Posts Tagged 'Priorities and Values'


Practicing Whole-Life Stewardship

When we hear the word “steward,” we usually think of a guy dressed in white who works on a cruise ship. In New Testament times, a “steward” was a person who managed the domestic affairs of a family. Back then, this position carried with it a great responsibility. Our Lord applied this idea to His disciples, for they had been entrusted with the care and management of God’s spiritual household.

For Christians, the idea of “stewardship” includes many things. Certainly we are to care for the Church and the needs of God’s people, but our notion of “stewardship” finds its roots back in Genesis 1, where Adam and Eve were given a mandate to care for their environment. No, Christians are not environmentalists, but we are to care for what is around us as well as those who are around us. Adam and Eve, through their disobedience to God’s will, ruined mankind’s stewardship over God’s creation, effectively handing that stewardship over to the devil. That’s why we have weeds, cancer, and other physical maladies with both our bodies and the world around us.

But Jesus Christ, through His obedience to God’s will, is returning that stewardship to mankind, gradually, as His Church grows, culminating in His return. Until the day of His return, there are many things we can do to be the best stewards possible.

1. Respect the physical body, 1 Corinthians 6:12—20

“Whole-life stewardship” begins really close to home. We are answerable to God for the stewardship of our bodies, our time, our possessions, our gifts, and talents.

a. True Christian liberty, vs. 12

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Part of this verse—the part in quotation marks—was actually a popular slogan of Paul’s day, so what he is doing is taking a culturally common notion, one that had become part of the early church’s thinking, and debunking it. Sure, “everything is permissible for me” says Paul, but then he qualifies it: not everything is good for me. Certainly as a Christian “everything is permissible for me,” but as a Christian, nothing outside of God’s will should master me.

There is nothing wrong with being a freethinking Christian, but all our freethinking must be tempered with the Word of God. Martin Luther, a famous freethinker of his day, wrote this:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Christian liberty should never be confused with license. Christians have been gloriously set free from all forms of bondage—to sin, to worldliness, to old habits—but being free from sin does not mean being free to sin. In fact, Christians have changed masters; once we were mastered by evil forces, not we are to be mastered by Jesus Christ.

b. The call to sexual purity, vs. 13, 14

Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

Here is another famous proverb of Paul’s time in Corinth. The first slogan Paul took apart was a general one, this one more specifically deals with food and the stomach. God created a world full of diverse foods and things to sustain life. All that can be consumed and digested by man was created by God, but, God can destroy both the food and stomach if He wanted to. In other words, Paul is showing the temporary nature of both man and food.

The next phrase really isn’t out of place, although is sounds like it is. Why start talking about sexual immorality on the heels of food? What is the connection? On the surface, both are appetites that can be met the right way or the wrong way. Food and drink should be consumed in moderation and discretion. Eating the wrong foods or consuming the wrong kind of drink can be dangerous to your physical well-being. Similarly, meeting sexual needs outside of God’s parameters for such results in emotional and spiritual problems.

God created the human body for His glory, not for sinful pleasure. He formed it in His image and likeness, therefore Christians need to take care what they do with it. The members of the Jerusalem Council noticed that the Gentiles were somewhat lose when it came to matters of sex, so they gave them this piece of advice:

…abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from strangled animals, and from fornication…” (Acts 15:29)

The Greeks viewed the body with some disdain; no wonder sexual immorality was rampant in the Gentile world of Paul’s day. If the body wasn’t important, who cared what one did with it? But for the Christian, the body was both temporary and eternal. While our bodies will eventually die, one day they will be resurrected, like Christ’s. We only have one, so let’s take care what we do with it.

c. Our bodies as members of Christ, vs. 15—18

Christians don’t have a right to do with their bodies as they please, like uniting with a prostitute, because they are members of Christ’s mystical Body.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)

For this reason, Christians need to understand that sexual relationships involve more than just a physical action; literally, two become one. Therefore, since Christians are already joined mystically to their Lord, they must take care with whom they join sexually.

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. (vs. 16, 17)

Summing up Paul’s teaching here is that union with a prostitute is an evil perversion of the divinely established marriage union, which itself is a picture of the mystical union between Christ and His people. It may be mystical, but it is real, nonetheless.

d. The ultimate reason for purity, vs. 19, 20

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

You can do many things with your body: pamper it, idolize it, mistreat it, be ashamed of it. But Paul tells us how we should regard our body: It is the temple of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit dwells in a temple, that temple belongs to God, therefore Paul declares, “You are not your own.” Indeed, at his conversion, the Christian enters into a legal transaction. He has, as it were, signed, sealed, and delivered his body to God. In exchange, he receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a special gift from God. So, while he gets to keep his body to live in, it no longer belongs to him. And the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in a polluted sanctuary.

Within the context of chapter 6, if the believer is dedicated to glorifying God, both shameful lawsuits and sexual impurity will not be found in a church.

2. Invest time and treasures wisely, Ephesians 5:15—17; 1 Timothy 6:17—19

a. Stewardship of time, Ephesians 5:15—17

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

The word “then” refers the reader back to 5:10-11—

find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Believers, as “children of light” are not to get involved in the works of darkness, but rather to live in such a way to expose them. Therefore, says Paul, live right! Paul’s readers should not live carelessly in the evil environment around them; they are better than that because they have received enlightenment from God.

Christians should “make the most” of every opportunity to serve the Lord. Paul has in mind rendering genuine service to God. Erdman comments:

The wisdom of their walk would thus consist in their careful endeavor to seize upon every fitting season for doing good, and to make their own every possible occasion for the fulfillment of duty.

The very precious opportunity to bear witness for Christ should never be allowed to slip through our hands because, as Paul wrote, “the days are evil.” J.B. Philips helps us understand what Paul is getting at by translating this phrase with a slightly different emphasis:

Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.

Christians are wise, even if they don’t know it, because they have the mind of Christ. Therefore, Paul warns us not to be foolish. How embarrassing must a child of God be to God the Father when he lives like a fool! And part of not living like a fool is simply discerning what God’s will is. And knowing what God’s will is must be possible, since Paul encouraged his readers to “understand what the Lord’s will is.”

b. Stewardship of material resources, 1 Timothy 6:17—19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Timothy, pastoring what appeared to be a very prosperous church in a very prosperous city, Ephesus, was instructed by Paul to give this advice to his wealthy parishioners: just because you have money, don’t get uppity. Having material wealth is not a bad thing, in fact it can be a very good thing if you use it properly. But the tendency among those with much was to put their trust and security in their wealth. What a terrible idea! Many an investor has gone to bed only to wake up the next morning discovering that the wealth it took him a lifetime to accumulate has all but evaporated, due to some stock market crash on the other side of the world.

Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. (Proverbs 23:5)

Instead of trusting things, Christians should trust in the Lord. Only God can give a person true satisfaction in this life. This kind of advice, by the way, is no respecter of persons, for it applies to those with and those without.

Instead of trusting in their wealth and hording it, believers are supposed to be good stewards of it: use their wealth for godly purposes.

A kind heart as well as a generous hand is demanded of the rich. –Bernard.

Elsewhere the apostle commends a very poor congregation of their generosity:

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. (2 Corinthians 8:2, 3)

It’s always easier to simply write a check than to get personally involved, but a wise steward has learned to both give of his wealth and of himself, by the way/

3. Use callings and abilities productively, Matthew 25:14—30; Ephesians 4:28

a. The parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14—30

Jesus’ parable of the talents is similar to the parable of the pounds in Luke 19:11—28, and while on the surface both seem to be teaching money management, the two parables actually teach the same lesson: believers must be faithful in their service to Christ. The great life-principle is found in verse 29:

For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

The man who uses his talents—his gifts, abilities, and opportunities—in service to the Lord always gains more; he will be blessed. But the one who doesn’t take advantage of what God has given him will lose what he has. The consequence of being a lazy Christian is truly tragic:

And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (vs. 30)

Of course, this is a parable and is not meant to be taken literally, although its lessons are meant to be taken literally. In this case, a lazy, self-centered believer will likely not be thrown into the deepest, darkest pit of hell. He will, however, never enter fully into the kind of vibrant, satisfying life that is available to him and every single believer.

b. Be productive, Ephesians 4:28

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

This verse occurs in the midst of some advice on practical Christian living. Just because one has become a Christian doesn’t mean all their bad habits will suddenly disappear or that they will never get lazy and fall back into those bad habits. In this verse, Paul uses the example of someone who used to steal before their conversion. The kind of stealing referred to here refers to any kind of misappropriation. For the believer, all this “misappropriation” must end, no matter how insignificant it may seem. In fact, the opposite must true: he must not be afraid to “work.” The Greek word used here refers to work that ends in exhaustion.

But all that hard work must have a goal: it must benefit not only the one working, but others as well. A believer must never be stingy; he must always be ready to share with those in genuine need.

Christians have been “bought with a price,” according to Paul (1 Corinthians 6:20), therefore we don’t belong to ourselves any longer. We are not free to do with our bodies, our minds, our resources, or our time as we please. Because God gave all He had to save us, we owe Him everything we are. We repay this divine debt by living biblically, being good stewards of what God has given to us.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


Loving Others

“Love your neighbor.” Those words are so easy to say, yet so hard to do. Do you really have to love all your neighbors? Can’t you just love the ones you like? Jesus seems to be making a blanket statement: Christians are supposed to love all their neighbors. But we can’t blame Jesus for inventing such a hard thing to do. The concept of “loving your neighbors” is as old as the Old Testament:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18)

In all three Synoptic Gospels, Jesus advised His followers to “Love your neighbor.” This is admonition is found in Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; and Luke 10:27.

The Hebrew word used in the Leviticus reference means “tenderness and fullness of affection.” For the ancient Hebrews, their challenge was to love other people as God loved Israel. In the Gospels, the word Jesus chose to use is agape. Yes, we are to love our neighbors unconditionally. It seems the more we talk about this, the worse it gets! Let’s discover what it really means to “love others.”

1. Love your neighbor as yourself, Matthew 22:37—40; Romans 13:8—10

a. The biblical social ethic, Matthew 22:37—40

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37—40)

In answer to a question about which commandment is the greatest, Jesus gave the perfect answer. However, in giving this simple, yet profound answer, Jesus is really teaching us seven things:

  • The entire duty of man, the whole moral-spiritual law is summed up in a single, all encompassing word: love.

  • This love must be directed both up and over: up to God and over toward our fellow man.

  • All parts of man—heart, soul, and mind—must involved in loving God. The heart is the mainspring of all man’s thoughts, words and deeds. The soul refers to the seat of man’s emotions. And the mind has reference to man’s thoughts, his disposition, and his attitudes. What all this means is that man must love God with all of his being; in his thoughts, his attitudes, and his actions.

  • In loving God, man must not hold back. Note the use of the “all.” We cannot love God in a half-hearted manner. We can’t claim to love God with our words but never think good things about Him, for example. We can’t pay lip service to God. Our actions must flow from our confession of love for God.

  • This commandment is called “the greatest” because if flows from our response to God. Because God loved us so much, we ought to feel compelled to as lest aspire to love Him with the same intensity of love.

  • That “second commandment,” says Jesus resembles the first one because it involves love. This time, it is loving a fellow human being, who has been created in God’s image. Our love for him should be motivated out of our love for God.

  • The two-fold admonition (love God, love your neighbor) is the hook upon which the entire Old Testament hangs. Take away that hook, and the Old Testament falls apart.

b. Paul’s expanded statement, Romans 13:8—10

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Paul had just commanded submission to ruling authorities as part of the believer’s obligation to live at peace with the world around him. Now he turns to another commandment: love one another.

The underlying thought behind all of Paul’s teaching in this chapter is to live submissively as living sacrifices in light of the fact the Jesus could return at any moment. The very concept of “submission” means doing something you’re rather not do. Loving others does not come naturally to most people; it requires a conscious effort to do so. What’s more (or what’s worse, depending on your temperament!) this admonition to love others is much bigger that merely loving fellow believers! The context favors the broader interpretation of loving all our neighbors, even those who are far outside of the Church.

Loving your neighbor as yourself does not suggest a sick infatuation with self! It’s a way of saying: “Look after your neighbor with the same effort with which you look after yourself.” Paul said roughly the same thing to husbands and wives:

In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church… (Ephesians 5:28, 29)

2. Brotherly love described, Romans 12:9—21

The essence of Paul’s teaching in Romans 12 is the dedicated Christian life—a life of sacrifice. It is only when believers are living sacrificially that they are able to live according to God’s will. God’s will is not knowable to those who are not living the dedicated, sacrificial life.

But what does “living sacrificially” look like? It is manifested in a million small ways, in the day-to-day relationships we have with each other. Love of other people, including love of enemies!, is the acid test. If one is loving those around them consistently, they they are in reality a “living sacrifice.”

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (vs. 9, 10)

The “love” Paul is writing about is the unconditional, selfless kind of love that only Christians are capable of demonstrating: agape. We are to love all people, especially fellow believes, but all people, with agape love. Why? because that’s how God loves us!

In Romans 8:35, Paul asks a pointed question: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? The answer, of course, is NOBODY. Well, just as nobody and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, so nothing and nobody should keep believers from loving each other or loving the lost. But this love must be “sincere.” The Greek word means “genuine,” not hypocritical. In other words, Christians should like open books; what you see is what you get. And other people, when they look at us, should see love. But what does agape love look like? It looks like verses 9 to 21, with verse 21 acting as a kind of summary:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Christians must do their level best to live like Paul has outlined in verses 9 to 20. The temptation, though, is to meet evil with evil; to hit back and hit back hard. We can’t afford to do that because we are supposed to be “living sacrifices,” meaning since our whole being is dedicated to living for God and living like God, we must always strive act in a way that is usually opposite to our natural inclinations: overcome evil with good. The world’s philosophy is the opposite to God’s; it leads people to treat others as they have been treated. However, to treat other with love when they are expecting something else can sometimes warm the coldest heart!

The foundation of living as sacrifices is that God is ultimately in control of our lives:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

If that can be our attitude, then we learning to leave outcomes in God’s hands should be our goal. Learning to let the Holy Spirit control our behavior, especially during times of contention, allows Him to work not only in our lives but also in the lives of others and He will bring about God’s desired result.

3. Brotherly love in action, Romans 14:1—10

Martin Luther once observed:

A Christian in a most free lord of all, subject to none. a Christian is a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

In Romans 14, Paul continues talking about living sacrificially in a most practical manner. Apparently thee was a problem in Rome between Gentile and Jewish converts over the matter of food and holy days.

a. Convictions regarding diet, vs. 1—3

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

This group of verses concerns believers behavior among themselves, not relationships between believers and unbelievers. The real secret behind Paul’s admonition in verse 1 is a simple one: focus on who, not what. When believers get together and their focus wanders away from the center of their faith, Jesus Christ, and settles on peripheral matters, then pretty soon disunity appears. E. Stanley Jones put it succinctly:

Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about who you believe and you have unity.

The church in Rome had been around long enough to have some minor problems that were threatening to become major problems. Differences of opinion about what believers should eat and what they shouldn’t eat were pretty common in this era and, as we all know, people love to give their opinions and defend their opinions. Paul describes the believer who was obsessed with diet as “one whose faith is weak” because that person’s faith isn’t strong enough to perceive the extent of the freedom he has in Christ. He thoughts, attitudes, and behavior are still governed by somebody else’s rules and regulations. This kind of believer may be doctrinally sound but full of doubt when it comes what he should have for lunch or whether or not he should wear man-made fabric. The advice to stronger, more mature believers is to “accept” this weak believer. This means that strong believers are not to judge the weaker ones, but to wholeheartedly fellowship with them and do nothing to make them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.

The issues that the Roman church were encountering were non-essentials and therefore not worth fighting over. Issues not involving Biblical doctrines or theology can often, though not always, be deemed “non-essential.” Oddly enough, these inconsequential things, like what to eat, for example, are things that cause the most problems in a church and lead to disunity. This should never be allowed to happen in a local church because unity among believers is how the world knows that Jesus is our Lord and unity among Christians is an attribute that draws unbelievers to Christ.

This was a real “hot button” issue with Paul; one that he fought against his whole ministry. Here was a man gloriously set free from the shackles of legalism, and Paul wanted all believers to experience the freedom he himself experienced in Christ. So convinced was Paul of this, he once had a rough encounter with Peter over it:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. (Galatians 2:11)

So sometimes even great church leaders, like Peter for instance, who may be full of wisdom and spot-on when it comes theology and doctrine, can be completely out in left field when it comes to matters of inconsequence.

b. Holy days, vs. 4—6

What was true of food was also true of holy feast days. Jewish converts still believed in their special days and thought it was important to observe them even though they had become Christians.

Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

The principle is the same. The church may be full of weak, immature believers, yet genuinely living their faith, but the only person Paul chastises is the one who would look down on or condemn that other person who holds a different view than his own.

c. Be dedicated to the Lord, vs. 7—10

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.

The issue of whether or not believers in Rome should eat certain foods or abstain from them seems like one of those mundane issues that can be quickly settled over a cup of coffee. But in this group of verses, as John Stott noted, Paul “lifts up the very mundane question of our mutual relationships in the Christian community to the high theological level of the death, resurrection, and consequent universal lordship of Jesus.”

So, in fact, these mundane issues are very important to the extent that they have the potential of ripping apart a church. If Christ is going to judge every person some day, why should Christians be doing it now?

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. (vs. 10)

It’s God’s job to judge, not ours. Paul’s observation in verse 7, “none of us lives for ourselves alone” is often thought of in the same sense as John Donne’s famous statement, “No man is an island.” However, that is not what Paul is teaching here. Paul’s point is not a sociological one but a deeply theological one. All Christians live out their lives accountable to God. Decisions about food or holy days should never be made apart from a desire to be faithful to God’s will.

The “weak” or immature Christian needs to stop passing judgment on the other believer who does not share his convictions about disputable matters and the “strong” or mature Christian must stop looking down on his brother who may be clinging to them. Both mature and immature believers will stand before God to give account of how they lived their lives, so let God do the judging.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


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: 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: 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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