Doing a Great Work for God
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
The last several verses of Nehemiah chapter 4, which we have taken as the text for this lesson, offer a great picture of the Christian life. God's people were involved in His work building the walls of Jerusalem and battling against the enemy. They labored together and dwelt together in great unity. All the time that they worked, they were listening for the sound of the trumpet. Yet, this is not the great lesson that we shall study in this passage.
Chapter 4 has been a chapter dealing with opposition, and therefore our text may be taken as a great consummation and victory over that opposition. Though the foes were deadly and difficult, we find the Jews determined to finish the work. They had plenty of reasons to quit, but they kept slogging through the opposition. What a testimony of steadfastness, and there is much that we could learn from their example. Yet, neither is this going to be the subject of our study.
There is something deeper that we shall find about these servants of God that was the cause for their great perseverance and the basis of why this passage so wonderfully illustrates the Christian walk. Notice again the determination that Nehemiah and his co-laborers had: having such a desire to finish the walls that each would build with one hand and carry a weapon with the other, a desire that would move people to leave their homes and lodge within the city with the rest of the team, a desire felt so strongly these workers would build from dawn until dusk.
Perhaps this would be nothing worth studying if this phenomenon was limited to just this group, but it is not. It is something that can be found in Christians down through the ages. Why would Jonathan Goforth, after being beaten almost to death during the Boxer Rebellion in China, return to preach to those same people who tried to kill him? What about the many missionaries who have suffered malaria, black water fever, dysentery, etc.; or who lost not just one child but several, and yet they continued to reach the lost on the foreign field? That someone would continue their work for God under such circumstances seems to go completely against our reason. Determination, however, is not a word that can adequately describe these people, but there is a word in our vocabulary that links such an incomprehensible desire with unfailing persistence: obsession. Yes, we may well say that these wall-builders were obsessed with finishing their great work for God, for they put the work of God before all else in their lives. Oh, you say, but they were just unique individuals; that kind of obsession is not for me. Really? We shall find in this lesson that God desires this obsession for His work from all Christians!
To be obsessed with the work of God is to have a desire for His work that overcomes any obstacle and overlooks any personal risks or sacrifices. It is to seek to do God's work rather than to please the flesh. It is a relentless drive to give all to the work of the Lord as pictured by the whole burnt offering of the Old Testament (Exodus 29:18; Romans 12:1). Now, to say that God wants all of His servants to be obsessed with His work is a strong statement. So, let us begin by first proving this demand from Scripture. We shall offer proof by direct statement, by a testimony, and by illustration.
Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 16:24, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me". Now, this is a pretty clear statement except perhaps for the reference to the cross. What did Jesus mean by taking up his cross? No doubt the cross was a symbol of the suffering that was to come, but did not the cross also represent His work for the Father? His purpose for being born into this world was to die on the cross in order to obtain our salvation. Jesus laid aside His right to follow His own will (Philippians 2:7), and took up the work that the Father had given Him, knowing full well the pain and agony that He would have to endure. Surely this was an obsession to the work of the Father, and Jesus directly said we are to follow His example.
It is interesting that in the Book of Philippians, where joy is a prominent theme, Paul says so much about being obsessed to the ministry. He says, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (3:14). "I have suffered the loss of all things", he says, but he counted those things "but dung" (3:8). In Philippians 1:21, he writes this simple testimony, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain". Was this not a testimony of being obsessed with Christ? What does this have to do with us you ask? He later says, "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample". We are to do as he did and follow the example of the house of Stephanas as well who "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints" (1 Corinthians 16:15).
In Mark 14:1-9 we have an interesting story of a woman (Mary) who anointed Jesus with a precious, fragrant oil which was the costliest oil of the time (worth a year's wages). In verse 4-5 we find out that there were some there who were upset that someone would waste so much money. However, Jesus denounced this saying, "she hath wrought a good work on me" and promised that wherever the gospel would be preached her good work would be spoken of. We know from the companion passage in John 12:1-8 that Judas was one of these. We can perhaps understand how a lost person could question why a missionary would risk the lives of their children to spread the gospel or why Nehemiah would give up his position in the Persian court to build some walls. In the eyes of the world, such giving of ourselves to the service of God is an utter waste.
But Mark indicates that there were others there, probably true disciples, that questioned this supposed waste. Ultimately, they were questioning whether it was right to waste money on Jesus. Wow! Yet, Jesus approved of what Mary did. "In approving Mary's action at Bethany, the Lord Jesus was laying down one thing as a basis of all service: that you pour out all you have, your very self, unto Him " (Watchman Nee). Is this not an obsession with the work of God?
Now, let us observe something that is very important about the situation in which Nehemiah and company were involved. It is simply this: They knew exactly what it was that God wanted them to do. It is hard to imagine how one could be obsessed with the work of God without knowing what that work was. Christian, you will find it difficult to fulfill God's desire if you do not know what your cross is. Let us consider what the work of God is for us in general and in particular.
The New Testament contains some very definite instructions describing our goal as a church. Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). Nehemiah was involved in building a wall, but our work is to build the church which is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:9-11, Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Peter 2:5). We could further break down this goal into the following two components:
1. Adding to the Church
One way to build the church is by adding people to it. In Acts 2:47 we read, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." This component of our mission involves giving out the gospel so that those who hear might be saved and become part of the church. Our responsibility as a church is not limited to our local area, but reaches throughout the world: "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
2. Edifying the Church
The other way to build the church is through the edification or building up of the existing members (Ephesians 4:11-16). Every Christian is to be conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and the church is responsible for this work (though it will be done through the Holy Spirit just as with salvation).
Thus, the general work that we are involved in surrounds the building of the church. For example:
Why do we have Sunday School and activities?
Why do we have a Sunday evening and Wednesday church services?
Why do we have youth activities?
Why do we have revival services?
Why do we have times for church visitation?
Why do we support missionaries and have a missions conference each year?
These are just a few of the ways that we can add to and build up the church. If God desires that we be obsessed with this work, are any of these things optional or unimportant? Can we claim to be obsessed with the work of God if we let our will come before our involvement in the building of the church? In our text, it is quite apparent that the Jews were living lives that were centered around the walls they were building. If we will be obsessed with the work of God, our lives will be likewise centered around building the church.
The Jews knew that they were to build a wall around Jerusalem, but they each had their part to play. As individual Christians, we will not find our specific task written down in God's Word with our name next to it, though God may use His Word to reveal it. Ultimately, we must seek the will of God for our own particular role in the building of the church (Romans 12:2). Do you know exactly what your part is?
An obsession for the work of God is in reality an obsession with God Himself. It is a
love affair with the God of heaven. To not be obsessed with the ministry is to think that
God is not worth wasting our lives on, as those disciples did who complained about the
precious ointment wasted on Jesus. After the resurrection of Christ, Peter returned to his
old work: fishing. Then Jesus appeared on the shore and asked him three times,
"Peter, do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). He asked him the first time,
"lovest thou me more than these?" Jesus was probably pointing to the fish while
asking, "Peter, do you love fishing more than me? Peter, are you obsessed with your
work or mine?" Christian, is your love for God so unquenchable that you find your
self obsessed with doing a great work for God?