YEAR 2, WEEK 7, Day 4, Thursday, 16 February 2023

Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 16 February 2023:

Ezra 9:2 — The holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands.

We cannot partner with unbelievers. Holiness is a requirement.

Ezra 9:2 – And in this faithlessness the hand of the officials and chief men has been foremost.

Israel’s worst sinners were the political and religious leaders. Israel’s leaders were leaders in sin.

Ezra 9:3 — I… sat appalled.

What is appalling today is what no longer appalls us. Ezra was shocked, appalled, and greatly distressed by sin. Are you?

Ezra 9:4 — All who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness… gathered around.

In an age of unfaithfulness, the faithful will unite.

Ezra 9:5 – And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God.

Our response to sin should be humiliation, shame, confession, mourning, fasting, and prayer.

Ezra 9:6 — O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you….

What makes today’s generation blush?

Ezra 9:7 — From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today.

Ezra, “appalled” at the “faithlessness” of God’s people fell to his knees in earnest prayer, trembling in shame, guilt, and humility before the Lord. God’s people were called to be a holy kingdom among the kingdoms, “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6).” God commanded His people to “take possession” of the land, to subdue it and control it for God’s glory. God expected His holy people to be a “city on a hill,” a light among the nations. However, rather than conquerors, they had become slaves to the world. They had been “given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame.” Both figuratively and literally, God’s people had “inter-married” with the ungodly around them – the bride of Christ had committed adultery. God had given the “remnant” an opportunity for “reviving,” and opportunity to rebuild the “church.” However, immediately, God’s remnant began compromising its holiness for the sake of friendship with world. Today, the Church is largely guilty of the same sin, that of syncretism. We have too often compromised the Kingdom for the sake of the American dream. It is time for us to “separate [ourselves] from the peoples of the land.”

  • Matthew 6:24 — No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
  • Luke 11:23 — Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
  • Revelation 3:16 — So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Ezra 9:9 – For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love.

Even in your punishment, God shows you love, mercy, and grace.

Ezra 9:10-12 – For we have forsaken your commandments….

Ezra knew exactly what commandments God’s people had disobeyed because He knew God’s word.

Ezra 9:13 – And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved….

If God were ‘fair’ and gave you what you deserved, you would be doomed. Never complain that God isn’t fair, and don’t take His mercy and grace for granted. Be always thankful for what you have received.

Acts 6:4 – “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Disputes among Christians and church divisions can be huge distractions from the Gospel and can greatly hinder the work of the church.

Jesus’ will for the church is revealed to us in His prayer before the Cross in John 17 – “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23) Unity in Christ is the mark of a godly church.

Recall that in Acts 2, the coming of the Holy Spirit reversed the Tower of Babel division among the people — “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved…. devout men from every nation under heaven…. the multitude came together.” (Acts 2:5–6) However, in today’s readings, as “the disciples were increasing in number,” cultural differences appear to have fueled perceptions (valid or invalid) of favoritism and neglect, causing conflict which threatened to divide the body of believers and hinder the preaching of the Gospel. This problem required direct, immediate attention by leaders who could be trusted reconcilers.

Seven ‘deacons’ were selected based on their reputation, their faith, their wisdom, and their fullness of the Holy Spirit, and Stephen was one of them. Though Stephen “full of grace and power, [did] great wonders and signs among the people,” still some “rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” Despite Stephen’s grace, wisdom and power, he couldn’t reason with the agitators who eventually falsely accused Stephen of blasphemy. Why couldn’t Stephen reconcile with these people? The Bible explains, “It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” (Jude 1:19) “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.” (Galatians 5:17)

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) Divisions among God’s people detract from the witness of the church. Paul says, divisions and public disputes among God’s people “defeat” the work of the church – “Brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:6-9) The Bible makes clear, “Now the works of the flesh are evident… enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy… and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatian 5:19-26) The Bible makes it clear: When we let pride cause divisions, we are getting out of step with the Spirit, quenching the Spirit, and grieving the Spirit. Our prayers are hindered, we become less receptive to God’s word, and sin gains a foothold in our lives in order to gain even greater control over us. Strife among believers negatively impacts our relationship with God, not that He distances Himself from us but rather we distance ourselves from Him.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:15-19 — See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
  • Ephesians 4:30-32 — And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
  • 1 Peter 5:8 — Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
  • 1 Peter 3:7 — Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
  • Ephesians 4:26, 27 — Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
  • Matthew 5:23-24 — So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
  • 1 John 4:12, 13, 15, 16 — No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit…. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God…. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

The Bible teaches us how to protect the church from divisions:

1) Romans 12:9-21 – Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

2) Titus 3:10, 11 — As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 16 February 2023: Today, practice Romans 12:9-21. Also, memorize this passage.

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