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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The LORD Gives Laws for the Holiness of Daily Life
Text:Leviticus 19:1-37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-02-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 146:1,4,5                                                                              

Ps 19:3,5                                                                                                        

Reading – Leviticus 19:1-37

Ps 112:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Leviticus 19:1-37

Hy 63:1,2,4,6

Hy 28:5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in the Lord, did you notice the refrain in Leviticus 19? One phrase kept being repeated, verse after verse: “I am the LORD.” Or similar to that, “I am the LORD your God.” By my count, God says that refrain sixteen times—including at the very beginning and the very end, framing the whole chapter with this declaration of God.

Why does He keep saying this? Take another look at the content of this chapter. It’s a varied assortment of laws and instructions regarding worship, and family life, and business. In a way, it feels like a miscellaneous collection—there’s everything in here from Sabbath day observance, to agricultural practice, to employee relations. It is diverse, but something binds it together. It’s that refrain: “I am the LORD.”

That refrain is a constant reminder that all of life is lived before God’s face, and under his direction. His will is that we be holy in all we do, leading a life that is comprehensively devoted. Since the time of Leviticus, the diversity of life hasn’t changed. Our days are made up of many moving parts: responsibilities at work, relationships in the home and in the church, earning and spending, and much more. God has something to say about all this. As we go through life, He wants us to keep hearing that refrain, “Remember: I am the LORD your God.” Those are words that motivate us, and remind us why we’re here. God gives the framework and purpose for everything we do.

This chapter of Leviticus is part of another section in the book (chs 18-20) which reveals God’s will to his covenant people. It’s still about holiness, like much of Leviticus has been, but now God speaks more to issues of family, society, and work. God is giving his people guidance for many of the situations and opportunities of daily life. And as God’s redeemed people in Christ, we can benefit from the wisdom of these same laws! I preach the Word to you on this theme,

The LORD our God gives laws for the holiness of daily life:

1) laws for worship

2) laws for business

3) laws for neighbour love

 

1) laws for worship: The chapter opens with an all-encompassing command: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (v 2). God is insisting that because He is different, his people must be different, where we put away the natural and comfortable patterns of sin and we live by God’s design instead. The very first instruction that God gives relates to family life: “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father” (v 3). Holiness begins at home! There’s a couple things to observe about this command.

First, notice the order, “mother and father.” That’s unusual in the Old Testament, which almost always refers to the father first. This might be a way that God honours the valuable work that mothers do. Their work in the home can be overlooked taken for granted. We recognize the father as the head of the household, and the one earning the money to support the family, while we forget just how much important work is done by Mom. In many cases, Mom is the one managing the household, she is preparing meals, she is organizing and operating, and with Dad off to work, she is also shaping the character of the children. A faithful mother is an immense blessing to a family. So here God puts her first.

Second, notice that word “revere,” in “Revere your parents.” It’s notable that the same word is used in verse 14 and 32, but there it is used for fearing God. That teaches a child that his parents in some ways stand in the place of God. If you revere the LORD, then you’ll revere your parents. It also speaks to the holy task that parents have. Boys and girls, it’s through your parents that you learn what God is like, and you learn what God requires. So revere them!

Probably all of us make obedience dependent on how we’re feeling at the moment. If we’re tired, or grumpy, or upset by something, we can’t be bothered. Children too, have to struggle against an obedience that is inconsistent or conditional. Regardless of the kind of day that you had at school, strive to honour your mother and father.

“Keep my Sabbaths,” God says at the end of verse 3. He says it again in verse 30, “You shall keep my Sabbaths.” One day out of every seven, God gives a day so that everyone may rest, and everyone may worship. Verse 30 connects the Sabbath very tightly to the tabernacle: “Keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary.” This is the day when God’s people can meet with Him.

And God wants to meet with us. Underline the refrain in both Sabbath commands of verse 3 and 30, “I am the LORD your God.” He’s prompting us about that relationship we have with Him, a covenant of love. A relationship thrives only when people spend meaningful time together. And God gives us a special day each week to make sure this happens, when we can listen to his voice, and receive his blessing, and give our response of praise. If God is our LORD, then we’ll be eager to come to church whenever He calls us to: in the morning, and again in the afternoon.

The following verse too, relates to holy worship: “Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods” (v 4). God says this because He knows his people will always be sucked into idolatry, when we have something in which to put our trust instead of the true God.

The LORD builds a contrast into this command, though it’s something we can’t see in English translation. The Hebrew word for “idol” actually means something like “worthless” or “empty,” and its root meaning is something like “weakling.” Do not turn to what is useless! Just imagine we had the vision to see all our idols in this way: “I am trusting in other people, but in the end, they’re nothing. I am trusting in money, but it’s worthless. I like to rely on myself, but I’m just a big weakling.” And what’s the alternative? God gives us himself, “Do not turn to idols… I am the LORD your God” (v 4).

If we jump ahead to verses 26-31, we find other laws about how to worship the LORD. First is that law against eating blood (v 26), something we heard in chapter 17. Joined with that is this law against magical customs and practices: “Nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying” (v 26). Israel was about to enter Canaan, where the people tried in all sorts of creative ways to get in touch with the gods and learn their will. “Divination” is when you try to read omens and signs to predict the future. People saw messages in the sky, in the movement of the stars and planets, or in strange weather patterns. Or if you studied certain objects closely—like the entrails of an animal, or the swirling of liquid in a special cup—you might pick up a divine message too.

Verse 31 is a similar warning: “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them.” Some people had a special ability to contact the gods directly, or to speak with the spirits of people who had died. This practice too, was a temptation for Israel. That’s because of the stubborn human desire to know the future, to know the unknown. Still today, people try: they hope for a sign, listen for an inner voice, wait for a dream.

God insists that you don’t need to embark on this desperate search for his will. Why not? “I am the LORD,” He says. First, the future is under God’s control, so there’s no need for us to fear. Second, God has already granted us access to divine wisdom. In times past God spoke through dreams and visions and the prophets—today He gives us Scripture, which is breathed out by God. It’s useful for all of life. If you will know God’s will, be a student of Scripture!

Other pagan practice is mentioned in verses 27-28, “You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you.” These were probably pagan rituals for mourning; to display your grief you’d shave the hair at the sides of your head, or cut your beard in a strange fashion. And to show how devoted he was to the gods, a person might slash himself with a knife, or he would imprint marks onto his body.

But God here forbids anything that disfigures a person. We learn in the book of Leviticus that God values wholeness—that being physically whole is symbolic of being totally dedicated to God. This is why animals and even priests had to be without bodily defect. So God says if his people will worship him rightly, their external appearance has to be mirror of their heart.

These verses should make us think about the choices we make about our appearance. Back then, a tattoo was an explicitly pagan thing to wear on your skin, just like certain hairstyles were connected with the rituals of heathen worship. In our culture I don’t think we can say the same thing; we can’t say that a tattoo or even a certain kind of facial hair is inherently wrong, that it’s automatically a pagan practice and that it must be rejected.

But today, like back then, God seeks the holiness of our hearts. With what we wear, are his people conforming to the culture of the world? Are we trying to draw other people’s attention, whether shock, or admiration, or sexual desire? What is the heart behind our clothing and accessories, our hair, or our piercings? Or what kind of attitude is expressed by what you wear to church on Sunday? We will not lay down a dress code. Still, we need to reflect on the question: Does even our clothing and appearance express a spirit of holiness to God?

 

2) laws for business: When Israel got into the Promised Land, their days of slavery and then wandering would at last be over, and many would take up forms of business related to farming. And here too—in the world of income and expenses, marketing and hiring—they had to be devoted to God.

The first law that relates to this is verses 9-10, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard.” When bringing in the harvest, God said not to do “too good” of a job. And this was because the people had to think of “the poor and the stranger” (v 10).

In Israel, there would always be people who didn’t have enough. For instance, if a husband died young, his widow and children could become poor. If a person made bad financial decisions, he might have to sell their property and become a labourer. In Israel there were also strangers, people from other countries who chose to live in Israel but who didn’t have land to farm themselves. They too, were likely to be poor.

One of the ways that the poor were supported was being allowed to go through fields and vineyards after a harvest, and to collect the remnants. Don’t underestimate how this involved a sacrifice on the part of Israel’s farmers. Naturally, they would’ve wanted to get as much as they could from a harvest—this was their income, so leaving grain or grapes in the field was like leaving money on the ground. But God commands his people to be generous.

Even if we’re not farmers, there’s a link from those unharvested corners to today. We can be all about maximizing our profit, and we can be keen to hold onto every hard-earned dollar. But we must be aware of those around us. Don’t forget the widows and widowers. Don’t disregard those who have less, or who are suffering physical need. Don’t ignore those who are “strangers” among us, guests and visitors and new members. God doesn’t overlook them, and we shouldn’t either.

God also speaks to the matter of employee relations in verse 13: “The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning.” A farmer or business owner might hire a fellow Israelite, and it could be inconvenient to pay wages after each day’s work, but God reminds us that it is right to pay wages promptly. A hired person is always vulnerable, because you don’t want to challenge your boss. But God insists that employers be fair, and even merciful. That command applies just as well today to those who employ other people.

Verses 19-25 also relate to the life of agriculture. The first law is about the importance of boundaries: “You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you” (v 19). You can see that each part of this verse is about not mixing categories, whether breeding animals, planting seed, or making clothes. In Leviticus, there’s a lot of this kind of separation; it’s like a mirror to the world of humans, where God commands us to keep separate pure and impure, clean and unclean. God wanted to engrain this lesson in the people, to learn that in every aspect of their life, distinctions must be made, and boundaries maintained. 

That’s direction we still need. We’re immersed in a wicked world—its borders are very close to us. And our own hearts like to check things out on the other side. So we must think of what Romans 12:9 says, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” That requires us to make a lot of distinctions, like in Leviticus. Is this evil? Does this belong to the LORD, or to the devil? That’s a question for when we do business, and when we’re online, and choosing another movie, and weighing up a decision. Abhor what is evil, and cling to what is good.

In verses 23-25, there’s a law about fruit trees. “When you come into the land, and have planted all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as uncircumcised. Three years it shall be as uncircumcised to you. It shall not be eaten” (v 23). After planting, the people need to allow three years of growth before harvesting. Until that time, the trees are considered “uncircumcised.” That sounds strange, but think about what circumcision meant: it was a sign of God’s claim, a mark of his ownership. In the same way, God will claim these trees.

After three years to get established, in the fourth year the trees and fruit were considered holy, and the fruit is presented to God (v 24). This too is something that required a lot of trust. You plant your trees, you wait three years for them to grow, finally you have a decent crop, but then you present that to God—then at last, in the fifth year, you start to get a return.

As a business practice today, it’d be hard to imitate this exactly. But consider the powerful lesson: everything that we own is “circumcised,” consecrated to the LORD. That means that God’s priorities must always come first, even before our own comfort. From my own life, I know it’s easiest to give to God once I’ve made sure that I have enough myself: debts paid off, reserves topped up, wish list satisfied. Once I have enough myself, giving is more comfortable. But that fourth year for the Israelites was not comfortable! They were giving to God first, and trusting him to fill in the gaps. How does our giving compare?

A final law about business is verses 35-36, “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin.” When it came to marketing their goods, the people need to be totally honest. For there’s always a fuzziness possible when you’re doing business. You can deceive people about the job you’ve done, overcharge, trap them with the fine print—all to your own advantage.

But business practice too, is carried out before the face of God. See the following declaration in verse 36, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” This time, God is even more explicit about our motivation in holiness: He graciously saved us! So be gracious toward other people. Don’t take advantage of them, but be merciful and generous, like God has been towards us, in Christ Jesus his Son.

 

3) laws for neighbour love: An essential piece of being a child of God is joining God’s community. Sometimes we’d like to exist self-sufficiently and busy with only our own interests, but God places us in a web of connections with other people. And He has quite a bit to say about holy conduct in all these relationships.

For example, in verse 11-12 God tells us not to steal, or lie, or deceive, or swear falsely. We might do these things to gain advantage over others. But being holy means living in the truth and upholding order; lying and double-dealing only lead to contradiction and confusion. Similarly, verse 16 says, “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people.” This probably refers to Israel’s local courts, the gates of cities where criminal cases would be heard. In that setting, it was easy for neighbours to let personal feuds and animosities distort what they said about another person. That’s still true. We can hurt a person badly by being a tale-bearer or story-teller: letting rumours spread in the community, or making unfounded accusations. So God insists on integrity.

God is also concerned for the weak and disabled. See verse 14, “You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind.” Some cruel people dare to take advantage of those with disabilities, and laugh at their misfortune. But this verse is more than not mistreating them: God commands us to have a concern for them. Do we care for those in our community who are disabled? Do we try to ease their life, which is often very difficult?

Another kind of neighbour we have to treat with love are the elderly: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man” (v 32). Older members in the church can get overlooked. There’s the idea that their time of service is over, and we can put them on a shelf for their remaining years. But God calls us to give them respect. And if we see their long life as many years in which God has been teaching them his ways, then don’t forget that the older members have much to teach us.

An important law for neighbour relations comes in verse 17, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” Notice the challenge of this command, how it reaches all the way inside a person, to their heart, the root of our desires. Jesus teaches that it’s from the fullness of the heart that the mouth speaks, and from the root that we bear fruit.

And then instead of hating someone, or letting resentment build, God says, “You shall surely rebuke your neighbor” (v 17). Do you see how the LORD in his wisdom gives us an alternative to hatred, a remedy to bitterness? If you are feeling the build-up of hatred, if you are becoming irritated with someone, then either you decide it’s wrong for you to do so, and you let it go. Or, you go and speak about the problem with your brother so it can be resolved. Even when we’ve decided to rebuke someone, we have to go about it in the right way. A holy rebuke involves reasonable conversation, and it offers constructive criticism. There has to be a genuine interest in wanting to see the problem put aside.

The danger of letting hatred build is seen in verse 18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people.” When we allow anger to remain, when we foster our bitterness, it’s going to come out. God warns us not to be trapped in this cycle of hatred, because it will only lead to misery.

That’s contrasted with the latter half of verse 18, “But you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This call to love one’s neighbour is echoed by Jesus in Matthew 22, when He teaches the two great commandments. Now, a text as familiar as this one can be misunderstood. We sometimes think that love is strictly a feeling, and if we don’t have that feeling at the moment, then the activity is optional. But love is a choice, and it’s an action. Whether or not we naturally like another person, God requires us to treat him with love.

There are times when we’re very short on love. There are times when it’s immensely difficult to love someone. We need help with this, and need to go to the source of love: pray for God the Spirit to give it as his gift.

“You shall love your neighbour as yourself…” and then see how God underlines that command, “I am the LORD.” He reminds us again of who He is: He is the God who claims us as his covenant people. He is the God who saved us through the perfect love of his Son. He is the God who has given his Holy Spirit. Now we lead our life before his face. Because He loves us, God has something to say about everything we do. For his way is right, and his way leads to life.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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