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Leviticus 27; Better Not to Vow

05/14 Leviticus 27; Better Not to Vow;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170514_leviticus-27.mp3

Leviticus 27 is the last chapter of the book. Many scholars feel that this chapter is out of place, an appendix that doesn’t really fit. Chapter 26 with the covenant blessings and curses and the promise of restoration seems like a more fitting end to the book.

This chapter gives specific instructions on vows to the LORD. The vow offering was mentioned but not explained back in Leviticus 7:16; 22:18, 21, 23; 23:38, which left us wondering what a vow offering is all about. This chapter talks about the proper value of things, something that ties back to Leviticus 5:15, 18; 6:6. The adjustment of the value of land in relation to the year of jubilee connects back to chapter 25. The concept of redemption also connects this chapter with chapter 25.

Leviticus 26 was a promise or vow from the LORD; a promise of blessing for obedience and a promise of discipline for rebellion and disobedience. It is common when we have experienced great blessing, out of abundant gratitude to make some kind of promise to the LORD. It is also common in times of great distress, like those described in chapter 26, to promise to the LORD if he will get you out of the desperate situation you are in. Jacob, fleeing from his murderous brother in Genesis 28, made a vow to the LORD if he would protect him and provide for him and return him to his home in peace, then the LORD would be his God and he would give a tenth of everything back to the LORD. So it is fitting to find a chapter regulating vows right after the chapter on blessings and curses.

-Leviticus 1-7 Sacrifices

–Leviticus 8-10 Priests

—Leviticus 11-15 Uncleanness

—-Leviticus 16 Day of Atonement

—Leviticus 17-27 Holy Living

It is appropriate in this section on holy living, that we would find instructions on vows and dedication to the LORD.

Outline / Structure

This chapter moves from vows of persons and animals to dedication of houses and land and back through restrictions of vows on animals and persons and tithes.

Leviticus 27

1 introduction

–2-8 vows of valuation of persons

—-9-13 animals

——14-15 dedicated house

——16-25 dedicated land

—-26-27 firsborn belong to the LORD

–28-29 no redemption or ransom for devoted things

–30-33 tithe belongs to the LORD

34 conclusion

This chapter places an emphasis on a fair valuation of things, and requires an additional 20% to be added to something dedicated that is then bought back by the one who gave it.

The main point of this chapter is ‘be careful what you vow, because God will hold you to it.’

Vows of Valuation of Persons

Leviticus 27:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving the valuation of persons, 3 then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 6 If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 8 And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

A vow of a person to the LORD seems unusual, but this is what Hannah prayed in 1 Samuel 1

1 Samuel 1:11 And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

In her case, her son Samuel was given into the service of the tabernacle. But according to Leviticus, many people would be restricted from service in the tabernacle or temple. This passage sets a standard monetary equivalent for persons of differing capacity for work.

Age Male Female

20-60yrs. 50 shekels 30 shekels

5-20yrs. 20 shekels 10 shekels

1mo.-5yrs. 5 shekels 3 shekels

60+ yrs. 15 shekels 10 shekels

As some estimate the wages of a laborer were about a shekel a month (Hartley, p.481, citing Wenham) these prices were high. But even in this, there was provision for the poor.

Animals

Leviticus 27:9 “If the vow is an animal that may be offered as an offering to the LORD, all of it that he gives to the LORD is holy. 10 He shall not exchange it or make a substitute for it, good for bad, or bad for good; and if he does in fact substitute one animal for another, then both it and the substitute shall be holy. 11 And if it is any unclean animal that may not be offered as an offering to the LORD, then he shall stand the animal before the priest, 12 and the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall be. 13 But if he wishes to redeem it, he shall add a fifth to the valuation.

Animals could be vowed to the Lord. In Judges 11 when Jephtha vowed:

Judges 11:30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

Perhaps he envisioned one of his flock or herd coming to meet him. The animal could have been clean or unclean; if it were clean, it could not be substituted; if it were unclean, it must be either sold or redeemed. What came to meet Jephtha from his door was his daughter, his only child. If Jephtha had known the law, according to Leviticus 5, he could have confessed the sin of his rash oath and offered an animal sacrifice to the LORD. But this story illustrates how seriously the people took vows.

Judges 11:35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” …39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made…

Ignorance of the Scriptures can have appalling consequences. This was a time when Israel ‘abandoned the LORD and served’ false gods; a time when ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes.’ Attempting to manipulate God with a vow or a promise is a dangerous venture.

Houses and Land

Leviticus 27:14 “When a man dedicates his house as a holy gift to the LORD, the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. 15 And if the donor wishes to redeem his house, he shall add a fifth to the valuation price, and it shall be his. 16 “If a man dedicates to the LORD part of the land that is his possession, then the valuation shall be in proportion to its seed. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. 17 If he dedicates his field from the year of jubilee, the valuation shall stand, 18 but if he dedicates his field after the jubilee, then the priest shall calculate the price according to the years that remain until the year of jubilee, and a deduction shall be made from the valuation. 19 And if he who dedicates the field wishes to redeem it, then he shall add a fifth to its valuation price, and it shall remain his. 20 But if he does not wish to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore. 21 But the field, when it is released in the jubilee, shall be a holy gift to the LORD, like a field that has been devoted. The priest shall be in possession of it. 22 If he dedicates to the LORD a field that he has bought, which is not a part of his possession, 23 then the priest shall calculate the amount of the valuation for it up to the year of jubilee, and the man shall give the valuation on that day as a holy gift to the LORD. 24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to whom the land belongs as a possession. 25 Every valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall make a shekel.

Houses and land can be dedicated to the LORD. There was to be a fair and standard valuation, based on its potential productivity and years of availability. As with other things, a house or field can be redeemed by the donor with an added 20%.

Restrictions: Firstborn

But there were restrictions on what could or could not be donated.

Leviticus 27:26 “But a firstborn of animals, which as a firstborn belongs to the LORD, no man may dedicate; whether ox or sheep, it is the LORD’s. 27 And if it is an unclean animal, then he shall buy it back at the valuation, and add a fifth to it; or, if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold at the valuation.

According to Exodus 13, God laid claim to all firstborn animals. So a person could not attempt to claim double credit for one animal. A firstborn animal already belongs to the LORD, so he could not also pledge it as the fulfillment of a vow.

Restrictions: Devoted Things and People

Many of the laws here specify values and what is to be paid to redeem something back after having vowed it. The assumption is that a person after vowing then reconsiders and wants to reclaim what they pledged in a vow. There is provision in some cases for an additional fee to redeem something back.

Leviticus 27:28 “But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the LORD, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the LORD. 29 No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.

A devoted thing is a category from which there is no recourse. A devoted thing is most holy to the LORD, and cannot be sold or redeemed. It must be used exclusively in service to YHWH. Some cities during the conquest, like Jericho, were devoted to destruction. Some people, like those guilty of premeditated murder, were devoted to destruction and could not be freed by any payment.

Restrictions: Tithes

The final section deals with tithes. Tithes already belong to the LORD, so a tithe cannot also be offered in fulfillment of a vow.

Leviticus 27:30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD. 31 If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. 32 And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD. 33 One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.” 34 These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.

Better Not To Vow

God will not be cheated. As he says in Malachi,

Malachi 1:14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

Deuteronomy 23 says

Deuteronomy 23:21 “If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.

By definition, vows are freely made. There is no expectation, no obligation, no consequence for not making the vow. A vow can be a beautiful expression of thanksgiving and worship to our gracious God. But vows are never to be used to gain advantage or to manipulate God to do our will.

In the early church, in an atmosphere of unity and generosity, where the believers, amazed by God’s graceto them in Jesus, were eager to extend his grace and generosity to one another.

Acts 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

It is clear, they were under no obligation to give anything. They sought to appear more generous than they were. They lied to the Holy Spirit. That proved to be very costly.

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says:

Ecclesiastes 5:1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. 4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.

Proverbs gives this wisdom:

Proverbs 20:24 A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way? 25 It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,” and to reflect only after making vows.

That is a good summary of what this concluding chapter of Leviticus is about. Do not vow rashly. Our tendency is to speak before we think. We are inclined to think we can manipulate the situation.

Vows like Jacob’s and Jephtha’s come from a lack of faith. God had just unconditionally promised to Jacob that he would be with him and would bless him and return him home in peace. Jephtha had been empowered by God’s Spirit and God was already moving to give the Ammonites into his hand. But Jephtha felt he had to bribe God to get him to do what he wanted. Jacob responded to God’s unconditional promises with a condition promise – ‘if you do what you say, then I will give you something back’. These vows were rooted in doubt. They attempted to leverage God to do what they wished with a bribe. They undermined God’s gracious character and promises.

Our God is a Father who loves to give good gifts to his children. God has given to us his precious and very great promises in the gospel (2Pet.1:4). What God gives is grace – freely given.

Isaiah 30:18 Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you… 19 …He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.

Ephesians 2 says:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— … 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved…

We experience the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. It is all of grace. God will be no man’s debtor.

Romans 11:35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

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

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May 15, 2017 Posted by | Leviticus, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For Freedom; Galatians 5:1-6; Matthew 11:28-30

1/24 For Freedom! ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160124_freedom.mp3

The last two messages I gave were on two of the most important spiritual disciplines; meditation on the Word of God and prayer. If we want to be fruitful, effective in the ministry God has called us to (and we are all called to minister), then we must be listening to God and enjoying our relationship with him. This is what Jesus was talking about when he said in John 15 that we must abide in him. Apart from him we can do nothing. If we abide in him, he promises that we will bear much fruit. It is vital that we as followers of Jesus evaluate and re-evaluate what we are doing to grow in our walk with the Lord, and discipline ourselves to reinforce good habits and form new ones that will enrich our relationship with God. Daily Bible study and constant prayer are essential to the health of the believer, and consequently to the health of the church body.

I want to balance this teaching on the spiritual disciplines with some teaching on Christian freedom, because it is possible to misunderstand Bible meditation and prayer in such a way as to view them as a duty by which we earn favor with God. This would be a terrible misuse of good gifts God has given.

Two Extremes

There are two dangerous extremes to avoid. I’ll tell you my own experience to help illustrate what I mean. When I was very young, I had a well meaning Bible camp counselor give me a little tract on having daily devotions. I think it was titled ‘7 minutes with God’ and I was told how important it was to read my Bible and pray every day. I can still remember what the tract looked like, the big ominous red number 7, and the picture of the hourglass with the sand slipping away. There was probably nothing wrong with the tract itself. I’m sure had some helpful suggestions on how to get started in the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. But I felt the weight of the obligation. I needed to pick a special place to have my quiet time. It was strongly suggested, if not explicitly mandated that this be the first thing you do each and every day. It had clear instructions on how to structure and spend your 7 minutes. I acknowledged how important this was to do, and I committed myself to doing it. I did great… for a day or two. Then I would wake up late and have to cut the 7 minutes down to 1 or 2 or skip it altogether so I wouldn’t be late for school, and I would feel like a failure. Sometimes I would try to make it up in the evening, but I wasn’t sure if that really counted, because really spiritual people do it in the morning. Guilt. Shame. You can’t even faithfully give God 7 minutes of your day? God gave his only Son for you! Surely you can afford to give him 7 measly minutes? Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in each day? 7 minutes is less than half a percent of your day. I just can’t measure up. This thing called the Christian life, I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. Even when I worked really hard and disciplined myself to sit down and dig in, often my 4 minutes of Bible reading landed me in some endless genealogy of the Old Testament, and somehow I’m supposed to feel closer to God by trudging through a long list of names I can’t even pronounce? Or reading about skin diseases and what to do if the hair in a wound turned white or black? I’m clearly not very spiritual, because as I read, I just wasn’t sensing God’s presence (it actually kind of grossed me out). And then, in the 2 ½ minutes of prayer, my mind would wander incessantly. What am I supposed to say? Did you know that you can see little floating specks on the insides of your eyelids when you have your eyes closed for 2 ½ minutes? Do you know how disheartening it is when you open your eyes after what seems an eternity to peek at the clock and only 45 seconds have elapsed? After dutifully plodding along checking off the boxes for a short while, I gave up. I just couldn’t do what was expected of me.

When God got a hold on my heart, I wanted to spend time with him. I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before. I set my alarm early so I would have time to spend with God, and I enjoyed sweet communion with him, listening to his voice in his Word, pouring out my heart to him in worship and thanksgiving. I was hungry for truth. I would meet with other believers my age and we would sing worship songs together, and we would go out on the streets of the city to tell people about Jesus, just out of a natural overflow of joy in Jesus. Those were some of the sweetest moments of my life.

Then a well-meaning college professor told our first year Bible class that we didn’t need to have quiet times. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to ‘do our devotions’ or to ‘have a quiet time each day with God’. After all, most believers throughout history didn’t even have daily access to a Bible. And I was in Bible college, so all my studies were in the Bible. My reading load for classes was heavy enough. And we are under grace. Some daily religious ritual doesn’t earn you any points with God. So I ditched my habit. Looking back, although I got a lot out of Bible college, my spiritual life suffered. I got distracted. I began to justify sin.

Galatians 5 – For Freedom!

Galatians is a letter written to believers who were in danger of abandoning the gospel by heading back to a form of law-righteousness. Paul warns that by doing this they are deserting Christ. Justification, our right standing before God is not earned by us. That is what it means to believe – we depend on Jesus who substituted himself for us, kept perfectly the law that we could not keep, and died the death that we deserved to die.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The issues today are different, but the principle is the same. I don’t know of anyone today pushing circumcision as a means of gaining a right standing before God. But there are a lot of people pushing a lot of different things, even good things, as a means of gaining favor with God. Today’s issues range from whether you smoke or drink to how you vote or where you stand on particular issues, or what you wear or don’t wear or what movies you watch or what kind of music you listen to or what you do on Saturdays or Sundays or with your spare time or how often and how long you read your Bible and pray.

I’m not saying that none of these are important questions. A lot depends on how they are asked. If we are investigating to see if someone makes the grade, passes the test, lives up to a standard, there is a problem. Paul contrasts freedom in Christ and a yoke of slavery; the advantage of Christ and obligation to the law. Like oil and water, these two cannot be mixed. The danger of the Galatians, and the danger for us, is that we understand justification by faith alone through the finished work of Christ alone. We understand that we cannot pay the price for our sins, and that Christ alone paid our debt in full. Where we go awry is when we begin look at the Christian life as the obligations of slavery rather than the freedom of sons. He says back in:

Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Here is another contrast, between the Holy Spirit and our flesh, between how we began and how we finish. How do we live the Christian life? It is clear that we ‘must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt.5:48) and there is ‘holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb.12:14). The question is how do we come to be righteous? There is the imputed righteousness of Christ which is credited to our account when we believe. But there is also the practical righteousness of a a daily walk of sinning less and loving God more. Of course, we are counted righteous in Christ when we let go of our own efforts toward righteousness and depend on the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. But how do we daily fight the battle with sin and deepen in our affection for God? This is where discipline and structure and clear boundaries and focused effort will help, right? Be careful, you who received the Spirit by hearing with faith, lest you now seek to be perfected by the flesh. To begin by the Spirit and then seek to be perfected by the flesh means submitting to a yoke of slavery, where you are obligated to keep the whole law, where Christ is of no advantage to you, it means falling from grace, being severed from Christ. This is serious stuff! In 4:9, he warns against turning back to weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. He lists the observation of religious rituals – the observation of days and months and seasons and years. He calls this slavery! Knowing God, being known by God, relationship with God, this is freedom! In Colossians 2 Paul uses this same word ‘the elementary principles of the world’ and draws a contrast between captivity to human tradition, to human regulations and self-made religion and asceticism, and on the other hand, walking in Christ.

Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

…20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 ( referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Man-made religious laws like ‘do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ sound good. They have the ‘appearance of wisdom’, but they are slavery. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him. Having begun by the Spirit, having received the Spirit by hearing with faith, do not seek to be perfected in the flesh, by observing law.

Paul says in Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free” and he exhorts us to stand firm and not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Christ set us free to be free, to live in freedom.

Yoked Together with Christ

You understand what a yoke is. If you have two oxen and you are going to plow your field, you connect the two oxen together with a wooden beam, a yoke, so that together they can pull the plow. A yoke in the Old Testament was an image of slavery. When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, he said:

Leviticus 26:13 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.

In Numbers 25, when God’s people indulged in immorality and idolatry, God describes it this way:

Numbers 25:1 … the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

In the early church, in Acts 15, there was debate over the relation of the Old Testament law to non Jewish believers in Jesus. Must they subject themselves to the laws in order to follow Jesus?

Acts 15:7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

[James concluded] …19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

Notice the argument? God cleanses the hearts of Jew and Gentile alike by faith. The law is a yoke that neither Jew nor Gentile could bear. Both Jew and Gentile alike are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus. The decision was not to trouble the believers with unnecessary rules or regulations. Simply recognize that following Jesus is inconsistent with idolatry, immorality, or giving unnecessary offense to Jewish brothers. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Jesus says something very interesting about a yoke in Matthew 11.

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us to come to him if we are weary of work, not to work, but to receive rest. And then he invites us to take his yoke on us in order to find that rest! This seems contradictory. Find rest from labor by being yoked with Jesus. How can this be? This picture is powerful. Think of the yoke that has made us weary, labored and heavy ladened? The law was ‘a yoke that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear’. We have been yoked to tablets of stone, and we have been attempting unsuccessfully to drag them around. Jesus invites us to leave the yoke of the law, and join him in his yoke. If I am in a yoke with Jesus, guess who is pulling the weight? Not me! I’m along for the ride, so to speak. Jesus is saying the same thing when he commands us to abide in him.

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

We can’t pull any weight on our own. But when we are yoked together with Jesus, he pulls all the weight, and we get to walk beside him. In fact the yoke keeps us close to him, in step with him. He works, we rest, we walk by his side, we enjoy his company. And at the end of the day, we receive the reward that he earned, simply because we were in the yoke with him!

Jesus says this at the end of Matthew 11. Halfway through Matthew 11, Jesus says that he came eating and drinking and he is being accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (11:19). Right after this teaching, in chapter 12, Jesus’ disciples are plucking heads of grain and eating them, something the religious people said was not lawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus declares himself Lord of the Sabbath. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Application to Spiritual Disciplines

Let’s bring this back around to where we started and make some application to the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. We started with the two extremes of being crushed under the obligation of performing religious duties, and on the other end of neglecting good things that are beneficial to our growth in grace.

Let’s look at the issue of prayer. We are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Colossians 4:2 and Romans 12:12 to pray without ceasing, to continue steadfastly in prayer, to be constant in prayer. What does this mean? Does this mean conscious articulate prayer 24/7? Does this mean that we are incessantly verbalizing either audibly or at least mentally our prayers to God? Do you know anyone who is always talking and never shuts up? That is annoying. By saying we should pray without ceasing, does it really mean that we need to run our mouths to God non-stop? Aside from being annoying, it would be difficult to ever read the Bible and really pay attention and listen to what God is saying if we are talking over him the whole time. It would be virtually impossible to do anything at all. I don’t believe this is what it means, and I don’t believe we need to live under the weight of bondage to some religious performance. As believers, we are yoked together with Jesus. He will never leave us or forsake us. Live with a constant awareness of his nearness, of his intimate involvement in all things, knowing that the line of communication is always open. I think that is what it means to pray without ceasing. Live in his presence.

Think of it this way. God is the giver of all good gifts. If I buy my son a bicycle and give it to him as a gift, how should he respond? I hope he would express his gratitude. But do I expect that he stand in front of me saying ‘thank you thank you thank you, you’re the best dad ever. Let me sing you a song – you are the best dad, you gave me a bike, you are so awesome, I’m going to tell all my friends about you, you must be really rich and really smart and really strong, you are the greatest dad ever! I just want to sit in your lap and stare into your awesome face forever and ever and ever’ and all the while, his new bicycle sits in the corner, untouched? Go! Ride the bike! Enjoy the gift! The giver finds pleasure when you take pleasure in his gift. Don’t use the bike to hurt yourself or others or use it to ride off into evil. Later in Galatians 5 Paul says ‘do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (5:13). But enjoy the good gifts that he gives. Know that he is with you always, enjoy his presence, and enjoy his gifts in his presence.

We could compare prayer and Bible intake to breathing and eating – stop breathing and you will die. Stop eating and you will die. Eat poorly and your health will suffer. Breathing and eating are necessities for life; not obligations. Breathing we often don’t even consciously think about – we just naturally do it. We don’t view it as a duty. If you focus too much attention on your breathing, you will probably hyperventilate. But if we are deprived of air, if we are underwater, we quickly become aware of the urgent necessity of breathing; we become desperate for air. Eating is different. Sometimes we skip a meal. Often we don’t eat as healthy as we should. Sometimes we pay more careful attention to what we eat. But we still don’t view eating as a chore. Normally, we take pleasure in eating. We enjoy a good meal. We get hungry and crave certain things.

We wouldn’t think of being underwater without access to air as freedom. We wouldn’t view being out in the desert without water or food as freedom. Develop good habits where you eat and drink and enjoy God’s presence with you always. Don’t get ritualistic or legalistic about it. Live in freedom! If you are a work weary pilgrim, come to Jesus, abide in Jesus, be yoked together with Jesus, allow him to pull your weight, and enjoy waking side by side in constant fellowship with him.

Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

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

January 26, 2016 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 9:15-18; Freedom and Compulsion

03/16 1 Corinthians 9:15-18 Freedom and Compulsion; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140316_1cor9_15-18.mp3

1 Corinthians 9 [SBLGNT]

15 Ἐγὼ δὲ οὐ κέχρημαι οὐδενὶ τούτων. οὐκ ἔγραψα δὲ ταῦτα ἵνα οὕτως γένηται ἐν ἐμοί, καλὸν γάρ μοι μᾶλλον ἀποθανεῖν ἤ — τὸ καύχημά μου οὐδεὶς κενώσει. 16 ἐὰν γὰρ εὐαγγελίζωμαι, οὐκ ἔστιν μοι καύχημα, ἀνάγκη γάρ μοι ἐπίκειται· οὐαὶ γάρ μοί ἐστιν ἐὰν μὴ εὐαγγελίσωμαι. 17 εἰ γὰρ ἑκὼν τοῦτο πράσσω, μισθὸν ἔχω· εἰ δὲ ἄκων, οἰκονομίαν πεπίστευμαι. 18 τίς οὖν μού ἐστιν ὁ μισθός; ἵνα εὐαγγελιζόμενος ἀδάπανον θήσω τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, εἰς τὸ μὴ καταχρήσασθαι τῇ ἐξουσίᾳ μου ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.

1 Corinthians 9 [ESV2011]

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? 2 If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 8 Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Paul is tackling the difficult issue of how to interact with the culture in which you live. The Corinthians lived in a culture characterized by idolatry. They had their line of biblical reasoning for why they had the right to eat meat sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. Paul gently leads them to think more carefully through the issues. In chapter 8 he warns that if, by this right of yours, you destroy a brother for whom Christ died, you sin against Christ. In chapter 9:1-14, he makes the case for his own legitimate rights as an illustration for them. He has the right to eat and drink, to have his needs met by those whom he serves. This right of support extends beyond himself to also pay the expenses of a believing wife. He has the right to refrain from working a second job to support himself and his family. A common-sense look at other occupations legitimizes the right to expect to be fairly compensated. The Old Testament affirms this right by precept and precedent. The inequality of being paid for services of eternal worth with perishable things demonstrates that this is a very conservative, very reasonable expectation. Jesus himself commanded ‘that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

Not To Secure Provision

But Paul is not talking about his right to be supported so that he can demand proper payment or lobby for a raise. He brings up his own legitimate rights as an example of what it might look like to have a higher purpose in mind than one’s own rights. He is very clear in verse 15:

15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.

The purpose of defending his rights is not so that he can lay claim to his rights. His purpose is to demonstrate that sometimes it is right to forfeit your rights for a higher purpose. He is not now writing so that these things would be done for him. He is passionate about this.

15 …For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.

We lose some of his passion in most of our English translations. This is a broken sentence, where he begins one thought, interrupts himself and moves in a different direction. We could translate ‘it is better for me to die than… my boast no one will make empty!’ He begins the though ‘I would rather die than…’ but he doesn’t complete it. Was he going to say something like ‘I would rather die than accept money from the likes of you’? That would be offensive, so he changes mid-sentence and exclaims that no one will make his boasting void.

Patronage in Corinth

It may be helpful to understand something of the culture of Corinth here. Corinth was a highly stratified culture with wealthy patrons and many in lower classes. Patrons could sponsor a slave, provide for his needs, give him an education, train him to serve in some function, and after some years of service grant him freedom. But this freedom was not without strings attached. The freedman was now obligated to his patron, to show respect and honor, to give gifts, and to continue to work for him on occasion. Status was all-important in Corinth, and some people would seek to become a slave of a wealthy patron in order to improve their social standing.

The scholar business was also big in Corinth. If you were wealthy, you could hire an instructor to teach you in philosophy. The more you paid, the better education you would get. The more you paid, the more bragging rights you would have with others about how much you were paying for the very best.

Into this social context, Paul comes to town doing manual labor and proclaiming the gospel free of charge to anyone who would listen, regardless of social standing. He refused to accept payment from anyone. This was downright offensive to those in the upper classes who assumed that nothing worth anything comes for free. For Paul to accept support from a wealthy patron would mean that he was also obligating himself to that patron.

Removing Obstacles

Back in verse 12 of this chapter, Paul said that he would endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel. This word ‘obstacle’ was what a city would do if an enemy was advancing to attack. Go out and tear up the roads to your city so that the troops would have no easy access to attack. Paul felt that receiving support from the strangers he was proclaiming the gospel to could be a hindrance to that gospel, and so he chose to forgo his rights and endure anything. This did not mean that Paul never accepted support from anyone. He wrote to the church in Philippi thanking them for their generous gift. But he didn’t take money from the strangers he was seeking to win. He felt that would be an obstacle to the gospel. Paul has already described in chapter 4 what this meant for him.

1 Corinthians 4:11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

Paul was willing to endure anything in order to advance the gospel. The message of the good news of a crucified Messiah was offensive enough. That I am so bad that I deserved death but someone died in my place, and that I am so infinitely bad that someone who is infinitely worthy had to pay my price as my substitute – that is offensive to my pride, because I want to be able to say that I’m not really that bad, and that I don’t really need outside help. Paul said in 1:23 ‘we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.’ The gospel that Jesus died for sinners is a scandalous message. So Paul endeavored to remove every other potential obstacle that might hinder the uncompromisable message of that gospel.

Paul’s Boast

Paul said that he would allow no one to deprive him of his boast. What is his boast, and how does this fit with the rest of what Paul teaches about boasting? In chapter 1, Paul pointed to how God chose foolish, weak, low, despised nothings in order to exclude any boasting from his presence (1:27-29), and he concluded with the Scripture “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1:31). In chapter 3, he points out that all Christian leaders are merely servants obeying the command of their Lord Jesus, and he concludes ‘so let no one boast in men’ (3:21). In chapter 4 he says

1 Corinthians 4:7 …What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

In Galatians 6, Paul makes this unequivocal statement:

Galatians 6:14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

We have nothing to boast in that we did not receive as a gift, and the only thing worthy of boasting in is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, where we receive the ultimate gift.

So what is Paul’s boast here in 1 Corinthians 9, and how does this fit with what he says about boasting?

Paul’s Necessity

In verses 16 and 17 he clarifies:

16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.

Paul literally gave his life to the preaching of the gospel. And yet he says that this gives him no ground for boasting because he is required to preach. And he exclaims ‘woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ Paul resonates here with the prophet Jeremiah. Paul, like Jeremiah, was set apart by God from before birth. Paul said:

Galatians 1:15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to [in] me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…

Jeremiah said:

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah was sent to proclaim the Lord’s judgment on his people for forsaking him and worshiping false gods. Jeremiah was told:

Jeremiah 1:17 But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.

And he was told that ‘they will fight against you’ (1:19). God told Jeremiah

Jeremiah 7:27 “So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you.

Jeremiah (understandably) became frustrated with his task. After Jeremiah was beaten and put in stocks by the priest in the house of the Lord, he complains to the Lord:

Jeremiah 20:7 O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

Jeremiah was tired of being mocked and was ready to quit speaking for the Lord. But when he tried to quit, ‘there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot’. As much as Jeremiah wanted to quit, he was compelled to speak. He says ‘you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed’.

Paul was in a similar situation. Paul, on his way to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus, was confronted by the risen Lord Jesus, knocked to the ground, blinded, and told what to do.

Acts 26:14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

Paul had no choice in this. He was confronted, commanded, and commissioned. Like Jeremiah, he was given a task.

Romans 1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Paul was under obligation. He says here, ‘

16 … necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.

Paul was under necessity. There was no reward for him in preaching the gospel, because it was not of his own will. He didn’t choose to preach the gospel; far from it. He was actively persecuting and seeking to destroy followers of Jesus. He was interrupted. He was involuntarily pressed into service. It was a stewardship, a responsibility entrusted to him. We might be able to say that some of the other apostles willingly left following John, left their nets and their father, left the tax booth and chose to follow Jesus. But not so Paul. He was under compulsion. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.

Jesus asked:

Luke 17:7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Jesus conquered his unwilling heart and gave Paul a new willing heart that was eager to serve him. But how could Paul demonstrate that he was now eagerly, passionately, voluntarily, willingly preaching the good news and not merely preaching under compulsion? How could he show that he was not merely doing what was his duty?

18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

What is my reward? What is my grounds for boasting? Paul did not make full use of his rights. Is Paul saying he is better than the other apostles and earning a greater reward? No! Later in this letter he will call himself the last and least of all the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle except for the grace of God extended to him (15:8-10). Is Paul contradicting his statement in Galatians that he will not boast in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? No! Paul’s reward, literally his wage, was to forfeit his wages and relinquish his rights by proclaiming the gospel freely. Paul considered it his payment to not receive pay for preaching. What he got out of it was the privilege of going beyond what was required. Paul had become a genuine Jesus-follower. Jesus said:

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus

Philippians 2:7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Paul’s boast, Paul’s glory, Paul’s rejoicing was in the cross. Because God’s grace had so transformed his heart, Paul was eager, like his Master, to surrender his rights for the sake of others. Paul considered it a privilege to live a cross-centered life, he considered it a reward to share in the sufferings of Christ.

Philippians 3:10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

To share in his sufferings and to become like Jesus in his death is to gladly relinquish my rights for the eternal good of others. If by surrendering my rights, I can remove an obstacle that may hinder someone from believing in Jesus, then I have become a little bit like Jesus. This is no sacrifice. This is privilege. This is something to glory in, something to boast in, something to rejoice in, that Jesus has so changed my heart and my desires that I now love my enemies and will gladly give up my rights to remove obstacles so that they can know Jesus.

I am no longer my own. I have been bought with a price. I am under obligation to proclaim the good news. Good news that Jesus died for sinners so that we can be welcomed into the presence of an all-holy God. I cannot be silent about that good news. If I have the opportunity to surrender a God-given right in order to secure the eternal salvation of one for whom Christ died, I should exult in the high honor of following my Lord.

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

March 16, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment