• Introduction
  • Know Your Enemy
  • No Room For Compromise
  • The Close Minded
  • False Accusations
  • Protecting Yourself
  • The Enemy Within
  • What's Your Price?
  • Success...God's Way
  • Maintain Your Gains
  • From The Project To The People
  • The Numbers Game
  • Born Into God's City
  • Don't Stop Short
  • Few Are Chosen
  • Costly Leadership
  • You Have To Qualify
  • About The Author
Keeping God’s Priorities
Building With God

Keeping God’s Priorities

  • Introduction
  • Know Your Enemy
  • No Room For Compromise
  • The Close Minded
  • False Accusations
  • Protecting Yourself
  • The Enemy Within
  • What's Your Price?
  • Success...God's Way
  • Maintain Your Gains
  • From The Project To The People
  • The Numbers Game
  • Born Into God's City
  • Don't Stop Short
  • Few Are Chosen
  • Costly Leadership
  • You Have To Qualify
  • About The Author


So far as God is concerned, there are no two ways about anything. He knows precisely what He wants to achieve and how He wants to achieve it. He also knows exactly who He wants to achieve it through.

Being so completely single minded, God has very definite priorities. If, for our part, we fail to subordinate every aspect of our lives to fit in with His priorities, we cannot be His co-workers – let alone His sons.

It is God’s prerogative to choose us and call us, but it is our responsibility to respond wholeheartedly to that choosing and calling. He expects us to be as singleminded as He is and to make His priorities our priorities. He is totally uncompromising and He expects us to be the same.

Not everyone is prepared to live up to God’s demands and you may well find yourself being disappointed, and even disillusioned, with the way others treat His call on their lives. Yet you must never let that hinder you. Instead let it act as a goad to spur you on. The unwillingness of others can never be an excuse for any let-up on your part.

Others may fail. I must not.
Others may compromise. I dare not.
Others may settle for less than what God has called them to.
I will not.

No matter what God sets before us – no matter how awesome, how impossible – it is all achievable and attainable. But only by those of us who, without compromise, keep His priorities.

Know Your Enemy

Experience is supposed to be the great teacher, yet you wouldn’t think so by looking at the evidence. Like Oscar Wilde – who boasted he could resist anything except temptation many Christians allow themselves to be tripped up and ensnared again and again by the same temptations. Not because they have no choice but because they willingly ignore the lessons of previous experience – while hoping that their “ignorance” will furnish them with some sort of excuse for disobeying God. So far as God is concerned, though, such willing ignorance is inexcusable. He expects us to both learn and profit from our experiences, giving Satan no opportunity to gain an advantage over us. As the apostle Paul put it: “we are not unaware of his schemes”.

Nehemiah was well aware of his enemies’ schemes, and he made sure he did not fall victim to them – as we can see from the first four verses of Nehemiah chapter six:

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it – though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates – Sanballat arid Geshem sent me this message: Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono’. But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’ Four times they sent me the same message, and each time gave them the same answer.

Though the work on Jerusalem’s wall was almost complete, the city was still far from secure. Without gates its defences were ineffective. No gates meant gaps in the wall, and gaps meant vulnerability to attack.

But Nehemiah’s enemies knew that time was running out for them. Soon the gates would be in place and the city would be impregnable. They could not afford to lose time in mounting another attack. So they attacked … or did they? It didn’t look like an attack. It looked more like an invitation to negotiate.

Negotiation in the place of confrontation could well have been an appealing prospect to Nehemiah – following, as it did, a long period of living and labouring under the constant threat of enemy attack. Surely he owed it to his people to make some sort of attempt at a peaceful settlement with their enemies (even Churchill said it’s better to have “jaw jaw” than “war war”). Nevertheless, tempting though the proposition must have been, Nehemiah knew his enemies. He had learned from experience. While running the risk of appearing to be stubborn and unreasonable, he spurned their overtures, rejected their offer, and exposed it for the evil plot that it was.

The craftiness displayed by Nehemiah’s enemies is typical of the devil – as he himself demonstrated in his very first encounter with humanity:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”‘ “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will he opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Like the proposition made by Nehemiah’s enemies, the serpent’s opening line did not appear to be an attack. He asked a reasonable enough question to which Eve simply replied. But his was no innocent enquiry. It was the thin end of the wedge and, from that point on, he subtly but relentlessly drove home his attack: “God wasn’t telling you the truth! He’s keeping something from you. So long as you obey Him and don’t eat that fruit you are living a deprived existence! The only possible way to reach your fullest potential is to disregard God’s word and eat!” Eve was convinced. Foolishly, she tuned in to the devil’s lies and, in so doing, tuned out on God’s truth. To her re-tuned ears it was Satan rather than God who sounded as if he cared for her. While God’s command seemed to be depriving her, Satan was offering her the key to all she could ever desire.

Eve’s mistake was fundamental. Had she simply taken a stand, declaring that she would not even consider questioning God’s command, she would have nipped the whole thing in the bud and Satan’s attack would not have even got off the ground. Yet. instead of rebuffing him, she opened herself up to his onslaught and embraced the fatal compromise which led her and her husband into sin.

No Room For Compromise

When it comes to God’s word there is not, nor can there ever be, any room for compromise. God speaks and that’s that. His word is not open to question or discussion. It must simply be obeyed. Compromise is for those who do not live by God’s word. They have no proper basis for an absolute position, but God’s people do. This is not a matter of being stubborn, it’s a matter of being steadfast. We have the immense privilege of hearing from God – of knowing what He is saying to us. This leaves us with no alternative but to take an absolute, immovable stand.

In the Book of Revelation Jesus promises that those who overcome will be pillars in God’s temple. And you don’t need to be a structural engineer to know that one rather vital characteristic of a pillar is that it stays put. A vacillating pillar is nobody’s idea of a true pillar! A pillar is meant to hold something up and – as Samson proved very conclusively – if the pillar moves, that something will fall down! A pillar must be uncompromisingly immovable. So, for us, there is no overcoming Satan unless, pillar-like, we take our stand, budging not an inch from our God-given position.

A similar picture occurs in the Book Nehemiah, where the man who trusts in the Lord is likened to a tree planted by a river. Like a pillar, it is solid and immovable with roots that go deep, giving it not only an unbreakable grip on the earth but also drawing in all the water it needs, to not only survive but also to flourish – even during drought. Securely anchored in a lifegiving, fruitbearing position, how foolish it would be to even consider relaxing its grip on the soil, let alone move to another place away from the river.

Such strength, such immovability, can and should be yours. But to take such an uncompromising stand you need to know beyond doubt that you belong to God; you must know that you have chosen to live by His every word to you; and you must know that the place in which you now stand is a direct result of your obedience to Him. Only then can you truly be “steadfast and Immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”.

Once you take such a position, there is no room whatsoever for compromise. It is out of the question. Your position is, after all, not only your own – it is also God’s. And He never compromises.

The Close Minded

Once I know what God expects of me there is no place for considering any alternatives. Does that mean I’m closed- minded? Yes it does. There was nobody so closed-minded as Jesus. He had a very narrow and absolute way of looking at things – a characteristic which some found most frustrating. How arrogant of Him to be so unwilling to consider other viewpoints – especially theirs. But how could He? He already knew the only viewpoint that mattered. He wasn’t stubborn. He wasn’t pig- headed. He simply knew what His Father had said and He was determined to live by it. His mind was made up because He knew His Father’s mind was made up. That’s all.

Such single-mindedness, though, is not generally popular. Society prefers to extol the so-called objective approach: consider all the alternatives. Weigh up all the arguments. Don’t have a closed mind. But the Kingdom of God doesn’t operate on those terms. His word is final and absolute. When God speaks He is not offering suggestions, He is not inviting a debate, He is not even seeking our opinion – and He certainly is not submitting His view to our judgement. He expects us to live by every word which proceeds out of His mouth, nothing less. As the old pioneer missionary C. T. Studd was won’t to say:”God said it, I believe it, that settles it!”

Nehemiah knew he was under God’s orders. He had, to date, obeyed against all odds and he had no intention of compromising now. He simply refused to even consider leaving his work to parley with the enemy.

False Accusations

But Sanballat and Geshem did not give up easily. Four times they sent him the same message but each time his response was the same. Desperate to somehow prevent Nehemiah from completing the wall, they took another tack:

Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his assistant to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: “It is reported among the nations – and Geshem says it is true – that you and the Jews are plotting a revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us confer together.”

I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your own head.” They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Sanballat was resourceful. With Nehemiah adamantly rejecting his “let’s get together and talk” offer, he simply increased the pressure by employing slanderous blackmail to coerce him into complying. His “report” about a plot by Nehemiah to set himself up as king in Jerusalem was, of course, a complete fabrication aimed at getting Nehemiah into his clutches.

King Artaxerxes had no more honest, loyal and selfless servant than Nehemiah. Yet he lived a long way from Jerusalem and such a report, with its damning accusations, could be very damaging. Not only could it cause him to withdraw his support from Nehemiah and his project but – far worse – it could result in the king charging Nehemiah with treason. What a frightening prospect – the end, not only of Nehemiah’s work for God. but of Nehemiah himself! With Jerusalem’s wall unfinished and Nehemiah out of the way, the enemies of God would have their longed-for victory.

So Nehemiah now had to face the fact that, unless he agreed to his enemies demand, all could be lost. On the other hand he rightly reckoned that, even if he did meet with them, they intended to do him harm, and then the wallbuilding would probably stop anyway. On the face of it, he could not win either way. So what could he do? He knew what to do – he simply refused to budge from the stand he had already taken. The enemy may have changed his tactics but God had not changed His word, so Nehemiah resolved to go on with his work, leaving the threats and accusations, and their consequences, in God’s hands.

Protecting Yourself

Had Nehemiah wanted to save his own skin and secure his own future, rather than promote God’s glory, he would have been intimidated by the tactics of his foes. Anything less than true selflessness would have driven him to play right into their hands. But he was a true man of God. Spurning fear, he turned his back on his enemy’s threats and asked God to strengthen his hands. Then He got on with the work.

In The Revelation, the devil is identified as the “accuser of our brothers. who accuses them before Our God day and night”. Imagine that: our enemy stands in the very presence of God with our names on his lips, seeking to turn our God against us! How desperate he must be to destroy God’s confidence in us. And for a time, he is allowed to play the role of accuser. But in the meantime where does that leave you and me? The thought of Satan having that kind of free access to God – to pour out accusations against us, while we are helpless to defend ourselves – could leave us feeling victimised and insecure.

The truth is, we have no need to make our own defence. because our defence is already in very good hands. As John put it. “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defence – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Who could be better qualified to defend us? Jesus knows the worst about us, yet freely gave His life as a sacrifice for all our sins. If our enemy lies when he stands up before God to accuse and condemn us, Jesus will expose his false condemnation for what it is. If, on the other hand, we sin and so give him a valid charge to bring against us, Jesus simply asserts the fact that He has already borne the punishment for all our sins. Try though he will, the devil cannot bring a successful charge against those who belong to Jesus.

So much for what goes on in heaven, but what of the more “down to earth” situations when Satan’s role of accuser is manifested through flesh and blood, as it was through Nehemiah’s enemies? The slander and accusations of other people can be very powerful. They can intimidate us and throw us off course. Let them arouse your fears and you will soon find yourself at your enemy’s mercy, giving him the victory he craves. Remember, the devil and his servants have this goal: to obstruct, to divert and to prevent God’s people from pursuing their God- given course.

Though Nehemiah must have felt as if he was at his enemy’s mercy – and the evidence certainly supported that – he didn’t act as if he was, because he trusted God. And so should we. The same Jesus who takes care of our accuser’s charges in Heaven is well able to attend to such charges on our behalf when they come from flesh and blood here on earth. We have nothing to prove and nothing to justify. That’s not our job. Our responsibility is to keep on doing what we know God has given us to do. If we carry that out, He will strengthen our hands, the work will be done, and our accuser will have failed again.

Some years ago I found myself facing a nasty and determined enemy. His wife was a member of the church I was pastoring and he, being irrationally opposed to her involvement, set out on a campaign aimed especially at discrediting me. In this he was obsessive, sparing no effort or expense in his attempts to blacken my character. As time went on he became quite ruthless and vicious. I knew what he was up to. I knew he was doing his best to spread all sorts of malicious lies and slander – especially among people who, although not in my particular church, did have some contact with me and would normally be inclined to trust in me, seek my counsel, invite me to speak in their churches and so on. He even had somebody steal my Bible from a church rostrum in an attempt to find some sort of incriminating evidence concealed in it! I think he could have cheerfully killed me, but in the meantime he was certainly doing his best to assassinate my character.

It was not a nice feeling knowing that “out there” was someone who so hated me and was plotting my downfall. Yet what could I do? Was I to comply with his wishes and banish his wife from the church? Was I, on the other hand, to fight him or try to counter the slander he was spreading about me? Don’t think I wasn’t tempted! Yet I knew that, despite such uncalled- for and unwelcome opposition, nothing had changed so far as God’s calling went. Even the most intense threats and opposition were no reason for me to falter or change course. So l didn’t. Leaving my enemy and his nasty works in God’s hands, I got on with my work.

Needless to say, such an approach is valid only when it comes from an honest, submissive heart. Only those who are truly living as God’s people – whose lives are pleasing to Him – are in a position to dismiss such accusations. On the other hand, the self-motivated and self-seeking are easy prey for a slanderous enemy because, even though they may claim to be doing God’s work, their hearts are not pure.

Here is a call for self-honesty. You must be able to stand before God, look into your own heart, and know that your conscience does not condemn you. If it does, ignore it at your peril. How foolish it is to give a malicious enemy the very ammunition he needs to use against you. Learn to be your own “policeman”. If something in your life is not pleasing to God, put it right. Don’t hand your enemy a weapon which he can use against you and your God.

Naturally, when in the right, you must never budge nor deviate. But such immovability is only valid if you have a clear conscience before both God and man. So, if there is anything in your life which is not right get rid of it! Only then can you be like Nehemiah – one who knows he has a pure heart and, as a result, feels no urge to justify himself. Then all you need do is take your stand, place your cause in God’s hands and simply get on with obeying Him.

You will always be able to rest on this unchanging principle: truth must win, simply because it is truth. By its very nature, truth must triumph. Provided you are a child of truth such things as lies, slander and threats need not – indeed should not sap your strength and morale. If, like Nehemiah, you draw your strength from God you need never falter.

The Enemy Within

And strength is certainly what Nehemiah needed, for there was worse to come. The next assault came not from the obvious enemy, but from among his own people:

One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors because men are coming to kill you – by night they are coming to kill you.” But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” I realised that God had not sent him, but that he prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this. And then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.

Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.

Shemaiah was a prophet. He was “shut in” at his home, ostensibly waiting for a message from God. Then, claiming to have received such a message for Nehemiah, he sent for him. But once Nehemiah heard the message he realised that Shemaiah was a corrupt prophet, paid by the enemy.

Dogged by failure, Tobiah and Sanballat had tried yet another ruse: the old “thus saith the Lord” trick (it still works today). They found a corruptible prophet and paid him to instill fear into God’s man through an apparently God-given message. The crooked prophet urged Nehemiah to flee to the refuge of the temple to save his life. Had he done this he would have shown himself to be a cowardly, unworthy and untrustworthy leader; one who would desert his post and his people to save his own skin. Had Nehemiah’s enemies succeeded in getting him to flee to the temple, the morale of his people would have been seriously weakened, along with their will to continue the work. But Nehemiah was no coward. Nor was he a fool. Once again his enemies had underestimated God’s man.

Still, this must have all been a terrible blow for Nehemiah. Not only was Shemaiah one of God’s people (that would have been bad enough) but he was also a prophet – one of God’s spokesmen! Yet there was worse to come:

Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in- law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehoanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I had said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.

Some of the Judean nobles – the very people Nehemiah should have been able to rely on – were not only in close regular contact with Tobiah, they were also bound to him through oaths resulting from intermarriage.

Can you imagine the pressure on Nehemiah, knowing that these men who owed their allegiance to him as their Governor were, in truth, allied to his enemies? In flaunting their relationship with Tobiah, and in speaking highly of him in Nehemiah’s presence, they sought to undermine Nehemiah’s confidence – both in his own cause and in his ability to lead his people to victory.

Their chances of succeeding with this form of psychological warfare were, in fact, considerably greater than with any of their earlier techniques. It had all the necessary ingredients to demoralise and discourage Nehemiah. Not only were these traitors openly allied to Tobiah, not only did they extol him in Nehemiah’s presence, but they also reported to him everything Nehemiah had to say. The enemy had succeeded in infiltrating right into the midst of God’s people.

Such a subversive “enemy within” can and does exist in the Church today. He can be found wherever there are people who have their own interests, rather than God’s, at heart – whatever their claims to the contrary. Like the Judean nobles these subversives have other allegiences. Like Shemaiah, they are corruptible. It is said that every man has his price, but can everyone be bought? Nehemiah couldn’t. Because of that he was the kind of person Satan hates most. He had no price. No aspect of his commitment to God was negotiable. He would do anything to obey and he would let nothing stand in his way.

What's Your Price?

To be motivated by self-interest is to set a price at which you can be bought. All it needs is a combination of the right set of circumstances, together with a sufficiently tempting offer, and – to coin a phrase – your anybody’s!

Self-interest is heavily exploited in much of what passes today for Christianity. In the name of evangelism and ministering to the needy many are lured into making some kind of response to God – not for the purpose of giving themselves to Him, but so as to get from Him. They are taught and encouraged to seek their own gain and benefit – usually by preachers who, in turn, are seeking their own gain and benefit! Such are today’s Shemaiahs.

When Jesus performed miracles of healing, when he fed thousands with next-to-nothing, he had hordes of followers. Yet when He began to speak of cost, demanding that they deny themselves and follow Him unconditionally, their number dwindled dramatically. There is no better way to thin out a crowd than to attack self-interest and demand self-sacrifice!

Nehemiah was not doing a popular thing. Not only was he raising the ire of his enemies, but he also represented a threat to the self-seekers among his own people. His determination to obey and honour God at all costs rocked their boat and interfered with their plans for a quiet life. He stood for God’s way – and God’s way cut across their way. They wanted their city and their security, certainly, but they would much rather achieve all that by accommodation rather than by risky confrontation. So they sought intermarriage and made pacts with the likes of Tobiah. In their eyes, doing God’s will was not the criterion. Self-preservation was what it was all about, and Nehemiah and his uncompromising zeal were an unwelcome intrusion. So long as their self-centred goals could be achieved, they considered cooperation with God’s enemies to be quite in order.

Just as Jesus had to face the devastating fact that one of His own disciples was His betrayer, so Nehemiah had to swallow the bitter pill of the existence of such unashamed Judases among his own people. And there are times when we have to do the same. Painful though it may be, it should not surprise us to discover that there are Judases lurking among today’s disciples. It would be nice to think that all who say they are one of us are just that – and I’m certainly not advocating that we all go about being cynical and distrustful. On the other hand, reality has to be faced. When such people show their true colours it’s no use pretending otherwise.

For his part, the devil certainly knows who’s who – and he’s very accomplished at locating budding Judases. Judas became Satan’s willing instrument for the same reason the Judean nobles aligned themselves with Tobiah and company. And that reason was self-interest. God’s enemy can only work through those who make themselves available to him and, given half a chance, he will exploit self-interest to its limit.

Success...God's Way

Despite every discouragement and all opposition, Nehemiah did succeed in completing the wall:

So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this and all the surrounding nations saw it, our enemies lost their self-confidence because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God.

God’s work done in God’s way by God’s people must succeed. Of that there can be no doubt. But the cost is high and it is most important that we fully appreciate the degree of adversity faced by Nehemiah and his people as they persevered to the end.

Some have a very idealistic view of the way things should “work out” for God’s people – everything fitting into place; every day bright and sunny; no blood, no sweat, no tears. In short, smooth sailing all the way! Which is one of the reasons why the number of those volunteering for God’s work is considerably greater than the number who actually see it through to the end. So long as the benefits look attractive and the way is painless and undemanding, so long as the inconvenience is not too great nor the cost too high, “disciples” abound – as Jesus Himself discovered. At one point He had thousands, yet He eventually had to content Himself with just eleven.

Though we are far from finished with the story of Nehemiah, it is already patently obvious that the success which surely comes to those who work with God (as against those doing their own thing “for God”) is never cheaply won.

Jerusalem’s wall was completed. It stood there for all to see as evidence of what can be achieved by a people who put their trust in God and obey Him, against all odds. But only they, and in particular their leader Nehemiah. knew what a price they had paid for their great accomplishment.

Yes, victory is assured, but only for those who truly put God first. Such people are never put to shame. Their enemies always will be.

As James Bond fans everywhere know, the classic “goodies and baddies” plot consists not only of an impressive hero but also of a powerful, unscrupulous villain. The kind of climactic ending which inevitably sees the hero triumph, is usually preceded by a build-up to a point where the villain appears to be getting things his own way to such an extent that he is on the verge of total victory. Then, in a series of fast-moving and gripping sequences, the hero turns the tables, despatches the villain, and emerges the real victor! The “best man” always wins.

Such make-believe has, in fact, a lot in common with the true scheme of things. Our arch-villain, Satan, certainly seems to have been having things pretty well his own way for a long time. Though God’s people have won a battle here and a battle there, history points to Satan as the one who is winning the war. Evil, godlessness, immorality and anarchy abound. And the future does not look hopeful.

Those who refuse to believe in God’s victory over Satan unless they see the evidence in the world around them, are unable to see things as they really are. On the face of it, God’s enemy has been making the running ever since he scored his great victory in the Garden of Eden. The truth, though, is somewhat different. Eden was Satan’s only successful offensive in his battle against God. True, its effects and repercussions have been enormous. Yet, since then, the devil and his agents have been living on borrowed time. He has been on the defensive ever since that one successful offensive. From that time to this God has been at work, undoing the massive damage done at Eden when, by luring man into sin, the devil all but succeeded in destroying the linchpin of all God’s plans and purposes.

Yes, Satan’s victory in the Garden was huge. He almost pulled it off- but not quite. Since then God has been putting the pieces back together, and much of His work has been hidden. As Jesus said, “the kingdom of God does not come visibly”, and to many the evidence all points to the villain as the one who is on the verge of final victory.

The words of Revelation 20:10 spell out the extent of God’s coming triumph over His enemy: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. The devil is doomed. He and his two henchmen, “the beast and the false prophet”, have a ghastly fate awaiting them. When that day comes and the vile trio are dealt with it is God who will emerge victorious.

Maintain Your Gains

So the walls were completed and the enemy thwarted, but Nehemiah’s story and the lessons we draw from it still continue. As we come to the seventh chapter of his book we find a whole new emphasis emerging:

After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed. I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do. I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, make them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.”

Here we find Nehemiah making the necessary arrangements to maintain the security which had been achieved by the construction of the wall. And some achievement it was. A momentous accomplishment in every sense of the word. Without it, nothing of what God wanted to subsequently do among his people could take place. Had the people not appreciated the wall’s vital significance, had they not bothered to do as Nehemiah commanded with regard to the security of the gates and the posting of sentries, they would soon have begun to lose the benefit of all their efforts and Jerusalem would once more have been vulnerable to her enemies.

As we will see, the wall was not an end in itself. Even so, before weightier matters could be pursued, there was a point to be made-one which is of significance to us also: in moving on, as we all must, from even the greatest achievements, we must be careful to maintain all that we have gained to date. If you neglect it … you’ll lose it.

Among Paul’s closing words in his first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” You are responsible to zealously guard the gains you have made in your relationship with God. You must stand firm in your faith – the faith that got you where you are today. It is necessary for you to maturely accept the obligation which comes with all progress in God’s kingdom – the obligation to live up to all that you have received from Him. You can, and you must, be strong so that nothing but nothing will ever succeed in taking away from you all that you have gained. Fail in this and you will not only cease to make progress, but you will lose what you already have.

From The Project To The People

Having made sure that the benefits of the newly-completed wall would be maintained, Nehemiah then went on to the next vital step in his mission – a step which probably came as a surprise to those who were still congratulating themselves on their great achievement.

Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return.

So Nehemiah, inspired by God, set out to determine just who did and who did not have an ancestral right to live as God’s people in God’s city. Some did not qualify. The descendents of Delaiah, Tohiah and Nekoda, for instance, “could not show that their families were descended from Israel”, and even among the priests there were the descendents of Hobaiah, Hakkoz and Barzillai who “searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean”.

Imagine that. Here were people who had worked every bit as hard as anybody else to resurrect the wall out of the rubble, only to now be told they did not qualify to be numbered among their fellows as legitimate residents of Jerusalem! Wasn’t that an ungrateful, inconsiderate, and even brutal move on Nehemiah’s part? Couldn’t they, with justification, have accused him of exercising discrimination after they helped him build the wall? There had been no mention of ancestral rights back there when he needed all the help he could get! Yet, interestingly, Nehemiah does not seem to have felt any need to justify his decision. He knew it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. So he did it.

And this is where that vital shift in emphasis begins to emerge. To date everything had focussed on the building of the wall. Which is hardly surprising for that was, after all, the very project on which they had to focus all their time and energy, sparing nothing. It had provided the cause which galvanised the people into action and its rebuilding had become the target of their enemies vicious opposition. Had that project indeed been an end in itself, success was now theirs. They could, with ample justification, settle down and enjoy the fruits of their labours in the secure environment they had created with their own hands.

But now their attention was being focussed on something else. They were being reminded that their great achievement could never be an end in itself, for Jerusalem was no ordinary city. It was God’s holy city: the one place in all the world which had His temple at its centre. The wall, on the other hand, was merely at its perimeter – a necessary beginning linked to a much greater purpose. Jerusalem and its people had a God-ordained destiny and that was where Nehemiah had set his sights.

At the time of writing I have been living in London for over eight years. On arriving here in 1978, I was faced with the task of building a church out of the “raw material” of fourteen people – most of them young and all unmarred. I had on my hands a small flock in need of both a shepherd and a sheepfold. So I became their shepherd and set about constructing the fold. That was a period of “wallbuilding”, during which the most important thing was to create a secure environment for those God had given me to lead and care for.

As the “perimeter” of the London Outreach church took shape and the church itself began to take on its own distinct form and identity, that early wallbuilding phase gave way to higher priorities.

Building a secure environment in which God’s people can dwell is of fundamental importance, as is the task of maintaining that environment. Yet it is only too possible to be actively involved in the wallbuilding side of Christianity while never really drawing close to God.

So it is that here, at this significant stage of Nehemiah’s story, the emphasis shifts from the project to the people.

The Numbers Game

Following World War 2, the Australian government decided to embark on a large-scale immigration programme. One of the popular catch-phrases of the time was “populate or perish”. That vast land with its relatively tiny population saw itself as potentially at the mercy of invading communist hordes, with its survival depending on bolstering the number of its citizens. And it would not be unkind to say that the way in which the immigration policy was pursued in those days made it pretty clear that quantity was considered to be of much greater importance than quality!

Surely, Nehemiah – the governor of threatened and underpopulated Jerusalem – could have adopted the same approach. Modern Israel did – and still does. The return of the Jews to their own land has been the thrust of modern Zionism. Jews everywhere have been encouraged to emigrate to Israel, to populate it and make it strong, to defend it from the Arab hordes and others who are opposed to its existence. Yet, instead of taking a “populate or perish” approach at a time when “the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it”, Nehemiah began to be choosey about the few he had!

Not so today’s church leaders. When it comes to recruiting members, their urge seems to be primarily in one direction: to get in as many as possible. Hence the ongoing, active interest in what is popularly termed “church growth”. Seminars on the subject abound, and any man who has a large, rapidly-growing church is eagerly sought out and his methods meticulously noted.

“Get ’em in!” is the priority, with “do whatever you have to do to do keep ’em” following close behind. After all, there’s only one thing worse than having a small church and that’s having a big church that turns into a small one!

The numbers game is both tempting and compelling. But it’s not from God. God is fussy – both about who He gets and about who He keeps. Especially the latter.

In earlier years I, like many other young pastors caught up in the euphoria of the new wave Charismatic Movement, saw rapid growth and a numerically large church as synonymous with God-blessed success. Then God began to teach me His way. I had to learn that God really does desire quality and has no interest whatsoever in quantity for its own sake. Of course there is something exciting about a crowd. But it must be the right sort of crowd. As Jesus himself discovered: better to have a handful of committed, self-denying followers than thousands who are motivated by self-interest.

Born Into God's City

In Psalm 87 the following is written about Jerusalem: “Indeed, of Zion it will be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her’ “.There was a special privilege accorded to those who could say of Jerusalem, “I was born there. God’s city is the place of my birth.”

Just as God once had a city, today He has a Church. He is building His Church, and to belong to it is a privilege of privileges. But not all that claims to be, or even looks like, His Church is necessarily the Church. Only where God Himself is building – through men of His choosing – is His Church being built. That’s something to be born into. God’s Church is His family – the body of people He is gathering together to glorify Him for eternity. To be a part of that is to be hand-picked by Him. It is to have the most important belonging there is.

In the building of the family of churches called Outreach International, I have often marvelled at the way God brings people into it and gives them a birthright. Such people know they have been born into O.I. They know they have a part and a God-given inheritaince in it. They do not talk of merely being part of the “Church Universal” as some vast faceless multitude among which they spiritually mingle. Rather they see themselves as being called by God to be a distinct part of something equally distinct and definable – a body created and built together by Him. They see it as a city within which they have a God-given birthright. They are able to say with conviction, “I’ve been born into this. This is my family, my ancestry. I am not merely a stranger or a visitor. I am not a foreigner and an alien. This is where I belong. I’ve discovered my roots and my heritage.”

One very important fact about God’s Church is that it is made up of numerous local churches, with the intention that each one of them should be a true representation of the Church as a whole. They are supposed to be the Church in microcosm. Of course, not everything that calls itself a local church is, in fact, what God calls a church. Far from it. Yet there is a Church which is truly His Church and there are local churches which are true microcosmic representations of God’s Church.

It is God’s intention that every one of His people should find the place where they belong – the church within which lies their birthright. He makes no place for “lone rangers” or freelancers among His people. Every church family which God raises up is a Zion – a city of God – a place where His people can be planted, where they can bloom and where they can bear fruit.

With their wall built, it was now time for Nehemiah’s people to do settle – to put down their roots. Yesterday’s workers were to do become today’s settlers. But Nehemiah had no intention of allowing anybody to settle if they did not belong. So he set out to do establish precisely who did and who did not have the right to do reside in Jerusalem. When, on checking the records, he found that some of his people had no valid claim to citizenship in God’s city, his response was uncompromising.

Don't Stop Short

Over the years I have, on many occasions, said to people who have been considering joining us, “It’s up to you to find out where you belong but when you do decide, and if this is the place, then I expect you to commit yourself to it”. Far too many Christians simply drift, hopping from church to church, from meeting to meeting, from convention to convention and from “blessing-time” to “blessing-time”. And drifters they are, for they have no fixed place of abode.

We find a stark warning in Hebrews chapter 3, verses 12-19:

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said, ‘Today, if you will hear his voice, do to not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’”

“Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”

The Israelites came out of Egypt in an incredible scene of triumph and victory. They had been slaves to the Egyptians and then, in awe and amazement, they saw their God break Pharaoh, the great king of Egypt. They saw their oppressor humbled and cowed before God – their God, who sent Moses to lead them out of slavery and into the land He had prepared for them. They did not furtively steal out of Egypt, nor did they flee like people escaping, and they certainly did not leave in poverty. They marched out openly, triumphantly, loaded with gold and jewels pressed upon them by their former masters. Can you imagine the headiness of it all? They must have felt unstoppable as they swept out of Egypt with the Promised Land in their sights.

But they did not make it. The entire adult generation of those who left Egypt in triumph perished in the desert, simply because they were not prepared to trust God. They were not prepared to do things His way and on His terms. Though destined to be the first citizens of the Promised Land, they disqualified themselves from that privilege. They loved the triumph and victory that took them out of Egypt but they never gave the God who made it all possible the freedom to lead them to do their destination on His terms.

Beware and be warned. To be among the generation which leaves Egypt does not automatically guarantee you a place in the Promised Land. You can qualify for the first, yet disqualify yourself from the second.

As it was with the Israelites, so it was with Nehemiah’s wallbuilders. . . and so it must he with us. The lesson underlined In both stories is clear: just because you are one of those who leaves Egypt, destined for the Promised Land, does not, of itself, qualify you to do live there, and just because you are one of those who build Jerusalem’s wall does not, of itself, earn you a place of residence in that city.

Few Are Chosen

When God sets out to establish His people in His city, He is very particular about who belongs and who does not. As Jesus once said: “Many are called but few are chosen”. A response to do God’s call and an initial involvement with Him and His people is but a beginning. A permanent right of abode in His city is neither easily nor lightly bestowed. It is only for those who are truly prepared to finish what they have begun – to give of themselves, to do pay any price and to live entirely on God’s terms without modifying them for their own comfort or convenience.

As the apostle Paul pointed out, it’s not those who start a race who qualify for the prizes but those who finish. The lineup of runners at the starting blocks may be impressive in its own way but the crowd saves its adulation for those who reach the tape. It is the end of the race which finally proves who’s who. A great start or even a dramatic first lap or two does not make for a long-distance success story. If you want to finish and finish well you’re going to have to give it all you’ve got – and keep giving it all you’ve got!

Looking back over the years, I can recall many who were my fellow runners. We had heard the same starter’s pistol and together shared the exhilaration of hurtling down the track as we enthusiastically threw ourselves into the race God had set before us. In those early days we heard God’s word, we prayed together, we worshipped and worked together. Like the Israelites leaving Egypt, we rejoiced in God’s goodness to us. Like Nehemiah’s wallbuilders, we gained victories and saw the results of our efforts. Yet many of those same people have long ago dropped out of the race. They disqualified themselves. You see, it was an adventure at first. Even the cost was an exciting challenge. But, as time went on, and the implications of running God’s race became increasingly apparent, youthful enthusiasm began to give way to sober reality. It was then that God’s priorities began to look considerably less attractive to them, opening the way for other needs, other wants and other desires to do exert their influence.

You cannot live in God’s city and in your own world at the same time. Those early compatriots who tried it forfeited their citizenship. They didn’t need to – they chose to do.

God is, and always has been, very discriminating about who is to live in His city. He is not looking for a crowd, He is gathering a people! When Nehemiah looked at underpopulated Jerusalem he did not say, “There’s too few of them, how can I increase their number?” Rather, he said, “There’s not many of them but even some of those don’t belong here”. That’s how God feels about His Church.

Costly Leadership

Finally, we come to the last four verses of Nehemiah, chapter seven:

Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 drachmas of gold, 50 bowls and 530 garments for priests. Some of the heads of the families gave to the treasury for the work 20,000 drachmas of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. The total given by the rest of the people was 20,000 drachmas of gold, 2,000 minas of silver and 67 garments for priests.

The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites settled in their own towns.

The people at the top gave lavishly. And so they should have. So far as God is concerned, the greater your responsibility the greater the personal price. The further you go, the more it costs. Those who were leaders among His people showed, by their abundant giving, that they valued God and placed a high priority on all that was important to Him.

So far as this world goes, of course, the reverse is usually the case. The closer you get to the top, the more you get for yourself. By that standard having power and authority allows you more room for indulgence, whereas by God’s standard the very power and authority bestowed on a man bring with them less and less room for anything even vaguely selfish.

For that very reason, some who are called to leadership in God’s Church shrink from it. They know only too well what it will cost them. They are aware of the restraints and self- discipline required – and they are unwilling.

Paul was not a great apostle just because God called him to do be one. He was great because he chose to fulfil that calling. And he paid an enormous price in the process. “Whatever was to my profit,” he wrote, “I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may win Christ.”

Paul knew what it had cost him and he knew what it was costing him to obey God. He was no starry-eyed idealist. He had experienced too much loss and too much suffering to walk about with his head in the clouds. He was a down-to-earth realist who knew full well what he was doing. Yet, though he suffered a great deal and bore great personal loss as the price of his apostleship, he considered it as nothing compared to the gain which was his. He was a true leader. More than that, he was a shining example. And he proved himself worthy of his citizenship in God’s Kingdom by valuing Jesus and His calling above all else.

You Have To Qualify

Many Christians – especially Christian preachers – talk loud and long about God’s free gift of salvation. And so it is. Yet salvation is but the entrance into God’s kingdom. You have to do qualify for the rest, otherwise you have no inheritance there.

Even wallbuilders cannot hide behind their involvement and past achievements to let them off the hook when it comes to do God’s requirements. If it is important enough for you to reside in God’s city you will demonstrate that by the way you give your all to do qualify.

This is a call to willingly lay down your life – not merely on certain occasions but always. For citizenship in God’s city, though the greatest privilege of all, is also the most demanding – as you will see when you go to Book 5, Unity and Submission.

About The Author

Tony Kostas was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1941, where at the age of seventeen, he committed his life to Jesus at a Billy Graham Crusade. In 1967 he founded the Melbourne Outreach Crusade, a non-denominational evangelistic outreach. This later grew into Outreach International, which is now a worldwide body of believers, who share a God-given calling and are committed to live in love with Him and with one another.

Tony’s life is a true expression of all that God has revealed to him throughout the years, in its purity and focus on loving God. His passion is for God to have the desire of His hears: a people who truly represent Him because they are His and His alone.