“So I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”” (Nehemiah 6:3)
I have been mulling over this verse for a few days now. Nehemiah was working for the king and had a burden on his heart to go to a different town and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah prayed and the Lord paved the way for him to leave his job, go and build the wall around Jerusalem, with the King’s blessing. What an awesome opportunity! What if your boss encouraged you to go on a mission trip and gave you the time off and money to cover some added expenses? We need to know the background to understand the context here in this tiny statement. While working, a man named Sanballat got all grumpy about the wall being built. Maybe he had a rough childhood. Maybe he had a few bad experiences in life. Maybe he was just a big bad bully for no good reason at all. Sanballat did all he could to stop the wall from being built. He tried reason, manipulation, and even force. Nehemiah was even told to hide in the temple because Sanballat might kill him. Instead of hiding, Nehemiah led the people to be prepared to fight. Half the people stood guard while half worked. You know what’s amazing about the book of Nehemiah? They finished the work they had set out to do! You know how long it took? Only fifty-two days (Nehemiah 6:15)! It was SO quick! But how did they finish so quick? They were focused on completing the work God had assigned to them. When adversity came, they didn’t dwell on it or even waste any time at all being upset about it. They strategized and continued working. They re-strategized and continued working. When Sanballat tried to talk to Nehemiah, Nehemiah refused because he was too busy doing God’s will to get involved in meaningless controversies. “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come,” (Nehemiah 6:3). Nehemiah also asked a question, “Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). It’s a question I’ve been thinking about lately too. Why should I stop doing what God has called me to do in order to…fill in the blank. Are you involved in a great work for which God has called you? Do you stay focused on the task at hand? Or are you distracted and downtrodden by those against you? Lord, help us focus on living for You and not on our struggles.
You know those signs when you enter someone’s home that say, “in this house we…” and then they mention all sorts of cute things like “forgive, love one another, have fun?” You probably have one of those signs somewhere in your house. They’re great signs, right? They make us feel all lovey dovey inside and they’re great to point out reminders to our children.
That’s what Paul was up to in Romans 13 and 14. He just started listing all the rules to live by in your life. His sign would say something like, “In this house, we submit to governing authorities, pay our taxes, owe nothing to anyone, obey the commandments, wake up, live descent lives, accept others whose faith is weak without arguing with them, keep a clear conscience, don’t condemn each other, aim for harmony in the church, build each other up, follow our convictions” (Romans 13-14). Then somewhere in there, Paul talked an awful lot about what people eat. Like, apparently there were a lot of hot trendy diets going around and people who were on them were acting more spiritual than others? As if that was unique to that time frame. No. It’s completely the same now. Someone’s always on some new diet trend and trying to get you on board with them. Because let’s face it, it’s tough not eating bread when you’re at the Old Spaghetti Factory with a table full of people eating free bread offering you more. All joking aside, I believe that if we dig a bit deeper into Paul’s point, and we actually tried to apply the truths he taught, we’d all be much better off, enjoy our lives more, enjoy our friends who eat weird more, and be a much better witness for the Gospel. So let’s dig in.
Respect authority (Romans 13:1-5). In other words, trust in God! Trust that God has placed that person or those people in authority over you. Therefore, respect, obey, and keep a clear conscience.
Pay your taxes (Romans 13:6-7). Did the IRS write the Bible? No! God did. He wrote this part through a man named Paul. Honor systems (even if broken and imperfect) that God has put into place, like taxes. Obey the commandments, all the time (Romans 13:8-14). In other words, not just on Sundays or when Christians are watching you. Life is FAR too short for that. Keep short accounts and trust the Lord. Love your neighbor (all people) as yourself (Romans 13:9). That means not doing ANY wrong to others (Romans 13:10). Can you imagine, not doing ANY wrong to ANYONE EVER? That’s our call. Be kind to the repair man, to the person in front of you at the checkout lane with a zillion coupons.
I’ll That leads to the next part, which the NLT titles as “The Danger of Criticism.” Don’t argue with people even if they disagree with you (Romans 14:1). First, we’re to look past our differences with others and accept each other. Next, Paul tells us we can do this because God is the true and only righteous judge. Lastly, we’re not to condemn others for being different than us! INSTEAD, we’re to live and die to Christ alone, as opposed to pleasing others. We’re also to aim for harmony in the church and to build each other up! “Oh Lord, help us do this with our kids! Even though their different from us as parents, help us build them up in their uniqueness without condemning them for being different! Amen!” Lastly, and this is very important: we’re to keep our convictions. God loves that we have convictions about different things! He just doesn’t want us putting those convictions on others as if they’re requirements to acceptance into Heaven. If you don’t celebrate Halloween or have a Christmas tree, or watch a certain show, awesome! But keep it between yourself and God. That doesn’t mean it’s a secret or you have to put up a Christmas tree when your friends come over. It means when you hear of how others have a Christmas tree or celebrate Halloween, you don’t judge and don’t broadcast your own views on the subject as if you know better. If asked, be honest, not ashamed. “Our family has chosen to celebrate Christmas without a tree.” Or, “we’ve decided Halloween would be better spent hosting a game night.” Personal convictions about these areas are just that, personal. And if you know someone who’s faith only allows them to eat vegetables and they think bread is from the devil, allow them to be that way. God allows for variety in His Kingdom. He’s called us each to different things for different reasons (Romans 14).
In this house we look past differences and accept each other Because God is the true judge and He will judge Don’t condemn others for their convictions INSTEAD we Live and die to Christ alone (not to please others) Aim for harmony in the church and build each other UP! Keep our convictions and LIVE by them!
What a brilliant idea! What if we focused on building people up in the way God made them as opposed to making them like us to make us feel better? What if we took our eyes off of ourselves and focused on the bigger picture of God and making Him great? Listen to me. I just condemned ya’ll, myself included. Oh this is tough. Confessions of a recovering critic here. Praying we as the church, myself included, could live out Romans 13-14 in our homes and in our lives.
Troy has called me every year, on my birthday, for the last eighteen years of my life. Ever since the one summer he led a mission trip I went on, he’s called me on my birthday. He leads a few mission trips a year. How many people do you think he calls? How wide is his network? How wide is yours? How wide was Jesus’? And the question we all deal with every day is: How do I choose between friends? Or family? Or my extended family over my immediate family? Do I really need to organize and be intentional in my relationships? The Bible tells me so.
I just recently moved (about an hour away) and felt completely overwhelmed with my networks nearly doubling in size. I suddenly had a lot of old friends I still wanted to connect with and new friends I wanted to get to know. Then my kids started asking to hang out with their friends too. I found myself trying to keep up with everyone equally, but I wasn’t doing it equally. I would forget to tell one friend something and tell another friend something three times.
Then the Lord reminded me of the 12-72 principle. I could prioritize my relationships like Jesus did. Really, it is more like the “1-3-12-72-multitudes” principle, but that’s a mouthful to say, so let’s summarize by calling it the 12-72 principle. Jesus did this. He came to earth to show us how to live, and that includes our relationships. One night I made a list of all my relationships and I separated them into the 1, 3, 12, 72, or multitude category. This not only helped with my own brain and priorities, but it helped me have a filter for what to share with different people. It also freed me from the pressure to maintain deep relationships with so many people.
Ready for more freedom and direction in your relationships? Let’s do this together. Ok, grab a pen and paper or your favorite list app, and let’s go through these categories together. Let’s live intentionally modelling our lives after Jesus, starting with the most important.
Jesus chose ONE person, Peter, the rock on which to build His church (Matthew 16:18). Why is Peter talked about so much more than the other disciples? Because He was the one person Jesus chose to build His church. Why is your ONE? It could be Jesus Himself. It might be your spouse, or a best friend, a sister. If no one comes to mind right away, no worries. Just claim your one as being Jesus and let’s move on.
Next, Jesus chose THREE people for whom He poured His life into during His most intimate moments of ministry. He chose Peter, James, and John to take up to the mountain of transfiguration (Mark 9:2-3). He allowed only Peter, James, and John (and the girl’s parents) to be present during the healing of a little girl (Luke 8:51). At the end of His life, Jesus wanted Peter, James, and John in the garden of Gethsemane with Him to pray (Matthew 26:37). No one else. Not three disciples here and another three there. Jesus consistently chose the same three disciples to pour His life into. That’s a challenging call.
So who are your THREE? Perhaps in addition to your ONE, you now add your kids, your parents, or your next two best friends. If you can’t choose three, don’t get too worried about it right now, it might take time to iron that out. Try your spouse, kids, and one-three best friends. The overflow will definitely be included in the next group anyway. Your groups are allowed to be fluid. Give yourself that grace. Only Jesus was perfect.
After that, Jesus, as most of us know, had TWELVE disciples (Luke 6:12-16). He poured most of His teachings into His twelve disciples. Now is a good time to remember that none of His 12 disciples were from Jesus’ immediate family. James, Jesus’ brother who wrote the book of James in the Bible, is different than James the disciple. However, it doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t care for or love His family. He totally did. As the eldest son, culturally He was in charge of caring for His mom in her old age. While He did not allow cultural norms to distract from His mission, He still fulfilled that role by assigning John, the disciple, to care for His mom (John 19:26-27). And note, John is the only disciple that did not die young. Jesus did not skirt His familial responsibilities. Also remember, Jesus LOVED people outside of His twelve. I say all that because the line between twelve and seventy-two is a tough call. It’s like choosing the varsity players out of all those who tried out. But this is also where the rubber meets the road. I’ve seen those who do this well, separate their twelve relationships from their seventy-two type relationships. Those who do that well live calm, focused, full and fruitful lives. If that sounds appealing, let’s dive in.
Who is in your twelve? Jesus lived with His disciples, literally. While you don’t have to have a houseful, think for a moment about who you live life with regularly anyway? Neighbors? Parents? Siblings’ families? Or the formal answer might be: your small group. If you’re not in a small group officially, maybe there are certain friends you get together with on a regular basis anyway. Perhaps your kids are in travel ball together. I used to visit an elderly neighbor lady four-five evenings a week when I was home with my baby. At that time, she would have been considered to be in my twelve. We used to get together with two other families once/week for years. Even though we weren’t an official small group, they were considered in my twelve during that time. We lived the day to day, week to week life together. We prayed for each other and shared our highs and lows together.
If you don’t feel like you have anyone like that, don’t panic. Perhaps your in transition. But also remember, you can build up to a network of people who you live life regularly together with. The quickest easiest way would be to join a group. If your church has small groups, join one. If you have a passion for something and there’s a group in your area, join that group. I know a group I call “the walking ladies,” whom I see walking around town a few mornings a week. Most are freshly retired. They often go out for coffee afterward. If you still feel like you’re lacking the kind of community or group you long for, start your own. It’s OK to start small. You have my permission. Finding one other person who shares your passion will be worth it. And if it doesn’t last forever, that’s OK too. We all have seasons.
I started a prayer/playdate/picnic group for moms and their kids to meet once/week. I had one other mom who faithfully showed up every week. Another came once or twice. And that was it. But it still worked out perfect! My kids loved meeting up with people. The one faithful mom became one of my closest friends. The other mom who came a few times was someone I hadn’t seen in a while and was able to reconnect with.
OK, so let’s say your twelve includes your spouse, your two and a half kids, two best friends, three ladies from your small group, your kid’s friend’s mom, that other mom you sit with at ball games, your mom, and two neighbors. That’s it! You did it! Let’s try another scenario, just for fun.
Let’s say YOUR twelve includes your three best friends, the six ladies in your Bible study, a workout buddy, and the two coworkers you eat lunch with all the time. Yay! You did it!
But what about everyone else? What about Betty? And Suzie Q? And Annie Jo and Lottie? Never fear! The seventy-two are here!
Yet Jesus had other followers too. Remember Mary and Martha and Lazarus? Jesus loved them (John 11:5). Yet they weren’t in his inner inner circle, but still very dear to Him! When I made a list of my one, my three, my twelve and started my list of my seventy-two, I felt a wave of relief come over me. I had been trying to keep up with many people listed on my 72 as if they were in my inner circle of three people. It hadn’t been working. I was relieved because most of the people on my 72 list were dear friends. I suddenly realized that they we could also still hang out without the obligation to keep in touch so consistently.
Here, in the seventy-two, is where most people you interact with on a regular basis will end up. And it’s OK! I have so many people who in different seasons of my life have been in my top twelve, are now in my seventy-two. Who might these people include, you ask? Nearly everyone else you speak to regularly. For instance, that group of high school or college friends that get together once or twice a year, your extended extension family, all the other coworkers whom you like, but aren’t as close to. Those people you met at story time or friends’ of friends. Or that friend who you used to talk to all the time, but now don’t since you moved away, but you’ll forever be somewhat close. Yeah, they go here. And the seventy-two is an excellent spot for them! You’re not living life daily or deeply with them, but you’re still close whenever you see each other.
Most people don’t need to be added to this list. Only write down those you want to maintain a relationship with. Remember, the seventy-two aren’t being outcast. Rather, they’re on deck relationships growing at a slower pace, but possible to increase in intensity as times and seasons allow.
Beyond that, we see Jesus in Scripture having “the multitudes” following Him. These multitudes might have had one encounter with Jesus, or many. Jesus’ preached His sermon on the mount to the multitudes (Matthew 5-7). He fed the five thousand and the four thousand (Matthew 14-15). This means social media followers, Christmas card recipients, friendships old and new and acquaintances in between, your address list, your customer base, nearly everyone. (Unless of course you’re famous and have more than five thousand followers. In that case, just include your most loyal subscribers, right?)
I love Christmas cards, because I love connecting with so many people who I often only connect with once a year, through a Christmas card. I often only hear from Troy on my birthday every year. But I love that I’m in his “multitudes” and that I can still hear what God is doing in His life and ministry. Don’t bother listing five-thousand people. Just know that those beyond your seventy-two belong in the multitudes.
Overall, just remember the 12-72 principle and you’ll be much less stressed in relationships.
And if you don’t read the Bible, or just prefer to hear someone try to “prove” what the Bible has already clearly advised, check out this article from the BBC.
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