Leviticus 19:11-18 ~ 20161113 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
11/13 Leviticus 19:11-18; Practical Holiness 2; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20161113_leviticus-19_11-18.mp3
Leviticus 19 is all about holiness. The chapter opens commanding "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." So Leviticus 19 is a theologically rich chapter. God is holy. So in this chapter we learn something about what God is like. We are to be holy because God is holy. God is holy, but we need something tangible to understand what holiness means. This chapter gives us a practical description of what holiness looks like. And one of the things we see about holiness is that holiness is not compartmentalized. Holiness is all over the map. Holiness touches every area of life. The first 10 verses touched issues of respect for authority, proper use of time, warnings against idolatry, observance of God's instructions for worship, and care for the poor in a way that maintains human dignity. The next 8 verses that we will look at today deal with how we relate to other people; integrity, personal property rights, honesty, truthfulness, respect for God's reputation, not taking advantage of those who are weak or vulnerable, justice and impartiality in the legal system, slander, perjury, hate, confrontation, vengeance, grudges, love. The issues range from the family unit to business dealings and employer employee relationships to our responsibility to the poor and underprivileged, foreigners and displaced, to our relationship with God in worship, to our relationship with every person we come in contact with, particularly those we don't get along well with. Holiness is comprehensive. It deals with all of life.
Verses 1-10 fall into four sections, each concluding with the phrase "I am the LORD your God." Verses 11-18 also divides into four sections, each concluding with the phrase "I am the LORD." The final section, verses 19-37 uses these two phrases 4 times each intermittently.
It is important to say again that Leviticus 19 comes after Leviticus 16. Leviticus 16 is the great day of Atonement where the people of God were freed from all their sin. Now, having been forgiven and cleansed, what does life in relationship with a holy God look like?
Stealing, Lying, False Witness, and the NAME
Verses 11 and 12 begin by quoting the 8th command, summarizing the 9th and then referring back to the 3rd.
“You shall not steal.” This is quoted almost exactly from Exodus 20:15. Except in Exodus, the commands are all in the 2nd person singular. You (individually) shall not steal. Here this command is changed to the plural. You (plural - all of you) shall not steal. If we lived in Texas, we could translate it ‘Y’all shall not steal!’ Why the change to the plural here? Why in this passage are some of the commands in the singular, addressing individuals, and some of the commands in the plural, addressing the community? Holiness is not only an individual thing. There is a corporate aspect to holiness. You and I must strive for holiness personally, but we as a group must strive to keep one another accountable to be a holy people. We together must be holy.
Personal property rights are protected here. You have the right to own something. And no one has the right to take what is yours away from you by force, by deceit or by manipulation. Do not take what does not belong to you.
“You shall not deal falsely. You shall not lie to one another.” There is an echo here of the 9th command.
And the 10th command gets behind the 9th to explain why someone might lie or deal falsely.
Stealing, dealing falsely, lying; all this is rooted in our desires. As James says,
We have passions, we have desires, we covet, we want. We are at war within. So we quarrel, we fight, we even murder to get what we want.
Leviticus 6 already alerted us to the possibility of this kind of sin and the proscribed sacrifice and restitution.
Stealing, lying, bearing false witness can take many forms. Our unruly desires that wage war in our hearts could even cause us to violate the 3rd command.
The 3rd command in Exodus reads:
Our desires could lead us to take an oath in court by the name of YHWH, and lie in order to get what we want, and this would be to treat his holy name as common or to use it in a meaningless worthless way.
Oppression, Wages, the Disabled, and Fear of God
Stealing can take many forms; using, pressing oneself upon a neighbor, taking advantage of by deceit, or outright robbery.
Even delaying to pay wages is a form of stealing. Proverbs says:
Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt.6:11), and often the laborer is dependent on that days wages for food for that day.
Holiness is broad enough to include how to treat those who are disabled or vulnerable. Cursing the deaf who cannot hear you cursing them, even if no harm comes to them is wrong. Putting a stumbling block in front of the blind who has no way of seeing what you are doing may bring harm to the blind person, or may just humiliate him, but either way this is wrong. The blind may never know who wronged them, the deaf may never even know they have been mistreated, but God knows. The motive for treating the vulnerable with respect and dignity is the fear of God. God is the one who will defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Injustice, Partiality, Slander, Perjury
Justice is to be upheld. Righteousness is to prevail. So far this chapter has encouraged care for the poor, for the foreigner, for the disabled. But matters of justice must be blind to social status. Partiality to the poor is just as evil as deference to the great. It is wrong to acquit the guilty because he is in a difficult situation. It is wrong to overlook the guilt of the great because they are powerful. What is right and just must decide each case.
“You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people.” One way to harm a person is to attack them in court. Another way is to attack them with your words. James warns of the dangers of the tongue, and the New Testament has much to say against gossip and backbiting and slander. “You shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor” This is another way of stating the 9th command.
Justice depends on the truthfulness of testimony. In 1 Kings 21, Jezebel arranged for false witnesses to falsely accuse Naboth of a capital crime so that he would be executed and she could take his vineyard for her husband Ahab. Who is to stop someone from testifying falsely? “I am the LORD”
Hate, Rebuke, Vengeance, Grudges, Love
This gets down to the motive and response of the heart, and it gives practical instruction in what to do in difficult situations. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” It is not enough to keep your hatred hidden where no one sees and no one knows. Holiness extends to the inner thoughts and intents of the heart. Holiness penetrates even to the innermost feelings, attitudes and emotions. God cares as much with how you think and feel as with what you say and do.
But you don’t understand what he did to me! He tricked me out of my birthright and he stole my blessing! Don’t hate your brother in your heart. But how? I can’t help it! “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” This is what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 18.
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge.” Instead you shall reason frankly with your neighbor. Go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If your brother sins against you, confront him. In all humility, with all gentleness and patience, reason frankly with him. Confront him “lest you incur sin because of him.” Often being sinned against leads to sin that you will be held accountable for. This could be your sin of hatred, bitterness, holding a grudge, even taking vengeance. This could be your sin of failing to confront him and so prevent him from continuing in his sin.
We have a responsibility to those who wrong us, to care for them, to love them. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.” It is as difficult to give a rebuke with love in a spirit of humility and gentleness as it is to receive a rebuke with humility and learn from it.
The Spirit and the New Covenant
But how do we do this? How do we not bear a grudge? How do we not slander? How do we not hate our brother in our heart? How can we love our neighbor as ourselves, especially a neighbor who has wronged us? You can't just muster up from within yourself the will to obey these commands. It's not natural to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, much less a neighbor who has wronged you. That is not natural; it is supernatural. That is nothing less than a work of the Holy Spirit of God. The power to obey these commands comes from the Spirit in the New Covenant.
We see this even in the structure of Leviticus. In chapter 16 we are freely forgiven of all our sins based on the sacrifice of a substitute. Now that we have experienced forgiveness, we are told to replace hatred with love. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Where does love like this come from?
The ability to love our enemies comes from the experience that we, who were God’s enemies were so loved.
God loved those who had sinned against him.
God loved us, his enemies. We can love only because he first loved us. He showed us how to love our enemies. He shows us how it feels as enemies to be loved. Now that we have experienced grace, total undeserved unmerited love, we can begin to find joy in extending this same kind of love to those around us who deserve it least, to those who have personally wronged us.
Do not hate, do not hold on to bitterness or slander another person. You can let go of a grudge and forgive even the most grevious offenses because the cross shows you just how much you have been forgiven in Christ.
You might say ‘If it were just once I could forgiven them, but they have done the same thing to me over and over and over again.’ Jesus says to you ‘You whipped my back until the flesh hung like ribbons.’ But this attack was so personal. You spat in my face. But they have offended me so deeply I just can’t get it out of my mind. You pounded a crown of thorns deep into my skull. But they have wronged me and there’s nothing I can do about it. They’ve damaged my reputation. My hands are tied. You nailed my hands and my feet to a cross so I could barely breathe. But they humiliated me publicly. You stripped me of my clothes and suspended me publicly for all to mock. But this offence goes so deep it pierces my very heart. You ran a spear up through my side and into my heart. But I feel like I have been discarded. Thrown away. Locked up. Forgotten. You put me in a cave and sealed the entrance with a heavy stone. But I feel like there is no hope for me. I just can’t forgive. I am the resurrection and the life!
To bear a grudge is a heavy burden to bear. Would you be free from your burden today? Jesus says:
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org