The book of Leviticus can be a difficult read. It is filled with laws and regulations about ceremonial sacrifices, leprosy and health codes, dietary restrictions, and commands about relationships and sexual sins. In my early exploration of Christianity I was discouraged by reading texts like Leviticus, worried I could never measure up to what it taught. If that was Christianity, I thought, then it was too hard.
Yet, scattered within Leviticus are a few statements that stand out and above the ceremonial and legal regulations. The most famous is found in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus referred to this as the second greatest command. But there are a few other statements that are similar, almost seeming out of place. Consider Leviticus 19:34, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” Not only is the second greatest command repeated, it is applied to gentiles and not just Israelites as in the first passage.
Then, down the road in Leviticus 24:22, God tells them, “There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.” The unbeliever is to be treated with the same love and care you might show to a fellow believer.
It all comes to a head in Leviticus 26:11-12 when God promises that obedience has a tremendous reward, “I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.”
We often think that God’s reward for our obedience awaits us in Heaven. But that is not what this passage says. Rewards for obedience begin here, now, while we walk this earth. But, unlike what prosperity preachers claim, it is not material blessings that are our reward, it is something much greater. It is not that we will dwell with him, rather, he comes to dwell with us. It is not that we walk with God, he walks with us. This is an important distinction. We think if we do well, God will be pleased and we will go to be with him. But Leviticus tells us something greater, that God comes to be with us, right now. It is similar to what God told Abraham in Genesis 15:1, “I am your great and exceeding reward.” Not only that, but Jesus promised us this reward as well. Notice that in John 14:15 and 17 Jesus ties love and obedience to the reward of the Holy Spirit, “If you love me, keep my commands…he lives with you and will be in you.”
Do you want God to walk with you in intimate relationship? The solution is not hard, but simple. Obeying these commands of love is essential to that experience. Our relationship with God is not predicated on a set of laws, rather, it is predicated on love, with obedience to his word as demonstration of that love. Whether for the believer or the unbeliever, the standard is the same. Leviticus 24:22, while spoken about criminal penalties, also applies to the love we must show to all, “There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.”
Leviticus and texts like it can be a difficult read. But for those who take the time, there are precious gems to be discovered that can have a life-changing impact. Today, go forth, love well, and experience the promise of God.