Personal Holiness at All Costs and at All Times

1 And the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people, except for his closest relatives, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, or his virgin sister (who is near to him because she has had no husband; for her he may make himself unclean). He shall not make himself unclean as a husband among his people and so profane himself. 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 their God and not profane the name of their God. For they offer the Lord‘s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy. They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God. You shall sanctify him, for he offers the bread of your God. He shall be holy to you, for I, the Lord, who sanctify you, am holy. And the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by whoring, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.

10 “The priest who is chief among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured and who has been consecrated to wear the garments, shall not let the hair of his head hang loose nor tear his clothes. 11 He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother. 12 He shall not go out of the sanctuary, lest he profane the sanctuary of his God, for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is on him: I am the Lord. 13 And he shall take a wife in her virginity. 14 A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people, 15 that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am the Lord who sanctifies him.” Leviticus 21:1-15 ESV

A life of holiness was a non-negotiable requirement for all of God’s people but it was especially important for those men who served as priests and intermediaries between Yahweh and His chosen people. So beginning in chapter 21 and running all the way through Leviticus 22:16, God turns His attention to the priesthood. Aaron and his sons had been given the responsibility of ministering within God’s house, the Tabernacle, where He had promised that His holy presence would reside. Their vital role within the sacrificial system established by God required them to live up to a more stringent set of standards. God had given them the responsibility of serving as spiritual instructors for His people.

“You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean. And you must teach the Israelites all the decrees that the Lord has given them through Moses.” – Leviticus 10:10-11 NLT

And they were to teach by example as well as by word. And it’s interesting to note that when Jesus was describing the religious teachers of His day, He basically recommended that His disciples do as they say, but not as they do.

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. – Matthew 23:2-3 NLT

There was no room for hypocrisy and duplicity in the life of God’s priestly leaders. Their lives belonged to God and they served on His behalf and at His behest. Their role as priests was not a job, but a calling. Yawheh had set apart Aaron, his sons, and the rest of the men of the tribe of Levi, and given them the mission of serving as His ministers and as emissaries to the rest of the nation of Israel.

God wanted His priests to understand and embrace the importance of their calling, so He provided them with a diverse range of regulations and rulings that concerned matters that might disqualify them for service. Anything that could result in their ceremonial defilement was to be avoided at all costs. These men were to take special precautions to maintain their purity and preserve their holiness. Their intimate connection with the Tabernacle required that they pay special attention to every area of their daily lives. Most of these commands have to do with their “off-duty” hours when they were not serving in their official capacity as priests. But even when they weren’t “on the clock,” they were to remain vigilant about their spiritual purity.

Death was a daily reality among the Israelites. The elderly passed away from natural causes. Others died from injuries or accidents. Disease and illness took their toll on some. But in all of this, the priests were never to allow themselves to become defiled by coming into contact with a dead body. Should this happen, they would become ceremonially unclean and unfit for service. But God gave a special exemption in terms of family members.

The only exceptions are his closest relatives—his mother or father, son or daughter, brother, or his virgin sister who depends on him because she has no husband. – Leviticus 21:2-3 NLT

In all other cases, the priests were to avoid any and all contact with the dead. And not only that, the priests were prohibited from imitating the mourning rituals of the pagan religions of the Canaanites. God strictly forbade His priests from shaving their heads, trimming their beards, or cutting their bodies. God had already addressed these issues back in chapter 19.

“Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards. Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:27-28 NLT

None of the Israelites were to practice the occult-like rituals of the Canaanites. But these kinds of practices were especially off-limits for the priests of Yahweh, and rightfully so.

“Not only did such rituals show the priest mourning the dad, but they involved mutilation of the body and possibly suggested pagan veneration of the dead.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus

God demanded that Moses and the people of Israel treat the priests as holy “because they offer up food to your God. You must consider them holy because I, the Lord, am holy, and I make you holy” (Leviticus 21:8 NLT). In a sense, it behooved the people of Israel to help protect the purity of the priesthood because of their vital role in the sacrificial system. Unholy priests would be of no help when it came to seeking atonement from God. So, it was incumbent upon all the people to assist the priests in their pursuit of holiness.

That’s why God addressed the subject of priests and marriage. They were strictly prohibited from marrying women who were prostitutes or divorced. To do so would result in their defilement and disqualification for priestly service. And God considered prostitution so dangerous to priestly purity that He actually addressed what to do if a daughter of a priest was found to be a prostitute.

“…the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by whoring, profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire. – Leviticus 21:9 ESV

This was serious business to God. The daughter’s willful actions negatively impacted her father’s holiness thereby invalidating him from priestly service to the Lord, and the only way to remedy the problem was to remove the impurity – permanently. Most likely, the woman was to be executed, then her body was to be burned. This would serve to purify the father from defilement and restore his ability to perform his role as a priest.

Verses 10-15 address the high priest in particular. As the highest-ranking member of the priesthood, Aaron was placed under even stricter requirements. When it came to mourning the death of a loved one, he was not allowed to “leave his hair uncombed or tear his clothing” (Leviticus 21:10 NLT). As the spiritual leader of God’s people, he was not permitted the luxury of mourning like everyone else. He represented God at all times. So, God denied him the right to mourn like everyone else. He was not allowed to go anywhere near a dead body, even if it belonged to his own father or mother. And God gave the reason for this harsh-sounding restriction.

He must not defile the sanctuary of his God by leaving it to attend to a dead person, for he has been made holy by the anointing oil of his God. I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 21:12 NLT

Even the death of a parent was not to distract the high priest from his calling as the mediator between God and His people. God had set Him apart for His service alone. Others would have to mourn the dead because the high priest had been set apart to worship the living God. And this principle is echoed by the words of Jesus found in the gospel of Matthew. One day, Jesus was approached by a young man who expressed the desire to be His disciple but he gave the excuse, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (Matthew 8:21 NLT). But Jesus gave what sounded like a harsh and compassionless response. 

And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” – Matthew 8:22 NLT

Some commentators believe the issue was that the young man was postponing his commitment and using the future death of his father as an excuse. They speculate that the death of the young man’s father was not imminent but only inevitable. There was no funeral about to take place. The young man was simply hoping to delay his commitment to a later date. But it makes more sense to see this passage through the lens of Leviticus 21. Jesus was calling on this man to make serving God his highest priority, placing greater value on following the Lord of life than in mourning the dead.

Even when it came to marriage, the high priest had to answer to his higher calling. God prohibited Aaron and his successors from marrying a woman who was a widow, divorced, or a known prostitute. And whoever the high priest ended up marrying was required to be “a virgin from his own clan” (Leviticus 21:14 NLT). The wife of the high priest was expected to help maintain his holiness and provide him with future offspring who might serve in his place upon his death. Purity was essential. Holiness was critical. Because the high priest and his associates represented God at all times. Of all people within the camp of Israel, they were expected to pursue and maintain personal holiness at all costs and at all times.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Shepherds Wanted

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches in Crete. As Paul’s letter will shortly disclose, there was a problem with disorder and doctrinal disruption among the believers on the island. Paul will describe these individuals as “rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others” (Titus 1:10 NLT).  He will accuse them of “turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). And to make matters worse, they were doing so for financial gain. That’s why Paul reminds Titus that he has been left in Crete to “complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you” (Titus 1:5 NLT).

Paul gave Titus a two-part commission. His first priority was to put in order or to complete what was lacking or left undone. There were some issues within the church there that needed to be taken care of, and Paul spends a good portion of his letter explaining exactly what the issues were. But the second part of Titus’ commission was the appointment of elders. Paul knew that Titus was going to need help. A big reason for the lack of order was the void of qualified leaders. If any organization finds itself lacking reputable and responsible leadership, someone will rise up to fill the void. There will always be those who step into the leadership vacuum and attempt to use their power and influence to take charge. And evidently, that was exactly what was happening on Crete.

So, Paul told Titus to take care of the problem by appointing men to help him lead the local body of believers. The responsibilities were too great for one man to handle on his own. But Paul insisted that Titus was not to settle for second best. Those whom Titus appointed to lead the church were going to have to meet certain qualifications in order to even be considered.

But it’s important to note that Paul’s description of the qualifications has everything to do with character and has little to say about biblical knowledge, academic aptitude, business savvy, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God.

Each of them was to have “a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught,” so that he might “be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to have a knowledge of the truth of the gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man. That was the only way they would be able to refute falsehood and defend the good news from attack. Worldly leadership qualities would not be enough because they would be engaged in spiritual warfare.

Paul appears to be contrasting the character of these future church leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those leading who would lead the body of Christ had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This doesn’t suggest that they were somehow perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used is anegklētos and it conveys the idea that these men were to have no glaring character flaws. They were not to be guilty of living their lives in a way that would cause people to point their fingers in accusation, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church.

They were to be loving husbands with reputations for faithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves to be capable leaders at home, having children who had come to faith in Christ, and who modeled lives of moral integrity and obedience. This would seem to suggest that Paul was recommending that Titus look for older men with children who had been in Christ long enough to have demonstrated their godly character.

Paul went on to say that an elder candidate “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money” (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to “enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life” (Titus 1:8 NLT).

It’s interesting to note that Paul had to be so specific in his list of qualifying character traits, and h went out of his way to list disqualifying characteristics as well. Arrogance, anger, greed, violence, and alcohol abuse would all be huge detriments to godly leadership. They were outward signs of someone who was under the control of the flesh and not the Spirit. In fact, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even more detailed list of those characteristics that mark someone who is living according to their sinful nature.

…sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these… – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

A man who is controlled by his own flesh is going to make a lousy leader. He will be disruptive and, potentially, destructive. And it’s obvious that the church on Crete already had enough negative influences impacting it. Titus was going to need godly men whose lives reflected their reliance upon the Spirit’s control.

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn’t handle it on his own. So, Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline, and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them.

One of the main qualifications these men were to have was a love for the gospel. Paul tells Titus that each of them “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:9 NLT). They were to remain committed to the gospel message by which they had come to faith in Christ.

One of the problems going on in Crete was the influence of those teaching what Paul refers to as a false gospel. There were those who were preaching something other than salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They were adding to the gospel. Paul will remind Titus that people were “listening to Jewish myths and the commands of people who have turned away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 NLT). So, the men Titus chose to help him lead the church were going to have to be men who were committed to the truth of the gospel message. They were not to accept or even tolerate alternative versions of the truth. As shepherds of God’s flock, they were to refute all false gospels and destructive heresies.

These men were not to function as a board of directors. They were not to see themselves as figureheads or some kind of ad hoc advisory board for Titus. No, they were called to be overseers, shepherds, and pastors of the flock of Jesus Christ. They were to be godly in character and bold in their witness.

It’s easy to see that Paul had a strong view of eldership. He knew these men were indispensable to the spiritual well-being of the church. This is why he told the elders in Ephesus: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Our Incomparable Christ.

But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? – Hebrews 1:8-14 ESV

Angels are ministers. They are servants of God. Like the wind, they blow according to His will. They are worshipers and are never to be worshiped by men. But the Son of God is different. As the author expressed earlier, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God” and “he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command” (Romans 1:3 NLTa). He holds a “place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven” (Romans 1:3b NLT). And as a result, “the Son is far greater than the angels” (Romans 1:4 NLT).

Using the Old Testament Scriptures as a proof-text for his thoughts, the author of Hebrews presents the Son of God as having royal pedigree, ruling over an everlasting kingdom that is marked by righteousness. He is eternal, having always existed as God and having no beginning or end. Rather than having been created, He was the creator of all that exists. And, as God, His nature is unchanging. The fact that He came to earth and took on human flesh in no way diminished or altered His divinity in any way. He sits at the right hand of God the Father, ruling in righteousness over all that exists. For the writer of Hebrews, the deity of Jesus is essential and non-negotiable. He is the Son of God and, as such, He shares the nature and character of God. He is royal, immutable, all-powerful, sovereign, righteous and, ultimately, the victor in the battle over sin, death and Satan.

Part of what the writer of Hebrews is going to try and do is promote the superiority of the new covenant over the old one. And since the average Jew believed the old covenant was brought to them from God by angels, they placed a very high value on angels. But the point of this letter is to establish the superiority of Christ in all things. He is greater than angels. The new covenant in His blood is superior to the old covenant which was based on works. His service to men through the offering of His life as a payment for sin is far superior to any service the angels may offer up.

The angels, while important, pale in significance when compared with Christ. In fact, they exist “to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14 ESV). They serve God’s people. And we serve Christ. He is the head of the body of Christ. He alone deserves our worship and full attention. Angels could bring “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). But they could not save anyone. The could announce the arrival of Jesus on the scene, but He would still have to sacrifice His own life to make salvation possible to men. And while angels were the ones who told the women at Jesus’ empty tomb, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6 ESV), they were simply messengers of some very good news. Without Jesus, there would have been no news at all. Apart from Jesus, salvation would be impossible for all men. Had Jesus not died and rose again, there would be no victory for anyone. But Jesus DID come. He DID die. He WAS resurrected from death to life. He HAS ascended back to heaven. And He WILL one day return.