In Leviticus 26, the Lord gives the promises for obedience, and the warning of the consequences of disobedience. These are prefaced by a reminder of three fundamental principles that must govern their conduct, forming the foundation of the ways of God with men. They are:
If there was one feature that distinguished Israel from the nations around, and now should distinguish God’s people from every religious system of men, it is trust in the living God. In addition, for us, there is the fact that He has been revealed in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord here reminds Israel of this by commanding that no idols should be found among the people.
The word used for idols is one that means a thing of nought. Here we see the contrast between our Lord, and all that the world may worship. Let us grasp this reality in all that we would do. Colossians 1 vv. 15-18 reveal to us of the glory of our Lord, in Person - the Image of the invisible God, in creation - the first-born, in redemption - the Head of the body, the church, in heavenly orders - the Beginning (or principality as in v. 16), and in resurrection, v. 18. The summary is given in the expression ‘that in all things He might have the pre-eminence’ Here is the place that the word of God gives to our Lord, and we ought to be those who show by our lives that we hold this to be so.
In respect to the church, we ought to remember that it is His church in its universal aspect, Matt. 16. 18, and that God has purchased it with the ‘blood of his own’ as to its local aspect, Acts 20. 28. He is the Head, whether universally or locally. As such, it is not for us to conduct matters in the way that we might judge to be most appropriate to the changing circumstances, but rather we must obey the unchanging word of God. In this respect, we need to distinguish between that which is contrary to the word of God, and that which is only a change from what has been practised in the past. An obvious example of the latter might be seen in Gospel testimony where the time, or even the day, of the Gospel meeting might be varied, and possibly more emphasis might be given to personal contact rather than public gatherings. Care must be taken to ensure that this is not done at the expense of worship or the ministry of the word, which are essential to the testimony.
The very fact that the Person of our Lord is to be pre-eminent is an indication that worship must be given priority. We sing such words as ‘No gospel like this Feast’, but our conduct often gives little reason for any ‘unbelievers’ or ‘unlearned’ to acknowledge that this is really true. The passage where such are mentioned, 1 Cor. 14. 23-25, shows the immense possibility of conviction being brought to any who may observe those times when the saints gather, directed by the Holy Spirit alone. It is perhaps a sad reflection upon our spiritual state that we find the need to organize more and more of the activities of the assembly, rather than to allow the Holy Spirit freedom to move as He will. The key to spiritual growth is seen in the desire of Paul ‘that I may know Him’, Phil. 3. 10. Let us set our hearts to ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, 2 Pet. 3. 18. He is not academic knowledge that is in view about His Person, but rather that personal knowledge of Him gained from experience in our lives.
The purpose of the Sabbath observance is clearly seen in Exodus 31. 17. ‘It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever’. This explains why there is no repetition of this commandment for the present, nor yet a clear indication of the transfer of the Sabbath to the first day of the week. However, we ought not to use this as an excuse to follow the way of the world in terms of their corruption of the first day of the week. Since we have the privilege before the Lord of maintaining a day that we can set aside for Him alone, we ought to take advantage gladly, while recognizing that we are His on the other six days as well. Sadly, the world is frequently seen to divide into those who have no thought for God at any time, and those who will religiously observe the first day of the week as if a Sabbath, and then act as they please on the remaining six days. Neither attitude is consistent with faithfulness to the Lord and His word.
If the purpose of the Sabbath for Israel was as a sign of the covenant, then the lesson in this for us is that faith will lay claim to the unfailing promises of the ‘God that cannot lie’, Tit. 1. 2, in every detail of life. How we should rejoice in our relationship with God: we are called as ‘heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ’, Rom. 8. 17. Let us live in the good of this confidence. Our life should display a faith that does not waver under the trials of life, resting in the assurance that He will not, indeed cannot, fail. This is our assurance for this life as well as for eternal life. We have a High Priest who has gone before us, treading the path that He calls us to tread so that, apart from sin, He knows exactly what we are passing through, wherever our pathway lies. How our spirits are cheered by this assurance. Men will fail; sooner or later, the time comes when those who have helped us are removed, and we are left to stand with the Lord Himself to support. Paul had to face the trial before Caesar with none to stand by him, but he did so in the assurance that ‘the Lord stood with me’, 2 Tim. 4. 17.
We often lay claim to the promise ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’, Matt. 18. 20. This is the promise of our Lord which we claim as the basis of our gatherings, but it is frequently misunderstood. It is not a promise that applies to every place where two or more believers meet, nor even to every company that gathers regularly where there are two or more believers. The idea is illustrated by the movements of the camp of Israel, and the later setting up of the temple.
As to the movement of the camp of Israel, the picture is seen in Numbers 9 of a cloud or ‘appearance of fire’ that was upon the tabernacle. The people could not move until the cloud was lifted. Here is a picture for us: that the Lord, not men, chooses the place where His name is to be set, the people encamp as He directs. Let us remember this in respect of our gatherings. We are only authorized to gather in the place, and with the company, where the Lord has chosen to set His name. It is this feature that distinguishes such companies from religious groups who gather according to certain principles which they lay down.
In this respect, there is the solemn reminder to the people that they are to ‘reverence my sanctuary’, v. 2. Here we see that the Person of our Lord is linked with this. As such, we must take care that nothing inconsistent with } His Person should be allowed. We must live in the consciousness of His Presence. This would also remind us that it is not possible to live in a different way in our daily walk from the way that marks us when we gather. At all times we are identified with our Lord, and must therefore live in the light of this.
A further thought in this respect is the statement of Moses when, after the sin of the golden calf, the Lord promised to go with them. The reply of Moses ought to be the expression of each of our hearts: ‘If thy presence go not … carry us not up hence’, Exod. 33. 15. Here we see the acknowledgement of the need for the presence of the Lord. Let us learn this lesson well. It is vital to successful service.
If we are to know the blessing of the Lord in our service for Him, then we need to be marked by these three features. Unless He is given the first place in our lives both individually and collectively, unless His promises are made the foundation upon which we stand, setting aside every idea of man, and we acknowledge His presence in more than just word, but in power, then we shall not accomplish for the Lord what He desires.
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