“Do not sweat” — the seven rules of priests that, when we apply them as sons, will dramatically impact our lives
Ezekiel 44:15-28 – “… The Levitical priests… (1) will serve as my ministers. They will stand in my presence and offer… sacrifices, says the Sovereign LORD. They alone will enter my sanctuary… to serve me… (2) They must wear no wool while on duty in the inner courtyard or in the Temple itself… They must not wear anything that would cause them to perspire. When they return to the outer courtyard where the people are, they must take off the clothes they wear while ministering to me… and put on other clothes so they do not endanger anyone by transmitting holiness to them through this clothing… (3) They will teach my people the difference between what is holy and what is common… (4) They will serve as judges… among my people… (5) And the priests themselves must obey my instructions and decrees… and (6) see to it that the Sabbaths are set apart as holy days… (7) The priests will not have any property or possession of land, for I alone am their special possession.” (NLT)
Wow! What an amazing passage describing the role of the priests and the holy rules they were to abide by. How does this apply to us? If we walk in sonship, here’s how… but first, a quick background on the structure of the nation of Israel so this passage makes sense…
There are essentially four groups of people in the nation of Israel.
First, there were the 12 tribes of Israel. These were the Common People (i.e. not the holy people of the Levites and priests). They owned property, toiled in the fields, and worked for a living. They brought their tithes and offerings to the Lord.
Second, there is the tribe of Levi. Levi is no longer a tribe of Israel because it is now a tribe of God — the Lord chose them as His holy people, set apart for him. That’s why about 430 years earlier the tribe of Joseph was split into two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim, so there would still be 12 tribes of Israel once the Lord took Levi as his own.
Because Levi was God’s chosen tribe, their inheritance was the Lord, not the promised land given to the Common People. Because they were not allowed to own property, that means they were not allowed to toil in the land for their living. They were to rely on the Lord for all their provision. And that provision came through the Common People, the 12 tribes of Israel. As the Common People worked and sweated in the land, they brought the fruits of the land to the Lord as tithes and offerings. Those tithes and offerings belonged to the Lord, and the Lord gave them to the Levites and priests as their provision.
The tribe of Levi is divided into two groups: those who served the people and did the heavy, toiling work required for the ministry of the Lord, and the priests who were descended from Aaron who did the actual work of ministering to the Lord.
So, the second group of people are the non-priest Levites, what we’ll call the Levite Servants. Their role was doing the laborious work of the outer court of the temple by serving the people who came to worship the Lord. They prepared and performed the sacrifices, hauled the carcasses, did the cleanup, etc. In today’s terminology, these would generally be the missionaries, evangelists, church workers, ministers, pastors, and those working in the various parachurch organizations. Their role was ministering to the people of God, and they received their provision from the people of God as well.
Third, you have the Priests from the family of Aaron. This is a subset of the Levites. Interestingly, Aaron is the brother of Moses, who was a type of Christ. Similarly, sons of God are the brothers of Jesus (Hebrews 11:2) who is the Christ and, like Aaron and his family, it’s the sons of God who operate in the capacity of priests.
And within the priestly family there were two groups of people — the Priests and the High Priest.
The Priests performed the primary work of ministering to the Lord… sprinkling the blood, keeping the lamp burning, the incense burning, the showbread fresh, etc. While the Levite Servants performed the work of the ministry of the Lord (“people facing”), it was the Priests who actually performed the work of ministering to the Lord (“Lord facing”).
And fourth, you have the High Priest. The High Priest had the most important role of all. Not only did he have authority over the Priests, Levite Servants and Common People — meaning he led the entire nation of Israel — but the High Priest was the one who ministered directly to the Lord in his presence (the High Priest was a shadow of Christ). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, he would bring the blood of a sacrifice into the Lord’s presence — beyond the veil into the Most Holy Place — on behalf of the people. No one else was allowed into the Lord’s presence. It was the role of the High Priest alone.
With that as a backdrop on the structure and people groups of Israel, let’s now look at how these priestly rules apply to sons today…
In a simplistic sense, the priests of yesterday are a shadow of the sons of God today — the “royal priesthood” Peter talks about.
Therefore, when we are called into sonship with the Lord, we take on the role of a priest. We are to minister before him, minister in his authority, and minister from the place of his presence. That means the rules that applied to the priests then are, generally speaking, a shadow of the rules that apply to sons today.
There are seven rules we pick up from this passage in Ezekiel, and each one has a unique, specific implication for us as sons…
(1) Serve as ministers who alone enter the Lord’s presence
“… The Levitical priests… will serve as my ministers. They will stand in my presence and offer… sacrifices, says the Sovereign LORD. They alone will enter my sanctuary… to serve me”
As sons, we minister to the Lord in his presence. We are the only ones who actually enter into his presence in his sanctuary. The Common People do not, neither do those operating in servanthood of the ministry (corresponding to the Levite Servants). In other words and in a general sense, of all believers in Christ, only those who are sons of God through faith come before the Lord in his presence. Let me explain…
Hebrews 10:20 tells us that the temple curtain was Jesus’s flesh. When the curtain was ripped in two it opened the Holy Place to the Most Holy Place. It did not open the temple for all of God’s people… it was for the priests alone.
Here’s the background to understand it…
The temple had two main rooms, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The Holy Place is where the Lord’s lamp was, the showbread and table, and the incense altar. The Most Holy Place had the Ark of the Covenant with the Mercy Seat sitting above it. This is where the Lord sat, on his Mercy Seat.
This was called the Most Holy Place because it was most holy — this was where the Lord himself and His Holy Word, his Testimonies, resided.
Only the Priests could enter the Holy Place, and would regularly enter it to perform the works of ministering to the Lord. But only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and he entered it only once a year. By entering the Most Holy Place, he entered into the Lord’s presence himself.
So, when the curtain was torn in two, it did not open the Most Holy Place to the outer court (outside of the temple) where all of God’s people — the Levite Servants and Common People — were allowed to go. It simply opened the Most Holy Place to the Holy Place where only the Priests were allowed to go.
What this means is when the curtain was torn in two, it granted access to all Priests to freely enter God’s presence at any time — it was no longer reserved for just the High Priest once a year. But it did not grant access to anyone else. Why? Because it’s only the Priests who can minister before the Lord.
And today, those Priests are the sons of God. It’s the sons of God, those who are born again as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) who can freely enter into God’s presence.
This is a heavenly truth, not an earthly reality.
What that means is this — just because one is born again doesn’t mean he has access to God in the earthly realm. His spirit has access in the heavenly realm but, unless he walks as a son of God in the earthly realm, the impact of being in God’s presence in the heavenly realm doesn’t manifest into the earthly realm where we live. I don’t understand the full significance of it all… it’s still a mystery… but there is a big significance.
We can manifest on earth as sons of God today, but it’s only by believing it through faith (Galatians 3:25). If we walk as sons of God today, through faith, we can operate on earth from the heavenly presence of God (as Priests) and in his power. And the more we walk in faith as mature sons, the greater the power and authority we walk in on earth to do the work he has called us to do.
If we don’t walk as sons of God through faith today, we can wait until we receive our resurrected bodies and walk as sons of God on earth then.
But either way, whether it’s today or later, it’s only once we walk as sons of God that we minister as Priests in his presence and operate in his power.
(2) Must not sweat while on duty
“They must wear no wool while on duty in the inner courtyard or in the Temple itself… They must not wear anything that would cause them to perspire. When they return to the outer courtyard where the people are, they must take off the clothes they wear while ministering to me… and put on other clothes so they do not endanger anyone by transmitting holiness to them through this clothing”
Before I explain this section, let me explain the shadow of what is going on…
[The Old Testament temple and rules are a shadow of the heavenly temple and what goes on.
In a simplistic understanding, when the Priests put on their priestly garments, they are, in that capacity, representing being in the heavenly realm. The temple area — the inner court, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place — represents the heavenly realm. This is where ministry to the Lord occurs. The outer court represents the earthly realm. This is where ministry of the Lord — ministering to God’s people — occurs.
And if you look further into the heavenly realm activities, you’ll see this even clearer…
The inner court is where blood is sprinkled. The Holy Place is where the lamp, representing, in part, the life of Christ in man (“in him was life, and the life was the light of men”), was kept burning; the incense, representing the prayers of the saints, was always rising up to the Lord as a fragrant aroma; and the showbread, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, God’s people, was always in his presence. And finally, the Most Holy Place is where communion with God takes place. All of these are aspects of ministering to the Lord.
And so, the reason the Priests had to take off the clothes they wear while ministering to the Lord before they return to the outer court among the people is because it’s a shadow of the separation of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm. The Priests operate in both the heavenly realm and the earthly realm, but the Levite Servants and the Common People only operate in the earthly realm.
In a sense, and in today’s terminology, you can say the Priests, representing sons of God today, were the only ones who could ascend into the heavenly realm to minister to the Lord.
That is what this shadow is representing. So now, back to our passage…]
Back to our passage…
A second thing about being a son is you are not allowed to sweat when you do the work of ministry — that work to which the Lord has called you.
The priestly garments were designed to keep the Priests from sweating when serving the Lord. Sweating is your fleshly exertion to accomplish God’s work. And since ministry to the Lord occurs in the heavenly realm, fleshly exertion from the earthly realm is both not allowed, nor can it do anything. Since the Lord is spirit, you can only minister to the Lord in spirit, not in flesh. And that is why nothing of flesh can honor the Lord.
The first part of Romans 8 alludes to this as well. It tells us the mind set on the flesh is sin and death, and the flesh can never please the Lord because it always opposes him. That means none of the good works we do in the flesh from our own effort — even when trying to serve the Lord — please the Lord. They are all as filthy rags to him.
Because of that, we cannot serve the Lord in our own effort, from the flesh. We can only serve him in his power, from the spirit.
And that’s why the Priests were not allowed to sweat. When serving him, in his presence, doing what they were called to do, they were to do it his way, not their way. And his way was without toil and labor — in the spirit, not in the flesh.
What is the implication for us?
If you are a son, you are not allowed to sweat when serving the Lord.
What that means is simple. When you are doing the work the Lord has called you to do, you are to do it in his power and strength only, with none of your own power or strength.
Oftentimes, what the Lord has called you to do and the way he has called you to do it may seem contrary to how you feel it should be done in the natural. Anytime you step out and do it the way you think it ought to be done, rather than the way the Lord has specifically told you to do it, you are doing it in your own effort, not his.
And your effort can never please the Lord.
When you do work in your own effort it doesn’t “count” as the work the Lord has called you to do. Because of that, it also doesn’t “count” as faithful work for which you receive eternal rewards.
And the reason for this is simple. The work the Lord has called you to do is that which makes an eternal impact. Flesh can only produce fleshly impact. Only the spirit can produce eternal impact. And anytime you work by your own effort, in your own flesh, it does nothing eternally.
The only way to please the Lord is to do his work in his way, in his power, and not sweat — not do it in your own effort. You are to minister from a position of rest in the Lord’s presence and in his power (from the spirit), not in your own will and your own effort (from the flesh). And when you work from that position of rest, there is no sweat.
(3) Teach his people his word and ways
“They will teach my people the difference between what is holy and what is common”
The third thing we are to do as sons is to teach his people.
In the Old Testament, it was the Priests who knew God’s word and truths. And one of the Priests’ primary roles was to teach God’s word to his people. In Malachi 2:6, the Lord said about the Priests who were faithful to him, “They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin” (NLT).
And likewise, today, if you are a son of God it means you know God’s truths and his ways of righteousness. One of your primary roles, therefore, is to teach those truths to his people.
Your role in teaching is to reproduce the fruit that is in you. “Every seed reproduces after its own kind.” That means the ultimate goal is to teach God’s children to grow towards being sons of God themselves. Teach them the deeper truths of walking as a son and how to do it so they may enter the Most Holy Place and walk in God’s presence themselves, today, from earth. When they do, they will do more effective work for the Lord, and that delights the father.
(4) Serve as judges who rule
“They will serve as judges… among my people”
A fourth role of a son is to judge and rule. A judge sits in the authority of the law and makes legal decrees that impact those under the jurisdiction of the law. It is a ruling position.
As sons, we are sons of the one who rules all creation. That is why we are called royalty (“royal priests”). And it’s because we are royalty that, when we walk by faith as sons of God, we walk in ruling authority over his creation. Our authority originates in the heavenly realm, and it’s the heavenly realm that governs the earthly realm.
(5) Obey the Lord’s instructions
“And the priests themselves must obey my instructions and decrees”
To be a son of God you must obey your father. He gives specific instructions how to do what he has called you to do. And it’s your responsibility to hear those instructions and obey them.
What is a simple implication with this?
Do it his way, not yours.
The hardest part about obeying the Lord’s instructions is we want to do things our way to accomplish his will. It’s not that we purposely chose to disobey… it’s just that we assume we are supposed to do things in a way that seems right to us because nothing else makes sense. But we cannot accomplish his will doing things our way.
Take Abraham, for example. To have his promised child he assumed he had to do it the way that seemed logical. Since Sarah was barren, he took her maid and had Ismael. That was a work of the flesh and it accomplished nothing. It was only when he did it God’s way, through the Lord’s power, that he had Isaac and received the promise. In other words, it was only the work accomplished through God’s power that pleased the Lord.
And similarly with us, it’s only our work accomplished through God’s power that pleases him, too. Any other work we do from our own effort, trying to fulfill his call on our life, is of no value. It does not please him and does not accomplish the work for which he has called us to do.
This is why denying yourself is so important in serving him. It’s only when you deny yourself and your personal desires, and truly say, “not my will, but yours be done,” that you will fully accomplish the work he has called you to do and fully please him.
In other words, we are to do as Jesus did.
When the Lord gives you a calling and a destiny to fulfill, he will direct you how to do it. When he does, it is specific. As an example, see how specific the instructions are in this passage in Ezekiel 44 that he gives to the Priests on how to minister before him. And just as the Priests of yesterday were to obey his instructions exactly as given, as sons and royal priests today we are to obey his instructions exactly as given to us, too.
(6) Keep the Sabbath day holy
“see to it that the Sabbaths are set apart as holy days”
The sixth rule is to keep holy what he has declared holy.
As sons, we are Priests of the Lord. We minister to him, in his holy presence, and we are required to keep holy what is holy.
The Priests were told to remove the linen garments that had been in God’s presence before going out so they would not endanger others with the holiness of those garments. In other words, what is holy is holy, and that holiness carries great significance.
In the same way, the Sabbath is holy. Not only did God declare it holy and commanded us to keep it holy forever, but it has preeminence of all that is holy. Why? Because the seventh day is the first thing God declares as holy in the Bible. And because of that, it carries great significance. And as those who walk in the presence of the Lord, we must keep it holy ourselves.
(7) Own no property — rely on the Lord alone for your provision
“The priests will not have any property or possession of land, for I alone am their special possession.”
The seventh rule is the Priests were to own no property. Their inheritance was the Lord, and that meant all their provision was to be given them from the Lord, not earned from their labor. That is what inheritance means.
As sons, all of our provision is to come from the Lord. That is our inheritance. We are not to labor or strive for our provision.
This is similar to the rule that Priests were not allowed to sweat when ministering to the Lord. Similarly, they were also not allowed to sweat by toiling in the land for their provision. That’s why the Lord gave them no land… it forced them to rely on the Lord’s inheritance alone for their provision, not their labor. And that inheritance came through what belonged to the Lord… the tithes and offerings the Common People brought.
Likewise, we as sons are called to live in a similar way.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t own property or a business, and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a job to earn a living.
What it does mean, though, is we are not to strive and sweat by being anxious and working in our own effort for provision from that job or business. Our inheritance is in the Lord. Therefore, our provision comes from him alone, not our efforts.
We see this taught in Malachi. Much of the book is the Lord scolding the Priests about how they have disobeyed his instructions on serving him. Because of that, they had very little provision for their needs. He wraps up in Malachi 3:11 when he says if they will simply obey his instructions and do his work his way, he “will pour out a blessing so great [they] won’t have room enough to take it in.”
In other words, the more we do his work his way, the more abundant the provision he gives us. Our provision comes from him, not our effort. So stop toiling for it.
The big take-aways with all of this…
What does all of this mean and how do you apply it in your life?
If you walk in sonship — being led by the Spirit and denying yourself — the implications are significant. For me, here’s what it means…
First is the amazing realization that we as sons, and only we, actually have the privilege of entering the Lord’s presence at any time.
Second, with that privilege comes the responsibility of being faithful in remaining holy before the Lord, honoring him in his holiness, and teaching others his truths of holiness that he teaches us.
Third, we must diligently obey every word the Lord directs us to do, especially as it relates to doing the work he has called us to do. Each son has a different role of ministry in serving the Lord. Each son has a different destiny and purpose the Lord has designed him for. And just as the Lord did with the priests in the Old Testament, he does with us. He gives us specific instructions how to do what he has called us to do. Our responsibility is to obey those instructions and not veer from them. If we veer and start doing his work through our effort, then even if we seemingly get results, they don’t “count” because they are of the flesh. Any works we do through our effort are as filthy rags to him. Only the works done his way, through his power by faith, please him and earn the exclamation, “well done, good and faithful servant.”
Fourth, don’t worry about your provision (not only financially, but for all your needs). Your inheritance is in the Lord — your provision comes from his property, not your labor. You are not to sweat and labor for your provision (working anxiously for it as if it all depends on you to produce it). As you faithfully do the work he has directed you to do, your provision will be amply supplied. That is what he shows in Malachi.
On a personal note, this has always been a struggle for me in business. My ministry is to minister to my business community. I’ve often felt that to increase the audience size of my ministry I had to increase my business size. Because of that, I often get focused on trying to grow my business rather than doing the ministry I’ve been called to do. And the Lord keeps telling me to focus on my ministry and not worry about the business (my provision). Yes, there are maintenance things I must do in the business — I must keep our services relevant, I must do best practices to run it efficiently, etc — but I am not to struggle or strive to grow it. I am not to “sweat” trying to increase sales. The Lord keeps telling me to simply focus on my ministry — to do his work the way he has instructed me to do it — and he will take care of my business, its sales, my provision, and everything else. And in a similar way, that is what he is calling each of us to do in our own lives serving him.
But I want to emphasize that the provision the Lord provides to us through his inheritance is not only money to live on, but provision for all things. All things means all — those things you struggle through, those issues with your children that wear you down, those concerns you have over any and every aspect in your life. All provision for all of those things is all fulfilled and provided for through the Lord’s inheritance. But the key is you must receive them through faith, and you do that by keeping your eyes on the heavenly truths of those promises until they become your earthly reality.