Leviticus 26:3-4, 9-12
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 3, 2019
God keeps telling us what to do!
That can be inconvenient and unwelcome, if not sometimes downright annoying!
But it is just what we need. For God knows better than we how we can live in the happiest and highest way. After all, He made us and knows how best we operate.
Out of His wisdom and love for us, God commands us to do certain things and to refrain from doing other things. Because He does that out of His wise love, obeying Him is an act of self-interest. When we keep God’s commandments, we do ourselves a favor!
We obey God when two things happen: 1) we trust Him, and 2) we want the life He wants to give us.
First, we obey God when we trust Him. The Bible says that there is no real obedience that does not spring from real faith, and that there is no real faith that does not lead to real obedience. Faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin; and if you don’t have both, you really don’t have either.
If you believe in God, you obey God – even though it sometimes costs you in the sacrifice of time, the expenditure of energy, and the suffering of trouble and pain. If you believe that God truly loves you and knows everything, couldn’t you believe there is some pay-off to obedience, at least eventually, even when you cannot see it or imagine what it might be? And if you are already trusting God for your eternal destiny, couldn’t you also trust Him for your day-to-day living?
God’s promises and commandments are inextricably linked. While obedience to His commandments is not the means by which we earn the fulfillment of His promises, our obedience is the means by which we receive their fulfillment. That’s because the blessings that become ours when we obey God are not unrelated rewards for doing the right thing; they are, in this cause-and-effect world, the natural consequence of doing it. To do right in obedience is to walk with the righteous God and to keep close enough to Him to receive from Him the happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction of heart He yearns to bestow.
Thus, just as disbelief always shows itself in disobedience, faith always shows itself in faithfulness to God’s will.
So, first, we obey God when we trust God. Second, we obey God when we desire the life He promises as the reward of obedience.
In beautiful, poetic language, today’s scripture from Leviticus describes the reward. God says there that, if we follow His statutes and keep His commandments and observe them faithfully, He will bring us our rains, cause our fields to yield their fruit, lavish upon us an abundance of good food, and multiply our community.
How such language must have spoken to an agricultural people, often on the brink of starvation!
Now, I take Leviticus as seriously as anyone, but I do not take it literally. For the undeniable truth is that the most faithful people sometimes suffer horribly from draught and other natural disasters (just ask the Christians of the sub-Sahel of Africa), sometimes starve to death (just ask the Christians of North Korea), and sometimes see their communities dwindle to next to nothing (just ask the Christians of Syria).
Leviticus’s figurative language of agricultural prosperity portrays, with concrete images, the spiritual prosperity of the obedient. Obedience always puts us under the sweet refreshing rainfall of heaven’s grace, brings forth in our fields of endeavor bumper crops of righteousness, produces fruit in our character, and multiplies our witness to the impact God can make.
Moreover, the final promise in Leviticus, the one not expressed by an agricultural metaphor, is the best one of all. It tells us that the natural consequence of our obedience is that God will dwell among us, walk with us, be our God and make us His people. In other words, the biggest payoff to obeying God is the personal, intimate relationship it facilitates.
Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of rewards, as if their being any part of our motivation diminishes the purity of our obedience.
At one point in his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis takes up this issue as it comes up with regards to God’s biggest promised reward: heaven. Lewis notes that many are afraid that heaven is a bribe; and that, if we make it our aim, we’ll do the right thing for the wrong reason. Lewis replies, “It is not so. Heaven offers nothing a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” In other words, knowing God and the blessings of His rule are not unrelated, extraneous payoffs for obedience; they are the natural outcome of obedience, the fulfillment of our aim in obeying Him, the culmination of our intention in observing His commandments.
Then, there is this: If we obey God primarily in hope of outward and earthly rewards, we likely will be disappointed – and we surely shall be short-changed.
Perhaps the obedient who do enjoy many outward and earthly blessings realize this best of all. For they, experiencing both the higher and the lower blessings, clearly see which is the bigger prize.
U2 is, in terms of outward and earthly rewards, one of the most successful rock and roll bands of all time. Yet, when U2 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Christian band members made little of the accolades they were receiving because they knew first-hand the greater blessings to which they were aspiring. Bass player Adam Clayton said, “I suppose if people want to shower you with honors, the only reasonable thing is to accept them” – whereupon drummer Larry Mullen added, “But it does feel premature. We’re trying to stay focused on the big prize.” For them, the big prize is the consummation of all God’s blessings.
In this world, let alone the next, God never fails to reward the faithful with His higher blessings. They are spiritual in nature: a close and deepening relationship with Him, an expanded capacity to make a difference for good in the world, a peace of heart that is independent of circumstance, and a joyful sense of purpose that no loss or sacrifice can dislodge.
When Karen Watson answered God’s call to go to Iraq as a missionary and humanitarian aid worker, she was well aware of the dangers. In anticipation of possible martyrdom, she left a letter that was only to be opened upon her death. A year before she was killed, for her witness to Christ at the age of 38, she wrote, “When God calls, there are no regrets…I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory was to be my reward.” Though it involved self-sacrifice, Karen Watson felt her obedience was an act of self-interest, her way to experience the full joy of serving God and people. She ended up, even in this dark world, getting everything she most wanted.
Let us pray.