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REVIEW OF J. I. PACKER'S "A PASSION FOR FAITHFULNESS: (NEHEMIAH)

09/22/2018

LEARNING TO LEAD FROM NEHEMIAH

In 1995, Dr Jim Packer published his exposition of the book of Nehemiah, titled A PASSION FOR FAITHFULNESS; Crossway Books. He says in the Prologue that he has preached and taught on this book more than any other book of the Bible. At collegiate and church conferences, at faculty retreats and leadership summits he has opened this book for God’s people believing it has so much to teach us today if we will listen. And he confesses early on that Nehemiah has helped him personally over the years in a variety of leadership situations—more than any other person except the Lord Jesus Christ! High praise indeed.

He ably defends this Old Testament leader’s example. He credits Nehemiah with being the most important man in the Old Testament in establishing the nation of Israel after the great Moses. I think he backs up his claims with more good lessons. Packer takes two tacks: how Nehemiah led the people and how the Lord led Nehemiah. He argues that Nehemiah is a churchman and in our day when the parachurch seems to have the money and manpower, he shows how wrong-headed such a non-church emphasis is.

Packer shows us Nehemiah’s strengths and supposed weaknesses. (Reader take note: not everything people do not like about leaders is wrong. Often the critics are wrong. They do not know what the leader knows. They do not have the obligations to faithfulness a biblical leader has.) Nehemiah’s strengths include zeal (what it is and is not), commitment (to persevere and finish a God-appointed task), and practical wisdom (the ability to make reasonable plans and get things done).

And Packer reveals to us the deep relationship that Nehemiah had with his God and how that worked itself out in his prayers. And his mental understanding of God is rich: (1) God is the sovereign, transcendent, self-sustaining, eternal Creator of heaven and earth; (2) God is Yahweh, the LORD, the covenant-making, covenant keeping, promise-fulfilling God of Israel; and (3) God’s words are true and trustworthy and the basis of our confidence. What form did his godliness take? (1) Nehemiah’s life was saturated with prayer. His public life was an outflow of his personal walk with God. (2) Nehemiah was one in solidarity with the Jewish nation—God’s people were his people. And (3) he had a sobriety about the powers entrusted to him. Power and its sometime synonym, authority, is the right to use force to compel obedience.

The chapter, CALLED TO SERVE, is a penetrating insight into what a calling from God involves and how one recognizes it. Men wondering about if they are called to the ministry ought to meditate upon this section. Clear about his call, Nehemiah proceeded with a confidence that was and is contagious.

Forty years ago, Dr. Howard Hendricks gave some lectures on leadership that have proved pivotal for my own understanding of how to occupy a position of leadership in God’s kingdom. Fundamentally, leadership has two components: (1) convictions—you know where you are to go; and (2) you can get others to walk with you and work with you. Like two wings of an airplane, you cannot have one without another. Take either away and the airplane or mission for God will crash. Packer’s exposition of Nehemiah has two chapters on how to manage people—getting going and keeping going. Nehemiah’s convictions flowed out of his relationship with God; Nehemiah’s relationships flowed out of his learning to lead men.

The chapter on “Tested for Destruction” is profoundly insightful in showing how spiritual attack comes with the territory of leadership and how a leader is to meet it head on. Packer says that “testing for destruction” is Satan’s everyday work. Nehemiah chapter 4 shows Satan doing all he can to bring a work of God to an inglorious end. He uses psychological warfare, physical threats and personal discouragement. Having failed there, Satan attacks Nehemiah directly in chapters 5-6: incrimination, intrigue, innuendo and intimidation. And Nehemiah perseveres by the grace of God and succeeds at what God called him to do.

I could readily say more but do not want to spoil the great things there are to learn in this most helpful study of a man of God and his work for God. I have read it and pondered it for almost 25 years and I am still learning from Nehemiah. If you read and study Nehemiah with Dr. Packer, you will too!

Pastors, take your officers through this book, take your wife through this book and prayerfully make this book part of the ballast of your life and ministry.

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