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What does the Bible say about devotion?

Christians have often used the term “Devotion” to speak about a special time that is set aside to focus on God each day. However, when the Bible speaks about devotion the word has a much wider meaning.

In the Old Testament objects could be devoted to the Lord (Leviticus 27:21). The Israelites could devote anything that they owned to God (human beings, an animal, family land) and the devoted thing would become “most holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:28). In Numbers 18:14 Aaron was told that “everything in Israel that is devoted to the Lord” belonged to the Levites in place of their inheritance of land. The practice of setting aside the things that we own, the money that we have, or the time and strength that we have, as something devoted to God can be clearly seen in the Bible.

However, we must be careful not to use practice as an excuse to be greedy and selfish. Jesus was critical of the Jewish tradition of “Corban” in which you could declare something as a gift devoted to God. The Israelites were saying they could not help their parents because they had declared their money or property devoted to God and not to be used for personal interests like family. In doing this, they were ignoring the fifth commandment to “Honour your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12) and using the Corban tradition for their own profit.

We see a similar story in Acts 5:1-11 when Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and pretended that they had devoted all of the proceeds of the sale to God. However, they had secretly kept some money back for themselves. God took their lives because they had lied to Him and kept back some of that which they had said was devoted to Him. If we decide that something is devoted to God, that thing is then set aside and holy and should not be misused. If it is misused by us or others, then there are consequences.

The Bible teaches us that we can devote our lives to a particular task for God. Ezra devoted himself to the study and obedience of God’s law (Ezra 7:10) and Nehemiah devoted himself to the work of rebuilding the wall around Jesusalem (Nehemiah 5:16). The Nazarite vow described in Numbers 6 is another example of people separating themselves from the world so that they can be devoted to God.

However, the Bible also speaks about things that are devoted to destruction. Leviticus 27:29 tells us that “No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; they are to be put to death”. In the story of the destruction of Jericho in the book of Joshua, the Israelites were told that the city and everything in it was devoted to God (6:17) and that they would bring about their own destruction if they took them (6:18). Achan did take some of them and God’s anger burned against Israel (7:1). They lost a battle against Ai, and God explained that the reason was that someone had taken the “devoted things”. Only after Achan was stoned by Israel did God’s anger turn from that nation.

Another example is found in 1 Samuel 15 where Saul was told by Samuel to attack the Amalekites and “totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3). However “Saul and the army spared Agag and the best sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs – everything that was good” (15:9). When Samuel questioned Saul about this, he claimed that they had kept “the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord” (15:21). Samuel did not accept this and told Saul that he had been rejected as king because he had not obeyed God’s voice.

In other places, the Bible speaks about people’s hearts being devoted to idols (Ezekiel 11:21, 20:16), which brought God’s judgment down upon them.

Jesus speaks about the fact that we cannot serve two masters. “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24, Luke 6:13). In Romans 12:10 the apostle Paul advises us to “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves”.

Devotion of ourselves or our possessions in the Bible does not spring from some kind of mystical experience. Instead, it is a clear and willing choice that we make as we faithfully respond to God’s words to us.

The Bible speaks extensively about the significance of devoting lives and objects in a right way, and warns us of the consequences of devoting things in wrong ways. We should examine our lives carefully and ask if we have devoted ourselves, or the things that we own, to serve God or to serve ourselves.


All scripture quotations from NIV84