The Gift of Priestly Ministry

Korach (Numbers 16:1 – 18:32)

But you and your sons with you are to maintain your priesthood for everything pertaining to the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the ministry of the priesthood as a gift.
Anyone unauthorized who approaches will die

(Numbers 18:7).

When people consider the ministry of the Levitical priesthood, most would probably not think of it as a gift; yet, that is exactly what it is. The Lord chose Aaron and his sons to serve as ministers in the Tabernacle, and later the Holy Temple. His choosing of this particular family as servants to his sanctuary was a gift to them, and a shadow of grace. Still, this gift was not without responsibility.

At the opening of Numbers 18, the Lord warns the sons of Aaron, “You, your sons, and the house of your father with you will bear the guilt for the sanctuary, and you and your sons will bear the guilt for your priesthood” (Num. 18:1). As Torah portion Korach opens, the priesthood of Aaron and his sons is challenged by Korach and over two hundred fifty men of renown (Num. 16:2). While all of the children of Israel are priests to the Lord (Ex. 19:6), not every person, or group of people, serve in exactly the same way. Korach, the leader of the rebellion, desired Aaron’s position for himself – even though his clan of Levites handled the Ark of the Covenant every time the camp of Israel moved; while Aaron only served at the Ark once a year.

These types of jealousies were not limited to ancient Israel and the Levitical tribe or clans; jealousy is a common issue among humans, even those born-again in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. The Lord was warning Aaron and his sons, and by extension us, to protect and take seriously the gift that has been given to us; as Moses would not always be there to face down the opposition. Today, however, we often have to guard our gift from our own mishandling.

The apostle Paul identifies Gospel ministry as a type of priestly service, as he writes, “But I have written rather boldly to you on some points as a reminder – because of the grace given to me by God to be a servant of Messiah Yeshua to the Gentiles, in priestly service to the Good News of God – so that the offering up of the Gentiles might be pleasing, made holy by the Ruach ha-Kodesh (the Holy Spirit)” (Ro. 15:15-16). Messiah, by the Great Commission has given all of his followers a ministry (priestly service) by calling us all to “make disciples” from among the nations (Matt. 28:19-20).

The gift of priestly ministry is expressed differently among the multitude of members of the Body of Messiah (1 Cor. 12, 14). While some gifts and callings may seem more important or celebrated, the reality is that every gift given by the Lord through the Holy Spirit is vital to the proper functioning of the Body of Messiah as a commissioned force for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. As Paul explains, some are given wisdom, others knowledge, to some faith is given, while others work in healing or miracles or prophecy or administrations; yet gifts are not limited to those specifically mentioned (1 Cor 12:8-11). Paul encourages, “But to each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the benefit of all” (1 Cor. 12:7). While Paul encourages us to seek the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1), he does so by encouraging us to seek and grow in intimacy with the gift giver.

Paul admonishes his close disciple Timothy concerning his gift in much the same way the Lord admonishes the sons of Aaron, as he writes, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands of the elders. Practice these things – be absorbed in them, so that you progress may be clear to all. Give attention to yourself and your teaching. Persevere in these things, for in doing so you will save yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:14-16). Timothy had a responsibility to walk in the gift imparted to him, to guard it against critics (1 Tim. 4:12), to mature in it and us it to bless those in his care.

Korach was given the gift of tending to the Ark of the Covenant – which was the place of atonement for a nation, for the nation of priests. Rather than pressing into the giver of this gift he rebelliously attempted to steal the gift, position and responsibility of another. This jealousy cost not only his life, but also the lives of many in his family and those who followed him.

Brethren every born-again follower of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus has been endowed with a gift or gifts through the Holy Spirit. As we learn from Paul, this is our priestly serviceas regards the Gospel, and in this service we are to bless those around us. While we may look longingly at the ministry (usage of gift for heavenly purpose) of our brothers and sisters, we must keep our attention on the gift that our covenant Lord has trusted to us. We must search the Scriptures to understand how to properly apply our gift within the context of the covenant and the secular communities. And we must be thankful that the Lord has extended his grace, not only to our salvation, but also to the work specifically prepared for us (Eph. 2:8-10) and the gift that the Holy Spirit is working in us.

As you witness the gifts of other saints, admire not the gifting itself, but the faithful giver of the gift who will complete the work that he has begun in you (Phil. 1:6).

Be well, shalom;
Dr. J.D. Elwell