“If you do this again, I will lay hands on you” (Nehemiah 13:21).
Nehemiah wasn’t offering a healing service. This was not a potential ordination. Instead, read Nehemiah’s words this way, “If you do it again, I’ll be on you like a spider monkey!”
Nehemiah was mad, and we know he meant it because later in the same chapter he “called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair” (Nehemiah 13:25).
As I wrestle with the legitimacy of Nehemiah’s “hands-on” leadership, I notice one thing that looks familiar. “I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out” (Nehemiah 13:8).
I’m guessing as you read these words you’re thinking to yourself, Yeah, those Old Testament prophet types were always a little over the top. I wouldn’t disagree. But going into the temple and throwing things out struck a chord with me. I remember something similar over in the New Testament. It seems one day when he was in the temple, Jesus did some throwing out too.
“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:15).
It’s All About Zeal
As I ponder my own leadership, I am starting to question the “hands-off” approach I usually take.
I know Jesus never went “spider monkey” on anyone. I know he said we should turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute us. Truthfully, Jesus never showed anyone outside the house anything but love and grace. But he sometimes was pretty firm with the disciples. And he was downright hard on the religious leaders.
Don’t lose me here—I’m not advocating violence. There is way too much anger and violence in our world, and probably in our churches. I’m just thinking this through in my life, and I would challenge you to do the same in yours.
The key to this is found in John 2:17. “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (This is also found in Psalm 69:9).
One word describes why Nehemiah would travel 800 miles to rebuild a wall. One word tells us why he beat some people who desecrated the temple. It’s the same prophetic word that caused Jesus to make a whip and start throwing things around. Zeal. Zeal for the house.
Zeal is from the Greek word zélos, which means, “excitement of mind; fervor of spirit; ardor in embracing, pursuing, defending something; the fierceness of indignation.”1
Do I have zeal for the house? Do you feel zeal for the church, the bride of Christ?
When is the last time you got angry about the house? It’s estimated less than 5 percent of Christians tithe. Why is that? Sure, some theologians want to argue its legitimacy in the New Testament. Stingy theologians.
The New Testament did command generosity . . . how is that going? In Nehemiah’s day, the reason there was a false teacher/enemy of God living IN the house of God was because the people weren’t giving and so there was plenty of room in the storehouse. If American Christians would tithe, we could wipe out poverty and tell the world about Jesus in no time.
How about sin? Did you ever see the apostle Paul so angry as when the guy was sleeping with his stepmom?
“And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).
He had a zeal for the house in Corinth.
Paul has a lot of zeal for the house. Half of the New Testament is because of his zeal for the house. There was a lot of “hands-on” leadership needed to keep the early church on track, and I’m thinking the same might be true today.
They Should Know Better
I’m talking about leading the people who should know better. The ones who lay claim to the kingdom of Heaven but bear no fruit of it in their lives. It’s our job, church leaders, to have enough zeal for the house that we might make things a little uncomfortable for them from time to time.
Someone said our job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
I like being popular. I like preaching messages that make people live their best life now. But sometimes, if you really have zeal for the house, you just must “go a little spider monkey.”
Consider again Paul’s directive to Timothy: “I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1, 2).
Sometimes we need to encourage, and sometimes we need to rebuke.
Correcting and rebuking seem to be just as important as encouragement. As our church gets larger and attracts more and more unchurched and dechurched people (we are in an area that is 80 percent Catholic), it is really difficult to correct and rebuke without frightening away the people who don’t get it. These people have never considered sacrificial giving. They don’t understand God’s plan for marriage. They don’t realize the discipline it takes to live a Christian life in the 21st century. They’ve never heard of baptism as immersion. They didn’t grow up in Sunday school like me.
So it is a difficult balance, especially in the pulpit. Many times they need encouragement. Life is hard. But some of them need for me to get in their face. Some of them need me to pull their hair (but I’ve got to draw the line somewhere). Sometimes I need someone to get in my face. I’m always glad when someone loves me enough to help me get better—and they will be glad, too, if we confront them in order to help them.
Listen, I don’t have this figured out. I’ve been too afraid to offend. My heart is always for the lost. I’m the guy out looking for the one lost sheep . . . that’s what Jesus said I should do. But I can’t neglect the 99 who need me to lead them. Especially the ones who aren’t growing, aren’t giving, aren’t serving, and aren’t showing the fruit of their so-called relationship with Christ.
They may need me to lay my hands on them—figuratively speaking, of course.
Tim Harlow is senior pastor at Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, Illinois.