Lampstands, Levites and Lawsuits, Oh My!

Today’s Reading: Numbers 8-9; Psalm 48; 1 Corinthians 5-6

Scripture speaks and interprets other areas within Scripture. This is one of the principles for good bible reading that we need to understand as we seek to better understand the content and implications of the Bible.

Side note: I watched an interview between Rick Warren and John Piper recently that was actually really refreshing. I found myself early on in my Christian life (back in 2011)  drawn to the preachers and speakers who wore their theological stances on their sleeves. It was invigorating to listen to them preach a robust theology of God’s sovereignty and His holiness that actually spoke to how I lived daily. But as I’ve continued on in my walk with the Lord, I’ve grown tired of it. It began to feel like more of a hobby horse than anything else.

But Rick Warren mentioned how when he reads the bible and there are two apparent contradictions as he is reading (remember, “apparent contradiction” is important because I don’t believe there are any contradictions in the Bible by its own standards) that he needs to hold them in tension and believe them both. This is called conjunctive thinking. It’s the ability to hold tensions in your mind rather than say it must be one or the other. For example, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. God is sovereign over every detail of the universe including salvation, but that does not infringe upon our human responsibility or free will. We have to believe them both.

I bring that up because as we grow in our knowledge of Scripture, it is really important to hold those tensions together and allow the rest of Scripture to continue to unfold those meanings and help us interpret them. Bible saturation is a life-long process that has eternal dividends in that we come to know our Lord Jesus better the more we soak in His word as He is the Word.

So…

In Numbers 8 we read about the Levites needing to be cleansed and to shave all their body hair and be atoned for so that they can serve in the ministry of the tent of meeting… This is super weird to us cause you don’t see your pastors shaving all their hair or guarding the sanctuary from people going into it before a worship service.

The role of the Levites was to do all the service of the tent of meeting (pack it up and set it up whenever God had Israel move from one place to another while they were in the wilderness) and to guard it from Israelites approaching it.

But why would God require this of an entire tribe of Israel?

We see the answer in 8:19, “that there may be no plague among the people of Israel when the people of Israel come near the sanctuary.”

Remember, the tent of meeting was the physical dwelling place of God in the Old Testament (until it gets made into a temple later). God is absolutely holy, and completely other than His creation. God is so holy that even if His people came into His presence without being ceremonially clean, they would die. If people kept coming into contact with His holiness without being ceremonially clean as a people, then God’s holiness would bring plagues upon the people of Israel. So an entire tribe is committed to the work of the tent of meeting and to guard it.

God is holy and so we, today, need to not forget this reality. God is holy, He is set apart, He is completely other-than us.

But in the New Testament, Jesus actually covers believers. His blood is poured out on the cross and thus covers us and washes us clean so that we (Christians) can come into the holy presence of God and live. Jesus fulfills what the priests were called to do (make the people ceremonially clean before God and to atone for (remove the penalty) of their sin.

But, that does not mean we get a free pass. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 5-6. There are several things happening that Paul is rebuking the Corinthian church for.

  1. There was some crazing sexual immorality going on where a guy was sleeping with his “father’s wife.” So, this could mean that he was sleeping with his biological mother, or his dad had several wives and so he was sleeping with his step-mom. Still, Paul even mentions that the pagan don’t tolerate that kinda behavior but these Christians are proud of themselves for allowing him to remain in unrepentent fellowship with the church!
  2. Beleivers are filing lawsuits against believers. This is utterly inconsevable to Paul. Logically, there have to be other Christians amongst them that can help figure out the dispute before appealing to secular courts. But they just jump right into wronging and defrauding each other without any thought. Again, they are acting more like the pagans around them than the holy bride of Christ.

So Paul tells the Corinthians to expel this guy sleeping with his mom/step-mom and he rebukes them to stop suing each other.

Here is his logic in 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Each of the “yous” and “yours” in these two verses are plural. Paul is addressing the whole church community saying that they are the temple of God’s very presence… let that sink in. The very presence of God Almighty, the maker of the universe is dwelling by the Spirit in the midst of these people and they are completely acting contrary to the God who is with them… In the Old Testament, people literally had the earth open up and swallow them whole because they were unrepentantly rebelling against God. Let that sink in for a second.

As the Church, we have the very blood of Jesus covering us and protecting us from God’s holy presence. We have now become God’s children through receiving Jesus (John 1:12). But that should not drive us to allow and permit sin to abound in our communities. If there is someone who is unrepentantly sinning, they must be confronted, not to get them out because God will smite us (again, we have become His children, He loves us) but rather so that they can be restored to proper relationship with God and continue in God’s mercy and grace! We want to see our brothers and sisters restored to faithful communion with both the body of Christ and God Himself! Discipline must always be meant to lead to restoration.

All that to be said, we as the community of Jesus, need to recognize that the Holy Spirit dwells in our midst and we need to take that very seriously. In Acts 5, a couple lie to the apostles about how much money they gave to the community. They didn’t need to give anything, but they wanted to appear more holy than they were. As a result, the Spirit sentenced them to death and they died. We have to take God’s holiness in our midst seriously if we are going to bare Jesus’ name.

Now, that doesn’t eliminate grace. We are talking about ongoing unrepentant sin. And we don’t go from finding out about it to excommunicating someone. There is a long process here. Take Matthew 18 as a guide.

  1. go to the person who we believe has sinned against a brother or sister (we could after all not have the whole story or that person might not even realize it) and confront them in grace.
  2. If they deny it and continue in their sin and it is apparent that it is truly sin, then get another witness and go together to confront them (maybe they were having a bad day and just needed a win, so their hearts were hardened but the Spirit worked on them between then and now).
  3. If they still deny it, it’s time to get an elder or two involved who can help. Some of this is to show the person mercifully and graciously that their persistence in sin is actually a really big deal. It’s not to get them booted, it’s to restore them and bring them into right relationship with God. We hope and pray that someone would at least be willing to admit that they were in sin but didn’t want to change. Then we can work and help them see their need to repent and their need for Jesus, but until then it’s like… man we have to step it up a notch again
  4. This is where Paul goes with this guy in 1 Corinthians who was sleeping with his mom/step-mom: expel the guy from fellowship for a time, because he needs to see that he really is outside of the bounds of Christian practice and the body of Christ really takes sin seriously because God took it so seriously that Jesus had to come and die for sin’s penalty to be paid for on our behalf. Sin is a bid deal because Jesus died for it. All of this is in hope that they would repent and be restored to fellowship. We want this to happen. Paul wants this to happen. God wants this to happen more than any of us would!

We, as the community of Jesus are God’s holy temple of the Holy Spirit. Sin must be taken seriously which is why we make a regular practice of repenting of our sin and turning from our sin and walking in the new life Jesus provides for us. Jesus provides for us the righteousness that is necessary to be in God’s presence. Jesus provides for us his blood that covers the penalty of our sin so we can become God’s children. Jesus paid it all so that we could be restored to right relationship with one another and Him.

Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 10-11; Psalm 49; 1 Corinthians 7:1-24

 

 

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