To Every Man His Work

1 Chronicles 23

"Now the Levites were numbered … man by man, 38, 000."

The "dole" was not known in King David's realm, or if it was it did not operate for the Levites, for the simple reason that none among them were unemployed. There were 38,000 of them fit for the work, and of these 24,000 were labourers, and happy to be such we should judge, 6,000 were officers, "4,000 were porters and 4,000 praised the Lord with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith," they were the singers. Thirty-eight thousand men and not an idler among them.

These Levites were an interesting people and their position in Israel a most important one, and a few remarks about them will be necessary before I come to my theme. They were taken by Jehovah instead of the firstborn sons of the whole nation. These firstborn sons had been sheltered from judgment by the blood in Egypt, and Jehovah claimed them as His own, but took the tribe of Levi instead of them for special service in His house and for His Name. They were a privileged people, called to devote themselves to God's interests and to be specially cared for by Him (Numbers 3:40-51 tells us all about this). They were a type of the whole Christian company today, and their service, as ordered by King David, shows us in type the place and spiritual service to which we have been called. Indeed, we are designated "the church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven" (Heb. 12:23).

Let us clearly understand, then, our place, privileges and responsibilities, if we have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. God who has paid that great price for us has claimed us for Himself and we have no option but to respond wholly and heartily to His claim. He has taken possession of us by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, and we are now His church and called by this very remarkable name, "The church of the Firstborn, which are written (or enregistered) in heaven." We are the Levites of this day. The honour of the family falls specially upon the firstborn, it is his duty and privilege to devote himself specially to its interests and to carry out his father's wishes, and this is our place by the infinite grace of God. When we see how high and honourable the service is to which we are thus called, we shall be neither idle nor lazy.

There is a difference between being idle and being lazy; a man may be idle because he does not know what to do. We are familiar with the parable of the labourers. At the eleventh hour of the day the householder went forth into the market-place and found men standing there and said to them, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" And they answered, "Because no man has hired us." They were ready to work, but did not know what to do. A lazy man is one who knows what he ought to do and does not do it. How shameful is laziness! If any of my readers are inclined to be lazy as to God's work, I would suggest to them that they read The Proverbs and mark and consider all that the wise man said about the sluggard in contrast to the diligent man. My desire is to instruct the idle and to stir up the lazy and to encourage all who are serving the Lord with diligence.

The service of these Levites had to be carried on in three spheres; verses 27 to 32 of our chapter tell us of these. Their office was to wait upon the sons of Aaron for the service of the house of the Lord, in the courts and in the chambers, and in purifying of all holy things and the work of the service of the house of God.

"In the Chambers"

The chambers were where the Levites lodged, and would show what sort of lives they lived. The key to everything lies in the chamber. What a man is when alone and able to do just as he pleases, that he is really and as God sees him. All true service to God begins in secret with God. How necessary it is that we should heed the words of the Lord Jesus, "When thou prayest enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret; and thy Father that sees in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matt. 6:6). It is here that service begins, and it is here that we are prepared for service in public. A man who has not been with God in secret soon betrays the fact in public. He will think more highly of himself than he ought to think, and be boastful and forward or perhaps show an exaggerated humility, which is even worse. But the man who makes good use of the chamber will walk in the fear of God all the day long; he will not fear others, but he will be a self-judged man.

We get sober and right thoughts of ourselves in secret with God and we judge others according to their true value also. We learn in the chamber how precious to God and how indispensable to Him are all His saints, and this will cause us to pray for them. What a blessed chamber-service it was that Epaphras rendered! "Always labouring fervently for you in prayer that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God" (Col. 4:12). There was nothing spectacular about that service, but so important was it that the Spirit of God has recorded it in the Holy Scriptures as a pattern and encouragement for us.

But unless we come under the power of two necessities the chamber is sure to be neglected. There are two great "musts" that must operate in our lives and make God's presence indispensable to us or we shall not be vessels meet for God's use. The first is our need. We must go to God, we must seek His presence in secret, because without Him we can do nothing. We have neither strength nor supplies in ourselves, and the neglect of the presence of God soon becomes apparent in the service of a man though he may endeavour to deceive himself and others as to it. And in this connection it is interesting to see that the word used by the Lord in Matthew 6:6 means not only the chamber, but THE STOREHOUSE. The secret presence of God is the storehouse of all His riches in Christ Jesus, and there we are enriched. OUR NEED MUST DRIVE US to that inexhaustible storehouse. But there is also the attractiveness of God's presence. If what we are in our nothingness should drive us to Him, what He is in the fullness of blessing should draw us to Him. "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God." He has been revealed to us in Jesus; His perfect love has cast all fear out of our hearts. His presence is our home. Surely His love has made it essential to us to be often in secret communion with Himself, and has made us ready to put ourselves wholly into His hands, with the prayer in our hearts and on our lips, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

It is when we have reached this point of reliance upon the love of God and complete surrender of ourselves to Him that we are fit to be trusted with service to Him in public.

"In The Courts"

The priests and Levites would congregate in the courts. There they would talk together of their service and of the things that they had in common. There they would have fellowship together, and the greater their enthusiasm for the service of God in His house and their joy in it, the happier their fellowship would be. As they viewed things sanely they would see that each had his place to fill if the service of God was to be a complete service, and hence they would encourage each other not to be slack, but to show continual diligence and endeavour to work together and in harmony. Hebrews 10:24-25 is a passage which would show us the application of this to ourselves: "Let us consider one another to provoke to love and good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

Important as is our individual life with God, it is not everything. Indeed, as we look at things as we ought, we see that it has its place in view of the one great work of God in the world. We are each of us a part of a whole work. We have been called into the one fellowship of God's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and into the unity of the Spirit. The saints of God are the house of God and not one of them can be omitted from this. For the full development and expression of Christian life we must take our part in Christian fellowship. To use our type, we must serve in the courts as well as in the chambers. Whether we will or not we must have some sort of intercourse with our fellow-Christians, and we are either a help or a hindrance to them. Our business is to promote the fellowship, to strengthen it and enrich it, and to avoid the things that would mar it.

Divine wisdom and grace are needed if we are to fulfil our service in the courts. We are queer creatures. It is astonishing how selfish we can be in spite of the grace of God that has saved us. And we can talk, and talk very glibly, about the cross and the crucifixion of the old man and of self-judgment, and yet we are keener and more ready to judge others than ourselves. We often speak of the Twelve who, on the road to Jerusalem, and at the very supper table, disputed as to who should be the greatest, and we marvel that they could have done this when in the company of the Lord, but who marvels when we do precisely the same things who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us? We are queer creatures, and it is not in such a spirit as that that fellowship is promoted. If the Levites had been of that spirit there would have been strife and bitterness in the courts instead of harmony and happy fellowship in the work of God. We need a pattern — a standard, and the Lord Himself has given us one. "I am among you," said He, "as he that serves" and we are told that "even Christ pleased not Himself."

We need His Word and the grace that He gives along with it. "A new commandment I give to you, He said, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34-35). This is the law of the courts, the spring and the power of Christian fellowship. Let a man be ever so brilliant and gifted, and learned, if this is lacking he is nothing, and worse than nothing in the service of God in the courts. There are other words that must be heeded, which have been given for our instruction by the Spirit of God; let us think of them as being upon the walls of the courts for us. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves … Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2). "Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness and long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4). These are exhortations that have their special bearing upon our fellowship together. They show the spirit and character that must prevail if we are to be together according to God. There are many others; indeed the whole force of Paul's Epistles seems to flow along this channel. Consider Colossians 3, which is a searching and beautiful passage showing the only suitable clothing for those who serve in the courts: "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the Peace of God (Christ) rule in your hearts, to which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful."

While the Epistles give us the beautiful qualities and spirit by which fellowship may be promoted, they also warn us as to what will hinder it, and wise and gracious brethren will avoid these things, "But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes" (2 Tim. 2:23). "But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about law; for they are unprofitable and vain" (Titus 3:9). How sadly the harmony of the courts has been disturbed, and the work in them wrecked, because we have refused to heed such warnings as these. We do not now discuss whether we ought to be subject to the law of Moses, or whether the Jew is a better man than the Gentile and more favoured of God than his Gentile brethren, but the devil has seen to it that other laws have been formulated and that other questions equally unprofitable have taken the place of those of old time; and we often love to have it so, for "the Jew" lives more or less in every one of us, and he will fight for the religious position that he favours and claims regardless of the fact that the fellowship of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, languishes in consequence.

"The Work of the Service of the House of God"

But our secret life with God and our fellowship with our brethren flow naturally on to our approach to God in worship. The great end of the service of these Levites was that God should have His own portion in His house. So they had to prepare the burnt sacrifices, and the meat-offering, and the showbread, and to see that nothing hindered the priests from lifting up their hands in God's holy presence. All this was only typical of what in the New Testament is a great reality. Peter tells us, "Ye are an holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). And how wonderful is that exhortation, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb. 10). How profoundly these words should move us! It is looked upon as a great honour to be summoned to meet the king when he holds court; but here it is God Himself who calls us to draw near to Him, and that not in relation to our need, for all that is met by the one offering of the body of Jesus, but in relation to His own glory, "that we might behold the beauty of the Lord" (Ps. 27). He delights to have us near Him because of the love He bears us, and it should be our earnest desire to answer to His wish. This is the place of honour in which the church or assembly stands, and we should look diligently lest we fail to appreciate it and fulfil it. It is our privilege to feed upon Christ, and to consider Him in His death in its various aspects, which the sacrifices that these Levites had to prepare typified, so that we have something to offer to God that is acceptable to Him when we come together.

This worship is the worship of the church or assembly. "I will declare Thy Name to My brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise to Thee," said the Lord, as the risen Leader of His church, and shall we think little of this? But where there is no fellowship there will be no worship in this sense of it. If two Christians have bitter feelings in their hearts against each other they do not worship, no matter how correct in doctrine the hymns they sing or the words they use when they come together. And those bitter feelings will not disappear from their hearts unless they have to do with God in secret about then. Hence we can see the need of true exercise of heart in the chambers and the courts, if the service and sacrifices in the house of God are to be acceptable to Him.

"To Stand Every Morning to Thank and Praise the Lord, and Likewise at Even"

I have more to say about these Levites and their service to God, but it must be reserved for another time. One thing, however, must be noticed in this closing month of the year, which, I think, we shall find seasonable, and it is not less important than any that we could consider — their days had to be filled with praise. They had to stand up and break into songs of praise every morning, and the day had to close in like manner. Really if they knew Jehovah whom they served they could do no other, and can we, who know Him as "our Father," and "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"? If we are in a backslidden condition or if we are allowing burdens that should be laid at His feet to weigh our souls down, we shall wake up each morning with sighing instead of singing, and lie down at night with depression; but if we sleep with a sense of His care for us and with His peace keeping our hearts and minds, we shall wake with praise and thanksgiving. We shall stand up as those who have been strengthened and ennobled by His grace and we shall praise Him. The poet Addison surely felt that this was right and fitting when he sang:

"When all Thy mercies, O my God,
  My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I'm lost
  In wonder, love and praise."

His mercies are new to us every morning and our praise should be new as well. And if we begin our day with praise and thanksgiving and faith and hope, we must end it with thanks and praise, for its needs and vicissitudes do but bring out the trustworthiness and the resources of our God. Extend the day to the year. We knew not what would befall us in the morning of 1930, but we began it rightly — we began it with praise and thanksgiving: we have now reached the evening of it, has God given us any reason to murmur or complain? As we forget not all His benefits are we not constrained to praise and give thanks? Or extend the day still further. Think, Christian, of the morning of your Christian life, when first you were saved by the grace of God. How brightly you sang:

"Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away."

That morning may have long since passed and the evening of your day may be drawing in, but you can still sing sweetly. You can sing the morning song and can add to it, for you have learnt much more than you knew then; the day has revealed more of the treasure that you have found in Christ, and while you do not give up the morning songs you have your evening hymns also which are sweeter if less exuberant, and surely not less triumphant.

"If here on earth the thoughts of Jesus' love.
Lift our poor hearts this weary world above
If even here the taste of heavenly springs
So cheers the spirit that the pilgrim sings
What will the sunshine of His presence prove?
What the unmingled fullness of His love?
What hallelujahs will His presence raise?
What but one loud eternal burst of praise?"

He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning of our blessing and the end and object of our praise, and to Him of whom and by whom are all things, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.