The book of Leviticus is typically not included in conversations about generosity. But if we’re to develop a robust understanding of what it means to be generous, we must seek the whole counsel of Scripture and that includes this often-overlooked book.
In a previous article we observed the role of God’s grace (the Greek word charis) in our generosity. So too, the biblical concept of holiness should influence the way we manage our finances. We are told in 1 Peter 1:14-16, “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’”
As God’s people, we are called to be holy. The book of Leviticus reveals God’s expectations of holiness, but to understand what undergirds this, we first must review the events in preceding books.
In the beginning, God created a perfect world, but humanity rebelled and brought it to the edge of destruction (Genesis 1–11). The Lord’s response to this rebellion was an inexplicable act of grace, choosing Abraham and Sarah, a couple through whom all the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Unfortunately, their descendants made less than admirable choices and eventually a severe famine led them to abandon the “promised land” and settle in the land of Egypt (Genesis 37–50).
Here the Israelites became slaves to the Pharaoh for decades, only to be delivered by a former member of Pharaoh’s household (Exodus 1–15). Moses leads Israel through the wilderness to a sacred mountain. Here, God affirms that they are HIS people and provides detailed expectations for their relationship (Exodus 16–40).
All this leads us to the book of Leviticus. This is where many Bible readers skip ahead as the litany of rules and regulations in the book can be overwhelming. But to start the book, the Lord unveils his expected posture for our offerings to Him. Leviticus 1:1-3 reveals:
“The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, ‘Speak to the Israelites and say to them: “When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord.”’”
In their pursuit of generosity, God’s people were commanded to consider the condition of their gifts. The directive to provide an animal “without defect” meant that they were to give of the very best of their flock. That Hebrew word is tamim, which can be translated as “blameless” or “complete.”
This ideal sets the stage for the rest of Leviticus. In essence, God’s people are called to be as holy as the gifts they to present to the Lord. The reality, however, this is problematic; the laws of Leviticus provide a nearly impossible path for attaining holiness. Yet this problem was resolved in the New Testament, where we learn that Jesus fulfilled the entire law. Through His sacrifice on the cross, His holiness is obtainable to all. We become holy before the Lord through Christ’s grace (charis).
The lesson in generosity for us, then, is that it isn’t enough that we merely give; philanthropy isn’t exclusive to Christians. It’s important that our hearts are aligned in the holy motivation of God’s kingdom. We’ve been redeemed and we give out of the gratitude. And we give of our best to honor the holiness that was once unobtainable.
In 2 Corinthians 9:7, the apostle Paul shares the template for the right attitude when he writes,
“each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”