Unity, whether in the brotherhood or the local congregation, remains an ever elusive goal. Whether in times of hardship and heartache or times of prosperity and promise, a variety of problems seem to rise to the surface to declare our deficiencies. In any given congregation, natural differences related to ethnic background, socio-economic status, or even tenure can create barriers to unity. However, even more often, small failures to consider one another, love one another, and give one another the benefit of the doubt regularly lead to major strife. This presents a challenge to the leadership regardless of the origin of the problem. Many good men have stepped forward to take on such unthankful tasks. The question one might ask is simple: why?
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to lead the effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he came to govern a people in great disarray. They had returned from captivity, but they had failed to overcome chaos. As a result, despite the presence they maintained as a people as opposed to the world, they lacked the true cohesiveness that marks a unified nation. A famine had reduced many to poverty so much so that they had sold their children as slaves to their well-to-do brethren (Neh. 5:1-5). When Nehemiah learned this, he scolded the nobles and rulers for profiting from their brethren’s distress rather than offering them assistance (Neh. 5:6-11). To their credit, the people repented and promised to restore the property taken from the impoverished (Neh. 5:12-13). However, Nehemiah did more than correct this problem; he also helped protectively, refusing to take a salary and goods from the people (Neh. 5:14-15) despite the provisions necessary for the upkeep of the government (Neh. 5:17-18), and instead of concentrating on improving his own situation, he gave all his attention to working on the wall (Neh. 5:16). He sacrificed opportunities for both wealth and power in order to help his brethren without any expectation of compensation. He did it for God (Neh. 5:19).
From the very beginning, the Lord’s church has committed to unity and responding to help with one another’s needs (Acts 2:42-47). When division first reared its head in a matter of taking care of widows, the leadership responded with an admission of the problem, swift correction, and a plan for prevention (Acts 6:1-7). When need arose in the brotherhood, leaders in unaffected areas stood up from a feeling of unity to help the brethren in Judea (Acts 11:28-29). Paul expressed the same sentiment spiritually to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:17). Unfortunately, we tend to think of these as grand programs instituted—corporate style—by unattached men signing checks. To the contrary, whether a matter that required care for physical needs or care for spiritual needs, whether it affected five hundred thousand Christians or fifty, whether the leaders were wealthy rulers or serving as slaves, they all shared the same outlook. They loved the Lord, the church, and individual Christians. They served not for power and control but to serve and to help.
Pulling people together from different backgrounds, varying abilities, and disparate interests remains a challenge for godly leadership. But one thing lies at its center. Godly leaders make sacrifices and serve because they love God, depend on God, and want to please God. Therefore, they share the motivation of Nehemiah when he said, “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Neh. 5:19).