The Heart of Your Holiness (Leviticus 19:1-37)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Leviticus 19:1–19:37
The Heart of Your Holiness
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
April 22nd, 2018
I. The 'Set Apart' Kind of Life
You may or may not know where the country of Belize is located, but my wife and I had the privilege of traveling there about fifteen years ago. Belize is situated on the western edge of the Caribbean, just south of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. While the coast is marked by beautiful beaches (no surprise there, right), the small country's interior is mainly rainforest.
So you can imagine our surprise when driving through this exotic location we spotted a group of Amish men traveling, in a horse drawn wagon, down the same jungle highway. I knew we were a long way from Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, and something told me this group was not on vacation. I later learned that, in fact, there are eight or nine Amish or Mennonite communities in Belize.
Why am I telling you about this Amish encounter on foreign soil? Because I think that snapshot of a tiny part of humanity, in a small corner of our vast world, is a great picture of two spiritual realities: 1) the fact that this world system is foreign soil for God's people, and 2) that we, as God's people, are called to live a very distinct, a 'set apart' kind of life.
Let's explore both of those topics by looking together at Leviticus 19.
II. The Passage: "Be Holy, for I...am Holy" (18:1-30)
Now, before we dig into Leviticus 19, I want you to listen very carefully to a passage from the NT. If you are a follower of Jesus this morning, then consider how Peter, an Apostle of Jesus, wants to encourage you. He writes...
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (I Peter 1:13–16)
How does Peter encourage his readers (and us!)? He turns to the word of God. And what book does he quote from in I Peter 1:16? From Leviticus! Yes, Leviticus! In fact, although that quote is probably from Leviticus 11:44, we find almost the same wording in the opening verses of Leviticus 19. Look at verses 1 and 2 with me...
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
Now, if Peter is using this idea to encourage his readers, we need to pay close attention, don't we? This call to “be holy” spans both testaments. It has always been God's desire for His people to be holy. But what exactly does that mean? Well, we know the word itself means “to be set apart”; “to be distinct”.
Now in Leviticus 19, I think we can group these verses into two basic categories. And to be clear, I do think chapter 19 is a distinct section. We can tell because chapter 20 contains the the same phrase used throughout this book to start a new section. Do you see it in 20:1? It's the same as 19:1... “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying...” In addition to this, there are also some repeated phrases that tie chapter 19 together.
1. Prescriptions for Purity (vs. 1-8, 19-32, 35-37)
So in terms of grouping this material about holiness together, I think our first category could be labeled 'miscellaneous”. In verses 3-8, verses 19-32, and verses 35-37 we discover a wide variety of commands, all of which we could call “prescriptions for purity”.
Remember what we said about holiness: holiness is to be “set apart”, as God is “set apart”; “distinct” as God is “distinct”. What exactly does that mean? Well, we know from the last chapter that being “set apart” very clearly means the Israelites were not to act like the Egyptians or the Canaanites, or any of their neighbors, when it came to sexual ethics.
Now, even though this idea of not adopting the practices of the others nations is not mentioned explicitly here, it certainly stands behind a number of the ordinances given in this chapter. For example, things like idolatry (v. 4) and interpreting omens (v. 26) and cultic tattoos (v. 28) and trying to communicate with the dead (v. 31) were pagan practices observed by all the nations in that region.
But God didn't want His people to be tainted by these practices. He wanted them to be pure, just as He was pure. And that purity is expressed here in several ways. Some are distinctly moral. For example, you may have noticed the Ten Commandments are represented in a handful of these verses, including verses 3, 4, 11, 12, and 30.
But on the other hand, there are a number of verses in this chapter that represent what we might call symbolic ordinances, rather than moral commands. These were rules designed to help the Israelites learn about purity in the everyday. Verse 19 is a great example of a symbolic ordinance:
“You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.”
It would be tough to argue that it is immoral to plant two different kinds of seed in you field or to wear a blended garment. But for the Israelites, it was wrong...because God said it was wrong. Clearly this rule was meant to teach them about being a people of purity in even the most mundane kinds of things, like clothes for example. Just like the dietary restrictions of chapter 11, these rules were mean to sensitize them to purity and teach them about a life that was very, very distinct from the other nations.
But again, all of these were given as prescriptions for purity. For example, there are a number of verses here focused on purity in worship: verses 3 and 30 concerning the Sabbath, verse 4 concerning idolatry, verses 5-8 concerning sacrifices, verse 12 concerning swearing by God's name, and verses 27 and 28 concerning certain pagan rites. There are a couple verses focused on purity in terms of honor and respect: verse 3 concerning one's mother and father, and verse 32 concerning the elderly.
We also see prescriptions focused on purity in sexuality (vs. 20-22; v. 29), purity in stewardship (vs. 23-25), and purity in matters of equity, whether it be related to justice (v. 15) or commerce (vs. 35, 36).
2. A 'Set Apart' Kind of Love (vs. 9-18, 33, 34)
But as I mentioned earlier, I think there is another, a second grouping in terms of the material in this chapter. Remember, all of it is concerned with holiness; all of it is concerned with living the 'set apart' kind of life that God desires for His people. Let's look at the commands in verses 8-18. Through Moses, God tells his people...
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.  And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.  “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.  You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.  “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning.  You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.  “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.  You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against [i.e. be a false witness against] the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.  “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.  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.”
Do you see what connects all of these commands? Yes, they are all summed up in the final phrase of verse 18: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The man or woman who loves their neighbor does not take, but gives in light of their neighbor's need. He or she does not curse, or lie to, or slander their neighbor, but seeks to do what is right.
And where does this lifestyle come from? It flows from the heart. Verse 17, you shall not hate your brother in your heart. Verse 18, you shall not bear a grudge. But instead, verse 18, you shall love your neighbor. Now notice how the rest of verse 18 goes beyond the prohibitions of this section. This is more than just “do not”, “do not”, do not do this to your neighbor”. God is calling his people to love the other...as you love yourself.
1500 years later, in talking about husbands and wives, and their connection as one flesh, the Apostle Paul speaks explicitly about this kind of normal self-love. Ephesians 5:28, 29...
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it...
In light of that, notice just before that final phrase in Leviticus 19:18, God speaks about “the sons of your own people”. The Israelites were to be a family of faith, and they were to care for one another as family. But just in case that idea tempted the Israelites to become bigoted and intolerant, God stresses in verses 33 and 34 what he first touched on in verse 10. Verse 33...
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
So even those who were not ethnically Hebrew, but who lived among the people, were to be treated as Hebrews. They were to be considered part of that family of faith in Yahweh. On top of that, the Israelites were to remember what it felt like to be a stranger in a stranger land. Therefore, in light of all these commands about loving “your neighbor as yourself”, the words of Jesus are especially helpful...
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
Of course, that sounds a lot like another famous passage, also in the Gospel of Matthew...
And one of them, a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35–40)
III. What Fuels Love's Flame?
Brothers and sisters, isn't it interesting that right in the smack dab middle of a chapter on holiness we find one of the top two verses in the entire Bible regarding love? Now be honest, when you hear that word holiness, do you normally connect it with the word love? Do those two ideas go together in your mind? If you're like me, for whatever reason, the word holiness can still have a stuffy and antiquated feel to it. But it shouldn't.
Remember, the call to “be holy” given through Moses was repeated by Peter. God's call for his old covenant people to live 'set apart' lives was also given to his new covenant people, right? And that means if you are a follower of Jesus, then it was given to you.
So what will it look like for you, for me, to “be holy”? To live a 'set apart' kind of life, as strangers in a strange land, as aliens on the foreign soil of this world system? Well, it does not mean dressing in 19th century garb and riding in a horse-drawn wagon (not that you can't choose to live that way...that's just not what God means when He calls us to be 'set apart'). No, to live a 'set apart' kind of life is to live a life of love. Love should be at the heart of your holiness.
Listen to how the Apostle explained the call to and the importance of love...
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.  Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:7–10)
So like Jesus, Paul uses Leviticus 19 to help his readers, to help us, understand the importance of love. If it's your desire to obey God's command to “be holy as I am holy”, then think about what God has given us here. In a way, He has radically simplified things for us.
When you wake up in the morning and say, “God, I want to live that 'set apart' kind of life for you today”, don't begin by running through lists of dos and dont's, or of your common temptations and failures. Instead, simply pray like this, “God, help me to love each indiviudal I see today, whether in person or (in some way) virtually; help me to love him or her as I love myself, that is, to do to them or for them the very things I hope would be done to or for me.”
And in light of Leviticus 19, we might also pray, “Father, help me to love my neighbor in light of their true needs, to think more about what I can give, rather than what I can get; to love each person in truth, without exception, without bias; help me to love others through the words I speak, and the grace I extend. Help me to guard my heart against bitterness, indifference, and hate, so that my heart may be full of love for my neighbor.”
Now, in closing, I think it's extremely important to talk about motivation; about what fuels the flame of this love God is emphasizing. I believe the answer to that question is made explicit in this chapter. In fact, it's very hard to miss, since it's repeated fifteen times in Leviticus 19. Did you notice that? Do you know the phrase to which I'm referring? It is expressed in three different ways in verses 3, 4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, and 37.
The simplest version of this phrase is this “I am the LORD...I am Yahweh”. That phrase is found over 180 times in the OT, with almost 50 of these occurrences found in the book of Leviticus. And of those almost 50 instances in Leviticus, just about all of them can be found in the back third of this book, starting in chapter 18. A slightly longer version is found, for example, in verses 3 and 4, “I am the LORD your God”.
And the longest version is found at the very end of the chapter, in verse 36...I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You may remember from last time that this longer version is, in fact, the opening declaration of the Ten Commandments.
So you might be asking, how is this a motivation? How is this fuel for love's flame? Well, imagine if you lived a 1000 years ago, and were called into the royal palace, and heard this from the one seated on the throne, “Abide by my decrees. I am the king.” But not long after that you heard something similar, “Abide by my decrees. I am your king.” Finally, you heard a third version of this statement, “Abide by my decrees. I am your king, who rescued your village from the enemy's army.”
Each of those statements makes a slightly different impact in terms of your heart, right?
The first and simplest statement, calls you to do what is right, since it is the king who gives the command. The second, slightly altered statement, is a more personal declaration. Not only is the command right, but the second version implies a relationship with the One who gives the command. Finally, the longest version expands on that idea of relationship, and emphasizes redemption.
Do you see the different ways in which those declarations should stir your heart? God is God. And God is your God. And God is your Redeemer. Christ is Lord. Christ is your Lord. Christ is your Lord and your Savior. We love because it is right. We love because it is good, and good for us. We love because we have been shown the way, and will be accountable for that light. We love because we have been set free. We love because we are grateful. We love because He first loved us. Consider the words of the Apostle John, in light that repeated declaration from Leviticus 19. John writes...
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation [the satisfying sacrifice] for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (I John 4:9–11)
What fuels love's flame? The gospel of grace; the Good News of Jesus. On the cross we see the perfect picture of the neighborly love of Leviticus 19. And it was through the cross that this heart of love, this heart of holiness was made possible.
Let's pray and thank God for that very thing, asking Him to stir our hearts as we hear, by faith, His declarations as God.
More in Living Leviticus
July 22, 2018Spiritual Vows and a Voluntary Spirit (Leviticus 27:1-34)
July 15, 2018Just Justice? (Leviticus 26)
July 8, 2018Belonging and Belongings (Leviticus 25)