There seems to be no limit to the injustices that occur in the world. Sadly, this is also the case in the Church. When I was a boy, my dad used to say, “Nick, no one will hurt you so much as people in the Church.” I have found this to be true in my experience over the ten years I have been in pastoral ministry. The thing that makes injustice within the Church so burdensome is the fact that we expect better of the people of God.
Many claim to have left Christian community on account of the injustices and offenses of the members of the Church. But while professing believers have often done much harm to other members of His body—and also hindered the spread of the gospel—God will always remember His people on account of Christ, the perfectly righteous representative of His people. That truth is seen in Nehemiah 5.
In the days when Israel was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, God sent a famine on the land. Because of the famine, many rulers of God’s people were taking advantage of their brethren. They oppressed the sons and daughters of their brothers on account of a shortage of food. When the people complained, Nehemiah rose to stand up for the poor and the oppressed. He did what any of us should do when we see people in the Church taking advantage of others’ unjust gain. Scripture says Nehemiah was filled with righteous anger (Nehemiah 5:6) and brought civil charges against the leaders who were oppressing the people (vv.7-13). He then ensured that the religious leaders would hold their rulers responsible to provide a full restoration of the possessions they had taken.
Nehemiah showed himself to be an upright and generous governor. When other governors took from the people for selfish gain, Nehemiah refused to live in luxury at the expense of the impoverished members of the Church. Unlike the other rulers, Nehemiah refused to place heavy burdens on the people. His heart was filled with love for the people of God and a desire to see all of them provided for. He hoped the Lord would see him and his faithfulness. And so he said, “Remember me favorably, my God, for all that I have done for this people” (Nehemiah 5:19).
In all these ways, Nehemiah was a type of the One to come. When Jesus came to Israel, the rulers and leaders were oppressing the people. When He came to the temple and saw the way in which those who sold sheep and oxen for the sacrifices were extorting money from His people, He was filled with anger, throwing over tables and driving out the money-lenders. When He observed the way in which the religious leaders were placing heavy burdens on God’s people, Jesus stood and said, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus refused to please or comfort Himself. Instead, He was homeless throughout most of His public ministry and died naked on the cross for the sins of His people. In all that He did, Jesus gave up all that He had for the redemption and care of the people of God. May we learn to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the greater Nehemiah.
Written by Nick Batzig