Numbers 35:2 (KJV) Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in; and ye shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them.
In today’s society, much has been lost in the way of demonstrating respect for the office of spiritual leadership. It is easy to cast judgment when we are on the outside looking in at certain situations. It is also easy for us to inject our personal opinions based upon our previous or current religious experience in another situation without knowing the backdrop of another worship community’s experience. Such generalizations do more harm to the Body of Christ than they do to advance the Kingdom’s agenda.
Unfortunately, spiritual leaders are commonly the casualties of these generalized efforts. Sometimes, whether intentionally or unintentionally, we can become entangled by what we believe we should have in the form of a spiritual leader that we forget that they are human and have basic human needs as well. In my opinion, this is due to the lack of a congregational understanding of life from a spiritual leader’s perspective. This comes especially in the area of the relationship between spiritual leaders and the subject of giving.
Understanding The Text
The Levites were assigned to guard the holiness of God and the sanctuary. As commanded by God, they were to be distributed throughout the land of Israel. These allotted Levitical towns are necessary since the Levites were not given any tribal land of their own (Num. 18:8-32). The Levitical cities, therefore, are not the permanent possession of the Levites but serve a much greater purpose. Why? Although the Levites are a tribe, they are not counted as one of the twelve tribes. The Levitical tribe transcends normal tribal boundaries and does not fit neatly into any one category. They function as ministers in the service of the Tabernacle and the things of God, but not in the office of full priests such as the sons of Aaron.
The social and economic structure that the book of Numbers envisions for the Levites mirrors their function as a buffer zone or boundary around the holy sanctuary. They mark the boundary between the presence of God at the center of the community and Israel’s twelve tribes around the outside. The Levites both protect the boundary and transcend the boundary between the divine and human, God’s holy love, and the people’s sinful rebellion. As a result of their ministerial functions, God commanded that provision be made for the Levitical tribe from the tithes and offerings brought unto the Tabernacle by the remaining tribes of Israel.
Oftentimes a lack of understanding of the role of spiritual leaders determines the attitude of the average member of the local congregation.
Why Is This Important To Us?
How do we apply this to today’s ministerial context? Those who function in the role of spiritual leaders within the Body of Christ are often criticized for receiving any type of compensation for the service they render within a congregation. There is always some form of commentary given from both within and without the Body of Christ about this sensitive topic. The discussion ranges from the amount of compensation being received to whether any compensation should be provided at all. This is a problem and the reasons why can be found below:
- When the members of the congregation have an issue that needs to be addressed, the member comes to the spiritual leader for spiritual guidance.
- Spiritual leaders are expected to have employment outside of the Church.
- Spiritual leaders are expected to minister to the congregation every week and throughout each week.
- Spiritual leaders are expected to minister to the needs of their own families.
- Spiritual leaders are constantly pouring into everything else, and by the time they have finished giving of themselves to everyone and everything else, they have not spent any time cultivating their own personal relationship with God.
- When spiritual leaders begin to neglect their own personal spiritual relationship with God, the entire Body of Christ will begin to feel the effects of it.
- When spiritual leaders neglect themselves spiritually, the entire Body of Christ’s spiritual needs will be neglected.
- When the Body of Christ’s spiritual needs are neglected, the surrounding culture is affected and begins to descend into a downward spiral spiritually, ethically, and morally (…look at America…).
In today’s culture, spiritual leaders are often overextended as a result of the expectations of the congregation they are leading, the surrounding communities, and society as a whole.
There have been instances throughout history wherein the spiritual leaders were required to work outside of their spiritual responsibilities. However, those were instances wherein the members of the congregation were not contributing to the things of God and the things of God (including the spiritual leaders) went lacking. As a result, the spiritual leaders were forced to become employed in some other capacity.
When the spiritual leaders are pulled away from focusing on the things of God to having to be concerned about the cares of this world…everyone suffers. God knew this and made provision to prevent this from happening within His Word (Num. 18:8-32; 35:1-5; Acts 6:1-7 and 1 Tim. 3:4,5). However, because there is a lack of knowledge, the people and the surrounding culture are perishing (Hos. 4:6). If the spiritual leaders are working in another arena, the problem then becomes: Who is available to teach the people?
In consideration of these things, when the needs of the spiritual leaders are not provided for…the collective community suffers for it…we need to seriously think about this the next time any of us feel the need to murmur and complain about returning the tithe and giving our offerings…