PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

PBJ : Pastor Brian Jones

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a teacher of His Word, Senior Pastor at Calvary Bible Church of Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti, Michigan. I am a husband and father of three.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Bible, as well as Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry degrees.

Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13

Read Numbers 3, Isaiah 28, Acts 13.

This devotional is about Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved nearly every day and those who believed started meeting in one another’s homes for prayer, instruction, and fellowship. Here in Acts 13, the first Gentile church at Antioch, seems to have had a similar experience. Verse 1a told us that there were “prophets and teachers” there and they are named in the latter half of that verse. Although they enjoyed great worship and fellowship, God’s work needed to go forward so that more and more people would become part of the church and, when Jesus returns, experience eternity in the kingdom of God. So God spoke in the person of the Holy Spirit and called on the church to send Barnabas and Saul out to evangelize people and form new churches.

Thus began both the “first missionary journey” of Paul and Barnabas and the final stage of the Great Commission as described in Acts 1:8: “…to the ends of the earth.”

God worked through Barnabas and Saul (and, for some reason, Luke the author of Acts, switched to calling him “Paul” in verse 9). People came to believe in Jesus and they were organized into local churches. But I want to focus for this devotional on the importance God’s mission over our comfort. The church at Antioch sounds like an amazing experience and, human nature being what it is, Paul and Barnabas may have desired to stay there for many years doing the Lord’s work. It took the direct voice of the Holy Spirit to compel the church to send Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey. They needed God’s prompting to do what Jesus had commanded us to do in Acts 1:8–just as the Jerusalem church needed the prompting of persecution to move to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8).

God acts sovereignly to make sure that his will is done so we never have to worry about the mission failing.

What we should remember, however, is that until Jesus returns, we have work to do. It is easy to get very comfortable with the familiar–even (especially?) when God is using us and ministry is going well. But God did not call us to be comfortable, he commissioned us to spread the gospel and start churches.

This means that our church will sometimes have to part with people we love who are obedient to the mission. It has already happened to us in recent years and it will happen again.

This is also why we send 10% of our giving as a church away into missions and church planting. If we spent 100% of what God provided to us on our own work–even good, spiritual work–we would be disobedient to what God commanded us to do.

Maybe you’ve been considering some kind of change–giving more to the church or to missions, starting a new ministry here at Calvary, or going into church planting yourself. If comfort with the present situation is stopping you from taking on a new challenge for God’s glory, will you reconsider that in light of this passage?

Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, Acts 12

Read Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, and Acts 12.

This devotional is about Acts 12.

In this chapter, Herod wanted the accolades of the Jewish people under his rule (v. 3), so he killed James and intended to kill Peter (vv. 1-5).

God answered the prayers of the church and rescued Peter miraculously (vv. 6-18). Then the people of Tyre and Sidon appealed to Herod’s pride by praising him as a god after they settled a dispute with him (vv. 19b-22). God took Herod’s life for accepting this blasphemous praise (v. 23) but God’s word kept on growing and reaching more and more people (v. 24).

This incident was a taste of the kingdom clash that Jesus began and will complete when he returns. This world wants to suppress God’s word and silence God’s messengers so that it can take the praise and adoration that belongs to God alone. Although God rarely brings the kind of immediate judgment on the foolish, proud kings of this world, he will eventually defeat them and rule all creation. Then he alone will finally receive the worship that he alone deserves.

Until his kingdom comes in its fullness, the gospel of it continues to spread and grow, making more and more citizens who will worship him now and rejoice with him when his kingdom finally does come.

Very few rulers today would demand or even accept overt worship as God but there are plenty of people who still enjoy the ego boost that comes from the praise of people. The power they have, however, is not due to them because they deserve it; it is entrusted to them temporarily as managers of God’s authority as king.

We should never give much credit, praise, or admiration to men or women who are politically powerful. Our Lord and king is Jesus; only he will rule perfectly.

Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, Acts 11

Read Numbers 1, Isaiah 26, and Acts 11.

This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

Isaiah 24-25 are about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day…”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “… we wait for you….”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked. Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness…” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant.

In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not think about the majesty of the Lord. Thinking about the majesty of the Lord takes the miraculous working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s Holy Spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

But, know too that a better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise–let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”

Before that day comes, however, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.

Leviticus 27, Isaiah 25, Acts 10

Read Leviticus 27, Isaiah 25, and Acts 10.

This devotional is about Isaiah 25.

What will heaven be like? This is a question that most Christians have probably considered and plenty of non-Christians, too. When Hollywood believed in an afterlife, they created a picture of heaven that many people may still have: people become angels, float on clouds, and play the harp.

What an incredibly boring way to spend eternity!

God’s Word doesn’t reveal to us much about what we call “heaven,” but there are a few things we can discern about it.

First, we don’t really spend eternity in heaven. The spirits of departed believers live in heaven with God now, but eternity will be spent on earth–first on this earth in what we call the Millennial kingdom, then on the new earth which God will create. So we really should be talking about “eternity” or “the eternal state” instead of talking about “heaven.”

Secondly, the eternal state happens in a city, the New Jerusalem, and this passage, Isaiah 25, gives us some detail about life there. Isaiah 25 is a song of praise to God (vv. 1-5), giving glory to God for what he has done for his people. Beginning with verse 6, however, Isaiah returned to describing the future, a topic he had begun discussing in chapter 24. How did he describe life in the future New Jerusalem here in chapter 25?

First, he described a feast in verse 6. When God’s kingdom begins fully, it will start with a great celebration. Verse 6 described it as “a feast of rich food” which indicates an occasion of great pleasure and enjoyment for God’s people. And, the next phrase in verse 6 tells us that God’s people will be “all peoples” indicating that all kinds of people, not just Jewish people, will be welcomed guests at this feast.

Second, the eternal state is a place where death no longer exists and cannot trouble anyone. Verse 7 described death as a shroud, a sheet that covers everyone. But God “will destroy” that shroud and “will swallow up death forever” (v. 8a).

Third, eternity will be a state in which there is no longer any unhappiness. Verse 8b says, “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” The sadness and disappointments of this life will not be present nor will they affect us when we are with the Lord. This seems particularly tied to the sadness that sin creates; verse 8b says, “he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.” The things we do and have done that we are so ashamed of will be completely forgotten. Atoned for by the blood of Christ, they will no longer trouble us anymore.

Of course we bemoan the senseless tragedies, terrible injustices, and brevity of life that marks this world. The truths in this chapter, however, can encourage our hearts and give meaning and purpose to our lives. Our short time on this earth is not the end; it isn’t really even the beginning when we compare however many years we get in this life to an eternity with Jesus. So let your heart hope in God’s plans and let them focus your mind to help you serve him.

Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, Acts 9

Read Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, and Acts 9.

This devotional is about Leviticus 26.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply of food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God, who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God.

But notice that God described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age.

We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We can also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship.

If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.

Leviticus 25, Isaiah 23, Psalms 48-50

Read Leviticus 25, Isaiah 23, Psalms 48-50.

This devotional is about Psalm 49.

Psalm 49 is not usually on the list people have of favorite Psalms, but it offers great wisdom to those who meditate on its truths. The passage opens in verses 1-4 with a call for everyone, despite their station in life, to listen to the voice of wisdom. And the wisdom this Psalm offers is: Don’t be afraid of though times and wicked people (v. 5) because everyone is going to die (v. 10a, 12). It doesn’t matter how much money you have, no one can buy more time. God does not traffic in human marketplaces, so no matter what you try to offer him, it won’t matter (v. 7).

Apple founder Steve Jobs was worth over $10 billion on the day he died. Although he lavishly funded cancer research seeking a cure for his illness, his vast wealth was not enough to save him. He could have offered everything he owned but nobody could give him even one extra moment on earth. “This,” the Psalmist wrote in verses 13-14 “is the fate of those who trust in themselves… their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions.” Jobs led the design of a spectacular headquarters for Apple—one that is was built after his death–but he is buried in the dust just like everyone else who dies.

So, don’t be so easily impressed by wealth, the Psalmist wrote in verse 16 because, according to verses 17-19, “They will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life.”

What is the alternative to this depressing truth? Verse 15: “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” Although the details of the afterlife were fuzzy in the Old Testament, there are passages like this one that express confidence, certainty, in the salvation of those who hope in the Lord.

You’ll never have enough money to live forever on this earth, but trusting in God gives us hope for today and tomorrow because those who trust in him by faith WILL live.

Leviticus 24, Isaiah 22, Proverbs 11:1-18

Read Leviticus 24, Isaiah 22, and Proverbs 11:1-18.

This devotional is about Leviticus 24.

It is common for skeptics of our faith to point to Old Testament passages like we have here in the latter part of Leviticus 24 and condemn the Bible for being violent and brutal. In this case, the man who was executed was guilty of blasphemy; in our world, that sin is highly accepted and even protected legally as free speech. But Israel was a theocracy and her worship was important for several reasons and deserved to be protected.

Leaving aside the offense, note how Israel’s legal system as illustrated here is superior to ours in some ways. First, according to verse 16, “The entire assembly must stone them.” The whole community was required to participate in the punishment, not someone paid to give lethal injection in private somewhere as happens in our country. There are at least two benefits to this. First, it protects someone against a false accusation. If you had to be part of executing a death sentence against your neighbor, the seriousness of taking his life would, I think, cause you to question intensely any witnesses to his offense. You would want to make absolutely sure that he was guilty before you took part in his execution. It is easy to accuse someone falsely and, in the case of a jury, to convict someone wrongly if you don’t actually have to do the dirty work of imposing the sentence of death on the accused. Second, if the whole community must execute the sentence of capital punishment, it might actually serve as a deterrent for many people. When you see how brutal and painful death by stoning is, you will be more careful about committing a capital offense yourself lest you end up like the guy you just passed sentence on.

More broadly, however, notice that there is no penalty of prison in Israel’s justice system. If you broke the law, you paid the price. That price might be a simple fine or it might cost you your life, but either way it will be over shortly. In Israel’s system, there is no wasting the years and productivity of a someone’s life while that person rots in prison. If you were guilty of breaking the law, the penalty was paid immediately; you either go on with your life or life goes on without you. There is no limbo where the state takes over custody of you for a few years. Think about how much money is spent in our society investigating criminals, trying criminals in court, processing them when they are sentenced, paying for food, clothing, and shelter while they are in prison, etc. Israel’s system is much cheaper and, in the long run, more in keeping with prosperity than our system is.

Thirdly, Israel’s system strives for justice that is proportional to the crime. If someone punches you in the face and you lose your eyesight, you are not allowed to kill them. An “eye for an eye” is not a metaphor; it is a lesson and here is the answer: God is just and he commands his people to do justice in proportion to the crime.That’s what is being described in verses 17-22.

Criminal justice reform is an issue that is debated in our society. The principles illustrated here in Leviticus 24 offer guidance that should be considered whenever our society–or any society–attaches penalties to breaking the law.

Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, Acts 8

Read Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, and Acts 8.

This devotional is about Acts 8.

When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, two distinct–but related–things happened next. First, a man named Saul became part of the story of the New Testament church (v. 1). Second, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem.” The result of this persecution was that “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

Now think about that phrase–“all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Then compare that verse to this verse from Acts 1:8b: “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Keeping those two verses in mind, remember how people who lived in other areas of Israel and even other countries stayed in Jerusalem because they were enjoying so much worship and teaching and fellowship and evangelism together. The incredible joy they had as the church was growing was keeping them from doing the mission Jesus sent them to do.

So God allowed persecution to disperse the first church to “Judea and Samaria.”

And it worked because, according to verse 4 here in Acts 8, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Persecution is the hostile response of unbelief toward the gospel. Sometimes God in his grace restrains unbelievers from persecuting His people and we enjoy seasons of peace. But, at other times, God allows persecution to come to purify us and to disperse us into the world to spread the good news to other places where it is needed.

On a smaller level, God works this way in our lives, too. When we get too comfortable, complacent even, in our faith, God allows trials into our lives to purify us and to re-focus our attention on him and his work. Don’t fear trials or persecutions that may come in your life sooner or later. Instead, use them as opportunities to grow in your faith and to bring you into new opportunities to share the Lord’s word.

Leviticus 22, Isaiah 19-20, Acts 7

Read Leviticus 22, Isaiah 19-20, Acts 7.

This devotional is about Isaiah 19:23-25:

In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.’”

Isaiah 19 and the little stub of a chapter that is called Isaiah 20 are both about Egypt. Egypt had a long and mostly negative relationship with God’s people in Israel/Judah. Abraham nearly lost his wife there (Gen 12:10ff) and Joseph was enslaved there first before God caused him to rise and become powerful. Joseph’s situation saved God’s people from starving in a famine, but within a few hundred years the Israelites were completely enslaved to the Egyptians.

I could go on here but you get the point: other than during the days of Joseph’s leadership, Egypt and Israel were basically enemies.

The same is definitely true of the Assyrians. They were cruel, oppressive people to Israel and everyone else which is why Jonah did not want to go and preach grace to them. God used the Assyrians to remove the Northern kingdom of Israel from the land in exile.

God’s people may have enjoyed hearing Isaiah prophesy judgment on the Egyptians here in Isaiah 19-20 as he did in 19:1-17 and 20:1-6. But they may also have been confused by Isaiah’s statements quoted above in 19:23-25. These verses prophesied a peaceful situation between Egypt, Assyria, and Israel. God went so far as to say, “The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.'” That must have sounded almost like heresy, except that it came from the mouth of God himself. 

But God made this statement based on his plan to show grace to all the nations. This peace accord would be accomplished by these nations becoming genuine believers in YHWH. As verse 23-24 says, “The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.” 

The phrase, “a blessing on the earth” echoes the Abrahamic covenant. God promised Abraham in Genesis 20:3c-d, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” and now, here in Isaiah 19 he restates the promise with more detail. God’s plan, then, was always to save the world through the people of Israel. That salvation came to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. Now God continues to gather people for himself from every nation on earth. This prophecy will be fulfilled when Jesus reigns on earth during the time we call the Millennium and then beyond that through all eternity. 

Does this passage give you hope? Does it remind you that, despite all the racial, ethnic, and religious tension we see in the world, God is working to resolve that tension by saving different kinds of people all over the world?

Does this give you a desire to pray for world missions? Do you feel any desire to be part of God’s work in missions either by supporting missionaries financially or by volunteering to go to other parts of the world yourself?

Leviticus 21, Isaiah 17-18, Acts 6

Read Leviticus 21, Isaiah 17-18, and Acts 6 today.

This devotional is about Acts 6.

A couple of things are important to keep in mind as we read these chapters describing the first church in Jerusalem.

  • First, remember that all of the twelve disciples, except for Judas, were from Galilee, the northern part of Israel.
  • Second, most of Jesus other disciples before his crucifixion were Galileans, too. 
  • Third, Jesus death, burial, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power in Acts 2 happened in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is in Judea, the Southern part of  Israel. Jesus had told the disciples to stay there in Jerusalem until the Spirit’s power descended on them (see Acts 1:4).

After the Spirit came on the disciples in power, people began to trust Christ in large numbers (see Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4). Many of those who became believers lived in Jerusalem and the early church met in their homes (see Acts 2:42). But many of them lived outside of Jerusalem, a long way from Jerusalem, like the twelve disciples of Jesus did. These new believers, though, wanted to stay in Jerusalem and experience what God was doing in the church. So there are some new believers in the Jerusalem church who lived in Jerusalem and made their living in Jerusalem but many others who did not live in Jerusalem and, therefore, had no income for as long as they remained in Jerusalem.

These facts explain the need for so much sharing of homes, food, and money in the early church in Jerusalem. The church was not communistic or socialistic by nature; instead, many believers had no means of support while they stayed in Jerusalem. But they wanted to stay there and experience what God was doing, so, their brothers and sisters who had financial means generously shared with those who did not.

Here in Acts 6, then, we see that there were problems–gaps, even–in how people were being cared for in the early church. According to verse 1, there was some discrimination–intentional or not–regarding how people with needs were supported and cared for. In verse 2, the twelve disciples gathered to discuss how to address this problem. It was a true dilemma because the needs of the people were legitimate and important; however, enough needed to happen logistically that some or all of the apostles could have had their time consumed by making sure all the needs were met.

The answer the twelve came up with was to distribute responsibility to other people (vv. 3-4). This was to allow the twelve to give their full attention to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (v. 4). Although the task given to these men did not require any particular spiritual gifting or skill, the disciples felt it was important to give the task to godly men (v. 3). Although this passage does not directly say it, many people (me included) think that this paragraph is how the office of deacon began in the church.

The men who were chosen for this ministry were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). Yet they did not consider this task to be beneath them. In keeping with their reputations for godliness, these men had hearts of a servant. So, they took on willingly the responsibility they were chosen for.

When you are asked to serve somewhere in the church, do you see it as a chance to serve the Lord or as a burden to bear? It is true that some people can be overburdened if they take on too many ministries, but it is also true that many people are unwilling to serve when asked. It is a blessing to serve the Lord and, as believers, we should be honored to serve him by serving his church when we are given the opportunity.

Leviticus 20, Isaiah 16, Acts 5

Read Leviticus 20, Isaiah 16, and Acts 5 today.

This devotional is about Isaiah 16:5: “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”

Moab was a nation on the other side (eastern) of the Jordan River from Israel. It was a nation that descended from Lot and his eldest daughter when they committed incest after the destruction of Sodom (see Genesis 19:37). Isaiah 15 &16 contain a prophesy against Moab but within those chapters lie one of the lesser-known prophecies of Christ here in Isaiah 16:5.

This prophecy about Christ began by saying, “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it.” The words “love” and “faithfulness” are parallel ideas referring to the same thing–God’s covenant loyalty to David. God made promises to David, called the Davidic covenant. In that covenant, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16).

This verse in Isaiah 16:5 repeated that promise (“one from the house of David,” v. 5c) because of God’s covenant loyalty. The last two phrases of the verse described the Messianic king God had promised to send: “one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness” (v. 5d, e).

The fulfillment of this promise is still in the future, even for us. When Jesus establishes his kingdom, Israel and the world will finally have a ruler who judges with justice and quickly does what is right. It will be an incredible contrast to the corruption, incompetence, and self-aggrandizement that is so common in political leaders and governments today. Human society will flourish like it never has before because Jesus, our righteousness and righteous king, will be in charge forever.

Until that day, our job is to live faithfully, like citizens in exile, to the kingdom values Jesus taught us and to encourage others to prepare for the kingdom by submitting in faith to our king, Jesus Christ. As we keep the hope of a perfect, righteous, eternal home in our minds, it will help us to make godly choices in our lives and to speak the gospel message to those in the world around us.

Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15

Read Leviticus 19 and Isaiah 15 today.

This devotional is about Leviticus 19.

Leviticus 19 contains a large number of commands on various topics. The passage begins with a call for God’s people to emulate his character: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”’” Every command in this chapter flows from the holiness of God.  If you want to know God, you must also desire to become holy. This chapter gives some specific ways in which holiness works out in the life of a believer.

Being “holy” simply means “set apart.” God is set apart from humanity in two ways: First, he is Creator and we are the created. There is a distinction between the Creator and creature that we can never cross. As Creator, God has certain qualities that we can’t understand, much less emulate. These are things like knowing all things, having all power, being everywhere present in the fullness of his being, and others. These are qualities that only God can have; they are one way in which God holy.

Usually, though, when we talk about God’s holiness, we are talking about his moral perfection. God is set apart from people in the sense that he is perfect morally. He has no sinful desires or actions. God did create us to emulate this quality. Adam and Eve began with a perfect moral nature; if they had refused the temptation offered to them in the garden, humanity would have existed in moral holiness just as God did. Since we chose to sin, however, we are unholy.

In Christ believers are declared to be holy and God’s Holy Spirit is working us over morally so that we become more holy like Jesus was, but it is an ongoing process that does not reach completion until we see Christ.

When God commanded Israel to be holy (v. 2), he was commanding them to set themselves apart from the nations around them. That required faith that living according to God’s commands would be better than living according to the ways that were common and their natural moral instincts. Many of the commands here in Leviticus 19 are easily understood as categories of holiness—either moral holiness, such as “no idols” in verse 4, or cultural holiness, such as “do not mate two different kinds of animals” in verse 19.

But what do you make of the command, “do not reap to the very edges of your field… leave them for the poor and the foreigner”? In what way does this command flow from the holiness of God?

The answer is this: God affirmed the righteousness of private property rights in verse 11a where he said, “Do not steal.” That command tells us people have a right to private ownership and that it is morally wrong to take, either by force or by deception, any property that justly belongs to someone else.

Our capitalist system is built on private property rights. Not only do you have the right to own productive assets (land, flocks, woodworking tools, trucks, whatever), you have the right to use those assets in ways that are productive. You also have the right to keep the products of that production and sell those products for a profit. That’s why people are allowed to own land, farm land, harvest, and sell what they have planted.

However, God wanted his people to show generosity to the poor. Unlike other nations where the poor had to beg, borrow, or steal to live, God affirmed the right of his people to private property and to the cultivation of wealth but he also wanted them to be different from the nations around them by generously providing for the poor. Leaving food in the fields for poor people to reap on their own without fear of being killed or prosecuted for trespassing showed love and compassion for the poor. Instead of selfishly gathering every bit of profit, God commanded his people to be productive but also to provide a means for those who were poor to live.

That kind of love for one’s poor neighbor would set apart God’s people from the nations around them. It should also mark us, his people by faith, today. We should be generous to the poor—regardless of why they are poor–because we want to live a holy life that emulates God.

That doesn’t mean that we have to support every (or any) government program. Neither this passage nor any other passage in the New Testament puts the responsibility to provide for the poor on the government. But this passage does mean that we should do what we can personally to help anyone within our reach to meet their daily needs for survival. That goes against our human instincts to watch out for ourselves alone. By being counter to our instincts, caring for the poor is an expression of holiness because it sets us apart from people who despise the poor and even take advantage of them.

Have you given anything to help those in need lately? Being generous to the needy is part of the holiness of God that God wants to develop in your life.