Numbers 4:15 “These are the things in the tabernacle of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry.”
Numbers 4:24 “This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, in serving and carrying:”
Numbers 4:31 “And this is what they must carry as all their service for the tabernacle of meeting”
There is a theme that is repeated in Numbers 4 with the assignments of duties to the families of the Levites in regard to the Tabernacle. The Hebrew word that is translated here as carrying is Massa and it means burden. It’s use here is as a descriptive word, describing the service of each family. Each of these families doing the ministry of the Lord … And it was characterized as a burden. We need to think about this, because I have, and I know that you have as well, often heard the word “burden” used negatively in regards to ministry. When we are dealing with carrying burdens that are not of God … such as the weight of sin, the burden is most certainly negative. But there is a difference that we need to note in regards to our serving the Lord.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaks of those who are burdened and heavy laden coming to Him and taking on His yoke, which is easy and His burden which is light. In other words, exchanging the burden of the law, which the disciples in Acts 15 describe as unbearable for everyone (both Jew and Gentile) and exchanging that burden for the better burden of Christ, an exchange which is by grace through faith in Jesus. At the same time, we understand that the Bible also uses that word burden when describing our responsibility to serve God in our lives, and this is why in Matthew 11, Jesus also uses the imagery of burden when describing following Him. Burden is not a bad word … In fact the church should have a burden for the lost and a burden for the sick and a burden for the hurting. Yet, there is that sense of the word burden that clearly means, “This feels a whole lot like work.”
Every Christian who is ministering to the Lord has served God when they were exhausted, feeling beat up, frustrated or just didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I think we all understand that serving God should not hinge on whether we feel like it. There are four things we can understand from the assignment of the Levite’s duties and the characterization of those duties in Numbers 4. Serving can be burdensome and you cannot separate work from serving. It is work. It’s also often fun. But, it is work unto the Lord and if it is performed as if it is not, then I think the result can be a lessening of excellence in service. You see, if a Christian would perform his or her regular job the way scripture tells us to in scriptures such as …
Colossians 3:23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,
Ephesians 6:5-7 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. 6 Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
… then, certainly, serving the Lord at church should warrant the same attitude and desire for excellence.
When serving, there will most definitely be days in which you don’t feel like it and you will then feel like you should just stay home because, “if you go to church and say you don’t want to serve that day, you will feel bad about not doing it.” The problem is that is feeding the flesh … and it will become progressively easier to give in the next time you don’t feel like serving.
God characterizes serving with the word burden. This is God’s Word that we are studying and it wasn’t my decision to use the word Massa or burden in the Bible. It is God who described the work of these families as a burden. So, if you’re getting in a huff because this morning’s devotion is about serving and about burdens, your beef is with God, not me. I would encourage you to take it up with Him.
Serving is a family affair. A heart of service is something that is handed down from parents who model for their children what serving God truly looks like. Just as we hand down a work ethic to our kids we hand down a “serving the Lord” ethic to them. That means your kids see you and understand what you are doing when you decide to stay home because you don’t feel like serving. Again, God says we are to do our work as unto Him … He didn’t add any “burden” exceptions in there. If we are copping out on serving when we don’t feel like serving, that’s an attitude that is going to be handed down and probably amplified in the lives of our children, and it will do them harm, robbing them of the desire for fellowship, of the benefits of fellowship, and hindering their growth in God.
Serving is not limited to one group. All of these families had their duties and their responsibilities and those things were divided up among them as God saw fit. Yet every part depended on every other part to achieve the goal of the instructions of Numbers 4. That goal (and remember the shape of their camp and the order of their march was a cross) … Their goal was to move the camp wherever God led them, and to do it orderly and effectively. In other words, to carry the cross of Christ into the world … and that required the faithful work of each and every person, even when it felt burdensome.