He Set His Heart

September 20, 2022

The Babylonian Captivity is difficult to imagine. The temple was destroyed, and much of Israel’s religious practice had to cease. How do you keep the faith alive in such a hostile environment? Part of the answer is found in the life of Ezra, a priest and scribe.

“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10, ESV)

Set His Heart to Study the Law. The phrase “set his heart” is the main verb of this sentence followed by three infinitives, things that Ezra does. Let me suggest that Ezra sets his heart to do each of them, to study, to do, and to teach.* The first thing to notice is that Ezra as priest and scribe studied the law. But I appreciate how it is expressed: “Ezra had set his heart.” The verse not only expresses the idea of Ezra studying but also the commitment that Ezra made to study. Commitment is important in accomplishing goals. As a scribe, Ezra may have made hand copies of Bible scrolls. Having grown up in a world with photo copiers, it is difficult for me to imagine hand copying anything of significant length, but I suspect the discipline would make the text of a copied book very familiar. Study takes effort because it is more than reading. It is the attempt to understand. It involves working through some difficult passages. It requires understanding certain passages in light of other passages.

He Set His Heart to Do It. The study of the Bible is not to be just an intellectual exercise. It is to be applied and lived. Ezra understood that and modeled it. We have sayings like “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” The reality is we need both, but the saying emphasizes that we need to see it lived. Those who proclaim God’s word must also walk the walk. People must see in us that we take the Word of God seriously in our own life. The scripture must be transforming those of us who preach and teach. Ezra is a positive example of this.

He Set His Heart to Teach. In Ezra 8, we see that Ezra is commissioned to return to Jerusalem. He is a prepared man for an important work. When he arrives in Jerusalem, he is confronted with a problem, “the people have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations” (9:1). Teaching also includes correction. One of the great teaching scenes in the Old Testament is in Nehemiah 8:1. The people are gathered to the Water Gate in Jerusalem. Ezra reads from the law from early morning to midday. Helpers were moving among the crowd to help the people to understand (Neh. 8:7).

Ezra had a tremendous task of bring Israel back to Torah. And in fulfilling that task, he leaves us a powerful example. We also need to study scripture, practice scripture, and teach scripture. Ezra was faithful in these things because of his commitment. He set his heart.

—Russ Holden

*Devotions on the Hebrew Bible, ed. Milton Eng and Lee M. Fields; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 161.  


Simplicity and Purity of Devotion

August 12, 2022

The apostle Paul had great concern for the church at Corinth because they were allowing themselves to be led astray by false teachers who were preaching a different Jesus, a different Spirit, and a different gospel (see 
2 Corinthians 11:4). The church was being deceived and Paul had to address this problem. He writes, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3 NAS95) The devil is crafty. His goal is to lead our minds away from Christ through subtle false teachings. It is easy to be taken in, so we must be on the alert.

Notice in this verse how our devotion to Christ is described. Our devotion to Him is supposed to be simple, or sincere. In other words, it is to be heartfelt, genuine, and plain. Our devotion is to be pure. Our devotion to Him is not to be mixed with other extraneous or unnecessary things. Simple and pure devotion—this is what the Lord wants.

But it is very easy to be deceived and to be led astray from God’s ideal. This is especially true when it comes to our worship, which is an expression of our devotion to Him. Sometimes people want glitz and glam in worship. Sometimes the focus becomes great music, a dynamic speaker, dramatic stage settings, or funny and emotional stories. It is so easy for our focus to be turned from sincere and pure devotion of the heart to external things (sights, sounds, atmosphere, etc.). Before we know it, our worship is no longer about devotion to Christ at all, but about our own desires.

Do you see a brother sitting in quiet reverence, singing a simple hymn from the heart to God? Though there may not be much to see externally, and though the fleshly-minded may be thoroughly unimpressed, God is pleased because He sees simple, sincere devotion to Christ! Do you see a sister quietly bowing her head as she partakes of the bread and the cup, just like she does every Lord’s Day? Again, there is not much going on externally. The world may think such a thing to be lifeless and uninteresting, but that’s not what God thinks! God sees simple and pure devotion to Jesus, and it is pleasing to Him!

Let us not be deceived. Let us not be led astray by Satan’s craftiness. Let us not get caught up in the thinking of the world. Simple, pure devotion to Jesus is what pleases our God. Let us offer it to Him on this Lord’s Day.

—Scott Colvin