Genesis and Exodus provide the perfect context for us to discuss, together, the community of faith. In Genesis we learn that God created people and desires to have a personal relationship with each one. In Exodus we learn that God’s desire remains the same in the context of a fallen world. Because He desires this personal relationship with us, He has structured His people in such a way that this relationship is strengthened in the context of a sinful world.

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In Exodus we discovered two things about the structure that God has given. First, He is making for Himself a kingdom of priests. This has been the case from Exodus (if not earlier) to Revelation. Second, God has given the special position of priest to a few. The purpose of the priest (paralleled by the office of pastor, elder, overseer or bishop in the New Testament), was to represent God’s redemptive work to the people, to sit as judges or overseers over the people (Deut. 17:8-13, 1 Peter 5:2), and to teach the whole counsel of Scripture (Deut. 33:10, Eph. 4:11-12, Acts 6:2).

Over the next few weeks, we will consider together the way in which God has structured His people and apply this to our own lives and the way that we do church. As we studied the Ten Commandments, we considered our individual relationships with our Lord. As we continue in the Law, here, we will think upon the relationship we have as a community of faith with God and upon our maturity, not just as individuals, but as a local faith family.

Leviticus 19:1-14 HCSB

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy.

“Each of you is to respect his mother and father. You are to keep My Sabbaths; I am Yahweh your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images of gods for yourselves; I am Yahweh your God.

“When you offer a fellowship sacrifice to the Lord, sacrifice it so that you may be accepted. It is to be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day, but what remains on the third day must be burned up. If any is eaten on the third day, it is a repulsive thing; it will not be accepted. Anyone who eats it will bear his punishment, for he has profaned what is holy to the Lord. That person must be cut off from his people.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You must not strip your vineyard bare or gather its fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident; I am Yahweh your God.

“You must not steal. You must not act deceptively or lie to one another. You must not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God; I am Yahweh.

“You must not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages due a hired hand must not remain with you until morning. You must not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you are to fear your God; I am Yahweh.

Holiness in community

The very first thing that we see in this section of the Law is a command from God for the people to be holy because He is holy. Just as God’s structure for His people is paralleled in the New Testament, this command is also restated for God’s people in our day (1 Peter 1:15-16). It is also important for us to note that this command is given specifically in the context of community. Holiness is practiced most prominently as the people of God gather together in the action of the community at large. While there is an individual aspect to the faith, holiness cannot be practiced apart from faith community.

God reinforces this communal aspect of the structure that He has put in place by reemphasizing some commands that He has already given. Respect your mother and father. Keep God’s sabbaths. Do not turn to or make Idols. “I am your God.” These commands are practiced individually and in the broader context of community. As we pursue holiness, then, we pursue holiness in the context of community.

There are a couple thoughts, here, worthy of our consideration. My hope is that in making these considerations together, our community is strengthened and we can better pursue the things of God together.

    1. Team-ministry: If church is a community affair, then the ministry of the church is to be a team-effort. If I ever find that I am making my own plans, pursuing my own direction, fighting to have things my way, or fighting to have a certain position in the church, then I am contradicting the very structure that God has given. Every believer is a priest. The same applies to every person in the church. We do not have a right to assume all ministry responsibility or authority. Neither do we have the right to place all responsibility on one or a few people.
      1. This idea might be applied further. It was never God’s design that professionals be hired to do the work of ministry. Sometimes in our modern context it is necessary, but God’s structure is that volunteers in the church step up and work together with the strengths God has given each one. This being said, I have strengths and weaknesses. Where I am weak, God has given someone else a strength that is to be used for His glory. Team-ministry.
      2. This idea might also be applied to our tithing. Every believer should be a contributor instead of only relying on others to fund the work of the church body.
    2. Inclusion: If church is a community affair, then the church was never to be programmatic in nature. There was never to be a youth program, a children’s program, or a young adult program that keeps those groups separate from the other parts of the body. The local church, in every generation, is to be unified (not necessarily uniform).
    3. Socialization: Furthermore, it is necessary, if Godly structure is to be pursued, that fellowship increase. When there are social events in the church (parties, dinners, etc…) it only benefits us to come together, the entirety of the church, to fellowship with one another.

Holiness in praise

This being said, it is important to clarify, here, that these works do not save us. Works in pursuit of holiness can only be in response to God’s saving grace by those who have received that saving grace. Our response to God’s grace is worship through obedience. As we think about praise, then, this realization must be made: Our songs mean absolutely nothing if we have not striven for obedience to our Father in heaven.

The Law gives, though, some specific instructions about how offerings are to be made to God. Firstly, offerings are a response to what God has already done. They are praise to the God who has saved us. This applies to our singing, our giving, and our willingness to engage the whole counsel of God’s instruction.

There is, though, a purpose for the offering that we give. Moses writes that offerings are to be given so that the community might be accepted. The King James Version translates this to say that offerings ought to be given according to our own free will, but in the Hebrew (לרצנכמ), we are clarified as recipients of God’s acceptance. This translation in the KJV differs from both the Hebrew and from the Greek Septuagint. Almost every other translation translates this verse from the Hebrew and in line with the LXX to say that offerings are to be given so that we may be accepted.

My impression was that God accepted everyone. It was that we are saved by grace, through faith. Is this not the way that things are? We must remember, here, that Israel had already been delivered. God’s grace came first, then His instruction. We do receive salvation as a gracious gift from our Lord. What does it mean then that we are to praise God, give offerings, and engage His word together so that we might be accepted? This is yet another part of God’s structure that He has reemphasized in the New Testament for us, “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).  The goal, brothers and sisters, is not that we might by some measure of our own will present something to God. It is that we would seek after God’s will and give whatever He asks for the glory of His kingdom, not ours. When we seek after God’s will instead of operating by our own will or on our own willpower, we will be accepted and pleasing to God beyond mere salvation.

Communities of faith become unacceptable and displeasing to God because they become seekers of self rather than pursuing God’s will in all things. This is yet another reason that it is important for us to receive the whole counsel of Scripture. I want to be acceptable and pleasing to God beyond mere salvation.

Holiness in consideration

As we consider others in our faith community, God gave some very specific instruction. We are to be considerate. We are to care for one another. We are to give to one another and sacrifice for one another.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You must not strip your vineyard bare or gather its fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident; I am Yahweh your God.

“You must not steal. You must not act deceptively or lie to one another. You must not swear falsely by My name, profaning the name of your God; I am Yahweh.

“You must not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages due a hired hand must not remain with you until morning. You must not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but you are to fear your God; I am Yahweh.

What does it mean for each one to live in a community of faith? It means we give without expecting anything in return. It means we deal honestly with one another. It means that we resolve not to oppress one another in any respect. It means that we commit not to condemn one another because of our insufficiencies. We put all others first. Consequently, this means that if we ever find ourselves complaining because we aren’t being served, or there is not a program for us at a church, or that we haven’t been given the position we think we deserve; then we, by our actions, contradict the very structure that God has had in place for His people in this sinful world.

Let this be our response as we respond to God’s amazing saving grace. Let us, together, pursue holiness in community, in praise, and as we consider one another in the faith. Let us be a community of faith after God’s own heart, everyday giving ourselves to God because He gave Himself to us.

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