February 15 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” ~Leviticus 20:8

God set apart His people for worship, and then gave them a law that would separate them from surrounding cultures: “You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you” (Lev. 20:23). (The ejection of the pagan people was due in large part to their pervasive wickedness; God was intent upon restoring the land.) Leviticus 20 reveals some of the immorality of nearby societies. If the Israelites mimicked this grotesque behavior, God commanded that specific punishments be meted out. The harsh penalties were designed to preserve the moral fabric of the community, especially the family since many of these laws relate to it. The worshipping community was meant to be holy, healthy, and beautiful!

There is no avoiding capital punishment in chapter 20 and other portions of God’s law. Consider these three factors as you read: 1) Death penalties most likely were the maximum sentence a judge could impose on a guilty party. Lesser sentences may have been an option. 2) For all its perceived barbarism when viewed through modern eyes, Israel’s legal code was comparatively humane for a culture of the time. Death penalties were meted out for all sorts of infractions in the ancient world. And 3) our initial reaction to such “harsh” penalties may be due (at least in part) to our own loss of conviction. Thanks to the godless society in which we live, we, like the proverbial frog in the kettle, have slowly grown accustomed to and insensitive to immorality.

God, however, never becomes inured to wrongdoing. He is a God of justice, a God who takes holiness seriously. His mercy moves Him to forgive wicked people when they repent; but His justice demands that the wicked be punished when they persist in sin. Therefore, we must not close our eyes to sin within the community (see Lev. 20:4). We must make every effort to restore people when they have sinned. But if we are dealing with a person who is defiant, whose actions are bringing destruction to family, friends, and faith, then our responsibility shifts to loving confrontation and, if necessary, disciplinary action. The New Testament approach to confrontation is born out of a desire to restore the sinner to spiritual health and to his or her place in the community (Gal. 6:1-6). It calls for us to gradually increase pressure on those who will not listen to reason and spiritual intervention (Matt. 18:15-20) but also to be prepared to put out of the community those who persist in destroying its beauty (1 Cor. 5). The latter action echoes the Old Testament concept of cutting a person off from the rest of God’s people. When worshipping communities fail to act, they fail to protect the holiness of God in their midst, and they contribute to the potential demise of their community.

The resurrected Christ told the church to proclaim the good news, to baptize people into the worshipping community, and to teach them to do everything He taught (Matt. 28:18-20). Everything includes showing mercy and justice for the glory of the holy God we worship. Have you failed to show mercy to a person who has repented?   Then you must repent and show mercy! Have you failed to speak up when someone in your faith community is bringing harm to themselves, others around them, and/or the holiness of God? Then you must repent and press for justice! As the Irish statesman Edmund Burke had it, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Lectio Divina  is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of  Calvary Church  in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of  A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.