There was a show on Nickelodeon called “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” in the 90s. I couldn’t watch it then and I feel quite certain I probably can’t watch it now. I hate scary things. But our psalm today reminds us how to conquer fear – seek the Lord. Elsewhere in Scripture it says, “perfect love drives out all fear” and frequently when messengers of the Lord show up they’re first words are “fear not”. So, what are you so afraid of?
- 22-31 – The Israelites conquer several nations and have large growth in their population. Both of these fulfill God’s promises to their ancestors.
- 32-33 – This third of a shekel was in addition to the taxes already put in place by former rulers. This was above and beyond.
1 Corinthians 9:19-10:13:
- 19-23 – Paul found ways to relate to all people so he could better present the gospel to them. This should not be misunderstood that he took on other people’s sins to relate to them.
- 24-27 – If athletes are willing to put their body through intense training to win a race, particularly when only one person wins the race, isn’t it worth it for Paul to discipline himself in order to share the gospel?
- 13 – This is the verse often misquoted and misunderstood as saying, “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” Read it again. That’s not what it says. This is regarding temptation and it simply says he will give you a way out of the temptation when you face it.
- 4 – Clear instructions on how to handle fear. Seek the Lord.
- 8-10 – We can see and experience God’s provision in so many ways.
- This sounds similar to the gospel story regarding Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31.
Our psalm today reminds us that our hope should remain in the Lord because he is the only one worthy of putting our hope in. This VBS song from last year reaffirms it:
- 61-65 – While yesterday’s reading was a list of Israelites who returned from exile in Babylon, these verses explain people who returned but could not prove that they were pure Israelites.
- 1-3 – There would have been a huge sense of restoration to the Israelites who were returning to the land given to them by God long before. They wanted to restore their culture as well. Ezra the priest reads the book of Moses’ law to them for hours and they’re all entranced by it.
- 9-12 – The Israelites were mourning for the many years when they were in exile and probably also for the ways they had not obeyed God’s law previously. Nehemiah and Ezra instruct them to, instead, rejoice because they have returned and God has restored them.
- 14-18 – The Feast of Booths was a time when the Israelites were to return to Jerusalem and stay in small booth-like structures to remember the Exodus.
1 Corinthians 9:1-18:
- Paul had been criticized that he was taking money from other believers. He is defending that apostles too have to eat. He did not, however, take a salary so he couldn’t be accused of only preaching for the money.
- 12-19 – We put our hope in all kinds of things that are not the Lord. He is the only one who is worth putting our trust in and yet we are so hesitant to do so.
- Because we are prideful, we often hate instruction or punishment. We rarely recognize that it is for our ultimate good and we need it to grow.
Today’s reading in Nehemiah reminds us how easy it is to get distracted from God’s purposes and plans for us. These days, we have far more avenues for distraction than the post-exilic Israelites. What do you do to keep yourself focused on God’s purposes for your life?
- 1-14 – It is easy to get distracted from the work God has set out for us to do, but Nehemiah was faithful in refusing to be distracted from finishing the restoration of Jerusalem’s wall.
- 6-60 – This is a listing of the people who returned to Israel from exile in Babylon.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13:
- Much of Paul’s instruction in this first letter to the Corinthians regards caring for those who aren’t as far along in their faith development. Though our faith may be strong enough to withstand certain temptations, others’ may not be. We are called to cater to their needs in those situations.
- We are to offer our praises to God because he is able to do great things and he does great things.
Sin causes separation from God. That is a terrible consequence and should be enough to deter us, but often times, it’s not. Today’s psalm also reminds us that sin has additional consequences. Sin also hurts us and causes us pain and misery. Sounds like we should do our best to avoid it.
- 15-32 – This is a continuation of all the people who help repair the walls of Jerusalem. It is powerful to listen to how they all worked one after another to fix section after section of the wall and gates.
- 7-9 – The strength of a city wall was very important during foreign attacks. The enemies of the Israelites did not like that their walls were getting stronger and thus their city was more protected.
- 1-13 – The wealthy and powerful were taxing those who had less. Nehemiah made them stop because this was weakening them when they were trying to rebuild their city.
1 Corinthians 7:25-40:
- 25-35 – Paul had a mindset that Jesus might be coming back tomorrow. He lived his life in a way to be prepared for that. His advice to the unmarried folks of his day was that it would be better and easier for them to stay unmarried instead of being distracted by a marriage relationship.
- 36-40 – Paul isn’t saying that marriage is bad. He’s just saying people can focus on God better if they stay unmarried.
- 1-5 – David gives thanks to God for forgiving his sins and in so doing gives instructions on how to seek forgiveness.
- 10 – Sin is evil against God, but it also makes life more difficult for the sinner.
- 5 – The Proverbs encourage us over and over again to think through our actions and decisions and not act hastily.
There are a number of passages, like the one in today’s 1 Corinthians reading, which have been misinterpreted as condoning practices we don’t generally think God would condone. Here it is marrying a non-believer. In other areas of Scripture it’s divorce or owning slaves. These passages should not be read as God condoning the behavior, rather as guidelines for people who are already engaging in these practices. I.e. If you’ve already married a non-believer, don’t divorce them. Instead, act like this for a chance to bless them.
- Nehemiah was originally combined with Ezra as one book.
- 3 – The walls of Jerusalem were broken down from when the temple was destroyed and the Israelites were taken into exile.
- 8-11 – Nehemiah reminds God of his promise that he would always allow people to return to him even if they had strayed. This is a good reminder for many of us.
- 11 – The cupbearer was a very important position. This person made sure the king’s drink was not poisoned or tampered with in any way. This person had to be very trustworthy. In Genesis, Joseph makes friends with the kings cupbearer who is imprisoned because the king thought he was trying to harm him.
- 1-8 – These were big asks. Even being sad in a king’s presence could get you in major trouble, but then also asking to be gone and for him to write special letters for you. The king, here, is being kinder than he had to be, but it says that’s because the hand of the Lord was on Nehemiah.
1 Corinthians 7:1-24:
- 1-5 – This may seem like an odd section of Scripture, but it is encouraging us to have regular sex with our spouses. Withholding sex can lead to all kinds of sins and temptations for both partners.
- 12-16 – This is not encouragement to marry an unbeliever, but instruction that if you are already married to an unbeliever to stick with them because you could be the conduit through which they come to faith.
- 22-24 – Here David makes an interesting point. He explains that in a panicked situation he assumed God was not with him, but recognized that God did, in fact, hear his cries. With this he encourages others to wait on the Lord.
- We always have reason to be humble because we are not God.
A good portion of 1 Corinthians, including today’s reading, are about how to handle things internally, amongst the believers, versus externally, between believers and non-believers. Not that it’s done to be secretive or deceitful, but simply to bless the non-believer and not to cause them to stumble. In a modern context this might mean avoiding language like “the blood of the lamb” that doesn’t make much sense and might sound off-putting to a non-believer when around one. This is not about separation but instead because of the hopes of eventual inclusion.
- 1-5 – The Israelites realized their sin and turned away from it.
- 9-14 – The sin was so rampant amongst the Israelites that they were going to have to be cleansed in shifts.
1 Corinthians 6:1-20:
- 1-8 – Paul is telling the believers not to defame each other, even if justified, in front of nonbelievers because it lessens the chances that they would want to come to faith. He urges them, instead, to accept and forgive a few wrongdoings for the good of the whole.
- 12 – Though all things that God created are permissible for us to use, but not all are beneficial to us and thus should probably be avoided.
- 16-17 – Paul states that when we affiliate ourselves with anything else, we are connected to that thing instead of to the Lord.
- 19-20 – Life is not just about what we want or what we enjoy. We, through our bodies, have been entrusted with the temple of the Lord and should handle it properly.
Early Christians had a lot of confusion regarding what was ok and what wasn’t. As it turned out, the church at Corinth struggled a little with deciding correctly. In 1 Corinthians, Paul does his best to make it clear what is faithful and what’s not. It’s a very helpful book if you have questions too.
There are double-standards in the world. Some are frustrating and unfair, while others are totally necessary. In today’s 1 Corinthians reading there is a justified double-standard. It is that believers are held to one moral standard while non-believers are not. We cannot expect non-believers to abide by God’s commands, but we as believers should and should even help one another do so. Yes, it’s a double-standard, but it is a necessary one for believers and non-believers alike.
- 21-23 – Ezra told the Babylonians God would take care of them on their journey, so now he had to put his money where his mouth is. This is why he has the people all call on the Lord through fasting and prayer.
- 31 – God hears their prayers for protection on their journey and answers them.
- 1-2 – The Israelites, and particularly the priests, had just finished traveling safely, because of God’s provisions, and have just completed their burnt offering, and immediately they’re breaking one of the main laws God has given them – to be set apart.
- 6-15 – Ezra’s prayer is honest and forthcoming. He confesses God’s goodness to his people and that they continue to sin against him. Particularly starting in vs. 13, Ezra seems to be very humbled by God’s graciousness in continuing to care for them despite their continued lack of faithfulness.
1 Corinthians 5:1-13:
- 9-11 – This is an interesting perspective. This is encouraging us not to try to avoid all sinners or even those who are still caught up in sin, but to avoid those who call themselves believers and are currently engaging in any of the sins listed. As believers we are called to a higher standard.
- 12-13 – Our moral law and faithfulness to Christ is not to be expected of those who do not believe, but we are to hold our own to Christ’s standards.
- 5 – Jesus repeats the first part of this verse when dying on the cross.
- 6-8 – David continually gives acknowledgment and praise to God for providing protection from his enemies.
It’s interesting how our reading lines up today. We’re reading about Ezra trying to reestablish the function of the second temple and reading a psalm helping dedicate the original temple. But this kind of thing can be confusing at times because the Bible is not chronological. Which temple are we talking about when? Who were contemporaries? Etc. Here is a timeline of some of the major biblical events this will hopefully be helpful.
- 1-6 – When Ezra showed up, it had been 58 years since the dedication of the temple.
- 11-20 – The king gives all the priests permission to go back to Jerusalem with Ezra and to equip the temple with everything it needs.
- 25-20 – Ezra is appointed to begin to rebuild the structure of authority within Jerusalem as people head back to settle there.
1 Corinthians 4:1-21:
- 6-7 – We are not to boast in our gifts or good fortunes because all of it was given to us by God.
- 9-13 – Though Paul’s description of what it’s like to be an apostle of Christ doesn’t sound incredibly appealing, it is well worth it when we get to share Christ with others and bring them to him.
- 16 – This is the goal! We want to be so active in our faith that we can encourage others to live like we do knowing that will help them live more like Christ.
- This would have been written for the first temple dedication, not the one we just read about in Ezra. It very well may have been read at the second dedication too though.
- 5 – A reminder that there is always joy to come.
- 11-12 – These verses, as well as the majority of the psalm, are clearly transitioning out of a time of pain into a time of great celebration. The dedication of the temple would have been such a time of hope for the Israelites.
Obedience is a tricky thing. We often want to obey partially, but that is actually not obedience. The good news is, as our proverb tells us today, we have the Holy Spirit to act a little like bumpers on a bowling lane when our obedience starts to slip. Thank goodness for all the checks and balances God has put in place for us.
- 6-17 – King Cyrus had approved the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, but King Artaxerxes, his predecessor had halted the progress. Now the leaders trying to get it built again were appealing to Darius to allow them to search for the gold and silver vessels used in worship in the original temple.
- 6-12 – King Darius makes a decree putting all the building plans back in progress.
- 16-22 – It would have been a huge celebration for the Israelites to return to their land, dedicate the temple, and celebrate Passover again. It is hard for us to relate to how significant that would have been for them.
1 Corinthians 3:5-23:
- 5-9 – This is great encouragement for people investing in the faith growth of the next generation or anyone really. We are called to be faithful in giving them the information they need. God is responsible for growing it and making it flourish.
- 16-17 – It matters how we treat the dwelling place of the Lord. This is both true of our physical bodies as well as our holistic health.
- We are quick to minimize the power and majesty of God. We look to other things in our lives, or even ourselves, to do the work of God. This psalm reminds us of the power of God and how he should be praised for it.
- 27 – It is the Spirit’s job to test our hearts and help convict us in the places where we are not obeying God.