Old Testament: Ezra 8:21-9:15
Ezra 8:21-9:15 A Slow Fast
Ezra proclaimed a fast. The purpose was that the Jews could humble themselves before God. Have you heard of fasting? It means to go without food for a period of time. Do you know why you haven’t heard of it? Because no one does it anymore! You say, “go without eating?” or “humble themselves?” I guess both. Ezra was asking for a safe journey for himself and all with him. He meant business with God so he fasted and humbled himself (v. 21). I have fasted before but I wonder about the term . . . time seems to go much slower when I go without food.
Ezra was afraid to ruin his witness to the king by asking for a military escort. How could he speak such great things of Yahweh and then act like he couldn’t have a safe trip without the Persian military guarding him? To make sure he was doing the right thing, though, he prayed first. Despite all the valuables they were transporting (approx. 8 million dollars in silver; $1,200,000 in silver utensils; many, many millions in gold; and twenty gold bowls worth a total of about $600,000), Ezra and company arrived safely in Jerusalem.
They stayed three days in Jerusalem. On the fourth day they burnt offerings for the nation: 12 bulls, 96 rams, 77 lambs, and 12 goats.
Remember when the Jews were forbidden to mix with the races of people around them? They were not allowed to intermarry (Exod. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-4). But some in Ezra’s group had done that. When Ezra heard about it, he was so distraught that he tore his robe and even pulled some of his hair from his beard (ouch)! Some of the people were also very upset to hear about this and met with Ezra. They were the group that “trembled at the words of the God of Israel” (v. 4). Why is this reading like science fiction to me today? Maybe it’s because I don’t know anyone who really “trembles at the words” of Yahweh?
Ezra hadn’t done anything wrong. Yet he prays a prayer for the people as if the intermarriage had been all his fault. We’ll see Daniel do something similar in Daniel 9 and you might recall all the times Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites when they sinned against the Lord. In verse 10, Ezra confesses that the nation has disobeyed the Lord’s commandments. In 1 John 2:4, “The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” Were all these exiles saved?
Ezra is embarrassed (v. 10, “Now, our God, what shall we say after this?”) because they were coming out of seventy years of punishment for not following Yahweh’s rules. Now he finds out they are guilty of a gross violation. Ezra does not believe the Israelites had even been requited as much as they should have been (v. 13; cf. Ps. 103:10). I think Ezra was concerned God might just wipe Israel out. He is, in essence, asking for mercy. We’ll find out tomorrow how things turn out. You might be surprised.
New Testament: 1 Cor. 5:1-13
1 Cor. 5:1-13 One Bad Apple
Yesterday, we saw that Paul said he didn’t even judge or examine himself (1 Cor. 4:3). He meant he couldn’t tell how useful he was being as a servant of God. He didn’t mean that he thought he wasn’t sinning or didn’t try to live more and more for the Lord.
It is sometimes hard to know when we’ve sinned since the “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt, who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). The Psalmist asked God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23-24). In Ps. 19:13-14 he says, ” . . . keep back Your servant from presumptuous [sins]; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.”
However, in chapter 5, we encounter a sin so blatant that even the Gentiles were appalled. If the secular community in Corinth was offended, you know things were pretty bad. Corinth was a pretty corrupt town. What happened there didn’t stay there. That’s how bad it was.
Paul knows that blatant sin that is allowed to remain in the church can fester and permeate the entire environment just as leaven leavens a whole lump of dough. How is it stopped? It is put in an oven and the leavening stops (v. 6). Unfortunately, the process is similar in the church. J. Vernon McGee says that “a pure church is a powerful church; an impure church is a paralyzed church.” Could it be that this is reason so many of our churches today are anemic?
Years ago, after I had been pastoring my church in the country for a number of years, one of the ladies approached me to ask if I would have her father kicked out of the church if he was found living with a woman who wasn’t his wife. And she named a particular woman in the church. She had apparently found out that I believed that Matt. 18:15-18 and its proscription on church discipline was to be taken literally. I was thankful that I never had to get to the point of church discipline. If a pastor enjoys that process, there is something really wrong with him. Anyway, I was a little scared that I might have to go down that road with one of the pillars of the church! Her father had been going to that church since before he was born in his mother’s womb! I assured her that if church discipline was ever enjoined, it would be done in love and for the benefit of not only the church but for the individual. She didn’t seem very happy but that was truth. I never heard anything more about it so I supposed the story was only hypothetical.
What we see in 1 Corinthians 5 is the case of a man who is committing such a bad sin that no one even put up the case that the man should receive any kind of mercy. He was sleeping and living with his mother. You can chill a little bit. It was most likely his step-mother. But it was still pretty gross. Even in a city where the main forms of worship included prostitutes, this was bad. And to make things worse, the church people were welcoming him into worship with them. Probably, because of the immoral environment, they didn’t think it was right to rebuke anyone for their sin.
It should be pointed out here that not only should this whole procedure take place in an atmosphere of love but it should only be carried out in regards to sins that would disrupt the body. Christians do not need to act as the SS going from church home to church home to investigate every sin. In that case, everyone would have to be put out of the church since there is no one who does not sin! (1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chron. 6:36). The offenders in this context are committing ostentatious, blatant sins that are visible to the church and to the world.
An aside: why has our court system become so corrupt in our present day? Why are Christians appalled by the rulings being handed down at times by the Supreme Court. Here is a possible answer. If the judges are immoral, how could they hand down just sentences on others? They have already excused themselves. That is their point of view. Tolerance. Paul puts it this way later in this letter, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). The Osmonds put it this way, “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch, girl.” Oops. I guess they said, “One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.” Well, there you go. You see the corruption since 1970. (No, it was done by the Osmonds and written by the George Jackson, no relations to the famous Jacksons.) Back to our blog . . .
Paul sees the solution as delivering the man “to Satan.” What does it mean to “deliver” someone to Satan? Contextually, it would seem to mean that the man was barred from fellowship with anyone in the church until he cleaned up his act. It meant he couldn’t saunter around the church flaunting his sin while taking communion or whatever else he may have been doing in the church. What would it say about sin to have someone living with his stepmother but carrying on in the church environment as if nothing was wrong.
Now I did get in trouble in my church a couple times in related matters. While I was recovering in the heart hospital from six by-passes, I was told that a dear lady leading the music was going to divorce her husband with apparently no Biblical grounds. I asked that she not lead worship for a while. But even if there were Biblical grounds, I probably would have done the same thing. If a person’s life is in such turmoil over such an important matter, it is probably best to get things straightened out and take a “vacation” from the ministry till minds can clear. I also did not allow a woman to join the church immediately for the same reason. I tried to assure the lady that we loved her and wanted the best for her but that church membership communicated that a person is in good standing with the Lord. We wanted her to join the church but it was more important to have a right relationship with Jesus. And that was the purpose. Denying anyone privileges in the church should always be with the goal of restoring the person to a good relation with the Lord. This two incidents probably had a lot to do with some of the leadership finding me another place to minister.
What was the outcome of the man who was put out of the church? The discipline accomplished exactly what it should have. In 2Corinthians, the next letter Paul wrote to this church, Paul told the church that the man had shown enough of a change that he should be re-admitted to the fellowship without any further punishment or repercussions. This is love in action. It is very difficult but it is what Scripture calls for. You can read the story (and we’ll get to it soon in this blog) in 2 Cor. 2:4-8.
To make sure he is not taken in the wrong way, Paul points out that all that is said in this chapter concerns only those in the church. In fact, today in our litigious society, it is best to spell out in the statements on church membership that discipline is a possibility. No one has sued a church and won so far as I know . . . yet. But it could be coming! Paul says that when he speaks of not having fellowship with sinners, he does not mean unbelievers outside the church who are guilty of being immoral, covetous, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards or swindlers (v. 11). He is explicitly speaking of church members otherwise it would not be possible to witness to anyone about the good news of Christ! He is saying that it might be necessary to judge those “within the church” (v. 12), not the ones outside the church. God will take care of the ones outside the church (v. 13). Which brings us to the next topic of lawsuits.