By Ong Keng Ho
The two helpful books from which I often seek inspiration and strength to do God’s
work are Nehemiah and Acts. In them are displayed the raw power of God moving
hearts, minds and hands for His glory. For God’s work is done in God’s strength and in
God’s way. That said, the one thing that stands out in renewed and revived zeal for God’s
kingdom is how God’s covenant people see themselves as one people of God.
In Nehemiah 10:39-11:1, the revived Israel see themselves as one God-fearing
community. They joined together to make the promise to walk in God’s ways (10:29).
When they said the house of God should not be neglected, they made obligations
together to provide for the house of God. When the city of Jerusalem should be
repopulated, they either willingly offered to resettle there from the surrounding villages
or cast lots to make sure one in ten would reside there for the glory of the city of
This sense of belonging, ownership and shared identity was similarly seen in the resurgent
church of Acts 4:32. Those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said
that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in
common. This was not socialism or communal living but the transformational belief of
their one identity in Christ. In a broad sense, Jesus in John 17:20-23 talked earlier about
that: “they may be one even as we are one”.
Paul’s letters emphasized both the responsibility of the individual and the importance of
community. Sure, without a doubt, the Christian faith is deeply personal. Conversion is
a personal encounter with Christ. The Christian is personally nourished into a saving and
transforming relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But the Christian faith is never
individualistic. Our personal relationship with God must be expressed and experienced
through our belonging to God’s people. There can be no Robinson Crusoe Christians as
someone once said.
Paul teaches that the call to faith is a call to become spiritually one with the local church.
We are not just names on a list, but organs in a body in fellowship. By the way, fellowship
is not all about having a meal, but sharing of lives. But you and I are different organs,
designed to do different things. We can’t expect others in the body to be like us or to do
things like us. As we serve our brothers and sisters, we are serving as one multi-gifted
family for the greater good of the body and the purposes of God. We are here for one
The trending idolatry of individual rights and freedom has weathered down this solidarity
fabric. In its place is a lopsided understanding of the gospel that is so “I”-centred that
there is little room for a kindred relationship that is forgiving, loving, patient and
persevering. Church membership becomes self-serving rather than serving one another.
Individual interests trump community well-being. The sinkhole here is a personal faith
in the absence of a shared faith, love and responsibility.
Of course, the other extreme is the equally distorted institutional approach to Christianity
that equates salvation with church membership and Christian growth with church
So, going it alone in church revitalization is a non-starter. Nehemiah started out with a
heart born out of conviction that he was an integral part of a community of God’s people,
albeit, and yes, rebellious and sinful. Israel was not deserving of him. He was zealous not
for his own success but for Israel to be once more what she was, the chosen of the Lord.
That God-glorifying love for his people kept Nehemiah on his feet despite obstacles
within and without. He began the work on his knees and so must we.
Pray we approach life in the church not from the perspective of our own freedoms, our
own preferences or wishes, but valuing rather what will make for peace, loyalty and
building up of the whole church as Christ would have it. Lord, help us.