“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (Leviticus 10:1-2).
Leviticus is a fascinating book filled with many confusing laws, rituals, and stories. This story of God striking down Nadab and Abihu is one of those stories that leaves us a bit baffled. What is clear from Leviticus is that the holiness of God demands our holiness. That is clearly taught in Leviticus 20:26 when it says, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” The book of Leviticus is therefore filled with laws and rituals that help us present ourselves as clean and set apart to the Lord. While the laws were hard and strict and left the Israelites feeling as if they could NEVER measure up to God’s law, the command was still clear: Be holy!
For as dry and legalistic as Leviticus can seem to be at times, there is one moment in the book when a command comes out that doesn’t seem cruel, harsh, or legalistic. Leviticus 19:18 gives a timeless, clear command that Jesus says is the second most important command. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What a simple concept, yet such an incredibly ignored command.
As we look inward, we can quickly convince ourselves that our love for our neighbor is true and genuine. Yet when we use the measuring rod that Leviticus and Jesus use, we fall FAR short of loving our neighbor. What if we actually loved our neighbor like we love ourselves?
We are all really good at loving ourselves. We daily make choices that are best for ourselves. We go out of our way to make sure we are satisfied, comfortable, entertained, and well fed, yet our neighbors are hurting, uncomfortable, lonely, and hungry. We fill our hearts and minds with good Bible studies, while our neighbors are left starving for spiritual food. As they starve spiritually, they indulge on things that leave them empty and lost, driving them further and further away from the living water. Meanwhile, we sit back on our lazy boys, going through our yearly read through the Bible, somehow unchanged and unmoved to take what we are reading to our neighbor SO AS to love them as we love ourselves!
In many third world countries, there is no middle class. There are the wealthy rich who adamantly and ferociously provide for themselves, while the lower class is starving on the streets. I get the picture of a wealthy family living on top of a hill, while the poor family is living at the bottom of the hill, desperately scrounging for food. The rich on the hill are hoarding the riches to themselves.
If we at Wausau Alliance were to really love our neighbors as ourselves, the hill that separates Wausau Alliance from the rest of the city would disappear. We would be a city set on a hill. A city that is set apart because it is holy, but a city that is not separate because it is loving our neighbors enough to share the most important truth. We would love God first, and then love our neighbor as ourselves! As a result, the poor, the lost, and the lonely would be loved and would know God and therefore be known by God, because in our love, we would share our riches with them!