Copyright © 2012, John.W. (Jack) Carter
As a person grows from childhood to adulthood he/she learns to be established in the society to which he/she is a member. This means taking on responsibilities and commitments. When adults fail in their responsibilities and commitments, that individual and those in fellowship with him/her tend to experience some form of suffering. What are some of the commitments that adults take on in modern society? One might first think of financial commitments that take the form of mortgages on houses and cars. One might think of a commitment to an employer to show up for work on each required day and perform the duties for which one is paid. One might think of commitments to other people such as a family or spouse. Finally, one might think of one's commitment to God. These four areas of commitment have been placed in a significant order, for when one makes a casual observation, it seems that people's demonstrated commitment to those "authorities" around them seem to be in the order of: (1) financial debts, (2) employers, (3) family, and (4) God.
Any time our sequence of priorities is forced out of the order that makes us comfortable, we experience no little stress. If that disorder takes place over an extended period, the long-term effect can take a toll on one’s health and the health of their relationships.
One can determine the order of these priorities by simply comparing one’s response to a crisis in sets of two areas, and observe which of the two would be given priority.
For example, consider this crisis: You have arranged a special occasion with your spouse on your anniversary and your employer asks you to work some overtime that conflicts with those plans. Do you tell your spouse that you have to work, or do you tell your employer that you have other plans?
For example, consider the following crisis: a mortgage payment is due, and you have not given your monthly tithe. Which priority are you going to honor with your checkbook? Assuming you pay your mortgage, are you then going to forget the tithe? If so, your debts have more priority in your life than your commitment to the tithe.
Of course, the determination of priorities is not illustrated by any single decision, but rather by the pattern of decisions in your life. We make appropriate and wise exceptions to our priority order many times when special circumstances arise.
However, it does not require a significant amount of analysis to recognize that the casual and natural order of these four commitments in importance might be entirely the reverse of that which would be normal for one who has placed their complete trust in God.
Casual observation is also sufficient to recognize that among these four areas of commitment, God certainly ranks lowest in our society. Much of society rejects God entirely. Most of those who do not summarily reject God will acknowledge that He exists, and may be even thankful for that truth, but their lives are not impacted in any significant way by that knowledge. We can search across our society for those who have faith in God, and upon finding them we will discover that a small portion of those actually allow God to make some difference in their lives by being an active member of a Christian fellowship. When we observe the part of our society that are members of churches, we find that most of those churches serve the desires of those on the periphery of faith, and profess a doctrine that requires very little commitment from their members. Often their teaching is so liberal as to fatally compromise the truths of the faith, resulting in the church serving as a social club with a Christian theme. Our search for the committed Christian has now been reduced to a small subset of those who call themselves Christians. You will find many of these people to be members of a local Christian fellowship, often one that is evangelical in its ministries. However, on any given day of worship you will find only about 25% of their members are consistent in attendance. Of those in attendance, 20% do 80% of the ministry work and provide 80% of the support needed for ministry. Only a tiny fraction of our society is actually committed to God.
One would probably quickly agree that our society is far from the center of God's will. However, how far from His will is the church? Why is there such a lack of commitment to God evident even within the membership of the church? As you look at your own life, do you find that your commitment to God, your desire to be obedient to God and do His will, to be consistent and true? Of course, addressing this issue in the venue of a Bible study may be tantamount to "preaching to the choir," because few people would take the time to engage in a Bible study who are not already exhibiting a far greater than average level of commitment to God in their lives. For that, God has promised to bless you.
However, as you look at the commitments that you have made in your life, are they prioritized in the order that would be consistent with God’s will for you? Are you over-committed in one or more areas of your life to the detriment of others? When our priorities get out of order, conflict arises and we miss the blessings that God has for us, and replace them with curses of our own making.
For example. In my own life, my priorities are (1) God, (2) Family, (3) Church, (4) Work. A few years ago I was engaged in a project at my place of employment where the amount of time that was committed to the task was escalated significantly. Working 80 hour weeks, and working at times usually reserved for church attendance created a significant amount of stress in my own life and in those around me. My family, who was accustomed to my presence, was frustrated by the time dedicated to work at a time when my children needed me there the most. Even the church was impacted when I had to drop out of areas of ministry, necessitating my replacement by someone else. It was a difficult time, and I remained with my employer only because of the knowledge that this over-commitment was only for a season. What caused the stress? The work situation was elevated to a position of importance over church and family.
Every day people live in stress and a life that is cursed by disordered priorities. It might certainly be profitable to be reminded of what the proper order of priorities are in our lives and seek to adjust our commitments to fit that model. When we do so, we will be in a position to be successful in all of those areas.
Mat. 6:33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
God is the sole authority behind the setting of such priorities, so He must come first. When we first seek God's purpose and will in the things we do, we will find our priorities aligned with his will for our lives, and place ourselves in a position to be blessed.
As the children of Israel were about to enter the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, they also needed a reminder of the necessity of maintaining properly ordered priorities, and instruction in what those priorities must be. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses presents an in-depth commentary on the Ten Commandments, illustrating through example and through the establishment of law, what God's purpose is in those commandments and how people can interpret and follow them. He then illustrates the importance of commitment to God's covenant with mankind by describing the blessings that come from obedience, and the profound curse that comes from rejecting God. At then end of the book, Moses gives an invitation to commitment. Israel would take this step of commitment prior to taking a step over the Jordan river.
Deuteronomy 29:10-13. Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, 11Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: 12That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day: 13That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Moses is speaking to the "church" of 1200 B.C. His message is particularly pointed at the captains of the tribes, those elders that are now the patriarchs, the direct descendents of the twelve sons of Jacob. It was now time for God's promise to Abraham to be fulfilled: that (1) through Abraham, God would form a mighty nation, and (2) that God would provide for them a land, and (3) these would be His people, and finally (4) through that nation the world would be blessed. One would think that, awaiting such a promise, the people of Israel would have been predisposed to love God and seek His will. It is often hard to understand how a people so chosen and so blessed, could have demonstrated such distain for God. However, consider Moses' words just prior to his invitation:
Deuteronomy 29:1-4. These are the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb. 2And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; 3The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles: 4Yet the LORD hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.
The miracles of God that these people witnessed seem to us to be so powerful and graphic that is seems unreasonable that, when subjected to such a revelation of God, one cannot be utterly changed. However, we must consider for a moment what God's ultimate plan is, and how it is revealed in the lives of these Israelites. When God created us in His image, he designed us with a capacity for spiritual growth and a necessity for fellowship with Him. The power for that growth comes only from the Holy Spirit, that person of God through which God does all of His work. Without the Holy Spirit, we do not have the resource to properly understand God's work in our lives. Without the Holy Spirit it is impossible for us to take part in God's redemptive plan.
Without the Holy Spirit we tend, as people, to interpret the work of God as a magnificent, natural, phenomena, something that does not really have any significant personal meaning or application. And with repetition, magnificence fades, and becomes old-news, relegated to the passé.
Deuteronomy 29:5. And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot.
As the people wandered in the wilderness, they followed the unexplainable pillar of fire, the Shekinah Glory of God. They saw it glowing over the tent of meeting ever since it appeared at the Exodus from Egypt. This pillar of fire would remain over the tabernacle for another 800 years until Judah would be taken into captivity as recorded in the prophesy of Ezekiel. Many do not realize that there were many long-tem miracles witnessed by the Jews. For example, during two generations of living in the desert, their clothes and shoes never wore out.
Deuteronomy 29:6. Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the LORD your God.
Not only did God completely provide for their clothing needs, he provided their food. Through the manna, quail, water, and other provisions of God, the nation, that could have been as large as a couple of million, were able to survive in the barren wilderness. God clearly showed the people that He has the ability to provide for their every need. They had seen that God is the One True God, and there is no need for them to seek any mythical gods elsewhere. The people had also, because of the content of the desert provisions been abstinent from "wine and strong drink." In the revealed law that Moses would lay down, it was necessary for one who wished to enter into a vow with the Lord to have abstained from wine and strong drink. Such was the vow of the Nazirite, a Jew who would go through a process of self-sacrifice to establish a high level of commitment to God. Each member of the Israelite community was in a position to take upon themselves the Nazirite vow, should they choose to do so.
Deuteronomy 29:7-8. And when ye came unto this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us unto battle, and we smote them: 8And we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance unto the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh.
Finally, through Moses' "sermon" God shows how he has provided for their security. Already, prior to entering the promised land, the Jews had encountered some of the Canaanite tribes, the descendants of Ishmael and Esau whom God would judge for their disobedience. God commanded Joshua to destroy all of the Canaanites after they crossed the Jordan. As a demonstration of God's provision, they did not approach the mission without already having seen God's provision in this area of security. As they moved toward the Jordan river they encountered the armies of Heshbon and Bashan. God delivered their armies into the hands of the Jews in a clearly miraculous manner. Furthermore, two of the twelve tribes of Israel chose to take this land for their promised inheritance, Reuben and Gad.
Deuteronomy 29:9. Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.
The people had all the evidence they needed to keep the covenant with God, based upon sight, faith notwithstanding. God's plan of salvation has always been that people would turn to Him in faith. Modern society is, of course, far ahead of the ancients in technology and our understanding of the properties of this physical universe. We, above, all, should have a greater appreciation for what God has done, and yet we will often attribute the miracle of this creation, and the miracle of this universe to some theory that omits God from the process altogether. The spiritual state of mankind remains unchanged. Can one find peace with God without first exercising the step of faith in Him?
Hebrews 11:6. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Our commitment to God is not some arbitrary choice that we make along with others in life. It is the defining choice that we make that establishes our eternal state under God. God went to great lengths to show, through the lives of the Jews, that even when we can see God for who He is, without faith, we will still turn away from Him. It is necessary that we take the time to actually make a commitment to God. It is after we have made this commitment, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that we will find our lives eternally changed.
Deuteronomy 30:11-14. For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. 12It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? 14But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
God's purpose for us is not unattainable, but is actually rather simple to initially find. It is necessary for us to use a self-willed rationalization to argue that we cannot find God’s will for us. The gospel is gentle and simple in its establishment, yet powerful and eternal in its ultimate end. The gospel is easy enough to understand that a small child can make a true commitment to God. It is not the complexity of the gospel that keeps people from making the commitment to Him that He requires, but rather the pride and self-centeredness of an individual who chooses to reject God. God simply requires us to place our faith and trust in Him.
Though the commitment to God is simple, it is not optional. We see here that this call to commitment is referred to as a "commandment" of God. There is only one way to salvation, and that is through faith in God. To those who were listening to Moses, that commandment included the acceptance of the authority of all of the words of the law, as it would serve to expose their unrighteousness. The fulfillment of the Gospel came through Jesus Christ because of one simple fact: no person can keep the law. The law exposes the sin that is in us all, a sin that we have no power to overcome on our own. God provided that forgiveness through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, death and separation from God, that we deserve. Now, when we place our faith and trust in God through the saving work of Jesus Christ, we can be saved. We are then free of the condemnation of the law. Furthermore, God has sealed that promise of forgiveness through the permanent presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of each person who has turned to God in faith. Unlike the Jews who wandered in the wilderness blinded to the work of the Holy Spirit, those who have made a commitment to God through Jesus Christ find that they are no longer blinded to the work of God in their lives.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: 20That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
Record this day against you. One might understand this statement more as an accounting or reconciliation rather than a negative statement of condemnation, that may be implied by the English word, “against.” Having presented the truth to those who have heard it, the people are now responsible for their own choices as they respond to what they have heard. People who take lightly their commitment before a Holy God simply do not understand the gravity and folly of their choice. Choosing obedience to God is an infinitely more important decision than any other that we make in life because …
I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. We are accustomed to making choices of where our commitments will be placed. A restaurant waiter sets before us a menu from which we select a commitment of which meal to pay the price for. When traveling, we choose the sequence of roads, making commitments at every turn. We make many menu choices in life, but few have an eternal impact upon us. Choosing between God and this world is to choose between eternal blessing and eternal cursing. Treating such a decision lightly can only be described as foolish. Why would people so easily believe the false messages of the evil one who directs this godless world when the consequences of their godlessness is so grave?
Choose life, that thou and thy seed may live. The decision for eternal life is very personal, as it results in a close and blessed eternal relationship with Jesus. However, the decision also affects untold hundreds of others as your faith is passed down to your children and your children’s children. A true and abiding faith is one that is obedient to God’s Word, and one who is obedient is bound by that obedience to teach God’s Word, demonstrate God’s Word, and impart God’s Word on their children. One of the greatest blessings of this life is watching your children follow in your faith footsteps as they build a godly home and teach their own children to love God. The alternative is a needless heartbreak that will affect the generations to come as they will need to find God through a source other than their own family. We seldom think that we will have hundreds and thousands of ancestors who are impacted by our Christian character. Your casual commitment to God can curse thousands who follow you.
That thou mayest love the LORD thy God. Establishing a love relationship with God is a privilege that is available to us only because of God’s unconditional agape love for us, a love that is characterized by His grace and mercy. Moses recognizes that this relationship is with the God of creation, as he uses the covenant name for God, LORD. This is the LORD, YAHWEH, Jehovah. We understand that this same name of LORD refers to the Messiah, Jesus, Christ, reminding us that salvation has always come from faith in Jesus, whether we know His name as Messiah, or YAHWEH. Jesus is LORD, and the privilege that we have of a love relationship with God, is the love relationship with Jesus. This relationship comes only from placing our complete faith in Him as our Savior and LORD.
And thou mayest obey His voice. One cannot obey a voice they cannot hear. Even many who claim the Christian faith, claim membership with a church, but deny any real relationship with Jesus. These may attend fellowship meetings and even serve as church leaders, yet are only interacting with the faith through their social connections with the church. Having no true relationship with God, they have no interest in listening to His voice, or following Him in obedience. Just as loving God is a privilege, obeying God is also a privilege that is not to be taken lightly. Nothing is gained by disobedience except the powerless, fruitless, and temporary things of this world. Everything is gained when we submit fully to God and obey Him as we give to Him what is already his: our hearts and our lives.
And thou mayest cleave unto Him. Are you cleaving to the LORD or are you cleaving to the world? To cleave means to join together in an intimate relationship, each contributing a part of themselves to the unity of the whole. We see an example of cleaving in marriage when the process of “leaving and cleaving” is characterized by leaving other relationships such as that with friends and family, and cleaving to one another in marriage. The priority of the marriage relationship takes precedence over all other human relationships. This same “leaving and cleaving” takes place when we give our heart to God. The priority of our relationship with God takes priority over all other relationships. To cleave to any other is to miss the blessing, and bring upon one’s self all manner of worldly chaos.
For He is thy life and the length of thy days. We settle for a poor substitute when we define our lives by the things of this world. Most of us, when called upon to characterize our life will define it in terms of the nature of our employment, or the makeup of our family. Few will testify that their life is defined by their relationship with God. It is easier to say and think, “I am a teacher,” or “I am a farmer,” or “I am a grandfather” than it is to testify, “I am a Christian.” However, if your commitment to the LORD is complete, there is no other answer when the character of your life is brought to question. Furthermore, God is not LORD for just an hour or two on a Sunday morning, He is LORD all day, every day, for the days of your life. The implication given by the Hebrew grammar is that of a long life given to the faithful. This is understandable insofar as our understanding of the opposite: the consequences of sin can certainly shorten one’s days as one’s health suffers from sinful choices. One’s days are lengthened when those consequences are not brought to bear in one’s life. God is your life, and obedience to Him forms the context of a Spirit-filled life when one takes on the mind of Christ and a heart that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God and love people.
This message of invitation by Moses comes after a long list of blessings that come to those who choose to place their faith in God, and a longer list of curses that come to those who do not. The ultimate curse for those who never turn to God in faith is eternal separation from Him. Much of our society things that heaven comes to those who do more good than bad. The scripture teaches that no man is good. Any man who rejects the command of God to turn to Him in faith is doomed to hell without regard to the quality of their deeds. God calls us all to choose life.
Many Christians who have made that commitment to the Lord have tasted the benefits of a life that is empowered by the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. However, the old way of life still has a way of drawing us away form that which we know is honorable to God. Like the frog in the warming pot, we might be embroiled in circumstances that are continually causing us to upset our priorities, and we are finding our lives immersed in conflict. As we look at these scriptures that call for us to make a commitment to God, let us look at where we are in our experience with God and provide an honest assessment of our priorities. Where do we identify such priorities? Certainly we can look at where we spend our time and resources and identify if those expenditures are a testimony to our faith or a witness to our disobedience. If it is the latter, let us pray to the Lord, repent of our sin by making a commitment to reestablish proper priorities, committing all that we have and all that we are to God.