Today’s Bible Reading: Ezra 8:21-9:15; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Psalm 31:1-8; Proverbs 21:1-2
Ezra, as leader of the group traveling back to Jerusalem, calls for everyone to fast and pray for protection on their journey (Ezra 8:21). The trip would take about 4 months and was dangerous due to bandits and harsh conditions. Notice the purpose of fasting is to create humility. Fasting creates a right heart with which to approach God as we come to realize how frail and dependent on Him we really are. Done properly fasting puts our focus off our circumstances and onto God and is effective when we have important needs. Remember though: fasting without prayer is starvation.
Ezra appoints 12 leaders to be in charge of the valuables that the group will carry with them (Ezra 8:24). It was the responsibility of these leaders to ensure that their portion made it safely to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:29). By doing this Ezra split the valuables up for safety and at the same time demonstrated faith in these leaders. When we are given an important job to do we can be encouraged by the fact that our leader trusts us.
But at the same time Ezra had weighed all the gold and silver (Ezra 8:26) and let these 12 men know that it would all be weighed again in Jerusalem (Ezra 8:29). It was not that Ezra didn’t trust these men. This is just good leadership. Ezra was entrusted himself by God so all the valuables were ultimately his responsibility. He knew that no one is beyond temptation so he simply took wise precautions. The result: every ounce made it to the Temple (Ezra 8:34).
Unfortunately when Ezra arrives in Israel he finds out that the people who were already there had intermarried with the local people (Ezra 9:1-2). These verses are not speaking against inter-racial marriage. The problem wasn’t that the spouses had different skin colors. The problem was that they worshipped different Gods. God is fine with any two people – of opposite genders – getting married. But a Christ-follower should only marry a Christ-follower. As we saw with Solomon, marrying someone with different beliefs leads to apostasy.
Ezra’s response to this discovery: he prays (Ezra 9:5-6). Sadly our government leaders know nothing of this today. They should be praying over us but I would bet very few, if any, of our leaders ever pray for us. That is one reason for our problems.
It was this very behavior – adopting the customs of the pagans – that lead to Israel’s downfall the first time. And if not stopped, it would lead to their downfall again (Ezra 9:7-12). God doesn’t change – He did not abandon Israel while they were in captivity and He even blessed them with a new Temple (Ezra 9:8-9). But people don’t change either, do we? We do the same stupid things over and over despite the amazing dedication God shows to us. Its a shame we repay Him with disobedience.
Among the issues in Corinth was sexual immorality among the congregation (1 Corinthians 5:1). Perhaps a bigger problem was that the congregation was proud of their tolerance of this behavior (1 Corinthians 5:2). They were essentially conforming to the culture around them. (Corinth was known for promiscuity, being a seaport town with a lot of sailors.) But God calls His people to be different – we are not to like the world around us (Romans 12:1-2).
By condoning the behavior of this man, the church at Corinth was acting as an enabler. What they should have done was to throw him out of the church and let him wallow in his own sin with the hope that he would come to his senses (1 Corinthians 5:5). This is similar to what happened to the prodigal son (Luke 15).
If believers do not address the sins of each other two things will – not might – happen. The sinner will never come to recognize his own sin. And the congregation will become infiltrated with sin. Just like a tumor, sin must be removed at once otherwise it will grow and infect the entire body (1 Corinthians 5:6). Apparently Paul had already warned Corinth about this in a previous letter but they had not addressed it (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
Crises are not optional in this life. And the strength we need to get through such circumstances cannot be mustered in their midst. We need to have such strength beforehand and that strength has to come from God. He is our protection (Psalm 31:1, 3, 5). God sees our troubles and He cares about what we are going through (Psalm 31:7).
What people think is right doesn’t matter. Everyone, both as individuals and corporately, rationalizes our behavior. We make loopholes that make us feel good. We describe our behavior in euphemisms. But God sees our intentions and our motives (Proverbs 21:2).
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