Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”
But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”
I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”Nehemiah 6:2-8
Nehemiah’s enemies were trying to disrupt his leadership and his ability to complete the mission for which he was sent. They try to distract him with multiple invitations to “talk.” They know if they can sap his energy and patience with endless conversation, he won’t be able to complete the wall in Jerusalem. They also wanted to get him isolated so that they could harm him.
But Nehemiah doesn’t fall for it. So after four rejected invitations, Nehemiah’s enemies resort to a typical tactic that we see used over and over against leaders trying to accomplish God’s mission. Sanballat starts with, “It is reported…” This is typical. Anonymous accusations are a classic tool of the enemy against leaders. Today it sounds like this, “Some people are saying…” They don’t want to be named. They don’t want to be held accountable for their false accusations. They just want to spread damaging rumors.
Then notice the second common strategy against leaders who are busy doing God’s work. The accusation itself is that Nehemiah’s leadership is all about an attempt to exalt himself. Whenever someone is leading something new, this accusation will always come. If the opposition can’t discredit the actual actions of a leader, they will try to discredit the motives. They’ll make false claims about “hidden, selfish motives” as a way to put the leader on the defensive. Against Nehemiah they claimed he was about to set himself up as king. They were claiming that his great leadership and the rebuilding of Jerusalem was really just about Nehemiah’s ego and selfish ambition.
The people of God did the same thing to Moses and Aaron when they were leading them out of Egypt and through the desert. Notice how “reasonable” their attack against Moses and Aaron seem.
They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”Numbers 16:3
The Lord is the one who called Moses and Aaron to be leaders of the people of God. But Korah and some of the other Levites didn’t want to follow their leadership. So they accuse Moses and Aaron of setting themselves above everyone else. Notice how Moses responds.
Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enoughfor you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?”Numbers 16:8-11
In other words, Korah wasn’t rebelling against Moses and Aaron; he was rebelling against the Lord. It was the Lord who set Moses and Aaron apart. It was the Lord who called them to lead. It was the Lord’s doing. To reject the Lord’s call on a person’s life and claim that it is arrogance, selfishness ambition, or a personal agenda isn’t just an attack on that person, it’s an attack on the Lord’s work in their life. It’s an accusation against the Lord. And if you keep reading Numbers 16 and 17, things don’t turn out so well for Korah. God gets rid of the rebellious group of Levites and confirms the calling of Aaron through supernatural displays of His power.
We need to be very careful about accusations we make against leaders, especially leaders in the church. The anti-authority milieu of our culture loves to rail against leaders in every level of society. And often, leaders give us every reason to rail against them. But in the church we need a different heart posture toward leaders. The apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy was this:
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching… Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.1 Timothy 5:17-19
When leaders are in the wrong, they need to be called out and held accountable by the other leaders of the church. We’ve seen too much abuse of power in the church that was left unaddressed. But we can’t let this lead us into an error on the other side of the continuum. If someone is being called into leadership, we need to honor that calling. Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward”(Matthew 10:41).
We need to remember that a calling to step into a greater anointing and a greater leadership role in the Kingdom is a call downward. It’s a call to servanthood. It’s a call to die to self and an invitation to go lower. Stepping into leadership in the Kingdom is not an elevation of self but a sacrifice of self. It’s a call to carry more weight and more responsibility.
The foundation of a building is the lowest place and the place that has to hold the most weight. That’s why Paul told the Ephesians that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The apostolic and prophetic roles are the foundation of the Church because they must go lower. They must support everyone else. They must hold the most weight. They must be solid and level or the whole church could topple over. And they must be willing to endure, more than others, the false accusation of selfish ambition and self-promotion.