False Accusations

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.

Apostles and Prophets (Part 2)

When God wants to give the the Church insight into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, He first reveals it to the apostles and the prophets, the foundation of the Church. Paul explains it to the Ephesians this way:

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:2-6

Now, it’s not like God never mentioned this mystery before. As we look back into the Old Testament we can see how God continuously foreshadowed the Gentile inclusion into the family of God. But there was a revelation of wisdom and insight given to the apostles and prophets, of which Paul was among, so that they could see clearly God’s desire to include Gentiles as heirs together with Israel in the promises of Jesus.

This is why apostolic leaders and prophetic leaders are so essential for the Church to thrive. They open new doors of insight into mysteries that have always been there but the rest of us just couldn’t see. It doesn’t cease to be a mystery, as if it could all be explained away, but the mystery itself just becomes clearer and more accessible. This is what the apostolic leaders did in the first few centuries of the Church as they articulated and protected the mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of the nature of Christ.

Pastors and Evangelists are focused on people. Pastors care for people and Evangelists want to see people get saved. We too often like Pastor and Evangelist led churches because we want our church to be centered around meeting the people’s needs. It makes us feel good.

Apostles and Prophets, however, are focused on heaven, specifically seeing heaven come to earth. They get insight into the mysteries of Christ that the Church so desperately needs. They see from heaven’s perspective and think with the mind of Christ. They help the Church get beyond limited human reasoning and into Godly wisdom.

Teachers function as a bridge between the people of the Church and the insight of the Apostles and Prophets, helping to make it make sense. They take a mystery and break it down into something people can more readily apply to their lives. But if the Teachers of the Church aren’t connected to Apostolic leading and Prophetic revelation, they simply end up being a bridge between people and theology. The church becomes well-informed but doesn’t experience much personal transformation into Christ-likeness. Doesn’t this describe much of the American Church?

This is why Christ gave the Church apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelists. We need all of these fivefold ministries. But we can’t forget to prioritize apostles and prophets. Paul was clear about how important this is. He wrote to the Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers…”(1 Corinthians 12:27-28).

The focus of the Church must be about bringing the Kingdom of God to the earth and not just on catering to people’s felt need in the moment. This is why we need apostles and prophets. They keep our focus heavenward.

Apostle and Prophet

After a new Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is elected, he goes into a small red room next to the Sistine Chapel known as the “Room of Tears.” It got this name because of the deep emotion expressed by newly elected Popes once they receive this new and heavy apostolic mantle.

No true apostle in the church is self-appointed. All apostolic leaders, and there are many around the world today, are recognized (formally or informally) by the network of churches with which they associate. And all true apostles feel the heavy weight of this roll. True apostles respond with both deep gratitude and deep grieving⏤deep gratitude for the high honor that it is and deep grieving because of the awareness of the suffering and self-sacrifice involved.

Paul was known as the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:5; 11:13, Galatians 2:8). He wrote to the church in Ephesus:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-20

The first church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. If the church wants to continue to have a solid foundation, it needs to be built upon the writings of the original apostles (the New Testament) and the writings of the original prophets (the Old Testament).

In addition to this, each floor in the temple that is the Church needs new apostles and new prophets to lead. These apostolic and prophetic leaders don’t create a new foundation; our foundation has already been established and our Chief Cornerstone is set. What the new apostles and prophets do for each generation of the Church is create a solid floor for the next level, the new story, to be built.

The apostle Paul said it this way:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

The problem with the modern American church is that most of it only recognizes the need for three of these offices. We celebrate the office of the evangelist in people like Billy Graham and Ravi Zacharias. We celebrate the office of the teacher in people like Tim Keller, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis. We celebrate the office of the pastor in people like Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, Eugene Peterson, and Brennan Manning.

But the floor beams of the Church in this generation are warping and bending because we’ve rejected the biblical mandate to have apostles and prophets leading the way. We’re asking pastors to act like apostles and wonder why it doesn’t work out, why they get burnt out and morally compromised. We’re asking teachers to lead us into the future like prophets and wonder why we get stale doctrine instead of fresh vision.

It’s time for the Church to recognize apostolic and prophetic anointings on people’s lives just as we do with pastors, teachers and evangelists. And when those people are faithful with their anointing, we need to honor them as God moves them into the office of apostle and prophet, guiding and leading whole movements of churches.