We often listen to stories of people facing intense persecution, or hear of the 50-70,000 believers estimated to be in labour camps in North Korea and wonder how they manage to stay strong in their faith. Wonder if we would have their courage in the face of physical persecution. At the same time we tend to downplay the relentless drip, drip, drip of secularism that we face in our society, almost as if we believe the lie we tell our children "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." And yet when you study the Bible you can't help but notice how often it is through weasel words that Satan attacks God's people.
In Nehemiah 6 as the people near completion of the walls of Jerusalem it is not a direct physical assault that poses a threat to them, it is the relentless wearing war of words. (v2-4)Four times the surrounding governors send messages to Nehemiah seeking to distract him from the work and potentially lure him away from the security of Jerusalem. When that fails they send the same message but with an open letter falsely claiming that Nehemiah is leading a rebellion. To what end? To create fear with their words as the people hear of it so that they are paralysed and stop work. When that fails they recruit an insider, a double agent who tries with his honeyed words to entrap Nehemiah in cowardice and sin. And after all that is overcome we read that this is just the tip of the iceberg because others have been trying to intimidate Nehemiah with words. Words are weapons and can be as effective at intimidating us as swords, clubs or jail bars.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Jesus identifies words as weapons of mass persecution. We need to recognise that the words of our society, it's unassailable truths, it's repeated mantras which go against the gospel and fuel words, insults, and falsely saying evil things against Christians are persecution. Because if we don't recognise it we will simply fall prey to the fear it generates and not speak up for the gospel but withdraw into the Christian ghetto or whither in our faith.
There is an interesting twist in v16 of Nehemiah 6, the people who intended to sow fear and discouragement by their words end up discouraged and fearful why? Because they recognise "this work had been done with the help of our God." When they see that their words failed to induce fear and stop the work but that a fear of God motivate the people to serve and love they are fearful because God's people and God's plans are unstoppable. As we overcome fear of man with fear of God and God's kingdom advances those who seek to sow fear instead find themselves fearful because they see the futility of fighting God as they oppose us.