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Leviticus 25:23-38; Jubilee – Redemption of the Land

04/02 Leviticus 25:23-38; Jubilee; Redemption of Land; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170402_leviticus-25_23-38.mp3

The chapter divides into three sections, each concluding with the phrase “I am YHWH your God.”

The first section of Leviticus 25 extends the calendar begun in chapter 23 and deals with the Sabbath year and the year of jubilee. Every seventh day, people and animals were to rest from their labors. There were certain holy times each year that were set apart for specific purposes, days in which no work was to be done, days of rest and worship. Every seventh year, the land was to keep a Sabbath rest. This was the Sabbath year. After seven weeks of years, after 49 years, the fiftieth year was a year of Jubilee. Liberty was proclaimed and a return to property and to families. Rest was required. God’s provision was promised. There was a warning not to wrong a neighbor. The focus of the first section is the cycle of work and rest, even rest for the land, and the promise of God’s provision.

The second section, verses 23-38, begins with God’s claim that the land belongs to him, and concludes with “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.” The focus of this section is land, its sale and redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.

Verses 39-55 address the situation where a person would sell himself to pay off a debt. In verse 42, God asserts his ownership over the people whom he brought out of the land of Egypt be his servants. This section concludes with “For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The focus of the final section is God’s people, their sale, and their redemption or release in the year of Jubilee.

1-22 rest for land; Sabbath year and Jubilee

23-38 redemption or release of land

39-55 redemption or release of people

Our focus today will be the second section of this chapter.

God Owns the Land

God begins in verse 23 with his assertion of ownership over the land.

Leviticus 25:23 “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.

This sets the parameters for the discussion of land ownership and sale and release. This speaks to the rest for the land every seventh year and every fiftieth year. God’s people would be tempted to argue ‘but I can’t stop working the land for a whole year! How could we survive?’ When we are entrusted with something, especially if it is for a long time, we begin to feel like we own it. We have had access to it for so long that we begin to think of it as belonging to us. God reminds his people ‘the land is mine.’ The land does not belong to you. I can tell you what you can and can’t do with the land, because the land belongs to me.

Tenant farming was a typical arrangement in the ancient world. We see this under Joseph in Egypt. The severity of the famine forced the Egyptians to sell their land to the Pharaoh in order to survive.

Genesis 47:18 …“We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” 20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. …23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.”

So all the land in Egypt was owned by the Pharaoh, but he allowed the people to live on it and work his land in exchange for 20 percent of the produce.

Several of Jesus’ parables used the illustration of stewardship; money or a vineyard was entrusted to someone’s care, and at some point the owner returned and expected his portion of the harvest or a return on his investment.

God reminds his people “the land is mine.” I’m allowing you to squat on my land, to live on it, to farm it, to use it. But don’t forget, it belongs to me. “You are strangers and sojourners with me.” In Leviticus we have heard a lot about the strangers and sojourners in the land. This typically refers to non-Israelites, foreigners. Here God reminds his people, Israel ‘you are aliens, strangers in a land not belonging to you. It is my land. I am the King, the great landlord. I set the terms of your occupation and your tenancy. As the landowner, he reserves the right to evict any tenants who refuse to follow his rules. He has done this before. In Leviticus chapters 18 and 20, where God lays out the code of conduct he requires of his people, he reminds them

Leviticus 20:22 “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. 24 But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples.

God is the landowner, and he is evicting the former tenants after excessively generous notification. But this is a warning to his own people. If they refuse to follow his rules, they too will be evicted. God’s people are always to keep in mind that they are sojourners and strangers living on God’s land.

As such, “the land shall not be sold in perpetuity.” God’s people living in God’s land are allowed to sub-lease the land to others. But no sales are final, because the land belongs to God. In the first section, introducing the year of Jubilee, God clarified that what is being sold is not the land itself, but the number of harvests until the year of Jubilee, when the land would return to the ones God allotted it to.

Redemption and the Kinsman Redeemer

Leviticus 25:24 And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land. 25 “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.

Here we are introduced to the idea of redemption. This noun shows up 9 times in this chapter, twice in Ruth 4, twice in Jeremiah 32, and once in Ezekiel. Leviticus 25 is key to understanding what redemption means. The verb form shows up 10 times in this chapter, and 12 times in Leviticus 27, a handful of times scattered through the rest of the Pentateuch and the other historical books; 21 times in Ruth, twice in Job, 10 times in Psalms, once in Proverbs, 24 times in Isaiah (x24); and several other occurrences in the prophets. The noun is gullah (gheh-ool-law’), from the verb ga’al (gaw-al’), kinsman redeemer. The same verb is translated ‘avenger’ in the phrase ‘avenger of blood’ about 12 times in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and 2 Samuel. As we learn from Leviticus and from Ruth, the kinsman redeemer was a near relative who had the ability to right what was wrong in the family. If a brother was in financial trouble, his nearest redeemer had the responsibility to keep the land in the family. In the next section we will see a brother who sells himself into slavery can be redeemed by his kinsman redeemer. In Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, the kinsman redeemer had the responsibility to defend the rights of his kin and avenge his murder. In the poetic and prophetic books, God is the kinsman redeemer of his people. This is the foundation for the concept of the redemption we have in Jesus in the New Testament.

Leviticus 25:26 If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, 27 let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. 28 But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property.

The one who sells his own land may redeem it himself if he becomes financially able. This would be highly unlikely, apart from receiving an inheritance. The redemption price is to be a fair price, the price for which the land was sold, less the amount of harvests that have benefited the buyer after the sale. So if there was 30 years until the Jubilee, and the land could generate 1,000 a year, it would be sold for 30,000. If ten years into the contract, a kinsman redeemer came forward to redeem the land, he would pay 20,000, in effect refunding the value of the 20 remaining years. The buyer should have gotten his 10,000 out of the land in the first ten years of his lease.

If there is no one able to redeem the land, it must remain in the possession of the buyer until the Jubilee. In the year of Jubilee, the land reverts to the one God had entrusted it to.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to these general rules of redemption and release covered in the rest of this section.

Leviticus 25:29 “If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a year of its sale. For a full year he shall have the right of redemption. 30 If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong in perpetuity to the buyer, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. 31 But the houses of the villages that have no wall around them shall be classified with the fields of the land. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee.

Houses in walled cities were an exception to the rule. The seller retained the right to redeem it for one year, after which it became the permanent possession of the buyer. Houses in unwalled villages were counted as land, and were subject to the same redemption and release in the Jubilee.

Then there is an exception to the exception.

Leviticus 25:32 As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites may redeem at any time the houses in the cities they possess. 33 And if one of the Levites exercises his right of redemption, then the house that was sold in a city they possess shall be released in the jubilee. For the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. 34 But the fields of pastureland belonging to their cities may not be sold, for that is their possession forever.

The Levites, remember, were not given any land inheritance, only cities scattered within the other tribes of Israel; cities of refuge. Dwellings given to the Levites in these cities could always be redeemed, and they would be released back to them in the Jubilee.

Hospitality to a Brother

Verses 35-38 conclude this section with an exhortation to take care of your brother, and a warning to fear God.

Leviticus 25:35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

Leviticus 19 told us to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love the stranger as yourself. But we may not feel that this extends to a near relative. We know them. They knew better. ‘I’m willing to help my neighbor, and the guy I don’t know, but my brother, well, he got himself into this mess. I warned him and he didn’t listen. He needs to learn his lesson. I’m not going to bail him out; he’ll just do it again.’ God says, don’t harden your heart to your relative. Treat him at least as well as you would treat a stranger. Take him in. Help him out. Help him get back on his feet. Show hospitality. Don’t enable him, but don’t take advantage of his vulnerable situation either. We see a similar warning to what we saw in the first section of this chapter.

Redemption is to be a blessing to those in need. Don’t turn the blessing into a curse. Don’t hold it over his head. Don’t take interest from him. Don’t capitalize on his misfortune. Genuinely seek to help him get back on his feet. Do for him what you would want him to do for you if it was you who fell on hard times. Do not take advantage of him, but fear God. You were slaves in Egypt. God brought you out and gave you the land. The land you possess is a gift from God. Give a gift to your brother in need.

Application

How do we apply a passage like this? We must remember, this was written to Israel after God rescued them from Egypt and was preparing them to enter Canaan. The land promises were a big deal. But we are not Israel, this is not Canaan, we don’t have Levites or walled cities, our property was not apportioned by God, and we don’t release property back to its original owner in the year of Jubilee.

Care for your Brothers

But we can draw some principles that do apply to us today. We are not under the kinsman redeemer laws, but it is right to look out for our relatives.

1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 John asks:

1 John 3:17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Acknowledged God’s Sovereignty

We may not be in the promised land, but we should recognize God’s absolute ownership and right over all that he has made. Psalm 24, quoted in 1 Corinthians 10, says:

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,

God is the Creator of all that is. He made it and he can do with it what he pleases. He retains the authority to make the rules and enforce them. Everything belongs to him and it exists to please him.

We need to be reminded that we have been entrusted with a stewardship, and that we will be called to account for what we have done with what we have been given. We are sojourners and strangers in a land that belongs to another.

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Look to the Redeemer

Most importantly, we understand from this passage a little more clearly what redemption is all about. It was the responsibility of a near relative to redeem the one in trouble. Jesus,

Philippians 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus became related to us, became one of us, became human, so that he could be our Kinsman Redeemer. Hebrews says:

Hebrews 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

He had to be made like his brothers, so that he could redeem us as brothers. Isaiah even goes so far as to say:

Isaiah 54:5 For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.

Our Creator became our husband to redeem us. Jesus is our Redeemer, our near kinsman, the one who comes to our rescue when we are poor and desperate and beyond all hope. Jesus is our rescue when all other hope is lost.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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April 4, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 21; YHWH Who Sanctifies You

02/05 Leviticus 21-22; I Am YHWH Who Sanctifies You ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170205_leviticus-21.mp3

Leviticus 17-27 is known as the holiness code; how does a redeemed and rescued Israel, taken by God to live in his holy presence, now live as a new community under God?

Lev.17 The importance of blood in sacrifice

Lev.18 Avoiding pagan practices

Lev.19 Practical holiness and love for neighbors

Lev.20 Consequences of disobedience

Lev.21 Holiness of the Priests

Lev.22 Holiness of the Sacrifices

As is explicitly clear in this section, no one can accomplish their own sanctification; holiness and purity in the life of the believer can be attributed only to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Six times in chapters 21-22 we read the phrase ‘I am the LORD who sanctifies. This phrase breaks the material into 6 distinct sections, each section concluding with this phrase ‘I am the LORD who sanctifies you’. The four main sections begin with ‘the LORD spoke to Moses’

This is the big idea of the passage: I AM YHWH who Sanctifies you.

Outline of Leviticus 21-22

Lev.21:1-9 priests not to make themselves unclean

Lev.21:10-15 high priest not to make himself unclean

Lev.21:16-24 blemished priests not to draw near

Lev.22:1-9 priests to abstain from holy things while unclean

Lev.22:10-16 common people to abstain from holy things

Lev.22:17-33 blemished animals not accepted for you

The positive reason for each of these is because “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.” There is also a negative reason, a warning in each of these. The danger and warning is:

Lev.21:6 …and not profane the name of their God.

Lev.21:12 …lest he profane the sanctuary of his God,

Lev.21:23 …that he may not profane my sanctuaries,

Lev.22:2 …so that they do not profane my holy name:

Lev.22:15 …They shall not profane the holy things of the people

Lev.22:32 …And you shall not profane my holy name,

God’s people are to live in holy ways because he is the one who has sanctified them, made them holy; and in order that they not profane his holy name, his holy place, his holy things.

Remember the three main categories of thinking in Leviticus of holy, clean or common, and unclean. We used a diagram to help understand the movement between these categories. Sin and infirmity profane from holy to common and pollute from clean to unclean. Sacrifice can cleanse from unclean to clean and sanctify from common to holy.

———————————————————————————

←← SACRIFICE ←←

Sanctify ← Cleanse

[holy] [clean/common] [unclean]

Profane → Pollute →

→→ SIN and INFIRMITY →→

[G.Wenham, NICOT, p.19, 26]

———————————————————————————

God is saying that he is the one who sanctifies you; therefore do not treat that which is holy as common or profane. It is not the sacrifice which sanctifies you; it is God who sanctifies you by means of sacrifice. Because you have been sanctified, set apart as holy, do not profane the name of your God by your sin and infirmity.

Lev.21:1-9 Priests Not To Make Themselves Unclean

The first section addresses the priests.

Leviticus 21:1 And the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people, 2 except for his closest relatives, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, 3 or his virgin sister (who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may make himself unclean). 4 He shall not make himself unclean as a husband among his people and so profane himself. 5 They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts on their body. 6 They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God. For they offer the LORD’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy. 7 They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God. 8 You shall sanctify him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I, the LORD, who sanctify you, am holy. 9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by whoring, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.

The priests were cleansed and set apart to enter the presence of God, to offer sacrifices, and to lead the people in worship of God. There is to be a wide separation between the gift of life in the presence of God, and the wages of sin, which is the curse and death. Contact with the dead makes one unclean. The pagan cultures around Israel were involved in ancestor worship and interaction with the dead. God demanded a clear separation between his true worship and the false worship of the pagans. Rituals for the dead were to have no place in his holy sanctuary, or among his holy people. Any contact with the dead made one unclean, so priests were forbidden to be involved in funerals, except for very close relatives. Not even for his wife’s close relatives was he to defile himself. And in mourning for the close relative, no pagan practices were to be used. Making bald patches, shaving parts of the beard, making cuts on their body, these were pagan ways of mourning, and were not to be adopted by God’s holy people. What was forbidden for the people in general in Leviticus 19:27-28 is now forbidden explicitly for the priests.

This sheds light on the priest in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. If you remember Jesus’ story in Luke 10:25-37, a priest and then a Levite passed by the injured man on the other side of the street. They were avoiding contact with someone who would defile them and make them unclean. Jesus, clarifying the passage in Leviticus 19 that teaches love for neighbor as self, teaches that the one who showed mercy proved to be a neighbor to the man in need, and Jesus said ‘go and do likewise.’

Priests were to be holy by avoiding contact with the dead. They were also to be holy in their relationships. They were held to a higher standard in marriage, required to marry a woman of character and integrity. Their children were to maintain that same integrity, or the consequences were grave.

This is similar to the New Testament teaching in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that a deacon, an elder, a pastor in the church is held to a higher standard of integrity. He is to be above reproach. His wife is to be a woman of character. They are to manage their children well.

Lev.21:10-15 High Priest Not To Make Himself Unclean

The great high priest is held to an even higher standard.

Leviticus 21:10 “The priest who is chief among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose nor tear his clothes. 11 He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother. 12 He shall not go out of the sanctuary, lest he profane the sanctuary of his God, for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is on him: I am the LORD. 13 And he shall take a wife in her virginity. 14 A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people, 15 that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am the LORD who sanctifies him.”

The high priest is not to make himself unclean or show outward signs of mourning, even for father or mother. This is heavy, but to be called to serve as the great High Priest of the nation is even more weighty, and duties to God take precedence over family ties. When a would-be follower asked:

Matthew 8:21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

Jesus teaches again in Matthew 10

Matthew 10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Yes. By all means care for your own family. 1 Timothy 5 says

1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

But Jesus is saying that he must take precedence over family relationships. He must be first place in our affections and in our devotion. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”

Lev.21:16-24 Blemished Priests Not To Draw Near

The last section of chapter 21 deals with physical blemishes in the priests.

Leviticus 21:16 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the LORD’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, 23 but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the LORD who sanctifies them.” 24 So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.

Twelve physical defects are listed, ranging from physical deformities, to injuries, to diseases. Any blemish disqualified a priest from drawing near to God.

Under the old covenant, holiness found outward expression in wholeness. Physical integrity served as a picture of integrity of character. This understanding led to the false conclusion that all imperfections were evidence of sin. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Lk.9:2). But the use of a physical impairment to illustrate a spiritual truth is powerful. Jesus accused the religious leaders of his day of being blind guides.

Luke 6:39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Physical blindness served as an illustration of the inability to perceive spiritual truth. Someone who cannot see clearly is unfit to lead others. For a blemished priest to draw near would be to ‘profane my sanctuaries’.

Distinction between Identity and Enjoyment

In this we see the amazing care and compassion of God. The priest with a blemish is a priest, he is a priest by birth, he was born into the priestly line, he was anointed as a priest, and he is entitled to the sustenance of the priests. But he may not approach to offer the bread of his God; he shall not draw near; he shall not come near to offer the LORD’s food offerings; he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God; he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, that he may not profane my sanctuaries. His identity is a priest; his provision comes as a priest; he is entitled to “eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things.” but he is restricted from performing the highest duties of a priest. He may not draw near.

Under the New Covenant we see that every believer is a priest of God.

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

This is who we are in Christ. This is our position. We are kings and priests. It is this holy priesthood that Peter addresses in verse 11

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

As priests of God, we are exhorted to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. As priests, we are intended to ‘offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ As priests, we are meant to ‘proclaim the excellencies of him who called you.’ But when we give in to the passions of the flesh, we forfeit the full enjoyment of our privileges as priests. We are still sustained by his sovereign grace, but we miss out on the fullness of fellowship. We cannot forfeit our place as adopted children around his table, but we can fail to taste the delight of ‘presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’ (Rom.12:1). We cannot be excluded from the table, but we will experience his discipline, ‘for the Lord disciplines the one he loves’ and ‘he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness’ (Heb.12:6,10).

This is truly good news. It is God who sanctifies us!

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

God sanctifies. He is able.

Jude 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Our holiness can only be attributed to the sanctifying work of God’s Holy Spirit in us.

C.H. Mackintosh, an Irish minister,wrote in 1881 “The believer is ‘washed, sanctified, and justified’ (1Cor.6:11); he is ‘accepted in the Beloved’ (Eph.1:6); he can never come into judgment, as regards his person (John 5:24 …); death and judgment are behind him, because he is united to Christ, who has passed through them both on his behalf and in his stead. All these things are divinely true of the very weakest, most unlettered, and inexperienced member of the family of God; but yet, inasmuch as he carries about with him a nature so incorrigibly bad and so irremediably ruined that no discipline can correct it and no medicine cure it, inasmuch as he is the tenant of a body of sin and death – as he is surrounded on all sides by hostile influences – as he is called to cope perpetually with the combined forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil, he could never keep his ground, much less make progress, were he not upheld by the all-prevailing intercession of his great High-Priest, who bears the names of His people upon His breast and upon His shoulder.” (p.397).

I am the LORD who sanctifies them.”

Leviticus 21:17 … None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the LORD’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, 23 but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the LORD who sanctifies them.”

It is YHWH who sanctifies; makes them holy; in the Old Testament the LORD sanctified by separation and exclusion. No one who has a blemish shall draw near. But in the New Covenant, YHWH sanctifies by making whole, by healing, by transformation.

Jesus told a story about a master who prepared a great feast.

Luke 14:21 …Then the master of the house … said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’

These are the kind of people King Jesus invites in! These are the kind of people Jesus makes whole.

No one who has a blemish shall come near. But these are precicely the kinds of blemishes Jesus healed!

Matthew 11:4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Matthew 12:10 And a man was there with a withered hand. … 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.

Matthew 15:30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.

I am the LORD who sanctifies them.” Jesus opens blind eyes, causes the deaf to hear, gives life to the dead, causes the paralyzed to leap for joy. Jesus is the one who brings us near. Jesus is the one who makes us holy.

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

***

What is hindering you from presenting your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God? Are you paralyzed by fear? A prisoner to the passions of the flesh? Crippled by lust? Blinded by the cares of this world? Led astray by the deceitfulness of riches? Deaf to the needs of others? Allow Jesus to set you free and draw you near. Allow him to touch the broken places in you and bring life and wholeness and fruitfulness. I am the LORD who sanctifies you. Allow him to bring you near.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

February 8, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leviticus 20; The Wages of Sin and the Gift of God

01/29 Leviticus 20; The Wages of Sin and the Gift of God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170129_leviticus-20.mp3

After a bit of a break, we are going to jump back in to the book of Leviticus. We are in chapter 20. Before we jump right in, we need to locate ourselves in the book to understand what we are looking at in its context.

We are in the second major half of Leviticus. Leviticus 16 is the centerpiece of Leviticus; and the book of Leviticus is the centerpiece of the Torah or Pentateuch; the five books of Moses.

Leviticus 1-7 outline the sacrificial system; Leviticus 8-10 describe the priests, those responsible for officiating the sacrifices; chapters 11-15 describe various sources of uncleanness that require sacrifice; and chapter 16 explains the great Day of Atonement; how uncleanness is cleansed so God can dwell with man. To use a New Testament theological term, Leviticus 16 deals with justification. We are told:

Leviticus 16:30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.

No work was to be done by the people on that day; rather work was done for the people by the priest. The people were to be completely cleansed by the work of their high priest.

Leviticus 17-27 is known as the holiness code; how does a person live after being made right with God through the work of the high priest? In New Testament terms, we would use the word sanctification. Now that I have been justified, now that I have been reconciled to God through the sacrifice of a substitute, what does life in relationship with a holy God look like?

The basis of these demands for holiness are rooted in our relationship with the LORD. God says in chapters 18-20 almost 50 times “I am the LORD your God.” The foundation for these regulations is relationship. Because I am your God and I have taken you to be my people, this is how you must live.

Leviticus 19 is one of Jesus’ favorite chapters in the Bible. In 19:2 we find the oft repeated phrase “you shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy”; which forms the basis of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:48 that “you …must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Leviticus 19 spells out in very diverse real life ways what holiness looks like in daily life and relationships. 19:18 is what Jesus quotes when he says “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”(Mt.5:43; 19:19; 22:39); then in 19:34 this is expanded to include the stranger who sojourns with you; “you shall love him as yourself”; this is the basis for Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 on loving you enemy, and the foundation of his teaching in Luke 10 on the good Samaritan and who was a neighbor to the man in need.

Chapter 19 is sandwiched between chapters 18 and 20. These two chapters cover much of the same ground, and if you remember back, chapter 18 was one of the most uncomfortable messages I have ever had to give. It deals with holiness and human sexuality, because holiness extends to every area of life.

We could ask, ‘Why so much repetition? Why cover the same ground twice?’ One reason is that this is important and we are often slow to hear. This information matters to God enough for him to say it twice. If God recorded it for us twice in the space of three chapters, we ought to take notice and heed his instruction. Another reason is that chapters 18 and 20 are coming at the same subject from two different angles. Chapter 18 is addressed to the individual Israelite, telling him ‘do not do these things; they are highly displeasing to the LORD who bought you.’ The goal is found in 18:4-5

Leviticus 18:4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. 5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

Do these things and you will enjoy life in relationship with me. Life and obedience are linked together.

Chapter 20 is not addressed to the individual but to the holy community. If someone who is living as part of the community does any of these forbidden things and sins against the LORD, this is how the community is to respond. Nine times we find the phrase ‘shall surely be put to death’; 6 times ‘their blood is upon them’; 5 times ‘cut off from among their people’; 3 times ‘I will set my face against that man’; 3 times ‘shall bear their iniquity’ or ‘sin’; 2 times ‘shall be childless’; 2 times shall stone him with stones’; once ‘shall be burned with fire’. Chapter 18 holds out life in following God’s rules; chapter 20 commands death and separation as the consequence of refusing to follow God’s ways. The wages of sin is death.

Structure

This passage has three main sections of judgment pronounced on disobedience, separated by two sections of exhortation to holy living.

20:1-6 sins against God [spiritual unfaithfulness]

–20:7-8 exhortation to holiness

—-20:9-21 sins against family [protecting human relationships]

–20:22-26 exhortation to holiness [promise of holiness]

20:27 sins against God [spiritual unfaithfulness]

We see in this passage a connection between spiritual unfaithfulness and sexual degeneracy; the same connection we see in Romans 1.

Consequences for Spiritual Unfaithfulness

Leviticus 20:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. 3 I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to make my sanctuary unclean and to profane my holy name. 4 And if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, 5 then I will set my face against that man and against his clan and will cut them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring after Molech. 6 “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.

This issue was briefly mentioned in Leviticus 18:21

Leviticus 18:21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

Offering children to Molech was one of the reasons God told his people to exterminate entire civilizations. All the way back in Genesis, God told Abram that his descendants

Genesis 15:16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

Now that time has come; the Lord detests their practices and the land will vomit out its inhabitants. One of these detestable practices was child sacrifice.

David’s son, king Solomon, married many foreign women who turned away his heart after other gods. We are told in 1 Kings 11

1 Kings 11:7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah prophesies against Judah, because

Jeremiah 7:31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Jeremiah says

Jeremiah 19:4 Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—

Jeremiah says they have filled Topheth, the Valley of Hinnom with the blood of the innocents, and he calls these offerings ‘whole bunrt offerings’. He says in chapter 32

Jeremiah 32:35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

In Ezekiel 16, God accuses Jerusalem of being an unfaithful bride.

Ezekiel 16:20 And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter 21 that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?

When we visited Gezer, a once important Canaanite city on a major trade intersection west of Jerusalem, we looked at an excavation report that listed the skeleton of a child, and a number of jar buried infants, probably less than a week old, some of which had been burned.

God insisted that anyone in the land found guilty of offering a child to a false god must be stoned to death by the community. Even if the people chose to look the other way, or ‘closed their eyes to that man,’ God himself would enact the punishment. God took this personally. He says three times ‘I myself will set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people’ (v.3, 5, 6). He calls this ‘whoring after’, likening idolatry to marital unfaithfulness.

In the United States, the number of legal abortions performed since the 1973 decision Roe vs. Wade is approaching 60 million children.

There were an estimated 906,000 legal abortions in 2015 in the U.S. The State of Florida records reason for each abortion; of the over 71 thousand abortions in florida in 2015, less than 1% of abortions were reported to terminate a pregnancy related to incestuous relationships, rape, endagering the life of the mother, or a threat to physical or psychological health of mother; a little over half a percent was due to a serious fetal abnormality; about 6 and a quarter percent was for social or economic reasons; over 92% the procedures were elective; there was no reason. We have filled our land with the blood of the innocents.

The wages of sin is death. This passage begins and ends with spiritual unfaithfulness. We are not to turn to those who deal with spirits or deal with the deceased. God alone is the source of all truth.

Leviticus 20:27 “A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.”

Exhortation to Holiness and the Source of Holiness

Leviticus 20:7 Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. 8 Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

The ground for the commands is our relationship with God. Set yourselves apart and be set apart, for I am the LORD your God. Keep and do my commands; I am the LORD who sets you apart. We are to be holy, be set apart because the LORD is our God. We are to be holy because the LORD makes us holy. We cannot be holy on our own, of our own initiative. We do take initiative. We set ourselves apart, we choose to live lives of holiness; but we can only do so because God sets us apart; God sanctifies us. Be holy because I am the LORD who makes you holy.

Consequences for Sins against the Family

The next section is intended to protect the family. It begins by requiring children to respect the God-given authority of father and mother, and continues by forbidding sexual deviancy.

Leviticus 20:9 For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him. 10 “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. 11 If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 14 If a man takes a woman and her mother also, it is depravity; he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no depravity among you. 15 If a man lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman approaches any animal and lies with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. 17 “If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. 18 If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period and uncovers her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from among their people. 19 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to make naked one’s relative; they shall bear their iniquity. 20 If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness; they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless. 21 If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.

The family unit is to be preserved. Adultery, incest, homosexuality, polygamy, bestiality are forbidden. They are called perversion, an abomination, depravity, a disgrace, impurity. These are strong words. God created us for a good purpose, to leave father and mother and cleave to one wife, and become one flesh. Romans 1 traces a similar spiritual decline that moves from idolatry to sexual distortions. Suppressing truth about God and failure to honor him as God leads to foolish idolatry and then to the pursuit of dishonorable passions. Paul concludes “…they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die…” (Rom.1:32).

Exhortation to Holiness and Promise of Holiness

Leviticus 20:22 “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. 24 But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. 26 You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

This passage is a warning. The nations I am driving out did all these things, and therefore I detested them. Do not do as they did, or the land will vomit you out as well. God is just. The wages of sin is death. Israel failed to heed God’s warning, and although he is patient, he is just, and the land vomited them out; they went into captivity.

God says you shall therefore keep all my statues and all my rules and do them. …You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess. …I am the LORD your God who has separated you from the peoples. …You shall be holy to me …for I have separated you from the peoples that you should be mine. These are precious promises, and they are freely given. They are not earned. We do not become holy by our own efforts. God is the one who calls us out us from among the peoples, who freely gives us an inheritance, who sets us apart as holy to him, that we should belong to him. God is the one, according to Ezekiel 36 who says:

Ezekiel 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

There is a spiritual decline in Romans 1 that moves from failure to worship God as he is, to idolatry, to dishonorable passions. But this is why Paul is not ashamed of the gospel:

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation…

To who?

…to everyone who believes…

Paul is not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation. To you, if you will believe.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What we earned is death. We all have sinned and fallen short. But in Jesus God offers us a free gift. He offers the powerful gift of life to all who will believe. It is a free gift to be received by faith. By believing. This is a powerful transforming gift. This is a gift that changes you.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Have you believed? Have you experienced the desire-transforming power of God’s Spirit in you, as he calls you ‘mine’ and begins to make you holy?

***

We have a message of good news. For those who have had an abortion, we have good news of healing and forgiveness in Jesus. For those considering aborting, we have a message of hope in Jesus. There is another way, the way of life. For the sexually immoral, for the sexually deviant, for idolaters who worship their own desires above the Lord God, there is hope. Let’s bring the good news that a holy God freely gives his Spirit to the broken, to the hurting, to transform them by his magnificent grace!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

January 30, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 16:15-18; Refreshing Saints and Apostles

07/12 1 Corinthians 16:15-18 Refreshing Saints and Apostles ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150712_1cor16_15-18.mp3

1 Corinthians 16 [SBLGNT]

15 Παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί· οἴδατε τὴν οἰκίαν Στεφανᾶ, ὅτι ἐστὶν ἀπαρχὴ τῆς Ἀχαΐας καὶ εἰς διακονίαν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἔταξαν ἑαυτούς· 16 ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ὑποτάσσησθε τοῖς τοιούτοις καὶ παντὶ τῷ συνεργοῦντι καὶ κοπιῶντι. 17 χαίρω δὲ ἐπὶ τῇ παρουσίᾳ Στεφανᾶ καὶ Φορτουνάτου καὶ Ἀχαϊκοῦ, ὅτι τὸ ὑμέτερον ὑστέρημα οὗτοι ἀνεπλήρωσαν, 18 ἀνέπαυσαν γὰρ τὸ ἐμὸν πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὑμῶν. ἐπιγινώσκετε οὖν τοὺς τοιούτους.

1 Corinthians 16 [ESV2011]

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— 16 be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. 17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

Paul is giving his closing exhortations to the Corinthians church. Back in chapters 9 and 10, Paul held himself up as an example to the believers in surrendering rights and seeking the good of others above one’s own good, and in 11:1 Paul says ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Here at the close of this letter, he holds a member of their own congregation up as worthy of honor and imitation. He points to the household of Stephanas.

Firstfruits

Here he says that the household of Stephanas was the firstfruits of the region of Achaia. This is the same word ‘firstfruits’ that he used in 15:20 of Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection of believers who have fallen asleep. The firstfruits was an Old Testament offering, a sample from the harvest, it shares continuity with the rest of the harvest, it was a part of the harvest, and it was a promise of more good things to come. In 1:16, he said that he had baptized the household of Stephanas. The household of Stephanas were some of the first to believe the gospel in that region, and Paul looked at them as a promise of more to come. The good news of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and risen from the dead had penetrated into a dark place, had created new life, and had begun to transform sinners, and he expected that to spread.

Devoted Themselves

Listen to how Paul describes these believers. He says that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. This is not something that was pushed on them. This is not something they did unwillingly or half-heartedly. They devoted themselves. This word can be translated ‘to addict, to appoint, to determine, to ordain, to set.’ They addicted themselves to the service of the saints. They set themselves apart to this purpose. They were determined to serve. This was voluntary, eager service. This was not under compulsion, these were cheerful givers. They delighted themselves in serving others. They set themselves aside to be useful to the believers. Do you know anyone like this? We need people like this in our churches, people who are not looking for position or recognition, people who simply want to be useful to God by serving his people. This word service is where we get our word ‘deacon’ – it simply means a servant.

These are often behind the scenes people, people who are not interested in the limelight, selfless people who prefer to remain unknown and unrecognized. People who simply see a need and do whatever is within their power to care for that need. These are people who recognize their gifts and without drawing attention to themselves, simply get busy using their gifts to love and serve and build up others. These are truly selfless people, who genuinely care about others more than they care about themselves.

Household

Notice that Paul is not referring to one particular individual. He says ‘you know the household of Stephanas’. This was a family that served together. We aren’t told details, but a household would likely include Stephanas and his wife, his children, and possibly any servants he employed, possibly others who lived with them, who were under his care, who together found joy in serving the saints. This is family ministry. A whole family that was united to serve others. The family unit is a powerful thing.

Sometimes the gospel divides families. When an individual hears the gospel, he may have to choose to follow Jesus, knowing that following Jesus could destroy his relationship with his wife, with his children, with his family. Paul understands the dynamic where a family is divided over the gospel, and he gave practical instructions on how to handle these kinds of situations in chapter 7. But here he is looking at a family that is united by the gospel and transformed by the gospel with a passion to serve the people of God.

Joshua said ‘choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’. This is a household that has recognized the many different things that families are all about, the many different things families are passionate about and centered around, and they have chosen to center family life around service to the believers. They have prioritized in a radically different way than the culture around them and given themselves over to Christian service. Mother, father, children old and young, all looking away from themselves and their own wants and needs at how to love and serve and care for the body of Christ.

This is a radically different model for life and ministry. This is not the family making sacrifices so dad or mom can go off and serve in this or that ministry. This is the family together as a team loving and serving in ways that can only be done by a household. Certainly this includes hospitality, where the home is an environment defined by loving service to others, where others can be welcomed in and cared for and nurtured. Quite possibly, the church used the home of this family for their meetings, which would mean that the family took on the responsibility of preparing for and cleaning up after the meeting of the church. This doesn’t necessarily mean an immaculate showroom house, but it would include essential things like making sure the bathroom is clean and functioning, providing appropriate space for guests to feel welcomed and cared for, creating an atmosphere of others-focused selfless welcoming love.

What is your household like? Is your home a Christ centered home? Is your primary aim to advance the gospel? Is your home a place where believers can feel safe and loved and cared for and built up?

Servant Leadership

Paul holds up the household of Stephanas as an an example of what devotion to Christ can look like in a household. He encourages the believers to ‘be subject to such as these’. We often want leaders who are in control, who are determined, aggressive, forceful, who speak well and look good out front. But Paul has a different perspective. And this is in line with what Jesus taught. In Luke 22 we see:

Luke 22:24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

It is startling to remember the context of this conversation. Jesus had just taken bread and said ‘this is my body broken for you’ and ‘this cup is my blood which is poured out for the forgiveness of your sins’. He had told them that he was about to be betrayed and crucified. And they around the table are disputing about who is the greatest.

Luke 22:25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Jesus initiated a different kind of leadership. His authority is not a top down controlling authoritarian you-serve-me kind of leadership. His leadership is a humble-hearted others-centered loving service. The household of Stephanas was a real life example of what this looks like, and Paul exhorts the Corinthians to voluntarily submit to such as these. These and every fellow worker and laborer.

We see Paul hold up another example of a fellow-worker who gave him joy, ministered to his needs, and is to be honored and imitated. He writes to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 2:25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Epaphras, like Stephanas, was a selfless servant who put other before himself, who filled up the lack and brought joy to those he served. He was a brother, a fellow-worker, a fellow soldier.

Some people talk about going into the ministry as if it were a glamorous career choice. Ministry simply means service, and service to people can be painful and messy and just plain hard. Paul says to be subject to every fellow-worker and laborer. This word laborer literally means to be weary or feel fatigue. Serving others, especially serving those who are disgruntled or opinionated or easily offended can be draining and exhausting. Ministry is eternally rewarding, but it can be just plain fatiguing.

Refreshing the Spirit

Listen to what the Apostle Paul says.

1 Corinthians 16:17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

It seems the letter the Corinthian church wrote to Paul was delivered by these men. He says that these three filled up what was lacking on their part. Paul had strong affection for the Corinthians. These were people he led to Christ, people he had invested his life in. He walked life with them. He missed them. He truly enjoyed their company. The visit from these three brought the apostle much joy. They refreshed his spirit. We don’t often think of the great Apostle to the Gentiles as needing to be refreshed, maybe even becoming depressed and discouraged. But he says in 2 Corinthians 1:8 that ‘we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.’ In two of his letters, Paul describes himself as being ‘poured out as a drink offering’ (Phil.2:17; 2Tim.4:6). Even in the midst of fruitful ministry where many were believing the gospel and being baptized, Paul needed encouragement from the Lord.

Acts 18:9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Paul, afraid? Paul silent? Paul was human. He had needs. Emotional, spiritual, physical needs. He felt a poverty of spirit in being away from his beloved friends at this church. It brought him joy when dear friends came to visit.

Even leaders in ministry need other co-workers who will come along side them, others who understand the unique challenges and hardships of ministry, others who will bring refreshment to their spirits. This is what the coming of these three friends did for Paul, in the midst of something he describes as ‘fighting wild beasts at Ephesus’.

I have a dear friend and co-worker in the gospel who was so deeply hurt in the course of pastoral ministry that he describes it as if something deep inside him broke. He went into a deep depression, to the point where he had to take an extended break from ministry. God is healing him and giving him a renewed sense of vision and passion for ministry. I enjoyed the privilege of spending some time with him over the past week, and he was an encouragement to my soul.

There are some people who sap the spiritual energy out of you; who drain you of life and vitality. There are others whose love for Jesus and love for other people is a contagious overflow that refreshes your soul. Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus were that kind of friends, co-laborers in service to Christ, selfless servants who brought refreshment to everyone they were around. We need those kinds of people in our lives, people who are filled with the love of Christ, those who will just be a friend, who will love us as we are, who will be patient with our flaws and shortcomings, who will laugh with us, cry with us, hurt with us, just be with us, who will lay aside expectations and care for us.

1 Corinthians 16:17 I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, 18 for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

May we be those kind of people for others. May we refresh the spirit of those who are downcast. May we bring joy to those we are around. May we develop households who addict themselves to the selfless service of the saints. May we create places of refuge where broken sinners can be loved and nurtured and find healing and hope. May we be people who bring joy to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

July 12, 2015 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment