The Nobel Prize winner and most important Russian literary artist of the second half of the twentieth century, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008), who was imprisoned for eight years for criticising Stalin, wrote, ‘The line separating good and evil passes, not through states, nor through classes, nor between political parties... but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.’ We are all created in the image of God. Human beings are capable of acts of great love, courage and heroism. Yet, not one of us (apart from Jesus) is without sin. Do you know what’s in your heart?
Your heart and its weakness
All sin breaks God’s law and is therefore serious. But there are gradations of sin. Some sins are far worse than others.
The writer of Proverbs makes this point by using the example of a person who steals because he is starving. Yes, even this is wrong and there is a price to pay (vv.30–31).
But the writer says the consequences of adultery are far more serious. It leads to ‘shame’ (v.33b), ‘jealousy’ (v.34a), ‘revenge’ (v.34b) and to the destruction of lives, particularly the adulterers themselves: ‘Soul-destroying, self-destructive... a reputation ruined for good’ (vv.32–33, MSG).
The writer says, ‘jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge’ (v.34). Human nature has not changed in thousands of years.
There is nothing wrong with sex or money. But there are many temptations that surround them both. Several of the laws in the Old Testament passage for today were developed to put boundaries around them, safeguarding their proper use.
Lord, thank you for the gifts you give us and the boundaries that you have provided for their proper use. Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil.
Your heart and its results
Sinful human nature led to the death of Jesus. The challenge is to live differently:
1. Be authentic
Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. He said, ‘The one I kiss is the man’ (v.44a). He went up to Jesus and ‘kissed him’ (v.45).
In the Greek, the word for hypocrisy is the same word as the word for mask (masks were used in Ancient Greece for acting). On the outside, Judas was wearing a mask of love for Jesus. In reality, he was betraying him to be crucified. The kiss was the ultimate act of hypocrisy.
Joyce Meyer writes about what she calls the ‘Judas kiss test’ – the test of being betrayed by friends we have loved, respected and trusted. Most people in positions of leadership for any length of time are likely to experience this. You need to ‘forgive the offender and not allow him or her to cause you to fail or delay in doing what God has called you to do’.
2. Speak the truth
Because there was no evidence against Jesus they had to rely on false testimony. Yet it appears that many were prepared to testify against him (v.56). Having worked as a barrister I have observed first hand that some are still prepared to give ‘false testimony’ in a court of law.
3. Fight corruption
Corrupt judges are still a feature of the world today. They knew, or ought to have known, that Jesus was entirely innocent yet ‘they all condemned him as worthy of death’ (v.64b). It must be terrible to live in a society without the rule of law, where judges cannot be trusted.
4. Identify with Jesus
I can sympathise totally with Peter’s denial of Jesus. He was really determined not to do it, yet he failed. I know how weak my own human nature is.
The account of Peter’s denial can only have come from Peter himself – who with extraordinary openness and vulnerability reveals his own weakness and failure.
When Jesus was in serious trouble, ‘Everyone deserted him and fled’ (v.50).
However, Peter is brave and committed enough to make his way ‘right into the courtyard of the High Priest’ (v.54), albeit following at a distance, in sight of Jesus and the trial. I suspect that by this point I would have been with the rest of the disciples – halfway to Galilee!
Yet, there are haunting words about the self-indulgence of the great apostle Peter. While Jesus, his friend and leader, was taken to trial, Peter ‘sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire’ (vv.54,67).
As Peter saw what was happening to Jesus and what he was going to have to suffer, Peter increasingly distanced himself from Jesus (v.54a). Having started in that direction the next step was to deny him. Having set out on a course that involved lying, he ended up saying, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about’ (v.71b).
I am sure Peter didn’t intend to go so far when keeping his distance from Jesus, but as it is for all of us, one sin can easily lead to another and, before we realise it, we end up doing things that we deeply regret. When Peter realised what he had done ‘he broke down and wept’ (v.72c).
Lord, thank you for the encouragement that although even the great apostle Peter failed and messed up, you forgave him, restored him, and used him so powerfully. Thank you for your amazing grace.
Your heart and God’s law
God wants us to live lives that are pure and clean. We are to reflect who he is and, thereby, point people towards him. This part of Leviticus has been called ‘the holiness code’ – ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’ (19:2).
Because human nature has a wayward side there is a need for law. As in any society there are civil and criminal laws. Some of these laws are specific and directed at the problems of Ancient Israel. Others are broad and generally applicable to most societies.
The ceremonial laws are now obsolete, the dietary laws having been superseded by Jesus and the sacrifices fulfilled in his death. The civil laws are not necessarily appropriate to other nations. Some were humane, and others severe. They seem to have been necessary for the earlier stages of Israel’s history, but they are not all of permanent or universal validity.
The moral law, as expanded and deepened by Jesus, and as illustrated in the apostolic letters – especially in their positive parallels to the law’s prohibitions – is still in force as a revelation of God’s will for his people.
The moral law is summed up by Jesus as ‘Love the Lord your God… and… love your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10:27). This goes back to our passage for today, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18b). The moral law was that God’s people should be holy (v.2b). The rest of the law instructs us how to love our neighbour as ourselves and how to be holy.
The moral laws applicable to us now would include the laws to protect the poor (v.10), the laws against racial discrimination (for example vv.33–34), as well as the more obvious ones about theft (v.11), fraud and robbery (v.13a) and so on.
There are often important principles that have very real applications today. For example, ‘do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight’ (v.13b) is a challenge to us to pay all our bills on time. There is an increasing tendency to delay the payment of bills until the final reminder. God’s people are called to be different. This is but one tiny example of what it means to be a holy people.
To keep your heart pure, you need to turn away from the things that spoil your life. Among the more obvious sins listed here (vv.3–31) is one about being a ‘dispenser of gossip’ (v.16, AMP) and ‘holding grudges’ (v.18, AMP). Keep confidences and try not to hold anything against anyone. Holding a grudge is like allowing someone else to live rent free in your head.
There are also warnings about the dangers of ‘witchcraft’ (v.26b). Avoid reading horoscopes, consulting psychics, fortune-telling, palm reading, tarot cards and every other kind of occult activity (vv.31). If you have meddled in any of these things, you can be forgiven. Repent and get rid of the things associated with that activity such as books, charms, DVDs and magazines (Acts 19:19).
Another aspect of the law is that it brings sin to light and leads to repentance and reliance on the grace of God. As I read all these laws I see how hard they are to live up to, how far short I fall of God’s standards and how much I need his forgiveness and the help of his Holy Spirit.
Lord, thank you that you died to set us free from the law. Thank you that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Fill me with your Holy Spirit today and help me to lead a holy life.
‘Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien.’
When I was young we lived beside a large apple orchard. We walked through it regularly. At harvest time there would be one major pick of all the apples. After that, any fruit that had fallen or not ripened in time would be collected into large rotting piles.
Letting the poor take the food may not make economic sense, but the biblical principle is that the poor should be provided for and food should not be wasted.
Joyce Meyer, *Everyday Life Bible*, (New York: Faithwords, 2018), p. 1593. Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, *The Gulag Archipelago*, Part 1 & 2, (Harper Row, 1974) Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790. Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org) Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.