Nehemiah 7-8:8

“So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard” (8:2). For generations, Israel’s story focused on whether or not their kings were faithful. Now, post-exile, Israel was dependent on the Persians and had no real king. Leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah (priest and governor) realized that rebuilding Israel depended on the whole community following God’s ways. So Ezra read aloud God’s Word and the Levites clearly explained the content to the people (v8).

“And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (8:3). Leaders are important, but God’s desire is that “all the people” know and love Him.

I Corinthians 6:9-20

“So glorify God in your body” (v20). Some Corinthian believers were committing sexual sin and justifying it by the local philosophy: “All things are lawful for me.” Paul said that something being legal wasn’t the point; the point is that our bodies are temples of God’s Spirit, and sexual immorality is not “helpful” but instead destructive. “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord” (v13). We are united with Christ, and so we should not use our bodies in ways that dishonor Him (v15).

“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (v20). Our bodies belong to Christ, who gave Himself on the cross so that we could be forgiven and redeemed.

I Corinthians 6:1-8

“Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers …?” (v5-6). Paul’s era was very litigious; people took each other to (civil) court over everything. Paul wanted the believers to realize that they were part of a new spiritual family (and family relationships mattered) and that they could settle their own minor disputes. His advice was not meant to cover up real crimes, but to encourage believers to deal with one another honestly (v8).

“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world” (v2). The judgment of the world is in the future; we are called now to pursue truth, holiness, and mercy within God’s own household.

Psalm 101

“I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house” (v2). The psalmist pledged himself to follow “the way that is blameless,” God’s way, rather than simply say the right words or offer sacrifices. It wasn’t enough to identify as one of God’s people; the psalmist wanted to personally uplift “steadfast love and justice” (v1) and to reject lies, perversion, slander, and arrogance (v4-7).

“He that walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me” (v6). More than our appearance or public identity, how we “walk” (our daily lives) reveals our heart’s commitment to the Lord.

I Corinthians 6:1-11

It is embarrassing (v5) that those who have the wisdom of God need the services of worldly courts – “the unrighteous” (v1) to settle problems. That it has gotten to lawsuits is “already a defeat” for all parties. (v6) The people of God should have “one among you wise enough to settle a dispute” (v5).

The goal for the believer is reconciliation not just being proven right. This responsibility is greater than asserting one’s rights. (v7) If we went by what was right, we would have gotten judgment from God rather than being “washed” and “sanctified.” When we live by asserting “our rights” as the standard, we live below the glory of God’s Kingdom.

I Corinthians 5

Paul is astonished that the Corinthians have not dealt with sexual immorality “that is not tolerated even among the pagans” (v1). Paul calls for drastic discipline for two reasons “so that (the immoral man’s) spirit may be saved” (v5) and because the sin affects the community – “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (v6). Paul makes a clear statement that while we dissociate from a member of our community in unrepentant, gross sin – we do not separate from sinful people in the world. (v10)

It is easy to judge those outside of the faith and ignore the sin in our lives. Indignation against the world’s sin can become an excuse for us to not deal with our own.

Nehemiah 8

The people are gathered and Ezra helps the people understand the law – God’s Good Covenant with his people. The people are overwhelmed and “worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (v6). The people wept, but the leaders say, “do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (v10). The people are commanded to celebrate the feast of booths (14)… the festival celebrating God’s provision upon leaving Egypt. With a renewed understanding of God’s covenant the people celebrate.

When we truly know what God has done for us and that he has made us his people we will live with a strengthening joy and purpose and there will be a “very great rejoicing” (17).

Nehemiah 6:15, 7

After much opposition, the wall is finished because of the “help of our God” (6:16). Though the wall was finished, the “people within it were few.” (7:4). A census of the people provided the information to re-populate the city. The various roles needed for the Holy City - priests, Levities, gatekeepers, singers and servants were all found among the people. Wealth was also provided for this new beginning. (vs 68-72).

The new residents of the Jerusalem were those who “came up out of the captivity of those exiles” (7:6). Through all the years of exile and though the work of rebuilding had been opposed, God has kept his promise to preserve His people. God never forgets those who are His.

Nehemiah 6:1-14

Nehemiah’s archrival, Sanballat, continues to oppose Nehemiah. He attempts to lure Nehemiah away “to do me harm” (v2). Sanballat then attempts to blackmail Nehemiah with false rumors of Nehemiah’s treason, “you wish to become their king” (v6). Finally, Sanballat tempts Nehemiah (through a so-called friend Shemaiah v12) to break God’s law (v11,13) and enter the Holy Place for his own safety.

Our archrival, Satan, may try to harm us, or threaten us or tempt us, but if we cry out, “God, strengthen my hands” (v9), God is faithful to help us resist the enemy and to stand faithful in the time of testing.

Nehemiah 3-5

Nehemiah and God’s people had faced an external enemy (chp 4) of the rebuilding the temple. Now they face the internal enemies of economic inequality… “it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields” (v5) and greed “you are exacting interest each from his brother.” (v7). Nehemiah is angered at the situation (vs6) and reminds the wealthy that what they “are doing is not good” (v9). Nehemiah leads by example and refuses to accept the large allowance due him. (v15)

As God’s people we do not live by the economic principles of the world but by generosity. Instead, we “walk in fear of our God” (v9), seeking to bless rather than to gain.

Psalm 100

The Psalmist commands us to “make a noise, serve the Lord, enter His presence and give thanks” for two reasons: first, because we are His (v3) and secondly because He is good (v5). These two reasons together motivate us to worship. If we are not His, what He is like doesn’t matter. If we are His, but he isn’t good, it is terrifying.

True Worship is a “joyful noise” and “glad service” (v1, 2). We express our gratitude and thanksgiving (v4) to our God by words of praise and acts of obedience. A God who is both powerful and good is worthy of our full worship.

I Corinthians 4:7-21

“We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute” (v10). Somehow, the Corinthians had gone from being grateful for their salvation to being arrogant about it. They had forgotten that everything they had received were gifts from God (v7); instead, they were “puffed up” like royalty (v6-7). In contrast, Paul said Jesus-followers were marked not by arrogance, but humility: “when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat” (v12-13).

“We are fools for Christ’s sake” (v10). True humility and self-sacrifice will always look foolish in a world that idolizes winning, yet it is the way of our King.

I Corinthians 4:1-6

“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (v5). Paul and other leaders were being criticized by the Corinthians, compared with one another, and Paul warned them about the dangers of judging. We see outward things like skills or appearance, but the Lord sees “the purposes of the heart.” He knows us better than we know ourselves (v3-4).

“Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (v5). We live to please the Lord, not other people. His standards are higher, and He sees our hearts.

Nehemiah 2

“You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem …” (v17). After much prayer and receiving royal permission (since he served the Persian king), Nehemiah made the months-long journey to Israel. There, he rode around the city to inspects it ruined walls, finally revealing to Israel’s leaders that Gad called him there to supervise the rebuilding. Hearing these encouraging words from Nehemiah, the leaders “strengthened their hands for the good work” (v18).

“Let us rise up and build” (v18). Alone, we easily become discouraged and apathetic. God gives us wise leaders “for building up and not for tearing down” (II Cor 13:10).

Nehemiah 1

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned …” (v4). Nehemiah reacted dramatically to the fact that God’s people in Jerusalem were in “great trouble and shame.” First, he wept “for days,” and then he prayed. He confessed (v6-7) his own and Israel’s sins, admitting that their unfaithfulness had landed them in this terrible situation. Nehemiah then asked for help based on Israel’s relationship with the Lord: “They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand” (v10).

When we humbly ask for help, God hears us because He is “the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love …” (v5).

Ezra 10

“We have broken faith with our God …” (v2). The survival of the small group of Jews who had returned to Israel depended on being a holy people, dedicated to God’s ways. Intermarrying with their pagan neighbors meant that their children would be raised in other religions, idolatry would return, and the Jews would cease to exist as a separate people. Therefore, while there was precedent for God-fearing spouses to be accepted (like Ruth and Rahab), all others were sent back to their original families (v19).

“The people wept bitterly” (v1). While the New Testament teaches patience rather than divorce (I Cor 7:13), God’s desire is still that families serve Him together, to save us from grief.

Ezra 9

“Behold, we are before you in our guilt …” (v15). Ezra the priest was horrified at the disobedience of Israel’s leaders who had only recently returned from exile. After being conquered by Babylonians and now dependent on the Persians, the Jews had miraculously been allowed to return to their own land, yet they defied God by intermarrying with pagan peoples (v14). The fact that God had punished them “much less” than their sins deserved (v13) unfortunately did not make them obedient.

“Favor has been shown by the Lord” (v8). God pours out grace so that, being forgiven, we will not return to our sins, but walk in “newness of life” (Rom 6:4).

Psalm 99

“Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name. They called to the LORD, and he answered them” (v6). The psalmist saw that God’s interaction with these honored men was the way God desired to interact with all Israel, and the whole world. “The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples” (v2). One day, “all the peoples” would experience the love of Israel’s God, and they would praise His awesome name (v3).

“O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them” (v8). Not just Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, but all of us, through Christ, can know the forgiving God who answers us.

I Corinthians 3:10-23

“Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (v16). Paul says that together, we are God’s temple built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Everything we have has been given to us by God (so we have no reason to boast, v21), and we are precious to Him. As we keep our eyes on this truth, we have the chance to participate in “work” which glorifies Jesus, rather than ourselves or other leaders, and will last for eternity (v10-15).

“For all things are yours … and you are Christ’s, and Christ’s is God’s” (v21-23). With great humility, we live in complete confidence as sons and daughters of the Creator.

I Corinthians 3:1-9

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (v7). Paul said that the Corinthian tendency to “hero worship” their spiritual leaders (v3-6) showed a dangerous immaturity. Putting human leaders up on a pedestal distracted people from Jesus and also provoked “jealousy and strife” (v3). Every leader had a different gift and different part of play in building up the church: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (v6).

The “solid food” (v2) of the truth reminds us that there are no rock stars in God’s kingdom except Jesus Christ. All other leaders are “servants through whom you believed” (v5).