Working Well With Others
September 24, 2000 | Brian Bill
Have you been watching the Olympics? NBC isn’t very happy with their ratings but it’s been fun to watch the different sports. As the athletes compete, they’re all seeking a medal and the recognition that comes with it. Those who win a gold are held up as heroes.
While most of us have a desire to be recognized, our chances of competing at the Olympics are pretty slim. This week I read about a guy named Stefan Sigmund from Romania, who has been trying for many years to get his name in the Guinness Book of World Records. His recent attempt went up in smoke. Using a contraption that looked like an air filter for a car, Sigmund managed to smoke 800 cigarettes at one time. Only later did he discover that Guinness no longer accepts these kinds of “accomplishments.”
Another time he ate 29 hard-boiled eggs in four minutes. Unfortunately, Guinness quit printing gluttony records many years ago. He also jumped into a lake from a 135-foot cliff only to find out that the record for diving from a fixed point had already been set at 176 feet.
People like to hear their name mentioned in a positive way. Our text for today is basically a list of people who achieved some pretty major accomplishments. Alongside the medal winners, there are a few who are listed because they never joined the team. And, it’s interesting that Nehemiah is not mentioned at all. I think he wanted to keep the attention on others.
At first glance, Nehemiah chapter 3 looks a bit dry. One commentator refers to it as a “colorless memorandum of assignments.” It reads much like the book of 1 Chronicles with its long lists of names that are difficult to pronounce, information that seems redundant, and a chronology that seems meaningless. It’s hard to muddle through. While it may be tempting to skip this chapter, it contains some great insights and principles that have direct application to our lives today.
Let me briefly set the historical context in case you’ve missed the last couple weeks. In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army captured the Jews, Jerusalem was destroyed, the walls were knocked down, and the temple was burned. The people were deported and were forced into slavery and Jerusalem was left in ruins.
But God did not forsake His people. He moved King Cyrus to make a decree to let some of the Jews return. And in three stages, over about a hundred years, they were allowed to migrate back to Jerusalem, only to discover the city was still demolished and desolate.
By way of review, through Nehemiah’s prayer in Chapter One we learned that he was concerned about the problem of Jerusalem’s desolation, he had a conviction about God’s character, he confessed his sins, he was confident about God’s promises, and he was committed to get involved. Last week we journeyed with Nehemiah back to Jerusalem and discovered that as Contractor he had 5 tools in his toolbox – waiting, trusting, praying, planning, and testifying. He also tackled five different tasks – replenished resources, assessed the need, recruited workers, inspired confidence, and handled opposition.
Let me make two preliminary observations:
1. Chapter 3 reveals Nehemiah’s extraordinary gift of administration and organization.
He was able to mobilize and empower 44 separate groups of people for the ingenious task of rebuilding the walls. This no doubt came about because of his careful assessment of the need during his moonlit reconnaissance mission in 2:13-16.
2. This passage shows how people working together can accomplish more than if just one person tried to do all the work.
Underline in your Bible every time you see the following phrases: “next to him,” “next to them,” “after him,” and “after them.” These expressions are recorded 28 times in this chapter! The biblical principle is this: every person is to be involved in ministry because everyone has a job to do.
It’s hard to find the right job, isn’t it? Some of you are doing exactly what you need to be doing – both in your career and in kingdom work. Others of you are struggling to find your niche. It might help you feel better if you hear someone else’s job history. Listen to this guy’s story:
- My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned because I couldn’t concentrate.
- Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just couldn’t hack it, so they gave me the axe.
- After that I tried to be a tailor, but I just wasn’t suited for it. Mainly because it was a so-so job.
- Next I tried working in a muffler factory but that was exhausting.
- I wanted to be a barber, but I just couldn’t cut it.
- I attempted to be a deli worker, but any way I sliced it, I just couldn’t cut the mustard.
- I studied a long time to become a doctor, but I didn’t have any patients.
- I became a professional fisherman, but discovered that I couldn’t live on my net income.
- I managed to get a good job working for a pool maintenance company, but the work was just too draining.
- Next, I found being an electrician interesting, but the work was shocking.
- After many years of trying to find steady work I finally got a job as a historian until I realized there was no future in it.
When it comes to the work of the Lord, there is no place for sitting on the couch and watching Award Ceremonies
I heard another guy say, “I like work — it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” When it comes to the work of the Lord, there is no place for sitting on the couch and watching Award Ceremonies. As we will see in this chapter, the wall workers accomplished an incredible task – and in the process, smashed a world record for teamwork.
The Purpose of the Work
Nehemiah was able to build his team around a central rallying point. He pointed them to the purpose of the work – the glory of God. They weren’t just working on walls, they were worshipping their worthy God. The workers were bummed about the conditions of the city and disgraced in the presence of their enemies. It was difficult for them to sing out the truth of Psalm 48:2, which describes Jerusalem as “beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth.” They longed for God’s city to regain its splendor and for God to get the credit.
Take a look at verse 1: “Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place…” It’s no accident that the list starts at the Sheep Gate. [Show Slide of Wall Workers]
It’s another way of saying, “Put God first.” Close to the wall’s northeast corner, this gate provided easy access to the Temple, and was given this name because of all the sheep that entered through it to be sacrificed. By beginning here, Nehemiah is establishing that their relationship with God was central. This was the most important place to start.
They had a time of dedication right at the beginning of the construction project. We must make sure we are dedicated to God before we begin working for Him. This is critical. Don’t make the mistake of focusing so much on the work or the task that you forget God Himself. God is not impressed with your labor. He wants your heart. That’s why worship must always precede work.
Have you settled that question? Are you sold-out to God, completely committed and totally devoted to Him? If you are, then get ready to work. If you’re not, then keep the main thing the main thing and do what 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord…”
The People in the Work
One reason I think the Olympic ratings are suffering is that everything is on tape delay. If you want to, you can find out who won by looking on the Internet, listening to the radio, or even reading the newspaper. If you’ve already read the Book of Nehemiah you know the final results – the wall was built in a world record 52 days! And yet, just as it’s interesting to watch the intricacies of Olympic competition, so too, as we dive into this chapter we’re going to see more of the details. We’re also going to learn about several individuals – much like the human-interest stories NBC has been airing on some of the athletes.
I see 6 principles from this chapter that will help each of us “Work Well With Others.”
1. Leaders must set the example.
We see this in verse 1. If anybody in the city should have been busy with the work, it was the priests, for God’s reputation was at stake. The high priest had no hesitation using his consecrated hands to swing a hammer or push a wheelbarrow. As befitted the superior dignity of his office, he wore a sacred garment of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, made out of fine linen. On the upper part he had 12 precious stones set in gold with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel engraved on them. On his head, he wore a dark blue turban with the phrase, “Holy to the Lord” engraved on a diadem of pure gold.
Sad to say, Eliashib did not remain true to his calling and later partnered with the enemy to create some serious problems for Nehemiah in 13:4-9. This serves as a good reminder to us – it’s not as important how we begin a project, it’s how we finish that counts. Some people who enthusiastically begin a job or a ministry may drop out or even turn against it for one reason or another.
2. God uses all kinds of people.
Take a look at verse 8: “Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the perfume-makers, made repairs next to that…” The Lord didn’t need a thousand masons and carpenters to rebuild the wall – he needed ordinary people who were willing to work. People from a wide variety of different backgrounds, trades, and localities gathered to work on the wall. The rulers and priests worked together with regular people, some who even lived 10-15 miles away.
One of the key words in this chapter is the word “section.” It is used 13 times. The wall was divided and people were assigned a certain section to work on. Likewise, just as no one person could construct the whole wall by himself, so too, you and I are called to work in a certain part of the kingdom. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Romans 12:6 says, “We have different gifts according to the grace given us…”
3. Some people will not work.
Having said that there is a place for everyone, and a job for everyone to do, there will always be those who refuse to exert themselves. Most people worked, but some shirked their responsibility. We see this in verse 5: “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” Tekoa was a town about eleven miles from Jerusalem, and while some of the people commuted to the job site; the nobles from Tekoa called in sick. Actually, the text says that they refused to participate in the work of God because they didn’t want to follow orders. They were too proud to submit themselves to the supervisors of the job. They were too important to get their hands dirty.
The phrase, “would not put their shoulders to the work,” suggests that it was pride more than anything else which kept them from pitching in. Nehemiah is using agricultural imagery that describes a “stiff-necked” ox who refuses to be yoked. Any one here today who refuses to roll up their sleeves and work? Feeling like you’re too important to spend time with a hurting person, teach Sunday School, listen to AWANA verses, or help pour concrete? Jeremiah 48:10 is a stinging rebuke to those of us who just sit back, with our arms crossed: “A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord’s work.”
some of the grumpiest Christians I know are those who are “pew potatoes” and are not willing to put their shoulder to the work
By the way, those who are lax in the Lord’s work are not only subject to a curse – they’re also missing out on one of the greatest privileges of all time! I can’t think of anything more rewarding than being involved in kingdom work. You can’t beat it, can you? My wife and I love giving our tithe each week because we know what our giving is used for. We love serving because we believe it makes a kingdom impact. Some of the happiest Christians I know are those who are serving in their area of giftedness. On the other hand, some of the grumpiest Christians I know are those who are “pew potatoes” and are not willing to put their shoulder to the work.
4. Some do more work.
In every church, and in any project, there will always be some who are slack in their serving. At the same time, there will always be those who do more work than others.
Remember the men from Tekoa? In verse 5, we read that they finished their section of the wall, even though their nobles didn’t help out at all. Drop down to verse 27: “Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section…” Refusing to follow the bad example of their leaders, these workers went the extra mile. I picture them coming up to Nehemiah and telling him that they finished their job. Nehemiah asked them if they wanted another section and they said, “Bring it on, man. We’re in a groove.” The men of Binnui did the same thing in verses 18 and 24.
Another guy named Meshullam completed one part (verse 4) and then repaired an additional section (verse 31). In verse 21: “…Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired another section, from the entrance of Eliashib’s house to the end of it.” After he finished his assignment, he worked on the wall in front of his neighbor’s house. When he was done shoveling his sidewalk, he moved down the street to his neighbor’s drifted driveway.
There’s a tendency within most of us to finish the work we volunteered for and then stop, stretch out our arms and say, “Boy, that was great to do the Lord’s work, but I’m finished now.” Not so with these guys. They knew that kingdom work is never finished. When we complete one job for the Lord, we can’t sit back and think we’ve fulfilled our ultimate responsibility as a Christian. Friends, as long as there is work to be done in God’s kingdom, there’s work for you to do. In Matthew 5:47, Jesus addresses each one of us when He asks a very good question, “…What are you doing more than others?” Brothers and sisters, what are you doing more than others?
5. Some work with passion.
In this entire chapter, there is only one guy mentioned who worked zealously. Look at verse 20: “Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section…” The Hebrew word means “to burn or glow” and suggests that Baruch burned a lot of energy. He was not just serving; he was on “fire.” This is amazing because in 4:6 we read that “the people worked with all their heart.” Everyone was working hard, but in a crowd of committed construction workers, Baruch stood out from the rest. We need people like him who will say, “I don’t really care what others are doing, I’m going to do my very best.”
I normally resist honoring individuals by name when I’m preaching, but I can’t hold back this morning because PBC is privileged to have at least one “Baruch” in our midst. In a church full of hard working, dedicated and devoted workers, Robert “Baruch” Guth stands out above the rest of us. I still hear stories of all the work he did on our parking lot several years ago, and I’ve been watching him work on the new lot during the past several weeks when no one else is around. He’s here at church during the week replacing light switches and light bulbs and is faithfully involved in AWANA and serves as a church deacon. Robert, I know that this is embarrassing to you, and you would say that you serve because of what the Lord has done in your life and He gets all the credit, but I want you to know that I want to be just like you when I grow up!
Anyone else want to be like Baruch this morning? Are you willing to go the extra mile and burn with zeal and passion in your service? Are you tired of just going through the motions? Are you ready to get fired up and work? Friends, let’s kick it up a notch. If the truth were known, most all of us could do a lot more, with a lot more passion, than what we’re doing right now.
6. Some work as families.
The final principle from this great passage is that some people worked as families – either on a section in front of their home, or on another section away from their neighborhood.
At least six different workers, plus an unknown number of priests, repaired the portions of the wall that were nearest to their own houses. If all of us would follow this example, our neighborhoods would look differently. Friends, look at your neighbors as your mission field. Befriend them. Serve them. Pray for them. Decide as a family how much to give to the Jesus Video Project next Sunday. I want to challenge each of you to identify 5 neighbors that live near you and then commit to do three things – Prayer – Care – Share. As you pray for them, God will give you opportunities to care for their needs, which will open up avenues to share the Good News.
We’re called to start at home, but we’re not supposed to stay there. In verse 3, the Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenah and in verse 12, the daughters of Shallum worked on the wall. As families, we have the opportunity to be used in our neighborhoods and in our community. Instead of just looking at what you can do as an individual, think creatively about how you can include your entire family in the joyful task of kingdom building.
As a church we are committed to make an impact in our city, in our county, in our country, and on the continents. But, it’s got to first begin at home. In John 15:16, Jesus told his disciples that He had appointed them to go and bear fruit. The word “appointed” means that he had “strategically placed them.” The key truth that emerges is this: God has placed each of us strategically right where he wants us to be.
If God’s work is going to get done, we’re called to cooperate with one another, not to compare or criticize. We must keep the main thing the main thing by never forgetting that God’s glory is at stake. And, we won’t all give equally, but we can all make equal sacrifices. Remember that nothing has ever been done for God without hard work.
In order to work well with others on a job that is much bigger than we are, at a task that demands everything we have, we need to recognize that:
- Leaders must set the pace
- God uses all kinds of people
- Some will not work
- Some will do more work
- Some will work with passion
- Some will work as families
I love this time of year when the geese start making their way south. One of the fascinating things about geese is that they normally fly in a V-formation. Have you ever noticed that one side of the “V” is usually longer than the other side? Do you know why that is? It’s because there are more geese on that side!
Geese often cover thousands of miles before reaching their destination – and they can only get to where they’re headed if they work together. Here are some facts about their flight patterns:
- By flying as they do, the members of the flock create an upward air current for one another. By flying in a V-formation, the whole flock gets 71% greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own.
- When one goose gets sick or wounded, two fall out of formation with it and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the struggler until he’s able to fly again.
- The geese in the rear of the formation are the ones who do the honking. It’s their way of announcing that they’re following and everything’s going well. The repeated honks encourage those in front to stay at it.
As I think about all this, one lesson stands out above all others — it’s the natural instinct of geese to work together. Like swimmers on the United States Olympic relay team, everyone has to do their part if they want to win a medal. Whether it’s flapping, helping, or simply honking, the flock is in it together…which enables them to accomplish what they set out to do.