How is it that Ezra, a devout man of God and leader of the entire rebuilding enterprise, missed the fact that the leadership of the people of God were committing a great sin?
To put it simply, his focus was too narrow.
Ezra was concerned with the rebuilding of the Temple. He was planning the rebuilding of the wall. He was thinking about the resettlement of Israelites back into Jerusalem. He was working out all of the little details about who would do what and what they would need and how long it would take them and what was still vulnerable to outside attack and how to build buy-in and how to get more persons on board and...and on and on and on the list goes with the massive project that was right in front of him. At the end of the day, Ezra was not thinking about what the men might be doing in their own homes; he was thinking about what they had accomplished at the build site and what they would need to work on tomorrow. The private lives of the men was off his radar...because enough persons were watching their public lives.
This is one of the greatest tensions felt by church leadership even today, although really, it shouldn't be. Pastors and elders all across this country, at least (perhaps the world, but in places where the church is more localized, this tends to be less of a problem), are trying to figure out how it is that they grow their congregation.
They are thinking about their programming, about their Sunday morning services and their mid-week offerings. They are thinking about small groups and online Bible studies and children's classes. Summer is coming, so they are thinking about vacation Bible schools and week-long retreats. They are thinking about community groups and community service projects and church outreaches. They are thinking about missions and missionaries and the ongoing work that never seems to stop. They are thinking about the messages on their church signs and how often the church lawn gets mowed.
They are planning vacations and trying to figure out who fills the pulpit in their absence. They are dealing with broken-down air conditioning units and holes in the ceiling and doors that don't quite shut all the way. They are looking at their churches, constantly, through the eyes of the consumers that may walk through their doors and they are trying to fortify their walls. They are trying to build up their weak spots, defend their open places, make sure that work continues to progress on the most important thing of all, it seems: building the church.
With this kind of emphasis, it's easy to lose sight of what's actually happening in the lives of the men (and women, of course) already in the church. It's easy to lose sight of what's actual important on this holy ground - and that is the building of holy lives. That is the discipleship of the members. That is the leading and guiding of men into holy living that is good and glorifying and pleasing to God.
And then, all it takes is for someone to come in and tell the pastor, tell the elders what's up and all of a sudden, like Ezra, it all comes into focus. All it takes is for someone to say, "Wow. This church is full of domestic abusers" or "Can you believe all the pornography these men are looking at?" or "Did you hear how much gossip the women are spreading?" All it takes is for one person that you're hoping will be impressed by the programming to walk in and comment on the character of the church and...wow. Ouch.
In that one breath, you realize all the things you've been missing because you've been too narrowly focused on good, but not whole, things. Because you've had your sights set so much on the physical work, you haven't seen the spiritual sickness that is spreading through the people of God.
Let us not be like Ezra. Let us not be a people so concerned with building the Temple that we neglect the holiness of the persons inside. Let us not be a people who so lose sight of things that we have to be reminded by those we have known were watching us all along.
Let us rather be men accountable to God on all things and more interested in living holy lives than building holy places.