gets glory. God gets the most glory when He accomplishes something through us that we can’t take credit for. We can take credit for programs and budgets and skills and abilities. But when we are able to accomplish something bigger than all of those things, God has to get credit. That’s what happened here. God was glorified by the willing work of a bunch of feeble Jews. He was glorified by the way they accomplished the work—by the way they worked the plan Nehemiah developed for them. They accomplished the work in the exact same way that God calls His church to accomplish the mission He’s given us. Do you remember what God’s mission for the remnant was? To lift up His name before the nations. They were to do it through His temple and His holy city Jerusalem. Now, do you remember what our mission is, as the church? Our mission is to lift up His name before the nations. We are to do it by fulfilling His Great Commission. We are to make disciples of Jesus. We are to baptize them and teach them. And we are to do that here in our neighborhood. We are to do it in our area. We are to do it cross-culturally. And we are to do it throughout the world. Look around at who we have here tonight. Sanballat called the Jews feeble. What do you think he would call us? Do you think we are capable of fulfilling our mission? I don’t. And you know what? That’s good. Just like it was good that the remnant was not capable of rebuilding a 2 ½ mile wall that in places was up to 8 feet thick… complete with gates and watchtowers. Because when we accomplish that mission… and I believe that we will… then nobody can give us credit. Just like nobody could give the remnant credit for getting the wall rebuilt.
This chapter does more than simply give us a list of names and landmarks. It gives us a two part pattern of the way God works through His people to accomplish His work. The two part pattern that is set forth here, is the exact same two part pattern that He sets for His church today. And it is the exact same two part pattern He has set forth for us at Brushfork Baptist Church. The first of those two parts is that God accomplishes His work through the diversity of His people.
God accomplishes His work through the diversity of His people. Once you get past the seeming redundancy of this chapter, one of the things that is clear is that the tasks were different for different people. The workload was not evenly distributed. Somebody today might even accuse Nehemiah of not being fair in the way he assigned tasks. Things weren’t even. Some people worked a lot harder than others. Some people accomplished a lot more than others. The job was divided into 45 sections. That’s a problem when you only have 40 work crews. Why did Nehemiah divide it that way? I don’t know. We see in verse 5 that some of the crews wouldn’t do their work. That probably caused part of it. But other than that, we don’t really know. All we know is that there were more sections than there were crews to work them. You know what that means? It means that some of the work crews took on more than one section. At least 8 times in this passage, people are mentioned as having “repaired the other piece” or “repaired another piece.” That means that they finished their original assignment and went on to do somebody else’s work for them. They either picked up what somebody else was lacking or they went on to do a section that nobody was assigned to. And it wasn’t like Nehemiah’s original assignments were distributed evenly. The modern cry of fairness wasn’t in his vocabulary. Look at the assignment Hanun and the people from Zanoah had in verse 13. They had to build a major gate—complete with framing, doors and all the security hardware. Then they had to build 1500 feet of wall. That was far more than any other work crew had to build. As a matter of fact, that one work crew alone built over 10% of the wall by themselves. And then there were some crews that were only responsible to build small sections. Was that fair? Not by some people’s thinking. But as I tell my kids all the time—life isn’t fair. Workload is never evenly distributed. And even if it could be, people will always look at the work that other people do as being easier than what they are doing. But the fact is that workload can never be evenly distributed. And God doesn’t call for it to be. Some people can do more than others. Because of physical or other limitations, some people can hardly do anything. But no matter how much or how little you can do, God calls you to do it with all your might. Even though the workload will not be even, the commitment to God’s work should be.
But not only was the workload different, the level of involvement was different. Even though everyone should be committed, some people will always be more completely sold-out than others. In verse 12, we see that Shallum was so sold out that he got his daughters involved in construction. That might not seem uncommon today, but it certainly was back then. Women didn’t do a whole lot of wall building in those days. Maybe Shallum didn’t have any sons—the Text doesn’t say. But whether he did or didn’t, it was above and beyond the call of duty for him to involve his daughters like he did. He was completely sold-out. Just like Baruch was in verse 20. Baruch was so sold-out that Nehemiah gave him a compliment that he didn’t give anybody else. He said that he “earnestly” repaired. The word in the original doesn’t have a direct translation in English. It’s usually used in connection with anger and it carries the sense of burning. The best way to describe it is to say that Baruch was on fire for the work he was doing. He was zealous. He was “ate up” with his work. So much so that it caught the attention of everyone around him and even Nehemiah. His enthusiasm for his work was infectious.
The workload was different and the level of involvement was different. Also, the personal interests were different. In all the times that I’ve skimmed through this passage in the past, mostly what I came away with was that Nehemiah assigned people to build the wall in front of where they lived. That’s true—for some people. Some work crews had a very vested interest in the wall that they built. It was very personal and self-protecting for them. If an enemy was going to breach the wall of Jerusalem, they wouldn’t want it to be in front of their house. But they weren’t the only ones to build the wall. As a matter of fact, contrary to most of the leadership lessons I’ve read about Nehemiah, most of the work crews didn’t have a vested personal interest in the section they were building. Some people built in front of their houses. Some of the priests and Levites built the wall in front of the High Priest’s house. But there were plenty of crews that just built because that’s where they were assigned to build. You might say, “Well everybody had a vested interest because they would all be protected by the wall.” That’s true—for the folks that lived in Jerusalem. But notice how many of the crews came were made up of Jews that came from the villages outside of Jerusalem. There were crews from Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah, Meronoth and Zenoah. There were even crews that came in from all the way across the Euphrates River. Jews came in from all the surrounding villages. The Tekoites even built two sections of a wall that they lived outside the protection of. They were going to get no direct, personal benefit from the work that they were doing. Yet they did twice as much as most of the people. People had all different levels of personal interest, but they still came together to do the work. It benefited some of them tremendously. Some of them it didn’t at all. But they still worked to get the job done.
Their workload, their level of involvement and their personal involvement was different. Also, their gifts and abilities were different. Remember what the job was that they were doing. They were building a wall. What kinds of skills would you look for if you were going to build a wall? Maybe carpenters, masons, people like that, right? Well, look at the qualifications some of Nehemiah’s crews brought to the table. Priests, Levites, Nethinims (temple servants), goldsmiths, merchants. Verse 8 talks about apothecaries. Do you know what that is? It means that they were perfumers. They made perfume. You don’t find many calluses on the hands of people who make perfume. If I was going to build a wall, I don’t think that perfumers would be high on my list. But they were on Nehemiah’s list. Everybody was on Nehemiah’s list. Why? Because that’s the way God designed His people. He designed each of us with different gifts and abilities. And in order for His work to be done in His way, He uses each of those different gifts and abilities. Just like He did with the remnant. Just like He does in His church today. Ephesians 4:11-16 says, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Just like He did with the remnant, God wired each of us differently. The diversity He gives us in the body of Christ is amazing. And He gives us that diversity for a reason. If you were all like me, we’d be in a mess. But God has given me certain gifts and talents and abilities and interests. And He’s given me those things in order to supply something that’s lacking in this body. And He’s done the same with you. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”
God gives us diversity. You like things I don’t. I like things you don’t. Each of you can do things the rest of us can’t do. You might even be a perfumer. And if you’re a perfumer, I have no idea how that will supply something that’s lacking in this body. I have no idea how the Lord will use that to help us accomplish the mission He’s given us. But do you know what? He will. No matter who you are or what you bring to the table, the Lord has you here for a reason. Our individual workload will not be the same. You’re not going to personally benefit from everything that we do. It might seem like you’re not even physically able to contribute a whole lot. But the Lord knew that before He put you here. And He’s got a piece of this wall that’s just right for you to work on. All you have to do is step up and be willing to do it. Out of all the people who are listed here, the only ones the Lord couldn’t use were back in verse 5. While the men of Tekoa were working double duty to build two sections of the wall, their noblemen didn’t do anything. We don’t know why. The only thing we do know is that the wall got built anyway. And they were left in the dust. God was glorified anyway and His name was lifted high among the nations. And they didn’t have anything to do with it. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t that lonely and sad and pitiful? I don’t want to be like that, do you? If you are here tonight and are part of the body of Christ, you have been bought by His blood. You have been bought with His blood and baptized in His Spirit. He has given you His Spirit individually. Why? So you can go off by yourself and be “blessed?” Of course not. He has given you His Spirit for all of us collectively to profit. Each of us who are saved come together in the power of the Spirit of Christ and are fitly joined together for one purpose. To glorify God by fulfilling our mission. Are we ready to do that? Then let us rise up and build and strengthen our hands for this good work.