How do we handle differences in the body of Christ? Is it ok to be different from each other, or do we believe we must all be alike?
You know, those topics and issues of everyday life that make us unique. I feel one way about it with scriptures that support my viewpoint and someone else may feel another way. The topics are vast, just pick one and you’ll likely find two individuals in your congregation who don’t agree. How do we get along with someone who is different? In most cases, we don’t. We find troops who agree with our stance and then form a team. We try to convince everyone that we are correct. We debate, oppose, offend until there is a divide. And that is not how God asks the body to operate.
“But God has put the parts of the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that it’s parts should have equal concern for each other.” 1Corinthians 12:24
I would like to examine the lives of Ezra and Nehemiah. The story of these two men has been fascinating my mind for almost two weeks now and I believe there is a strong message in their relationship. They embraced their differences and worked alongside each other with the same goal.
In the Old Testament, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are back to back. They lived within the same time period in history. Important details of the Ezra story are in the book of Nehemiah. They were co-laborers, rebuilding the walls of the Jerusalem temple. Both men were sent on the same mission by God, but their gifts and talents led them to accomplish the goal using different methods.
Ezra, a priest and scholar. He was a quiet, private man whom also happened to be passionate about the Scriptures. Ezra engaged the people into the task of rebuilding the Temple using worship and text.
Nehemiah, a cup bearer to a foreign king, left his position in the palace to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. He was a man who prayed and then acted on it. Nehemiah was by all accounts, a building contractor. He worked with stones and mortar.
My Bible says, “The stories of these two men are interwoven in a seamless fabric of vocational holiness. Neither job was more important or less important or holy than the other. Nehemiah needed Ezra; Ezra needed Nehemiah. God’s people needed the work of both of them. We still do.”
What I find so encouraging in the rebuilding of the wall, is that they could have gotten stuck on the process of rebuilding, but they didn’t. Ezra could have argued that the people needed to spend more time worshiping and listening to scripture. He could have allowed his pride to rise up and get the best of him, empowering himself by thinking, I’m right, but he didn’t. Nehemiah could have similarly thought Ezra was wasting the people’s time. He could have taken the approach that the wall will only be rebuilt with hard labor, but he didn’t.They could have believed their individual approaches were the best, the most holy, the only way to do it. They could have argued, debated, opposed and offended until there was a divide, but they didn’t.
These two men respected each others differences and valued the work the other had been called by God to do. They trusted that the Lord had purpose in uniqueness. God is the Creator, and by definition of that name, ensures He creates, calls, gifts, prompts people to be unique and act on his plan differently. In the example found in Ezra and Nehemiah’s lives, we can see that even if it is the exact same plan, it can be acted upon in a completely different manner and still be glorifying to God.
And so in modern-day churches across America, we still look around and wish for a template for life. There is no such thing. We follow Jesus, and the direct leading He has for our individual lives. It can be the exact same plan as your neighbor across the aisle, but it can look completely different.
When we examine the relationships in our lives, we would be wise to ask ourselves:
1. Do I surround myself with people who build the wall with the exact same process as I? If so, do I feel intimidated by the other parts of the body who build differently and why?
2. Do I embrace the differences or do I expect everyone to be exactly the same?
3. Do I trust God as a Creator and do I believe He can use different processes to accomplish the same goal?
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” vs. 21
Nehemiah needed Ezra; Ezra needed Nehemiah. We need each other, and more importantly, we need each other to be different. When we embrace our neighbor for what God has created them to be, we become the body of Christ.