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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Back to the Future | The Word that Shapes

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Nehemiah 8:1-3

There are three main stages in the evolution of my understanding of Nehemiah. A long time ago, I thought it was a book primarily about rebuilding a wall. Then I got a bit smarter (translation: I actually read it), and noticed that the rebuilding is completed at around the halfway point of the book. ‘Ahh, I thought, ‘So the first half is all about rebuilding the wall, and the second half is about rebuilding the people’. I liked this. It was neatly divided, like a domino.

But the more I look at it, I can’t help but notice that God is doing his deep, transformative work in his people from the very beginning. This work begins with Nehemiah in chapter 1, but it soon spreads to all the people of Jerusalem. In chapter 3, they must humble themselves and work hard, together. In chapter 4 there’s an object lesson in practical-trust-in-God in the face of genuine threat. In chapter 5 their warped ideas and practices of indebting and enslaving others are exposed. The people are rebuilding the walls, but God is rebuilding them.

Having a ‘good enough’ wall was important for the functioning and security of the city, but nobody was going to look at this wall and marvel. The wall was not called to be ‘a light to the nations’ – the people were.

As much as God was teaching and forming his people through these experiences, a key ingredient had been missing: his word. It’s this they discover in chapter 8 as they call on ‘Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses’. All the people gather, and they all ‘listened attentively’. As the rest of the chapter goes on to show, they receive the word in the context of humble worship, and it resulted in weeping and, ultimately, joy. God’s word reminded them who they were, who they belonged to, and what their lives were ultimately about.

As we carry the torch, as ‘a city on a hill’ (Matthew 5:14), as God’s ‘chosen people… royal priesthood… holy nation’ (1 Peter 2:9), as ‘a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’ (Titus 2:14), let us also ‘bring out the book’. In our anxious and distracted times, are you finding ways to be shaped by God’s word and, by the power of the Spirit, to embody its message on your frontline? And if so, how is God prompting you to live it out this week?


Joe Warton 
Church Team – Research & Development

In response to Joe’s questions, join the conversation in the comments below.

The Leaving-Lockdown Church Utility Kit

As we return to our church buildings, how can we give people fresh inspiration for their daily lives – particularly as we all work out what those lives look like post-covid?

To help your church make the most of this unique, weird season, check out key resources full of ideas to re-envision people for their everyday mission.


  1. I’ve been steeped in the Bible all my life and now, at 76, in the pandemic we have really been able to ‘up our game’ and give our study top priority in an empty diary. But I’m aware how ignorant I am about whole books, their background and context – and therefore real meaning. You have done days on specific books which we have joined. But I wish we could do a course which took us through the Bible, book by book with this sort of depth?

    By Penny Frank  -  28 Jun 2021
    • Hi Penny, great to hear that you have been getting more and more stuck into the word over the past year and a bit. Like you, I massively benefit from having a sense of what a whole book is about (along with the context of who was writing to whom). The other thing that is really helping me see the wood for the trees is gaining an understanding of how each book of the Bible sits within the big story of God, and how it not only describes something of the mission of God, but also helps to prepare us to play our part in it. There are plenty of books and commentaries that I have found/am finding helpful, but a good place to start are the book summaries available online from the Bible Project. You may have already come across these? If not, simply go on YouTube and search ‘Bible Project [name of book e.g. Exodus]. Feel free to email me if you want to discuss other options ([email protected])

      By Joe Warton  -  5 Jul 2021
  2. Thanks for this Joe. I completely relate to the distraction of our times – and often experience this distraction in the very times I’m trying to let myself be shaped by God’s word! For me, trying to embody the message on my frontline looks like reading Scripture each morning, with my day firmly in mind, so that God’s wisdom speaks clearly to the things I will face that day. Then, I ask God for one specific action I can do which will apply what I’ve learned that morning in the midst of the places I normally go.

    Matt Jolley
    By Matt Jolley Research & Implementation Manager

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