Living for the Lord (III): Spiritual Priests
Adapted from a sermon series by Simon Chin―Singapore
After establishing the need for us to live for Christ in part one of this series, part two provided useful tips on how to live for the Lord at home. In part three, we will study how personal spiritual cultivation enables us to live for Christ.
After experiencing God’s gracious calling, Paul dedicated his life to Him. He served as an apostle, propagating the gospel until his martyrdom. Before his death, he wrote to his co-worker, Timothy, saying: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness ....” (2 Tim 4:7–8). God’s grace, coupled with Paul’s faith, meant that Paul could live for Christ and die for Christ.
Today, we know that we have received the Lord’s grace because He has called us to salvation. We have come to know Jesus through hearing the truth, believing in Him, and having been redeemed by His blood, and we now belong to Him. Through His love, He has made us into a kingdom of God’s people, a nation of kings and priests.
[A]nd from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Rev 1:5–6)
Therefore, Paul exhorts us to live for the Lord: “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:7–8).
THE PRIESTS—A SPECIAL PEOPLE
During the time of the Exodus, God chose the sons of Aaron among the Israelites to serve as priests. God instructed Moses to consecrate them for duty: to cleanse them, clothe them with holy garments, and to anoint them with oil. Only then could they enter the Holy Place to burn incense, light the lamps, change the showbread, and offer burnt offerings on the bronze altar. No other Israelites were allowed to perform these sacred duties.
Each year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people. Taking the blood of bulls and rams into the Most Holy Place, he would sprinkle it on the veil and pour it onto the mercy seat. Only God could determine who could undertake this role.
Despite God’s clear instructions about the priesthood, presumptuous acts were carried out. Even Uzziah, considered as one of the good kings of Judah, transgressed by entering the temple to burn incense. As a result, he was struck with leprosy, a condition which stayed with him until the day he died.
OFFER UP PRAYERS
By God’s grace that comes through the blood of Christ, we have become spiritual priests. Although we no longer need to offer animal sacrifices, we should render spiritual sacrifices, which are our prayers.
Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. (Ps 141:2)
This psalm of David reflects his longing for the Tabernacle and his desire for his worship to be acceptable to God. He speaks of prayers ascending as incense to heaven and the lifting of his hands as the evening sacrifice.
Prayer is the duty of every believer: if we do not pray, how can we claim to be a Christian? There may be times when we feel that there is nothing to pray for because everything seems to be fine in our lives; but we forget that prayer is communication with God. Just as a son talks to his father, so we should converse regularly with our Father in heaven—not just when we have need of something. The more we communicate, the more we will experience His love and care.
Our relationship with God is established through deep prayers. While it is undoubtedly important to read the Bible and attend church services, we also need to pray. Without prayer, our relationship with God will be superficial, as we will find it hard to feel God’s presence and love. It is with good reason that prayer has been likened to breathing; it is essential. If we lead a prayerful life, the Holy Spirit will work mightily in us, edifying us and strengthening us spiritually.
Intercessory prayer is also important, because within the community of faith, we need to ask God to look after the members. We should pray for one another: our children, the sick, the poor, those who are going through trials, and those who are in danger of falling into sin. If we truly live for Christ, then we should make intercession an integral part of our daily routine.
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.
Here, Paul exhorts Timothy to pray for everyone, especially those in positions of authority. Being under Roman rule, this advice was particularly pertinent: if an emperor ruled with consideration of his subjects, the Christians among them would be able to live peacefully and practice their faith without oppression.
Today, most of us are blessed with freedom of worship. But in some countries, Christians are still being persecuted, and cannot assemble to worship or to evangelize. Therefore, we need to pray for them. Moreover, we should ask God to enable more people to receive the gospel so that they can come to know Jesus Christ, the Savior of humankind, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.
Prayers can work wonders. We often hear testimonies of brethren who have prayed for unbelieving family members who eventually accepted Christ. Prayer is about asking God to work, opening up hardened hearts.
BUILT INTO A SPIRITUAL HOUSE
In order to serve God as spiritual priests, we must be built into a spiritual house.
[Y]ou also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual
house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God
through Jesus Christ. (
Believers are like living stones because the life of Christ is in us. Together, we form a spiritual house, which is the church. Having the status of priests, we must be holy and consecrated to God. We ought to put away secularity and put on holiness and righteousness through spiritual cultivation. Only then can our worship be acceptable to God.
Spiritual cultivation means nurturing an image that reflects the righteousness of God. It comes from daily prayer and reading of the Bible. God’s word acts like a mirror, showing us our blemishes so that we can remove them. A priest of God should not lead a double life, attending church on the one hand, and immersing himself in unspiritual pursuits on the other. God looks at our hearts: we must cultivate ourselves to become holy so that we can serve God.
OFFER GODLY SACRIFICES
Serving God means offering godly sacrifices. If we give to God according to our whim, or we offer up worthless things, we dishonor Him.
Although Saul was a faithful king
at the start, he transgressed against God later in his life. On one occasion,
when surrounded by enemy forces, he took it upon himself to offer a burnt
sacrifice to God, instead of waiting for Prophet Samuel. On another occasion, Saul
disobeyed God, sparing the life of King Agag and
allowing the Israelites to take the spoils of war, which included the best of
the sheep and oxen. He justified his actions to Samuel, saying that the
livestock would be offered to the Lord. But Samuel rebuked him, saying, “Has
the Lord as great delight in burnt
offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than
sacrifice, and to heed
than the fat of rams” (
As spiritual priests, we need the word of God to guide us to live according to His will. If we allow our spiritual cultivation to lapse, such that we no longer read the Bible, we may not even notice if we stray from God. At that point, our actions will be displeasing to Him, and our sacrifices will be blemished.
The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.” Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,”
Isaiah pointed out that the Israelites who came to worship before God merely paid lipservice, as their hearts were far from Him. Today, the same situation could befall us: we may worship God, but we may neither understand His word nor feel His love, and may even doubt His word.
God looks at our hearts. What condition is it in? If our heart is intent on searching, God will open it to understand the Bible. God’s word will become to us as sweet as honey, inspiring us to fear Him and to stand before Him in awe. Consequently, our worship will become increasingly spiritual, and we can be holy and royal priests, knowing God, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, and serving Him willingly and joyfully.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hos 4:6)
Throughout history, the Israelites often turned to idolatry because of a lack of knowledge. Having forgotten the law of God, they carried out deeds that were displeasing to Him. Even the sacrifices they offered to God were blemished. For this reason, God punished them until they repented. We should take heed from history.
Through the grace and mercy of God, we have come to know the truth, and God has poured out His Holy Spirit upon us. We should therefore offer up daily prayers, build up the church, and live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. Then we will receive God’s blessings and peace; and He will abide with us and grant us the promise of eternal life.