Father in heaven, our holy God, we ask now that You would give us ears to hear and that You would give me the words to say and that by Your Spirit You would preach a better sermon than the one that I’m about to preach, and You would speak to each of us just what we need to hear, that we might belong to You and serve You and obey You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our text this morning is Leviticus chapter 19, continuing with our series in the third book of the Bible, Leviticus. This morning Leviticus chapter 19. Follow along as I read the whole chapter, beginning at verse 1. Leviticus 19.
“And 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. Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.
“When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from his people.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.
“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
“You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.
“If a man lies sexually with a woman who is a slave, assigned to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, a distinction shall be made. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; but he shall bring his compensation to the Lord, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven for the sin that he has committed.
“When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God.
“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.
“Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the Lord.
“Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.
“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
“You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the Lord.””
The verse that Jesus quoted more than any other in recorded Scripture is right here in Leviticus 19: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
One of the most passages, one of the most famous lines ever uttered by anyone in the history of the world. You might be surprised to find it here in Leviticus, with all of the strange, sometimes bizarre seeming rituals and rules, but right here in this holiness code, we have one of the most famous sentences ever uttered.
As I’ve said before, the second half of Leviticus, from chapter 17 onwards, is sometimes called the Holiness Code because chapters 1 through 16 are about approaching the holy God, and then with a Day of Atonement ceremony, God dwelling with His people, the remainder of the book is about how we walk with this holy God, in holiness and integrity.
The summary verse is right there in verse 2 – You shall be holy for I the Lord Your God am holy.
And the way to walk with God in holiness is inextricably linked with the Levitical law of love.
Now one question jumps immediately to mind when we have a passage like this, just the 4 minutes it took to read it, I’m sure there were many of those commandments that you thought, “Yep, that sounds right,” and then others, “Hey, wait a minute, do we still do that? Why don’t we do that?”
How do we understand this variety of commandments and which ones we ought to follow, or are there are some that we can just ignore?
Well, you should not ignore any of them. In one sense, in one sense, we must keep all of them because even if there are some things changed by the coming of Christ, there are principles involved in all of them that still apply to us. So your presumption should be this when reading the Old Testament, even when you find things that deal with an agrarian society we don’t live in anymore, even things that have to do with the sacrificial system that’s fulfilled in Christ. Everything you read in the Old Testament, your first instinct should be this has something to teach me about how I am to follow God.
Now there’s some hermeneutical steps we need to take to understand how it applies, but you ought to think this has something to teach me about how I follow God.
Now it’s true, many of the laws in this chapter and others are not binding upon us in the same way. How do we understand this mix of commandments?
Well, you have some commands that you can see clearly are reaffirmed simply in the New Testament. Commands about stealing, lying, adultery. Then you have some that are culturally conditioned, meaning they deal with weights and measurements that we no longer use, or they’re with the world of fields and animals and slaves and day laborers, which is not the world that most of us inhabit. But it doesn’t mean that they’re worthless.
The Westminster Confession of Faith talks about the general equity, that is each of these commandments has certain principles, a general equity, something to teach us. They are underlying principles for our own day, and most of us do that sort of instinctively.
There are those commandments which are tied to the sacrificial system, which we’ve seen throughout Leviticus, find their fulfillment in Christ. There are others that are bound up in the unique role that the Jews had as a nation set apart. As God’s people now we are strangers and aliens, we are exiles. So we are more like the Jews in Babylon than we are like the nation of Israel.
Though having said that, we’re not exactly like the Jews in Babylon because they went to Babylon and there was no democratic republic, no constitutional system. There were no voting rights, there was no centuries of Christian influence. So it’s not exactly like Babylon. There is to whom much is given, much is expected and required.
But theologically we must see ourselves strangers and aliens in the world rather than a constituted nation like Israel. We’ll say more about that next week when we come to some of the judicial laws and how they apply in the New Testament to the Church.
Then there are certain things in the commandments that were prohibited because they were tied to pagan rituals and taboos in the day, and we’ll note those in just a moment.
You can see quite clearly that the theme in this chapter is love. There are some commands scattered throughout chapter 19 that really have to do with the first table of the law, that is, love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Think about, and notice, some of the commandments that have to do with the first table of the law. Verse 3 talks about honoring the Sabbath. Verse 4 about not having idols, so that’s the second commandment. Verses 5 through 8 have to do with the peace offerings and how you are to eat of the food. This has to do with proper worship and sacrifices.
You have, in verse 19, a strange command – You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. That means with a different species of animal. You shall now sow your seed with two kinds of seed nor where a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.
What’s this about? The underlying principle is that God does not want us to mix together what He created to be distinct. This is actually the underlying principle when we come to matters of sexuality, and to use a modern term, “gender identity.” What God has created distinct, male and female, He doesn’t mean for us to confuse. Men are men and should look like men and women are women and should like women, and men and women were meant to come together in marriage, one man and one woman.
The principle is what God as designed in His divine order to be distinct should remain distinct. That’s the principle here, but here it has to do with two kinds of animals, so don’t breed a sheep and a goat. It’s not talking about kinds of cattle, different kinds of sheep, but you don’t breed a sheep and goat because God wanted those two separate. You don’t breed two kinds of seeds. You don’t wear garments.
Now notice it doesn’t say you don’t weave garments together, because there are some of the priestly garments that includes different kinds of cloth. So many commentators think this rule about not wearing a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material was really telling the lay people don’t try to put on the priestly garments, because though were the sort of garments made of two different kinds of material. Don’t venture forth to do the work of the priests if you have not been ordained to the priesthood.
You see also in verse 23 and 25, you have another strange rule. What is this about the fruit of the trees and three years it’s forbidden. Well, it’s really quite simple. Remember, God wants the first fruits, so when you plant a tree, He says, in order to get the first fruits of the harvest, it’s setting this principle that God doesn’t get our leftovers in life, He doesn’t just get a garage sale from us.
“Well, this is junk already,” my kids are always thinking, “We could get rich with a garage sale. We could make a lot of money.” Well, no, if we’re going to throw it in the trash, nobody wants to come and give us thousands of dollars to take it.
We sometimes have a garage sale mentality with God. God, if I’ve already got time left over, if I’ve already got money left over, You have it.
First fruits is the principle in the Old Testament. So literally you plant a tree. God says, “I don’t want you picking off these little bits of fruit. I want you to save it until the fourth year when we know that it’s fully mature, fully ripe, and you’re going to give that first fruits harvest unto the Lord. So in year five, go ahead and eat of the trees.” It’s protecting this principle of worship that God gets what is first and what is best.
Verse 26. We’ve seen the command before about not eating blood. We explained that two weeks ago. No sorcery, verse 26, and verse 36. Why? Because God has given to His people His Word. He’s spoken to us, here by the prophets, by Moses, by divine revelation, now in these last days by His Son and by the Word that the Holy Spirit has given to us. So you don’t go to fortune tellers, you don’t go to sorcerers, you don’t go to people who supposedly consult with the dead because that suggests you don’t trust God to tell you what you need to know, you need a tarot card, you need a Ouija board, you need somebody who can communicate with the dead, somebody who can go to the great beyond. No, God gives you what you need to know.
The reason that these are forbidden is its tantamount to rejecting God and the sufficiency of His Word.
Then you see verse 27 and 28 – You shall not round off the hair on your temples, mar the edges of your head, you shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves.
Okay, we’ve got to say something about this here. This is connected to pagan rituals and appearance. If you look over a couple of chapters, Leviticus 21 verse 5, “They shall not make bald patches on their heads nor shave off the edges of their beards nor make any cuts on their body. They shall be holy to the Lord and not profane the name of the Lord their God.”
The grouping of those things together with your hair and with cuts and with markings is because all of these were associated with pagan rituals.
You see this even more clearly in Deuteronomy 14:1. Let me read it to you: “You are sons of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your forehead for the dead.” That’s Deuteronomy 14:1.
So these kinds of rituals, don’t know why you would want a ritual baldness on your head, but it was something that was all the rage in the culture. Cutting yourself, tattoos, all of these things were linked to pagan appearance and pagan ritual.
So we cannot make an absolute command against tattoos. You may want to make prudential reasons why you wouldn’t have tattoos. We have those sort of prudential “no tattoo” reasons in our household, but you cannot say that as an absolute command of Scripture because it’s tied here explicitly to pagan appearance. It would be, to use an analogy, everyone would understand today that if you marked something with a swastika, no one would object to the Church saying absolutely you cannot do that, don’t mark your body with that, don’t mark a flag with that, because we all know that means something and has connotations with something wicked.
But perhaps 500 years from now those right angle lines that come together don’t mean anything and that history has been long washed away. We don’t know, so perhaps the symbol doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
That’s the sort of this thing this cutting, this hair, tattoos, the bald patches, were obvious in their cultural moment that this is associated with paganism, therefore you clearly should not do it. Those associations are not the same, and so the underlying principle is there, but the application looks different.
Now those are commands scattered throughout chapter 19 that have to do with the first table, with worshiping God, not giving into idolatry.
We want to spend our time, however, on the second table – Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus refers to this as the second great commandment, more important even than offerings and sacrifices.
Paul in Romans 13:19 says all the commandments are summed up in that because love is the fulfillment of the law.
Galatians 5:14 says the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
James calls this the royal law according to Scripture in James 2.
In fact, if we had more time, we could see every, almost every verse in this passage from Leviticus 19, certainly in this middle section about love your neighbor. Almost every one of these verses is alluded to in the book of James. James is among other things an extended commentary on Leviticus 19 and what it looks like to love your neighbor.
Now notice, before we get into the specifics, that love is very concrete, and love does not just exist in some box we label “religious” or “spiritual.” Love is not just a matter of vague abstraction. Love has to do with specifics, day-to-day, how do you treat people. Holiness is how people are set apart by God to live their lives in ways distinct from the world, and love, in Leviticus 19, is another word for this holiness.
You could think of love is holiness lived out for the good of others. Love is holiness lived out for the good of others.
Now this passage, this middle section in particular from verse 9 to verse 18, it’s not flowery. It doesn’t soar to the heavens. You don’t hear it read very often at weddings. There aren’t a lot of songs for it.
But it show us what this love looks like. This passage applies love to five different areas of life. You see there beginning at verse 9? You have these paragraphs, five of them, each of which end “I am the Lord your God.” You see those five paragraphs? You see the heading in the ESV, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and then there’s five sections, each ends with “I am the Lord your God.”
I want us to think of this as five love languages. Ah, someone should write a book. That would sell a lot of copies. We could build the track at Warner Park if I had written that book.
Five love languages. Not the marital love languages, but five Levitical love languages that you must embrace as a sign of holiness towards your neighbor.
Here they are.
We must love with our possessions, by our words, in our actions, by our judgments, and with our attitudes.
Those are the five Levitical love languages.
So look at the first paragraph, verses 8 through 10 – We must love others with our possessions.
You can understand what this agrarian command is about. In a society where people are farmers, subsistence farmers, and they go and they get their grain or they have grapes in their vineyard. You can imagine that as you’re doing the harvest, some of the sheaves fall to the side, some of the grapes fall on the ground, and this command says, “I don’t want you to go and pick up every last grape, I don’t want you get every last bit of the harvest. In fact, I don’t want you to go all the way out to the edges. You’re going to leave some. It’s going to be a little bit messy. It’s going to be hard for your OCD. But you’re going to leave this because some people, the poor, the sojourner, you’re going to allow them to come in and take some of what you’ve left.”
The best example, the most famous, is Boaz’s kindness to Ruth in letting her glean in the fields. They’ve experienced famine. Her and her mother-in-law have nothing. But Boaz, in his kindness, says, “Sure, you can come behind my reapers and go ahead.” And he actually tells the reapers, “Let her get as much as she can.”
This law of gleaning was in addition to the tithes that they brought in, in addition to the food that they shared with the priests. Those gifts probably added up to more than 20% of what they took in each year. This is on top of what they gave to support the priesthood, the tabernacle, the sacrificial system. This was specifically for the poor.
It’s not hard to understand the underlying principle. As God’s people, we should deliberately plan our financial lives so that we have extra left over to give to those in need. Yes, we live in a very wealthy country, the needs look different, the way of providing for the needs of people may look different, but the principle is the same, that we would not grasp tightly onto every last penny we earn or are given but we would let some of it slip through our fingers.
Gleaning was a conscious decision not to hold onto everything that belonged to you. It allowed the poor to benefit from your generosity, from God’s people and their generosity, that they didn’t all the way to the end maximize their standard of living, but they allowed some to fall through their hands for the poor.
What might this look like for us? Perhaps giving to the church’s Mercy fund. We have a history of people giving very generously to that, which provides quietly but consistently to people in need. Perhaps an anonymous gift to someone you know who is in need. Yes, it’s okay to give to people even if you don’t get a tax break for it. Think about a local charity you may want to give to, invest in scholarships or entrepreneurs. Maybe it’s as simple as being a big tipper at a restaurant, showing hospitality to people.
The principle you can see, they literally had margins. They had literal margins at the edge of their field. They didn’t go all the way out to the edge. They didn’t get every last penny accounted for, so in our financial life you need to have some margins. You don’t harvest everything. You don’t go back and pick up every last grape.
It’s an attitude of exuberance instead of exactitude. Let’s get everything. Of course, it’s good to be careful, good to count, all of that, appropriate, but what I mean by “exactitude” is I need to make sure that every last penny, dollar, cent, accounted for in my rather than an attitude of exuberance that says, “Yes, I want to be responsible but some of this happily to slip through my fingers and look for ways that I might help others and provide for the poor, the sojourner.”
Love others with our possessions.
Number two. Love others with our words.
Now verse 11 begins, “You shall not steal,” but actually the stealing seems to be related to bearing false witness, “You shall not deal falsely,” because the rest of verse 11 and 12 have to do with our speech. In particular, there are two contexts here where honesty is paramount, and it was in the ancient world and it is today, business and in the courts.
Do not steal, but the context suggests stealing is taking place by lying, dealing falsely with each other, as in a business setting. When we love, we tell the truth in all of our transactions.
Look back at the end of the chapter, verse 35 – “You shall do no wrong in judgment, the measures of lengths or weight or quantity, just balances, just weight, a just ephah, a just hin.”
This was one of the most common ways that you could cheat people because you’re weighing out what you get paid for your grain or for your produce and you would have a scale, you’ve all seen before. It’s weighted on one side and you stick some rocks in there to make it weigh heavier or lighter so that what you’re giving them is not telling the truth.
I think I’ve mentioned this to you before. My very first job was working at a grocery store, third shift bottle return. Hoo hoo. 10 at night to 7 in the morning. This was before the day of, especially you need to know in Michigan you get 10 cents, 10 cents. It’s a big deal to turn in your cans and your bottles, 10 cents, it was a big deal. This was before automated things. You just brought in a bag and then poor people like me were back there all night just separating Coke from Pepsi from 7-Eleven, I got to know all the different makes of beer bottles, and came home smelling wonderful.
But it turns out the people who come in with a bag… So then you print off their receipt, because you get 10 cents for every bottle or can that you bring in in the state of Michigan. Turns out that the people who come in at say 2 in the morning with a can of, you know, a bag of cans, ehh, aren’t always telling the truth. It’d be a black bag and they’d say, uh, 300 cans in here, $30, and then they’d leave and you’d open up later, I found rocks, I found bricks, I found Legos. I mean, just anything to just weigh this down. I thought, you just walked out? Sometimes the people, it was a disorganized place back there, sometimes the people I worked with because it was not well-accounted for, would walk out at the end of the day and write themselves off with one of these bottle receipts and walk off with some money.
A very easy, obvious example, but perhaps in our business transactions there is less obvious ones. Think about advertising. Advertising is an honorable profession and there’s nothing wrong with trying to make products appeal, so long as we tell the truth. It’s one of the reasons for the financial meltdown 15 years ago is people bundling things together and everyone sort of passing along from the homeowner to the many people in the financial services not telling the truth about what these things were.
Or perhaps promising more than you know your product can deliver. I ran across this story from many years ago in the earlier part of the 20th century. Douglas Aircraft was competing with Boeing to sell Eastern Airlines, which doesn’t exist anymore, to sell Eastern Airlines its first big jets. The president of Eastern Airlines was talking to Douglas Aircraft and reportedly told Donald Douglas his jets were as good as Boeing’s in every way except for noise suppression. They were louder than Boeing’s jets. He gave Douglas one last chance, “Can you out-promise Boeing? Can you promise that your jets will be quieter than Boeing’s?” After consulting with the engineers, Douglas reported back that he couldn’t make the promise. The president of Eastern replied, “I know you can’t. I wanted to see if you were honest,” and he gave him an order for $135 million worth of jets and he told him, “Go home and figure out how to make them quieter.”
It may not always be a happy ending. You may lose the sale sometimes. But we tell the truth.
It’s not that profits in business in wrong. We simply must keep our priorities in business. Think of it this way – principle, people, products, profits.
You put profits before your principle, before people, that’s when you get into trouble. But if you first have principles, and you love people, and you want to stand by your products or services or goods, and then a profit. That’s the right order.
So honesty in business, honesty in the courtroom. Especially in a day without surveillance cameras or DNA testing or wiretapping, everything depended on witnesses. That’s why bearing false witness was such a serious crime. Think of Ahab and Jezebel, who got worthless men to accuse Naboth and he died because of their false witness.
This matters in an official courtroom, it matters in the courtroom of public opinion as well. Now it’s true, we all can make honest mistakes, or we may interpret someone’s ideas or opinions, or we may just have honest disagreements. There’s a difference between disagreements and dishonesty. We must be careful in the court of public opinion that we don’t pass along slander or hearsay that we can’t confirm, or we’re eager to pass along reports that would only tear others down. Love, whether for our neighbors or our enemies, demands that we are careful with our words. We love with our words.
Third love language. Love others by our actions.
You see this in verses 13 and 14. As we’ve seen many times before, here we have the quintessential, biblical definition of oppression. Oppression is not equal if you have some kind of economic inequality. That may or may not be the result of oppression.
This is the quintessential example of oppression – when you promise to your day laborer to give them a wage and then the sun sets and you don’t give them what you promised. You defraud your workers. Because a day laborer is by definition someone who’s living day to day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. They don’t have recourse. They’re not powerful people. The ones who’s hired them out, they have the power and the status and the position. So it is a very easy thing to say, “Well, I don’t think your work was done up to snuff.” Or, “You know what, ah, turns out I don’t have anything. I don’t have any shekels to give you today. Why don’t you come back next week?” It was an easy way for landowners and employers to stiff their employees and their day laborers of their wages.
God in the Old Testament and in the New Testament consistently speaks out against this act of oppression.
The broader principle is that we must not take advantage of the weak. You see in verse 14, two very simple, obvious examples. Don’t curse the deaf, don’t put a stumbling block before the blind.
Those are really aphorisms. They’re maxims to illustrate how we should not take advantage of the weak.
Don’t curse the deaf. The deaf can’t hear you and so go ahead and curse them. Right? You won’t get in any trouble. Put a stumbling block before the blind. They can’t see, they won’t know who did it, you get advantage, you get to laugh.
The idea is simple – do not take advantage of those even if they have no recourse to hold you accountable.
What is the deaf man going to do when you curse him? He can’t hear. What will the blind person do when you put the stumbling block? They don’t know who did it.
We must not run roughshod over people because we can get away with it, because we know they don’t have money to get a good lawyer, or they won’t know how to use the legal system, or they don’t have the same level of education, or we understand we have a position of power or know-how or networking or contacts.
We must not manipulate children. We must deal kindly with people under our authority. We must not take advantage of people who look up to you and are eager to trust you and to please you.
You see in verse 20 – don’t take advantage of others sexually. That’s this rule about the man who lies sexually with a woman who is a slave. You can understand the man may be thinking, “Well, this is an easy way for me to fulfill my sexual desires. I don’t have to care for her, I don’t have to marry her. I can go to bed with her. She’s just a slave.” God’s Word says to do so is to pollute the land.
Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, verse 29. Now you think who on earth would profane your daughter by making her a prostitute. No parent would do that. Unconscionable. And yet it was common in the ancient world. It was a common profession, especially with shrines and temples. Though we wouldn’t think to do that exact thing, isn’t there a temptation, even in our own day, whether as parents or perhaps as employers, you leverage someone’s beauty for your own gain? You leverage their sexuality for your own profit? That’s what’s happening here.
We must give special honor to those who are older than us. Look back at verse 3, reasserting the fifth commandment. “Honor,” here is uses the word “Revere your father and your mother.”
It’s an asymmetrical relationship, parents and children, and there’s a reason… What’s the command God gives to parents? Fathers, in particular. “Don’t exasperate your children.” Moms and dads, you’re not told to obey your children, that happens too often. You’re not even the command to honor or revere your children, though we honor them in one sense.
No, our particular danger as parents is we exasperate them. They push our buttons, we push them back. We know how to make them frustrated, angry.
The command for you children, however, is to revere, to hold your… You can see how this goes both ways, as parents feel like, “Well, you’re not revering, you’re not honoring me,” and that’s when we do things that exasperate them. And then children, “Well, I’m exasperated,” then you turn around and you don’t revere, you don’t honor.
The command here children, and this goes with however old our parents are. Yes? When you move out on your own it looks different, but for all of live we honor and revere our parents, whether they’re good parents, bad parents, because of the role that they have in our lives.
Then verse 32. What a wonderful word about gray hair – You shall stand up before the gray head.
Why would I get rid of this gray hair? It’s an honor. “Honor the face of an old man.” So I guess I’m old. “You shall fear the Lord your God.”
Isn’t it the case, one of the ways that our world, our western American culture, is most in the opposite direction from the Bible, is in this matter? We’ve had since, what? At least the 60s probably, an ever increasing emphasis on youth culture. That’s the dominant, that’s what we want, that’s the marketing place that everyone wants. That sort of reorganized things around the preferences and the cultural expectations of the young.
This is strange in the history of the world, and it would seem very strange if you were to go to many places in Asia, many places in Africa. This would have been a very ordinary command, but it strikes us here as quite counter-cultural. Stand up before the gray head, honor the face of an old man, of an old woman, someone who is your senior, someone who is your elder, someone… The impetus, the assumption is this person, whatever imperfections, we all have, this person rather than our world saying this person probably has old, outdated ideas, probably just shuffle them off to the end of their days. The Bible says, no, your assumption ought to be this person has lived longer than you and they have something to teach you. They have wisdom that you don’t know about. They have things that you can learn from them and you ought to stand up and you ought to honor them before the Lord.
It’s one of the great things about this church is that we have generations, and it’s very unique, I think, that we have all these young people who made profession of faith, we have babies being baptized, we have young newlyweds, and we have lots of people senior adults who are coming in. That’s a healthy thing for a church. Let’s show a different kind of culture, a biblical culture, to honor the aged and the older among us.
Here’s the fourth love language, verse 15 and 16 – Love others in our judgments.
These courts would have been enmeshed in their community. You would know these people. They would know you. Notice what it says, because here’s the biblical definition of justice. We live in a day, everyone talks about justice, talks about social justice, but we have a hundred definitions of what that means. Here we have justice – You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great.
Justice is making a right, fair judgment.
You don’t defer to the poor. So if a poor man comes before you, you don’t say, “Well, this person’s never had any breaks in life. I know how much they could use this.” Nor do you defer to the great.
Suppose two men in the church had a property dispute, and a poor man from the church was doing work at a rich man’s house. The poor man says, “I was told that I would get $10,000 for the job,” and then the rich man claims, “Well, I said I would give $10,000 only if the work was done by a certain date, and he didn’t meet that deadline so I’m paying him $5000.” Then the poor man says, “Well, my children were sick. I couldn’t help it.” And they bring this case before the elders of the church. Not a real case going on that I’m aware of, but bring that case before the church.
The elders are tasked with making a right judgment. They cannot think to themselves, “Well, this great man, this rich man, is a big giver at the church and we went to Chapel Hill together and we’ve been friends for a long time so I’m going to be on his side.” Nor can you think, “Well, I’ve never like rich people and this poor man sure could use a break in life and he needs that extra $5000.”
The task of those in authority is to, at the best of their ability, to make a right judgment. Justice means rendering the just verdict.
Which is why in common iconography Lady Justice, you think on the top of court buildings, has scales because she’s weighing matters, a sword to execute justice, and is blindfolded because justice is supposed to be blind.
On the Supreme Court building in our own country are the words, “Equal justice under the law.” That’s the goal.
The goal is not to meet a predetermined result, the goal must never be to show partiality to one group based on their gender, based on their race, based on their ethnicity, based on their social standing, but it is to give equal treatment.
We see in the final paragraph of the chapter this includes the sojourner among you. This would be like our resident alien. Those who are among us even though they may not have access, they may not have your history, and they may be from a different place. They deserve the same equal treatment.
Then finally, in the last paragraph, loving others in our attitude.
It says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.”
Well, this is hard. The other ones we almost thought maybe we could do, but now it gets to the heart. We’re pretty decent at showing up for an hour and a half and being civil and polite, but some of us hold on to anger over past offenses, or we’re smiling in public and then we rip somebody to pieces in private, or we go home and say the sort of things we would never say out loud. We’re smiling on the outside, that’s what Southerners do, inside we’re seething.
Now you say, “What am I supposed to do? I can’t just tell myself not to hate. Can I?” Well, these verses tell us what we should do: “You shall go reason frankly with your neighbor lest you incur sin because of him.”
Strange phrase. What does it mean, “incur sin”? Does it mean you’re going to be guilty of sin if you don’t correct him? I don’t think that’s the case. I think what it means is unless you get this worked out, you’re going to have such bitterness, such anger, that it’s going to lead to sin and further festering hatred in your own heart.
Proverbs says it’s a glory to overlook an offense, so praise God, most of the stuff in life we can say, “Okay, nail it to the cross.” I don’t need to, you don’t need to, bring up everything anybody does that annoys you or we will never go home today. You don’t have to be the Holy Spirit in somebody else’s life.
But when there are those things that you cannot just overlook, and they’re adding a festering wound and a spirit of bitterness and what you see there in verse 18, a desire to take vengeance or to bear a grudge, you must go and speak to the person. That’s what it looks like. Very concretely. How do you get rid of this hate that you have, this burning, growing frustration and anger? You must, at some point when you’re calm, speak to them. That’s what love does. You may not win them over, but you go as a neighbor, and perhaps it’s as a family member, to speak love as you would want to be loved.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
We all know the verse and it’s hard to do. It means you have an open heart toward others. It means you are eager to forgive, because wouldn’t you want to be forgiven? How many times am I driving down the road and I see some terrible driver and think, “What an awful driver. I wish he would pull over and I could say something.” Then I think how many times I’ve been that driver and I hope that as I didn’t see somebody in my lane, they will have mercy and think, “Well, he’s having a bad day.” Isn’t that how you want to be treated?
Jesus said the judgment you want to receive should be the judgment you give to others. Do you want people to be exacting with all your faults? Do you want them to bring up, with a long list of all of their grievances? Do you never want anyone to give you the benefit of the doubt?
None of us want to be loved like that.
Do you want people to make the worst assumptions, put the worst constructions upon all of your motives?
No one wants to be loved like that.
We are responsible to treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated, and the way to move that hatred out of your heart is to speak in love, and to open yourself up. Yes, love always, love is vulnerable, love opens yourself up to being, to being frustrated, to being hurt, again, but that’s what love does.
Not when there’s immediate physical danger, but the sort of love that says, “I’m not going to hold everything that you’ve done against me before you. I’m going to make the first step to say I’m sorry.”
Two final thoughts. Do you want to love? Get to know the law.
Isn’t it true? We put law, love. You want to be a law Christian or love Christian? Well, I want to be the love Christian.
Well, Jesus said if you love Me, you do what? You obey My commandments.
Paul said the law is fulfilled in love and the fulfillment of love is the law.
If you want to know how to love, not just some ethereal, ooh, feeling the warm fuzzies today. That’s not love. It’s nice when you get those.
Concrete actions toward one another. You need the law to direct you.
Final thought. If you want love, get to know the law, and if you want love, get to know the only One who kept the law perfectly. Only one man ever loved His neighbor fully as himself. Only one man was always generous, always honest, always helpful, always fair. Only one man can forgive us of all our pettiness, all of our selfishness, all of our disobedience, because only one man has ever loved perfectly, and only man has ever satisfied the Father’s impartial standard of justice, and that man is the Lord Jesus Christ. The only One who has the power to forgive you, the power to change you, the power to enable you, the power by His Spirit to give you a new heart that you might love your neighbor as yourself.
Only Jesus spoke all of the five love languages with perfect fluency. Only Jesus can help us to speak them, too.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your Word, challenging but practical. Give us Your Spirit that we may understand, that we may apply, and even more so, that we may walk in these things, to love our neighbors as ourself, and to know Your love for us, forgiving us all our sins and giving us the Spirit to walk in Your ways. In Jesus we pray. Amen.