The Pursuit of Holiness (Leviticus 19:1-18)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leviticus 19 has been called the Old Testament Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus spoke those words (Matthew 5—7) He was laying out for His disciples His rules for those who would be subjects of His kingdom. Those whom Christ saves are to display a life that is different from the kingdom from which they have been delivered. That is, they are to be holy. They are to pursue holiness.

The same was true for God’s old covenant people, as seen in Leviticus 19. This is one the most far-reaching ethical mandates in the Old Testament.

Contrary to much popular theology, holiness is definable. Holiness is practical. Holiness is even measureable. But further, when it comes to holiness, those who have been redeemed by the grace of God are responsible. We are to pursue the practice of holiness in our lives. And because of God’s saving grace, we have the power to do so.

If we pursue holiness, in the power of Christ, then we will find ourselves experiencing the abundant life. The pursuit of holiness is a profitable pursuit. All of this can be seen in Leviticus 19. In this study, we will commence our consideration of the pursuit of holiness as we seek to exposit, understand and obey the words found in Leviticus 19:1-18.

Previously, we studied the boundaries that would help to maintain order in the home. Today we enter chapter 19 to discover the boundaries and the subsequent order that God expects of His people as they move from the home, to the church, to the wider society. What is revealed here is as relevant for the new covenant church as it was for the old covenant church. In fact, in some ways, it is even more relevant. For, you see, we have the power of Christ to effectively pursue holiness. This is why Peter writes in his first epistle, quoting Leviticus 19:2, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

As we have seen, chapters 18—20 comprise what became known as the Holiness Code: God’s prescribed code of conduct for His people. He was preparing them for their entrance into Canaan from where they were to become a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3).

We have seen that, fundamentally, these chapters address the issue of orderly living in an otherwise disorderly world. The boundaries that God reveals in this book are for the purpose of securing and maintaining order. In other words, these chapters teach us that holiness is orderly. That is why it is also so practical.

Leviticus 19 is a clarion call to holiness. We are responsible to obey this call. And, like Spar,1 holiness is good for us, and ultimately enables us to practically bring glory to God. Now, let’s look at what such a responsibility looks like.

Principles of Holiness

We begin by establishing some basic principles of holiness.

Holiness is a Commanded Responsibility

The Lord commanded His people to pursue holiness. “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy”’” (vv. 1-2).

I realise that this is almost a given, and yet we must be careful not to approach this passage lightly. This is the voice of God, to which we must pay heed. It is not merely a good suggestion but rather a binding obligation. This is why we have been saved. We are not to be corrupted by the world around us but are rather to live in loyalty to the Lord who has saved us. We are to be like Him. “The character of God is behind all his commandments. Among the sensual and foolish deities of antiquity, no god could ground all moral duty in his divine character; only the God of Israel could.”2

Jonathan Edwards once said that if we do not love God for His holiness then it is doubtful that we love Him at all. That is a truth worth pondering. And we will know that we love Him for His holiness if we answer His command to pursue holiness.

Holiness is a Countercultural Responsibility

God was concerned that the people whom He had redeemed not be corrupted by the practices of the people whom they would soon encounter. Rather, they were to be holy and therefore their lifestyle was to be characterised by holiness.

Holiness is a word that can suffer over time from the malady of Christianese. That is, it becomes a buzzword that believers use but oftentimes have little idea of what it means.

The word (and the concept) is not a cultural construct; it is not even a Christian subcultural construct. At least, it should not be. Rather, it is a theological construct by which God is the definition of the word. God is different from His creation—transcendentally so. And this is what the believer is called to emulate (Ephesians 5:1-2). “God’s holiness is to be taken as a model for individual and community life.”3 Currid defines holiness as “imitation dei (the imitation of God)” and notes that the word means “to be set apart, unique, and distinct.”4 Jesus taught this principle when He said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

When God called His people to holiness, He was calling them to a lifestyle and an existence that was in some way different to those around them.

Believers, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, are similar to unbelievers in many ways. We have the same physical, psychological and relational needs as those who reject Christ. We love our children as atheists love their children. We enjoy hobbies and sports and other forms of recreation. We are the same when it comes to the need to study to achieve academic skill. In a myriad of ways, we are similar to unbelievers. Rarely can you look at people and simply tell from their externals that they are Christian.

No, the differences that exist between Christians and non-Christians relate to desires, beliefs, values and aspirations. And yes, because of these differences, there will be a difference in behaviour, at some level, between Christians and non-Christians. An example of that behaviour is given here in Leviticus 19.

In a day in which the church is often exhorted to “incarnational ministry,” we need the reminder that we must never be apologetic for behaving in a way that offends many of our cultural norms. This includes our beliefs and our behaviours.

Holiness is a Communal Responsibility

God’s call to holiness—“You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (v. 2)—came in the context of a congregation. Moses was commanded to command the entire congregation to be holy because God is holy. No one, not even the stranger in the congregation, was exempt from this (see 18:26). “The emphasis upon the congregation indicates that all members have to play their part in maintaining the covenantal ethos, and no one is exempt from responsibility in ensuring that holiness is a regulative principle of daily living.”5 The responsibility to answer the call to holiness was corporate. And so it is under the new covenant.

For the most part, our church understands this principle. A pastor of an area church recently related to me his observation that he senses a real community at BBC. Along this line he enquired as to how it was that our evening attendance is so strong. He asked me what I thought has brought this kind of ethos about.

My response was that, for many years, there has been a deliberate effort towards achieving such an ethos and that the key ingredient has been teaching the congregation about biblical accountability. We have deliberately sought over the years, through biblical instruction, to combat the self-centred individualism that plagues both the wider culture and even so many local churches. We have sought to combat the evangelical pietism that promotes Jesus-and-me rather than Jesus-and-the-church. We have sought to biblically instruct the congregation that worship is about “we” rather than “me” and that we are all—as a congregation brought together by Jesus—in this together.

In other words, it is essential that I be holy, but it is also essential that you be holy so that together we are holy. This requires an awareness of accountability.

This revelation to God’s people was just that: a revelation by God to His people—publically. As Moses read these words to the people they were without excuse. There was a built-in accountability factor that no one could easily escape.

Imagine if someone was caught stealing from his neighbour. Ignorance of the law would be no excuse. The body politic would have reminded the offender that, since they had all heard God’s command, he was without excuse. If the said party complained that he did not hear because he was sleeping or not paying attention, it would not be accepted as a legitimate excuse.

The point is that everyone knew the rules and was responsible, and therefore everyone could hold others responsible to obey the same rules.

As a local church, we must realise increasingly that we are to pursue God’s defined holiness—both as individuals and as a community. Note how many of these laws were given in context of relationship. To the degree that we pursue such holiness together, to that degree we will be blessed. And to the degree that we ignore our corporate responsibility, to that degree we will suffer.

Consider the example of Achan (Joshua 6—7), in which the entire congregation suffered for one man’s sin. Phinehas understood this principle when he acted decisively to bring an end to God’s judgement upon Israel in Numbers 25:1-13. God blessed the nation when godly leadership ruled.

But as important as accountability is, it must flow out of our love for God. As Rushdoony notes, “These laws have a strong emphasis on community life. The foundation of community life is holiness. . . . Community life begins with communion with God.”6

Holiness is a Comprehensive Responsibility

In vv. 3-18, we learn that holiness is a comprehensive responsibility. As Ross notes, “The chapter provides a ‘rapid panoramic tour’ of what it means to be holy.”7

Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God.

Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves moulded gods: I am the Lord your God.

And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, you shall offer it of your own free will. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day. And if any remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire. And if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted. Therefore everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the hallowed offering of the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from his people.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.

You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not cheat your neighbour, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall do no injustice in judgement. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbour. You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.

(Leviticus 19:3-18)

As you read through this chapter you may think that these are nothing more than a list of miscellaneous laws thrown together. You would be wrong. In point of fact, they are revealed and recorded in fifteen specific sections, each divided by the words, “I am the LORD.”

Since God is orderly, I am uncomfortable with the suggestions that this is a hodgepodge of miscellaneous laws simply thrown together. Though I will not pretend to know the specific reason for the order of this revelation, nevertheless I will suggest that there is a discernible broad order in how they are revealed—particularly with reference to vv. 3-18.

It seems that they work themselves out from the home to the sanctuary and then to the society at large. These laws are comprehensive in that they address every major sphere of life. In fact, it has been noted by several interpreters that each of the Ten Commandments is alluded to in chapter 19. This chapter is a practical revelation of obedience to God’s morally all sufficient Ten Words.

The believer is called to comprehensive obedience. We are to be holy in every area of life. All too often we can be guilty of compartmentalising our lives and therefore allowing our pursuit of holiness to become segmented. But here we learn that God expects His people to submit to His Lordship (v. 2) in every sphere of life. “The diversity of material in this chapter reflects the differentiation of life. All aspects of human affairs are subject to God’s law”8—as Currid notes, “from vocation to vacation.”9

There is perhaps no more dreaded label for the believer to hear than hypocrite. To be accused of saying one thing and doing another is a bitter pill to swallow. I believe that, in most cases, such an epithet is unfair and therefore a cruel ad hominem. I do, however, believe that we all suffer from the painful malady of inconsistency. This passage reminds us that, in all of life, we need to be living coram deo (“before the face of God”). This is the antidote to inconsistency.

There is a symbiotic relationship between these areas. As you pursue holiness in the home you will be doing so under the shadow of the Almighty. Such a pursuit will then be reflected in both private and public worship. And when these areas are lived reverently then it is a very small step to now living out submission to God’s lordship in the society at large.

Let me put it this way: God-centred familial responsibility equips you for reverent congregational responsibility, which will lead to a reverent exercise of your God-given social responsibility. And this order is revealed elsewhere as well—especially in Ephesians 5:18—6:9ff.

I won’t belabour the point, but let us note that the church’s mission in the world is neither completely evangelistic nor completely social. In fact, these overlap. If they do not, then we have missed the point of holiness somewhere along the line.

The gospel affects our home life, and this will affect our church life. And if there really is life then it cannot be kept within the walls of the church gatherings. Rather the community around us will feel the difference that Jesus has made—and is making—in our lives. The community should sense our presence and feel our absence.

The Practice of Holiness

Having looked at some of the principles undergirding our responsibility for holiness we now need to consider the practical pursuit of holiness.

It needs to be stressed, as indicated above, that holiness is practical. There are things that we are to do as well as things that we are to avoid. If Leviticus 18 is characterised by you-shall-not then Leviticus 19 is characterised by you-shall.

Holiness is a Concrete Responsibility

First, as we focus on the commands in vv. 3-18 we learn that holiness is a concrete responsibility. This passage informs us of some very definite behaviour that God expects of those who claim Him as their Father. These are concrete demonstrations of living differently from those around us. As Tidball notes, “Holy living involved goals that were manageable, by God’s grace, rather than goals that were so far out of reach that people were condemned to perpetual failure.”10

There is much truth to the phrase “the practice of holiness.” Holiness is not an ethereal, esoteric approach to life. It is not about sitting in a yoga position and feeling holy. In fact, holiness at times may not feel very good at all!

Sadly, through the centuries, many have embraced the false notion that religion is merely pie-in-the-sky-until-you-die, and so the concept of being practical has been largely missed by many. But this is tragic, because the Bible is everything but impractical. In fact, listen to the words of the apostle James, who wrote, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). That is practical if ever there was such a thing! No, the pursuit of holiness is a practical one. It is demonstrable. And, yes, in a very real way, it is even measureable.

Now, that last statement would be deemed almost heretical by many. In fact, in the vast majority of books that address the issue of holiness, the idea of trying to measure holiness is decried. I often read that the problem with the Pharisees of the New Testament days was that they sought to measure their holiness by external standards. Therefore, we are told to avoid such a legalistic approach to life. But was this really the fundamental problem with the Pharisees? I think not.

When Jesus denounced the scribes, Pharisees and lawyers, as recorded in Matthew 23, He made the point in v. 23 that they were correct in what they did. They were right to do what God commanded. Their error was that they did the right thing with a wrong motive and manner. Further, they were selective in their obedience and thus failed to exhibit comprehensive obedience. When it comes to practical holiness, or to the practice of holiness, we need to take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are indeed some measurables that are to show up in our lives. Our external difference is to be seen by others while our unseen motives are seen by God. It is still true that man looks on the outward appearance and that this is important.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke quite clearly of the need to exhibit a life of holiness (see Matthew 5:14-16). Of course, we must make sure at the same time that our motive is not to be seen by men (Colossians 3:22-25).

Let’s note briefly the measurables of holiness as given here by God. We can divide these verses into two broad sections.

Love God

In vv. 3-9, we learn that holiness involves loving God. This must be done in several practical ways.

Revere your Parents

First, “every one of you shall revere his mother and his father” (v. 3). They were to show respect for God’s authority in the home, coupled with reverence for the God who put them there. “This is the appropriate starting point, for its basic laws were most important for the vitality of the spiritual life of the nation. If people were not going to give their allegiance to God, keep the sign of the covenant, or live out their commitment in the home, there was not much reason to go any further with legal rulings. . . . For all practical purposes the parents (ideally) stood in the place of God to their children and were supposed to be given the proper respect.”11

The connection to loving God here relates to the issue of delegated authority. Harrison says it well, “Reverencing parents is an act of piety towards God, since the parents are substitutes for the heavenly Father as far as their children are concerned. . . . The reverencing of one’s parents as surrogates of God is but one step from the venerating of God himself.”12

Parents should love God and teach their children to love Him as well. The Lord’s Day is a wonderful means towards this end.

Remember the Sabbath

Following on the heels of the command to honour parents, God instructed His people to “keep my Sabbaths” (v. 3b). “Holiness begins in the home and the Sabbath law benefits family life.”13

With a loss of reverence for God has flowed a corresponding loss of honour for parents and for other authority structures. I have often said that a wholehearted return—by the church—to the fourth commandment is necessary for a reformation of culture. This verse is another text to substantiate such a thesis.

Let us make the most of the Lord’s Day to grow our love for God in the home.

Resist Idolatry

Third, God commanded His people to resist idolatry. “Do not turn to idols, nor make yourselves moulded gods: I am the LORD your God” (v. 4).

Israel (both the northern and southern kingdoms) would later be judged for their failure to heed God’s laws concerning both the Sabbaths and idolatry. The two are intimately connected. When you don’t pause to ponder (revere the Sabbaths) then it won’t be long until you worship the worthless (embrace idolatry). Holiness is demonstrated in whom we worship. Everyone worships; the only question is whom and how we worship.

David Foster Wallace delivered a commencement address at Kenyon College back in 2005. Wallace makes no profession to faith in Jesus Christ, but at one point in his address he made the following statement:

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what we worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.14

Wallace makes a valid point. Anything you worship other than the God of the Bible—money, fame, sex, etc.—will eventually eat you alive. If we do not want our children to be eaten alive by that which they worship, we must teach and reinforce, by a proper observance of the Lord’s Day, that there is one God who is worthy of our worship. Everything else is worthless.

Respect the Rules

In vv. 5-10 the texts lists several rules, which the Israelites were responsible to obey.

And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, you shall offer it of your own free will. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day. And if any remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire. And if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted. Therefore everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the hallowed offering of the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from his people.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.

(Leviticus 19:5-10)

There are two matters addressed here that seem to be miles apart, but there is, I believe, a connection. I argue this from the text. Again, it seems deliberate that each section ends with “I am the LORD.” This phrase brackets this section and thus these laws are in some way interconnected. What is the connection?

There are five different offerings mentioned in the book of Leviticus, but the only one addressed in this chapter is the Peace offering. This was the only offering in which the one who offered the sacrifice (the priest) and God shared what was offered (see 3:1-17 with 7:11-21, 28-36; Deuteronomy 12:12, 18-19).

This was the culmination of all of the sacrificial rituals. It was a meal in which God shared with His people. It celebrated being reconciled with God. It was a statement expressing fellowship; it was a statement expressing oneness.

The law with reference to gleaning was a God-prescribed means for caring for the poor among His people. When a landowner harvested his field he was not to reap in the corners of his fields or to harvest every grape and olive. He was to leave some for the poor to harvest. It was means of feeding the poor while at the same time guarding their dignity. In other words, they could find food but they would need to labour for it.

But what is the connection with the offering?

First, it needs to be noted that a peace offering was also a thank offering, in which the worshipper would bring a sacrifice to express gratitude to God for His goodness in giving them a harvest. And this thankfulness was to spill over into their lives as they went back home to their fields.

Further, in this offering God graciously shared with those who were undeserving. He did so to express acceptance. So too with the gleaning law. It was a means for the worshipper to express fellowship and oneness with those who had less. They were in community and this was a practical means of demonstrating so. “The sense of community among the Israelites was such that the poor person was considered to be a brother or sister, and was treated accordingly (cf. Acts 4:34-35).”12

Those reconciled to God have compassion for others.

These laws are like a stake to the heart of greed. As one contemplated God’s grace at the tabernacle he was to return home moved and motivated to show grace to others.

There is a parallel here to the proper observance of the rules for the Lord’s Supper. If we truly celebrate being reconciled with God then we will be more than willing to share to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters.

When John Calvin pastored in Geneva, he began a practice of a “charity offering” taken in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper. The funds collected were used for poverty relief, and the practice was picked up by many Reformed churches from that time.

There is a connection there. When we are feasting upon Christ, we will be willing to open our hand to help those who are in need—particularly to the needy in the household of faith. Yes, holiness is about worship, but it is about a worship that works.

Love Your Neighbour

The second way in which holiness could be measured was by love for one’s neighbour.

You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not cheat your neighbour, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall do no injustice in judgement. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbour. You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.

(Leviticus 19:11-18)

Be Honest

If oneness, fellowship and unity would be maintained in the community, there must be integrity among the people. “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord” (vv. 11-12).

To deceive others is to dishonour God and to destroy communal holiness. Harrison observes with reference to such misbehaviour, “They breed suspicion, mistrust and hated, and by their very nature they weaken seriously the fabric of society.”16

Consider the recent Lance Armstrong scandal. For years Armstrong denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and even took legal action against those who accused him of doing so. He maintained an air of integrity. Recent events, however have led to his admission of guilt, and even then, people are forced to wonder whether he has confessed the full truth.

We expect dishonesty from the Canaanites in our culture. We should expect much differently of those who claim to have been delivered from the bondage of sin. And, by the way, the world expects this of us. (This is why the label of hypocrite is so easily levelled against Christians.)

How holy are we with reference to our promises? Let us not be jacobs (schemers) but rather let us be israels (princes of God). Heed the words of the apostle: “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour,’ for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).

Don’t Take Advantage of Others

A godless culture is one that takes advantage of the disadvantaged or the disenfranchised. God’s people were to be different. “You shall not cheat your neighbour, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (vv. 13-14).

The Israelites were to be compassionate and sympathetic towards those who were in such a predicament. They were not to take advantage of those who did not know or could not perceive what was happening to them. We are told that God saw, even if they did not!

It would not be out of place to stress that one way in which we demonstrate holiness is by living out a culture of life in the midst of a culture of death. And the most liberal countries on earth—despite all protestations to the contrary—are characterised not by life but by death. The euthanasia debate is nothing but a violation of these verses. Francis Schaeffer warned in the 1970s that when the Netherlands legalised “mercy killing” for the terminally ill, it would open the door to killing anyone considered “undesirable.” He was prophetic indeed!

But on another level, let us who follow Christ be careful that we do not despise the unfortunate in our culture. What are you doing, not only to not hurt the disadvantaged, but to actually help them?

Someone recently asked my wife if anyone in our church would be available to help counsel mothers who are giving up their children for adoption. That is a great way of helping the hurting.

How do you treat those who work for you—whether in the corporate world or domestically in terms of housekeeping and gardening? Do you pay them a fair wage and expect fair hours from them? We need to be careful how we treat others.

Do Justly

Another means to measuring holiness is to do justly. “You shall do no injustice in judgement. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbour. You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbour: I am the Lord” (vv. 15-16).

Injustice, it would seem, was a way of life among the Canaanites, and here the Lord made it very clear that this was not to be the case among His people. Instead, they were to be characterised by justice. They were to be equitable. They were to be concerned with truth and fairness. And violation of this was prohibited. Holiness was (and is) inseparable from justice.

Verse 16 emphasises that God’s people were to never stab one another in the back. This is a huge subject, to which an entire sermon could well be dedicated. We won’t do that, but I do want to emphasise that this law, if observed, would promote righteousness, dissolve unhealthy, cliquish alliances, and promote and protect the health of our church. We must champion both truth and justice. Remember, it was the violation of this very commandment that was the human reason for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Be Constructive Rather than Destructive

Verses 17-18 are the summon bonum of this passage: They summarise everything that has been said thus far. Verse 18, in particular, is repeated many times in the New Testament: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Though, once again, an entire series of sermons could be spent on these verses, for now I want to emphasise that we learn here that we are to be passionately concerned for the spiritual welfare of others. With reference to the overall context of these verses, we are to so love our fellow believer that we will do what is necessary to help him to live differently, to be holy.

The text tells us that we are forbidden to hate our brother in our heart. This hatred is described. We hate our brother when we refuse to rebuke him for not being holy. We hate our brother when we choose vengeance or when we choose to hold a grudge rather than choosing to seek to reconcile with him and to restore fellowship with him when he has wronged us. Jesus taught the same thing in Matthew 18:15ff.

In fact, according to v. 17, if we refuse to rebuke one who sins (with the motive to restore) then we ourselves become guilty of sin. We do so either by complicity or by complacency. Let me put it this way: If we do not help a fellow believer to repent and to be different, then we actually are no different either. If we do not seek a commitment to holiness in the life of our brother then we are not being holy. We are being like the Canaanites.

Love is risky! Reach out and help those who need to return to the pursuit of holiness.

Holiness is a Constructive Responsibility

Verses 3-18 also teach us that holiness is a constructive responsibility. This almost goes without saying, but not quite: If we will obey God’s concrete laws of holiness then much good will result. Our homes will be blessed, our church will be blessed and the overflow is that society (eventually) will be blessed. In the words of Leviticus 18:5, we will have life.

Samuel Balentine comments, “If the summons to holiness in 19:2 constitutes the keynote message of Leviticus, the command to love and not hate each other in 19:17-18 brings us to the epicentre of the book.” He is right. How different our communities would be if we lived by this simple yet demanding rule. Indeed, the shockwaves would radiate from us and begin to transform the wider communities we belong to for good.”17

The Perfection of Holiness

A reading of the Gospels soon reveals that the Lord Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled these laws. He healed the blind and the deaf; He did justly; He told the truth; He honoured His earthly parents; He kept the Sabbath (in fact, He restored it!); He rejected idols; and He loved His neighbour as Himself. Then He was crucified because of it. Holiness is right but it is not popular. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus calls every one of His disciples to be perfect, even as their Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

But, of course, this raises an important challenge: How can we pursue such perfection?

The Power for Holiness

Holiness is a Christian responsibility. Ross writes, “The way to become holy is to keep the commandments, but the way to keep the commandments is by loving God and loving people.”18 Of course, this raises the question, who can do that?

It must be stressed that these things are not achievable apart from the grace of God. And that means that such prescriptive holiness is a distinctly Christian responsibility.

When asked by a lawyer, what is the greatest of the commandments? Jesus answered, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

This summary statement of the law is reflected in Leviticus 19. It can be strongly argued that vv.  1-8 speak to the issue of loving God and that vv.  9-18 address the practical call to love our neighbour as ourselves. But such love is not natural. We need God’s power for it. We must be Christian—not merely in name but rather in nature. That is, we need a renewed heart. Apart from this, all our attempts to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with our God will be nothing but self-propelled self-righteousness.

Our experience reveals that, as we seek to live this distinctively different life, we soon feel the weight of failure. Even though our actions may be spot on, our heart feels convicted. It is this conviction that drives us to the only one who ever perfectly fulfilled these laws, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian will therefore confess his sin, repenting and turning to Christ alone for forgiveness and for the ability to seek such righteous and holy living.

If you feel the weight of your guilt in falling short of this inspired standard then that is good news. But the best news is that Jesus will save you from your failure; He will save you from your sins. He died for law-breakers like you and me. He rose from the dead for lawbreakers who acknowledge their guilt and whose only hope is in Him. Will you confess your sin and call upon the name of the Lord to be saved? Then join us as a community of faith, intent on heeding God’s commands in our pursuit of holiness.

AMEN

Show 18 footnotes

  1. http://www.spar.co.za/
  2. R. Laird Harris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 2:602.
  3. R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 195.
  4. John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2004), 248-49.
  5. Harrison, Leviticus, 195.
  6. Rousas John Rushdoony, Leviticus: Commentaries on the Pentateuch (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2005), 209.
  7. Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 351.
  8. Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 264.
  9. Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus, 255.
  10. Derek Tidball, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 234.
  11. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 358.
  12. Harrison, Leviticus, 196.
  13. Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 255.
  14. David Foster Wallace, quoted by Miles Kimball, “The Egocentric Illusion,” http://goo.gl/9Dowv, retrieved 20 January 2013.
  15. Harrison, Leviticus, 196.
  16. Harrison, Leviticus, 198.
  17. Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 241.
  18. Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 351.