We have all likely heard someone make an argument like this: “I don’t go to church because I can worship God better on my own.” There are two problems with a statement like this.
First is the misconception of the church being a building and a location rather than a people. We don’t go to church; we are the church. That may seem somewhat nit-picky, and to a degree it is. “Going to church” is a common expression that is hard not to use, even when the person saying it knows the church is a people. There are times when it is difficult to be precise with our words, but words do matter so we should try our best to be careful with what we say.
Second is the partial truth implicit in the latter part of the statement—that a person’s one-on-one relationship with God matters most.
We Are to Have a Personal Faith
Let’s be clear that faith is, in many ways, personal. No one else can place our trust in Jesus for salvation. We are responsible for our own growth in Christ. And God indeed loves us and cares for us as individuals. We are not a nameless cog in a wheel to God. We are not like the actors in the latter part of a movie’s credits that are billed merely as “man on street.” We are not “nameless, faceless Christian.”
This is why we need to be spending time in God’s Word on our own. We need to worship God on our own. So we should be quick to celebrate that part of the argument made above. We should credit the person for wanting to worship in nature or while listening to an Andrew Peterson album.
We Are to Have a Corporate Faith
The mistake we need to address; however, is that our faith is not only personal. It has often been said that a good way to read the Bible is as if it were a letter God wrote to you alone. And that is OK to do, to a degree. But that is not how God intended the Bible to be read at all times. The Bible was given to a people, not a person. You cannot escape this. The Bible assumes that God’s people will be in community and address them as such.
We see this in the story this week. Nehemiah begins with His personal faith driving him to pray with God. But why did he do that? Because he was concerned for God’s people. The rest of the story, then, focuses on how Nehemiah united God’s people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, a task he could not have done alone.
God saves us as individuals alone, but He does not save us to remain alone as individuals. The gospel is about God reconciling us to Him personally and us together as a people. It is God’s heartbeat for His people to be in community, thus His declaration in Genesis 2—before the Fall—that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Neither is it good for a Christian to be alone. Instead, we are to be joined together with a local body of believers as we grow together, encourage one another, hold one another accountable, and serve together to advance Christ’s kingdom.
We Are to Have a Noticeable Faith
We cannot miss an important aspect of Nehemiah’s story: the people around Jerusalem took notice. Now, perhaps people might have still noticed had Nehemiah alone started to rebuild the walls. But they easily might have missed or dismissed it. Had they noticed, he may have simply been chalked up to one odd guy trying to do the impossible. But when all of God’s people worked together, people could not help but notice them and take their work seriously.
This is the beautiful potential of the local church. We gather, in part, because together we can do far more than we can apart. Think about the ministries your local church does. Think about the money your church has given to missions. Think about partnerships your church may be in with seminaries, and so forth. Together, you make a bigger difference.
This is one of the take-aways from the Book of Nehemiah. God calls us to be part of a people for our good, but more so for His glory. A small candle will illuminate part of the darkness, but hundreds of candles will overpower the dark.
To work well in service to God also means to work as His people—as valued individuals and as a unified body of believers … Once we have put our faith in [Jesus], this is our eternal identity: we become part of God’s called-out people.” — Kathleen NielsonKathleen Nielson with D. A. Carson, Rebuild: A Study in Nehemiah (Nashville, TN: Lifeway Press, 2014), 36.
Preschool Tip: Be sure that your little ones understand why the city walls were so important—to provide protection for the people. You will want them to see that God was loving His people and caring for them by empowering them to rebuild the city walls.
Kids Tip: If you have time, you might want to help your kids realize that the destroyed walls around Jerusalem was not just a threat to the people’s safety, but a reproach to God. Remind them that God had promised His people that land, yet the foreign nations around it likely did not take a God seriously who apparently could not take care of His own people. Rebuilding the walls was done to preserve God’s fame in the world.