church

Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Psalm 3

Today we’re reading Genesis 3, Ezra 3, and Psalm 3.

This devotional is about Ezra 3, so read that chapter if you can’t do all of today’s reading.

The events recorded in Ezra happened late in Old Testament history. They happened after the kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon and after those kingdoms were divided into the Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Because of idolatry, God used the Assyrian Empire to scatter the northern kingdom of Israel. Years later, God then used the Babylonians to take the Southern Kingdom into captivity. Daniel and his friends were living in Babylon due to that captivity. Daniel, while reading Jeremiah, realized that the captivity would end after 70 years. Ezra recorded what happened after that 70 years of captivity ended.

First Cyrus the king of Persia was moved by the Lord to send the people of Judah living in exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. We read about that in Ezra 1. Ezra 2 recorded the names of those returned. At the end of Ezra 2, yesterday, we read, “When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site” (Ez 2:68). Then, today in Ezra 3 we read that the people “assembled together as one in Jerusalem” (v. 1b). They built an altar and began the routine sacrifices commanded in Moses’ law (v. 3). They also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 4) and began rebuilding the Temple (vv. 7-13).

One thing that is impressive about this chapter is how quickly the people organized to begin worshipping the Lord together as a group. Verse 1 refers to the “seventh month” but that doesn’t mean seven months after they arrived. It means the seventh month on the Jewish calendar, the month when the Feast of Tabernacles would be celebrated (v. 4, 6). Although Ezra did not say so, the events of verses 1-6 happened probably only 3 or 4 months after the exiles returned to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem they returned to was a mess. It had been completely destroyed by the Babylonians 70 years before and was uninhabited during that time. When they got there, they had to figure out who owned what property, then repair or rebuild some kind of home to live in. They also needed to make a living, so they also had to begin working to start an economy going again. Verse 3 says that they “had settled in their towns” but that “settling” was only a bare subsistence. They were far from a thriving, vibrant community at that point.

And yet, they began their worship as a nation and their obedience to God’s word pretty quickly. It is true that Cyrus sent them there to rebuild the temple (chapter 1), but it would have been easy to make excuses--very plausible excuses--about the importance of making sure they could survive before they began worshipping God corporately again. They also could have said, “Well, we need to rebuild the temple first, then we can do the sacrifices and feast days.” But the temple took two years to get going (v. 8). Rather than wait, their faith in God and zeal for his glory caused them to obey his word as soon as they could.

All of this indicates what a priority worship was for these Israelites. Unlike their ancestors who worshipped idols and mixed God’s word with pagan gods and rituals, the 70 years of exile had chastened them and had shown them the importance of faith in God’s word and obedience to it.

I wonder if we would respond the same way? If some natural disaster wiped out all of our homes and businesses and leveled our church building, would those of us who survived that want to get together as soon as possible to start worshipping again?

I’d like to think that gathering again as a church family would be very important to us. Maybe a tragedy like that would make it so. But, when I think about how many people in our church attend our Sunday worship here and there, I wonder. Many people are faithful to our worship services Sunday after Sunday but many others attend for a Sunday or two, then disappear for weeks at a time. They all have reasons but how many of those reasons are just excuses laid on top of poor priorities? And that’s just Sunday services we’re talking about. Small group attendance and Calvary Class attendance is even more random and unpredictable.

This passage, and the coming of a new year, give us a chance to think about our priorities and where our time is spent. The fact that you’re reading these devotionals probably puts you in the category of people who are committed to the Lord and his work in our church. But, there is always the temptation to get distracted and let priorities fall out of whack. Don’t let that happen to you and, if you have a chance to encourage someone else who isn’t attending regularly, take the opportunity to speak to them for their good as a believer in Christ.

1 Corinthians 5

Today the reading schedule invites us to read 1 Corinthians 5

This short chapter discusses the difficult subject of church discipline. The occasion for the Corinthians was a man in their church who was committing adultery with his father’s wife (v. 1). The fact that she is not called his mother probably means that she is a step-mother to the man. Regardless, Paul was appalled (no pun intended though enjoyed) both that someone who claimed to be a believer would do this (v. 1) and that the Corinthian church tolerated this sin in their church family (v. 2). In fact, “tolerated” may be too mild a term; the phrase, “and you are proud” indicates that the Corinthians celebrated this sin. It would be nice to know more about what Paul was suggesting. Maybe the Corinthians saw their tolerance of this sin as some advanced display of grace? Regardless, Paul called on the church to remove this man from the church through church discipline as we saw in the phrase, “put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this” (v. 2b). What, then, does this passage teach us about church discipline?

First, that church discipline is public. Verse 4 told the Corinthians to handle this matter, “when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present” (v. 4). That phrase is speaking of a public gathering of the church, not a private meeting or a letter. When someone is removed from church membership through discipline, all the other members of the church should know of his removal and why he was removed.

Second, that church discipline is for the spiritual good of the person placed under discipline. Verse 5b describes the purpose of this act with this phrase, “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” Remember that no one should be disciplined from the church until they have been confronted with their sin and given the opportunity to repent. A repentant believer is not removed from the church because he is responding to sin the way that a Christian should. But a person who will not repent when their sin is addressed is acting like an unbeliever. Paul is very concerned that the man described in 1 Corinthians 5 will go to hell because his open practice of sin is not consistent with the life of a believer. A main goal of removing him publicly is to shake him out of the false confidence of salvation he has so that he will repent of his sin like a believer should or turn to Christ genuinely for salvation.

Third, that church discipline is for the good of the church, too. Verses 6-8 compares sin to yeast (leaven). A little bit of yeast expands throughout baking dough to make the resulting bread soft and cause it to rise. The image is that the yeast grows to affect the whole loaf; likewise, sin unaddressed in the church also grows and expands until it pervades the entire body. Church discipline, then, removes the sin by disassociating the church from the person under discipline. While the people in the church might still see this man around, they are no longer to regard him as a brother in Christ who is growing in his faith. This has a sobering affect on the rest of the congregation, showing them that sin will not be tolerated in the body of Christ.

Church discipline is always a difficult thing, stressful for everyone involved. It is like surgery for the body of Christ. A surgeon wounds your physical body in order to remove or repair something that is affecting your health in the long term. Church discipline, likewise, is painful to the body, but God uses it to bring long-term health and healing to the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 3

Today we’re scheduled to read 1 Corinthians 3.

Back in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul expressed a great deal of confidence about the salvation of the Corinthian believers. He talked about all the ways in which God had enriched them (1:5) which confirmed their acceptance of the gospel (1:6) so that they had every spiritual gift (1:6). At the end of chapter 1 he explained that their salvation came from Christ crucified not from human wisdom and in chapter 2 he described how their faith was a spiritual work done by the Holy Spirit of God.

Here in chapter 3, he made a turn in his message to the Corinthians. Although they were saved by the Spirit, he could not speak to them as if they were spiritually mature; rather, they had to be addressed as if they were babies in Christ (vv. 1-3). This is quite a put down--not an insult but a needed adjustment to their self-assessment. The Corinthians were proud of how advanced they were spiritually--just look at all the spiritual gifts they had! But Paul told them that they were acting in a very spiritually immature manner, like babies in Christ. What caused him to say this? It was the fact that there was “jealousy and quarreling among you” (v. 3). That jealously and quarreling was about who was the best spiritual leader--Paul, Apollos, or someone else (v. 4). The truth is that Paul and Apollos were not competitors but servants of God who both made meaningful contributions to the church (vv. 5-9).

Verses 10-17 are often misunderstood in part because Paul will later in this same book talk about our human bodies as the temple of God. That’s what he meant in chapter 6, but here in chapter 3 he is not referring to the human bodies or their individual spiritual lives. Instead, the context of verses 10-17 refer to the church itself. The foundation Paul laid is the foundation of the church at Corinth, the Lord Jesus Christ himself (vv. 10-11). Apollos or anyone else who serves the church is building on that foundation but God will test the quality of everyone’s work (vv 12-14). The “temple” Paul is referring to here, then, is the church itself in Corinth (v. 16) and the warning against “destroying the temple” is a warning against tearing the church apart through “jealousy and quarreling” (v. 3) or any other way that creates disunity. What are some sins that tear churches apart? Sin of any kind that goes unconfessed and unaddressed and the Corinthian church was full of that: incest (1 Cor 5), lawsuits among believers (1 Cor 6:1-11), sexual immorality of all kinds (1 Cor 6:12-20), unbiblical divorce (1 Cor 7), abusing Christian liberty (1 Cor 8-10), disorderly worship (1 Cor 9:1-16), abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 9:17-34), and more.

The warning in today’s passage is very serious: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (3:17). How many churches have been torn apart by sin--sin among leaders or sins within the body. How many congregations have been ripped apart by gossip? How many have been weakened or killed by failing to follow biblical leadership?

Understand, then, that as a church member, your choices affect far more people than just you. If your choices cause harm to the body of Christ, God promised to deal with you severely for the harm you’ve done to his work. This passage should sober us and cause us to realize the importance of making godly choices not only for our own walk with God but for the spiritual health and strength of his church.

Leviticus 27, Psalm 34, Ecclesiastes 10, Titus 2

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Leviticus 27, Psalm 34, Ecclesiastes 10, Titus 2. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Titus 2. 

Titus 2 beautifully describes why the church needs to be intergenerational. It begins in verse 1 by telling us that there is an appropriate way to live if you believe in the truth of the Christian faith. Verses 2-10 describes what that appropriate way of life looks like. Titus was to teach older men how sound doctrine should lead them to live carefully and in ways that are healthy in faith, love, and endurance (v 2.). Verse 3 tells us that Titus should teach older women to live reverent, good lives but that their purpose for living such lives was, in part to “urge the younger women” to live lives devoted in purity to their families (v. 5). Meanwhile, younger men needed to be taught how to control their actions (v. 6) with Timothy himself being an example for them to follow in every way (vv. 7-8). Likewise slaves should seek to serve their masters as best as they can in all honesty (vv. 9-10). The reason for all of this is God’s grace (v. 11). It has appeared to “all people”; this phrase, in context refers to “all types of people” whether old (vv. 2-3) young (vv. 4-6), men (vv. 2, 6) or women (vv. 3-4), free or slave (vv. 9-10). Although we never lose our sinful desires in this life, God’s grace teaches us to say no to them (v. 12a). This is what being “self-controlled” (vv. 2, 5 & 6) means. It is learning to say no to sin no matter how strong our desire is for it. Older people have had more experience with sin—in their own lives and in seeing its effects in the lives of other—so they can tell younger people how much sinful passions lie to us in what they promise and how to avoid giving into those passions. The result of this teaching is that believers will learn how “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (v. 12) while we wait for the return of Christ (v. 13). One of Christ’s main purposes in coming the first time was “to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (v. 14b). Without older men to lead the way for younger men, without older women to mentor and instruct younger women, a local church’s adults will make the same sinful choices over and over again. But one of God’s gracious gifts to us is the gift of older, wiser believers who can encourage, instruct, guide, and lead (by example and by words) the younger adults in the church. Then, as each generation grows in its understanding of the gospel and person holiness, the church gets stronger and Christ accomplishes the goals he came here to accomplish (v. 14). If you’re an older person, are you having an effect in the life of someone younger? If you’re a younger person, do you have relationships with older believers who can help you grow in your faith? This is what Christ wants for his church so consider how you can serve or benefit from the service of others to grow more like him in your faith and walk with God.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.