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12. Characteristics of Honored Servants

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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…
Nehemiah 11

What are qualities of those who will be honored by God for their service to him?

In Nehemiah 11, we see the repopulating of the city of Jerusalem, but not only that, we see those who are honored and commended for taking the leap of faith in moving there. By reminder, chapters 1-6 focused on the rebuilding of the wall. In chapter 7, a census was taken of all the people living in Israel. But in that census there was clearly a problem with the city. Nehemiah 7:4 says, “Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.”

They had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, but only a few people were living in the city and the buildings needed to be rebuilt. In chapters 8-10, there was a spiritual revival in Jerusalem; the people met often to hear the Word of God and recommitted to following it.

Nehemiah 11 is especially important because the worship of God was integrally connected to the city of Jerusalem. We must remember that not only did God call Israel to be his priests, but he had called for Jerusalem to be his capital city. It was in Jerusalem that the temple was located, God’s presence dwelled, and people from throughout the world would come to offer sacrifices in worship of the living God. In fact, in Nehemiah 11:1, Jerusalem is called the “holy city.”

In this text, the narrator honors those who sacrificed—left home and land to build up the holy city—by recording their names. They and their families were honored as the record of their names would have been read before the nation of Israel. But these people were also honored when they initially volunteered to serve in Jerusalem. Nehemiah 11:2 says, ”The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”

Similarly, this has applications for God’s church. One day God will honor everyone who has labored to build his church and spread his kingdom on the earth. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5:

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

Paul said a day is coming in which God will honor those who have served him with a right heart and right motives. Then each person will receive their praise from the Lord. Christ taught that even the giving of a glass of water in his name would receive a reward (Matt 10:42).

In the same way that the narrator honored those who faithfully served in rebuilding and populating Jerusalem, God will one day honor those who faithfully served in the populating of the New Jerusalem, heaven’s capital city (cf. Rev 21:1-2).

With that said, it is important to recognize that not every servant will have the same honor in heaven. Consider what Christ taught:

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19

Jesus taught there will be those who are called great in the kingdom of heaven and those who will be called least. Not everybody in the kingdom of heaven will have the same honor.

In Nehemiah 11, we learn something about those who faithfully populated Jerusalem in order to help restore the worship of God in Israel. These people were honored by Israel publicly and, ultimately, by God, as he chose to include their names in his Holy Word. In the same way, God will one day publicly honor all his servants who have faithfully built his kingdom on this earth.

As we study this passage, we must ask, “What are the qualities of those who will be honored for their service to the Lord?” There is coming a day when those who have served God faithfully will be honored before all. God is still looking for people to restore the worship of God around the world and those who take up this call will be honored by him.

Big Question: What were the qualities of those who were honored for repopulating and rebuilding Jerusalem? How can we apply this to those whom God will honor eternally?

Honored Servants Are Willing to Lead by Example

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem
Nehemiah 11:1

Interpretation Question: Why did the leaders of the people settle in Jerusalem first, before anybody else?

What initially stands out about the repopulation of Jerusalem is that the leaders settled there first. No doubt, this included Nehemiah, Ezra, and other leaders. This is normal for most capital cities. The leadership dwells in the capital, since all the major decisions typically happen there.

However, this represents more than the fact that they needed to be in Jerusalem—they were setting the example for others to follow. Very shortly after they settled, others were recruited to help in the repopulation process. If Jerusalem was going to be repopulated, the leaders had to lead the way.

Similarly, this is true for the church as well. If worship is going to be restored in our churches, our communities, and our cities, it must begin with spiritual leadership. Consider how Paul challenged the Corinthians. He said: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Paul was willing to set the example for others to follow. Likewise, those who are honored by God will always be those who are willing to be examples. They set the example in their devotional lives, in their work, in their dating relationships, in their marriage, in their finances, etc. They do this so they can say, “Imitate me,” just as Paul did, in order to ultimately help people look more like Christ.

Similarly, Paul told Timothy this: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). He challenged Timothy to set an example for others.

In response to this reality, we must ask ourselves, “Are we willing to be godly examples for others?” This is an essential qualification for those who serve in any ministry. “Do we have a spiritual life that is worthy to be modeled?” “Can we give others a plan on how to faithfully practice their devotional lives?” “Can we demonstrate to others how to practice purity both in our thought life and our relationships?”

Those who lead must set the example, but, not only that, many times those who lead must often give up their rights to better serve others. In order to set the example, Nehemiah and the leaders had to give up their right of living outside of Jerusalem. Yes, it would have been safer, less work, and more comfortable if they would have lived outside of Jerusalem. But, they instead gave up their rights in order to lead others into what was best.

Paul said this: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). Surely, eating meat is a freedom and a biblical right, but if someone was offended because of a weak conscience, then he would have stopped rather than allow that person to be hurt by his freedom. This attitude is a must for leaders; they must think of others before themselves (cf. Phil 2:3-4) and, at times, even give up their rights in order to set the example.

Am I free to go to the movies? Am I free to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes? Certainly, Scripture does not clearly forbid such things. However, in my freedom, I must ask, “Could my freedom harm someone who is weaker than me in the faith and has less discipline than me?” This is the type of question people in leadership must ask.

Paul said, “Everything is permissible for me but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Everything is a freedom for me that Scripture doesn’t clearly forbid, but I must ask the right questions before I use my freedom such as: “Will this practice build others up? Will it build me up?” This is what keeps many from being good examples. The only question they ask is, “Is it my right?” or “Can I do this?” When they should ask, “Is this best for others?” and “Will this be best for me?”

Are you willing to be a godly example for others? Nehemiah and the leaders could have stayed outside of Jerusalem where the housing was better and it was safer, but they, instead, chose to set the example for others in order to accomplish God’s work. And they, therefore, were honored because of it.

Application Question: In what specific ways do you feel God is calling you to set the example for others? In what ways has God called you to give up freedoms to set an example?

Honored Servants Are Committed to Seeking God’s Will

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.
Nehemiah 11:1-2

Interpretation Question: Why did the Israelites cast lots? What did it represent?

The next step in repopulating Jerusalem was getting one out of ten Israelites to move into the land. How did they select these people? They cast lots, which is a lot like rolling dice. Some have called this a draft, but it is not a draft. It is more than that.

In ancient Israel, the casting of lots was a form of seeking the will of the Lord. In fact, we see the apostles use this form of seeking God’s will in Acts 1, when they chose the replacement for Judas. Look at what they did:

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
Acts 1:23-26

They chose the replacement by having all the disciples propose two men who had been with Christ from the beginning of their ministry. After two people were selected, they prayed for God to make his choice clear. God’s will was discerned by the casting of the lot, as it fell on Matthias. This was a common method of seeking God’s will used by Israel.

The Israelites had a very strong understanding of the sovereignty of God. They believed that God was in control of all things. Listen to what Proverbs says: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).

Every time a person throws a dice and it lands on six or three, the Jew would say that is of the Lord. There is no random chance in life; God is in control of all events. In fact, we see this with Job when Satan tested him by bringing poverty and death in his family. Even though we know Satan did it, as revealed in chapter 1, Job said, “God did it.” He cried out, “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).

Some today would say, “No, Job, your doctrine is all wrong. Sickness and trials do not come from God. It was Satan alone.” But Scripture teaches that God works all things in conformity with the purpose of his will. Our God is sovereign. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

Paul said our God works out “everything.” Some translations say “all things” according to the purpose of his will. This is a mystery. I don’t claim to fully understand it, but somehow this includes the Fall, sin, Satan, and everything else. Somehow all things fall into God’s sovereign will.

Peter actually told the Jews who killed Christ that they did it according to the foreordained plan of God. Acts 2:23 says, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Peter essentially said that this was under God’s sovereign control too. The worse thing that ever happened on the earth was part of God’s plan.

Now this is just a side point of showing how these Jews sought the will of God by casting lots. With that said, I am not promoting making decisions by rolling dice. My point is that those who will be honored by God for their service are those who continually seek God’s will, even when it hurts or is uncomfortable. They lay down their plans and their desires and cry out like Christ, “Not my will Lord, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Application Question: How do we seek the Lord’s will so we can faithfully submit to it?

Let it be known that the primary way that we seek God’s will is through studying his Word. David said this: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

David said that when he was seeking direction from the Lord, he realized that all he needed to do was turn the lights on in his life by getting into the Word. Those who live in the Word of God have the lights on. If we are not living in God’s Word, we do so to our own peril. It is impossible to properly navigate this dark world without the light of Scripture.

How does Scripture help us determine God’s will? Scripture either gives clear direction in doing God’s will or it gives us principles to help us make decisions. Even if that principle is something as simple as, “A wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Wise people don’t make decisions on their own about marriage, career, or life without allowing wise, godly people to speak into their life.

Yes, those who will be honored by God for their service are those who seek God’s will, and those who seek God’s will live in his Word. A person who does not live in the Word of God is not even fit to serve in ministry. It is the Word of God that equips the man of God for all righteousness (cf. 2 Tim 3:17). Without God’s Word, they will constantly harm others and themselves.

Just as Israel sought the Lord through casting lots, we must seek the Lord through studying the full revelation of God’s Word, something the Israelites did not have. How much more should we live in it and allow it to guide our decisions? It should guide what career path we go on, who we should marry, and even the kind of car we drive. Scripture gives us principles to help guide the man or woman of God in all those decisions.

These are the kind of servants that will be honored by God. They continually seek the Lord’s will in every aspect of life. Sadly, most Christians are not like this. Listen to what Paul said to the Philippians:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:19 -21

That’s how most Christians are. They seek their own interest instead of the interests of Jesus Christ. Paul said that he had no one else like Timothy (who sought the will of Christ), even though he worked with many churches and many Christians. Those who look out for the interests of Christ are still in small supply today. However, these are the ones who will be honored by God.

Application Question: In what ways is the Word of God sufficient to guide the man of God in all righteousness (cf. 2 Tim 3:17)? In what ways has God used his Word to help you make major decisions?

Honored Servants Are Willing to Obey the Lord’s Commands

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.
Nehemiah 11:1-2

Interpretation Question: Why does the narrative say the people volunteered to live in Jerusalem? How does this correspond with them being selected by the casting of lots?

The next thing we must notice is that not only did the leaders and the people in this narrative seek the will of the Lord, but they obeyed by volunteering. Now this may seem kind of strange. It says that they cast lots (v.1), and then the people volunteered (v. 2). This is why it’s clearly not a draft. They cast lots to see who God had chosen, but the people still had the ability to say, “No.”

Hypothetically, if a person said, “No,” they would have simply cast the lots again to see who God chose next. However, there was no need to re-cast the lot since each person who God chose volunteered. Therefore, the people commended them for it.

Yes, it is one thing to seek the will of the Lord, but it is another thing to obey the will of the Lord. These people were obedient.

Listen to this: God is always calling people to serve him. He calls them to go to missions. He calls to use them in great ways, but, if they turn him down, God may at times give the opportunity to somebody else.

We saw this with Saul. God called him to be king and to obey God as his vice-regent over Israel. But, Saul disobeyed God and refused to serve him, and therefore, Scripture says, “God sought after another who would obey him” (1 Sam 13:14).

Yes, God calls many to serve him, to serve in working with the children in the church, to share the gospel with friends, but when they choose to be disobedient, many times God will simply call another.

The good thing about God is that he is gracious and merciful. One of the most wonderful verses in Scripture is Jonah 3:1. After Jonah had said “No” and God had disciplined him through a storm, it says: “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.”

God’s Word came to Jonah a second time, and this time Jonah obeyed. Are you willing to obey the Lord? Those who will be honored by God are those who live lifestyles of obedience.

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to serve and build his kingdom? What are common hindrances to doing God’s will?

Honored Servants Are Willing to Sacrifice and Be Uncomfortable

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.
Nehemiah 11:1-2

All these people would have to leave their homes and move to a city that was broken down. Moving to Jerusalem essentially meant moving to the ghetto. The city was filled with ruins (cf. Neh 7:4). It was dangerous and susceptible to attack. Typically an attack would have been on the capital city. It was where the leaders and the wealth were. To move to Jerusalem meant to be uncomfortable.

Similarly, the very reason many people cannot serve the Lord and will not be honored by him is because they aren’t willing to be uncomfortable. They are not willing to step out of their comfort zone to serve and do God’s will.

Listen, any time God calls us, he calls us to step out of our comfort zone. He is not calling us to do something we could do in our own power, but something that could only be done through him. Therefore, following God always leads us out of our comfort.

It is no surprise then to see in Scripture so many people make excuses when they were called. Moses said, “I can’t speak.” Gideon said “I’m from the smallest tribe.” If God calls, he calls us to do something God-sized and outside of our ability.

In what ways is God calling you to sacrifice and to leave your comfort zone? I have no doubt that God is calling many to leave their home country and go to a place with a different language, culture, and standard of living. He may even call some of us to sacrifice our lives for him, as he did with Peter and the majority of the apostles. But even though there is a call, we still must be willing to submit to it. We must be willing, like the Israelites, to volunteer.

In Luke 9:57-58, one would-be disciple approached Christ and said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Christ responded, “Foxes, have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Essentially, Christ said, “Are you sure? Are you sure you can handle the cost of following me? It will mean being a wanderer in the world I created.”

We hear nothing from this man who zealously raised his hand and said, “I’ll go.” It seems the cost was too much. Similarly, many do the same thing today at the opportunity to follow Christ in ministry. The cost is too much. Giving up dreams, retirement, and security is not in their plans. They vehemently declare, “I cannot,” and therefore, they cannot serve the Lord in ministry and won’t be honored by him.

What is God calling you to sacrifice? In what way is he calling you to be uncomfortable in order to do his will and build his kingdom?

In this text, the leaders and those who volunteered all would be leaving the comfort of their homes to serve the Lord in a broken down city that needed to be rebuilt. However, it was God’s will for their lives and the best place they could be. And because they obeyed, they were honored by the people and ultimately by God.

Application Question: In what ways has God led you into uncomfortable situations to grow your faith and build his kingdom? Are there any ways that you feel God is calling you to be uncomfortable and trust him now to do his work?

Honored Servants Are Committed to Building God’s House

From the priests: Jedaiah; the son of Joiarib; Jakin; Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, supervisor in the house of God… and their associates, who carried on work for the temple …Shabbethai and Jozabad, two of the heads of the Levites, who had charge of the outside work of the house of God; Mattaniah son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer
Nehemiah 11:10, 12, 16-17

What else can we learn about the people who volunteered to serve the Lord by populating Jerusalem? It is clear that the majority of them focused their attention on serving the temple. The priests, Levites, and the temple workers are named next in the narrative (Neh 11:10–24), and obviously their ministry was focused on the temple. However, it must be remembered that not only did they focus on the temple, but apparently, so did everybody else. Remember what the last verse of Nehemiah 10 said:

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.”
Nehemiah 10:39

As part of the revival, they promised to not neglect the house of God. It was to be a permanent focus of their life and ministry, whether they lived in Jerusalem or not.

In the same way, those who serve the Lord today and will be honored by him must focus their attention on the temple, the church. Today, God’s temple is not a building as in the Old Covenant—it is a people. First Corinthians 3:16 says this: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” And Scripture also says that God has given each person a spiritual gift to serve in his temple (1 Corinthians 12:7). God’s plan to change the world is through a people using their spiritual gifts to serve God, one another, and the world.

Therefore, no matter where God calls you to serve, if he calls you to serve as a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, or a teacher, you still have a call from God to serve in his temple, which is the church. Even though God has given you a ministry in the world, he wants you to reach the world by being involved with your local church.

In talking specifically about serving the church, Paul taught that each man will receive a reward for his faithful service to her. Listen to what he said:

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building... If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
1 Corinthians 3:9, 12-14

After describing the people of God as God’s building, he says that each one of us will be rewarded based on the way we build up the church. If we give our time, if we are willing to invest, as represented by costly stones, we will be rewarded. But if we give God our scraps—service with wrong motives or a lack of service—as represented by wood, hay, and straw, we will not be rewarded—we will not be honored.

Scripture clearly teaches that those who will be honored by God are those who have served faithfully in building up God’s temple. In fact, they are consumed with God’s temple (cf. John 2:17, Rom 12:11, 1 Cor 15:58). This is a characteristic of those God honors.

Our tendency as Christians is to have our job, attend our church, care for our family, but not use our gifts to serve the church. Most Christians don’t feel a need to. However, the people who were honored in this narrative all were focused on serving the house of God, and previously, in chapter 10, all of Israel swore not to neglect it.

How has God called you to serve the church? Are you giving him your best or are you neglecting God’s work? Just as God honored these volunteers who sacrificed and served the temple, he also will honor those who have volunteered to faithfully serve God’s church with eternal rewards.

Application Question: What are your spiritual gifts? In what ways do you feel God has called you to serve the church? How can we balance serving God in the church with all our other responsibilities?

Honored Servants Are Willing to Serve without Receiving Glory Here on Earth

The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 able men. From the descendants of Benjamin: Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah, and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, supervisor in the house of God, and their associates, who carried on work for the temple—822 men
Nehemiah 11:6 -12

It is important to note that many of the people who served were unnamed. We see this throughout the text:

The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 able men. From the descendants of Benjamin: Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah, and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men.
Nehemiah 11:6-8

Many of the people who settled in Jerusalem are unnamed in this narrative. There were priests, Levites, descendants of certain tribes, etc., but the names of most of the people were not mentioned. There were 468 men from Perez, 928 people from Benjamin, etc., who volunteered to serve the Lord.

It is like that in every church and ministry. Some names are often in lights—the pastor, the worship leaders, and the elders. However, there are many people whose names are never mentioned but who are just as important, if not more important than those whose names everybody knows.

Listen to how Paul talks about these people in describing the church as a body in 1 Corinthians 12. He describes the head, the arm, and the feet—all parts that are visible. But he then says the parts that seem “to be weaker are indispensable.” More important than a leg, an arm, or a face is the heart or the liver. The body cannot function without these, and, when they shut down, the body shuts down. First Corinthians 12:21-23 says this:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
1 Corinthians 12:21-23

In the same way, each ministry has hidden parts that may not receive great honor here on earth, but, in heaven, they will be exalted. These often are women who never preach a sermon, but they labor in prayer for the preaching and in service of the people with needs in the church. They are the heart, the liver, and other internal organs. Without them, the whole body would shut down. They might not get applause here on earth, but we can have no doubt that they will receive great applause in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said, “those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 19:30). In heaven there will be great surprises. No doubt, many times the people we think will be exalted will not be, and those who have been overlooked will be. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).

He will not forget those who are unnamed, for he sees their hard work, and they will be greatly rewarded.

No doubt, many of these unnamed people served without ever needing applause or a thank you. Christ actually taught this as a necessary quality of all his disciples. He said this:

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
Luke 17:6-9

In describing a servant serving his master, he said, “Would the master thank the servant for doing what he was told?” The answer to the rhetorical question was, “No.” He was a servant doing what he was supposed to do. He says in the same way, we should be like that servant. We are servants who should serve without a need for applause or thanksgiving. We are simply doing our duty.

Are you willing to serve without ever being named, without ever receiving applause or earthly recognition?

God is looking for people who are willing to serve whether they receive recognition or not. It is no surprise that when God often called people in Scripture, he often found the people who were not looking for acclaim or applause. He often called the reluctant leaders to serve and do great things.

Moses said, “No, not me.” Gideon said, “No, I’m last in my father’s house.” These people were not looking to be great or honored. They were just people willing to obey God. God takes those not looking for acclaim or applause, and he makes them great. This is how God works. The people in Babel were trying to make a name for themselves, trying to make themselves great, and God brought them low (cf. Gen 11:4-8). But with Abraham, he found a man not looking to make a name for himself and said to him, “I will make your name great” (Gen 12:2). When David wanted to build God a house, God said to him, “I will build a house for you” (2 Sam 7:27).

God opposes the proud but exalts the humble (James 4:6). This is a characteristic of those who are exalted. They are the humble who ultimately want to honor and glorify God. Because of this, God exalts them.

Application: Why is it important to be able to serve God without earthly recognition? How can we develop the type of humility that doesn’t need to be seen or heard?

Honored Servants Are Committed to Respecting and Serving the Authorities

Next, we also must notice that the singers and others, though following God, were also serving the king of Persia. We see this in Nehemiah 11:23-24. It says:

The singers were under the king’s orders, which regulated their daily activity. Pethahiah son of Meshezabel, one of the descendants of Zerah son of Judah, was the king’s agent in all affairs relating to the people.
Nehemiah 11:23-24

How did this happen? In the book of Ezra, when King Darius had initially ordered the building of the temple, the people of Israel were commanded to give the elders daily support for the rebuilding and maintenance of the temple. He also commanded that “sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven be offered and that the people pray for the well-being of the king.” Ezra 6:8-10 says this:

Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: The expenses of these men are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.

Therefore, the singers not only were submitting to God in their worship and prayers, but they were also honoring the king of Persia.

In addition, Pethahiah, who was the “king’s agent” (v. 24), probably advised the king on Israel’s affairs.1

Now in many nations, there is a separation of church and state, which is a different model of government than in Israel and most of the ancient world. However, Scripture still commands Christians to honor and submit to those in authority (cf. Rom 13:1-7) and also to pray for them. First Timothy 2:1-3 says this:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior

In fact, while Israel was in Babylon, they also were commanded by God to pray for, not only the king, but the whole pagan nation. Look at what he told the Jews to do: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Peter said it this way: “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).

Similar to those who were honored in Israel, Christians must still seek to be good citizens, good employees, and good neighbors. We are commanded to honor those in authority, to pray for the king, and to pray for godliness and holiness in our nation.

Serving the Lord does not mean to neglect the government or our community. It is very much a Christian’s job to be involved with the affairs of the state and nation.

In fact, I was listening to a former governor in the United States who is an ordained Southern Baptist pastor. In an interview, someone asked him if he regretted leaving the ministry, and how he felt about those who looked down on him for working in politics. His response was along the lines of:

I never got out of ministry. This is what Romans 13:4 says about those serving in government: ”For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” I am still serving God in a very important ministry.

Scripture calls the rulers of government, God’s servants—his ministers. Yes, one can still serve the Lord as a governor or a president. God selected David to serve in leadership as the king of Israel. He promoted Joseph to vice-president of Egypt. He also exalted Daniel to what we might call the “Senate” in Babylon. These people served the Lord, but they honored the king and blessed their nation through their good works.

Serving the Lord does not mean we are only to think about heaven and spiritual things. No, we must still be very much concerned with our state, our nation, our community, and our job. This includes voting; it includes seeking the prosperity of the nation in serving in the school systems, businesses, etc. It also includes seeking to promote righteousness in areas like serving the poor, working for human rights, etc.

This is important because for many Christians serving God means to not care about practical things such as one’s community or nation, but Scripture calls us to honor the king, to pray daily for those in leadership, and to care for the poor (cf. 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Tim 2:1-3, James 1:27).

Sometimes while serving God, he may also call us to serve in the government in order to better serve the world and promote Christian values. Are you willing to allow God to use you in government, education, health care, politics, social work, etc.?

The singers and Pethahiah served the Lord but also served the government. These people were honored by Israel and by God. We must be willing to do the same.

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to be a better citizen including such areas as studies, business, social justice, voting, etc.? Why are Christians so prone to neglect these practical aspects of the Christian life for more “spiritual endeavors”?

Conclusion

What are necessary qualities of those who will be honored for their service to the Lord?

  1. Honored servants are willing to lead by example.
  2. Honored servants are committed to seeking God’s will.
  3. Honored servants are willing to obey the Lord’s commands.
  4. Honored servants are willing to sacrifice and be uncomfortable.
  5. Honored servants are committed to building God’s house.
  6. Honored servants are willing to serve without receiving glory here on the earth.
  7. Honored servants are committed to respecting and serving the government.

Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to develop the qualities of a servant who will be honored by God? What areas do you struggle with the most?


1 Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 132). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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