February 03, 2014

Why Weren't They Working?

Devotion for the Week...

Have you ever noticed that some people jump right in to help with whatever work needs to be done while others are much pickier about the work they do? Some people seem able to work with anyone while others have their 'clique' and don't want to work with anyone else.

In the book of Nehemiah, the people of Jerusalem were rebuilding the wall around the city after it had been destroyed by their enemies. Nehemiah was in charge of the project, but different groups were rebuilding the sections of the wall.

"The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors" (Nehemiah 3:3-5).

It seems everyone was working hard to get the job done, except the nobles of Tekoa. What was up with them? I think there are two possible reasons why they refused to work. The first possibility is they thought they shouldn't have to do it. They were the nobles after all, not exactly a group known for hard labor.

Has there ever been a time when you saw work that needed to be done, but you refused to be the one to do it? I don't mean employment here. I'm talking about the work that needs to be done for your family or your church or your community. The stuff that probably doesn't involve being paid. The stuff that doesn't require any special degrees, but does require a bit of physical labor. Do you hold back because your talents wouldn't be used, or because you don't think you're good enough at the work to be useful? Maybe you feel you won't be missed, or that you have put in your time and now you get to take it easy while a younger crowd does all the work.

The Bible is very clear that Christians are to be servants. To be ready to help and serve others at all times.  In this we follow Jesus' example and command. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Now so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28).

There's no retirement from this directive. No point at which we should say "I've been at this now for x number of years. It's time for someone else to step up and take over. I'm ready to just sit back." Maybe we can change how we serve, maybe we can change who we serve, but there should never be a time when we do not put our shoulders to the work and do our share.

The other possible reason why the nobles of Tekoa weren't working is that maybe they couldn't work under the men who were serving as supervisors. After all, verse 5 says, "their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors." Perhaps these were men they didn't like. Perhaps they were men they had argued with. Perhaps they thought themselves too good to let commoners tell them what to do. Whatever the reason, the nobles were unwilling to work with the supervisors.

Have you ever had someone you just couldn't work with? Someone who rubbed you the wrong way and you did everything you could to avoid them? Maybe someone you can't respect for one reason or another.

But the Bible tells us to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than [ourselves]. Each of [us] should look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3,4). Sometimes we will have to work with people we don't like, or who don't like us, but the biblical response is to suck it up and get the work done. The interests of others will be better served if we get to it and do what we can, working as pleasantly as possible with those we maybe would prefer to avoid. It's not always easy, but Paul wrote "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18).

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Are you like the nobles of Tekoa or are you willing to get in there and get your hands dirty regardless of who else is already working?

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