Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader: Characteristics of Godly Leaders Pt. 2 (Neh 2)
Characteristics of Godly Leaders
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.” Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time. I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests…
What are characteristics of godly leaders? As we look at Nehemiah, we see a man who had a burden for the people of God. He was over 800 miles away in the Kingdom of Persia serving as the king’s cupbearer. It would have been very easy for him to feel like he couldn’t do anything to help or that he could only pray; however, he not only prayed, he also volunteered to help.
The city of Jerusalem’s walls were broken down and Israel wasn’t practically a nation anymore, as they were scattered throughout the world. Years earlier, there were two migrations back to the land of Israel led by Zerubbabel and then Ezra. They had rebuilt the temple and begun a renewal of worship. However, a great deal of work still needed to be done, as the walls of the capital city lay in ruins, leaving it an easy target for looters. Therefore, God calls Nehemiah to continue the work of restoration in Israel.
God is still looking to raise up leaders to rebuild walls around the world: to restore Christians, churches, and nations to himself. What are characteristics of godly leaders—leaders with character, who tackle God-sized tasks for the Lord? How can we become a leader that God uses? Commentator Donald Campbell found twenty-one principles of effective leadership.[i] However, in this study we will only consider ten.
Big Question: What characteristics of godly leadership do we see in Nehemiah throughout chapter 2?
Godly Leaders Are Patient and Respectful towards Authority
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill?” but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?
In chapter one, Nehemiah, the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes, heard about the problem in Israel and began to pray that God would give him favor with the king (v.11). However, it is clear from the text that God did not answer his prayer for four months. Nehemiah initially heard about the problem in November-December (Kislev, Neh 1:1) and nothing happened till March-April (Nisan, Neh 2:1). He waits on God for at least four months before God opened the door to talk to the king.
As we consider how Nehemiah responded to the king, we can learn a great deal about how to respond to leadership that may be difficult or hard to deal with.
Persian kings had a reputation of being extremely harsh and oppressive. Even though Nehemiah had been praying for four months, it is clear he was not only waiting on God but also the king. Up to this point, he had mentioned nothing to him. While Nehemiah was serving, the king just happened to notice the sorrow on Nehemiah’s face. For a cupbearer to even appear sad in the presence of a monarch could have meant death. This is probably why verse 2 says Nehemiah became “very much afraid.”
To add to the difficulty of working for a harsh and oppressive king, many scholars believe this is the same King Artaxerxes who previously had ordered Israel to stop building the walls of Jerusalem in the book of Ezra (cf. 4:11-23). Listen to what commentator James Boice wrote about this scenario:
Nehemiah’s difficulties did not stop there. To be sad in King Artaxerxes’ presence was dangerous enough. In addition to that, Nehemiah wanted to go to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls, and it was this king who earlier had been petitioned and had stopped work on the rebuilding of the walls as a result of that petition. Nehemiah’s plan meant asking him to reverse his own policy.[ii]
In fact, to show how difficult this would have been, “the law of the Medes and the Persians” was a proverbial saying referring to a law that was unalterable (cf. Dan 6:8).[iii]
Nehemiah’s waiting for four months showed his patience in dealing with a difficult superior. Have you ever had a difficult superior—a boss, a pastor, a father, a husband, etc.? This is not the first time we see this in Scripture. David worked for King Saul, an employer who was jealous of his popularity and wanted to kill him (1 Sam 18). This happens in business, in ministry, and also in the home.
How should we deal with superiors with whom we do not see eye to eye?
Application Question: What can we learn about working with a difficult authority from Nehemiah’s interaction with the king? What does Scripture teach about this?
1. Patience can be effective in changing the heart of an authority.
Consider what Solomon said: “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone” (Prov 25:15).
Nehemiah waits four months; he does not rush in, and he doesn’t simply give up. He patiently prays to God, serves the king, and waits for God to open a door.
This is a great principle when working in a less than ideal situation; “through patience a ruler can be persuaded.” Godly leaders must learn how to wait not only on God but also on the leaders that God has given them.
2. God can change the hearts of those in authority.
Proverbs 21:1 says this: “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”
Like water in a person’s hand, God changes the heart of the king in whatever direction he chooses. This is a good reminder to pray for even wicked authorities since God is ultimately in control. Look at what Paul told Timothy:
And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to knowledge of the truth.
2 Timothy 2:24-25
God is the one who grants repentance and changes hearts, not us. I have seen many Christians who actually made their situations worse by not waiting on God to change the heart of their leader. Instead they became a thorn in their leader’s side and destroyed their opportunity to minister to their superior and others.
3. We should show honor to those in authority.
Not only was Nehemiah patient with this king, but he continued to honor him as he served. Look at his response to the king’s inquiry: “but I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever!’” (Neh 2:3).
This is how we should respond to superiors who are difficult or hard to work with. We should respect them and honor them. David even did this with King Saul, a man who was trying to kill him. He constantly said, “I will not touch God’s anointed.” David realized that even a bad king is a representation of God’s authority, and there is no authority other than God’s.
Romans 13:1-2 says this:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Scripture teaches that Christians are called to honor their superiors, including presidents, employers, parents, teachers, and even pastors. We should do this even when they are ungodly. This doesn’t mean that we don’t challenge them, admonish them, or pray for them, but we do these things in such a way that shows respect for their authority.
Paul said this to Timothy who was a young pastor serving in a church with people older than him: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father” (1Timothy 5:1).
Paul said that we should even express this honor in daily relationships with older people in the church. We should treat them with honor, even in correction.
Application Question: What makes it so difficult to honor and be patient with a bad authority figure? How can we practice patience and honor in those situations?
Godly Leaders Practice a Lifestyle of Prayer
The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king.
Interpretation Question: What can we learn from Nehemiah’s prayer while talking to the king?
In chapter 1, we saw Nehemiah praying night and day for four months. However, in this text, we see him pray a quick prayer in the midst of talking to the king. This showed that he not only had times of deep prolonged prayer, but he also tried to live a lifestyle of prayer.
Paul says this in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” What does it mean to pray without ceasing? Does it mean to pray every moment of the day? Steven Cole, author of the Riches from the Word devotional series, said this about the phrase “without ceasing”:
The Greek word translated “without ceasing” does not mean without any break, which would be impossible. It is used of a hacking cough and of repeated military assaults. It means that prayer should be something we return to again and again until we obtain an answer.[iv]
We pray without ceasing by continually bringing our thoughts before God and talking to him throughout the day. Some have called what Nehemiah did an arrow prayer. It is similar to Peter sinking into the water and crying out, “Lord save me.” It was not an extended prayer but a quick request.
This is what godly leaders do. They practice prayer without ceasing. They have long periods of prayer as seen in Nehemiah’s praying for four months or Christ’s fasting in the wilderness, but they also pray throughout the day, as they are living in God’s presence.
I often practice this in the midst of counseling. As soon as somebody approaches me with a theological question, a request for help, or for my opinion on a situation, I often automatically shoot up an arrow prayer to the Lord for wisdom. We have a God who is all-wise and all-powerful, and therefore, we should petition for wisdom, strength, and grace throughout the day.
Application Question: How are you developing the character trait of praying without ceasing? What are some tips in order to help us pray more like Nehemiah?
Godly Leaders Are Valuable Followers
Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
Interpretation Question: What can we learn about Nehemiah from the fact that the king asked him, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” What does this say about Nehemiah’s service?
After Nehemiah asked to be sent to his home country, the king responded by saying, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” The implication of the king’s response was that he valued Nehemiah’s service and wanted to have him back in the palace soon.
This should be normal for Christians serving in companies, businesses, schools, or churches. We should be a blessing to those we serve. We also see this reality with other men of God in the Scripture.
Interpretation Question: What other men or women of God in Scripture are portrayed as being a blessing to their employers?
We saw this with Jacob as he was serving Laban. God prospered Laban because of Jacob’s faithfulness.
We saw this with Joseph when he was serving under Potiphar as his chief slave; he worked so hard that he was exalted to the head servant. The same thing happened while Joseph was in prison; he was exalted to the head prisoner. Finally, Joseph was exalted to second in command over Egypt, as he faithfully served Pharaoh.
We also saw this with Daniel as he was working in Babylon. Though Babylon was a wicked and ungodly kingdom, King Darius sought to put Daniel over the majority of his kingdom because of his diligence (Dan 6:3).
Christians should be the most hardworking employees and have the most integrity. Many times this will bring disdain from others as it did with Daniel. His co-workers, the Chaldeans, plotted behind his back and got him thrown into the lion’s den (Dan 6). They were jealous of his favor with Darius, the King of Persia.
Colossians 3:23-24 says this:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
The reason godly leaders should be diligent in their service is because we are working for the Lord and not for men. He is the one who will reward us, even if we are mistreated by our employers or others.
In fact, one of the things we know from ancient history is that when Christian slaves were sold in the market they went for a higher price. When they were bargaining, the slave trader would say, “But this man is a Christian. He will work hard for you.” It was for this reason that they typically were more costly.
No doubt, Nehemiah’s diligent labor and righteous conduct played a part in his request being granted by the king and, later, God using him to be a future leader of Israel.
It has often been said a great leader is also a great follower. In the military, there is a lot of writing about followership; one cannot be a great leader unless he has been a great follower. One cannot be a great employer unless he has been a great employee. We see this with Nehemiah. He was faithful with little, and God made him faithful over much (Matt 25:23).
Are you a great follower? Do you serve your superiors as though you are serving the Lord? Remember what Paul said to the slaves in Colosse: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (Col 3:22).
We live in a culture where people, often times, only work hard when the boss is watching or is nearby. Paul essentially said, “Do not serve diligently for their favor or for a promotion, but do it for the Lord.”
Are you being a good follower and a diligent worker? That is one of the characteristics of a great leader.
Application Question: Why are great followers often great leaders? In what ways is God calling you to grow in your followership?
Godly Leaders Are Planners
It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time. I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?
Interpretation Question: What can we learn from the fact that Nehemiah gave the king a set time and asked for letters for the trip? What does this say about godly leaders?
What is another characteristic of a godly leader? A godly leader is a planner. The king asked Nehemiah how long he would be gone, and he was able to quickly “set a time.” It seems from the narrative that he stayed at least twelve years in Jerusalem (cf. Nehemiah 5:14).
He also asked for letters to give the governors of the Trans-Euphrates to ensure safe travel to Judah (v.7). While traveling, he would have to go through other lands, and, if he did not have letters, they might have sent him back. Having a letter from the king would be the equivalent to having a passport today. He also received a letter for timber to build the gates, the city wall, and his residence while in Jerusalem (v.8).
While Nehemiah was waiting for four months, he was not just praying, he also was planning, and God used that planning to meet Nehemiah’s needs.
Application Question: Have you ever met Christians who claimed to be walking by faith, which meant that they had no real plan? Are faith and planning at odds with one another? In what ways do we see God as a planner?
Often you will find Christians who neglect planning or preparing and claim that they are living by faith. However, when you look at Scripture, this seems to contradict the character of God. God is a God of order—he is a planner.
It is wonderful to look at the story of creation because you can see God’s plan and order there. In the first three days, God created the spheres of the earth: water, land, and sky (Gen1:1-10), and then, in the next days, he filled them (Gen 1:11-27). There is a clear order—create and then fill.
We also see the order of creation in science. When you look at human bodies, nature, and even the solar system, we see a God who meticulously planned and then created.
We also see God’s order for church worship. In 1 Corinthians 14, people were speaking in tongues without an interpreter, giving prophesies with no one to judge, and the women were abusing their role in the church. God essentially said, “Hold up! I am not a God of disorder” and gave them instructions on how to have order in the church (1 Cor 14:28-32). First Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”
Some in the church think being led by the Spirit means to not plan and to just be free. That’s what was happening in Corinth and, hence, why God gave them a very meticulous plan for how worship should be done including the use of tongues, prophecy, and even the teaching ministry of women in the church. He says, “I am not a God of disorder. I have a plan for worship.”
I remember one time I was invited to give a prayer at a wedding, and I had written down my prayer. Another pastor there had also been asked to perform a ministry at the wedding. While I was reading over my prayer and praying over it, the pastor said, “Oh don’t use that; just be led by the Holy Spirit.” I wanted to say, “Have you ever read the Psalms. Many of them are written down prayers given by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the whole written Word is inspired by God.” The fact that my prayer was written down did not mean it was not led by the Holy Spirit. God is a God of order.
We, also, see God’s order in his instructions on how families should be run. He teaches wives to submit to their husbands, husbands to love their wives, and children to submit to their parents (Eph 5:22- 6:1). God is a God of order; he made plans for creation, worship, and the home. As godly leaders, we should make plans as well.
Now certainly, when all our planning fails, we can trust that our God will lead and provide by faith. But faith does not neglect planning. Planning is a proof of our faith; we plan because we trust that God is leading us (cf. Romans 8:14). Proverbs 21:5 says this: “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
The plans of the diligent lead to profit, and haste leads to poverty. Godly leaders are planners, and we see that in Nehemiah’s response to the king. What is God calling you to plan for?
Application Question: What are some good principles to use in our planning?
1. In planning, it is good to have prolonged prayer and waiting. Nehemiah prayed and fasted for four months, and in that time, God gave him a plan.
2. In planning, it is good to seek wise counselors. Proverbs says, “In the multitude of our counselors there is victory” (Prov 11:14). No doubt, Nehemiah probably had to talk to various people about the different regions that he would go through, what was needed, and where the best trees would be found. He probably figured out some of his needs by talking to his brother who had just come from Israel (Neh 1:2).
3. In planning, it is good to make long term and short term plans. Nehemiah was planning for at least four months into the future and, probably, years into the future. He had to tell the king how long he would be away. Again, he was probably away for at least twelve years. He had made a long term plan.
We should make short term and long term plans about how to cultivate our professional lives, our spiritual lives, and our health. We should make long term and short term plans about how to cultivate our marriage and family relationships. Plans lead to profit.
4. In planning, it is good to write out our plans. We can assume that Nehemiah wrote down his plans since he kept the memoirs that we are reading here in his book. Sometimes writing down our plans will help us solidify them.
This is true for long term planning but also daily planning. Some people waste lots of time on the Internet, the TV, or other endeavors. Writing down an hourly schedule and a weekly schedule can help us maximize our time and become more efficient. Godly leaders are planners.
Application Question: What are some other principles that one can use in order to become more effective in planning both long term and short term?
Godly Leaders Are Humble, and Therefore, Experience God’s Abundant Grace
And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king's letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.
Interpretation Question: What can we learn from Nehemiah’s interpretation in verse 8 of how all his requests were answered because of the gracious hand of God on his life?
In verses 8 and 9, we see that the king granted all of Nehemiah’s requests and even blessed him with more than he asked. In addition, the king sent Nehemiah on his journey with officers and a cavalry for protection (v. 9). What should stand out to us in this text is Nehemiah’s interpretation of the king’s favor. He said, “because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests” (v. 8).
One cannot help but notice Nehemiah’s humility. In the world today, leaders often boast about their degrees, their performance, their charitable work, their salary, their houses, their cars, and anything else they can find to boast about. They boast because they see their success as coming from themselves (that’s essentially what a resume is). But, not Nehemiah! Nehemiah saw his success as something that came directly from God.
Nehemiah was humble, which is a scarce commodity in today’s world; however, it is crucial for having favor with God. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
In order to receive the blessing and favor of God, humility is necessary. When Nehemiah received not only his requests but also an army and a cavalry from the king, we cannot but attribute this to God’s gracious favor poured out on Nehemiah’s humble life.
This is common for a godly leader. We also saw this with Moses. God said this about Moses: that with all other prophets he spoke through visions and dreams but with Moses he spoke face to face (Numbers 12:6-8). Scripture declared that Moses was the humblest man on the earth (Numbers 12:3). The great favor on Moses’ life certainly was grace, but this grace was multiplied because of his humility.
In contrast with a world that is prideful and boastful (1 John 2:16), godly leaders are humble, and therefore, God graciously favors and blesses them.
Application Question: In what areas can we identify pride in our own lives that may be hindering God’s blessing? How can we grow in humility?
Godly Leaders Practice Intentional Solitude
I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
Interpretation Question: After Nehemiah’s travel to Jerusalem, why do you think Nehemiah chose not to work for the first three days? What do you think he was doing?
Many times people think of leadership as being equal to busyness. However, this is not necessarily true. It is not primarily what one does in the open that makes them a successful leader, but what they do in solitude. When Nehemiah got to Jerusalem after a two month journey,[v] he did not immediately go to work; he just stayed there for three days.
What does he do for three days? The text says, “I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart” (v. 12). It can also be translated, “I had not told anyone what God was putting in my heart” (NASB). No doubt, while Nehemiah was waiting, he was abiding in God’s presence and allowing God to put things in his heart so that he could lead the people effectively.
Application Question: Why is this intentional time before the Lord important for us as godly leaders?
It is not what the Sunday school teacher or pastor does on Sunday that is most significant. It is what they do in their closet before God, as they study and meditate on the Word. A leader is made by what he does in solitude, and a leader is broken down by what he does in solitude.
We see this happen all the time as leaders stumble with pornography, adultery, shady business practices, etc. Everything that has been built is destroyed by what a person does when nobody is watching.
Nehemiah spent time alone with God so the Lord could continue to put things into his heart and prepare him for this new ministry to Israel. Isaiah 40:30-31 says:
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
It can also be translated “those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.” We often have to wait and be still in order to hear God and let him strengthen us for the work he has called us to do. It is while waiting on God and being near him that he gives strength and direction.
Certainly, we see a good example of the need for solitude for a godly leader in the story of Joshua. When God called Joshua to lead Israel, he told him his success would be dependent upon his faithfulness to the Word of God. Joshua 1:8 says this:
Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Obviously, much of his meditation would have been done alone in the quiet place and that would affect whether he was successful or not.
Similarly, Jesus said this:
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Because intentional solitude is so important to the leader’s success, leaders must learn time management skills to maximize their personal time with God. They also need to learn how to say, “No.” Leaders are always in demand, and, if we don’t learn how to say, “No,” we will eventually burn out. Even Jesus went to the mountain to pray, though he knew the crowds were needy and looking for him (Mk 1:35-37). He needed to be alone with God, and so do we. It is what the leader does in the quiet place that brings the blessing of God and ultimately success.
Application Question: How do you practice and guard your solitude with God? How important is it to develop time management skills and the ability to say, “No,” in order to make solitude a priority?
Godly Leaders Practice Critical Examination in Order to Build
By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate.
Interpretation Question: What can we learn from Nehemiah’s inspection of the walls late at night?
At night, Nehemiah examined the walls. The Hebrew word for “examine” means to inspect something carefully." “It's a medical word for probing a wound to see the extent of the damage.”[vi] Nehemiah was like a loving doctor inspecting the walls of Jerusalem. No doubt, this inspection included planning to see how it could be fixed, what types of skills and equipment would be needed. Nehemiah examined the wall for the purpose of rebuilding it.
In the same way, godly leaders practice critical examination for the purpose of building. Certainly, we see this critical examination in the life of Christ and other godly leaders in the Scripture. Christ critically examined Israel and corrected her in order to draw her back to God. When Christ came to Israel, he essentially inspected the walls in the same way Nehemiah did. Much of his ministry was pointing out the misuse of the law, the faulty character of the Pharisees, and the hard hearts of Israel (Matt 5:20, 13:10-16). He called the nation to repent.
In some way, this is still Christ’s present ministry as seen in Revelation 2-3. John sees Christ walking among the seven lampstands—the churches—and for each church he gives a critique. He told them what they were doing right and what they were doing wrong so they could fix it. He inspects them for the purpose of edification.
Similarly, most of Paul’s letters do the same. They were written to encourage churches and to correct them. He corrects both their teaching and their actions. He critically examined the churches so they could be built up.
Application Question: In what ways should godly leaders practice critical examination in order to better build God’s kingdom?
1. Godly leaders should practice critical examination of the teachings they hear.
We see this with the Bereans who were called “noble” by God because they critically inspected Paul’s teachings against the Word of God. Acts 17:11 says this:
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
One of the problems with our churches these days is that there is a lack of critical examination of teaching. They don’t critically examine the sermons and teachings they receive against the Word of God. We are not talking about criticizing the sermons and the pastors. There is plenty of that. There is a lack of critically examining the worship, the preaching, or even people’s “experiences” in the church to see if they align with Scripture. For that reason, much of what is happening in our churches is not true worship (cf. John 4:23-24) and is not pleasing to God. Godly leaders critically examine, not in pride, but in accordance with the Word of God.
This is even more important because Scripture teaches that in the last days people will no longer be able to stand sound doctrine; instead, they will gather to themselves teachers that will teach what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3-4). We are now in this period where much of the teaching happening in our churches does not align with Scripture, or it only teaches parts of Scripture that people want to hear and disregards the rest. How much more do we need Christians who critically examine the Word taught?
John taught us this very principle in his epistle. He said to test the spirits for they are not all of God. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
2. Godly leaders should practice critical examination of the world culture.
Paul said this:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In order for us to not be conformed or pressed into the mold of this world, Christians must critically examine the world culture which includes the books, the music, the TV shows, the teachings, and the customs we encounter. If we do not examine these things, we will inevitably accept them and be conformed to them.
This is important as a protection for us but also as a protection for those we lead. We must point out the folly of the world culture: its sexual immorality, its values, its worldview, and its godlessness. We must examine and openly reveal these things, especially in our teachings, so that those we minister to can be alerted and protected.
3. Godly leaders should practice critical examination of their own lives.
Paul said this: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Paul commands the individuals in the church of Corinth to essentially test if they are really saved. Were fruits evident in their lives that proved the genuineness of their faith? This is one of the most important things we can do in our lives. We must ask ourselves, “Are we truly saved and is there fruit to prove it?”
We must remember that Christ said that many Christian leaders in the last days will say to him, “Lord, Lord.” They prophesied, cast out demons, and did many mighty works in his name; however, Christ will respond to them, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you” (Matt 7:21-23). Maybe, he says this about leaders (those who were serving) because they are more prone to be self-deceived than others. As leaders, we must critically examine our lives. Is Christ living in us?
Another way that we examine our own lives is not necessarily in discerning our salvation but in discerning our sanctification. We need to constantly evaluate our spiritual lives before God. David, a godly leader, prayed this: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). David knew that we have a tendency to be blind to our sins, especially sins of our hearts. Therefore, he prayed for God to reveal any offensive way in him. We should do the same.
Certainly, we must practice this in order to be pleasing to the Lord, but also to minister more effectively. Christ said that in order to properly remove the speck from someone’s eye, we must first remove the plank from ours (Matt 7:1-5). An uninspected life cannot minister to others. We won’t be able to see properly.
4. Godly leaders should practice critical examination of how they minister to others.
Paul said this:
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11
Paul was an expert builder, building the foundations of the church and people’s lives on Christ. He didn’t build on psychology, business principles, or worldly philosophy but on Jesus and his words alone. He said a person should “be careful how he builds.” We must critically examine how we teach, how we counsel, how we lead, etc., for one day God will judge us for how we built (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-14). Many churches and Christian ministries are being built on principles of the world and not the Word of God. Worldly principles can only produce natural results, but godly principles, which come from God’s Word, produce supernatural results. Are we building in such a way that reflects our full dependence upon God?
5. Godly leaders should practice critical examination of the people they minister to.
In the same way that Nehemiah examined the wall so he could build it, we must examine those we minister to, so that we can discern how to better serve them. We do this by asking them questions, watching their behavior, and testing their lives against the Word of God. Then, we can speak the Word of God to them in order to build them up (2 Tim 3:16-17). Paul said that we must speak the truth in love so others may be built up (Eph 4:15). Godly leaders critically examine in order to bring edification.
Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to practice critical examination so that you can be a more effective leader?
Godly Leaders Work Hard
By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate.
Another characteristic we discern about Nehemiah, and therefore a godly leader, is his strong work ethic. Godly leaders work hard. We can discern this about Nehemiah by the fact that he worked late into the night examining the walls and making a plan. He mentions the phrase “by night” twice in this passage in verses 12 and 15. Obviously, he did this for emphasis as he worked late into the night inspecting the various parts of the wall. Nehemiah, obviously, had a tireless work ethic.
We see this with many other leaders in Scripture as well. Paul said this in Colossians 1:29 in describing his apostolic work ethic: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.”
The word “labor” in the Greek means “to work to exhaustion.” Paul worked till exhaustion in serving churches and seeking to help them conform to the image of Christ. Consider what he said to the Thessalonians: “Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9).
Paul said they worked night and day so they would not be a burden to the Thessalonians. No doubt, this referred to his common practice of tent making so people would not have to support him financially. Paul did this not only for himself but to set an example for the Thessalonians of how to work hard for God (cf. Acts 20:35).
In fact, Paul declared that he worked harder than all the apostles in his service for the Lord.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
1 Corinthians 15:10
Paul declared that the grace of God in his life enabled him to work hard, and this must be true of us as well if we are going to be godly leaders. Godly leaders set the example for others by working hard. It is very common for leadership to be a veil for laziness (cf. 1 Peter 5:2, 3). Leaders often have very little accountability because everybody works under them, making it easier to be lazy. However, this privilege should instead encourage them to work harder than everybody else in order to set an example. Godly leaders work hard.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen leadership as a veil for laziness? In what ways has God been challenging you to work hard in order to honor him and set an example for others?
Godly Leaders Motivate Others
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work… I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success...
Nehemiah 2:17-18, 20
The next thing Nehemiah did was motivate the Jews. He did this in several ways.
Observation Question: How does Nehemiah motivate the people in this passage and what can we learn from this?
1. Nehemiah motivates them by identifying with them.
Look at the “us” and “we” pronouns throughout this passage. He says, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” Poor leaders often separate themselves from those they are leading, especially when it comes to failure or disappointment. They separate from the group and blame them for shortcomings. However, they typically associate with the group when it comes to successes. This further alienates the leader from the group. In sports or business, it often creates a team vs. coach situation or employees vs. the employer situation.
Nehemiah does not do that; he becomes one of them. Their problem was his problem. This is probably even more important when one works with “volunteers,” as they are not serving for money or external motivation. Godly leaders lead by identifying with their people instead of isolating them.
2. Nehemiah motivates them through sharing his own personal experience with God.
Godly leaders are often transparent with those they serve which creates intimacy. They are strategically open with both their successes and their failures. Look again at what Nehemiah said: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work” (Nehemiah 2:18).
Do we not see this throughout Scripture?
Paul was tremendously open and vulnerable with those he served. In Romans 7, he said, “The things I do, I would not do, and the things I would not do, I do. Who can save me from this body of death?” In 2 Corinthians 1:8, he talks about how he “despaired of life.” He was depressed and down, and he shared that with those who he ministered to. In 1 Timothy 1:15, he called himself “the chief of sinners.” In 2 Corinthians 12, he shares with the congregation the thorn in the flesh that was given him, and he also shares God’s magnificent grace in his weakness (v. 7-10). He was a transparent leader, which made it easy to follow him.
Some leaders are taught to show no vulnerability. The pastor acts as if he does not struggle with pride, lust, or anger, which keeps the congregation from seeing his vulnerability and building intimacy with him. Churches need to hear something about both their leader’s struggles and successes. Knowing he is human helps them to pray for him, to practice both humility and transparency, and to follow him. Godly leaders are transparent.
3. Nehemiah motivated others by pointing to God.
Finally, he encouraged the Jews by pointing to God’s faithfulness. In verse 18, he shared with them all that God’s gracious hand had provided for completing the great work. Then again in verse 20, he says this to those who mocked and doubted: “The God of heaven will give us success” (Nehemiah 2:20).
Nehemiah did not point to his leadership, their natural resources, or the strength of the people. He pointed to God as the source of their power and their future success. This is something that separates a godly leader from a secular leader. While the worldly trust in their strength, wisdom, money, etc., the godly trust in God. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
Remember what David said to Israel before defeating Goliath, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26). He also declared his reliance on God before Goliath and the Philistines. He said, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty” (1 Samuel 17:45). David’s confidence was fully in God and this was evident to everyone he spoke with.
What are you putting your confidence in? Is it in the economy? Is it your job? Is it in your degree or your grades? The only place worthy of putting our faith and pointing the faith of others is in God.
Application Question: What are some other effective principles for motivating people, especially volunteers? Have you experienced the difference between leadership that identifies with people and leadership that does not? Which is more effective and why? In what ways can we practice being vulnerable with those we lead?
Godly Leaders Should Expect Opposition
When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites... But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.
Nehemiah 2:10, 19-20
Interpretation Question: What can we learn about godly leadership from the appearance of the characters Sanballat, Geshem, and Tobiah in chapter 2?
After Nehemiah spoke to Israel, he found that three people were very upset about his plan and ministry to the Israelites. Their names were Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. “A document of 407 bc (38 years after the events of this chapter) refers to Sanballat as ‘governor of Samaria.’”[vii] Horonaim was a town in Moab, meaning that he was probably from Moabite descent (v. 10).[viii] Tobiah was an Ammonite official with a Jewish name that meant “God is good.” Like other Samaritans, he was part Jewish. Finally, the text tells us that Geshem was Arab. These three became major antagonists to the work of God throughout Nehemiah’s memoirs.
Application Question: What can we learn from this opposition?
1. Godly leaders will experience opposition. This opposition sometimes comes through people, but even more so, it comes from our enemy the devil (Eph 6:10-19).
Look at what Paul said: “For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us” (1 Thess 2:18).
Paul said how much he missed the Thessalonians and desired to minister to them; however, it was clear that a force hindered them from coming and that force was Satan. Satan “stopped” or hindered them again and again.
We should expect opposition as we serve the Lord. In fact, the greater the work or ministry we are planning, the more we should expect a great attack. It is not uncommon that when going out on the mission field, new missionaries start having demonic dreams, sickness, discouragement, etc. The wise leader should discern this as the necessary attacks that always come with doing the will of God, as Paul did (1 Thess 2:18, 2 Cor 2:11).
2. Godly leaders must respond to attacks with faith in God.
Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem mocked the work of building the wall. But Nehemiah responded with rebuking them and putting his trust in God. He declared, “The God of Heaven will give us success” (v.20). We must trust God in the face of attacks as well. God is sovereign and in control; we must believe that he is guiding his work and that he is ultimately in control of all things, including Satan (Eph 1:11, Job 1, 1 Cor. 10:13). Let us trust God with our work and also with the attacks of the enemy trying to stop it.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced opposition in doing the Lord’s will? How did you handle it?
What characteristics of a godly leader do we see in this narrative?
Godly leaders are patient and respectful towards authorities.
Godly leaders practice a lifestyle of prayer.
Godly leaders are valuable followers.
Godly leaders are planners.
Godly leaders are humble, and therefore, experience God’s abundant grace.
Godly leaders practice intentional solitude.
Godly leaders practice critical examination in order to build.
Godly leaders work hard.
Godly leaders must motivate others.
Godly leaders should expect opposition.
Application Question: Which characteristics of a godly leader do you feel God is calling you specifically to work on and why? How do you plan to pursue these characteristics?
[i] Constable, T. (n.d.). Notes on Nehemiah. Retrieved January 11, 2015, from http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/nehemiah.pdf
[ii] Boice, J. M. (2005). Nehemiah: An expositional commentary (24). Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks.
[iii] Cole, Steven. “Lesson 2: The Realities of Serving God (Nehemiah 2:1-20)”. Retrieved 1/15/15 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-2-realities-serving-god-nehemiah-21-20
[iv] Cole, Steven. “Lesson 2: The Realities of Serving God (Nehemiah 2:1-20)”. Retrieved 1/15/15 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-2-realities-serving-god-nehemiah-21-20
[v] Getz, Gene (1995-06-22). Men of Character: Nehemiah (Kindle Locations 739-740). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[vi] Swindoll, Charles (1998-12-03). Hand Me Another Brick (p. 48). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
[vii] Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 88). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
[viii] MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 661). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.