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Early every Spring, we spend a week coming out of sin. By putting leaven out of our lives and living daily for a week keeping leaven out of our lives, the Days of Unleavened Bread make us mindful of how sin can permeate us. We have to make diligent effort to keep sin out and not allow it to creep back into our lives. As the months of the year go by swiftly, we can easily forget about keeping up our due diligence. It's always good to refresh ourselves about the meaning of our actions during the holy days and how each is a puzzle part that fits in just the right place to make up the complete picture of God's plan.

Good Leaven

We think of the leaven we put out of our houses as just a negative symbol. Leaven can take on a different spiritual meaning. In Luke 13:20, Christ spoke of leaven as an example of a beneficial thing and likened it to the ultimately encompassing nature of the Kingdom of God.

(Luke 13:20-30 NASB) And again He said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? {21} "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened."

Look at the end of verse 21: "until it was ALL leavened." In this one-line parable, Jesus used the common example of the spreading nature of leaven in bread dough to show how the Kingdom of God will likewise spread throughout the whole earth. Let's look at the next verse, though, to see our part and our responsibility and the struggle that lies ahead of us to ensure that we are a part of that Kingdom of God.

(Luke 13:22-30 NASB) And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. {23} And someone said to Him, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" And He said to them, {24} "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. {25} "Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, 'Lord, open up to us!' then He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' {26} "Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets'; {27} and He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.' {28} "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out. {29} "And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. {30} "And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last."

God has a plan for us. In Ephesians 1:4, Paul tells us of God's motivation to work with us.

(Eph 1:4-5 KJV) According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: {5} Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

So, even though leaven spreads throughout the lump of dough with ease and without any apparent effort, that's where the similarity with us ends. In Philippians 2:12, Paul addresses our continual struggle and our daily responsibility toward God.

(Phil 2:12-13 NASB) So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; {13} for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Paul makes it clear that it is work. Not only is it work for us on a daily basis but it is work for God. Verse 13 makes it very clear that it is not only we who are struggling against sin but, in reality, "it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Yes, it is for God's good pleasure that he chooses to work in each of us.

Isn't that a thrilling notion? Think about it for a moment. God chose each of us, not because we are anything special or because we did anything special, but because it is God's good pleasure to work in you. That should be a very humbling realization. Out of the billions of people on the earth, God chose, of his own free will, to do a work in you. Now, just roll that concept around in your mind for a while.

Historical Examples

What an awesome calling we have! We are, each of us, one of a very select few over the centuries to have been touched directly by God the Father and chosen for a work because of his good pleasure. We are privileged to be enrolled in a long line of those chosen by God over the centuries. Hebrews 11 chronicles many of the faithful for whom God chose to reveal his truth and the knowledge of his way of life.

(Heb 11: 6-40 NASB) And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. {7} By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. {8} By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. {9} By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; {10} for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. {11} By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; {12} therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE. {13} All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. {14} For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. {15} And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. {16} But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. {17} By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; {18} it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED." {19} He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type. {20} By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. {21} By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. {22} By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones. {23} By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict. {24} By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; {25} choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; {26} considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. {27} By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. {28} By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the first-born might not touch them. {29} By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned. {30} By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days. {31} By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. {32} And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, {33} who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, {34} quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. {35} Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; {36} and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. {37} They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated {38} (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. {39} And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, {40} because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Not only do the scriptures of the Bible tell of some of the great sacrifices made by God's chosen over the centuries in order to remain diligent in righteousness and obedience to God, but other historical books paint an even more gruesome picture. If you've ever had the chance to read Fox's Book of Martyrs which is available in most libraries, you will have gained an even deeper appreciation of the types of torment performed on many of God's chosen by evil men whom Satan used as his own tools. John Fox writes:

Thus far our history of persecution has been confined principally to the pagan world. We come now to a period when persecution, under the guise of Christianity, committed more enormities than ever disgraced the annals of paganism. Disregarding the maxims and the spirit of the Gospel, the papal Church, arming herself with the power of the sword, vexed the Church of God and wasted it for several centuries, a period most appropriately termed in history, the "dark ages..."
In A.D. 1147, because of Henry of Toulouse, deemed their most eminent preacher, they were called Henericians; and as they would not admit of any proofs relative to religion, but what could be deduced from the Scriptures themselves, the popish party gave them the name of apostolics. At length, Peter Waldo, or Valdo, a native of Lyons, eminent for his piety and learning, became a strenuous opposer of popery; and from him the reformed, at that time, received the appellation of Waldenses or Waldoys.
Pope Alexander III being informed by the bishop of Lyons of these transactions, excommunicated Waldo and his adherents, and commanded the bishop to exterminate them, if possible, from the face of the earth; hence began the papal persecutions against the Waldenses.
The proceedings of Waldo and the reformed, occasioned the first rise of the inquisitors; for Pope Innocent III authorized certain monks as inquisitors, to inquire for, and deliver over, the reformed to the secular power. The process was short, as an accusation was deemed adequate to guilt, and a candid trial was never granted to the accused.
The pope, finding that these cruel means had not the intended effect, sent several learned monks to preach among the Waldenses, and to endeavor to argue them out of their opinions. Among these monks was one Dominic, who appeared extremely zealous in the cause of popery. This Dominic instituted an order, which, from him, was called the order of Dominican friars; and the members of this order have ever since been the principal inquisitors in the various inquisitions in the world. The power of the inquisitors was unlimited; they proceeded against whom they pleased, without any consideration of age, sex, or rank. Let the accusers be ever so infamous, the accusation was deemed valid; and even anonymous informations, sent by letter, were thought sufficient evidence. To be rich was a crime equal to heresy; therefore many who had money were accused of heresy, or of being favorers of heretics, that they might be obliged to pay for their opinions. The dearest friends or nearest kindred could not, without danger, serve any one who was imprisoned on account of religion. To convey to those who were confined, a little straw, or give them a cup of water, was called favoring of the heretics, and they were prosecuted accordingly. No lawyer dared to plead for his own brother, and their malice even extended beyond the grave; hence the bones of many were dug up and burnt, as examples to the living. If a man on his deathbed was accused of being a follower of Waldo, his estates were confiscated, and the heir to them defrauded of his inheritance; and some were sent to the Holy Land, while the Dominicans took possession of their houses and properties, and, when the owners returned, would often pretend not to know them. These persecutions were continued for several centuries under different popes and other great dignitaries of the Catholic Church.
The Albigenses were a people of the reformed religion, who inhabited the country of Albi. They were condemned on the score of religion in the Council of Lateran, by order of Pope Alexander III. Nevertheless, they increased so prodigiously, that many cities were inhabited by persons only of their persuasion, and several eminent noblemen embraced their doctrines...
A friar, named Peter, having been murdered in the dominions of the earl of Toulouse, the pope made the murder a pretense to persecute that nobleman and his subjects. To effect this, he sent persons throughout all Europe, in order to raise forces to act coercively against the Albigenses, and promised paradise to all that would come to this war, which he termed a Holy War, and bear arms for forty days. The same indulgences were likewise held out to all who entered themselves for the purpose as to such as engaged in crusades to the Holy Land. The brave earl defended Toulouse and other places with the most heroic bravery and various success against the pope's legates and Simon, earl of Montfort, a bigoted Catholic nobleman. Unable to subdue the earl of Toulouse openly, the king of France, and the queen mother, and three archbishops raised another formidable army, and had the art to persuade the earl of Toulouse to come to a conference, when he was treacherously seized upon, made a prisoner, forced to appear barefooted and bareheaded before his enemies, and compelled to subscribe an abject recantation. This was followed by a severe persecution against the Albigenses; and express orders that the laity should not be permitted to read the sacred Scriptures...
In the year 1524, at a town in France, called Melden, one John Clark set up a bill on the church door, wherein he called the pope Antichrist. For this offence he was repeatedly whipped, and then branded on the forehead. Going afterward to Mentz, in Lorraine, he demolished some images, for which he had his right hand and nose cut off, and his arms and breast torn with pincers. He sustained these cruelties with amazing fortitude, and was even sufficiently cool to sing the One hundredth and fifteenth Psalm, which expressly forbids idolatry; after which he was thrown into the fire, and burnt to ashes (Fox's Book of Martyrs by John Fox, Chapter 4).

In our world today, we take for granted the rights we have to freely speak and write, to worship according to our consciences and the instructions of God's word, and to be protected against unwarranted search and seizure. In the history of the world, however, that is only a modern occurrence. Our forefathers did not have such rights. They continually risked losing their property, their liberty, and their lives. We should be humbled in appreciation for the rights and privileges we experience today, through God's blessings of liberty.

Hebrews 12 draws together the spiritual significance of the sacrifices made by those before us and the trail of righteousness which they blazed ahead of us and left as an example for us.

(Heb 12:1-2 NASB) Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, {2} fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith [look, there is a bold statement about what Christ did while on earth: he was a perfecter of faith].

Continue in verse two.

(Heb 12:2 NASB) fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Many will remember a sermon from Wayne Bedwell about the Persecution and Trial of Jesus Christ, which detailed both the prior persecution of the Messiah by the Jewish leadership as well as the actual suffering experienced by him during his execution. Despite the agony he was experiencing, Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was for the sheer joy of the assignment set before him (and the ultimate reward that lay ahead of him) that Christ endured the shame and the agony of the cross.

Verse 3 focuses on the example left for us by Christ.

(Heb 12:3-8 NASB) For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. {4} You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; {5} and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; {6} FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." {7} It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? {8} But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

A Question of Legitimacy

Stop and think for a moment. Do you want to be illegitimate children or true sons of God? What's the difference? While many may have grown indifferent in our modern day societies that tolerate sin, in Biblical times to be an illegitimate child meant that you had no rights to the line of inheritance from your parents. You were not the legitimate, documented child of your parents. In Nehemiah 7:63, we can see an example of how illegitimacy (in the form of undocumented legitimacy) kept certain men from serving God in the priesthood. After naming the families of the roughly 50,000 Israelite exiles who returned from the Babylonian captivity, we read that their priestly legitimacy was not found to be provable.

(Neh 7:64 KJV) These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood.

They were not legitimate priests and were considered polluted and not acceptable to be members of the priesthood. Do you want to endure the struggles of this life and run the risk of not being considered legitimate in God's line of inheritance as a true son of God? Hebrews 12:9 tells us that we should appreciate and desire the correction and discipline of the Father because it is for our own good.

(Heb 12:9 NASB) Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? {10} For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. {11} All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Did you catch that? We have the chance to share the Father's holiness. Furthermore, the righteous discipline of God yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness; but just what is "the peaceful fruit of righteousness?"

Every year, we keep the Passover as Christ kept it with his disciples. We partake of the unleavened bread, which pictures the broken body of Christ. We partake of the wine, which pictures the blood of the Messiah shed for us for the remission of our sins. Christ is our redeemer because he, as our elder brother and kinsman, was qualified to buy us back from our former lives of slavery to our master, Satan. We had voluntarily sold ourselves into lives of absolute slavery to sin. Christ was the perfect sacrifice, the unblemished lamb of God. His life was of greater value than all our lives. He was willingly sacrificed for us in paying our debt to the Father for breaking his laws of righteousness.

In 1 Peter 2: 20, Peter spoke of our personal responsibility. We are to live lives of righteousness indebted forever to the Father, for giving and accepting the sacrifice of his son in our stead. We are also indebted to our Messiah, for both giving himself in payment of our debt and for setting the example of a life of righteousness for us to emulate.

(1 Pet 2:20-24 NASB) For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. {21} For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, {22} WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; {23} and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously [that's the Father]; {24} and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

Fruits of Righteousness

Let's go back to examine some of the fruits of righteousness. In Galatians 5:22, we can see some of those fruits expounded by the apostle Paul in what he terms "the fruit of the spirit."

(Gal 5:22-25 NASB) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23} gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. {24} Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. {25} If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Those are to be the positive goals for our lives. We should use each as a "benchmark" or "road sign" by which we gauge our daily paths through life. I should use each as a measure for myself. How do I stack up against the standards set by Christ?

Verse 25 is key to answering that question because in it Paul sets the tone and develops the framework for the points he drives home in chapter six. The theme, therefore, is spiritual deeds: how are we to put into daily action the fruits of the spirit. "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."

(Gal 6:1-10 NASB) Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. {2} Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. {3} For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. {4} But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. {5} For each one shall bear his own load. {6} And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. {7} Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. {8} For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. {9} And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. {10} So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

Look at verse one as an example of how we are to put the fruits of God's spirit into action. If we find a man caught in a trespass, we're supposed to throw the book at him, tear him down, and proclaim his sins from the highest mountaintop. Is that what it says? No, we're supposed to "restore him" or bring him back to God's standards with a spirit of gentleness. Why gentleness? Wouldn't harshness and ridicule work just as well? No, because Paul goes on to say that by using gentleness, we are looking to ourselves and avoiding putting ourselves into temptation. We well know from the Lord's Prayer of Matthew 6, that we should always pray not be put into temptation because temptation is linked to the evil one, Satan the Devil.

In verse two, Paul says that we are fulfilling the law of Christ by bearing each others' burdens. That should really keep us humble because verses three, four, and five hone in on where the ultimate responsibility really lies. It is with the individual. We each need to continually remind ourselves that we are nothing. Mankind, and each of us in particular, contains no inherent good. In Romans 3:9, Paul speaks of the Jews being no better than the gentiles and he quotes David from the Psalms. Keep your place in Galatians six.

(Rom 3:9-12 NASB) What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; {10} as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; {11} THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; {12} ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE."

So, we are to focus on ourselves. Back in Galatians 6, we see we should not be condemning others but helping them to return to the righteous standards of God with gentle persuasiveness. That doesn't mean we're to be "doormats" for the disobedient to wipe their feet on but we should work with gentleness to restore the errant one. That's what I need to continually be asking myself, "Am I being gentle enough?" Unfortunately, the answer is usually "no" and it's something I always need to improve.

Verses seven and eight show well that those who persist in disobedience and lawlessness are serving their own flesh. By continuing to do so, it's obvious that they are sowing their own destruction but the final reward for their deeds of destruction is not our responsibility; the judgment belongs to God. In his own time and at the right moment, God will see to it that their evil deeds are properly repaid.

Our responsibility is to make sure that our own houses are in order. Each of our individual lives should be in accord with God's righteous standards. Verse ten holds the key to our individual responsibilities: "while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." Over the years in the Church of God, we've been taught as if verse ten actually reads: "let us do good to those who are of the household of faith." The implication was that anyone not of the household of faith was "scum" and wasn't deserving of much effort at all. Well, that's not what the verse says. We are to do good to all men. That doesn't mean just a select few. It is to be our mode of behavior to do good to all men and, thereby, to be exhibiting the righteous fruits of God's spirit for all to see through our deeds.

That's the behavior God desires of us. That is our duty as the slaves of Christ to be obedient to the Father's will. Back in chapter five and verse 24, we read that if we do, indeed, belong to Christ then we crucify or put to death the deeds of the flesh with its passions and desires.

The Deeds of the Flesh

Just what are those deeds that we are to put to death? Back up a few verses to Galatians 5:19.

(Gal 5:19-21 NASB) Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, {20} idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, {21} envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Now, that's very serious. It's not just a play thing or a statement to take lightly. Paul was deadly serious about even dabbling in the deeds of the flesh. Look at that last part: "those who practice such things SHALL NOT inherit the kingdom of God. He didn't say, "they'll make it into the Kingdom just the same" or "they'll just barely make it into the kingdom." He said that those who practice the deeds of the flesh SHALL NOT make it into the kingdom of God at all. Look at those deeds again. They are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness and carousing.

Let's look specifically at one of the deeds of the flesh that is common today but is actually a deed so heinous that it incorporates several of the others. Focus on jealousy. Jealousy has, at its heart, envying which causes disputes, dissentions, and factions (either a battle of I against him or we against them). Jealousy can cause outbursts of anger. If allowed to fester and grow, it leads to enmity or outright hatred. So, in the one deed of the flesh of jealousy, we have corralled about half of all the deeds of the flesh. Jealousy can occur over material possessions but, in the world, we probably most often see it happening over power and control. In Numbers 16, we can see a prime example of jealousy exhibited because of the issue of power and control over the people of God. In Numbers 16:1 in the instance of Korah's rebellion, the wording in the King James version renders the jealousy factor even more apparent in all its arrogance and pettiness.

(Num 16:1-3 KJV) Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men: {2} And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: [these were not just "nobodies;" they were famous men of renown] {3} And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?

How petty can you get? Well, they were even pettier in their insolence toward God and Moses in verse 12.

(Num 16:12-13 NASB) Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, "We will not come up. {13} "Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us?

The end of verse 13 shows that the key to their jealousy was their perception of Moses lording his authority or control over the people and, chiefly, over the sons of Levi [and the Hebrew word for "lord over" is Strong's #8323 sarar, to have (or exercise) dominion].

The rebels clearly had a problem with authority placed over them. They looked only at the physical and didn't see or believe that the ultimate line of authority was from God. Are we that way? Do we only look at the physical rather than the spiritual line of authority from God?

No matter where we live in the world, we each have authorities placed over us. Some authorities are secular and some are spiritual. Even though speaking most directly about secular authorities in Romans 13:1, Paul connected the secular with the spiritual.

(Rom 13:1-6 NASB) Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. {2} Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. {3} For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; {4} for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. {5} Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. {6} For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

Secular authorities in governments of man placed over us generally have a hierarchical structure. In his sermon entitled, Church Government, Wayne Bedwell examines the similar hierarchical structure in most modern churches of God and compares it to the clear instructions in scripture about proper church government really containing positions of service to the members for their enhancement and benefit.

A Life of Service

So, Korah and his fellow rebels had it all wrong. Moses, Aaron and the leadership established by God to have the rule over his people were not put in place to act as worldly leaders who exercise their power for personal gain or prestige. In Luke 22:25, we can read Christ's own words instructing how his disciples were to rule over one another and over the brethren. The language of the NIV seems to put it best.

(Luke 22:25-26 NIV) Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. {26} But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. {27} For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

In Matthew 20:26, we can read the parallel version of the same account.

(Mat 20:26-28 NIV) Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, {27} and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- {28} just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

So, Christ, the one who personally presented the will of the Father to Moses and all the prophets of the Old Testament, said that the one who rules over his people should behave in the same manner as one who serves. So, the leadership in ancient Israel as well as the leadership in the church today is a ministry of service. It is not one of lording or exercising dominion over God's people for personal enrichment or personal prestige. As Paul indicated in 2 Corinthians 4:1, it is one of giving and serving the brethren for their growth.

(2 Cor 4:1-5 NASB) Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, {2} but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. {3} And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, {4} in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. {5} For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake.

Paul and the apostles did not preach about their own greatness. They preached the greatness of the Father and the Messiah sent by the Father and the message he brought about the Kingdom of God. The leadership is established in the church for our example and for our emulation. 1 Timothy 3:2 specifies the fruits we should be seeing in the church.

(1 Tim 3:2-4 NASB) An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, {3} not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. {4} He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity [that's important: look to how he runs his household. Is it managed well? Is it well organized? Does he keep his children under control? Whether the children are young or old, are they dignified and do they behave with dignity?]

Continue in verse five.

(1Tim 3:5-15 NASB) (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?); {6} and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. {7} And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. {8} Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, {9} but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. {10} And let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. {11} Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. {12} Let deacons be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. {13} For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. {14} I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; {15} but in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.

In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul summarizes to Timothy what the standard of spiritual behavior set by an elder to the congregation should be.

(1 Tim 4:12 NASB) Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example to those who believe.

While the leadership of the church is commanded by God to embody God's standard of righteousness in their daily lives, whether they do or not, we are still individually responsible for our daily conduct. In previous sermons, such as Righteous Slavery, we have discussed that we are now the possession of a new owner, God the Father. We are to perform the will of our new owner and do that which is pleasing to him.

(Rom 6:12-13 NASB) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, {13} and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God

If we do not allow ourselves to be instruments of unrighteousness but rather devote ourselves to be instruments of righteousness to God, then we confirm the goodness of the law of God by living lives filled with deeds of righteousness. James 3:13 affirms the necessity of good, godly behavior.

(James 3:13-18 NASB) Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. {14} But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. {15} This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. {16} For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. {17} But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. {18} And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

In Romans 8:1, Paul shows us how the Spirit of God should motivate and direct our inner being on a daily basis.

(Rom 8:1-19 NASB) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. {2} For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. {3} For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, {4} in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. {5} For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. {6} For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, {7} because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; {8} and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. {9} However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. {10} And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. {11} But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit which indwells you. {12} So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- {13} for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. {14} For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. {15} For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" {16} The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, {17} and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. {18} For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. {19} For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God

We are not illegitimate children. Through the Spirit, which is the power of God in us, we have received adoption as the sons of God and as rightful heirs of the promises, along with Christ. It is not, however, a life of easily sliding into the Kingdom of God. Verse 17 says that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ only if we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

God is not a respecter of persons. There are not different standards for different people. There is one standard of righteousness established by the Father and embodied in his commandments. There is not one standard for the ministry in the church and a different standard for the rest of the brethren. The ministry is there for our example, to serve us where we are lacking. The greater the office, the more service is required of that office holder.

Pursue Righteousness

We've learned today that there is a wonderful future that can await us if we remain steadfast in the way of life that is pleasing to our master. In Galatians 5:13, Paul had words of instruction and encouragement to the Galatian brethren.

(Gal 5:13-16 NASB) For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. {14} For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." {15} But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. {16} But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

In the final analysis, though, remember that no matter where we are located and no matter what our station in life is, we are not dependent upon the church or any man for our spiritual condition. As Paul stated in Philippians 2:12, we are ultimately dependent upon God and are personally responsible for our own individual spiritual behavior.

(Phil 2:12-13 NASB) So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; {13} for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Always pursue God's righteousness with an eye toward the glorious future of the righteous Kingdom of God pictured in the Holy Days we celebrate.

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Sermon given by Philip Edwards
March 31, 2007
Copyright 2007, Philip Edwards

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