Key Verse: Leviticus 11:44
Big Idea: Holiness extends to every area of our lives.
After the excitement of Leviticus 10, maybe chapter 11 is where your eyes start to glaze over: "I remember why I thought the Old Testament was boring." Israelites could eat animals with divided hooves, as long as they also chewed cud. So no camels (they don't chew cud) and no rock badgers (what the KJV calls a "coney," it has the wrong kind of feet). Both requirements had to be met for an animal to be acceptable for food. For fish, the two requirements were both scales and fins. Moses goes on, explaining different requirements for insects, birds, and so on. Even the carcasses of these animals could not be touched. In Matthew 23:24, when Jesus said "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel," he was accusing them of carefully avoiding the smallest unclean creature, while taking in the largest one whole. They were so focused on the details that they missed the big picture. Perhaps that is where you find yourself at this point in the text.
So, the gnats aside of why one thing was clean and another was unclean, let's look at the camel: why did God tell the Israelites what to eat? For you, dear reader, who has been following the Old Testament for over two months now, maybe this is not such a shock. After all, in Genesis 2-3, the first commandment God gave was a dietary restriction! In that case, the issue was clearly not about health or the corruption of a fallen world. It seems most likely to me that the tree of knowledge of good and evil did not give the knowledge of good and evil on its own, but that they would learn what good and evil were by either obeying or disobeying God. The purpose of the commandment was to draw a bold line: you will either obey Me and by like Me, or obey the serpent and be like him. There were no small commandments and big ones, just a simple test that revealed the decision of the heart.
In the same way, these food laws show that every detail of the Israelites' lives were to be shaped by their special relationship with the LORD. Either they would eat what the nations around them ate and what was convenient, or they would restrict their foods to the ones that were permissible for sacrifice. They could imitate the Egyptians and the Canaanites, or they could imitate God and share in His bounty. Their different status was to be shown in ways that other people could notice: their clothes, their food, and so on. For us, it is different. All foods have been declared clean (Mark 7:19). The distinguishing marks for Christians is love (John 13:35). But if food laws touch every area of our lives, how much more will the better law about the love of our hearts?
Discussion idea: What areas of your life seem too small to matter to God? How does holiness require wholeness, even in that?
Prayer focus: Lord, help me to walk with integrity, so my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength are united in devotion to You. No part of my life is reserved as a foothold for sin, and no task is too great or too small when You call me to it.
Key Verse: Jude 24
Big Idea: In the face of temptations, it is God that holds us up.
Jude, like James, was written by one of the other sons of Mary. Interestingly, rather than call himself the “brother of Jesus,” he introduces himself as James’ brother and Jesus’ slave. This letter is a somber one, warning about hypocrites who had worked their way into the congregation. They told people what they wanted to hear, but were like clouds in a drought that looked promising but offered no rain. There is probably nothing worse than someone who has the appearance of faith, but not the power of the cross.
In the past, vaccines were based on giving someone a weakened form of a disease or a similar, but less dangerous one. The immune system would be trained by that pathogen, and would be ready to resist the real thing later. Christianity as taught by these teachers is just a weakened mockery of the real faith, that does nothing except desensitize people so that they never catch the real disease. They are worse off than when they started, because they make a mockery of the grace of God.
How do we deal with these kinds of temptations? It will not be in our own strength, because being told what we want to believe is too tempting of an offer to refuse. James offers a simple answer: keep growing in faith, keep praying, keep looking for Jesus to return, and keep leading others to Jesus. The key to preventing the infection of extravagant false teachers is to live the ordinary Christian life. How can that be? While the false teachers point to themselves and their pleasures, authentic Christianity is a continual dependence on God. As the benediction explains, believers are eternally secure because Jesus is the one who keeps us from stumbling. We simply trust and worship, and He brings us to Himself washed clean.
Discussion Idea: What makes certain lies appealing? How do fake friends, salespeople, etc. offer us the bait we want to hear? How and why are God’s portraits of Christianity in the Bible different?
Prayer Focus: Thank God for a specific instance when He protected you from yourself and for the eternal security we have in Christ.