June 8, 2005
Doing the Right Thing to Pagans and Strangers
J. Ligon Duncan
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter nineteen. This is one of the best-known chapters in the Book of Leviticus, in part because this is the chapter from which the New Testament gets the phrase “love your neighbor as yourself.” It's part of this final section of Leviticus that concerns the practice of holiness. It's telling believers in the one true God what practical godliness looks like in daily life. And even as last week the practice of holiness was dealt with along the lines especially of sexual purity over against a rampant sexual immorality in the Canaanite culture, so also this passage deals with how one goes about truly loving one's neighbors and those strangers who dwell in your midst, while at the same time retaining a loyalty, a fidelity, to the one true God.
Let me outline the passage for you before we read this long chapter together.
First of all, you’ll see a prologue in the first two verses…and by the way, let me give you a challenge at the outset: by the time we're through, count how many times the phrase “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord your God” is repeated. This phrase is the motivating phrase, or the basis for all of the commands that are given in the passage. There are numerous “you shall” and “you shall not's” given in the passage, but as numerous as those commands are, what strikes you about this whole chapter is how often the phrase is repeated, “I am the Lord,” “I am the Lord your God” as the rationale for why the people of God ought to live the way that God is telling them to live. So look for those.
The first thing we see in verses 1 and 2, then, is the prologue.
Then in verses 3-10, we will see holiness described in terms of observable obedience to certain commands, both commands that we might call ‘first table’ and ‘second table’ commands. If we think of God's Ten Commandments in terms of two tables, the first table pertaining to obedience to God and love to God, the second table pertaining to love to our neighbor, then in verses 3-10 of Leviticus 19 we see holiness specifically manifested in observable obedience in both love to God and love to neighbor.
Then, thirdly, if you look at verses 11-18, we will see Moses give us the concrete content of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves: in tangible actions, in other words. Verses 11-18…that's the third section of the passage.
Then, if you look at verses 19-31, you’ll see the fourth section of this passage. And in this section of Leviticus 19, holiness is looked at from the standpoint of believers separating themselves from that which is unholy.
And then finally, in verses 32-27 we see the fifth section of this passage, and here we see holiness described in terms of the way that we treat those who are elderly, and those who are strangers dwelling in our midst–those who are not “us”, but they’re in the midst of us.
Well, having heard this outline, perhaps that will help you in the reading and the hearing of God's word. Before we read God's word, let's ask His help and blessing.
Lord God, we thank You for Your word. It is ever fresh. It speaks to us of the truth, because it is Your word. And so we ask that You would grant that Your servants would hear and respond in faith. O Lord, teach us to love Your law, and by Your Holy Spirit work the truth of Your law into our hearts. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word in Leviticus 19.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Every one of you shall reverence 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 yourself molten gods; I am the Lord your God.
“Now 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, and the next day; but what remains until the third day shall be burned with fire. So if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an offense; it will not be accepted. And everyone who eats it will bear his iniquity, for he has profaned the holy thing of the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from his people.
“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for 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 falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.
“You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord.
“You shall not hate your fellow-countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love you neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
“You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together. Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed, nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord to the doorway of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.
“And when you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten. But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. And in the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you; I am the Lord your God.
“You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying. You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads, nor harm the edges of your beard. You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.
“Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land may not fall to harlotry, and the land become full of lewdness. You shall keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the Lord.
“Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.
“You shall rise up before the grayheaded, and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
“You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt. You shall thus observe all My statutes, and all My ordinances, and do them: I am the Lord.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I. God-motivation to holiness: we are to be holy because He is holy and we are His image.
Now, let me just quickly walk through five things that we learn in this passage, and the first you see right there in the prologue. The Lord tells Moses in verse2 to speak to the congregation and say, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy.” In other words, we see, just like we saw last week in Leviticus 18 a God-motivation to holiness. The people of God are called to be holy because of what God is like. We are to be holy because He is holy, and we are His image.
In Genesis 1 we are told that man was created in the image of God. One of the things that we do as image-bearers is reflect the glory of our Creator. And as the Creator is holy, so His redeemed people are to be holy. They have been chosen by grace out of this world in order to be holy, and so this God-motivation to holiness is stated at the very beginning of the passage.
We observed last week that the Bible gives us a number of different motivations to holiness. Sometimes our motivation to holiness is the motivation of gratitude for the rich mercy of God, for His undeserved grace to us, and the realization that God has been gracious to us moves us to gratitude and thankfulness, and to obedience.
Other times, the Bible gives us different motivations for holiness. Sometimes that motivation for holiness is a warning of certain destruction that will come to those who are unholy. In this passage God gives Himself as a motivation to holiness: You are My people; I am holy; therefore, you are to be holy. You are to be like Me. You are to bear witness to the world as to what I am like.
God is deploying us as living character representatives to the world; and, therefore, if we are to bear the right representation of who He is to the world, we are to be holy. And so at the very outset we see this God-motivation to holiness.
Then, Moses does not leave this call to holiness in some sort of a vague, generic sort of term. He gives very specific, concrete, tangible examples of what it means to be holy, so that holiness isn't some sort of an ethereal idea, where you picture someone sort of floating three feet off the ground, and disconnected to reality. This holiness is very earthy, it's very daily, it's very mundane, it's very practical. It's very much interwoven in the whole fabric of daily life. It's manifest in our family relationships, it's manifest in our business relationships, it's manifest in terms of who we do associate with and who we don't associate with, and how we associate with those with whom we associate. So let's look at the four other sections of this chapter in which that tangible aspect of holiness is defined.
II. God's people are to manifest their holiness by honoring parents, keeping the Lord's Day, worshiping only the one true God in the way He has commanded, and by caring for the poor among you.
First of all, holiness is specified in terms of observable obedience to the Ten Commandments, both in terms of love to God and in terms of love to neighbor.
Look, as I work through this list–look at verses 3-10, and watch the flow of argument. Notice first: reverence for mother and father; keep My Sabbaths; verse 4, do not turn to idols or make yourselves molten gods; and then, this long section from verse 5 to verse 8 which describes again the way that the offering of peace offerings is to be carefully done in accordance with God's commands. Then, look again at verse 9 and the command that when you reap your harvest you shall not gather the gleanings, or reap the corners, (verse 10) you shall leave them for the needy and for the strangers.
So what is holiness supposed to look like? Well, Moses tells you here in verses 3-10, holiness is to be manifested in this way: God's people are to manifest their holiness by first honoring parents. “Reverence your father and your mother.” Again, this comes right out of the Ten Commandments.
“Keep My Sabbaths.” Keep My days, keep My appointed Sabbaths. Whether it's the weekly Sabbath or whether it's the Sabbath of the field or the Jubilee, ‘keep My appointed days,’ He's saying.
Then, “Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods.” Worship the one true God; don't turn to idols. Worship the one true God in the way the one true God says [He's] to be worshiped: don't make molten images. And so the first and second commandments are involved there.
So we get the fourth command, the fifth command, and the first and second commands right off the bat in the very first verses. You can guess what Moses is doing in this passage. Over and over we see direct and indirect references back to the Ten Commandments.
Then again, if you look at verses 9 and 10, what is being specifically commanded here is that holiness entails caring for the poor among you. This is the people of God, Israel, and they’re not to neglect those who are poor among them. And so their holiness is manifest in those observable, practical, tangible ways of honoring parents, keeping the Lord's days, worshiping the only true God in the way that He has commanded, and caring for the poor among them. So both the first table (love God) and second table (love your neighbor) commands provide a practical manifestation of a person who is living a godly, a holy, life.
But Moses doesn't stop there. He goes on, and this is the third section of the chapter. Look at verses 11-18. Here he states in verse 18 the famous command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which of course Jesus says is the second great commandment. The first great commandment, love the Lord your God; and the second is like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself.
III. God's people are to manifest their holiness by refraining from theft, false dealing and lies, oppression of neighbor, mistreatment of the handicapped, legal injustice or partiality, slander, harm, hatred, vengeance against God's people.
Notice how that command, that great commandment, that second great commandment, is defined for us from verses 11 to 18. When we hear the word love in our culture and time, the first thing that pops into our mind is emotion, or feeling. We think of love in terms of an emotion or a feeling, but notice how love is defined in verses 11-18. It is a tangible action rather than a feeling or an emotion.
Moses is giving us the content of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself here. Let's look at them: “You shall not steal, or deal falsely, or lie to one another”; (verse 12) “You shall not swear falsely by My name”; (verse 13) “You shall not oppress your neighbor.” Now look at how oppression is defined: by robbing him or by holding back the rightful wages of the hired man.
(Verse 14) “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before a blind man.” And notice this interesting phrase, and you’ll see it twice in the passage–not cursing a deaf man, and not putting a stumbling block before a blind man is equated with what? Fearing God. If you fear God, you won't curse a deaf man and you won't place a stumbling block before a blind one.
So notice how obedience to God in love to neighbor in those passages is intimately and directly linked to loving God (obedience to the first table of God's word).
Verse 15 — “You shall do no injustice in judgment.” You shall be impartial in legal matters. (Verse 16) “You shall not go about as a slanderer…” or “…act against the life of your neighbor.” (Verse 17) “You shall not hate your fellow-countryman in your heart;” (verse 18) “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge…”
So look again. In this section, what we see here is a definition of what it means to love your neighbor. And Moses is saying God's people are to manifest their holiness first…how? By refraining from theft: don't steal; by refraining from false dealing; do not deal falsely; by refraining from lies: do not lie to one another; by refraining from oppression of a neighbor; from mistreatment of the handicapped; from legal injustice or partiality; from slander; from harm; from hatred; from vengeance against God's people. In all of these ways, neighbor-love is defined in these tangible, practical ways.
I've told you the story before, but it bears repeating because it's a good example. A famous pastor in the Washington, D.C., area, who eventually was named U.S. Senate Chaplain, was approached by a man who owned a string of car dealerships in the area, who was a Christian by profession. And he said to this pastor, “I want to do something to bear witness to my customers, and I'm thinking of buying a particular evangelistic book, or a New Testament or something, and have all my salesmen give those out to the people that visit my automobile dealerships.” Well, this man was also known to be fairly unscrupulous in the way that he dealt with his customers, and the pastor had enough bravery to say to him, “Well, you know, what would really be better than you giving out these books or those Testaments would be for you to treat your customers fairly.” Well, that's exactly what Leviticus 19 is saying: Show the love of God by loving your neighbor, by dealing justly with your neighbor, by not robbing your neighbor, by not dealing falsely or inappropriately with your neighbor, or taking advantage of your neighbor.
So here love of neighbor is defined in terms of tangible, practical, just actions towards our neighbors. In other words, you can love your neighbor as yourself in these ways without even liking your neighbor. Whether you like your neighbor or not is irrelevant. God calls on us to treat our neighbors in these just ways.
IV. God's people are to manifest God's holiness by keeping the ceremonial distinctions intact that God has established for animals, plants and fibers, by preserving slave women from abuse, by keeping distinct from the pagan Canaanite cultures.
Then, if you look at verses 19-31, here we see holiness in terms of separation from that which is unholy. It starts off with those strange ceremonial commands in verse 19 about mixed cattle, and mixed crops, and mixed garments. Again the idea there is that the people of God are going to manifest God's holiness by keeping those ceremonial distinctions intact that God has established for animals and plants and fibers. That was going to make them visibly holy, visibly different in the eyes of the people of the land where they were going to be dwelling.
But then from that point on, all of the rest of the commands from verse 20 on down to verse 31 are designed to show how the people of God are distinct from the pagan Canaanite culture into which they are going.
In that culture, slave women were taken advantage of sexually, and the commands of verse 20 down to verse 22 are designed to protect the vulnerable slave woman in Israelite culture.
But then all of the other commands, again, are designed to keep Israel distinct from the pagan Canaanite culture; to be separate from that which is unholy. We've stressed throughout the Book of Leviticus that many of the commands that God gave were specifically designed to keep Israel from having any sort of a friendship or interaction with the pagans around them that would have led them into idolatry and disloyalty to the living God.
V. God's people are to manifest God's holiness by honoring the elderly, loving the stranger as yourself, especially in just dealings.
Finally, if you look at verses 32-37, here holiness is manifest in our treatment of the elderly and the stranger. God's people are to manifest God's holiness by honoring the elderly, by loving the stranger as themselves, especially in just dealings.
Let's look at this verse, verse 32: “You shall rise up before the grayheaded, and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God….” There's the second time that happens in the passage. Fearing God, or revering God, is directly related to and almost equated to honoring those who are aged, treating well those who are elderly.
And then, this striking section beginning in verse 33 says it's not simply your fellow Israelite that you are to treat justly, that you are to love as yourself, but even the stranger who lives among you. Look at the language: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong.”
Now here's the other side of that: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself….” In this passage two reasons are given for this. The first was…what? “For you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” In other words, God is saying, ‘You will remember how you were mistreated when you were aliens, when you were strangers in another land. That's not how we're going to treat strangers in our land. We’re going to treat strangers rightly, justly, kindly, fairly. You were treated unrighteously, unkindly, unjustly, unfairly; that's not how we're going to treat strangers in our land.
And then He gives again that other rationale: “I am the Lord your God.” Why is it that you have to treat strangers justly and fairly, and kindly and uprightly? Because God is God. Because God is holy. Because God has called us to be holy.
And then look at all the practical examples of how you’re going to love your neighbor: “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, a just hin: I am the Lord…who brought you out from the land of Egypt.” And so in your business dealings with a stranger, you’re going to deal uprightly; you’re going to treat him fairly and justly.
In other words, you’re going to do right by pagans and strangers, even though Egypt did not do right by you when you were enslaved in the land of Egypt. And in all these ways God intends to manifest His holiness in the lives of His people.
Now, though there are many, many things that are different for us as Christians today–for instance, the ceremonial commands with regard to the mixed garments–though there are many, many things that are different today, the basic principles here set forth for loving our neighbors are still in effect, because they flow right out of who God is, just as His moral law flows out of who God is. And so God calls us to manifest His holiness in our love, in our practical, tangible, mundane daily love to our neighbors, and even to those who are strangers…even those who are not like us.
May God help us to do that by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord and our God, we pray that as Christians who have seen the Lord Jesus Christ in the example of His life recorded for us in Your word live out Your truth and love His neighbor, we pray that by Your Holy Spirit that we, too, would follow His example; that we would emulate His love. We have a greater example than the Old Testament saints did in holiness: we can point to the Savior who perfectly fulfilled Your law. Give us the same kind of love for Your truth that He had. Give us desire to walk in holiness like He desired to do the will of His heavenly Father. By the grace of Your Holy Spirit, use our lives as a witness to the transforming and cleansing power of God in salvation. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing.