Scripture Text: Deuteronomy 6:4-9
We have been learning about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We started by looking at what the Church is. We saw that God is building His Church with living stones, His people, upon the chief cornerstone of Jesus Christ. We have learned that God also uses each of us to help the Church to grow into the likeness of Christ. We are disciples making disciples of Jesus Christ. We have also seen that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we must know who Jesus is, why He came, and what He expects of us (Who, Why, What). Jesus is Lord, but He is also the Suffering Servant of God, who suffered, died, and rose from the grave according to God’s plan in order to save His people. What Jesus expects of His disciples is nothing less than our very lives. Jesus submitted to the will of God, even unto death. If we are to be His disciples, we must also submit to the will of God, even if it costs us our lives. We must put aside our own selfish desires, and pursue Jesus whole heartedly. If Jesus asks us to surrender our lives to Him, then He certainly asks us to surrender our time, our gifts, our jobs, and our relationships to Him. It is all to Jesus, or it is none to Jesus. We must take up our own cross to follow Him.
Today, we look at another aspect of discipleship that I call the disciple’s first duty. In fact, I would call it a disciple’s first love. We are looking at a passage from the fifth book of the Bible, the book of Deuteronomy. The bulk of this book is largely a sermon, or set of sermons, that Moses preached to Israel shortly before his death. This would have been at the end of Israel’s 40-year period of wandering through the wilderness and right before their conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua. It is a motivational sermon, that urged Israel to trust and obey God and to be faithful to the covenant laws God gave them forty years previously. In some respect, the detail of God’s laws given to Israel is really an exposition of one great command that we find in this passage. Israel is to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and strength. One could say, as Jesus did, that the greatest commandment of all and the fulfillment of the whole law of God is wrapped up in this one great command. Loving God should motivate everything we do! Before we get to that, though, we must first know the object of our love.
Who is The Love of Your Life?
Who is the love of your life? For those who are married, you will most likely say that person is your spouse. That is expected. We ought to love our spouses. Would you say that the love of your life is related to the purpose of your existence? Think about this: why were you created? Why are you here? There are many answers to that question. Even Christians do not all agree on what is the reason they exist. The simple, and correct, answer is that you were created for God. You were created to bring glory to Him. This is stated in a very particular way in this passage. Let us look at verse four to see the foundation for such a belief.
Deuteronomy 6:4 4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Verses four and five are commonly known as the Shema, after the first word of verse four, which in Hebrew means “Hear”. The Shema is the foundational principle for God’s Law, and it in turn contains the essence of God’s covenant with Israel. It is divided between a statement affirming the nature of God and another directing the appropriate response to that understanding. Jewish rabbis understood the role of the Shema to be the heart of all the law. In fact, when Jesus was asked about the greatest of the commandments, He cited this passage (and its companion in Leviticus 19:18) as the most fundamental tenet of Jewish faith (Matthew 22:34–39; Mark 12:28–31; Luke 10:25–28). This confession is still important to Jewish faith today, as the faithful Jew will recite the Shema at least twice daily, in the morning and in the evening. Even though it mentions only Israel, we should not think it only applies to them. To recognize God as one and to respond to Him as such applies to the Church as well. These verses lie at the very heart of the relationship between God and His covenant people, then and now.
Verse four declares to us a couple of things. For one, the Lord is our God. By reciting this statement, we are saying that the one, true God of the universe is the same one we worship. He is our God. He is the One we serve. Another thing this verse declares is that God is unique, meaning there is no other like Him. This is a statement of exclusivity. It is the essence of the first two commands in the Ten Commandments: 1) there is only one god, and 2) we are to make no idols for worship. That our God is the one true God and there is no other is a sharp contrast to the polytheistic religions at the time this was given to the Israelites. The Israelites were about to enter a land flowing with milk and honey, but it was also full of pagan people who worshiped many things, except the one true God. Worship belongs to the Creator of the universe, the Giver and Sustainer of all life, and the One who gave His only begotten Son for the world. He is the One alone who deserves your worship. Is He your God?
We Must Love God Wholeheartedly
That the Lord alone is Israel’s God leads to the demand for Israel’s total devotion to Him. To confess the Lord as the only one worthy of our worship leads to a response that we obey Him as God. Most of us do not like the word “obey”, unless we are the one who others are to obey. Obedience to God is described as something that might not seem like obedience, though. This passage describes our obedient response to God as love. To obey God is to love Him with every fiber of one’s being. In fact, you were created to love God above all else. Loving Him, however, is not just a response to recognizing who He is, the one true God. Our love for God is also a response to His love for us (1 John 4:19). We see this in the very next chapter of Deuteronomy, where God pledged His love for Israel (7:6–8). A disciple of Jesus Christ displays fervent love to God as the proper response to God’s love for him. What does this love for God look like? Moses described it in this passage. Look at the next two verses.
Deuteronomy 6:5-6 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
This verse begins with a command. “You shall love the Lord your God” is a command. A commandment might not seem very loving. Most children may agree. One might also wonder how you can command love. Is not love a feeling? Does love not just happen? Biblically speaking, it is does not. Moses used the words “with all your heart” to describe the nature of our love for God. The term “heart” in this passage does not mean feelings or emotions, but rather the mind and the will. When God commands that His people love Him, it means that we decide to cleave to Him, and Him alone. Others may wonder how the Law of God and the love for God can co-exist. Are these not incompatible? The Bible does not contrast law and love in the way some people do today. The law informs and guides love into the ways that please God. Because of our sinfulness and living in a godless world with its temptations to sin, love needs the law of God to guide it into proper expression. Thus, loving God is not some sentimental feeling. It is a choice!
Loving God with all of your heart, meaning your mind and will, is not the only way to express love for God. God also tells us in the greatest commandment to love Him “with all your soul”. This should not seem too strange as we often speak of our devotion to someone or something as having both “heart and soul”. The command includes “soul”, which here means the true essence of a person. The third part of the command to love God mentions loving Him with all our might or strength. One’s might or strength in loving God indicates energy and ability. It basically describes the “muchness” of our love for God. Another way to say it: give it all you got. We must love God with all our essence and expression. Our love for God must first be deeply ingrained in the heart and mind and then put into action. We are to love God in our total being for “this is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:38). God does not demand mere outward obedience of His commandments. He wants your whole heart — your whole being. Look at verse six again, this time in a different translation.
Deuteronomy 6:6 (NLT) 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.
A disciple commits to loving God wholeheartedly. When we love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, it includes our time, treasures, and talents. To give God all you have, means to bring every aspect of your life into complete obedience to Him. It means no holding back. But, what do you do when you do not love God wholeheartedly? What do you do when your love for Him is lacking? God gives us the power to love. The Holy Spirit enables us to love God, and others, as we should. If your love for God has waned or is not where it should be, perhaps you need to call upon the Spirit of God to help you. Perhaps you have moved away from God. Perhaps you are not spending time with God as you should. If a man chooses to stop talking to his wife, or to stop learning how to please her, his love will not be as strong as it once was. Prayer and reading the Bible are key elements to cultivating a wholehearted love for God. Perhaps you have replaced the love of your life with another. Maybe you are having an adulterous affair with sin. When we choose sin over God, we show that we love that sin more than we love God. The same is true for a marriage. When you choose something that hurts your spouse, you are saying that thing is more important to you than your spouse. You are loving it more than you love your spouse. What sin do you love more than God?
We Must Share Our Love for God with Others
The normal Christian life is for each member of the Church to display fervent love to God as the proper response to God’s love for them. That love, however, is not contained. Our love for God is the means by which the rest of the world learns of the one true God. It was the very reason for which Israel existed. God does not just love us and demand our love for Him. He tells us to share that love with others. Our first duty is to God, which motivates us to fulfill our duty to our neighbor — to love them as we love ourselves. To share God’s love is to share what He has told us to do. Look below.
Deuteronomy 6:7-9 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
The old saying that “repetition aids learning” is an ancient one. Basically, it means that learning is accomplished by repeating something over and over again, as this verse attests. Here the teaching and learning is in the context of the family. That is where discipleship begins — in the home. Parents are to repeat the words of the Shema and the rest of God’s commands to their children. This teaching must be intentional and it must be constant. Moses described this process of education in terms of opposites. We are to teach wholehearted devotion to God when we sit and when we walk, meaning in any situation. We are also to teach wholehearted devotion to God when we lie down and when we get up, such as nighttime and daytime, meaning all the time. The kind of love God requires is one that is full time and under every circumstance. This is the kind of love for God parents must teach their children. That is also the kind of love for God we all must teach and demonstrate to each another. After ordering the commandments to be taught to children, and then to be worn on the person, Moses expanded this responsibility to the whole house (doorposts) and then to the community (gates). God is building a community, His Church, and He is using each one of us to put it together.
In closing, loving God is the disciple’s first duty. In fact, we were made to love God. If we are not doing that, then we are not living as we should. Loving God wholeheartedly, with our entire being, is the greatest commandment. It is the heart of God’s law. This begins with acknowledging the one true God. There is only one God who deserves our worship. Are you worshipping God, and only Him, or is your worship divided? Are you loving God wholeheartedly or is your live for God divided? Our love and worship of God begins by trusting in Jesus Christ. Have you confessed Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Loving God with all our being is the supreme goal of those who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Is Jesus your Lord? Are you following Him today? The path to true love of God is through His love for us, through His only begotten Son. Jesus is the greatest example of love and the One we should love most. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.