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The Laws of the Priesthood
It is most interesting to study the method of God in caring for those who labor in the Lord. This will be the theme of today. However, we think we had best give some thoughts in general, upon the dignity, the duties, and the glory of being especially called to serve the Lord in the office of priest or pastor.
1. While it is true that every believer has a task for God, it is also true that the Lord has created special offices for chosen representatives. The only truly Scriptural church is where everybody is at work for God, and where there is a work for everybody. However, there are some who give their whole time to definite service.
There is a passage in First Corinthians which runs like this: "God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles," etc.
There is a similar passage in Ephesians 4:1-32 : "And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for (or, unto) the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ."
Thus all have something to do, but some have a special phase of ministry.
2. What then is the special work of a chosen group such as are noted above? Apostles are men sent of God, commissioned to a special fellowship with the Lord and leadership among the saints. The church does not often recognize this calling, nevertheless "apostles" are named by the Spirit as a designated group. There are evangelists. These are men sent out to evangelize the lost, emphasizing those messages of salvation, and fundamental doctrines, which lead to conversion and consecration. Pastors are the shepherds of the flock; teachers are expounders of the deep things of God; prophets are those who deal in the realm of coming things, opening up the Scriptures as to the things which are about to come to pass, and the things which await us in the ages to come.
3. These servants of the Lord are usually called for a whole-time service; that is, they have been separated from the walks of business and the toils of the day. For this cause they are to be supported by the saints who have other means of livelihood.
4. There is a dignity in the special offices of the church. We mean that both God and men expect of them certain things which are not asked of what we call the laity. This dignity in no wise lowers the moral and ethical relations which befall all saints.
The dignity of the men separated unto God for apostles, pastors, evangelists, etc., lies in their special calling. They are shepherds who lead the flock in the ways of God. They are men who stand before God in behalf of the people, bringing to Him the needs of the saints. They also stand before the people to tell them of God.
This is no small matter. These called ones should never magnify themselves. However, they may well magnify their office. They should deeply feel the responsibilities that lie upon them, as well as the privileges which are theirs. To be called to a special nearness to God is wonderful; to be called to a gracious ministry toward others is blessed.
To be chosen a king, or a president, or any representative to represent and safeguard the interests of the people is, indeed, a great honor; yet, to be called to be an ambassador of Heaven, sent of God, is a far greater honor, and a greater responsibility as well.
I. THE PRIESTS SHALL BEAR THE INIQUITY OF THE PEOPLE (Numbers 18:1 )
1. There is a Divine law of retribution. In our last study we saw how God slew Korah, and Abiram, and Dathan, and all that appertained to them. He also came in judgment upon the men who walked with them in their rebellion.
God now commands Aaron that he, and his sons, and his house, shall bear the iniquities of the people, and also of the priesthood.
What does this mean? It certainly means that the priesthood were to be quick to discern any defection among the people of God, any sin that lurked in their hearts, and any rebellion that asserted itself.
They were to do more than recognize that sin. They were at once to bear their iniquity. They were to hasten to the Lord with sacrifices that God might have mercy upon the sinners.
God does not, and cannot, overlook sin. Therefore atonement must be made. The Cross must be recognized, and the Blood of Christ must be the basis of forgiveness.
2. The responsibility and burden of a people's sin falls upon the priests. Take the church as it is today. The Lord, whether He is speaking of the good or the evil in the churches, addresses the pastor. Here it is: "Unto the angel of the Church of Ephesus write." The messenger of the church, the pastor, is the one held for the conduct of the flock.
3. Where there is wrongdoing or evil among saints the pastor must not only warn the people but he must at once seek to cover them with the Blood of the Cross. He must lead them to repentance. If he warns them not, and fails to get them under the Blood, God's wrath will fall, and he himself will be held as guilty. Of old it was written: "If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand."
II. THE OBJECTIVE OF THE SANCTUARY (Numbers 18:5 )
Our key verse reads this way: "And ye shall keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar: that there be no wrath any more upon the Children of Israel."
1. There is but one way to be kept from wrath, and that way is to be found in the sanctuary. It is there, in the way of the altar, that safety lies. Sin must be judged; and death is the judgment of the Lord against sin all sin, any sin.
"The soul that sinneth, it shall die." "The wages of sin is death." How then can. God be just and justify the ungodly? How can God keep the sinner that he die not, when God has said he shall die? The answer is in the verse we are now studying. That is the objective of the sanctuary, and the altar.
There is where the blood was sprinkled, and there is where God can save from wrath. Why? That will be the theme now before us.
2. Why the sanctuary and the altar can avert wrath. It is because the altar stood for the substitutionary work of Christ. It was there that the Lord Jesus suffered, the Just for the unjust; it is there that the sinner is cleansed from all iniquity, and made the righteousness of God in Him.
He who would take the shedding of the Blood of Christ out of his Bible, takes the hope of salvation out of his life.
He who would deny the efficacy of the sacrificial shedding of the Blood of Christ, denies the only way that God can redeem the wicked. There is none other name given under heaven, and among men, whereby we must be saved.
God Himself gave command to Aaron that the charge of the sanctuary and the altar must be kept, that wrath come no more upon Israel.
3. God is not willing that any should perish. That is the reason that Christ died for all men; and whosoever will may come. The way of salvation is open to all. However, that way must be entered; that Blood must be accepted, else the wrath of God must fall.
III. A SPECIAL TRIBE SET APART TO BE PRIESTS (Numbers 18:6 )
1. The Lord sets aside one tribe out of ten for priests. The Lord knew that men needed to be taught in the ways of God. Therefore He separated the Levites to do this ministry. They were to serve all the people as instructors and guides in Divine things.
In our day, the day of the church, God also sets apart special men called for special service. In most churches, at all ordination services, where young men are set apart for the ministry, they are carefully examined as to their call to preach. This means that the churches themselves recognize that the Lord is the great Head of His Church, and that He appointeth over it whomsoever He will.
2. The Lord separates the men He calls from all other avenues of life. These men are taken from their brethren. They are taken out of the commercial and educational line, to serve the Lord in spiritual things.
We mean that pastors and evangelists, and the like, are chosen of God to be a peculiar people, dedicating themselves wholly unto Divine things and service. They have too much to do, in things spiritual, to be tied down with things temporal.
3. The Lord separates these men as a special gift to His Churches. This is the way our key verse reads: "To you they are * * a gift for the Lord, to do the service of the Tabernacle of the congregation."
This was true in Israel, it is true in the Churches. "And God hath set some in the Church." They are placed in the Churches by Him. God then says, "All things are yours," and He specializes on Paul, Apollos, Cephas, etc., and adds that they "are yours."
IV. A CALL TO KEEP OUR TRYST (Numbers 18:7 )
"Thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest's office." We can almost hear Paul, saying to Timothy, "Keep that which is committed to thy trust."
1. It is no light matter to be called into the service of the Lord, as minister of the Word. It is a tryst of honor, and it is a tryst well worth the "keeping." We need to magnify our office. We need to comprehend its sacred significance. We need to weigh well its obligations both to God and to men.
God does, indeed, hold the minister responsible for the faithful and full deliverance of the Word which He has given unto him.
Perhaps some people who claim to have no special call to preach the Gospel, or to become pastors of flocks, may feel that they are not included in this particular study. It will be well, however, for them to observe that even those who are not called to full-time ministry have, at least, a vital place in the Word and work of God. They, too, should take most seriously their obligations as Christians, for, in truth, all saints have a calling to serve the Lord.
2. It is no small dignity, and is a sacred trust, which God has given to saints. It demands our very best in living and in serving. Let no Christian feel that he is called to a trifling, insignificant task. Let him the rather realize that he is a representative of a high and Heavenly court.
To be in service for the Lord of lords is a marvel of glory. It is something that calls upon us to stretch every nerve. Others may do many things which we may not do. They may go to many places where we may not go.
We have intrusted to us a flag of matchless beauty and pureness. We must keep it white and never allow it to drag in the dust.
V. THE SPECIAL ANOINTING (Numbers 18:8 )
1. A special and hallowed commitment. The words we wish you to observe are these: "I also have given thee the charge of Mine heave offerings of all the hallowed things."
To us also God has given a sacred charge. To Timothy God said, through Paul, "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to. thy trust." God has given us the Word of reconciliation. That Word we are to preach, and to preach it faithfully.
God has also given us a special service, and we are to redeem the time. To loiter and waste the moments is to prove faithless to our commitment.
God has also given unto us to bear His Name, without reproach. We should not do anything that will cast shame on that Name of all names. We are Christians. Let us then live like Him.
2. A special anointing for a special service. Here is the statement of our verse; "Unto thee have I given them by reason of the anointing." The high priest, Aaron, and his sons, had received a special anointing with oil for this ministry.
We may take two special lessons from all this for ourselves:
(1) We have an anointing from the Holy One. This anointing is from the Spirit. Let no one, whether minister or layman, dare to undertake work for God without a certainty that the anointing of the Holy Spirit is upon him.
The anointing of the Spirit means first that we have a special power for service given unto us; it means, secondly, that we have a particular approval from the Lord, a recognition of our Divine calling to serve.
(2) We have an anointing from men. It is customary for the brethren of the ministry to ordain men, whom they approve, as called of God. This is done by them only after a careful examination of each candidate as to their regeneration, their call to preach, and their orthodoxy or fidelity to the faith.
VI. THE PROVISION FOR THE MEMBERS OF THE PRIESTHOOD (Numbers 18:12-13 )
1. The priests gave up any possibility of making money, or of raising produce or cattle. What was true in the days of the priesthood, is true today in the church of God, and among the ministry. The pastor, the evangelist, the teacher of the Word, steps aside from all business pursuits, and from all money making. This they give up for Christ's sake, and for the sake of those whom they serve.
2. The priests were, therefore, to be cared for by the offerings of the rest of the people. The key verse is plain: "All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the Lord, them have I given thee."
There is no doubt about God's care of the Old Testament priesthood. Now, let us consider if God has made a similar provision for the ones who minister in the Gospel today. We call your attention to several New Testament statements:
(1) "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" (1 Corinthians 9:11 ).
(2) "They which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14 ).
(3) "They which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar" (1 Corinthians 9:13 ).
These three will suffice. In the last Scripture quoted, the Spirit refers to the care of present-hour laborers in the Gospel, on the basis of the care of the priests of other days.
With what gratitude did Paul speak of the saints who met his need, and were "careful" of him. He said, "I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice, acceptable, wellpleasing unto God."
Certainly no one would accuse Paul of being after the money, and yet Paul did profoundly appreciate the offering of the saints in his hour of need.
VII. GOD IS THE PART OF THOSE WHO SERVE HIM (Numbers 18:20-21 )
1. The Levites had no part in the land. Everyone else among the twelve tribes possessed their portion of land, but the Levites to whom was given the spiritual ministrations had no land. They were called to serve the Lord, unencumbered with earthly cares. They could not properly attend to the spiritual things, if they were buried beneath the load of other serving. Let the ministers of today take heed to this. Too many pastors and teachers are giving far, too great a portion of their time to farm or business pursuits. They daddle here and there in making money, and as a result they have no time for prayer and the many other tasks that befall the true preacher.
2. The Lord was their part and their inheritance. The words ring out so clearly, and so forcefully. "I am thy Part and thine Inheritance among the Children of Israel."
Could any of us desire a richer portion than Him? If He is ours, then all things are ours, for all things are His.
When Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the Most High God, the Possessor of Heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich." Then the Lord appeared unto Abraham and said, "I am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great reward."
Let us trust in the Lord in all our ways, for He will neither forget nor forsake us.
3. The Lord gave the Levites the tithe in Israel for their inheritance. This tithe of everything was for their service which they served, even for the service of the Tabernacle.
We grant that the tithe is not restated in the Epistles; however, proportionate giving is stated; and under grace the saints of today should by no means fall beneath the tithe or tenth part, commanded among Israel.
Let there be an equality, not in the amount that saints shall give, but in the proportion they give.
In our ministry as priests of God, let us seek to glorify Him, and not ourselves:
A careless, unconverted worldling, being persuaded by a friend to go and hear a great gospel preacher, was asked next flay: "And what did you think of the preacher?" "I did not think anything of him," was the reply. Then noticing the disappointed and astonished look on his friend's face, he added, with tears in his eyes: "I could not think anything of him: I could only think of the Christ he was lifting up before our eyes the Christ who is now my Saviour." "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me" (John 12:32 ).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Numbers 18". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany