Love the LORD Your God
Living faithfully in this predominantly pagan and secular world can be a real challenge when Christians are immersed in its perversity. That which is normal and standard for this lost world is quite at odds with the standard of scripture. Consequently, Christians find themselves walking a line between the expectations of this world and the expectations of their LORD. This defines the struggle that has been faced by those who seek the LORD from the time of the creation of man. It is very easy to get caught up in the events and circumstances that define this secular world without realizing their direct conflict with the nature of a spirit-filled life. A couple of obvious examples include Mardi Gras that celebrates sin and drunkenness in one big “fling” prior to lent, and Halloween that celebrates all things satanic.
These are only two of the pagan and anti-Christian celebrations that tend to draw Christians to participate. The early church was drawn by far more secular and pagan lures than we experience today. It was doubly difficult for early Christians to sort out the cacophony of voices that would vie for authority.
The Holy Scriptures provide us with guidance as we learn to focus our lives on the one and only appropriate and supreme authority in our lives, the LORD. How do we do this? How do we silence the voices that would turn us away from the LORD? Perhaps the most significant and applicable lesson to help us maintain our focus on the One True LORD is found in Deuteronomy, chapter 6. Jesus quoted from this passage when approached by a scribe and asked which was the most important commandment.
Mark 12:28. And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
This may be one of the most important lessons taught within the pages of scripture. If it is fully learned by us, and we respond in obedience to it, our lives will be vastly changed. What kind of changes might you expect if you live such a life? What would happen in your life if, prior to every decision you make, you first consider your love for God and make your decision within that context? Our soul, mind, and strength together define and determine all of our actions. Consequently, we can demonstrate that type of love for God through all of our actions. It is not impossible to love God in this way. It just requires the affirmed decision to do so and a concerted and prayer-led effort to stay focused on the purpose. It is in Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 that God presents this lesson to the Hebrews. It is this lesson we will continue to study.
Deuteronomy 6:1-2. Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that you might do them in the land whither you go to possess it: 2That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.
These words of instruction were given to the nation of Israel by Moses immediately before their entrance into the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership. The omniscient LORD knew of the secular and pagan temptations that Israel would find once they crossed into the land of the Canaanites, temptations that are quite similar to those found in our secular and pagan world today.
God did not create us a set us loose in this quagmire of sin without clearly giving us the resource to rise above it. There is no need for people of faith to be swept up in the sinful lifestyle of this world. God has given us the power and direction to avoid all manner of sinful lifestyles whether they include alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual perversion, or any other of the destructive behaviors of this world. God has promised the opposite life for those who are obedient to Him. This passage in Deuteronomy starts with that promise that if the faithful would keep His commandments, one’s days might be filled.
The English words used for “days may be prolonged,” give us an impression that obedience to God is a guarantee of a long life as measured by the calendar. Actually, the Hebrew words have a broader context. The word translated “day”, “yohm” simply refers to time. One could accurately substitute any measurement of time such as years, months, or even minutes or moments. The idea is not that obedience gives us more minutes. The idea is that obedience fulfills our minutes. Consider Jesus’ instruction to the disciples:
John 10:10. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Of course, one can appropriately argue that one’s numbered days on this earth can be cut short by the consequences of sinful living, and we see evidence of this every day by those who suffer and die from destructive life-style choices.
The promise we find in Deuteronomy is to "live long in the land," not simply "live long." The land of the promise is the key here. God promises that He will maintain us in the place that he has appointed for us, whether in the Old Testament it was the promised land, or for all believers it is in the presence of God. In all cases, the land of the promise is that place that is in God's abiding presence. To break these commandments and fail to love God always results in broken fellowship with Him, and results in our separation from Him, whether it be the consequence of broken fellowship that is found when the faithful fall into sin, or the consequence of eternal separation that is found by those who reject Him. The full life that God describes is that life that we live when we are securely and knowingly in His presence.
Deuteronomy 6:3. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that you may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
In what ways will life go well for us as we live in obedience to God, loving Him and others as we have been commanded? The blessing here is consistent with the previous verse. It is God's purposed desire that we thrive in His presence. God would want us to have the proper relationship with Him so that we can experience the full and abundant life that He has promised us. Like a loving father who teaches his children, God does not leave us on our own to figure out how to please Him: He gives us simple and complete instructions. If we will listen to God's Word we will see how to receive the promised blessing. The very practical lesson starts in verse 4.
Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
The first word, Hear, is the Hebrew word, Shema. Verses 4-9 are, as a unit, referred to as the Shema, and became the Hebrew confession of faith. It was, and still is, often repeated before each celebration of worship, and before prayers. One would think that with these verses repeated this often, the people would learn what is meant by those words. Instead, many people interpreted them so literally that they completely missed the message and the purpose behind it.
When you think of Israel, do you think of people who demonstrate love to their God and to their neighbors? In fact, because of their literal interpretation of the words of the Shema, the Jews thought they were keeping the commandment while at the same time they turned from God and hated their neighbors. This is where the message was grossly missed.
This lesson starts with the statement that The Lord our God, the Lord is one, or literally, Yahweh our God - one Yahweh. Why was this lesson so important for the Hebrews? The concept of a single God being the only God was new in ancient culture. People attributed to man-created gods anything that they could not explain any other way, so the culture of the time included a pantheon of varieties of different man-made gods. God's message here is simple: there is only one God, and the God who is speaking these words is Him. There are no other Gods, man-made or otherwise.
Some people have misinterpreted this scripture to deny the deity of Jesus or deny the deity of the Holy Spirit. To do so is a rational attempt to separate Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father into separate Gods. Yahweh, Lord, and Jehovah are all Hebrew, English, and Greek forms of the same name, representing the one True God who has revealed Himself to mankind through the Father, the Son, and through the Holy Spirit. This verse is not a denial of the Holy Trinity, but is in fact a defense of it.
Even Christians today misunderstand the concept of One LORD. Some say, “I pray to Jesus,” while others say, “I pray to God,” or “I pray to the Father,” and some pray to the “Holy Spirit,” and in these testimonies think that they are praying to different deities. There is only One God, and He is LORD. Consequently, whether we are focused on God, or on any of the persons through which He reveals Himself, we are still focused on God. Our prayers to Jesus, our prayers to the Father, our Prayers to the Holy Spirit, are all prayers to God.
However, the issue that vexes the faithful today is not the focus of our prayers within the Trinity, but to whom or what we give authority. When the faithful start to give authority to the other gods of this world, they deny the One LORD of this passage. It is when we give authority that belongs to God to other things of this world we come into conflict as our choices start to turn away from God’s purpose in our lives.
How do we live a life that is focused on the One LORD who deserves all of our worship and obedience? Actually the answer is amazingly simple:
Deuteronomy 6:5. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
This is the foundation of the Word of God. As the Hebrews used the words “heart,” “soul,” and “strength,” they were referring to a list that includes everything that makes up human nature. When this phrase is quoted in the New Testament, the Greek word agape is used for the English word love. What is the source of agape? There is only one source of true, unconditional, agape love: God Himself, as empowered through the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to love God apart from the Holy Spirit.
Before salvation I could not understand how it would be possible to love God totally. There were other priorities in life, and it seemed that to maintain God on top of all of them would be impossible on our own. I never knew how correct I was. However, after learning of and knowing God, I found that it is not only possible, but God gives us the ability to do it through His Holy Spirit. Loving God with all that we are is not a suggestion. It is an inviolable command. What can we expect if we obey this command?
Deuteronomy 6:6. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
What is the difference between these commandments being on our hearts as opposed to being in our minds, hands, or books? This one command is probably the one most often missed by religion today. People are taught head knowledge and manual works instead of heart knowledge and works motivated by true love for God. God intends upon us to know what it is to love Him and to express that love for Him out of our own heart-felt desire to do so. God wants our love by our own choice, not as puppets who receive their commands from strings. God desires that it is the heart-strings that He pull; heart-strings that are of our own making and choice.
It is a simple matter to harden our own hearts and disregard the Holy Spirit's pull on our lives. When we do this we will draw away from God, and away from the full and fulfilled life that he has promised. To keep our heart open to God requires diligent effort through prayer and Bible study. We meet together in worship and fellowship to encourage one another to maintain that diligence. Loving God involves thinking sincerely about God in all of the things we do with the intent of uncompromised obedience. The next verse is a continuation of the current sentence that gives some instruction on how we can keep that avenue of communication with God open.
Deuteronomy 6:7. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
This verse provides five ways that we can keep our hearts and minds open to God's commands.
(1) Teach them to your children. Why must this be so? What will happen if we do not teach the Word of God to our children? If our children do not learn the issues of faith, it will be lost in one generation. We will also see our children in a context that is not in obedience to God, and will not provide for them the necessary training in righteousness that they need to also experience the full and abundant life that God promises. Parents will not deny that it is their responsibility to provide for the basic needs of their children, and our culture has no problem addressing those needs as food, shelter, and clothing. Parents will at least also include in the list of basic needs that of their love. However, many parents deny their children the spiritual training that is commanded in scripture. It is no wonder that we have seen such a moral and spiritual decline in the last fifty years.
There is a phenomenon taking place today that deserves attention. There is a vitalization of Christianity taking place in China. “In Sichuan Province, more than 90,000 people became Christians in a recent four-month period. More than 40,000 became Christians in one month…” During a recent trip to China I found a general testimony from the young people that the Buddhist tradition of their grandparents had little relevance for them. The traditions are not being handed down from the parents to the children, and the young people are searching for relevance, finding it in the truth of the Gospel. At the same time, the Christian church today is suffering from the same malaise, with young people leaving the church in search for something more relevant. The church has substituted religion and tradition for the genuine love-based gospel and young people are searching for it elsewhere.
This passage gives us clear and simple instruction on how to restore and maintain relevance in the faith. God’s instruction is that parents who love God with all their heart, soul, and strength would teach this love for God, demonstrated by their own obedience to Him, to their children. When the children see true faith and hear from their parents its foundational importance to them, it becomes important to their children. While I see families separated by the doors of the church on a Sunday morning, I also see other families who have propagated that faith to all of their children, families that are a testimony to God’s grace.
The first instruction by the LORD is for parents to teach their children. This responsibility is not to be given to a church Sunday School. The teaching must start at home. When parents minimize its importance in their own lives, they teach this to children who will also minimize its importance. The responsibility for the spiritual nurture of children starts with parents, and with parents who truly and without compromise, love the LORD.
(2) Talk of them when you sit at home. God's Word should be an integral part of our home life. How can we make it so? As we do this we will be sharing God's Word with our families. Talking about spiritual matters should be a common and easy component of the communication that takes place within the home. Prayer can be spoken frequently without pretentiousness. As the family sits around the home discussing the matters of the day, there is no reason why spiritual issues cannot also be addressed in an edifying manner. The home can be a sanctuary of faith where matters of faith are continually on the lips of all family members, starting with the parents.
(3) And when you walk along the road. When we are on the road we travel and meet strangers. Faithfulness is demonstrated by sharing God's Word with the strangers we meet along the way, not by command, but simply because of the faith nature that loving God produces. This might be expressed in simply being a loving Christian to those who are met along the way, and love for God opens opportunities for demonstration of that love. Sometimes opportunities for sharing spiritual issues will arise, and after taking advantage of those opportunities a few times, the fear of doing so ebbs, and the blessing that comes from it encourages one to continue to do so.
(4) When you lie down. This can also be translated when we are at leisure. God should be an integral part of our rest and leisure. If we do this we will be sharing God's Word with our friends. Often it is at times of leisure that it is easiest for us to put God in a hidden place and present ourselves to others as if He is not important to us. In our leisure we might take part in activities that are really not appropriate for a person of faith, hoping that those who know us from within the faith community will not see us. Our language might become more coarse as we try to fit in with that different crowd. We are to take the Word of God with us everywhere, and that includes our times of rest, relaxation, and leisure. We do not get away from God to obtain rest. We find our rest in Him.
(5) When you get up. Certainly, an affirmed love of God that takes place first thing in the morning is the best way to start off a day. Each day can start with prayer and meditation of God's purposes in the activities of the day to come. This phrase can also be translated when we are at work. If we do this we will be sharing God's Word with our co-workers.
If we are obedient to this command, when will we be sharing God's Love? We will be seeking obedience to God in all of our activities throughout the waking day. This is what it means to love God with all of your heart, mind, and strength.
Deuteronomy 6:8-9. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
First, what does the word "them" refer to? These are the commandments of God: His Word described in many of the scriptures. The Hebrews did not understand the context of these verses, and understood the commands only in terms of a head knowledge, following the literal words rather than their meaning. The result was the creation of Phylacteries. First a small box was strapped to the back of the hand and another strapped to the forehead. In these boxes was placed a copy of the Shema, this passage of scripture. When the arms were placed across the chest, the phylactery on the hand was over their heart. They believed that in doing this they were being obedient to the command. By doing this they have, indeed, bound God's word to their hands and foreheads. By doing this, the command is obeyed and can be otherwise ignored. Orthodox Jews still practice the use of Phylacteries.
Likewise, as you enter most Jewish homes, you will often find a small box placed within the door jamb of the house entrance. In this box is another copy of the Shema. This box, called a Mezuzah, would be saluted or touched each time upon entry into the home. Again, the Jews believed that by doing this they were obedient to the command as they put God's word on their doorpost. By doing this, again, the command is obeyed, and can otherwise be ignored.
In following these traditions, those who ascribe to them have completely missed the message of these verses, and as a result have created for themselves a license to disobey those very commands. The hands of verse 8 refer to those things we do: the works we accomplish. Not only are we to talk about the Word of God everywhere we go, it is to be the basis for everything we do. Something bound to your forehead is before you, and well in view, everywhere we go. We are to look at the world as God does, within the context of His Word. Our "world view" must be seen through spiritual eyes. A life that is lived by one who truly loves the LORD will show that love in the things they do (their hands) and in the way they see the world around them (their foreheads).
Finally, the mezuzah. The Word of God should be clearly evident in our homes. Certainly the placement of religious objects in the home illustrates our support of their meaning, but this verse refers to much more. Simply placing verses on our walls has little more value than the mezuzah. The Word of God should be clearly evident in our home to those who live there and to those who visit. Such evidence can certainly be physical as we put graphic images and verses on our doors and walls. However, the Word of God is not just physical, but also spiritual, and true evidence of faith in the home is also not just physical, but spiritual. When someone enters our home, it should be obvious that this is a home of faith by the way God's Word is played out in the relationships of those within it. God's love should be evident within the family and towards those who visit the home.
This example is an excellent illustration of the dangers of legalism. By legalistically adhering to a tradition, the purpose for the tradition is ignored, and God's purpose is not fulfilled. At the same time, those practicing the legalistic acts are fully convinced that they have fulfilled that purpose. For this reason it is very difficult to open the spiritual eyes of people who are caught up in legalistic practices.
Deuteronomy 6:10-11. And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, 11And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full;
What is the purpose for these decrees and commands that were stated by Moses? It is so that the people of Israel will fear and love the Lord. What is meant by the word "Fear?" One might consider this type of fear the proper reverence for the One Awesome God. Those who are faithful to God have no reason to fear God as they would fear any approaching danger. However, those who live a lifestyle that rejects God have much to fear. What reward is promised for those who obey? Those who are faithful to God will live long in the land of the promise. Certainly the identity of that land is up to interpretation. To the Jews it referred to the literal and legalistic promised land, recalling that their culture thought of gods as being resident of finite areas of property. However, the promised land of the faithful is anywhere that God is present, whether it be in this life where we are guided and counseled by the Holy Spirit, or in heaven when we will know God face-to-face. God rewards us by providing for us, improving the quality of our life through His guidance, provision, and blessing.
Deuteronomy 6:12. Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
God has delivered all of us from bondage. Those who are faithful to God's call have accepted Him in faith, and are blessed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For the most part, they are without want, and generally at peace with themselves, the world, and with God. Certainly we have difficulties and struggles that God uses to shape and mature us, but that is the extent of it. In such comfort it is easy to turn from God and be satisfied with our circumstances. What are we to do? These scriptures have just given us the formula to do it.
First, return to God the Love he has given to us by making Him LORD of all of our being. Give to Him your mind, will, emotions, and strength. Give Him your all.
Second, return to God the Love he has given us by sharing it with all people. Give all people the love and respect that God intends. There is no room for pride, prejudice, or selfishness when God’s love is shared.
Third, make God's Word such a part of our lives that it seasons all of our words and actions as they are shared with our families, friends, co-workers, and the strangers we meet along the road.
Fourth, make God's Word the motivation behind all that we do.
Fifth, view all of the cosmos through the eyes of God, rather than our own. See people as God sees them. See the environment as God sees it.
Sixth, remember Him. This should be the simplest of all, if we are obedient to the first five. Keeping Him continually in remembrance will, however, keep us on track when we derail on one of those five.
Never forget that God is the LORD of all. That includes all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do in every waking hour. If God is not Lord of All, He is not Lord at All.
When God is truly LORD of all of our lives, we have discovered the key to avoiding the traps of this world’s sin as the attractiveness of this world fades in the light of God’s glory and grace
 Rogers, Jay, & Eds. (April 2008) The Mandate, News from China’s Church, 2(2). http://www.forerunner.com/mandate/X0025_Church_News_from_Chi.html
 Romans 8:28-29.