PRIORITIES AND VALUES, Part 1

Love God

Deuteronomy 6:3—25

Out of all the nations of the world, God called and formed only one by name: Israel. It was His intent to have a special relationship with His “called out” people. But what did God expect in return? What did God demand of Israel in their relationship with Him? It was up to Moses, mediator and prophet, to give them God’s Word on that subject. In chapters 5 through 11 of Deuteronomy, Moses declares to the people precisely what God wanted from them.  While chapter 5 deals with the famous Ten Commandments, chapter 6 deals with something beyond rules for living. Moses’ job was to teach the commandments to the people:

But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess. (Deuteronomy 5:31)

Moses’ chief concern was not only for the present generation to believe and to obey the commands of God, but also for successive generations to remain faithful. Obedience to God’s Word must be a part of everyday life if one is to enjoy God’s favor. This was key, not just for a healthy personal relationship with God, but the loyalty of Israel to God had a direct bearing on their health as a nation.

These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. (6:1, 2)

The problem for Moses was how to get Israel, as a nation, to willingly obey God’s commands. Did God want robots, blindly obeying the letter of the Law? Or did God want something more?

1. The great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:3—5; Mark 12:28—30)

Israel had wandered around the desert region between Egypt and Canaan for 40 years because they refused to enter the Promised Land and conquer Canaan because of their unbelief. At this point in their history, they were faced with the prospect of entering the Promised Land for the second time. Moses took the time to re-teach them what they had learned 40 years earlier at Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy represents a summary and restatement of the Law to which the current generation of Israelites had to pledge their loyalty to. This was vitally important because their whole future hinged on how they viewed the Covenant: was it something they needed to respect, or was it optional?

Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you. (6:3)

a. Israel’s duty to God, 6:3

Obedience to God and respect of the Covenant were not options at all. It was Israel’s duty to put God first. The whole reason Moses had to re-teach the Law to the people was simple:

so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live… (verse 2a)

This fear, though, was not an emotional feeling; it is not to be equated with “being scared of” God. The Israelites were to demonstrate this reverential fear through their obedience:

…by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you… (verse 2b)

What’s particularly interesting is that God made this Covenant with His people, and all they had to was to simply obey its stipulations and it’s promises would be fulfilled in the life of not only the nation, but also in the individual:

...so that you may enjoy long life. (verse 2c)

The Israelites couldn’t lose! All they had to do was obey.

b. The heart of the Law, 6:4, 5

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

For a man who thought he had no communicative skills, Moses proved himself to be a most able spokesman for God! Here is the answer to his problem. No, God never wanted robots who blindly lived in obedience to a list He gave them. Verse 4, along with 11:13—21 and Numbers 15:37—41 make up the Shema, the essential confession of faith. Orthodox Jews to this very day recite the Shema twice a day. Yahweh is the only God, there are no other Gods. This was the gateway to the Covenant. It all started with this simple acknowledgement.

But following right on the heals of the Shema, and part of it, is the idea of God’s uniqueness. Since there is no other like Him, then He demands total loyalty from His people. This is expressed by the words of verse 5. Obedience must begin with LOVE. A robot cannot love, only a human being can. God’s uniqueness demands a unique kind of love; it demands a single-minded devotion from people who know Him. This makes common sense, given the fact that since there are no other God’s to love, then God should be given all love from His people.

c. The first commandment, Mark 12:28—30

The Sadducees, religious leaders of the day, confronted Jesus at different times during His earthly ministry. They were priests of the Temple, who came from wealthy families of Jerusalem. They had the highest respect for the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible and took the doctrinal stand from those five books only. This explains why, for example, the Sadducees had no room in their faith for the resurrection of the dead, angles, demons, and other things like that.

When He was confronted by a certain Sadducee, Jesus responded brilliantly:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:28—30)

To this Sadducee, Jesus’ answer was the perfect answer. But it’s also the perfect answer for any Christian who wants to know what his or her top priority should be. Loving God completely is the first commandment, and when one gives God his “first love,” that person will love their neighbor.

When a Christian’s priorities and values are out of order, their whole life will be dysfunctional. Love for God must come before love for family, love for career, love for country, and so on. That is essentially what Jesus meant when He taught:

...seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

2. Communicate the great commandment, Deut. 6:6—9

a. Have it in your heart, vs. 6

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.

Since God cannot be seen, the Israelites needed to express their love for Him in the day-to-day routine of their lives. But, first and foremost, it had to be in their hearts; it had to be on the inside first so that it could be seen on the outside. The heart of faith is in the heart. It is the “seat of thought and affection.”

How does the Word of God get into the heart of a believer? It must be a part of our everyday life; we must read it, study it, learn it, and live it every day of our lives. But it all begins with teaching it to our children.

b. Teach it to your children, vs. 7

Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

There is an old saying that might suit this:

What possess the heat wags the tongue.

The only way for the Word of God to possess a heart is for it to be given priority in our lives and in the lives of our children. It needs to be taught to them. It’s teachings must be seen as the norm in our lives so that our children will regard them so. Far too many Christian parents give their children the impression the Bible is a Sunday book and that God-talk is something you do at night before you go to sleep on on Sunday in Sunday school.

c. Create visual symbols, vs. 8, 9

Of primary importance to Moses was the need for the Law to be equally important from generation to generation. The Israelites had many external means for keeping the Law on their minds, and while some of them sound a little strange to us, their purpose should be our purpose: to remind the people of God’s enduring presence and their responsibility to love Him with total dedication. Unfortunately, over time these external things became an an end in themselves rather than a means to an end. The meaning behind all the external observances was lost. Here is where Judaism fell into legalism. The people became more concerned with observing the smallest detail of Moses’ teaching while at the same time neglecting what God really wanted: single-minded LOVE.

These days it is possible for the Christian to be just as legalistic as his Jewish counterpart was. Things like reading the Bible, praying, attending church, and even tithing without manifesting a wholehearted devotion to God or without a full understanding of why we’re doing these praiseworthy things makes us just as bad as the ancient Pharisees or Sadducees.

3. Practical expressions of loving God, Deut. 6:10—25

The greatest blessings of Canaan, Moses feared, would become the greatest drawback. False gods would always threaten to entrap Israel. The great material blessings of Canaan would, potentially, cause the people to lose their focus on God.

a. Material blessings promised, vs. 10, 11

The people of Israel were basically walking into a “turn-key” country! All the work had been done for them by others.

b. Warning: Don’t forget God!, vs 12—15

be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (vs. 12)

This seems to be a problem faced by both Jews and Christians alike. Material blessings can lead to spiritual laziness. God so graciously gives us His best, and we eagerly receive His blessings, often with very little thought about where they came from beyond a quick, “Thank you, Lord.” Rather than thinking of how we can use our material blessings for the Kingdom of God, we selfishly find ways to use them for ourselves. In fact, many Christians are positively preoccupied with how to get more from God to make life more comfortable for themselves instead of viewing prosperity as a way of doing more God.

Israel was warned not to forget God. This would be so tempting for them. Verse 15, though adds to the warning in a big way:

for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

That’s a fearsome verse! But God should be taken at His word. God will not tolerate any other “gods” vying for your affection.

c. Stay faithful, vs. 16—19

Moses urged his people to “do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.” This would be a demonstration to Him of their faithfulness. They were not think that they could “get away with” even an inch from what God wanted. They were not to test God in this. Only as they remained faithful to God would they be able to conquer their enemies.

d. Answer questions, vs. 20—25

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” tell him… (vs. 20, 21a)

What an awesome responsibility befalls a godly parent! Children are naturally curious, and Christian parents need to have the right answers ready when they are asked about their faith or about some aspects of the Bible or something about God Himself.

It is important that Christian parents and grandparents create situations where it is natural for their children to ask these kinds of questions. There is no greater legacy for a son or daughter to receive than a godly heritage; a love for God and His Word.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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