Numbers 6:1-21 – Staying Clean & Close and Being In the World But Not of It…Not As Easy As it Sounds!

Posted: July 15, 2016 in Book of Numbers
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Numbers 6:1-21

The Nazarite Vow

We are to be in the world but not of it, an oft-heard exhortation to Christians. Another saying you might hear in Christian circles is “if you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” There is a great tension between being a Christian and being engaged in what is a sinful world. We get so immersed in the world. It is all around us. As Christians, our home, Scripture tells us, is in heaven and we are but travelers here on earth on this side of heaven. There are all kinds of input into our minds on this side of heaven that is certainly unholy. That idea of allowing the world to enter our minds and convince us that unholy things are OK to dabble in has been plaguing my heart since this past weekend’s events at NewSpring Church, that nation’s third largest church, based in nearby Anderson, SC. This church did not exist 17 years ago and now it has 17 campuses and 30,000 regular attendees across the state. Its founding pastor, Perry Noble, was relieved (temporarily or permanently, it is not clear) of his senior pastoral duties due to dependence on alcohol. Although Perry has been controversial over the past decade (in part because of jealousies over the rapid growth of his church, I think), mainly because many perceive his theology to be “gospel lite” or “the watered down gospel” so that it appeals to the masses and that may well be true, one thing that I never expected was that another megachurch pastor would publicly implode. This time, it was not arrogance, poor financial decisions, opulent lifestyles, or sexual sin, it was an internal implosion caused by alcohol. There are those who will say, just another hypocrite celebrity preacher. Perry’s ordeal is going to be a big deal because he is a nationally known “new church” preacher. He is or was the pastor of one the largest and fastest growing churches in America. It is a big deal and he will be watched as he progresses through the arduous roads of recovery. He will be in the spotlight.

 

It got me to thinking though, what about the rest of us who serve the Lord on church staffs across the country in megachurches like NewSpring, but more commonly in large churches like mine, LifeSong Church in Lyman, SC, medium sized churches, and the most common of all, small churches? How do we keep ourselves from being the next Perry Noble whose actions might not be national Christian news like the real Perry Noble, but the next Perry Noble nonetheless? How do we as pastors, church administrators, and non-pastoral leadership keep ourselves from being the next casualty in Satan’s war against Jesus’ church. How do we keep ourselves from being that pastor or that church administrator or that lay leader whose influence in our local church is great and if he or she has a moral failure that it could have devastating effects on the flock of that local church and give non-believers more reason to stay away from the church? How are we to be in the world and not succumb to its pleasures?

 

If you are a church leader and your worldly weakness is lust for women, what do you do? If you are a church leader and your worldly weakness is desire for alcohol or drugs, what do you do? If you are a church leader and you worldly weakness is a desire for the accumulation of wealth or the trappings of wealth, what do you do? If you are a church leader and your worldly weakness is pride (which can affect your decision making and can cause you to lead people astray), what do you do? We are in this world. We, in church leadership, all have our weaknesses. We all have those places in our Christian armor where it is the thinnest and weakest. We all have our sin soft spot. That particular sin that you struggle the mightiest with. There is that one sin weakness that is the last unrepentant sin behavior that we give up. It is the one that Satan knows about and tries to exploit, particularly if you are a pastor or church leader. He wants to take you down so that he can cause ripple effects throughout the flock of believers, particularly among those that are less mature or are just hanging around the edges of church but have not yet decided to live for Christ. He knows that taking a leader down can have an atomic bomb-like effect on the flock. I pray for NewSpring Church because we have already seen within the last three years that megachurches can implode quickly as the result of something like this. Just look at what happened to Mars Hill Church in the Seattle, WA area. It was as big or bigger than NewSpring. The founding pastor was removed because of non-biblical behaviors of which he refused to repent. Within a year, Mars Hill Church as we had known it no longer existed.

 

It is for that reason that I cannot condemn Perry Noble and can only pray for him and the church that he founded with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is not one of us in church leadership that is immune to the pleasures and sins of this world. Do you know your sin soft spot? Do you know of which of sins that you justify as OK because (1) nobody knows about it, (2) it’s not hurting your ministry (yet), and (3) it’s not really that bad? Are you, am I, setting ourselves up to be the next Perry Noble in our church in our local area? It might not make national news because your or my church has maybe two or three campuses at the most and around 1,000 regular attendees or even more likely, you are at a small, single campus church with 200 or less regular attendees. The impact is the same. Are you setting yourself up for a Perry Noble fall, even though on a smaller scale?

 

Those were the thoughts that crossed my mind this morning as I read through the Nazarite Vow passage in Numbers today, Numbers 6:1-21. Let’s read through and then we will talk about why these thoughts came to mind this morning:

 

6 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, 3 they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. 4 As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins.

 

5 “‘During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

 

6 “‘Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. 7 Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. 8 Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.

 

9 “‘If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite’s presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolizes their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day—the day of their cleansing. 10 Then on the eighth day they must bring two doves or two young pigeons to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 11 The priest is to offer one as a sin offering[a] and the other as a burnt offering to make atonement for the Nazirite because they sinned by being in the presence of the dead body. That same day they are to consecrate their head again. 12 They must rededicate themselves to the Lord for the same period of dedication and must bring a year-old male lamb as a guilt offering. The previous days do not count, because they became defiled during their period of dedication.

 

13 “‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. 14 There they are to present their offerings to the Lord: a year-old male lamb without defect for a burnt offering, a year-old ewe lamb without defect for a sin offering, a ram without defect for a fellowship offering, 15 together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and a basket of bread made with the finest flour and without yeast—thick loaves with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves brushed with olive oil.

 

16 “‘The priest is to present all these before the Lord and make the sin offering and the burnt offering. 17 He is to present the basket of unleavened bread and is to sacrifice the ram as a fellowship offering to the Lord, together with its grain offering and drink offering.

 

18 “‘Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that symbolizes their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.

 

19 “‘After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair that symbolizes their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. 20 The priest shall then wave these before the Lord as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine.

 

21 “‘This is the law of the Nazirite who vows offerings to the Lord in accordance with their dedication, in addition to whatever else they can afford. They must fulfill the vows they have made, according to the law of the Nazirite.’”

 

 

In leading up to the directions for the dedication and purification of priests, the Lord gives instructions for the special Nazarite vows of the laity, those who are not in the full-time service of ministry. Both males and females could enter into periods of special service to the Lord. As a kingdom of priests, Israel was to be God’s representatives to the nations, even those who were in full-time service to the Lord such as the line of Aaron. There were outward and visible signs that a lay person had taken the vow to be in special service to the Lord for a period of time. The hair, the restrictions from wine, and other outward signs such purposefully not allowing themselves to come into contact with things that would defile them. Samson’s parents dedicated him as a Nazarite (and such was the reason for his long hair). Those who dedicated themselves for full-time service set themselves apart from the world around them. There were certain indulgences of the world that they would not participate in because it was their desire to give their full attention to the Lord’s service. They were intentional. They were open about it. They were purposeful about keeping themselves set apart for the service of the Lord.

 

What does this passage say to us and how does it tie together with my opening illustration/discussion? I think that it is clear that we must be in the world but not of it. As stated by the anonymous author at gotquestions.com, he says,

 

Believers in Jesus Christ are simply in the world—physically present—but not of it, not part of its values (John 17:14-15). As believers, we should be set apart from the world. This is the meaning of being holy and living a holy, righteous life—to be set apart. We are not to engage in the sinful activities the world promotes, nor are we to retain the insipid, corrupt mind that the world creates. Rather, we are to conform ourselves, and our minds, to that of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1-2). This is a daily activity and commitment.

 

We must also understand that being in the world, but not of it, is necessary if we are to be a light to those who are in spiritual darkness. We are to live in such a way that those outside the faith see our good deeds and our manner and know that there is something “different” about us. Christians who make every effort to live, think and act like those who do not know Christ do Him a great disservice. Even the heathen knows that “by their fruits you shall know them,” and as Christians, we should exhibit the fruit of the Spirit within us.

 

Being “in” the world also means we can enjoy the things of the world, such as the beautiful creation God has given us, but we are not to immerse ourselves in what the world values, nor are we to chase after worldly pleasures. Pleasure is no longer our calling in life, as it once was, but rather the worship of God.

 

So, as pastors and leaders of Jesus’ church here on this side of eternity, we must purposefully set ourselves apart from that which will ensnare us and ruin our witness. We have to be real and honest about our sin weaknesses. If you have a weakness for lust for women, you must avoid situations where you can allow yourself to act on those lusts and you must seek the Lord’s help in cleansing yourself of this sin. You cannot allow it to be OK. You cannot allow it to fester even if it is just in your mind. If you are susceptible to greed, do not allow yourself to be in a position where entrusted funds can be taken. Even if it is an innocent situation where a church member asks you to take some money to give to the church financial secretary. You know your weakness. Don’t let it grab hold. Set yourself apart from your known sin weaknesses. If your weakness is pride, if your weakness is alcohol, if your weakness is arrogance, if your weakness is … whatever that gets in the way of your own relationship with God, own it, confess it, and set yourself apart from it so that it will not stain your witness or that of the church body you represent. We have to purposeful. We are not perfect. We will sometimes fail. But as in this passage, there is rededication. We start over. We rededicate ourselves to the Lord with even greater resolve to learn from the lessons that have been taught us. I pray this for Perry Noble and anyone else who is his position in the service of the Lord. We need to have those people in our lives that will tell us when we are succumbing to the pleasures and sins of the world and help us to steer clear. We have to be willing to listen to our accountability partners. We must have them.

 

We must keep ourselves, as my senior pastor says, “clean and close” to the Lord. We must be intentional about avoiding that which will defile our witness. We must be intentional about making the bride of Christ, the church, more important than our personal pleasures and desires. We must set ourselves apart. We must be intentional about saying I am a Christian and these are the values I will live by. It is a choice that we must make each and every day. It is tough, really tough at times. Satan is relentless in his pursuit of his next Perry Noble-like victim even on the small scale of a standalone church of less than 200 people. It is a victory to him when we listen to the siren’s call of unrepentant sin. It is a victory to him when he splits a church wide open and turns people away from the church. Clean and close. Set apart. Vigilant. Intentional. All these things we must be. May we cling to the Lord and ask Him to identify our weak spots, and reveal our sins and help us to repent of them so that we can stamp down hard with our foot on Satan’s neck and say we have victory. Victory through being set apart for God’s service through the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen and Amen..

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