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April-May 2022

Everyday Discipleship


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Are YOU the Weakest Link?

By Eric K. Thomsen


“Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jenny right over.”

Perhaps you remember the game of Red Rover from childhood. Two teams, arms linked, face one another. One team recites the familiar sing-song chant, usually picking out the scrawniest, weakest member of the opposing team. The unlucky kid leaves his team’s line and runs full speed across the playground to (hopefully) break through the linked arms of the opposing team. The simple object of the game? To find the weakest link.

Nehemiah 3 is honestly the kind of chapter I sometimes want to skip during daily Bible readings—a virtual laundry list of unpronounceable names. Yet, upon closer examination, Nehemiah 3 is not a chapter to skip. It may be the most interesting chapter in a fascinating book, filled with subtle yet important lessons about the work of God.

Perhaps you remember Nehemiah’s moment in history. In 587 BC, Judah was overthrown, and its people deported to Babylon, with only a handful left behind to care for the land. Half a century later, in 538 BC, then-king Cyrus allowed some exiles to return and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem eight years later, in roughly 530 BC. He was one of three men who led the Judeans back to their homeland. Zerubbabel built the temple, Ezra brought the law back into Israel’s life, and Nehemiah rebuilt the city wall to make Jerusalem secure.

While Zerubbabel and Ezra worked in the religious realm, Nehemiah was sent to govern the people. The returning exiles needed strong leadership to handle the opposition to their work and complete the daunting tasks before them.

We know little about Nehemiah, particularly his youth or background. We first meet him as an adult exile serving in the Persian royal court, the personal cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:11–2:1). This trusted (and prestigious) position reveals something about Nehemiah’s sterling character.

Nehemiah was a layman, not a priest like Ezra or a prophet like Malachi. He served the Persian king faithfully before leading the effort to rebuild his homeland. It is likely Nehemiah’s experiences in the Persian court equipped him well for the political and physical challenges he encountered in Jerusalem. Under his leadership, the Jews withstood opposition and came together to accomplish their goal of rebuilding the wall. This book contains Nehemiah’s firsthand account of the massive undertaking.

That brings us to chapter 3. It is a simple chapter, a straightforward listing of “who did what” to rebuild the Jerusalem wall. I can almost see Nehemiah making notes on a yellow legal pad as he walked the city perimeter overseeing the labor. In fact, a map reveals the list moves counterclockwise around the city.

Obviously, a brief article doesn’t allow for a detailed exploration of each group of workers and the repairs they made. But within these verses, Nehemiah’s record reveals several important principles about the work of the Lord—principles still important for today’s church.

They embraced a common goal. Nehemiah communicated his vision well, and each group mentioned in this chapter worked together to carry out their portion of the task. Together, they accomplished what no single person or group could do alone. This remains true for Free Will Baptists and the church in general.

It takes all kinds of people to carry out God’s work. From priests and merchants, doctors to goldsmiths, rulers to shepherds—all did their part to complete the task before them. This is a great reminder for believers today. The church is greatest when it embraces diversity and aids individual believers in finding and fulfilling unique roles within the Body of Christ.

Families working together for God are a powerful testimony. Nehemiah pointed out the sons of Hassenaah in verse 3 and Shallum and his daughters (way to go, ladies) in verse 12. How about today? The Teague families serve as missionaries in France. The Hampton families are planting a church in Missoula, Montana. Three generations of Forrest and Milom families work together at my own church. These families and myriad others like them quietly live out their faith and mission before a watching world, teaching each new generation the importance of lives devoted to Christ. It is vital for the church to continue to equip families to embrace the challenges and opportunities of ministry…together.

Sometimes God’s work will (really) stretch us. Jewelers and perfume makers were among the workers Nehemiah described. They probably didn’t know much about building walls, but they did not shirk from the task and did what needed to be done. God didn’t need a thousand masons and carpenters to rebuild the wall. He used ordinary people willing to work. By the way, this remains true. God rarely takes remarkable people and makes them willing. He takes willing people and makes them remarkable. From hardware store to corporate office, God is looking for men and women who simply hand over their lives to Him without reservation. He has promised to do the rest.

God’s work is not always pleasant. “You want me to work where? The Dung Gate? You’ve got to be kidding!” The Dung Gate was the entrance where all the sacrificial waste, garbage, and entrails were carried from the city. Yuck. Yet, in verse 14, Malchiah, the son of Rechab, didn’t hesitate. He got the job done despite the gore. In case you haven’t noticed, plenty of “Dung Gates” remain in God’s work today. Those jobs in the Kingdom may not be glamorous, but “dirty work” is as essential as any other ministry.

God’s work often puts others first. It’s interesting that throughout the chapter, most repairs were made near the homes of the workers:

  • Verse 10 – Jedaiah made repairs opposite his house.

  • Verse 23 – Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and Azariah made repairs beside his house.

  • Verse 28 – The priests made repairs, each in front of his house.

  • Verse 29 – Zadok made repairs opposite his house.

But in verse 21, in the middle of all of this Home Makeover: Jerusalem Style, we find Mere-moth. While the others were concerned about repairing the wall in front of their own homes, he was busy repairing the section in front of someone else’s house—never mind his own.

It’s bad to be the weak link. In verse 3, we find a sad commentary. While the common men of Tekoa worked diligently, their nobles refused. As Nehemiah described it, they “put not their necks to the work of their Lord.”

Yikes! That is not how I want God to describe my life. The leaders, the wealthy landowners of this small “suburb” of Jerusalem, refused to work, and their actions were recorded for eternity. God takes Kingdom work seriously, and He expects everyone to do his or her part. When I consider these nobles, it is my prayer that Free Will Baptists never reach the point we think any job in the Kingdom is beneath us.

Also interesting: when the nobles of Tekoa didn’t lead, God still accomplished His will through the common men of the village. They finished their own assignment and moved on to complete another section of the wall, as recorded in verse 27. They went above and beyond, despite the poor example of their nobles. It’s a good reminder that God will accomplish His will. It is up to us to join Him in what He is doing.

And that brings me back to the game of Red Rover. It is the picture that always comes to mind when I read this chapter: an army of determined believers standing shoulder to shoulder, arms linked, hearts joined, faces set, refusing to be the weak link. Men and women determined to carry out the work of the Kingdom...together.

I have a feeling Nehemiah would have enjoyed the game.

About the Author: Eric K. Thomsen is the managing editor of ONE Magazine.


©2022 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists