3 Practical Faith Lessons from Leviticus
If you’ve been joining us in worship recently, you know that we’ve been digging into Leviticus—perhaps the least loved, least read, least understood book of the Bible—to see what this ancient biblical law book has to say to us today. For this month’s edition of The Voice, I want to share just a few of the priceless lessons we find waiting for us in the pages of Leviticus. Here are three practical faith lessons for today from this much neglected portion of God’s most holy word:
1.) Our lives should look different from the rest of the world. God told the people of Israel, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Lev 20:26). The laws in Leviticus draw us a picture of a life lived God’s way, a life lived according to God’s values and not according to the values and traditions of worldly cultures. The people of Israel were called to worship differently, eat differently, dress differently, practice personal hygiene differently, treat their fellow human beings differently, and so on and so forth. As Christians, most of these detailed levitical laws don’t apply to us in the same way that they did to Israel back then, but the overarching principle is timeless: We’re meant to live our lives according to God’s will as revealed to us in the whole testimony of the Bible. We see that testimony spelled out most clearly in Jesus. If the world thinks we’re weird for following Jesus and living according to the teaching of Scripture, that’s okay. We should expect it. It will be hard sometimes. It will put us in awkward situations. We will miss out on some things that our friends and neighbors won’t. That’s okay, too, because Jesus is better, and with him, we have all we need. Let’s dare to be different. Let’s be boldly weird for Jesus.
2.) We need spiritual guidance from a source outside of ourselves. God provided the people of Israel with two vital forms of spiritual guidance. First and foremost, he revealed himself and his will to them through his prophet, Moses. This was written down and preserved for them in Leviticus and the other books of the Law. The Law gave Israel an objective standard for regulating their lives, especially their spiritual lives. Second, God gave them each other, their fellow Israelites, together with designated worship leaders, the priests and other Levites. This provided the people with fellowship, support, accountability, and trustworthy spiritual leadership. Leviticus shows us that the spiritual life can’t be lived in a solitary manner. Today, we still need objective guidance from God and daily support from reliable Christian friends and teachers. The world tells us, “follow your heart, create your own truth, live your deepest desires.” The prophet tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Jesus Christ himself tells us, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander” (Matt 15:19-20). Our hearts are unruly; we need someone to come in and rule them for us. Now more than ever, we need God’s enduring word—the Bible—to show us the truth. Now more than ever, we need the support of God’s people—the Church—as we walk in the way that leads to life.
3.) The way we treat other people reflects our relationship with God. God told the Israelites, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:18). Notice how God announces his covenant name (YHWH, traditionally rendered “the Lord” in English translations) at the end of that most famous verse from Leviticus. This is both his stamp of approval and a reminder of his right to make this demand on us. Our responsibility to treat other people with love instead of violence and ill will is rooted in the character and authority of God. God has the right to tell us how to relate to one another. Vengeance and other such things are God’s business (Rom 12:19), not ours. Our business is to reflect the love of God onto our relationships with others: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Leviticus shows us that loving our neighbor is about more than just being nice to people and not harming them. In that same section of Leviticus 19 alone, we find that loving our neighbor also involves the following: being considerate of the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves (Lev 19:9-10), dealing honestly with one another (Lev 19:11-12), treating people who work for us fairly (Lev 19:13), showing kindness and compassion toward people who face physical challenges (Lev 19:14), performing our civic duties with selfless integrity (Lev 19:15-16), and maintaining a peaceful and reasonable attitude in the midst of disagreements (Lev 19:17). Every one of these love lessons from Leviticus is restated and reinforced by our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels. When we treat our neighbors in ways that don’t reach this high standard of love, we cease to fully reflect the God we claim to love and serve. Do we say we love God? Great! Let’s prove it by treating all sorts of people in all sorts of situations with mercy, honesty, fairness, kindness, compassion, selfless integrity, peacefulness, and reasonability. Leviticus shows us that neighbor-love isn’t some lofty, fluffy, hopelessly abstract concept. Neighbor-love is so hard because it’s the most practical thing in the world.
I hope these three faith lessons challenge and inspire you in your life with Christ today and in the days to come. Come join us on Sunday morning as we gather around God’s word once again. May his richest blessings be upon you and your household as you seek to know him more.
Dr. Nick McRae
Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Decatur