The Grain Offering came from the common food of the people. These offerings were the people’s acknowledgment to God that they received their daily provisions from him. The products offered were therefore both a gift and a thanksgiving. The wine offering, sometimes called the drink offering, had similar significance (see 23:13 ,18 ,37). It seems that cereal offerings and wine offerings were never offered alone, but always with burnt offerings and peace offerings ( Numbers 15:1-10). This showed that consecration to God (as pictured in the burnt offering) and fellowship with God (as pictured in the peace offering) were not separate from the ordinary affairs of life. (Flemming, Donald C. “Commentary on Leviticus 2:4”. “Brideway Bible Commentary”.)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1 NIV
In God’s mercy, he “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10). Instead, he forgives our iniquities, heals all our diseases, redeems our lives from the pit and crowns us with love and compassion (Psa 103:3-4). In view of this great mercy, Paul the apostle urges us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. This is our true and proper worship.
How do we actually do that?
The idea contained in sacrifice is that of dedication. We are to dedicate our bodies to God. But there is to be this distinction between the old Jewish sacrifices and the Christian sacrifice: the one was of dead animals, the other of the living man. The worshipper must offer, or present, before God, himself, with all his living energies and powers directed consciously to God’s service. (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)
If we are to explain Scripture with Scripture, then we will have to turn to the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament. Being trained in the Torah from young, Paul must have had this portion of Scripture in mind when penning these words to the believers in Rome.
In the first 5 chapters of Leviticus, the children of Israel were given instructions for 5 different kinds of sacrifice. We will zoom into the most prominent one, the Burnt Offering.
The term Burnt Offering is inaccurate because in the original language it does not mean that at all. Olah, which is translated as ‘burnt offering’, really means ‘rising up’, descriptive of the smoke that rises heavenward as the animal is being burned on the altar and becomes “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Lev 1:9, 13).
Thanksgiving, devotion and atonement were all in some way symbolized in this sacrifice, but by far the outstanding characteristic was that of dedication or consecration. The burning of the whole animal on the altar symbolized the complete devotion and dedication of the offerers (cf. Romans 12:1). Before the burning, however, a blood ritual reminded the offerers that, without atonement, they could have no relation with God. They had to deal with sin first (1:1-5). The washing of the animal’s internal organs before burning may have suggested the need for inner cleansing before offering oneself to God. The sacrifice went up to God as something especially pleasing to him (6-9).
Seventy years after the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, the Temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt again. Since then, Jews (and Christians) have had no designated place to bring their offerings to. A new era had begun. Instead of a grandiose temple, the Spirit of God has chosen to dwell in the hearts of men. In the place of a stone altar is a fleshy altar in our hearts. And in the place of animals, worshippers now offer themselves in dedication to their God. They willingly ascend the altar of sacrifice and allow the Refiner’s fire to purify them, “burning away the dross…so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the LORD” (Mal 3:3). This is “true” and “spiritual” worship (Rom 12:1).
The worship that modern Christians are familiar with is one that is filled with music and song. Contemporary Christian Worship has given Christians a way to express their love for God, to remind themselves of God’s goodness, and to declare God’s majesty and sovereignty. But contemporary worship is not necessarily true and spiritual worship in every case.
There is worship, and there is true and proper worship.
Not everything is worship
We would be wise to learn from Cain that not everything is worship. His younger brother, Abel, learned from his parents, Adam and Eve, that the right sacrifice, the only acceptable sacrifice is one where blood is shed. So, when it was time to bring an offering to the Lord, Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Gen 4:4). He had brought “a better offering than Cain” (Heb 11:4) and “the LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering” (Gen 4:4).
Cain, on the other hand, “brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD” (Gen 4:3). It was likely that Cain also knew what God had required as an offering but thought that God should accept his offering too. After all, it was the result of God’s blessing on the work of his hands. Cain could not have been more wrong.
Let us not be deceived like Cain was, thinking that God will accept anything we bring to him as an offering. Not everything is worship.
Every offering that we bring to the Lord my be “holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). The offering that Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, were anything but holy and acceptable. It was unholy because the Lord had not commanded it.
“Which he had not commanded them …” This is the true key to understanding the sin of Nadab and Abihu. Whatever they did here, it was totally upon their own PRESUMPTUOUS initiative, unsupported by any word whatever from the Lord (Coffman’s Commentaries of the Bible).
You can speculate all you want about was exactly did they do wrong: was the problem with the censers, the incense, or the (source of the) fire? Such speculations are idle. The fact remains that they sinned against the Lord by doing something that the Lord had not commanded them to do.
Knight’s comment on the sin of these two brothers was as follows:
“Theirs was a flagrant piece of disobedience and disloyalty to God. These men were virtually saying, “Our fire is as good as yours, God! We don’t need yours.” This is an acted parable of the way secular man thinks about his relation to God.” (G. A. F. Knight, Leviticus, (Edinburg: The Saint Andrew Press, 1981) p.58)
The same author added that their sins came under the category of “sins with a high hand” and so were worthy of death.
“Fire from before Jehovah … devoured them …” (Leviticus 10:2). Certainly, this was a case of instantaneous divine judgment against presumptuous sin, but the whole conception of the wrath of God and divine judgment against sinners is almost totally foreign to the popular theologies so widely received in today’s world. Therefore, as Wenham said, “(Such examples) are upsetting to the cozy-bourgeois attitudes that often pass for Christian. In many parts of the church, the Biblical view of divine judgment is conveniently forgotten.” (Gordan J. Wenham. The Book of Leviticus, (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979) p.153)
There are a number of other such judgments recorded in the Bible. God slew the first two sons of Judah for failure in their duty to Tamar (Genesis 38:7-10). In the early church, Ananias and Sapphira were stricken with sudden death for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5). Uzzah’s laying hands upon the ark of the covenant was likewise thus punished (2 Samuel 6:7,8). The startling example here should “challenge Bible-believing Christians whose theological attitudes are influenced by prevailing trends of thought.” (ibid)
Of course, God does not punish gross and presumptuous sinners in these days as he did in the instance here, “but that is no reason to think that the sinner will not have his reckoning yet at some time in some place.” (Louis Goldberg, Bible Study Commentary on Leviticus. p.58) “Some men’s sins are evident, going before unto judgment; and some men also they follow after” (1 Timothy 5:24). “We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10).