Last Sunday (July 11), we began a new series through the book of Joshua. The book of Joshua tells the story of the Israelites’ conquering the Promised Land, led by Joshua—but more importantly, led into battle by the LORD.
Thankfully, the book of Joshua doesn’t appear from nowhere. It springs up from the ground of the Pentateuch (PEN-tuh-took), which is a fancy way of saying the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). It’s in the pages of the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah) that the story we find in Joshua gets its shape. The Pentateuch tells us who the Israelites are and where they came from. It tells us a little more about Joshua. It tells us where the Promised Land is and who promised to give it to who. It tells us about the people that the Israelites will soon conquer—and “devote to destruction”—in the Promised Land. And the Pentateuch ultimately reveals the LORD to whomever is paying attention.
The book of Deuteronomy directly precedes Joshua both in Scripture itself and in the history it recounts. Deuteronomy ends where Joshua begins; Moses has died and Joshua has been given leadership over Israel. But before his death, Moses instructs Israel one final time about their history and their conduct when they enter into the Promised Land that God was giving to them.
As you might expect, there are lots of rules and instructions regarding sacrifices and offerings and feast days. There are rules stipulating the conduct of priests and future Israelite kings as well as laws around clean and unclean food. There are commands regarding sexual immorality. And of course, there are rules against idolatry.
And while reading these instructions might make your eyes glaze over (or your stomach churn, depending on the chapter and verse!) they do reveal the LORD if we are willing to pay attention.
In Deuteronomy 26, the Israelites are commanded to offer their first fruits to God. A portion of the very first harvest of their crops was to be gathered in a basket and given to the priest to set before the altar of the LORD. This act was to remind the Israelites of everything that God had given to them, while also forcing them to act in trust that God would continue to meet their needs. By offering God their first fruits, they implicitly trusted that God would provide them with “second, third, and fourth fruits.”
The implications of the first fruit offerings for Christians today seem somewhat obvious. And exactly how this is an act of worship seems similarly clear. Churches have collected offerings as a part of worship for as long as churches have been around. Christians know that singing songs, giving offerings, praying, and telling others about Jesus are all ways we show our devotion to the LORD.
What’s less obvious is how—or even if—we can show our devotion apart from these straightforwardly religious acts. How do you worship the LORD at work? Do you have to work for a “Christian” company? Do you always have to talk of sin and salvation around the proverbial water cooler? Does your work for Jesus only count if it explicitly mentions the cross?
In Deuteronomy 24:19–22, there’s an interesting set of instructions regarding the harvest. Rather than “maximizing their yield” and picking every last viable piece of produce, the Israelites were to leave some olives and grain and grapes behind for the benefit of the poor and needy. This practice wasn’t associated with a temple or a priest, but with the fields of labor. And it was an act of kindness and mercy to their neighbors. But beyond that, it was an act of obedience. And their obedience demonstrated their love—not only for their neighbors, but for the LORD their God who had commanded them in this way.
The Israelites worshipped God with their leftovers.
Of course, we need to be careful with that kind of talk. They didn’t only worship God with their leftovers. They worshiped God with their first fruits, too. And they were expected to worship him with everything in between.
A very large challenge facing Christians today is the supposed division between the sacred and the secular. On the one hand, we have the sacred activities that we participate in with the church. On the other hand, we have the secular activities we find in the marketplace.
But no such distinction exists in Scripture. The “secular” business that brings forth fruit is, from first to last, offered to God as an act of worship. Sometimes, that act of worship is obvious and takes place as a part of formal worship services. Other times, the act of worship is obscured—taking place in the far reaches of a field when no one is around. But both—if done in faith as unto the LORD (Col. 3:23)—are equally acts of worship.
It is right and good to give of our firstfruits. But we must not neglect our “leftovers”. Our emails and phone calls can be acts of worship when done with mercy and kindness to our neighbors. Our conversations with customers—or as customers—can be the same. Our work waiting tables, fixing engines, or wiping snotty noses are no less acts of devotion and love for Jesus Christ—assuming we do them for Christ in faith.
If the Israelites could worship God with their “leftovers”, surely we can, too.