Paying What you Owe?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Tithing is simply paying, not giving—you can’t give what you owe, you pay it—the first portion of the increase of your income back to the One who gave it to you as your worshipful recognition of his ownership and rulership of all that is you. Tithing is an unleashing of the storehouse of heavenly treasure laid up for your pleasure—not pleasure in the sense of fleshly lusts, but in the sense of the enjoyment that comes from using your time, talent and treasure for the glory of God.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 27:26-28

You may not dedicate a firstborn animal to the Lord, for the firstborn of your cattle, sheep, and goats already belong to him. However, you may buy back the firstborn of a ceremonially unclean animal by paying the priest’s assessment of its worth, plus 20 percent. If you do not buy it back, the priest will sell it at its assessed value.

You don’t give what you owe—you pay it!

A lot of people these days will push back on any teaching on tithing as something that was under the law, not grace; as legalistic obedience and not loving surrender. There are preachers who never preach on it (often as a reaction to preachers who have over-preached on it), churches that don’t receive public offerings (you surreptitiously drop it into a box on the way out of church) and people who abandon the church as soon as the subject of money comes up.

But if the spirit of the law is still in play—in other words, if the Old Testament represents the values that God wants his people to live out—then what is the role of giving in the life of the believer today? Do we owe God anything—not just spiritually, but materially. It is still appropriate to honor God, recognize his rightful ownership of everything we have anyway, and sanctify our wealth by worshipfully giving it to God in our offerings? I think so. And I would offer God’s inexplicable blessings in my life as Exhibit A that is pays to tithe.

That’s right—it pays to tithe. Tithing is simply paying, not giving—you can’t give what you owe, you pay it—the first portion of the increase of your income back to the One who gave it to you as worshipful recognition of his ownership and rulership of your life.

But here’s the deal: when you pay your bill, worshipfully speaking, it is not really a debit to your account. No, it is an investment of God’s money in an eternal stock in a venture owned and operated by God that the Lord himself guarantees will yield impossible, eternal, ever-increasing return on investment. Tithing is an untying of God’s hands to bless you. Tithing is an unleashing of the storehouse of heavenly treasure laid up for your pleasure—not pleasure in the sense of fleshly lusts, but in the sense of the enjoyment that comes from using your time, talent and treasure for the glory of God. When you tithe and become generous in your giving to the things of God, you become a conduit: the more you give, the more God gives you to give, so that when you give, God gives you more. Crazy, but it’s the economy of the Kingdom.

Leviticus 27 reminds us that God demands the tithe. It is rightfully his and you owe it, so he expects you to pay it. But rather than being legalistic and mean-spirited, it is actually one of the most loving invitations you will find in the Bible. For when you come into loving obedience in your financial stewardship, God opens the floodgates of blessings upon your life:

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 3:10-12)

Chances are some of you will just blow this off and keep hanging on to “your” money. (Actually, it’s God’s money; not my words but his.) Some of you will get mad at me and accuse me of Old Testament legalism, or being judgmental. Some of you will be fearful of trying this; you’ve got a mentality that thinks you can’t afford to tithe. (Actually, you can’t afford not to tithe.)

Listen, if you don’t believe me, then test God in this. That is actually what he invites you to do: “Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:10) That is the only place that I know of in Scripture where we are given permission to test God. Normally that is not a good thing, but in this case, God himself begs you to let him prove his promise to you. So give God a shot.

Do it for your own good. Truly, not only should you pay God what you owe him, but it really does pay to tithe.

Going Deeper With God: Give it a shot: offer your tithe to the Lord this week. And if you already do, give a generous gift to a missional ministry. Then sit back and watch what God does with in, both in the minister you’ve blessed and in your own life.

Blessings—With Conditions

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God desperately longs to bless those who desperately long to be blessed. He longs to gather us under his protection, to strengthen us in our pursuit of success, and to even grant us the desires of our heart. But let’s be clear about God’s desperate longing to bless: it is conditional. In every Biblical promise of Divine blessing there is a discernable if-then equation. “Then” I will bless you is the unconditional promise, “if” is the condition to the unconditional, and our obedience is the “if” that catalyzes the release of those unconditional blessings.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 26:3-9

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. Your threshing season will overlap with the grape harvest, and your grape harvest will overlap with the season of planting grain. You will eat your fill and live securely in your own land. I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep with no cause for fear. I will rid the land of wild animals and keep your enemies out of your land. In fact, you will chase down your enemies and slaughter them with your swords. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand! All your enemies will fall beneath your sword. I will look favorably upon you, making you fertile and multiplying your people. And I will fulfill my covenant with you.

Who doesn’t want Divine blessings poured out in their life? I long for God’s favor in my life and upon everything that concerns me, and you long for the same blessings in your life. And what is really encouraging is that God urgently desires to release those blessings to us as well. In fact, your insatiable desire to be blessed is miniscule compared to God’s desperate longing to bless.

“Desperate longing!” Is that overstating the matter? Can God, by definition, be desperate? Well, consider God the Son’s broken heart over a people that rejected him, and in so doing, forfeited a visitation of Divine favor:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. (Matthew 23:37)

Or consider God’s plaintiff word to King Asa, who had abandoned his utter reliance on the Lord:

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. What a fool you have been! From now on you will be at war. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

So yes, God desperately longs to bless those who desperately long to be blessed. He longs to gather us under his protection, to strengthen us in our pursuit of success, and to even grant us the desires of our heart:

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. (Psalm 37:4-5)

Notice that Jesus even went so far as to say that God will grant us what we wish for in prayer in response to our abiding in him.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:7-8)

God has made some incredible promises to bless us, hasn’t he? And according to what Jesus said in John 15:8, the blessings that God graciously bestows upon us actually glorifies him. Moreover, those blessings literally witness to a watching world of the loving God who sends the blessings (“you show yourselves to be my disciples”).

But let’s be clear about God’s desperate longing to bless. It is conditional. In each of the verses I have mentioned, and I dare say in every promise of Divine blessing in Scripture, you will discern an if-then equation. “Then” I will bless you is the unconditional promise; “if” is the condition to the unconditional. Sounds like I am babbling, but it is true: If I do this, then God will do this—guaranteed. That is exactly what we are seeing in these verses, as well as in Leviticus 26.

And here is the “if”, the catalyst to the release of unconditional blessing: obedience. “If you are careful to obey my commands, then I will…” (Leviticus 26:3) And in this chapter, along with every other “if-then” promise of blessing in the Bible, you will find what the “then” of blessing is:

  1. God promises the blessing of provision. Leviticus 26: 4-5 says, “The land will then yield its crops, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. Your threshing season will overlap with the grape harvest, and your grape harvest will overlap with the season of planting grain. You will eat your fill and live securely in your own land.” With God’s provision, you are unlimited. Nothing will hamper you.
  2. God promises the blessing of protection. Leviticus 26:6 says, “I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep with no cause for fear. I will rid the land of wild animals and keep your enemies out of your land.” With God’s protection, you are untouchable. Nothing will harm you.
  3. God promises the blessing of power. Leviticus 26:7-8 says, “you will chase down your enemies and slaughter them with your swords. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand! All your enemies will fall beneath your sword.” With God’s power, you are unstoppable. Nothing will halt you!
  4. God promises the blessing of his presence. Throughout Leviticus 26:3-9, God repeatedly says, “I will send… I will give… I will rid the land… I will look favorably upon… I will fulfill my covenant…” With God’s presence, you are invincible! Nothing will hinder God’s love for you.

If-then. Knowing the “then” of blessing, who wouldn’t want to offer God the “if” of obedience!

Going Deeper With God: Joshua 1:7 explains the if-then equation this way: “Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do.” Is there an area of stubborn disobedience to God in your life? Take it to him in prayer one more time, surrender your tendency to disobedience, and he will even give you the desire to obey him: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13)

Jubilee—The Divine Reset

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

What might Planet Earth look like if we figured out ways to honor God’s laws of Sabbath and Jubilee? Perhaps the environment would literally heal itself, just maybe the economies of nations would experience only continual growth from which all benefited, it could be that the poverty of the poor would vaporize and it might even be that the whole earth would shout in jubilation.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 25:2-4, 8-11

When you have entered the land I am giving you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath rest before the Lord every seventh year. For six years you may plant your fields and prune your vineyards and harvest your crops, but during the seventh year the land must have a Sabbath year of complete rest. It is the Lord’s Sabbath. …In addition, you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. This fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you.

Most believers who read Leviticus 25 can’t help but long for a society that resets every seven years and then again on the fiftieth. The means of production halt, debts are released, the land and its people are restored, and hopes are born again to a fresh start at achieving the dreams that have been tucked away in the human heart. However, if you are one who has grown rich and powerful off the misfortune of others, even legally, the idea of this national reset may not be too exciting to you.

What a gracious gift God gave the Israelites to restore the land and the people through this cyclical rhythm of restoration and rest. And God had every right to so order this, since both land and people were his to begin with. And the people had every motivation to follow God’s decree, even if it meant giving up what they had gained, since all that they were over was not really theirs anyway, it was God’s, and they were simply stewards of it. If all of life is seen as stewardship, then one can easily and even gratefully return it the Rightful Owner when he asks—whether that be wealth, property, power and people.

By the way, there is no historical record that the Israelites consistently, if ever, followed through on the law of jubilee. And it is very possible that because neither the land nor the economy it supports were never allowed to enter into God’s Sabbath rest, the stress that we sometimes witness in both to this day have resulted. Might Apostle Paul described in Romans 8:20-22 be the result of violating the law of jubilee?

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Now the civil, economic and environmental laws that God established for the ancient Israelites may not be binding for the nations of the world today, but as we have seen on numerous occasions throughout Leviticus, the principle of the law is still relevant. Perhaps by simply observing the principle of jubilee the world would see a revival of,

  • Love and generosity toward the poor and the oppressed
  • Care and concern for the physical environment
  • Fairness and open-handedness in everything we have responsibility for
  • Unparalleled economic growth at all levels of society
  • Growing anticipation for the ultimate Jubilee revealed at the Second Coming

What might Planet Earth look like if we figured out ways to honor God’s laws of Sabbath and jubilee? Perhaps the environment would literally heal itself, just maybe the economies of nations would experience only continual growth from which all benefited and it could be that the whole earth would shout in jubilation.

Of course, that is not likely given fallen man’s propensity to ignore God’s law, but it is for certain that those who honor the God of jubilee will soon take part in the ultimate Divine Reset when Jesus returns. In the meantime, figure out ways to live out jubilee toward the land you profit from and the poor you live with, and you will experience this amazing promise God makes to you,

If you want to live securely in the land, follow my decrees and obey my regulations. Then the land will yield large crops, and you will eat your fill and live securely in it. (Leviticus 25:18-19)

Going Deeper With God: The ancient law of jubilee may not be binding for believers today, but if the principle is still valid, how can you live out jubilee toward the environment or toward the poor—or for that matter, the people in your life?

The Death Penalty and God’s Mercy

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God loves peace and harmony among his children, and necessary to this is punishment for crime. But more than that, God desires peace and harmony between his children and himself, and necessary to this is punishment for the sin that prevents it. In that sense, we all deserve the death penalty for sin. But praise the Lord, God himself stepped in and offered his Son to suffer our capital punishment. He took the punishment that fit our crime.

Going Deep // Focus: Exodus 24:17-22

Anyone who takes another person’s life must be put to death. Anyone who kills another person’s animal must pay for it in full—a live animal for the animal that was killed. Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind. Whoever kills an animal must pay for it in full, but whoever kills another person must be put to death. This same standard applies both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.

Perhaps Leviticus 24 would be an appropriate time for me to do a devotional on the death penalty—although you might consider the juxtaposition of “death penalty” and “devotional” a bit of an oxymoron—but that is not what I think this section of scripture is primarily about. More on that in a moment.

But let me just say that any believer who holds a high view of Scripture (which every believer should, by the way) who offers a glib argument either for or against capital punishment probably needs to carefully and empathetically read, re-read and prayerfully reflect on the seriousness of this account. Mostly, Leviticus is didactic—God is instructing his people on how to live in holiness. This chapter, however, includes one of the few narratives in Leviticus—it tells a real story of a real human situation. And while I won’t get into it here, grasping the context of this drama is necessary to reaching any conclusions about the death penalty from Leviticus 24.

The death penalty, whether you are for it or against it—involves real human tragedy and is connected to human suffering at its most painful. Someone did something so heinous to another human being that it required death at the hands of the state. And someone was victimized so terribly that it will forever mark his or her life. And two families were forced into a trauma they didn’t ask for and for which they cannot simply “take an aspirin and call the doctor in the morning.” This will be with them forever. And in this case, the witnesses to the crime actually had to lay hands on the guilty party’s head—there was no anonymous tip line here—and representatives of the witnessing community had to actually throw the stones that crushed the man’s skull. This was tragic as well as gruesome.

The death penalty might be easy to debate academically, but the reality of taking another person’s life as punishment, rightly or wrongly, will turn the stomach of any person with normal human empathy. Not that I am recommending this, but if you don’t believe me, watch one of the many videos that are now a part of our online living that shows a Middle Eastern stoning for adultery or some other crime. But I want to give you fair warning: it is not pretty and it will turn your stomach in a way that will affect you for a long time.

And one more thing about this chapter as it relates to any death penalty argument: God commanded it! This was not just a human construct; it originated with the Almighty. There is no getting around that. Something so egregious to a holy God took place that the Lord himself issued the death warrant.

Now, does that amount to God’s tacit approval for capital punishment in today’s society? Maybe—he did order it, after all. But maybe not, because we don’t execute every punishment that God ordered against sin in Old Testament in our current culture. We don’t stone adulterers today, nor do we execute those who blaspheme their parents, do we? My point is, using this chapter to argue a pro death penalty position will be fraught with inconsistencies. So take care.

Let me offer this broader insight into what is going on here by quoting from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

The stoning of the blasphemer is taken as the occasion for the summation of the principles of justice. Here again the principle of lex talionis or retaliation is stated as a form of justice. The principle similarly appears in Exodus 21:23-25 and Deuteronomy 19:21. Christ quoted the law in Matthew 5:38-42 and seems to have opposed it, though he was actually not contradicting the OT but was denouncing the Pharisaic use of these verses to justify personal revenge. It is another question whether this law was taken literally or is an emphatic statement of the principle that the punishment must fit the crime. If a man killed a beast, his own beast was not killed (Leviticus 24:21). There is no example in the OT of a judge exacting literally an eye for an eye. The usual penalties of Hebrew law were capital punishment for a limited number of serious offenses and fines and restitution for the remainder. There were no prisons in the early days, and none is mentioned in the Pentateuchal legislation. Apparently we have here an emphatic legal idiom meaning that the punishment must be commensurate with the offense.

The larger point to this tragic human story is that God cares deeply about justice—both in his spiritual family and in the family of mankind. This law established here, referred to as lex talionis, is foundational to the principle of justice that govern our civilized world, and that is simply this: the penalty must fit the crime. If there is too much or if there is too little by way of punishment, the state, which is God’s instrument of justice (see Romans 6:3-5) is guilty of a grave miscarriage of justice.

So here is where the devotional gets wrung out of a death penalty discussion: God loves peace and harmony among his children, and necessary to this is punishment for crime. But more than that, God desires peace and harmony between his children and himself, and necessary to this is punishment for the sin that prevents it. In that sense, we all deserve the death penalty for sin, don’t we? But praise the Lord, in the greatest act of loving kindness and mercy ever seen, God himself stepped in and offered his Son to suffer the capital punishment you and I justly deserved.

That truly is the mercy and grace and the indescribable love of a just God at its most stunning! Jesus paid a debt he did not owe for a debt we could not pay. And I don’t say this lightly, but for that, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude.

Going Deeper With God: Offer up a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to God that he commuted your death sentences.

You Need Some Rest!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

We are no longer under the Old Testament law. Our salvation is by grace through faith, not of works, so we are not required to woodenly observe the Sabbath each Saturday or to religiously celebrate the Biblical feasts throughout the calendar year. But the spirit of renewal that these holy days represented is still alive and well in our New Testament faith, if you want to be alive and well as a follower of Jesus, you would do well to carve out for yourself a regular rhythm of renewal.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 23:1-3

The Lord said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as official days for holy assembly. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest, an official day for holy assembly. It is the Lord’s Sabbath day, and it must be observed wherever you live.

We are no longer under the Old Testament law. Our salvation is by grace through faith, not of works, so we are not required to woodenly observe the Sabbath each Saturday or to religiously celebrate the Biblical feasts throughout the calendar year. But the spirit of renewal that these holy days represented is still alive and well in our New Testament faith, so if you want to be alive and well as a follower of Jesus, you would do well to carve out for yourself a regular rhythm of renewal.

Even Jesus practiced this rhythm of renewal. Mark 6:31-32 tells us,

Because so many people were coming and going that Jesus and his disciples didn’t even have time to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they left in a boat to a solitary place.

Now we are not told what Jesus and the disciples did when got there, but we do know this:

  • They ceased their normal activity
  • They retreated from the demands of people
  • They set aside a specific time and place for quiet
  • They were with Jesus in an undivided way

And that rhythm of renewal resulted in rest. That same rhythm will work for us; it’s how we can abide in Christ: pausing from routine; scheduling time and place for solitude; giving access into our lives to Jesus. That’s a simple but sure template, if you need one.

Now let me hasten to clarify some things about abiding in Christ, and its importance to New Testament faith:

First, renewal does not mean an absence of busyness or the rejection of work. Jesus was often busy; but he was never hurried. Being busy is an outer condition—it’s external; being hurried is a sickness of the soul—it is internal. For Jesus, life was full and his schedule demanding, but he never allowed himself to be forced into a pace that squeezed his access to his Father.

Strenuous effort and urgent devotion to our work along with the satisfaction of achievement are part of the divine glory in being human. So abiding in Christ isn’t about quitting work and retreating to a commune. It’s about carving out then fiercely protecting “God-time” in your busy world. We are living in a demanding age—and it is going to stay that way. But we can reject hurry sickness by practicing an unforced life.

Second, renewal is a part of the very nature of God in whose image we’ve been created. Genesis 2:2-3 says, “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And he blessed that seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”

Notice how this rhythm was fleshed out in God’s life because it shows us what we are to do in this time we set aside for renewal:

One, God rested. When he came to the end of this very aggressive project of creating the universe, God relaxed! And by that, the intentional act of rest was declared holy and made bless-able. Why did he rest? Was he tired? No! God rested, in part, to give us an example of how our lives are to be ordered. Theologian B.B. Warfield wrote, “He who needed no rest, rested from His work…that by His example he might woo man to his needed rest.”

Two, God reflected. He paused to notice. There’s a three-line refrain repeated throughout Genesis 1: “And God said… and it was so… and God saw that it was good.” At the end of every activity and the end of each day, he paused to review and said, “That’s awesome.” Whatever he creates is inherently perfect—so what’s the point of reflecting? Well, God just seems to really enjoy remembering the thrill of making it. And by that he shows reflection must be part of our lives, too. Creating space for noticing instigates holiness, depth, gratitude—and health in our being.

Three, God recreated. It was his recess; it was time to play and enjoy what he’d just created. Psalm 104 says, “He makes clouds his chariot. He rides on the wings of the wind. He grasps lightening in his hand and commands it to strike its mark, and it always does.” Doesn’t that sound like God thoroughly enjoys being God? He likes his work, so he plays. And he modeled it so we’d include it in our renewal. C.S. Lewis was right,

Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern.

Jesus says in John 15:4, “Abide in me, as I abide in you.” Without a rhythm of renewal, work reminds us that this world demands our sweat; but by abiding—resting, reflecting, recreating—we’re reminded that our soul belongs to Someone and someplace else.

“Abide in me,” Jesus says. “Come away with me.” That’s not only a command, it’s an invitation—and it requires a choice on your part. Will you? Dallas Willard said,

It is the responsibility of every believer to carve out a satisfying life under the loving rule of God, or sin will start to look good!

Jesus invites you to come away with him from the busyness of life and the bondage of hurriedness for a satisfying renewal of your soul. Will you? Will you honor a regular rhythm of renewal in your life?

If you want to really live, you’ve got to make that choice!

Going Deeper With God: Review your calendar. Do you honor God throughout your day, week or month by setting aside dedicated time for resting, reflecting and recreating? If you don’t, you know what to do: make the choice!

The Incompatibility of F-Bombs and Authentic Faith

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Does God care any less today that his name be sanctified among the people than he did when he gave laws and regulations about honoring his name? I think not. His name is still holy, and last time I checked, “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” is still in the Ten Commandments.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 22:32-33

Do not profane my holy name, for I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am the Lord, who made you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord.

Profanity ain’t what it used to be—it’s much worse. There was a day when you just didn’t say certain words; never in public and you do well not to even utter them in private. Especially verboten were words that cursed—showed impiety, irreverence and/or hostility to—the name of the Lord.

That day is long gone in American culture. Sadly, I think even among believers bad words aren’t so bad anymore.

Does God’s care any less today that his name be sanctified among the people than he did when he gave laws and regulations about honoring it? I think not. His name is still holy, and last time I checked, “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” is still in the Ten Commandments. Just because we rarely use the King James English to quote the Third Commandment, and just because God’s name is quoted as profanity, early and often, by those who disregard him, doesn’t mean God turns a blind eye.

While the immediate ramifications of profaning his name are not as visible and immediate today as they were when Exodus and Leviticus were written, the day will come—as in, the Day of the Lord—when every knee will bow and every tongue confess the name as holy. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess—whether in loving worship or in forced acknowledgement. That day is coming when once again the people of God, along with the whole realm of creation, will know that God holds his name as holy.

Now let me just be clear at this point that Leviticus 22 is sort of a summation of the whole thought of holiness. God is holy, there are ways to approach him in holiness that he requires, and he desires—no, demands—that his people be holy. This chapter is not speaking narrowly about using the Lord’s name to curse, it is about disobedience to his law as profaning his name. And that is serious business. But this general admonition also has some very specific applications for the people of God—as in profaning his name by the speech we use.

God cares about his name! Why? Among other reason, his name represents his identity—who he is, his character, namely, his complete holiness. It also represents his authority—the right to do what he wishes to do: create, rule, heal, deliver, provide, etc. Many names are given in the Old Testament that describe his authority, e.g., Yaweh Jireh, the God who provides, etc. His name is also one and the same with his power. That is why we are called to pray in his name:

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24

For many reasons, God cares a great deal about his name being honored. And we should, too. And while I am not suggesting that we correct everybody that misuses it—that would be a full time, 24/7 job, these days, I am suggesting that those who are called by his name take great care how they use it. We are not to utter it as a swear word in an angry outburst, it must not spew forth uncontrollably from our lips when we stub our toe at night or smash our finger with a hammer, we should not use it as an exclamation in our excitement or even as a punctuation mark in our praying.

If we truly are to honor his name as holy and avoid profaning it, it is time that we return to a day that we now label as old fashion and outdated in order to recapture some of the reverence for his name that our parents, grandparents and Old Testament progenitors had.

Perhaps we should even consider breaking the habit of even uttering those seemingly harmless substitutes for God’s name—you know, “gosh darn” or “gee wiz” or, well, you get my drift.

My name is holy, so do not bring shame on it, the Lord declares.

Interestingly, Leviticus 22 begins and ends with the same demand from God: My name is holy, so do not profane it. So serious was God about his holy name that when either priest of people profaned it, either in a small matter or a large one, in an accidental way or flat-out deliberately, the violator was to be cut off from God and his people—either by deportation or by death. I would say that is pretty serious business!

Honestly, you and I would have been deported long ago from God’s presence for violating his holy name. Thank God for Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for our sin, through whom our lips are morphed from a mouthpiece of the profane to an instrument of praise. Now in gratitude for our salvation, the words of our mouth should pour forth continuous praise—not as a merit for salvation, but as a mark of it.

Going Deeper With God: Check your language. Do you honor God throughout the day, especially in the unguarded moments. If you don’t, ask the Lord to help you. Try praying Isaiah 6:5

The Price of Holiness

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While we no longer live under the strict rule of the Levitical code, let’s never forget that God still requires a high price for our holiness. It is a price we couldn’t pay, so Jesus did. When we trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are cleared of the charges to our account. But still, our salvation was anything but free. Someone had to pay; Someone did.

Going Deep // Focus: Leviticus 21:5-6

The Lord also said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. …You must be careful to keep all of my decrees and regulations by putting them into practice. I am the Lord.

Leviticus was so named because it had to do with the rules that God required his people to follow in order to walk before him in holiness—rules that were to be administered by the priests and Levites. Leviticus is a Latin phrase that means, “the book of the Levites.” However, if I were to give the book its name, I would simply call it, “the book of Holiness.”

Throughout Leviticus, in chapter after chapter, often in verse following verse, again and again God gave Moses clear and exacting instructions on what the Israelites were required to do now that they had been set apart as a holy nation unto a holy God. Holiness—that is the big deal in Leviticus. God is holy, and his people must be made holy and kept holy—even in the minutiae of their lives.

That included, especially, the priest. As you read this chapter, to be a high priest or a regular priest, there was an exceedingly high price to pay for a lifestyle of continual holiness unto the Lord. They couldn’t eat some things—ever; couldn’t touch certain things—ever; and couldn’t marry “those” women—ever. Even if things happened to them, due to no fault of they own—a birth defect, a chipped tooth, a debilitating injury or disease—they were disqualified. They had to be without defect. Their holiness demanded an impossibly high price.

So does yours and mine. The Bible says that without holiness, no one will see God. (Hebrews 12:1) The problem is, the price for holiness is too high for us. And even though we don’t live under the rules and regulations of holiness that were required of the Israelites, the price of holiness has not changed—the costs still have to be paid.

Have you ever owed something to someone you couldn’t pay, and they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay it for you, so someone else stepped in to foot the bill? Max Lucado tells a story that illustrates this:

He did for us what I did for one of my daughters in the shop at New York’s La Guardia Airport. The sign above the ceramic pieces read Do Not Touch. But the wanting was stronger than the warning, and she touched. And it fell. By the time I looked up, ten-year-old Sara was holding the two pieces of a New York City skyline. Next to her was an unhappy store manager. Over them both was the written rule. Between them hung a nervous silence. My daughter had no money. He had no mercy. So I did what dads do. I stepped in. “How much do we owe you?” I asked. How was it that I owed anything? Simple. She was my daughter. And since she could not pay, I did. Since you and I cannot pay, Christ did. We’ve broken so much more than souvenirs. We’ve broken commandments, promises, and, worst of all, we’ve broken God’s heart. But Christ sees our plight. With the law on the wall and shattered commandments on the floor, He steps near (like a neighbor) and offers a gift (like a Savior). What do we owe? We owe God a perfect life. Perfect obedience to every command. Not just the command of baptism, but the commands of humility, honesty, integrity. We can’t deliver. Might as well charge us for the property of Manhattan. But Christ can and he did. His plunge into the Jordan is a picture of His plunge into our sin. His baptism announces, “Let me pay.” (From Next Door Savior by Max Lucado)

Let’s never forget that God still requires a high price for our holiness. We couldn’t pay it, so Jesus did. And we are clear of the charges to our account when we trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

But still, our salvation was anything but free. Someone had to pay; Someone did. And if you and I will never forget that, we will live out true holiness unto the Lord in the most beautiful, God-honoring way of all: through a life of organic gratitude to God for our gift of salvation through Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross.

Through Jesus, we meet the impossibly high cost of holiness unto the Lord!

Going Deeper With God: Holiness exacts an impossibly high payment. You couldn’t pay it so Jesus did. Offer him gratitude throughout the day—and every day for the rest of your life.