Lev. 19:1–2, 9-18
ESV Leviticus 19:1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. 3 9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. 11 “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12 You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. 15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. 17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” You shall be… It is not an option. It is not a suggestion. It is not advice for how to have a better life. You shall be! I am the Lord your God!
Five times in this short text he tells us, “I am the Lord.” I am in charge here. You are my subjects. You are responsible to me. You will do what I say. I decide what is right and wrong. I decide what you will do and not do. And you will be held accountable. You will face judgment. I am the Lord!
But there are some of you who don’t believe this. There are some who don’t think you will be judged or stand trial on the Last Day, “I’m a Christian, I will not be judged.” There are some who aren’t worried about a final judgment because you think you are good and have nothing to worry about. And there are some of you who just don’t think God could really be so mean as to cast someone into hell.
“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Ok, but that leaves us in a serious predicament. How can we sinners be holy? What does it even mean to be holy?
He defines holiness for us and it sounds a lot like the Ten Commandments: When you reap, leave some of the harvest in the field for the poor and for the foreigners living in your country. In other words, help and feed your neighbor no matter what nationality he is from or language he speaks. I am the Lord. I do not tolerate prejudice or racism.
Do not steal, deal falsely, or lie to one another. Do not swear falsely. I am the Lord.
Do not oppress your neighbor or rob him. Do not withhold the wages of your workers. Do not curse the deaf even though they do not hear you, or put a stumbling stone in the path of a blind man who cannot see where he walks, but fear God. He is the one who will judge you and punish anyone who disobeys. I am the Lord.
You shall do no injustice in court, do not be partial or unfair or slander anyone or rise up against his life. I am the Lord.
You shall not hate your brother, or take vengeance or even bear a grudge against him, but forgive him, for if you don’t you will not be forgiven. I am the Lord.
Sounds like a repetition of the Ten Commandments. There’s a common thread throughout all these commands. What does it mean to be holy? All these commands have to do with the same thing: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. That is what it means to be holy. There is no getting off the hook. There are no excuses. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Love your neighbor and live as people who will be judged.
“But,” you say, “we pretty much do that. We are good people. We have not sinned enough to go to hell. I have more good works than bad.” But Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” It’s not enough just to be pretty good, or to try really hard.
And how does Jesus define being perfect? In pretty much the same way as he did in Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as I have loved you.” But he takes it to the next level. Leviticus talks about good neighbors and friends, Jesus includes those who are not so good and friendly. “Do not resist the one who is evil. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other. If anyone sues you and takes your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who begs, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” And finally, “Love your enemy.” This is what it means to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. That’s what it means to be Holy as the Lord your God is holy. Love others, even your enemy. Anyone can say he loves his neighbor, his friends, his family. Even sinners do that. But not their enemy.
Love your enemy means to forgive the one who sins against you just as you say in the Lord’s prayer. That means to be nice to the one who mistreats you. That means to help the one you despise and wish would drop dead. That means comfort the one who makes your life miserable. That means to speak up in defense of the one who slanders you and gives you a bad name. The law of God is “love your neighbor… love even your enemy.”
But how do we use the law of God? Do we use it to love? No! at least not when it comes to our enemy. I’m afraid so often we use God’s law to accuse and condemn others. We see someone doing something sinful and we love sticking it in his face, calling him a sinner, condemning him. It makes us feel all the more holy. We know someone who got an abortion and we get out all our Bible verses that accuse her of sin. We hear about a homosexual couple and we get out all the verses of the Bible that call it a sin and condemn such behavior. We hear about a couple living together without being married and we point out that God says no adulterer or sexually immoral person will be in heaven.
Now, don’t get me wrong. These are all true statements. All these things are sin and God will punish the sinner. But notice what we are doing wrong. We are using God’s law to point out other people’s sin. We are taking God’s law which tells us to love your neighbor and using it to judge our neighbors and condemn them. But God says, “Vengeance is mine.” He will take care of judging them when that day comes. That’s not your job.
God’s law is about loving your neighbor, not condemning him! God’s law is about forgiving your neighbor, not accusing him! And moreover, God’s law is written in Scripture for you to obey. Not for you to force others to obey. Fact is, everywhere in Scripture that God pronounces his law it’s to the believers. It was given to God’s people, not to the unbelievers and pagans. He gives you his law to accuse your! He gives it to you so you will repent and seek forgiveness. Repent for not having loved your neighbor. Repent for not loving your enemy. Repent for accusing and condemning other sinners instead of yourself.
How then can we be holy and love our neighbor as ourselves? Because Jesus loves you. You see, when you were his enemy, he loved you and died for you. This is what love means: God loves you. The Apostle John says: “…this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us.” (I John 4:10). God loves you through Christ. God sent his Son to be the propitiation for your sins. You love others because you are loved and forgiven by God.
He loves his enemy. When you persecute Jesus, he prays for you. When you slap him in the cheek, he turns the other. When you are thirsty, he gives you drink. When you are hungry, he feeds you. When you sin, he forgives you because he has died on account of your sin. When you failed to love your neighbor, He took your place in punishment. Instead of condemning you, he was condemned in your place. He took your sin, your failure to love, and made it his own so he could exchange your sin for his righteousness. And in fact, when you do not love your neighbor, nor your enemy, he loved your neighbor for you. He did it for you so that the law of God, “love your neighbor as yourself,” has already been fulfilled. He was holy for you, and for the times you have not loved your neighbor, he died to pay for that sin. That’s how we are holy as the Lord our God is holy: we are covered in the holiness of Jesus Christ who fulfilled all holiness for us.
Into the world he came to save you, not to condemn you. For, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17). Therefore, do not condemn others, rather, seek to save them through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, because Jesus has forgiven you. “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” Merciful!
Love the sinner, even your enemy. Forgive the one who sins against you. Put your arms around the sinner and embrace him in his pain. Ease his suffering. Comfort his sorrow. Heal his hurt. Be his friend. Love the sinner; the prostitute, the abortionist, the homosexual, the thief, the immoral, and the murderer, and give your life for him in order to bring that person to the Lord Jesus Christ. Show him the way to the fountain of forgiveness. His greatest need is not condemnation, but to repent and be forgiven in Christ Jesus.
Be you holy as your Father in heaven is holy. How? In Christ Jesus who fulfilled the law of love for you and who died for your sins in order to present you holy to his Father. Amen.