A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on February 20, 2011.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Do people know God better because they know you? As I pondered this passage last week, this question emerged. I believe it is at the heart of this text, which talks about God’s nature and our potential.
This passage is part of the Holiness Code, a term used to describe a collection of laws and instructions on many subjects concerning human behavior. This unit of material, given this title due to the repeated use of the word, holy, is found in chapters 17-26 of Leviticus.
The essence of the Holiness Code is that all living things and earth itself are to be treated with reverence because God created them. According to Moses, spirituality shows itself in the treatment of people and the use of things.
I am confident Jesus was aware of The Holiness Code after reading the Sermon on the Mount. Some of the ideas and words he uttered were lifted directly from it, particularly this text.
I am intrigued by the way it begins. “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy’ ” Leviticus 19:1-2.
Don’t overlook the fact that God told Moses to address all the people, not just the priests. This underlines the importance of these words and God’s desire to withhold no information the people needed to know. God is setting the bar of behavior high in this passage and He wants everyone to understand.
The wording of these first two verses also signifies the confidence God had in Moses and the ancient Israelites. Priests were not the only ones who could live by this high standard. With God’s help, all people could and should.
Notice, too, what precedes the Holiness Code, which begins in chapter 17. In Leviticus 16:34, the instructions for the Day of Atonement were given. “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you. Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites. And it was done as the Lord commanded Moses.”
The concept of grace was explained first because God knew man could not live up to these great expectations. With God, grace always precedes law, paving the way for forgiveness and second chances.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy’ ” Leviticus 19:1-2.
This imperative is clear, concise and bold. There is no way to misunderstand what God expected of Moses, his people and of all of us. We are to be holy as He is holy.
This raises some questions I would like for us to consider this morning. What does it mean to be holy? Why does God want us to be holy? How is it possible to be holy?
What does it mean to be holy? It means to live in such a way that you reflect the nature and character of God. This was why Moses instructed his people to be compassionate, respectful, kind, generous, truthful, just, fair, impartial and forgiving.
Carefully examine Moses’ advice in this passage. It is practical, something all of them could do.
They were to leave food in their fields for the poor to glean. They were to be honest in their dealings with others, never invoking God’s name as a way of taking advantage of someone.
They were to pay their day laborers at the conclusion of each day because they depended upon that money to feed their families. They were to do nothing that would make life harder on people who were already struggling.
They were to refrain from playing favorites and catering to people who could help them later. They were never permitted to gossip or hate, but at the same time, they were to speak out against injustice, always holding their neighbor accountable if he or she hurt someone.
In a nutshell, they were to love others as they loved themselves and treat them as they wanted to be treated. Now you know why I believe Jesus was familiar with this text and lifted it up for all to see. These ideas and words are prominently featured in the Sermon on the Mount.
Why does God want us to be holy? For the most part, people come to know God by the way believers live their lives. This is why He wants us to accurately reflect His nature and character. The way we arrange our priorities, handle challenges, problems and temptations, react to those who hurt us and respond to those in need reveals the God we follow.
A young lady had a part in the senior play during the college days. She worked hard on the character she played so she could accurately reflect the author’s hopes and dreams.
After the performance, a man walked backstage and introduced himself as the author of the play. “I just wanted to come back to tell you that I have seen this drama produced many times, but tonight, you embodied what I envisioned for the heroine better than anybody else ever has. This evening, you made a dream of mine come true. You gave it flesh and blood and I want to thank you.”
Later, the actress commented, “Wouldn’t it be great to get to the end of life’s drama to meet the Author and hear him say, ‘You made the dream I had for you come true! You gave it flesh and blood and I want to thank you.’ ”
I believe God also wants us to live the way the Holiness Code describes in order to build healthy communities. We need each other, which is all the more reason we need to reflect the nature and character of a loving God. Loving your neighbor as yourself will produce healthy communities, beginning in the home.
I am confident God also wants us to be happy and find fulfillment in life. There is no better way to do this than to “be holy as God is holy.” Remember, the Beatitudes begin with the word, blessed, which refers to the highest state of joy a person can experience. Good people feel good about who they are.
How is it possible to be holy? I think it begins by making the highest level of commitment to God. Being the presence of God will not be easy in this world. It wasn’t for Jesus and will not be for us. Every believer who lives by the Holiness Code will face the same temptations, resistance and misunderstanding Jesus did.
“Teach me, I want to learn,” a young man said to Socrates. Without saying a word, Socrates took this potential student by the arm and led him to a body of water. As they approached the shore, they kept walking. When the water was about chest high, Socrates took his hands and put the man’s head under water. He kept him under for a lengthy period of time, and when he lifted his hands, the young man came bounding out of the water gasping for breath.
After dragging him to the shore, Socrates asked him what he wanted more than anything when he was under the water. Not believing he was even being asked this question, he blurted out, “I wanted my next breath of air!”
“When you want to learn as badly as you wanted that breath, come back and I will teach you,” Socrates replied.
This is the level of commitment I’m talking about this morning.
Being holy as God is holy will also require a strong reliance upon God. It cannot be done without God’s help and He knows it. This is why He places His Spirit in the heart of believers for the purpose of leading, guiding encouraging and empowering them.
I believe those who wish to live up to God’s great expectations will need a loving support group, too. We all need people who will cheer us on and give us a safe place to fall when we make mistakes.
Do you have this kind of support? Are you seeking it? I offer it to you today on behalf of this affirming and encouraging congregation. We would love for you to join us on this journey toward holiness.
Do people know God better because they know you? I hope they will this week.