The Need for Reconciliation

A sermon on Leviticus 5:14-6:7 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 7/12/98

Please turn with me in your Bibles to Leviticus 5. We come this morning to the fifth and last of the offerings prescribed by God, these provisions for meeting man's basic needs. Recall that on Mt Sinai the Israelites had promised to abide by the commands they had heard God pronounce -- yet within a matter of hours they grossly violated those very commands. They were unable to live up to the law. But God in his grace provides these offerings, painting a picture of all that Jesus Christ would accomplish for us on the cross. We have already considered:

Today we will examine the trespass or guilt offering. This offering is very similar to the sin offering in its details. Indeed, in Leviticus 7:7 God says,

The trespass offering is like the sin offering, there is one law for them.

And in 5:6 the words for "guilt offering" and "sin offering" seem to be used interchangeably (this comes through most clearly in the KJV or NASB; the latter reads: 'He shall also bring his guilt offering to the LORD for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat as a sin offering.')

So instead of following our pattern of looking at the details of this offering, this morning we will expand on the lessons about sin that we gleaned two weeks ago when studying the sin offering. You recall that we noted four points about sin:

The trespass offering elaborates on the need for confession, and then highlights the need for restitution when that is possible. And, as we will see, this is particularly important when our sins have an impact on other people; God requires not only that we confess the sin to him, he not only wants us to restore the broken relationship with Him, but he also requires that we confess to and recompense the person we have hurt.

Let's now read beginning in 5:14:

14 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

15 If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the LORD'S holy things, then he shall bring his trespass offering to the LORD: a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering. 16 And he shall make restitution for that which he has sinned against the holy thing, and shall add to it a fifth part of it, and give it to the priest. The priest shall then make atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him.

This category of sin includes unintentional violations of God's requirements, such as not paying the tithe, or not calculating the firstfruits offering correctly. You can understand how calculating a tithe in an agricultural crop might be difficult; a farmer who lacks literacy and numeracy might unwittingly err in setting aside God's portion.

When an Israelite made such an error, his obligation did not disappear. Indeed, his obligation increases by 20%. The Israelite is not allowed to delay payment, and then simply say, "Oh, I missed out on that. Here is what I owe." No. He must add 20% to what was due, plus sacrifice a perfect ram.

An unintentional sin is still a sin. Even a delay in fulfilling an obligation requires a death to atone for the sin. God's standard is perfection, in timeliness as well as in action.

Let us continue reading in verse 17:

17 Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty, and shall bear his punishment. 18 He is then to bring to the priest a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a trespass offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his error in which he sinned unintentionally and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him. 19 It is a trespass offering; he was certainly guilty before the LORD."

We might summarize these three verses by using the phrase, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse!" Here a person has violated God's commands unwittingly, because he didn't properly understand the law. But he can't use ignorance as an excuse! He is responsible for knowing and following God's commands.

The case is the same with us. If I'm driving 45 mph in a 25-mph zone, and a policeman stops me, it won't do me much good to say, "But I didn't see the speed limit sign!" As a driver, I'm responsible for obeying the law, I'm responsible for keeping my eyes open and seeing traffic signs. Just so, we have this word; we are responsible for studying it, for knowing it.

God in his grace makes provision for the restoration of our relationship to him after sins of ignorance -- but once again, punishment must be meted out. A death must occur; even sins done in ignorance require the death of a perfect substitute. Every sin done in ignorance drives another nail into the hands of Jesus.

And once again, a 20% penalty is added to the payment, to show that the person is not using this as a means to delay his financial obligations, but is truly repentant.

Continue reading now in chapter 6:

1 ∂ Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

2 "When a person sins and acts unfaithfully against the LORD, and deceives his companion in regard to a deposit or a security entrusted to him, or through robbery, or if he has cheated his companion, 3 or has found what was lost and lied about it and sworn falsely, so that he sins in regard to any one of the things a man may do; 4 then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him, or the lost thing which he found, 5 or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full, and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his trespass offering. 6 Then he shall bring to the priest his trespass offering to the LORD, a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering, 7 and the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD; and he shall be forgiven for any one of the things which he may have done to incur guilt."

How do these sins differ from the ones we have considered previously? Two points to notice:

To heal the relationship with the other person as well as God, the sinner must pay back what he stole plus 20%. He doesn't just go and say, "Oh, I'm sorry I robbed you." He doesn't say, "If I hurt you, forgive me." No. He says, "I sinned against God and against you. I publicly confess that I was terribly in the wrong. Here is what is yours, and here is 20% more. Will you forgive me?" There must be a true confession, a true admitting that he is in the wrong.

Now consider carefully the order of events. When is restitution paid? Consider again verses 5 and 6:

He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his trespass offering. 6 THEN he shall bring to the priest his trespass offering to the LORD

Restitution is paid to the victim first. Only after that is accomplished can the sinner right the relationship with God.

These are very profound thoughts, and I want to spend the rest of our time together this morning elaborating on them. I'm going to make three points:

(1) Every sin, at heart, is a sin against God.

Remember how Jesus summarized the Old Testament scriptures? He said the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength. And the second greatest commandment is like it: You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.

You see what he is saying? It is not that resolving problems in human relationships is unimportant; Jesus, after all, says that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. By including this trespass offering among the five, God is saying that resolving problems in human relationships is of extreme importance. But it is not the most important. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.

After stating this, however, Jesus says: "The second command is like it." How is loving God like loving your neighbor? Loving your neighbor is a consequence of loving God.

That is what God pictures in the order of these offerings. The relationship with God begins by his choosing you for his own precious possession, as portrayed in the burnt offering. Our response to that choice, our giving ourselves to God wholly and completely, is portrayed in the grain offering. Peace in the midst of the trials and tribulations of life is portrayed in the third offering. And the atonement for our sins against God is portrayed in the sin offering. Jesus displayed and fulfilled all of these four offerings on the cross.

But we also sin against each other. We hurt each other through our anger, through our negligence, through our greed. And the message of the trespass offering is that Jesus died for that too! Jesusí death not only heals our relationship with God, it also heals our relationships with men. But the relationship with God is logically prior to the relationship with men.

The world gets this backward. Secular counselors (and, unfortunately, some Christian counselors) are always trying to heal relationships among people by focussing on the people themselves. They try to teach communication skills, sensitivity skills, they try to help people to look back in their past and understand why they react in certain ways. All that may work to smooth out some of the rough parts of our character, but it wonít change the heart. Only God can change the heart -- and that is what Jesus died for.

So this is our second point:

(2) A right relationship with God enables us to heal broken human relationships.

You see, if you have love, joy, and peace in your relationship to God, if you are forgiven for all of your sins, if you know the depth of those sins, then that must overflow into your interactions with others. You cannot know deep down that you deserve none of what God has done for you, you cannot truly know Godís love for you, you cannot have given yourself completely back to God, you cannot truly have peace in all circumstances, without also having a forgiving heart, without also having a deep compassion for others caught in slavery to sin.

Think about what makes you angry: Someone breaks a promise. They take advantage of you. They hurt you. So you become angry and want to lash back.

Is Godís love insufficient for you? Is Godís joy incomplete? Does Godís peace really surpass all human understanding? Is God in control?

You see, any anger or bitterness with another person in the end is anger and bitterness with a sovereign God. If you are angry and bitter with someone else, you are saying, in effect, two things:

(a) The all-powerful God is not strong enough or does not love me enough to keep this from happening;

Or, (b) The provisions that God has made for me are insufficient to meet my needs.

When we really know God, when we truly understand who we are before God, when we understand that we deserve absolutely nothing that God has given us, then we get into a position where we CANNOT become angry and bitter. We see that we have yielded our rights, so those rights cannot be violated. And therefore confessing to others is easy, because we are not embarrassed, we are not trying to make ourselves look good.

George Muller put it this way: "There was a day when I died, utterly died to George Muller and his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame of even my brethren and friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God."

So every sin is a sin against God, and a right relationship with God enables us to heal broken human relationships.

But if these statements are true, why does God tell us to pay restitution prior to offering the sacrifice? Indeed, Jesus elaborates on this in Matthew 5:23-24:

"If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Although the relationship with God is logically prior to any healing of human relationships, it is also true that the healing of human relationships -- forgiveness from the heart and an attempt at reconciliation -- is a necessary implication of a right relationship with God. To approach the altar with bitterness, anger, and broken relationships is failing to acknowledge our own lack of merit -- and we can never approach God on our own merit.

So our third point is:

(3) A right relationship with God not only enables us to heal broken human relationships; it also requires us to heal these relationships.

When we see ourselves for what we truly are, when we see that we are really nothing, we are sinners, we are unclean, then we can yield whatever rights we have, we can let down our guard, and open ourselves fully in confession to those we have wronged.

Similarly, we are required to forgive, even before the person who wronged us asks for forgiveness. Once again, God is our source of peace, God is the source of our self-esteem, God is the source of our love. He himself meets all our needs. So when someone wrongs us, we can overlook the personal offense, forgive the person from the heart, and pray that God would work in this person's life.

Back in the 70's, Ken Medema wrote a song containing these words: "If this is not a place where tears are understood, where can I go to cry?" The body of Christ needs to be a place where tears are understood. The body of Christ needs to be a place where we are free to fail, where we can go to someone, confess our sins, and be forgiven from the heart.


Let me try to tie all these thoughts together now. This offering as presented in chapter 6 concerns the healing of human relationships. And it is through the breaking down of human relationships that God gets our attention, isnít it. We all want close human relationships. We want to love and be loved; we want friends who care for us, colleagues who respect us, a family that love us. And we may invest ourselves in these relationships, we may work hard at making these relationships work -- only to feel betrayed. A husband or wife leaves us. A parent betrays our trust. Or our parents divorce. We donít get promoted and wonder why, we wonder who stabbed us in the back. A boyfriend or girlfriend decides weíre no longer exciting, we're no longer cool, and breaks up with us.

The message of this offering is, God cares. God cares about our human relationships. God is in the process of restoring to perfection not only the relationship between man and God but also the relationships between man and man.

Indeed, the message of the Bible is that you canít have one without the other. We try to work on the relationships between man and man without reference to God. We see war, oppression, and exploitation; we see murder, violence, and crime; we see divorce, adultery, and child abuse; we see all this evidence of a breakdown in human relationships and we want to do something about it. But God tells us here that we must first deal with Him, we must first find true love, joy, peace, and forgiveness in Him -- and then we will be in a position to bring love, joy, peace, and forgiveness into our human relationships.

For then we can hold all these relationships lightly. Here is a profound truth, a paradoxical truth: Our human relationships will be at their best when we hold them lightly; our human relationships are at their best when we realize that they are all secondary to our relationship with God. So I love my wife and children dearly -- but they are not the source of my joy. I serve my employer faithfully -- but my work is not the source of my self-esteem. I care for my friends deeply -- but they do not fill my need for love. Love, joy, self-esteem -- in the Christian, all of these come not through human relationships, but from God, from what God tells us about His love for us, from the position to which He exalts us by the shed blood of His son, Jesus.

And when this is true then we are free! We are free to love our family and friends, and to serve our employer, regardless of their response to us! You see, if I depend on my kids for love, what happens when they rebel? What happens when they don't respond to my love? Then I'm hurt, I'm angered, I'm unfulfilled in that relationship -- and I want to back out of it. I no longer want to give myself to that relationship because it is no longer meeting my needs. But if my need for love is fulfilled in my relationship with God, then I am free to love my kids regardless of their response. My love can be unconditional, because I do not need their love.

Furthermore, when I don't need their love, I'm much more likely to receive it! A child or spouse who knows that my love is unconditional is much more likely to love me in return than the child who sees that I desperately need his or her love. A clinging, desperate love tends eventually to drive the loved one away.

When we are primarily concerned with meeting our needs in relationships, we become slaves to those needs. Self sets itself up as our master. But a right relationship with God, a relationship in which all our needs are met in Him, sets us free. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it:

The knowledge of God humbles us to the dust, and in that position you do not think about your rights and your dignity. You have no need any longer to protect yourselves, because you feel you are unworthy of everything. . . . We begin to see [that others are] exactly as we are ourselves, and we are both in a terrible predicament. And we can do nothing. But both of us together must run to Christ and avail ourselves of His wonderful grace. . . . It is when we are really loving our neighbor as ourselves because we have been delivered from the thralldom of self, that we begin to enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God.

So where are you in your human relationships? Are you here at the altar this morning with unconfessed sin against a neighbor, a family member, an employer, an employee? Are you caught in a broken relationship with another person who is worshipping with us this morning? God doesn't want your praise songs when you are in that state. God doesn't want your good deeds. God doesn't want your worship. Leave your gift at the altar. The most effective way you can praise God is to go and confess that sin. Immediately.

So what are you going to do? You know, you can hear me preach this sermon today, and feel conviction in your heart, and say, "Yes, this is true. I need to confess. I need to make restitution," -- and walk away and do nothing. I tell you right now, that the minute you begin to drive away from church, Satan will begin to wheedle you, "Think of your reputation! This really isn't so important -- You've already confessed it privately to God in church, you need do no more." Or he might be a bit more subtle, saying, "Yes, that's a good idea -- but now is not the time. You can confess tomorrow." And you know what? Some of you are going to give in to that temptation. You'll put off confession till tomorrow, then the next day -- and then the conviction will pass, and you will never do it.

But by the grace and authority God has given me to preach His word, I give you this charge: Resist the devil! And I give you this promise: He will flee from you! Free yourself from the thralldom of self! Throw yourself on the mercy of your loving heavenly Father! Confess your sins to those you have hurt! Do it today! Do it now! I don't care if you do it right now while I'm still speaking, if you think you had better not wait even a minute, do it now! Know that you are completely unworthy of even the smallest kindness from God, know that he loves you more than you can ever imagine, know that He has met all your needs for love, for joy, for peace, for forgiveness -- know that the glorious freedom of a clear conscience before God awaits you. There is no place for anger and bitterness and lust in his children. By God's power, heal those relationships. Now.

We're all going to pray silently. If you want to use this time to confess to others here this morning, please do so even while the rest of us pray.

Oh, our dearest Lord and Father, you know the depths of sin in our hearts. You know better than we ourselves how sin has permeated the deepest recesses of our lives, so that even our best deeds are done with mixed motives. You know how we have sinned against even those we love most. Lord, through the trespass offering you impress upon us the need for us to reconcile with each other. May we commit before you so to do. Lord I pray for your strength to infuse each one of us so that we might resist Satan's attempts to derail this commitment. And when we sin again tomorrow, and Tuesday, and subsequent days, may we seek reconciliation with each other right away. Thank you, O Father, that in you we can find everything our hearts desire.

Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, now and forevermore. Amen.


This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 7/12/98. I decided to preach a series of sermons on Leviticus after reading Ray Stedman's series, which is available at the PBC web site. I am indebted to him both for his insights into Leviticus, and for all I learned about expository preaching from him. This sermon also draws heavily on Martyn Lloyd-Jones superb book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

Copyright © 1998, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney,, c/o Community Bible Church, Harrison Ave, Williamstown, MA 01267.

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