The book of Nehemiah is filled with valuable lessons for how to change your life for the better. In the third chapter, Nehemiah describes dozens of people who help with the massive project of rebuilding Jerusalem’s ruined wall. At first glance, the chapter might seem tedious, but actually it’s a great case study in showing us whose company we ought to be keeping if we want to improve our lives.
For example in verse 1 we read, “Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place.” This simple verse teaches us that when we want to move our lives forward in a positive direction that we should surround ourselves with leaders who serve.
Back then, the high priest was the top dog among society’s leaders, and the other priests, were just a notch or two below him. It’s appropriate that Nehemiah begins his record by pointing out that the leaders were leading the way in this rebuilding project. They repaired the Sheep Gate, a good place for the spiritual shepherds of the community to work.
Ordinarily, the higher a person rises in rank and position, the less they have to do with those below them. In the military, the higher you climb, the further removed you are from the front lines. In corporate America, the more you are promoted, the less you have to deal with the rank and file. In Hollywood, the greater your fame, the more insulated you become from everyone else.
Not so in God’s world. The way Jesus saw it, leaders lead by serving, and blazing the trail ahead of everyone else. “Whoever wants to be great among you,” Jesus said, “must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43-45).
If you’re working on improving your life, there’s nothing better that surrounding yourself with leaders of such character. But the principle works in reverse also. If you spend most of your time with the wrong people, then their bad habits have a good chance of rubbing off on you.
Nehemiah 3:5 says, “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” Here are leaders who refused to serve. It’s insightful to learn that five centuries later when the great warrior Bar Kokhba summoned the men of Tekoa to join him in battle against Rome, they refused to come to his aid (and he burned their homes down for their insolence.)
One has to wonder at the connection. Is this a case of bad behavior being passed along, one generation to another? It happens within families. Alcoholism, abuse, divorce which sweeps like an epidemic from parent to child to grandchildren. It happens within entire cultures as well.
Paul wrote,“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1 Cor.15:33). It’s Paul’s way of saying, Look for leaders who lead by example by serving. Spend time with those who are stronger and wiser than you.
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon.