Nehemiah said, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3). Knowing the discouragement church leaders face, I delivered the following teaching at a pastors’ conference.
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Nehemiah said, ““I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3). There is something oddly comforting about speaking with other pastors and hearing them share about their trials. It reveals that we are not alone when it comes to ministry, and that they have all had to say this at times.
When I looked at the list of pastors attending, I was reminded of some of the situations some of you have shared with me (NOTE I changed the names for privacy reasons):
- Paul, we actually became close when you were going through a really difficult situation in your church. Who would have thought that not long in the future I would go through something similar.
- Peter, I remember hearing about the circumstances that led to your departure from your previous church and how difficult that was.
- James, I remember being on the phone with you while you shared about the difficulty navigating through everything with COVID.
- John, last time we saw each other you shared about something happening in your church, and you thought so little of it, that it made me think that you’ve been through so much by this point that it doesn’t even phase you anymore.
The rest of you I’m sure have stories you could share with me, but I just haven’t had the time to hear them yet.
Knowing we all face opposition and discouragement, I wanted to look at a verse that has encouraged me the last couple years and that I hope can encourage all of you. Go ahead and turn to Nehemiah 6.
As much as Genesis is about beginnings, Job is about suffering, and Proverbs is about wisdom, Nehemiah is about discouragement.
Nehemiah Was Tempted to Come Down from the Great Work
You all know the situation: the Jews returned from exile and try to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but they face opposition from all sides, and sometimes even from within. This seems to be the case whenever God’s people come together to build something. I hope we can all relate to this. Jesus said he would build his church, and as church leaders we take part in that construction.
Nehemiah 6:1 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm.
They heard the work had gone well, so they tried to ruin it.
First, let me say that when people in our churches oppose us, I am not necessarily comparing them with Sanballat and Tobiah. I think there are three reasons people in our church fight against us:
- First, they are like Sanballat and Tobiah. They’re simply ungodly people. Their motives are bad and they are dominated by their flesh. We all have some people like this.
- Second, they are ignorant. They don’t know better. They might be deceived by other people, they don’t know the whole story, and they are acting out of this ignorance.
- Third, they think they are doing something good. They sincerely believe we are wrong, and they sincerely believe their cause is righteous.
This is why it is so important for us to pray that God reveals any of our fault to us, or sin that needs to be repented of. I hope my elders would say that they have heard me pray multiple times during our meetings that God would reveal any fault or sin to us. We could be ignorant or deceived. What if we thought we were doing something good, when in fact we were in the wrong? None of us are perfect. We must ask God to examine our hearts and show us if there is any wicked way in us.
Keep In Mind We are Doing a Great Work
The next verse is the one that has come to my mind many times, and I hope it might serve as an encouragement for each of you as well when you face opposition…
Nehemiah 6:3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
Christ is building his church and as pastors and elders we have been given incredibly sacred positions. While we would not say, “I am doing a great work,” we could say that Christ is doing a great work and we are privileged to be part of it.” And for that we should be thankful.
I think the elders I serve with are more mature than me. At the least, they don’t seem to be as bothered by some people’s behavior as I have been. I feel like it is easier for them not to come down and let the work stop. I on the other hand, frequently feel tempted to come down. I think things like:
- “We need to meet with these people and help them see the truth.”
- “We need to talk to these people about what they have done.”
- “These people said these things about us that are not true, and they need to be confronted.”
- “We need to respond detailing all the problems with what they said.”
- “His wife is out of control – I find myself saying this more often the longer I’m in ministry – and we need to talk to him about it.”
I’m not saying there are not good reasons to talk with people or confront them, but we could spend all of our ministries:
- Following up with people
- Trying to correct every false perception
- Confronting every little thing that is said
- Making sure everyone knows the truth about us
It’s exhausting, and if we do this, the work stops.
What It Looks Like to not Come Down
Two words that stuck with me are come down. Over the last two years I have frequently felt tempted to come down. Unfortunately, often when we leave our post and come down to the level of the people opposing us, the work stops. We need to respond like Nehemiah and say, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
What does this look like practically? It means:
- Not responding to that post on Facebook that looks subtle, but you can tell is criticizing you, your sermon, and your leadership.
- Not responding to that gossip, when someone tells you that the angry couple who left the church is trashing you at their new church.
- Smiling and waving to those people you know have tried to destroy you and your ministry.
- Not dwelling on those couples who hated each other in your church, but left your church bitterly and then suddenly became close friends who are united by their bitterness and now mutually support each other.
As one of my elders, Jim says, we need to leave these people out there with God.
Look at verse 4…
Nehemiah 6:4 And they sent to me FOUR TIMES IN THIS WAY, and I answered them in the same manner.
People opposing us can be very persistent. It can seem like their Facebook posts and gossip never stop. But Nehemiah was equally persistent. As many times as they tried to pull him away from the work God wanted him doing, he stayed committed to it.
The Solution When We Are Tempted to Come Down
The solution that I would do well – and I suspect it could be the same for many of you – is to apply 1 Peter 2:21-23 and follow Christ’s example…
1 Peter 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but CONTINUED ENTRUSTING HIMSELF TO HIM WHO JUDGES JUSTLY.
He left himself in His Father’s hands, and we should follow his example. We need to trust him with our reputations and let him untangle the messes.
Why Nehemiah Was Able to Say, “I Am Doing a Great Work and I Cannot Come Down”
Lessons from him earlier in Nehemiah 1:
- 1:2 says Nehemiah “asked concerning the Jews who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.” He was a concerned man, and husbands should be concerned about their wives “loving them as their own bodies” (Eph 5:28).
- 1:4 says when Nehemiah “heard how the Jews were doing, he sat down and wept, and mourned for many days.” He was a sensitive man, sympathetic to the difficulties and struggles of others. Wives appreciate having husbands that are concerned about them and seek to “dwell with them in understanding” (1 Pet 3:7).
- 1:5-7 discuss him “fasting and praying before the God of heaven,” Whom he considered to be “great and awesome.” He was a deeply spiritual man with a very high view of God. Men need to pray with and for their wives and children, and exalt God to them.
- 1:7 quotes Nehemiah saying, “We have acted very corruptly, and have not kept Your commandments, statutes or ordinances.” Even though it wasn’t Nehemiah’s fault the Jews had been taken into exile, and we can be sure he was more righteous than them, he still included himself as one of the transgressors. This sets a great example for men who should confess their sins, and not make excuses, but seek forgiveness.
- 1:8 continues his prayer where he quotes Leviticus 26:33 and Deuteronomy 30:2-5 showing he was a man who knew God’s Word and relied on His covenants. Men need to regularly be in God’s Word and lean on the promises He’s made in it.
- 1:11 he prayed, “Please grant me mercy in the sight of the king” regarding his request to return to Jerusalem. He recognized if he would be allowed to return it would be because that’s what God granted. He sets a wonderful example for fathers and husbands to completely depend on God.
- The chapter closes with the words, “I was the king’s cupbearer.” He was a very trusted and loyal man to have this position, showing the loyalty men should have to their wives and children and the trust that should be able to be put in them as a result.
I love Nehemiah and Ezra. I also love my John Maxwell study Bible. Here is what Maxwell says about Nehemiah:
Well said Joe, thanks. I think I remember reading in your info that Ezra and/or Nehemiah were one/both of your favorite books to teach.
There is so much we can learn from him as fathers, husbands and leaders.
Think I’m going to copy down those notes and add them to my Nehemiah notes.
Thank you! You made this scripture even clearer.
You are welcome. I’m blessed that my post ministered to you. God bless!