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"For He Was a Good Man, and Feared God Above Many"

(Nehemiah 7:2)

by

Lawson Mayo

Now it came to pass when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed,

That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many.

And I said unto them, Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar them: and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one to be over against his house.

Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded

Nehemiah was a man of action. He was an efficient planner, and a good organiser. Under his leadership, the wall of Jerusalem had been rebuilt. But he's in an awkward position. His work is not complete; the houses must be finished, and God has called him to another task. He was to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people "that they might be reckoned by genealogy" (7:5). Who would govern the city while he was taking the census? Who would complete the work that he had begun? He needed someone who was trustworthy and dependable; someone who was qualified to do the job.

To free himself from one task so he could move on to another, Nehemiah gave Hanani and Hananiah charge over the city. Hanani was his brother. Hananiah was a man of experience; he was the ruler of the palace that served as a protective fortress for the people. It is said that Hananiah was a faithful man who feared God. Experience, faithfulness, and a high regard for God: these are the qualifying traits that made Hananiah and Hanani such a good team.

To "fear God" means that one has enough respect for God to be obedient. It's understanding the consequence of disobedience enough to align one's life with God's will. It's respecting the power of God's wrath enough to measure up to His expectations. Hanani and Hananiah were in a good position to see what happened when the Israelites had disregarded God's way. Their beautiful temple, their precious homes, and their mighty wall had been destroyed. Their faithfulness and their fear of God made them an excellent choice for the work that needed to be done. Faithful people can be trusted to carry out their work; those who fear the Lord can be expected to keep God's priorities in mind.

The city was large and the people were few; they could not easily protect themselves. Besides this, they needed guidance in rebuilding their homes. Without qualified leaders, all would be lost. Nehemiah knew this; that's why he was careful in his selection.

The selection of qualified leaders has always been important to the spiritual wellbeing of God's people. Moses selected qualified leaders to assist in his work. It was too much for him to meet the staggering demands of his self-willed charges as they journeyed in the wilderness. He had to have help, but not just anyone would do. The men he selected had to possess certain qualifications; they had to meet certain requirements. They had to be "able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness" (Exodus 18:21). The reason for this was the nature of the job they were called to do. They were to judge problems and offer solutions according to the statutes of God. Had they not met the stringent criteria, they could not have done this.

Down through the ages, God has selected faithful men for the task at hand. This is true in both the Old and New Testaments. The best known case is probably the judges that were chosen to deliver the children of Israel out of the hands of their spoilers. Time and time again, when the world seemed ready to swallow them up, a God-fearing individual would come on the scene to help the Hebrews catch their balance. That's what leadership is all about: faithful men helping God's children walk worthy of the calling wherein they have been called (Ephesians 4:1). How can one influence another's walk, if he doesn't walk worthily himself? He can't! That's why God requires qualified leaders; leaders that will walk with Him.

Noah was a qualified leader. Because of his faithfulness, he was chosen for a soul-saving task that no one else could do. His mission was to save a remnant of life from God's earth-cleansing flood. From reading Genesis we learn that "Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations and he walked with God" (6:9). He was righteous-that's what the word just means. He was an example to those that lived in his time-that's what being "perfect in his generations" means. He lived in harmony with the will of God when everyone else was caught up in sin-that's what the phrase "walked with God" means. Question: can two walk together except they be agreed (Amos 3:3)? Most certainly not!

Abraham was another qualified man that was chosen for a special cause. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go.. went out, not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11:8). By faith, he sojourned in the land of promise. By faith, he dwelt in tabernacles. By faith, he begat Isaac. By faith, he offered his son as a sacrifice in the land of Moriah. Faith. Faith. Faith. Faith was the mark of Abraham's greatness. He was a man who "believed on God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Galatians 3:6); so much so, that he was called "the Friend of God" (James 2:23).

Many others were called to meet the needs of God, and many others responded. All were faithful; all were righteous; all were obedient. They were great leaders in trying times. There was Gideon who led Israel in battle against a stronger, mightier, more numerous foe (Judges 6). There was Samson who dealt with the enemy at the expense of his own life (Judges 16). There was David who was chosen in the days of his youth to be the future king of Israel (I Sam.16).

David, Samson, Gideon, Abraham, Noah, Moses: these were men who "feared God" enough to go where he asked them to go and to do what he asked them to do. What God needs now is men like these men of old. He needs them in the world and he needs them in the church.

A few years back, there was an American military slogan that went like this: "The army needs a few good men". A few good men! That's what the "Lord's army" needs today: a few good men who are qualified to guide and guard the church.

The Lord, in His wisdom, has set forth a plan whereby qualified men can oversee the church. His plan calls for men of faith. Men of action. Men of strength. Men of determination. Men of courage. Men who are able to feed the sheep and shepherd the flock.

Read I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. These are the passages that set forth the qualifications for elders and deacons in the church. They are the Scriptures that stipulate the qualities that a man must possess before he is chosen to serve as a spiritual leader in the body of Christ.

These qualifications naturally fall into three areas of a man's life: the man himself, the man's family, and the man's reputation. Firstly: let's look to the man himself. To qualify as an elder, one must be in control of his own life. He must be blameless (without reproach), vigilant (watchful and cautious), sober (serious minded), of good behaviour (disciplined), given to hospitality, capable of teaching, not given to alcohol, no striker (not quarrelsome), not greedy of financial reward, patient, not contentious, not covetous, one that rules his house well, not a new convert. Moreover, he must have a good name within the church, and be well spoken of by those without (I Timothy 3:1-7). The Titus passage is comparable, adding these traits: a lover of good things, just, holy, and temperate. It also points to the fact that an elder must be able "by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (1:5-9). In other words, an elder must be capable of promoting truth and exposing error.

Secondly: the man's family. An elder must be the husband of one wife. Full stop. Not one wife at a time; just one wife. In the original language the text denotes a one woman man: mia" gunaiko" ajndra (married only once). In light of this, we should not get bogged down in the "what-if" situations that always surface when questionable issues arise. What if a man has remarried after a scriptural divorce, can he serve as an elder in the church? What if a widower has remarried, can he be appointed as an elder? Based on the one-woman-man theory, I would say not. For sure, the safest route would be for the man to have been married only once. When in doubt, take the safest route: that's my philosophy.

While we're on the subject of a man's family we need to look at the number of children that an elder must have. The Scripture reads that an elder [a bishop; an overseer] must be "one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection... For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (I Timothy 3:4,5). Children [plural] is what the verse states. Even so, this is a questionable thing in the minds of many; especially those who want to justify setting into office an otherwise qualified man. Once again, this is where the "what-ifs" surface. I don't want to re-plough the ground that has been turned so many times, but it needs to be pointed out that questionable issues are like weak links in a chain. A chain, as you know, is only as strong as its weakest link. So it is with the church; it is only as strong as its weakest leader.

Despite the fact that generic plurals are commonly used in the New Testament to denote one or more, I feel uncomfortable with teaching that a one-child-man can be scripturally qualified to serve as an elder. The multi-child teaching is safer and wiser. A man with only one child simply isn't equipped to cope with the multiplicity of personalities that God has placed in the church. He doesn't have the required experience to deal with the problems that arise in a multi-child family. Remember: the home is the training and testing ground for overseeing group situations (I Timothy 3:5); one child can hardly be called a group.

In the matter of "faithful" children, we must once again look to the purpose of the qualification. The primary function of an elder is to oversee souls. If a man cannot save the souls of his own children, how can he be entrusted with the souls of others?

So, in the matter of family, these are the essentials:

  1. An elder must be the husband of one wife.
  2. He must have children.
  3. His children must be Christians.
  4. His Christian children must be faithful.

Regarding man's reputation, an elder must be without reproach. He must be blameless in the eyes of the world, as well as having an exemplary report from members of the church. He must be free of justifiable accusations. He must a man of respectability. He must be a man who is above suspicion.

To be an elder is a grave responsibility because the church belongs to the living God. One should not be selected because he is popular or wealthy or influential. Faithfulness is the imperative quality that God demands. By faithfulness, I mean meeting all of God's requirements.

Do you think that Hanani would have been chosen by Nehemiah simply because he was his brother? Absolutely not! Do you think that Hananiah would have been selected simply because he was the ruler of the palace? Absolutely not. These men had the qualities that were needed to govern a city. They had proven themselves. They were experienced. They were faithful. They were men who feared God. The same should be true in the matter of choosing overseers in the church. It is not for us to question the rules. It is not for us to compromise the qualifications. To do so is to usurp God's authority.

Deacons must also be proved and found blameless. Like elders, they must be faithful in all things. They must be grave, not given to alcohol, not doubletongued, not greedy of financial reward. Their wives must also be faithful: grave, serious minded, not gossips (I Tim.3:8-12).

The office of a deacon is sometimes thought of as a catch-all position to give the young men something to do. Sometimes it's used as an incentive for weaker brethren too [the idea being: give a man a job, and he'll be more faithful]. Such trends weaken the church. They place unqualified men in a leadership position that's intended for men of maturity and faith. An unqualified leader can do a great deal of damage in the church. That's why it's vital, imperative, mandatory, absolutely necessary to select qualified men; men who love God.

Qualified leaders are needed in the church today! The church must have direction if it is to survive the trends of our age. God has set forth the qualifications. But where are the men? What do we do if none can be found? Do we bring forth the "best" that we have? Do we pool our faithful traits and call it a match? I have only one wife, you have faithful children. Another is not given to anger. Someone else is knowledgeable enough to teach. None of us is perfectly qualified, but together we measure up to the requirements of God: will this fit the bill? No way! But, ironically, we do have some in our brotherhood that lean toward this persuasion. We do all sorts of things to justify our reasoning: we set a group of partially qualified men into office, and call them coordinators; we give them power over the congregation that is not rightly theirs to have. This is a dangerous thing. It's a church-destroying thing. It's an unscriptural thing. It's a sinful thing. So what is our option? Is there an alternative?

I claim the following statement to be my own, but I could have picked it up from someone along the way. At any rate, it's what I believe. Listen closely now; hear what I have to say. It is better to be scripturally unorganised than to be unscripturally organised. This is a truism that cannot be refuted. Let me say it again: it is better to be scripturally unorganised than to be unscripturally organised. When we set unqualified men into a leadership position, we instantly become unscripturally organised.

To illustrate my point, let us look to the apostle Paul, who went about organising congregations of the Lord's church in the first century. Everywhere he went he left a small band of baptised believers. They had no elders; no overseers. This did not negate their scripturality, however. Later, when Paul returned to these congregations, he helped them select elders. Before appointing men to serve as elders, they were scriptural, but unorganised. They had no elders. And that's our option if no one within the congregation meets the qualifications.

From the moment a man becomes a Christian, he should plan to be an elder. Unfortunately, this is not the way it works today. Our young men just drift along without an awareness of the work that God has cut out for them to do some day. A twenty year old is not going to blossom into a full-fledged elder forty years down the track. He is not going to wake up some bright morning and discover that he has all of the qualities required to be an overseer. No way! He must put forth some effort to become what God wants him to be.

It takes time to "grow" an elder; he's not like a herb that springs up overnight. No! He's like a "hybrid" that must be carefully cultivated. A desire for the office must be planted in a young man's heart, and the thought of becoming a leader some day must be nurtured through the years. We should be training the young men of our day to be elders in the church of tomorrow.

What the church needs in Australia is vision. We desperately lack qualified leadership in our congregations! We need elders now! But the only way I know to get them is to transplant a few good men, there simply are not enough qualified men in a single location to appoint elders in our Australian congregations. Since transplanting isn't feasible, our only option is to begin where we are to train a few good men to fill the office some day.

Sometimes we get so panicky about not having elders that we want to appoint the best we have, whether they are qualified or not. Through the years I've heard justifications for compromising God's will. "He's a successful business man"... "He's a good old boy"... "His heart's in the right place"... "He's the best we have", etc. We even justify the lack of children (plural), on the false premise that one child is enough because if we were to say, "All with children stand up!" those with just one child would stand. What we need in this case is vision: vision early enough in life to have more than one child!

Granted, not all can qualify to serve as an elder, but those of us who can, should! God will not accept compromise and neither should we. We may put unqualified men into office, we may grant them oversight of our souls, we may call them elders, but if they don't meet the qualifications, they are not elders in God's sight.

A man can be a great Christian. He can do many good works. He can have a powerful influence. He can be a responsible person. He can be good, and upright, and trustworthy in all of his ways. He can have a good reputation. He can know the Bible from front to back. He can rule his house well. He can be a peacemaker. But he cannot be an elder if he fails to meet one, single, solitary God-given qualification. That's what the Word says.

Nehemiah's life is a good example of leadership. He had vision and a willingness to work. Even in the face of scorn, and conflict, and discouragement he did not stop building. When he learned of Jerusalem's sad condition he prayed, he planned, and he prepared.

God needs faithful leaders in the church today. He needs men that are capable and competent of doing the work that must be done. He needs experienced men, not novices. He needs qualified men; not just the best we have. So, let's "strengthen our hands" for the task. Let us pray. Let us plan. Let us prepare. Let us be ready to go, ready to stay, ready our place to fill; ready for service lowly or great, ready to do His will.

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