“Instead of fearing men, let us fear God. This is the beginning of wisdom, and this will keep us on the right path. We are his people. We are his possessions. He is the Sovereign Master, and we are his servants. Our duty is not to understand what he is doing, but to merely obey what he says. Let us never confuse his commands with suggestions. And in the process of our obeying him, let us be strengthened by meditating upon his awesome greatness.”
Nehemiah was a man of prayer. Over and over again, Scripture presents him as a worshiper very comfortable on his knees. He loved to talk with his God.
In addition, Nehemiah was a prophet. Not only was he one who spoke to God, but he was one to whom God spoke. In some manner, God revealed a vision to him, and it was his duty to communicate God’s special revelation to his contemporaries. Nehemiah was a preacher and promoter of God’s sacred will.
However, as Nehemiah labored and led his flock in pursuing God’s revealed will, he found many foes standing in opposition. There was no shortage of pagans who sought to change his will and terminate his radical worship and faithful obedience:
But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. (Nehemiah 4:7-9)
Yes, Nehemiah’s congregation was opposed by those outside the church. Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites sought to discourage Nehemiah’s followers with their words while they plotted to assault these honorable Hebrews with their swords. All of this sad and scary, but it was somewhat expected by Nehemiah. However, what came next may have shaken him and his friends to the core. Not only was the holy coalition of worshipers opposed by those outside the covenant community, but opposition also came from those within the Old Covenant church:
In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” (Nehemiah 4:7-12)
Jews, God’s Holy Nation, God’s Chosen People, God’s Elect — these individuals from Judah came to Nehemiah over and over again seeking to dissuade him from his calling. As members of God’s visible church, they were instruments of Satan seeking to discourage the obedient congregation from obeying the revealed will of God.
So how did Nehemiah respond to those who sought to stand in his way:
And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night … So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:6, 13-14)
Resolutely, Nehemiah determined to stand against God’s foes whether they were found off or on the church membership rolls. This minister of God would obey even though it cost him his life, and he used all of his leadership skills to encourage his congregation to share his commitment and his fight. Nehemiah started with prayer. Then he went to the nobles and officials. And following his counsel meeting with them, he preached his three-point sermon to his congregation:
- Fear Not Men — Do not be afraid of them.
- Fear God — Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.
- Fight For Your Family — Fight for your brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and households.
So, perhaps this historical and scriptural account will spur us on to obedience today. To us God has spoken; he has communicated his divine will through the sacred scriptures. In the Bible we find the acceptable manner of worshiping God. From the Word of God we find how to make wise and honorable decisions, and from the ancient prophets we find how God would use us to expand his kingdom and build his house. Let us be men and women of the book so we might be men and women pleasing and profitable to the Master.
However, let us not be naive. Many in the world are opposed to our diligent worship. They desire not the Kingdom of God, for they clearly understand how Christ’s church might interfere with their preferred manner of living life. Therefore, they set themselves up against God’s will, God’s church, and God Almighty himself. From Cain’s slaughter of Able, to the final battles presented in Revelation, the wicked hotly oppose the fervent worship of righteous individuals.
Yet, they will not be the only ones found to oppose the zealous worship of some. Even within the “community of faith,” faithless individuals will be found discouraging the sincere believer. And unless we are discerning, they might even prove to be more damaging and discouraging than the pagan enemies of God found outside the walls of our assemblies.
So how ought we to respond?
Let us pray. Let us ask God for a greater love for him and an increased faith in his providential control.
Let us not fear men. Let us worry not about their scoffing words or their wielding swords. If God wants us to be successful, our enemies cannot harm us, and if God ordains that we go down in pools of blood, so be it. However, whatever the case, we cannot allow the fear of man to result in our faithlessness.
Instead of fearing men, let us fear God. This is the beginning of wisdom, and this will keep us on the right path. We are his people. We are his possessions. He is the Sovereign Master, and we are his servants. Our duty is not to understand what he is doing, but to merely obey what he says. Let us never confuse his commands with suggestions. And in the process of our obeying him, let us be strengthened by meditating upon his awesome greatness. God has consistently done great things through small people. (I.e. Moses vs. Pharaoh; David vs. Goliath; Esther vs. Haaman) Scripture and history quite often remind us of a God who grants unfathomable success to faithful people seeking to promote his kingdom and build his church.
Finally, instead of focusing only on ourselves and our current generation, let us focus on our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. God promises a rich blessing to the many descendants of faithful worshipers who keep his commands. Let us keep in mind that because we obey, fight, and persevere today, our children and grandchildren are much more likely to worship and thrive tomorrow.
So Christian friends under assault, spend adequate time in prayer. Forget your angry opponents, and forget your double-minded worshiping friends as well. Focus on God and his Word, and fear him well. Then pick up yourselves, your co-laborers, and your Bible, and go to work. Your children, and their children, and their children will thank you.
Joseph A. Franks IV is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Palmetto Hills Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. This article first appeared on his blog, and is used with permission.