There are some parallel thoughts today between Paul’s advice to Timothy and the words of Nehemiah. Timothy is told (2 Timothy 2:14,15) to “remind them (the Ephesians) of these things and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”. His emphasis jumps out – true believers live and work “before God” and “present (themselves) to God”.
How clear are we in realizing we are constantly in the presence of God? “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (verses 19,20).
There is much to meditate on in the phrase, “The Lord knows”. There is intimacy in this kind of knowing – as a man and wife should ‘know’ each other. It is our failure to sense that we are living “before God” that is so critical – after we have committed our lives to Him through baptism. But how wonderful to be “a worker who has no need to be ashamed!”
There is a parallel lesson in the final chapter of Nehemiah. This godly man who had initiated the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem had been recalled by the Persian king and was not in Jerusalem for a time (13:6-7). He says when he “came (back) to Jerusalem … I was very angry” (verse 8) that Tobiah (an Ammonite – 2:10) who had become related to the High Priest (verse 4) had been given “a chamber in the house (Temple) of God” (verse 7).
Nehemiah is an outstanding example of “a worker who has no need to be ashamed”. We note his appeal to God when he discovers and deals with this situation. “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds …” (verse 14). Then he finds they have been abusing the Sabbath laws, and he “commanded all the Levites that they should purify themselves and guard the gates to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favour, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love” (verse 22).
Can we appeal to God in similar ways, to remember our efforts in His service? God’s “steadfast love” is wonderful, but it is not unconditional (see Hebrews 10:26,27) and never ending, as some may think. May we all be sure that we present ourselves to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed”.