Leviticus 19

Sermon Date: 
20 Feb 2011
Bible Base: 
Lev 19 and Matt 5:38-end

David Jeans

Have you ever decided to read the Bible the whole way through 2 or 3 chapters a night? If you have you probably did what I did when I was a young Christian in my teens – I ground to a halt in Leviticus.
We are often tempted to view the God of the Old Testament as different from the God of the New Testament.
Our Old Testament reading shows how mistaken both of those things are. This passage from Leviticus is quite remarkable, especially when you think it is probably at least three thousand years old. And it very much gives a view of God that we can recognise in the teaching of Jesus. And the two passages we have read fit together well, even if Jesus at first sight seems to be extending it considerably. As we will see, he rather got to the heart of it.
This amazing passage begins with a statement we referred to last week – be holy, God commands, because I am holy. We are called to behave in a way appropriate to being the people of God, in a way that reflects his character to the world.
This holy behaviour is challenging – not only to people of those times, but also to us in our more complicated age.
Look at verses 9 and 10. When you are harvesting, don’t go right to the edge, or gather up the bits you missed the first time. Leave some for – whom? Not your own family, but the poor and the foreigner. Don’t maximise your profits, but leave something for others. Some of our supermarkets need to hear this – don’t try to dominate every single aspect of the retail business, leave some for others!
There is great concern here for others – not just your own family but those who are poor and even foreigners. How radical is that? Leave some of your crops for the travellers gets you near to it.
In verse 13 they are challenged to pay their wages on time – for us today, what about the challenge to pay our bills on time (especially for big firms to pay the bills owed to smaller firms).
In verse 14 they are not to abuse the disabled; in verse 15 they are to judge fairly; in verse 18 they are not to bear a grudge, seek revenge or think evil of a person (which is I think what hate means – to wish them harm, whereas to love is to wish someone good) which connects with what we were saying last week. Note also, though, that you are to tell someone when they have done something wrong.
All of this is the practical outworking of what it means to love your neighbour as yourself. Basically we are called always to think of the needs of others. And in verse 10 and later in verse 33 this includes foreigners. Love foreigners as yourself is the command in v 33. I am delighted that in our financial difficulties the government has pledged to keep its target of foreign aid as a percentage of GDP – in spite of the rantings of our tabloid press. And commitment to fair trade products is a way that we can love our neighbours as ourselves.
None of the teaching of Leviticus 19 would be out of place in the mouth of Jesus. Jesus says ‘If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?’ Leviticus 19 essentially says the same. We have a God whose love includes all people, even those we find it hard to like, even those who are not like us, even comers-in! To be holy as God is holy, we should do the same.
But Jesus does go further than Leviticus in his understanding of God’s holiness. For Jesus calls us not only to care for the poor and for foreigners as well as caring for our own, he calls us to a higher standard of perfection than that. And that higher standard is to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. That is what Jesus himself did on the cross as he prayed for those crucifying him.
As followers of Christ we are called to much more than ordinary common decency. We are called to uncommon love – love for the stranger, love for the poor, love for the enemy. That is where our distinctiveness should lie. Not in what the tabloids think of as morality – though we are to be holy in those areas too – but in the company we keep, which sometimes should be the company no-one else will keep.
Last week at the Deanery Chapter we were privileged to hear from a Church Army Officer attached to Christ Church, Pitsmoor. Her mission is to be part of ‘Chocolate Box’ – a group of people seeking to talk to women of the street, and to bring the love of Jesus to them by treating them as people, showing them practical love, and listening to their stories. Their text is Isaiah 42:7 ‘to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those that sit in darkness.
We may not have as dramatic a mission field as that – but God calls us to care practically for the difficult people, those who we find it hard to like let alone love – and even those who have done us wrong. After all, God sent His Son into a dark world for us – being called to be like him is not an easy option, but its the option the world desperately needs.