Numbers 35:1-8 – It’s A Matter of Obedience Not Whether You’ve An Extra $20 in Your Wallet

Posted: November 19, 2016 in Book of Numbers
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Numbers 35:1-8

Towns for the Levites

As many of you know, I grew up as a preacher’s kid. My dad was a minister in the South Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church. For much of his career with the church as I was growing up, he served rural churches in farming communities outside of mid-sized towns in South Carolina. I was born during my dad’s first appointment in Lamar, SC. After that we moved to Anderson, SC. Then onto Walhalla, SC followed by Rembert, SC. After Rembert, we moved to Hartsville, SC. From there, we moved to Elgin, SC. From Elgin, we moved to Anderson for a second time. Once we were done in Anderson, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (and, yes, that is the actual name of the town). After the Methodist Church decided to move my dad from Travelers Rest, I stayed behind at college at Furman University and got married to my high school sweetheart. My dad then moved on to Charleston and then to Spartanburg, SC. After Spartanburg, the church moved him to Woodruff and then to Bluffton, SC. After Bluffton, came Georgetown. After Georgetown came Conway. After Conway, came Union, SC. Finally, after 14 appointments and more than 50 years of full-time ministry, my dad went into semi-retirement and started serving two small churches in Iva, SC that could not afford a full-time pastor near his lake home until he fully retired a few years ago.

 

In all that time, as I was growing up and then watching my father as an adult, he earned his living and paid his bills based on the generosity of the members of the churches he served over those 50 plus years. He was a minister of God’s Word and he relied on the generosity of those who attended the churches he had served. We lived in parsonages as I was growing up. There was no home of our own to speak of growing up. My dad did not purchase a place to call his own until we were about to move from Anderson to Travelers Rest when I was a teenager. The parsonages were provided by each church and each parsonage was constructed by those churches, or purchased by those churches, through the generosity of the people of those churches. It kind of set up situations where the salary and the home were contingent upon not making people angry with the double edge sword of God’s Word. My dad was never shy about choosing to speak the truth of the Bible rather than compromise to keep his appointment to that church. In the Methodist Church with its interconnectional nature, every preacher is guaranteed a church and every church is guaranteed a preacher. So, there is a little more freedom to speak the truth of God’s Word because you know that the Methodist Church would move you to a new church if things got too rough. However, they could withhold raises and refuse to contribute their apportioned requirements to the state conference as retribution against a pastor.

 

Amazingly enough over those years, even with dad walking the tightrope of pleasing people while holding to the integrity of God’s Word, we never went without. Sure, being a preacher’s kid and my dad having a preacher’s salary, we did not have the finest things in the world, but we never starved. We never went without clothing. We never lived in a dark house with no electricity. The Lord always provided for my dad and his pursuit of ministry in the Lord’s name. I never noticed anything less than a normal childhood just like any other kid (except for the moving every two or so years). The Lord provided for us as my dad ministered to the people that God chose for him to serve.

 

It was that idea of making provision for those who dedicate their entire lives to serving the Lord as a full-time occupation that came to mind as I read today’s passage, Numbers 35:1-8:

 

35 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns. 3 Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.

 

4 “The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits[a] from the town wall. 5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits[b] on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.

Cities of Refuge

 

6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. 7 In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. 8 The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.”

 

The Levites were ministers. They were supported by the tithes of the people. The people gave them homes, flocks, produce, grains, and pasturelands. Likewise, we are responsible to provide for the needs of our ministers and missionaries so that they can be free to preach God’s Word in spirit and truth. We are responsible to provide for them even when their sermons cut us like a knife and expose our own sins. We are to provide for them because it is a command of God to provide for them. We are to be obedient to the to support our local church not because we like or love or dislike or hate the preacher. We are to support the mission of God’s church not necessarily the people carrying out the mission. It is not between us and the preacher. It is between us and God. He expects us to put him first in every aspect of our lives and that includes our finances. We are to give him the firstfruits of our labors. We are not to give it begrudgingly. We are simply trusting the Lord to bless our obedience. We give not to have a stake in what is done in our church. We are giving to be obedient to the Lord.

 

What results from that? We provide for God’s purposes in this fallen world. We provide first for our ministers who lead us in the ways of the Lord. We provide second to finance the spreading of God’s Word outside the church. We are to give not necessarily to finance big buildings and monuments to ourselves that our physical churches can be but we are to provide for a base of operations from which we fan out into the world. We provide to help people who need help. We provide to help get the gospel out into the world around us locally, nationally and internationally. We provide to help disciple our people into deeper and deeper relationships with our Savior. We provide to help preach the gospel to the next generation. We provide to help create weekly worship events where the gospel is preached and God is worshiped. We provide to make sure in any given week someone will meet Jesus Christ as their Savior. That is what we give for – for people to come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

 

What if we are stingy and are not obedient to the Lord with our tithes or more (10% of what we make or more)? We cause all of the above to suffer. It is not someone else’s job to give to the Lord through your local church. It is about you and God. When you stand before the throne on your judgment day, when God asks about what you did with your life, can you present your boats, cars, vacations, and trinkets? When we stand before the Lord we want to say that we provided for eternal things. We provided for our ministers. We provided for Christ’s church. We provided for the gospel to be spread among the nations! We provided for the saving of souls. When I look back on my days as a preacher’s kid, I am thankful for those who provided my dad with a salary that, in turn, provided for my mom, my brother and me. So, my dad could preach the gospel for 50 plus years. So, my dad could preach God’s Word for to two generations of people that passed through the doors of churches he ministered. Are you investing in eternity? Or are you chasing temporary things? Things that you cannot carry to heaven! Would you rather stand before God and say that you were obedient to His commands and that you invested generously and happily in the kingdom of God!

 

Amen and Amen.

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