I am reading through the Bible with my local church, and we are just starting Leviticus. It is not an engaging read, but I was struck this morning reading from Leviticus 2.
11 “No grain offering that you present to the Lord is to be made with yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey as a fire offering to the Lord. 12 You may present them to the Lord as an offering of firstfruits, but they are not to be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma.
This struck me today as I also contemplate the gift I am giving my mother for Mother’s Day. I bought her a purple plant for her porch, but the next day she told me (without knowing I had already bought her one) that she prefers red plants to attract hummingbirds. I thought too of my sons who want to know what I want for Mother’s Day. I told them how I like candles, and I’ll probably go a step further and tell them specific scents I like as well. Givers generally want receivers to like the gift they are given. We avoid giving breads to celiac sufferers, perfumes to those with scent allergies, Baskin Robbins gift cards to diabetics, and even purple plants to those we know prefer red.
I have, at times, received a gift that I knew a giver liked but which I didn’t like at all. When I receive such a gift, it makes me feel distant from the giver. Maybe they just don’t know me. But sometimes, they do know me, and their gift that is something they like, not me, sends the message that they don’t think my personal desires are good enough. They want to expand my borders, push me to like what they like. In the end, it often feels narcissistic and self-absorbed. Don’t bother giving me a gift if you know what I prefer and give me the opposite anyway.
Of course, if my children give me a candle, I’ll receive it thankfully no matter what the scent. Unless it is poop. If they give me a candle filled with poop, I would discipline them for their disrespect. Some gifts are off the mark by accident. Some gifts are off the mark because of the selfishness of the giver. But some gifts are blatantly offensive and disrespectful.
These categories help me think through the opening chapters of Leviticus. Here, God gives His children extensive instructions for the gifts they should bring Him in relationship to Him. In chapters 1 and 2, Moses refers again and again to offerings that are “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” “These aromas from these meats and grains prepared this way smell good to me,” God instructs Moses. I think of my father on his birthday, as I prepared a meal of the foods I knew he most enjoyed. He opened the oven to smell his favorite baked beans, and the aroma made him happy. The smell of food he enjoyed was part of the love of relationship he received on that day.
It blesses me to think of God finding pleasure in the aromas of the offerings He prescribed in Leviticus 1 and 2. It also saddens me to think of the ways God’s children walked away from God’s clear instructions of what pleased Him again and again. But, now, God’s pleasure is fulfilled in Jesus, the One through whom He was well-pleased (Mt 17:5). And through Him, God transforms us too to please Him.
I Thessalonians 4 gives a helpful look at God’s sanctification of us to please Him.
1 Additionally then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received instruction from us on how you should live and please God—as you are doing—do this even more. 2 For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
I am struck how much of these instructions on living as children of God who please Him is then tied in the following verses to the sexual ethics God first taught in the Old Testament Law.
3 For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, 4 that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles, who don’t know God. 6 This means one must not transgress against and take advantage of a brother or sister in this manner, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. 7 For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness. 8 Consequently, anyone who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
When I started studying this passage and writing this post, I didn’t realize it would lead me back to sexual abuse and misuse in the Church. But it did, and I can’t ignore that. Every day our sexually deviant president remains supported by evangelicals (he is giving the commencement address at Liberty University today), we do not please the Lord. Every day that we pretend God doesn’t speak against sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, we do not please the Lord. Every day that we excuse those who take advantage of others sexually in our churches, we do not please the Lord. Praise God that Christ has fully pleased God on our behalf. But never forget that God will sanctify His church on this issue, and we must submit to Him as He does. The warning of I Thessalonians 4:8 is sober, and may we all reflect on it for ourselves, submitting to what we know pleases the Lord, because we love Him.