Are You Ready to Serve?
Main Idea: God calls all His people to serve Him, and we respond by publicly committing ourselves to serve, consecrating ourselves for service, living pure lives befitting servants of God, and walking in fellowship with Him as we serve.
I. Make a Public Declaration to Serve.
II. Commit to a Position of Service.
III. Be Consecrated to Serve.
IV. Seek Purification for Service.
V. Demonstrate Dedication to Serve.
VI. Enjoy Communion with God in Serving.
June 6, 1982, is a date I will always remember. On that evening my home church ordained me to the gospel ministry. I had begun pastoring a church, and that church requested that my home church ordain me. I was examined by a group of men who were mature in their faith and in ministry. They found me fit for ministry leadership, though certainly still with flaws, and they recommended that the members of the church ordain me. My home church is where God saved me and called me to preach. The people in that church body had led me to faith in Jesus, nurtured my young faith, lived as examples of how to follow Jesus, and gave me my first opportunities to preach and teach. The time of worship in which they laid hands on me, prayed for me, and dedicated me and my service to God was unforgettable. My father was the first to lay hands on me. He prayed over me by quoting Micah 6:8—“He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” A man in the church who, I knew, shared his faith regularly, laid his hands on me and quoted Romans 10:15—“How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the gospel.” Then he said to me, “I pray that your feet will always be beautiful.” After church leaders and others laid their hands on me and prayed, the pastor offered a dedicatory prayer, and he presented to me a Bible as a gift I will always cherish.
Many churches plan special worship services to ordain and install pastors and deacons. The purposes of such times of worship are to pray for and dedicate to God those who will serve as pastors and deacons. The first 7 chapters of Leviticus address the various sacrifices God commanded His people to offer. The sacrificial system was God’s means to atone for sin so His people could continue fellowship with Him. The leaders of that sacrificial system were the priests. Priests are prominent throughout the book of Leviticus. In chapters 8–10 the priests are the focal theme. Chapter 8 describes their ordination for service, chapter 9 the inauguration of their service, and chapter 10 the contamination of their service.
As we apply Leviticus 8 to the contemporary church, it is essential that we understand two facts about priesthood in the age of the new covenant. First, in Christ, God has eliminated the need for mediation by a human priest. We no longer need a person between us and God to serve as a mediator. The New Testament teaches that everyone who has Jesus as Savior has immediate access to the presence of God (Heb 4:16). First Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus.” The book of Hebrews twice calls Jesus “the mediator of a new covenant” (9:15; 12:24), and it says that Jesus has made the old covenant priesthood obsolete. The New Testament teaches that the church is to have leaders. They are called elders, pastors, or overseers. They have priestly roles in the church like teaching God’s Word, giving oversight, and shepherding the spiritual growth of the flock. However, they do not have a mediatorial role. We have one mediator, Jesus.
Second, the New Testament teaches that all followers of Jesus are priests in that we all have direct access to God, we all speak to people about God, and we all speak to God about people. Those are priestly functions. Hebrews 13:15 refers to followers of Jesus offering sacrifices of praise. Revelation 1:5-6 says Jesus “has set us free from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” The apostle Peter was addressing followers of Jesus when he wrote, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). God’s Word says that followers of Jesus are priests, and we do the work of priests—we live holy lives and proclaim the praises of God. All who know Christ are called to serve. As priests, we represent God before the world through our witness and ministry, and we represent people to God in prayer. Are we ready to serve? What do we do to be ready?
Make a Public Declaration to Serve
In Leviticus 8:3 God told Moses, “Assemble the whole community at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” Verses 6, 13, and 24 state that Moses “presented” Aaron and his sons. The whole congregation witnessed the ordination of the priests for service. Verses 26-29 describe a “presentation offering.” That offering was a formal way of presenting Aaron and his sons to God and the people publicly as part of ordaining them for service. The ceremony described in Leviticus 8 is the fulfillment and a more detailed description of God’s command to Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons in Exodus 40:12-15.
Moses’ public presentation of Aaron and his sons to ordain them to serve as priests also included laying hands on them. Moses’ ceremonial laying on of hands was extensive. He washed them (v. 6), he put the priestly garments on them (vv. 7-9,13), and he placed some of the blood from the ordination offering on them (vv. 23-24). This ceremony serves as the basis for the practice of laying hands on those whom a church ordains for special roles in serving God.
The practice of laying hands on someone has a long history. It appears first here in Leviticus 8 (plus the brief allusion in Exod 40:13-14). Moses laid his hands on Joshua his successor to commission him for leadership (Num 27:18-23). In the New Testament the nascent church chose seven men to serve tables for the purpose of healing strained relationships in the church. After they chose those seven men, they dedicated them to serve in that role by means of a ceremony that included the apostles praying for them and laying their hands on them (Acts 6:6). In the church in Antioch the Holy Spirit told the church to set apart Paul and Barnabas for their first missionary journey. To dedicate them to that task, they prayed for the men and laid their hands on them
(Acts 13:1-3). Timothy was a young pastor in the early church, and twice the New Testament refers to leaders in the church laying hands on Timothy (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). Hence, the contemporary practice of laying hands on someone being ordained for spiritual leadership is rooted in a significant biblical tradition.
Of course, such a practice is part of a public presentation. When people sense God is calling them to serve in some way, they share it with the church. Then the church becomes one of God’s means of guiding them, mentoring them, encouraging them, and training them. When people apply for admission to a seminary to prepare for some kind of ministry, many seminaries require a recommendation from their church. We do not decide independently of the church about God’s call to us to serve Him. The church confirms it; it is a public matter. Whether someone is called to vocational ministry or not, all followers of Jesus are called to ministry of some kind. We serve God in the open so everybody knows we represent Jesus. As Allen Ross has written, “Such commitments are always to be public, witnessed by the whole assembly, so that they can confirm that the call is from God” (Holiness to the Lord, 214). We make a public declaration to serve.
Commit to a Position of Service
Verses 5-9 of Leviticus 8 describe the priestly garments Moses placed on Aaron. Those garments are described in greater detail in Exodus 28. They were made of the finest material. The excellence of the clothes reflected the importance of the work of the priest. It also matched the glory and beauty of the tabernacle, which in turn corresponded to the glory and beauty of God.
The turban was made of linen, with a plate of pure gold across the front with the words “Holy to the Lord” (Exod 28:36). That phrase indicated that the priest’s service was different from any other service. It was holy, just like the tabernacle and the sacrifices were holy. The robe was made of blue cloth. At the bottom of the robe were pomegranates made of yarn alternating with small golden bells. So when the high priest moved, people heard the sound of the bells. That served a practical purpose on the Day of Atonement when the high priest went into the most holy place. He was the only human allowed in that room, so if he fell ill or had a heart attack no one would be there to see it and perhaps no one would know. However, as long as those outside heard the sound of the bells they knew the high priest must be OK because he was still moving.
The robe also had a sash made of blue, purple, and scarlet threads, and an ephod was also made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet threads. The colors were important because those were also the colors of the tabernacle’s curtains and veils, so the priest matched the tabernacle. The colors showed that the priest and the tabernacle went together. As we say, his “colors were clear.” The priest belonged to the service of the tabernacle. The ephod was a long vest-like cloth that hung over the blue robe all the way down to the thighs, and in the chest area was a breastpiece made of threads in the same colors. Twelve gemstones were on the breast piece, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. That symbolized that the priest served on behalf of all the tribes, all the people of Israel.
The priest had special clothes because he had a special role to play. He had unique clothes for the same reason doctors wear white coats and soldiers wear uniforms. Their garments convey a message about their roles. When we see a military uniform, we know the person wearing it has a special way of serving. We also see stripes, pins, medals, and ribbons on the uniform, and we know they carry a message about the service of the one wearing the uniform. They’re symbolic, just like the various parts of the high priest’s robe were symbolic. The parts of the robe indicate that Aaron had a distinguished role.
God also has a special place of service for every follower of Jesus in the New Testament church. We’re a kingdom of priests. All of us serve. The New Testament also describes the church as a body. We are all members of the body, and all the members must function in order for the body to be healthy. In 1 Corinthians 12:4-30 Paul argued at length that every member in the body is necessary and important. Each has a role to play in the church. Are you ready to serve?
Be Consecrated to Serve
Leviticus 8:10-13 describes how Moses anointed Aaron and all the parts of the tabernacle with oil. Anointing someone with oil was a common practice in the ancient Near East. People often traveled on foot, and sometimes they walked all day. There were no hotels, so if they came upon a tent or camp near the end of the day, they would seek shelter from the people in the camp. If the people in the camp wanted to make the guests feel welcome, they would anoint them with oil. The oil would feel cool, and it would smell good. In Psalm 23 the psalmist wrote that God welcomed him into His presence and cared for him. He said to the Lord, “You anoint my head with oil. (v. 5)”
When God commanded Moses to anoint the tabernacle, He was symbolizing pouring out His blessing on that place. When He commanded Moses to anoint Aaron, He was symbolizing pouring out His blessing on Aaron. Anointing with oil came to symbolize not only God’s blessing but also God’s bestowal of spiritual power and position. Kings were anointed, and the Old Testament prophets preached about the coming Savior as the meshiach, the Messiah, which means “the anointed one.” The Greek word for “anointed one” is christos, or Christ. Jesus quoted the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61:1. He said it referred to Him, and He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Second Corinthians 1:21-22 says that God “has anointed us . . . and given us the Spirit.” First John 2:20 says to Christians, “You have an anointing from the Holy One.”
Anointing is a symbol that refers to God blessing us with position and power. These days numerous writers produce books with the message that in order to succeed in life we should think positively, learn certain relationship and leadership techniques, or discover the hidden potential within us. Many of those books have some good ideas, but they don’t prescribe the one thing we need more than anything else if we are ever to live successfully and serve God effectively. We need God’s anointing—His blessing and power. That is His consecration to serve Him. Are you ready to serve?
Seek Purification for Service
In order for old covenant priests to be ready to serve God, they had to be cleansed from sin. The washing mentioned in Leviticus 8:6 was symbolic of cleansing. Verses 14-17 describe the sacrifice of a bull as a sin offering, and verses 18-21 describe the sacrifice of a ram as a second offering. Old Testament priests sinned. If they were to be in the presence of God and ready to serve God, their sin had to be forgiven and cleansed.
That is a fundamental difference between the high priest in the Old Testament and Jesus the eternal high priest. Jesus is the only person who has ever lived on the earth without sinning. Hebrews 7:26-27 says that Jesus is our high priest, and it refers to Jesus as,
holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins.
Jesus has no need to offer sacrifices for His own sin because He never sinned. Hebrews 4:15 calls Jesus our high priest, and it says that He was “tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus was always clean morally and spiritually, so He was always ready to serve God.
Unlike Jesus, we, like the old covenant priests, have sinned. To be ready to serve God we must confess our sin and allow God to forgive us and cleanse us. Why? God requires us to be clean in order to serve Him.
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver bowls, but also those of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. So if anyone purifies himself from anything dishonorable, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Tim 2:20-21)
God wants clean vessels to carry His living water to thirsty people. We are useful to Him when we are pure. Praise His name, He is always ready to make us pure by His forgiveness and cleansing! First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What God requires, God provides. God illustrated His requirement when He commanded His priests to offer sacrifices for their sin before they began to serve Him. We must seek purification for service. Are you ready to serve?
Demonstrate Dedication to Serve
Leviticus 8:22-29 describes the ordination offering. That was a special offering to dedicate the priests for service. Verse 23 says that Moses put some of the blood of the sacrifice on Aaron’s extremities—his ear, thumb, and toe. That represented the fact that all of Aaron was being dedicated to serve God. As we would say, he was dedicated to God “from head to toe.” Frances Havergal wrote words expressing that message in his song “Take My Life, and Let It Be.”
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
We dedicate every part of ourselves to God. That’s what Moses symbolized by touching the ear, thumb, and toe—complete dedication to God during ordination.
The Hebrew word translated “ordination” literally means “to fill the hand.” Filling the hand meant that someone was placing in the hands of the priests what they needed to serve as priests, giving them the tools of their trade. If we’re in a ceremony in which people are dedicating us to God, when they give us tools, we should get the message—the position for which we are being ordained will involve work. As someone has said, “Every great vision eventually degenerates into hard work.” When we have a grand vision to serve God, eventually we’re going to have to work.
In order to become members in the church where I serve, we are
all required to sign a covenant. Among other things, that covenant states that we will serve God in some way in the church. We do not intend to be a church that is filled with attenders. God calls every Christian to serve, He gives us gifts to serve, and He gives us pastors and teachers to equip us to serve. Galatians 5:13 says, “Serve one another.” To be obedient, we must serve. If you are not serving somewhere, find a place and start serving. Don’t be like the guy I heard about who applied for a job. His prospective boss called his former boss and asked him, “Is he a steady employee?” The former boss said, “Steady? He was so steady that he was virtually motionless.” Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus are just like that. Dedicate yourself to serve.
Enjoy Communion with God in Serving
Verse 31 describes an ordination meal that the priests ate at the entrance of the tent of meeting. They were in the tabernacle precincts, and that space represented the presence of God. Therefore, they were eating in the presence of God. Eating with someone symbolized fellowship, friendship. So the meal in the tabernacle area represented their communion with God. They were at peace with God. Are you? Do you have a relationship with God through Jesus? Are you in close fellowship with Him? Are you serving Him as He commands? We are “a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9), and priests serve.
My cousin Beverly and I are the same age. Beverly was not a Christian during our growing up years or during young adulthood. After she was married and about the time her husband left her, everything began to change. Several years ago, she wrote this:
Mae was my boss, but from the beginning I could tell there was something special about her. As time went by I realized that special thing was she was a Christian. . . . When you work with someone day after day you develop a relationship and ours became close, like mother and daughter. . . . Every Monday we would ask what the other had done that weekend. Her answer was always about something they had done at church. . . . My hunger to hear about God was growing, the seed had been planted. . . . I knew something was missing in my life and I started thinking maybe it was God. . . . Over the next couple of months my son and I attended Sunday School. . . . I was still holding back and not putting my trust in God. . . . Mae was always there to answer my questions and give me verses to read. And then on Easter weekend it happened.
She described how she put her faith in Jesus as her Savior, and then she continued:
The peace I found that day can only be discovered when you let God totally into your life and accept him as your Savior and believe in the Scriptures. . . . The Bible I read from is the one [Mae] gave me as a gift so many months ago when I was searching for answers to make order out of chaos.
To my cousin Beverly, Mae served a priestly role. She lived a godly life before her, she spoke God’s Word to her, and she brought her to God. She served, and God gave her power and blessed her. Are you ready to serve?
Reflect and Discuss
- According to God’s Word, all followers of Jesus are priests. How is your role similar to that of an Old Testament priest?
- Compare and contrast the roles of church leaders to the roles of Levitical priests.
- What can we learn about the setting apart of church leaders from Leviticus 8?
- Why should a follower of Jesus make a public declaration to serve?
- What is the church’s role as it relates to a person’s calling?
- What did the anointing with oil symbolize in the Old and New Testaments?
- What do we need more than anything else if we are to live successfully and serve God effectively?
- How did the priests enjoy communion with God? How can you enjoy communion with God?
- Why do we need purification before service? How do we seek purification?
- Are you ready to serve? What do you need to do to be ready?