There is no one in the world who is not worshiping. Many times the non-religious, or the secularist, make the assertion they are not “worshippers” like us “religious” people. This is simply not true. Everyone was made to worship, therefore, everyone is worshiping something. Whatever we find pleasure, joy, happiness, fulfillment in is what we worship. The problem is we cannot all agree on what to worship. Not everything we worship brings unity. Many of us are running around worshiping silly things. The things many of us are known for are not the things that will satisfy people. We need worship perimeters. We need some worship guidelines. We need someone to tell us these are the things you need to go after, and if you do then you will experience everlasting joy.
Theme: Worship priorities call us to the task of making much of Christ.
1. God’s Word sets our worship priorities—Ezra 9.10-14a.
In order to get this we need to go back to Ezra 9.10-14a [READ]. When a report is given to Ezra about what the people are doing after God has rescued them from slavery he is torn to shreds. Why is that? It is because Ezra understands the word of God has to say about this. Ezra understands the Israelites actions could result in their destruction. The actions of the Israelites are NOT a pursuit of joy.
The problem is NOT that the Israelites are not worshiping. No, the problem is they are worshiping the wrong stuff. They are not letting God’s Word tell them how to live a life of worship. The leading men of Israel were pursuing self-pleasure and not the pleasure of God and their neighbor—READ Ezra 9.2. And because it was the leading men the people were following them.
Now I want to pause and peer a little deeper into what was going on here to help us understand the severity of what is happening. Take a moment and look with in Ezra 10 to explore a few things—READ Ezra 10.3, 19. Notice how the translator of the ESV does not use the word “divorce”. Commentators believe the word here does not mean divorce because these men were not legally married to these women. All of the more literal translations do not use the word “divorce” here. What the scholars believe is happening is the Israelite men are partaking having sex with Gentile prostitutes. So much so some of them even had children with them. Biblically or spiritually speaking this would be like getting married to every prostitute you sleep with. This is how the NT explains this:
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”—I Corinthians 6.16
While these men are not “marrying” these women formerly, they are spiritually. They are taking multiple wives. So what is happening is these are being asked to stop partaking in prostitution because spiritually they are practicing polygamy. Jesus takes this issue even deeper:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.—Matthew 5.27-28
Just gives us even a higher priority in case we are tempted to believe we are better than anyone who struggles with this physically. I have not met one person in my life who can claim they have not fantasized about giving their heart to someone they know they are not supposed to.
Therefore what Ezra and some other leaders come up with are some solutions based on God’s Word. They give the people a need worship priority based on God’s Word and encourage Ezra to carry it out—READ Ezra 10.3-4. By using God’s Word this is not a matter of preferences but clear instruction from the One who knows what is best for everyone. Instead of people bickering back and forth about who has the best way to live we can depend on God’s instruction. There are many things in life God’s Word does not talk about, but it does help us gain wisdom. Therefore, whenever we face something in life we should look into God’s Word for instruction and if there is no clear instruction then we begin to look for wisdom.
2. Worship priorities are can be a struggle—Ezra 9.2, 5, 10.1, 3, & 15.
Now just because we get new priorities from God’s Word does not everything in our lives will now go smoothly. Let’s not forget there were “leaders” in Israel encouraging these practices (Ezra 9.2). Some of the leading men still did not want to stop what they were doing—READ Ezra 10.15. There is a debate among the scholars about this list given in Ezra 10.18-44. The list is not very large or exhaustive, but it seems from the story that the practice had become an epidemic. So some scholars believe the list was given to call out the leading men who refused to “put away” their practice of prostitution.
I think before we are to quick to write ourselves out of this story we must remember that idolatry is the Biblical equivalent spiritual adultery. According to the Bible if you are loving God with everything you have, every second of everyday, then you are committing spiritual adultery. This is even worse for the Christian because we have “covenanted” with God in a special way yet we still live this way—we are still tempted to live like the world. We are all tempted to ignore God, or say, “what does God have to do with this?”
How do we deal with people who refuse to change? I think we can find some helpful things by looking at Ezra’s response—READ Ezra 9.5-6. First, notice Ezra is upset because there are clear Biblical grounds for the problems He sees. These are not mere preferences, but sins against a perfectly glorious God. Ezra does not just go address the people directly, but prays, fast, and confesses sin. He does NOT say, “their iniquities and guilt”. No, Ezra says, “our iniquities...and our guilt.” As the people observe the brokenness Ezra has over the sin among all the people they become broken too—they follow their leader [READ Ezra 10.1]. So Ezra and the people literally physically and spiritually.
When everyone is broken over their sin the solution to the problem is still not easy. They are encouraged to take an oath—READ Ezra 10.3. This would have not been easy, because while they may have had illegitimate children they are still their children. When I read that some men in Ezra 10.15 I can sympathize with them, but ultimately they are being called to renew their trust and faith in God. They have been pursuing their own pleasure, their own glory, and now they cannot be trusted to live the way that glorifies God. While the solution seems harsh the sin is harsher.
This will happen friends. There have been many times when I have had to confront people and they do not like what I have to say. And for someone who struggles with “people-pleasing” this crushes me. But in those moments I am forgetting I am not hear to make much of my name, but I am here to pursuer the glory of Jesus Christ.
3. Worship priorities provide Christ-exalting motivations—Ezra 10.4-5.
So while Ezra could have stayed low, never come out of his prayer closet, that is not what happened [READ Ezra 10.4-5]. As he and some of the other leaders worked through this trial they come up a reasonable, bible-saturated, God-exalting plan.
The people gather around their spiritual leader and encourage him to do what God has revealed to him. With a strong community support Ezra does it. This is amazing on several levels to me. I will not have time to cover them all, but here are a few. First, this is amazing because this is not normal in life or in Scripture. Very rarely do we see so many people responding to their spiritual leaders this way when their sin has been laid out. Now why is that? Let me read a few Biblical reasons:
And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.—Ezekiel 36.27
...for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.—Philippians 2.13
What these text tell us is only God can change a heart, and only when a heart is changed can behavior be changed. God must give us new affections to change our lives. Change requires special revelation—which is what we call the Bible.
THEE special revelation of all special revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ. The point of the Bible is JESUS! It is Jesus who came not only teaching God’s Word, but cleared up all the confusion on Scripture. Through Jesus God has given us the highest worship priority. It was God the Father asked Jesus to “Arise, for it is your task...be strong and do it.” Jesus was obedient to the point of death even death on a Cross for our sins (Phil 2.8). And now because of Jesus we now have the Spirit of God writing the Word of God on our very hearts—changing our desires. Through the Gospel God is calling all of us to arise, for it is our task, be strong and do it. And like our Savior we are to arise to the task, and if we did we are promised we will ultimately be raised from the grave like Jesus.