Loving Leviticus

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” —C.S. Lewis

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
Matthew 5:38-48
Psalm 119:33-40

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time, or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor, and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19: 9-10 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: Biblical Living

The Book of Leviticus is famous for its rules. The Ten Commandments are there. So are rules concerning sexual morality, honor and dishonor, family and community interactions, plus standards of conduct and personal integrity. This week’s Old Testament Lectionary Scripture is from Leviticus 19, which is the next chapter after the one containing rules about sex. That often means Chapter 19 gets overlooked. But there is in the 19th chapter an important message about Law and Life and Love—too important to breeze through after a biblical sex-education lesson.

Let’s look a little closer…

Leviticus is the third of the five books of the Torah. When someone says “Old Testament Law” they’re talking about the Torah. But the Hebrew word actually means “guidance” not “law”. That’s not to diminish any aspect of the moral force of the rules God set down. But readers of the Biblical Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy should remember that there is much context here. Yes, the Torah guides us. It also affords us the rest of the story. God gives us the reasons why He made the rules in the first place. As we shall see, some were heavily contextualized in culture and have passed away with the new covenant, while others addressed the nature of mankind and were therefore transcendent throughout the generations.

The Torah begins, not with the Ten Commandments, but in the story of Creation, the Garden of Eden, the first man and woman. Adam and Eve had only one rule.

The story continues through the Fall and its consequences, the Flood, Abraham’s journey to a Strange Land, Famine, Slavery and Exodus. It is replete with heroes and cowards, victors and vanquished, glory and guilt, obedience and disobedience—all bound together with the constant thread of a gracious, generous God who passionately, faithfully loved His chosen people.

The Torah was given to people who already knew its story. Moreover, they had just lived through its most recent chapter. They knew the sting and shame of captivity. They knew the awesome joy of being magnificently and miraculously delivered from slavery and death at the hands of Pharaoh’s army. God’s Law was His good gift to a group of ex-slaves who needed it, who would thrive and be blessed if they obeyed it.

This is important: Obeying the Law was never a way to earn God’s salvation. On the contrary, obedience to godly principles is the response of people who are saved by God’s grace.

The Old Testament Law was about more than just rules, it was about relationship. The Law was not given to keep God happy. Rather, it was a guide to a way of life that revealed to all the nations what a godly nation looks like. Its objective was blessings and love and freedom, not strictures and punishment. God gave the Law in order to shape a society that would reflect His good character. The Israelites were to be distinctive by living up to God’s standards of personal integrity, economic and social justice, and community compassion.

“I am the LORD your God” is repeated fifteen times in Leviticus 19. If you read that and hear “because I said so,” you’re missing the point.

This is the point: He. Loves. You.

In Leviticus 19:9-10, we read how God wants us to care about the less fortunate among us. In other words, Don’t take everything you can actually get your hands on, my child. Leave something for those in need. Bless them as I have blessed you. Love them as I have loved you. I am the LORD your God.

Do you require a law, Christian, to get that?

The Torah was intended to train selfish, fallen people to care about each other, to love one another, more like God does. Our allegiance to these principles need not be legislated, nor should it have to be:

When I’m hungry, and you bring me a meal, I don’t care whether you’re Catholic or Methodist, Pentecostal or Orthodox.

When I’m homeless and you give me shelter, I don’t care if you’re evangelical or liberal.

When I’m in the hospital, and you visit me, I don’t care whether you like traditional or contemporary worship music.

When I’m heartbroken, and you grieve with me, I don’t care which Bible translation you read.

When you do these things out of love for me, I will want to know where you got that love and whether it’s real…

You may command the most seamless and biblically based theology, but if you can’t deliver it with love, kindness, and humility—it’s worthless. (See 1 Corinthians 13 for more on that…)

Don’t get us wrong. Theology is important—critically important. But when you turn theology into an agenda, it corrupts the nature of selfless love. The gospel message becomes propaganda; friends become customers, and your relationship with your Father-God turns into, well—a set of rules.

It’s Monday Morning. This week ask yourself not, “What rules do I have to keep?” but rather, “How does my relationship with Father-God inspire me to live?” This week, learn to love Leviticus.

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