Groups, Gates, and Goals: What Nehemiah 3 Should Teach Us

If you’ve ever done a study in the book of Nehemiah, you’ve probably skipped over chapter 3. nehemiah wallChapter 1 begins quickly and with action – Nehemiah learns that Jerusalem’s walls and gates are in disrepair, and the people are discouraged. This causes him to weep for days and to seek God in prayer. As chapter 2 opens, we find Nehemiah in a life-or-death conversation with his king. Nehemiah petitions the king to allow him to return home to Jerusalem to lead the repair work. Permission is granted. Then comes chapter 3. Most of us skip over it, or skim it quickly, to get on to “the good stuff.” But chapter 3 contains some of the richest content in all of Nehemiah. There’s some great wisdom and examples for groups, group members, and group leaders in our churches today in chapter 3, a chapter about work and cooperation and comfort zones. Groups of people served alongside one another. Gates were repaired. Goals were achieved.

And so-and-so worked next to so-and so

As you read chapter 3 of Nehemiah, you quickly realize that this chapter is a listing of the people who worked to repair the gates and wall surrounding Jerusalem. So-and-so worked next to so-and-so and repaired such-and-such. It’s easy to want to fly past this chapter and get on to chapter 4. After all, chapter 3 is just a listing of people who worked on various portions of the wall, right? Wrong. Kind of. It is a listing of people who worked, but a closer examination helps us to mine some great truths from this relatively obscure chapter.

Truth #1:  Inactivity is remembered – What a privilege it would have been to be listed in the Bible as a worker on the wall surrounding Jerusalem! Your name would have been permanently preserved for people of all generations to read – your place in the history books would have been secured. But what about the Tekoites (actually, their leaders)? Verse 5 records the shameful fact that their leaders (the nobles) “did not lift a finger” to help with the repairs! Although their names are not listed, their class of people is, and they are forever remembered as lazy and in opposition to the work taking place. Not exactly how I’d like to be remembered.

There are many ministry opportunities for people who are connected to groups. But the truth is that not everyone jumps right in and rolls up their sleeves. You’ve seen people sit back and wait for others to sign up to serve. It tends to be the same people sitting it out time and time again. They are in danger of being remembered for “not lifting a finger.” Being a member of a Bible study group means that I am committed to others – committed to meeting needs and to serving people inside and outside of my group. Never be remembered for inactivity like the Tekoite leaders were. As group members, let’s be busy group members – busy about meeting needs and serving alongside others.

Truth #2: I may be called on to serve beyond my gifting – Did you notice the kinds of people who worked on the wall surrounding Jerusalem? They weren’t from the Acme Wall Repair Company. Who were they? Priests (v.1), sons of goldsmiths and perfumers (v.8), district rulers (v.9, 12, 14, 18), women (v.12), Levites (v.17), temple servants (v.26), and merchants (v.32). None of these people were professional wall-builders. They had day jobs. But the work that was needed was within their ability to do – which meant learning how to do it and simply starting the work.

What might have happened if a perfumer said, “I can’t help repair the wall because I don’t know how!”? What if a merchant said, “I know how to buy and sell things, but I don’t know a thing about repair work”? Don’t you and I face the same temptation today? An apprentice teacher is needed by your group, but people say, “I’m not a teacher – I can’t do that.” Or when an opportunity for ministry arises, people mistakenly think, “That’s not something I know how to do, and it’s not something I’m gifted to do.” As I read this story in Nehemiah 3, none of that mattered. People saw the need and they rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

Truth #3: Some people will go above and beyond – Praise the Lord for people who do their part, then do “one more thing”! Remember our friends the Tekoites, whose noblemen wouldn’t lift a finger? Verse 27 records that the Tekoite people “repaired another section,” doing double-duty. Throughout the entire chapter, people are said to have repaired “another” section. The Hebrew we translate from literally reads, “second” or “other” – which tells us that plenty of people in this chapter did their fair share of the work, then kept going.

Groups have a lot of needs. The people in groups have a lot of needs. Those of us who are members of groups have a privilege of working hard, working long, and we have a responsibility to press on and keep serving. If you are tempted to do just a little bit to get by in your group, think about the men and women who served here in Nehemiah 3 and were remembered for going above and beyond the call of duty. Wouldn’t you prefer to be remembered for being a hard-working person who was not afraid to get your hands dirty in the work of the group? Don’t you want to be remembered as a “do one more thing” kind of person? I know I do.

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