• Introduction
  • The Acts Of Obedience
  • Willing Obedience
  • Peter Learns To Love
  • True Worship
  • Extravagant Love
  • God's Temple
  • Living Dangerously
  • Responsibility
  • Compulsion
  • Volunteers
  • Nazirites
  • About The Author
The Importance of Willingness
Building With God

The Importance of Willingness

  • Introduction
  • The Acts Of Obedience
  • Willing Obedience
  • Peter Learns To Love
  • True Worship
  • Extravagant Love
  • God's Temple
  • Living Dangerously
  • Responsibility
  • Compulsion
  • Volunteers
  • Nazirites
  • About The Author


“God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Corinthians 9:7) wrote the apostle Paul – pointing to the fact that God looks not only at what we do but at how and why we do it. Yes, He commands our obedience, but He also looks closely at our attitudes and motives.

Our God is worth much more than we can ever give, yet He asks no more than what He knows we are able to give. Simply, He asks that we give ourselves – all that we are and all that we have, all that we will ever be and all that we will ever have. And if you think that’s asking a lot, He also asks that we do it submissively, obediently and willingly!

That is, after all, how Jesus gave Himself to His Father. Because of Jesus’ willing, submissive, obedience, God was able to make a way for us all to be His sons …just like Jesus.

So now it remains for us to live as the sons He has called us to be – as submissive, as obedient and as willing as Jesus. Only then can God complete through us what He began through Jesus. Are you willing?

Which brings us to the theme of this 6th book in our series from Nehemiah. As we follow the story through the 10th and 11th chapters, we will see what a difference willingness makes …either by its presence or by its absence.

The Acts Of Obedience

“As the body without the spirit is dead,” wrote James, “so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26) In the same vein, submission without obedience is also lifeless. Nehemiah’s people certainly saw it that way and, as we saw in Book 5, they decided to express their submission to God in the form of a binding agreement, sealed by their leaders.

Coming now to the 10th chapter of Nehemiah, we will consider the words of that agreement. As the first 27 verses merely comprise a list of those who added their seals to it, we will skip over them and take up the text from verse 28.

The rest of the people – priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighbouring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who were able to understand – all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.

We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.

When the neighbouring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.

How true it is that the acts of obedience come from the attitude of submission. These people needed no one to police their obedience to God’s laws. Having come to Him in humility, repentance and submission, it was their sheer joy to promise to obey Him in everything. To them, God’s commands were anything but burdensome.

They put their names to a document which they themselves had drawn up. At the same time, they knew they were producing something which could later be held against them. But so what? No one minds putting their promises in writing when they intend carrying them out!

Like movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, who made the timeless observation: “Verbal promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on,” most people like binding agreements to be made in writing. At least they like other people’s binding agreements in writing! Once you put a promise on paper and sign your name to it, you had better mean it for it can then be held against you. But that’s the way Nehemiah’s people wanted it. No mere verbal promises for them! Unlike their forefathers, they were not just currying God’s favour to get them out of a tough spot. Theirs were not rash promises to be conveniently forgotten when things got better. They intended sticking to their commitment, so they wanted to be held to it. Their document had no “let out” clauses, no loopholes, no conditions. It was watertight and binding – because that’s how they wanted it.

In this written agreement they bound themselves, “with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God …and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.” There is an absoluteness here which stands in stark contrast to the so-called promises and resolutions commonly made by Christians. Here we find no provision for human weakness, such as the all-too-familiar: “God, you know we are but flesh and might fail, but we know you are a loving and forgiving God who won’t be too hard on us if [actually when] we let you down.”

What would a bride think if her groom included such let-out clauses in his vows to her? Why should there be any proviso for disobedience in our commitment to God? Has He asked of us anything to which, by His grace, we cannot attain?

The truth is, men do not like God’s narrow way. They like His benefits but find His requirements too restrictive. So, instead of committing themselves to obey Him whatever the cost, they use His grace to make up for their fickleness and abuse His forgiveness to avoid His wrath.

It is deceitful and spurious for you to claim you are doing your best when you are, in fact, knowingly disobeying God. He never says: “Do the best you can.” He always says: “Do as I say!”

Willing Obedience

Submission of itself is meaningless if it is not expressed in obedience – and neither is there any such thing as selective submission. Just as these people demonstrated their submission by binding themselves in writing to obey God, so your submission should be like a blank cheque – signed by you and presented to God to draw on as He wishes. In fact your submission to God should be like a whole bookful of cheques – enough to last a lifetime. Then, when it comes to obeying God in something specific, all you have to do is honour one of your own cheques – with the amount filled in by God!

If you put up a struggle every time you are asked to do something not to your liking, you are not submitted. Though you may finally obey after much resistance, your obedience has not been the obedience of Jesus, who obeyed His Father implicitly – even when it came to the Cross. To submit is to surrender any right to pit your will against God’s. As Jesus said to His Father at Gethsemane: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Jesus is categorical in His expectation of us: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” No let-outs there. He has made it clear that obedience is the measure of love. Of course you don’t have to love Him to actually obey some of His commands but only if you love Him will you obey Him in everything.

The wealthy ruler who approached Jesus, seeking eternal life and secure in the fact that he kept all God’s commandments, thought he was willing to obey God in everything …till Jesus gave him another commandment: “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The man’s unwillingness to obey that word, revealed the true extent of his obedience to God. (Luke 18:18-23)

Anything less than complete obedience is disobedience – as we also saw in Book 5 concerning Saul and the Amalekites.

Godly love is total giving and no other motivation is sufficient to cause you to go all the way in obeying God. If you do not love Him, you will draw the line somewhere, at some point, in some situations, over some issues. Love cannot do that. It is total and knows no limits.

You can practise obedience without practising submission but you cannot practise love without being both submissive and obedient.

God has always wanted His people to obey Him – but not so as to avoid punishment or as a means of gaining blessings and benefits. He wants us to obey because we love Him too much to do otherwise. Hence the greatest of all His commandments is that you love Him with everything: with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind.

Peter Learns To Love

Without a doubt Peter is seen as the most colourful of Jesus’ disciples. He was outspoken, headstrong and impulsive. His desire to be the best for Jesus was totally sincere, yet he had some hard lessons to learn and, being the kind of man he was, he often learnt those lessons the hard way.

In John, chapter 21, is the account of a significant encounter between Peter and Jesus. Jesus had been crucified, had risen from the dead and had already appeared twice to His disciples. On this occasion, Peter had decided to go fishing. Nothing wrong with that – except Jesus had long before called him away from his boats and nets to follow Him and “fish for men” instead.

Despite having so recently seen Jesus resurrected, it seems that Peter still felt as if the party was over. Three years earlier he had forsaken all to follow Jesus and now it was all finished. So his mind turned to the old days and the old ways and he went fishing.

Some of the other disciples, including James and John, who were also ex-fishermen, had joined Peter. Their fishing trip, though, was not a success. All night they sat in that boat with their net in the water, with nothing to show for it. By morning they must have felt weary and disappointed. Then, in the light of dawn, a “stranger” called to them from the shore. “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” Now that’s the last question an unsuccessful fisherman likes to hear – especially if he has been fishing all night! What could they reply, seeing their net and boat were manifestly empty? “No,” they answered. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat,” called the stranger, “and you will find some.”

The three professional fishermen on board must not have been too impressed by the strange landlubber’s suggestion, yet neither did they like the idea of coming ashore empty-handed so, wearily, they did as he suggested. The fish fairly leapt into their net! In no time it was so heavy they could not haul it into the boat.

In that dawn light, something other than the rising sun dawned on John. “It is the Lord!” he cried. Peter needed no second prompting. He leapt into the water and headed for the shore, about a hundred yards away, while the others followed in the boat, towing their overflowing net. Once ashore, they found that Jesus had a seaside barbecue all ready for them. While they had laboured all night for nothing, He already had some fish and was cooking them!

Let’s pick up the story as written by John:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter had already followed Jesus for more than three years. He has displayed more zeal and dedication than any of the other disciples. It was he who once said: “Even if everyone else leaves you, I will never leave you!” Yet, even then, Jesus knew otherwise. “Peter,” he said, “you are going to deny that you even know me!” Sure enough, Peter did just that – though he afterwards hated himself for it.

Yes, Peter was the one with the zeal, the good intentions and the dramatic responses yet, as Jesus once pointed out, while his spirit was willing, his flesh was weak.

That very day he had initiated a fishing trip, contrary to the call he had received from Jesus. Instead of using his motivation to lead the other disciples in following Jesus, he had used it to lead them astray. Yet, when he had realised that the man on the shore was Jesus, it was he who threw himself into the water to get to Him. Despite the impulsiveness and self-motivation which all too often got the better of him, Peter still wanted to be with Jesus.

Peter’s lack of consistency in obeying Jesus was because – despite his great zeal – he had not yet given himself to Him. Jesus was not yet in control of Peter’s life because Peter had not allowed Him to be. It was still Peter, rather than Jesus, who chose what he would do and when.

As the two of them walked along the shore after breakfast, Jesus got to the heart of the matter with those three repetitive questions. Only He did not call him Peter, he called him Simon – the name he had before Jesus re-named him. Jesus had called him Peter, which means “stone” – because he was chosen by Him to be a foundation stone in His church. In now referring to him as Simon, Jesus was making the point that Peter’s self-motivated behaviour – as displayed by his return to fishing when things weren’t going his way – was more like the Simon of old than of a foundation apostle.

As they walked by the seashore, Jesus turned to Peter and, indicating the other disciples, asked: “Do you love me more than these?” It was, after all, Peter who always gave the impression of being Jesus’ number one fan. He was the one who jumped ashore from the boat, swimming and wading the hundred yards to shore. He it was who sprang to Jesus’ defence in the Garden of Gethsemane, cutting off a man’s ear with a sword! Time and again it was Peter who stood out as the one who loved Jesus the most. Yet now Jesus was asking, “Do you really love me more than the others?”

Peter’s reply was unequivocal, but so was Jesus’ response: “Feed my lambs.” At that stage Peter probably thought: “Okay, that’s settled then.” When, however, Jesus went on to ask the same question a second time – and then a third – Peter was wounded. Bad enough that Jesus questioned his love in the first place, but to then not take him at his word, asking him again, and then again …what was Jesus getting at? He went on to make that painfully clear. “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted” – in other words: “…you got up each morning and did what you decided to do.” Painful though it was, Peter had to face the fact that even the way he had followed Jesus was self-motivated. Yes, he had been called by Jesus. Yes, he had paid a great price to follow Jesus. And, yes, he had often obeyed Jesus. Yet his response and obedience were based on what pleased him. He was still in control of his own life. Though he was a follower of Jesus, he was not yet a lover.

That was all going to have to change. “When you are old,” Jesus continued, “you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” That may sound like a description of old age – when a man is so old and frail he must depend on others. What Jesus went on to say, though, soon dispelled that. Jesus had called Peter to do God’s will – to the point of death. This he could not do unless he relinquished control of his own life. To date, his self-motivation had hindered the expression of his heart’s desire. No matter that his motives were good. No matter that he was following God’s man. No matter that he had paid a great price to do so. Only by relinquishing his right to run his own life and only by truly loving Jesus, could he shepherd Jesus’ sheep …and finally die for Jesus.

“Are you prepared to have it on those terms,” asks Jesus, “because that’s what it means to follow me!”

Whatever the specific circumstances, each of us first responded to Jesus because we wanted to. Whatever our needs, our desires, our aspirations, we found in Him the answer we were looking for. That’s fine, for a start, but Jesus is much more than a meeter of needs, a satisfier of desires and a fulfiller of aspirations – though not many seem to realize that. Jesus was far more popular in the early days of His ministry, when He majored in meeting the needs and aspirations of the multitude, than later on, when he began to place His expectations on them – calling them to deny themselves and follow Him

Jesus seeks those who choose to belong to Him, for no other reason than for the sheer, overwhelming privilege of loving and pleasing Him.

Many avoid this kind of relationship with Jesus. They are as slippery as eels, never allowing God or man to pin them down. Their aim is to get what they want out of Jesus. Unlike Peter, they have no intention of ever allowing Him to take them for a walk along the seashore!

For his part, Peter went on from that encounter to become a truly selfless follower of Jesus, literally laying down his life for the One he loved – having discovered that, in relationship with God, to love is to submit is to obey.

True Worship

Returning to chapter 10 of Nehemiah we see that, while obedience was the first result of the people’s submission, it was closely followed by worship. Let’s look further at the words of their binding agreement:

We assume the responsibility for carrying out the commands to give a third of a shekel each year for the service of the house of our God; for the bread set out on the table; for the regular grain offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, New Moon festivals and appointed feasts; for the holy offerings; for sin offerings to make atonement for Israel; and for all the duties of the house of our God.

We – the priests, the Levites and the people – have cast lots to determine when each of our families is to bring to the house of our God at set times each year a contribution of wood to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law.

We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree.

As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there.

Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work. A priest descended from Aaron is to accompany the Levites when they receive the tithes, and the Levites are to bring a tenth of the tithes up to the house of our God, to the storerooms of the treasury. The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and oil to the storerooms where the articles for the sanctuary are kept and where the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the singers stay.

We will not neglect the house of our God.

The essence of the above can be summed up in its opening and closing statements: “We assume the responsibility…” and, “We will not neglect the house of our God.”

These people bound themselves to be completely responsible for the care and provision of God’s house – the Temple. This was the place in which God was worshipped. It was built at His direction, according to His strict specifications and for His pleasure. Care for God’s Temple was an expression of care for God. Giving to God’s Temple was giving to God. It was not possible to love God while neglecting His Temple.

Nehemiah’s people were poor. They lived under adverse conditions and had wrestled against tremendous odds to build Jerusalem’s wall. Having started with so little, they nevertheless had given so much. Yet, because of their choice to wholly give themselves to God, they now resolved not only to obey Him but also to demonstrate by their giving how much they valued Him.

So long as you live for yourself, you cannot value God. He will not be precious to you. He will merely be useful. So long as you maintain control of your own life you will only give Him whatever fits in with your ways and your plans.

If, on the other hand, you submit to God – putting His desires above your own – He becomes precious to you. Why? Because you have shifted the focus of your life to Him, so that what matters to Him is all that matters to you. Simply put, you stop doing your own will and only do His. When pleasing God is your quest, the cost to you is irrelevant. Then any price is a privilege.

Here, in Nehemiah, we see God being greatly valued as the people set down all that was needed for His Temple, then bound themselves to be responsible for it. They saw the Temple’s operation, care and provision not as a burden but as an ideal focus for their submission to God – providing them with an ongoing opportunity to put their money where their mouth was. In this they demonstrated, once again, that their response to God was not one of short-term expediency – but of long-term giving.

Extravagant Love

There is no better example of the extravagance of total, loving submission, than the incident recorded in John 12: 1-8. (For a fuller treatment of this story, see my book: “The Ultimate Attainment”)

Jesus, accompanied by His disciples, was visiting the home of His good friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The way in which each of these, plus the disciple Judas, regarded Jesus reveals much about who and what they really valued.

Martha was concerned, not for Jesus (though it appeared she was) but for herself. In busily serving Him she sought to establish her own value.

Lazarus valued Jesus – but not for who He was but for what He did for him. After all, a friend who can raise you from the dead is useful to have around!

Judas lived only for himself. Jesus was useful to him only for as long as He fitted in with his plans and ambitions.

Only Mary loved Jesus – she who took that flask of costly ointment and poured it over His feet, wiping them with her hair, as an unbridled expression of the overflowing love of her heart. In this act of sheer, loving extravagance, she was saying: “I love you with all my heart. I value you above all else. I don’t care what it costs. I don’t care what others think. You are everything to me and my heart overflows with love for you.”

In that beautiful act of love, Mary released more than the essence of expensive spikenard. She released the reality of love for Jesus. She demonstrated what it is to see Him as precious. She revealed the essence of true worship.

Nehemiah’s people lived long before the days of Jesus. They did not have Mary to set them an example, yet she would have been very much at home in their company. In binding themselves to care and provide for the Temple, they did not debate whether or not they could afford it. They did not for one moment consider cutting the costs of the Temple to suit their means. They gladly took it on as a wonderful privilege.

Running the Temple was a costly operation. Physical maintenance was only a part of it. It had a large staff, such as priests, singers and musicians, who performed no useful role other than to do God’s pleasure. Their ministry was not to the people, but to God – and He required that they be well-fed, well-clothed and well-housed. The rest of the people had to work hard for their own livelihoods, then bring in their tithes and offerings so that the needs of the Temple staff would be met – so that they would be free to meet God’s needs.

And what did the people get out of it? Nothing but the joy and fulfilment of knowing they were pleasing God.

For many who call themselves God’s people, such extravagance as the upkeep of the Temple – or the ointment Mary poured out on Jesus’ feet – is sheer waste. Like Judas of old, they couch their objections in respectable terms but, again like him, their real problem is that there’s nothing in it for them.

This has always been to God’s disadvantage, for the nature of man is to be aware of his own needs, rather than God’s. Yet man was created for God’s pleasure. He was made by God to be and to do that which pleases God. It was always God’s intention that man should leave his welfare in God’s hands and so be free to concentrate on living for Him.

God's Temple

Whenever the Israelites turned away from God, one of the first casualties of their backsliding was the Temple. It would soon fall into disrepair and its ministers would not be provided for. They, in turn, would lose heart and leave the Temple service so as to work and provide for themselves. As a result, the various sacrifices, ceremonies and feasts, of which the Temple was the centre, would no longer be held, as everyone got on with the things which were more important to them – without any regard for what was important to God.

In the early parts of this series, we covered the account of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s ruined wall, following that city’s destruction by Israel’s enemies. Important though it was for the wall to be built, so as to provide security for God’s people, there had been an even more important building project: the Temple. Appropriately, this was rebuilt before the wall, under the leadership of Ezra, and is recorded in the book which bears his name.

Even though Jerusalem was in ruins and the plight of its people was great, it was still a matter of first things first – which meant God’s Temple was rebuilt before anything else. A questionable priority? Some would certainly think so. After all, God who occupies the whole Universe was hardly in desperate need of a roof over His head! Yet by building the Temple first, the people had given God His true value. If it was important to Him to have the Temple as His dwelling-place among His people, then so be it. There could be no other considerations – humanitarian or otherwise.

It could so plausibly have been argued – as it often is today – that human need is paramount. If a city has been devastated and its citizens are in great need, surely the last priority is a temple which has no practical purpose but to keep God happy! Unless, that is, you value God above all else.

When the Samaritan woman asked Jesus about the correct place to worship, He replied: “…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23 & 24)

There is so much that passes for worship among Christians, yet so little of it is true worship.

The Samaritan woman wanted a debate about who was right concerning where to worship: the Jews or the Samaritans. Jesus swept that aside, making it clear that the only thing that matters is whether God is worshipped in His way. Worship is all about God and He seeks those – and only those – who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Jesus was led by God’s Spirit, because He was submitted to God’s Spirit. He embodied the Truth because he was a true reflection of God. Only those who, like Him, are thus led by God’s Spirit and whose lives truly reflect Him, can worship Him in spirit and truth.

We are to worship, not because it is something Christians do but because, in worshipping, we express who God is and what He means to us. That is the worship which gives Him value. It is such worship which gives Him glory. That was the purpose of the Temple and that is the way Nehemiah’s people felt about their God. They valued the Temple because they valued Him. They were true worshippers whose only desire was to glorify Him.

Worship, of course, is much more than what is expressed at a church gathering. It is a way of life. As Paul once wrote to the Romans: “…I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” (12:1)

That is submission. That is giving yourself. That is worship!

Just before the above, Paul summed up the heart of true worship: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

So what is it all about? It’s all about God! All things have come from Him. All things come through Him. All will return to Him. He alone is worthy of glory. Those who glorify God worship God. Those who glorify man worship man. Those who glorify themselves worship themselves.

Living Dangerously

Returning to Nehemiah, we move on now to chapter 11.

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.

Those who lived in Jerusalem fell into three categories: leaders, conscripts and volunteers. The leaders lived there because it was their responsibility. The conscripts were chosen by lot. The volunteers lived there of their own accord.

Jerusalem was the most demanding and the most dangerous place to live. It was demanding because the Temple – God’s earthly residence – was there, making it the closest place on earth to God. Living in Jerusalem literally meant living close to God. His presence was there, He was worshipped there and, from there, His word went forth. Anyone who was daunted by the demands of living close to God would find the idea of a home outside Jerusalem much more attractive.

Many do not relish the prospect of being too close to God. They like to be numbered among God’s people for the benefits but because of the demands they prefer to live at a comfortable distance.

The people Moses led were like that. They wanted God to be with them and to care for them but found His demands burdensome. When it came to closeness to God, they were more than happy to leave that to Moses. Whenever he would go into the Tabernacle to talk with God, it was an awesome event. The pillar of cloud, which was the physical manifestation of God’s presence, would descend and remain by the entrance of the Tabernacle while God talked with Moses.

To the people, this was a heartening sign that their leader was still in touch with God. For their part, though, such closeness to God was better left to Moses. Awed though they were as they watched the pillar of cloud hovering by the entrance, they showed no desire to share in the intimacy inside between Moses and God. That was too demanding. Instead they kept at a safe distance, each man standing and worshipping at the door of his own tent. They may well have envied Moses’ relationship with God, but they also knew its implications. So, rather than be participators, they were content to be mere spectators.

Like Israel of old, many of today’s Christians want to be close enough to God to get what they want for themselves, but not so close as to give God a chance to get what He wants from them.

Jerusalem was not only the most demanding place to live, it was also the most dangerous. It was the prime target for enemy attack. The enemies of God’s people had tried very hard to prevent the wall being rebuilt and, having failed to do so, were still determined to do whatever damage they could.

The devil is real and his hatred of God and His people is vehement. While we should never indulge in spiritual paranoia, it is true, nevertheless, that those who live closest to God are on Satan’s hit list. Living close to God means living under threat. Happily, living close to God also means being in His hands. Which is fine for those who trust Him and believe in His goodness and love but, for those who do not have such confidence in God, living at a safer distance is the preferred option.


The first category of those who dwelt in Jerusalem was the leaders. Being leaders, they really had no choice – it was their responsibility to live there. How could the leaders have expected anyone to live in dangerous, demanding Jerusalem unless they first placed that same expectation upon themselves? After all, one important aspect of leadership is to be an example. The leaders of God’s people must lead by the way they live. They must be living examples of what they profess.

Paul was such a leader. Consider his words, written to the Corinthians: “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” (1 Corinthians 4:15) Further on in the same letter he wrote: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (11:1)

Paul had fathered the Corinthian church. He was no mere guardian, or tutor, who gave a bit of teaching here, a bit of guidance there. He had brought that church to birth. He carried it on his heart, giving himself to it and agonizing over it. Like a good father he led by his example – by what he was. Because of this he could confidently say: “I urge you to imitate me.”

Such living examples are sorely needed – and are sorely lacking – in the Christian church. They mark the difference between professional “men of God” and real men of God. Only those who bring God’s word by living God’s word are qualified to lead God’s people.

Jesus drew the distinction between a shepherd and a hireling. A shepherd is committed to the welfare of his sheep – even if it kills him. A hireling does a job. He knows exactly what that job is worth and it certainly is not worth risking his neck for a flock of sheep! When the wolf comes along the hireling runs away, simply because he cares for himself more than he cares for the sheep. The shepherd, on the other hand, is both caring and committed. Preserving his own life is not an option. He lays down his life for the sheep. That’s godly leadership.

Those who are being led by a true shepherd can confidently follow him. A true follower of Jesus is the only one who truly represents Him – and he is a man to be imitated.

Jesus condemned the religious leaders of His day for failing to be such men. While they loved their positions of prominence and honour – grandly portraying themselves as men of God – they fell far short. Of them Jesus said: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)

Those “experts” in things godly spoke righteousness while living in unrighteousness. Regardless of how good and wise their words were, those who followed them would be influenced by the unrighteousness of their lives. How easy it would have been for those people to say: “The Pharisees can get away with it, so why can’t we?” But Jesus warned them that it was up to them to exceed the “righteousness” of their unrighteous leaders.


The second category of those who dwelt in Jerusalem were the conscripts – those drafted in by lot. One out of every ten was recruited in this way so that Jerusalem would be adequately populated.

These had no choice in the matter. Once chosen, they were compelled to live in Jerusalem. No matter how demanding they found it, no matter how fearful they were of the danger, once the lots were drawn the die was cast. Other than part company with the rest of God’s people, the only way they could retain their place among them was to submit to the Jerusalem draft.

Here we have an example of obedience, not out of love but out of compulsion. They do the right thing because there is no future in doing otherwise. They are, as the saying goes, “caught between a rock and a hard place.” For the conscripts in God’s kingdom it is not a matter of enjoying doing God’s will, merely that the alternative of not doing it is worse. For them obedience is the lesser of two evils, so with the joylessness of conscripts they resign themselves to their fate.

For His part, God always honours obedience – even the obedience of conscripts. He honours it – but He doesn’t trust it. After all, who can trust a conscript? When someone does the right thing out of compulsion, you can never be sure what he would do if there was no compulsion.

For a number of years, following World War Two, the British army contained a large number of conscripts, with most young men being required to undergo a period of “National Service.” Following the abolition of the draft, some years ago, Britain now has what is called a professional army – made up entirely of those who want to belong to it. This army’s top brass are fiercely jealous of their fighting force, strongly resisting any calls to re-introduce the draft. In their view, a smaller army consisting of dedicated volunteers is vastly superior to a larger one manned by reluctant conscripts.

When God looks upon His people and sees some who are there only because they fear the consequences of not being there, He can hardly feel excited about them. While honouring their obedience He takes no joy in them.

God is in the process of building His Church – that Temple made out of the “living stones” of humanity. Like any good builder, He carefully chooses his materials. And here’s the bad news for the conscripts: they can never be a part of God’s building. Stones they may be, gathered on the building site, but once inspected by the Master Builder for inclusion in His Temple, they will be rejected. Though they may look impressive, He knows they cannot be relied on to be strong and immoveable stones in His building.

It has been argued that a grudging right response is, at least, a right response. So far as God is concerned, though, it can never please Him – as Paul clearly pointed out:“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

There are two important principles here. The first is well-known among Christians: the more you sow, the more you reap. Though often misapplied, with people being encouraged to give with the motive of getting more back, it is nevertheless a God-ordained, universal principle …and it works.

The second is the one I want to stress here, as it highlights what God looks for. He loves cheerful givers.

The impact of Paul’s words has, unfortunately, been blunted by the use of the word “cheerful” which, in present-day usage, is too restrained compared to the picture he painted in the original Greek language. The meaning is better conveyed by saying that God loves a hilarious giver, for the picture is of a man giving freely and bountifully …and loving it! By contrast, grudging, reluctant giving is dead and joyless.

God wants you to give, not because you feel compelled but because you freely and heartily want to. Above all, He wants you to give because you love Him.

Sadly, there are many conscripts in the Christian Church. They know they can’t afford to walk away from God but they don’t enjoy living for Him and giving to Him either. Essentially they feel trapped, and it shows in their attitude.

Finally we come to the third category of those who lived in Jerusalem.


These were the ones the people blessed, and rightly so for they had no responsibility requiring them to be there, as had the leaders, nor were they compelled to be there, as were the conscripts. They were there solely because they wanted to be there. They were the volunteers.

The leaders deserved, of course, to be honoured for not shirking their responsibility and for leading by their example. The conscripts could at least be acknowledged for submitting to the law, thus helping to make up the numbers in Jerusalem. But the accolades were rightly given to the volunteers – for they were the willing ones.

True disciples are like that, too. When Jesus called twelve men to follow Him, He was not rounding up conscripts – He was inviting volunteers. But those twelve were not meant to be unique in their call. All who follow Jesus are called to be such discipleship.

Though Jesus invites many to follow Him, he compels nobody. Like the leaders, some see following Jesus as a duty – a responsibility – and they carry it out like that. They are “correct,” they are committed, they are completely reliable, yet there is an absence of joy and freedom.

Others, like the conscripted ten percent, feel cornered. They see Jesus as more of a sheepdog than a shepherd. They know it is better to obey Him than to disobey, so they do their best, but the absence of willingness in their response disqualifies them from discipleship.

Neither a sense of duty nor the strait jacket of compulsion are enough to qualify a man for discipleship.


Despite the multitude of laws and requirements God placed on His people in the Old Testament, He still wanted lovers rather than rule-keepers. Even as He gave His people the laws they were to live by, He also gave them something called the Nazirite Vow. We read about it in Numbers 6:1-8: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If a man or woman wants to make a vow, a vow of separation to the Lord as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or from other fermented drink. He must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as he is a Nazirite, he must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

“‘During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head. He must be holy until the period of his separation to the Lord is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long. Throughout the period of his separation to the Lord he must not go near a dead body. Even if his own father or mother or brother or sister dies, he must not make himself ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of his separation to God is on his head. Throughout the period of his separation he is consecrated to the Lord.’”

Here is a lifestyle much more stringent than God’s Law ever required. Surely the Law’s demands were enough. Why would anyone want to make a Nazirite vow? For one reason only: because they wanted to – and that was the whole point of it. God offered this to Israel, not as another imposition but as something to be freely taken up by whoever wished to. It was provided for those who so wanted to please God that the normal rules and regulations were not enough. It was not intended as a status symbol for the “holier-than-thou” brigade but as a means of expressing a desire to be as close as possible to God. It was a vow of holiness – of separation to God.

It was entirely up to each individual as to whether or not he ever made such a vow – and for how long he made it. Anyone, man or woman, could choose it for a short time, a long time, or even a lifetime. The only proviso was that, once entered into, it must be lived up to.

Like the Nazirite vow, the decision to respond to Jesus’ call, once freely made, implies commitment to the requirements of discipleship. Unlike the Nazirite vow, there are no short-term options. This is a lifetime commitment and, in this, our response to Jesus is more like a marriage vow than a Nazirite vow. Once we have freely decided to follow Him, He expects us to carry it through to the end.

God seeks volunteers – Nazirites – disciples. For His kingdom is built only by the willing, for the willing.

God has only ever built that way – right from that first Temple, commonly known as the Tabernacle. Built during the time of Israel’s journey across the desert, it was actually a large, elaborate and very costly tent. When God first gave Moses the plans and specifications for it, He cautioned him to make sure there was no deviation from them. There could be no compromises in design, dimensions, materials, even colours.

Looking at the details of the Tabernacle, one could be tempted to think that God was not taking into consideration the state of His people. They were newly-liberated slaves on a journey through an inhospitable desert. They lived a hand-to-mouth existence, hoping they would survive long enough to reach the Promised Land. Yet, without apparent regard for any of their difficulties, God presented them with elaborate plans for the Temple He wanted them to build for Him.

So how was this project to be financed? This is what God said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:2-9)

Some shopping list! There certainly was no doubt who was in charge and whose Tabernacle this was to be!

Yet, not only was God specific about what the Tabernacle was to be built of but also how the materials were to be provided. He could have commanded the people to give. Instead He took a chance on their willingness. Though He desperately wanted that Tabernacle, He did not want to dwell in a house built out of anything less than willing hearts. So He ruled that each person should give only that which his heart prompted him to give.

If that was the way the earthly Tabernacle was to be built, how much more must the Temple now under construction – the one being built by God Himself – be made only of that which is freely given? This, too, is being built of materials supplied by God’s people – the difference being, we are the materials. Whereas Moses’s people were invited to freely give what they had, we are invited to freely give what we are. Just as the Israelites were invited by God to participate in the privilege of giving for the Tabernacle’s construction, so now it is our privilege to place ourselves into God’s hands, to be fitted by Him into the Temple He is building.

That first Tabernacle was built for God’s glory on earth, for a time, but the Temple now being built will glorify Him throughout eternity. How much more must this Temple be built out of the offering of willing hearts?

If you lack willingness in your responses to God, He cannot build you into His Temple – anymore than He would have considered an unwilling gift for the Tabernacle.

Nehemiah’s people blessed the volunteers who chose to live in Jerusalem, and rightly so for such are the true heroes of God’s kingdom. They are the ones God depends on. They are the living stones He loves to build with.

I trust you have taken to heart the message of this book and invite you now to go on to the final book in this series: Continuing Commitment.

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.