St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Be Holy

Sermon on Leviticus 19:1,2,17,18

Text: The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

In 1980, the U.S. Army introduced the recruitment slogan: “Be all that you can be.” What was suggested in this slogan was that you have great potential. You just need someone to help you reach it. It was an effective marketing tool. This morning, as God addresses us, he also sets a goal in front of us. He says “BE HOLY.” However, this is not some sort of level that we have the potential of reaching. Rather, as we soon see it is 1. Impossible For Us. Yet, we will also see that it is possible. It is 2. Possible Only By God’s Grace In Christ.

God tells us “Be holy.” What does it mean to be holy? It means to be set apart, consecrated, without any imperfection. It means that we are to be without sin. Of course, our human nature will immediately begin the comparison game. It automatically looks at other people and compares our life to theirs. We catch ourselves thinking, “I’m not perfect, but, at least, I don’t do this or that.” We can always find someone who is worse than we are. That becomes our definition of holy.

However, God has a different standard when it comes to being holy. He holds himself up as the standard that we are to be at. He says, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” We are to be at God’s level when it comes to holiness. We are not to compare our lives to other people. We are to stack our lives against God. How well do we fare when we do that?

Our text gives us several opportunities to compare our lives to God’s standards. First of all, we read in verse 17, “Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart.” We might think that we have this one covered. After all, we tell ourselves, we don’t hate anyone. In the verses that follow, God shows us some of the ways that hatred is shown to the people around us.

In verse 17, God tells us, “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.” God gives us a practical example of how we are to love our neighbor, that is, the people around us. We are to rebuke them when they are doing something that is wrong, something that is sinful. When we do this, we are not doing it to make ourselves feel superior to that person. Our goal is always that they see the seriousness of their sin so that they come to God in repentance and receive the assurance of sins forgiven. This is our responsibility. God wants us to go to them, even if they have wronged us, and tell them of their sin. Rather than hating our neighbor, God’s people are to bring them to repentance.

It is ironic that this positive act of love is often received as the exact opposite. Rather than that person being grateful that we care enough about them to warn them about the seriousness of their sin, they become angry with us. This is one of the reasons that we neglect this command of God. We are afraid that people won’t like us. This is especially true if that person is near to our hearts. We don’t want to hurt their feelings, so we say nothing at all.

However, God tells us that when we fail to rebuke our neighbor, we “share in their guilt.” How is this so? When we fail to rebuke a sin, we end up becoming an enabler. This term is often used with addiction. There is the person who is addicted to some sort of destructive behavior. It might be alcohol or drugs or anything that causes harm to the person. The enabler downplays the addict’s destructive behavior. He makes excuses for it. However, because they are not helping that person put a stop to that behavior, they end up contributing to that person’s self-destruction. The fact of the matter is that all sin is additive. It becomes easier and easier to do. In the end, it leads to destruction. Yet, how often don’t we do the same thing that an enabler does for the one with a physical addiction. We downplay another’s sin. We make excuses for another’s sin. We don’t tell them what the eternal consequences are for their actions. God’s people are not to be enablers of any sin. By rebuking that sin, we are showing the greatest love – tough love – that cares for the soul. When I hear this, I have to ask myself, have I shown love to those around me or have I ended up hating them?

Going on in verse 18, God says, “Do not seek revenge.” Again, this command goes against my natural inclination. What I naturally want to do is to get even with people who hurt me. If someone does something mean to me, I want to do something mean to them. If someone says something mean, I am going to say something mean to them. Perhaps, we console ourselves by thinking that I’m not going to do something back to them. However, there will come a day when they get theirs and I hope that I am around to see it. Is that the attitude that God demands from us?

Next, God tells us, “Do not . . . bear a grudge against anyone among your people.” It is so easy for us to bear grudges against people who hurt us in any way. We say things like, “I will forgive you, but I will never forget what you did to me.” Is that really forgiveness? We may think that we are not holding any grudges against anyone. Yet, how often doesn’t it happen that when I see a particular individual who did or said something that hurt me, those old feelings come storming back. Holding a grudge is not what God demands from us.

Finally, we read, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We just had Valentine’s Day, when people expressed their love for others. What about the day after? Did we continue to express love for others or did we go back to being our old selfish selves? Look at the ways that we treat ourselves. We take care of ourselves. We make sure that we are happy. We would never go out of our way to make life miserable for ourselves. We are to show the same sort of love and concern for those around us, even those people who are not loving toward us? Have we always exhibited this type of love in our lives?

As we look at these things that God tells us in our sermon text, as well as so many other places in Scriptures about how we are to live our lives, we see how far short we fall of God’s overarching command at the beginning of our text, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” When sinful man stands in the presence of God’s holiness and his commands, they are filled with fear. The scene that is described when Moses received the law from God is quite fitting. It is described in Hebrews 12:18-21, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’” This cannot help but be our reaction when we hear God say to us, “Be holy,” because we know that there is no way that we can ever be holy. God is also clear when he tells us that he will not allow anything that is not holy to be in his presence. This means that we would be destined to spend eternity apart from God’s love in the fires of hell.

When we hear this, we cannot help but cry out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Where can we ever hope to find any rescue from this situation that we have gotten ourselves into? The answer is found in one word in our text: “LORD.” God concludes verse 18 by saying, “I am the LORD.” In the Old Testament, when you see the word “LORD” all in capital letters, you see a very special name for God. It was a name that God used to remind the people of his love for them. When the Israelite saw this word, he would think of the God who loved his people so much that he rescued them from their bondage in Egypt. He was the God who thoroughly defeated Pharaoh and his army. He had provided for them and protected them. He promised that he would lead them to the Promised Land. When they heard the word “LORD,” they heard God’s love for them.

You and I find our comfort in this word, as well. God showed that he wanted to rescue his people from the bondage of sin that they were in. It was the LORD who came to Adam and Eve with the promise of a Savior. God was faithful to his promise centuries later when he sent his Son, Jesus, into the world. Because Jesus was also a human being, he was also under the same command that you and I are under. He was to be holy. The difference between us and him is that he was holy. He always showed the type of love that we have described. He forgave those who wronged him. He did not retaliate when people said hurtful things or did hurtful things to him. He was holy for you and for me. Then, to pay for all of the times when we weren’t loving, as well as all of the other times that we weren’t holy, Jesus suffered and died on the cross. He paid our entire debt of sin. Since that sin is gone, when God looks at us, he sees holiness. God demands holiness. We are holy because of Jesus’ love for us. Because we are holy, we now have joy of a restored relationship with God. We know that he loves us and cares for us. We know that he will continue to lead us through this life until we reach the land that he promised us. We will be in heaven with him for all eternity. Though we are not holy on our own, we are holy because of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Since we have been declared holy, now we have the privilege to serve our God with our lives. Now, when we read God’s laws, we see opportunities to thank God for all that he has done for us. We see ways that we can show our love for God. For example, now when I hear God say to me, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I say that is what I want to do. There are so many ways that God gives to each of us every day to show love to those around us. That’s really what “love” is. It isn’t so much an emotion as viagra sans ordonnance it is action. The apostle Paul gives us a beautiful description of Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13. As we hear it, may God open our eyes to the many ways that we can put this type of love into practice. He says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) Because we have been made holy through the work of Jesus Christ, God gives us these many different ways to live lives that please him. May he help us to take full advantage of them.

That old army slogan “Be all that you can be,” was good for recruitment. However, if we were to apply it to our relationship with God, it would be most terrifying. What we could never be is holy, which is what God demands of us. All that we could be would be lost forever. However, by God’s grace through the working of Jesus Christ, we have been made holy. We are holy. We praise God for his amazing love. Now, out of thanksgiving for all that he has done for us, we now have this slogan for our lives, “Be all that God has redeemed you to be.” May God help us to this end. Amen.