Deuteronomy 6: Love the LORD - 24th May 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Deuteronomy 6

Click here to listen to the talk

I’m not surprised that fewer and fewer people are getting married in Britain these days. A recent survey of trends in marriage suggested that of today’s 20 year olds, less than half will ever marry. It’s not that the others will always stay single; they will form relationships, but they won’t marry. I’m not in the least surprised by that, are you? Because marriage is so deeply counter cultural.

It’s counter cultural because it tries to join together things that we in our culture like to separate; particularly love and binding promises. In 20th and 21st century Britain we’ve got used to putting ‘love’ in one box, and ‘binding promises’ in a different box altogether. A bit like we put ‘romance’ and ‘reason’ in different boxes, or ‘head’ and ‘heart’. Love is a matter of the heart; it’s about feelings, and feelings change. It’s a tragedy when the feeling’s gone and you can’t go on, but what are you gonna do? Promises and especially contracts are not about heart; they’re all head. So we have that very 21st century phenomenon, the pre-nuptial agreement, where a couple make plans to protect their own property from each other in case they divorce. “You can have my hand in marriage baby but it’s only my hand. Just don’t touch my property, ok?” Before they even marry, they’re planning for divorce. Only head, no heart whatsoever. And so we’ve got used to seeing people who were once “head over heels in love,” breaking up. And divorce is seen as almost an inevitability, something you plan for. It’s no surprise, is it, that when young people see all this going on, they decide not to marry.

Christian marriage, of course, tries to join head and heart and even property together. When someone says “I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband. To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” and when they say “all I am I give to you and all I have I share with you” they are promising heart and head, body and soul, property and everything thrown in, aren’t they? For the rest of their lives. That’s pretty big. Christian marriage says “love is bigger than just heart. Real love encompasses all of life.”

Today the LORD says to us that only that sort of love, all encompassing love, is an appropriate response to him. Anything less, whether it’s just feelings, or just contractual obligations, will not do. Look at verse 4 again:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Pretty clear, isn’t it? Last week we were being reminded that the LORD and only the LORD is God. He is the one who has come near to, and spoken to, and saved his people. He has pledged his covenant love to his people and he’s acted on that love. Here’s the only right response to the only true God. “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”

Now to make it clearer what we’re talking about here, have a think about those words “heart” and “soul” and “strength”. You know, don’t you, that the English bible we read is translated from the Hebrew, yes? Well the Hebrew words here have meaning which isn’t quite carried by those words’ heart and soul and strength. Think of them like three concentric circles starting small and getting bigger. “Heart” is your inner being. Not just your feelings: your desires. Your drives. Your priorities. “Soul” is your whole being; everything you are. Mind, body, spirit, the whole lot. “Strength” or “might” as the song and some Bible versions have it, that’s the next circle out – not just all you are but everything at your disposal. All that you have and all that you have influence over. Everything that lies within your reach.

1. Covenant life is filled with love for God, from the inside out.

Can you see what the LORD was saying to his people Israel? Love the LORD, all the way through. Your inner being, all you are, all that’s at your disposal. Everything for him. And at this point, just in case you’re thinking “this is just an Old Testament thing” remember what Jesus says is the most important commandment. Can you remember? Mark 12 a man asks Jesus what is the most important commandment and he says… this. “Hear O Israel, the LORD your God, the Lord is one. Love the LORD your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind and all of your strength.” All sorts of things about our situation may be different to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, but this command remains the same.

It’s what Rick Warren calls, “life lived from the inside out.” Did you ever do chromatography at school? Where you put the drop of ink in the middle of the coffee filter paper and it spreads outwards? It’s that sort of thing, isn’t it? Love from the heart, extending outwards to all we are and have.

Listen to how a writer called Jason DeRouchie puts it:

“This truth means that every closet of our lives needs to be opened for cleaning, and every relationship in our lives must be influenced. This call to love God this way destroys any option of being one person at church and another person on a date. What you do on the internet needs to be just as pure as what you do in Bible-reading. The way we talk to our parents needs to be as wholesome as the way we talk to our pastors. There needs to be an authentic love for God that starts with God-oriented affections, desires, and thoughts, that permeates our speaking and behavior, and then influences the way we spend our money and how we dress, and drive, and our forms of entertainment.

“Whether we’re eating or singing, jogging or blogging, texting or drawing, love for Yahweh — the one true triune God — is to be in action and seen.”

Do you see the connection between heart, mind, body and actions? It’s everything, isn’t it? It’s not just bits of our life. Loving the LORD involves relational obedience. Affectionate commitment. Heartfelt loyalty. Now it’s worth our while just grasping this point, otherwise we’ll never understand Deuteronomy or any of God’s commands in the Bible or Christian discipleship full stop. Remember Jesus says this command summarises the law. If we don’t get the fact that God’s people have been saved for a life of loving the LORD then our Christian living will be a cold heartless box ticking exercise. We’ll have all the passion of a prenuptial agreement.

2. A life filled with God’s love is a life filled with God’s word.

It’s all about love all the way through. That’s why, actually, there are so many commands here. Because, well, look at what God says next, verse 6: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.” Like the wedding vows, where the promises connect the heart with the actions, so it is with the words that the Lord gives. Like we said last week, about letting God’s word bind your heart to the true God, not to a fake alternative, well it’s that here again isn’t it? If love for God needs to permeate all our living, well therefore so does the word of God. Verse 6 again: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  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.  8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  9 Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.”

Do you see how all of life that is? It’s everywhere isn’t it? Home and away, at the start and the end of each day and everything in between, written on your body and on your house, so that you are never away from God’s word. A life filled with the love of the LORD is a life filled with the word of the LORD.

Because, says the LORD to his people, the danger of forgetting him is always there. The enemy of loving the LORD is forgetting the LORD – see verse 10: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you--a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build,  11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant--then when you eat and are satisfied,  12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

Human hearts are astonishingly forgetful of the LORD. And as we said last week, human hearts are idol-factories. They will readily fasten themselves to fake alternatives instead of the true God. Money, sex, power, Allah, Krishna, family, career, we are so ready to lift up these things and make our lives revolve around them. To make them into counterfeit gods; idols.

That’s why the LORD gives them all these commands and tells them to fill their lives and their houses with them. To be a reminder. A bit like how it can be beneficial for a married couple to go to someone else’s wedding, just to hear those vows again. To be reminded. So that they don’t forget. So that their love for each other remains heartfelt and practical.

For God’s people, obeying the LORD is not an oppressive chore. The world around us won’t understand that, because for them obedience is oppressive. They don’t have the loving Lord that we have. But we need to see this. An early Christian Augustine said you could summarise God’s commands as “love God and do what you want.” He had a point. It’s true – all of the commands here are just spelling out what it is to love the LORD with all our heart and soul and strength. If we do love the LORD with all our heart and soul and strength then his commands will be exactly what we want to do.

But he’s given us these words because our hearts are wayward. We need to be reminded. We can’t trust our own judgment in this. We need to listen to the word of the LORD. Listen to what God says about his people in chapter 5 verse 29: “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children for ever!” He knows they’re going to forget. Do you ever feel something like that? “Oh when I’m here on a Sunday it’s all so clear, if only I could love the LORD when I’m out there, too. But I always seem to forget.”

That’s why Moses tells them to fill their lives with God’s word. Just look over those verses 6, 7, 8 & 9. Do you see? How is this working for you? Or how is it going to work for you? The word of the LORD being talked about in ordinary life, day to day, morning and night, bound to you so you’re never far from God’s word, written in places that you can see in your house, all so that the word will be on your heart. All so that you don’t forget. It’s going to make your life look pretty different, isn’t it? It’s going to make your home look pretty different. Of course it is. Because loving the LORD is not just for certain boxes in our lives. That’s how sin really flourishes, when we carve our lives into blocks and say “loving the LORD is about this bit over here, but not for those bits over there.” God’s word gets to the heart; God’s word connects feelings and actions; God’s word is about all of life. So it needs to be in all of life. Can I give you a coffee question right now? I’ve not written it in the sheet so you’ll have to write it yourself. How is God’s word going to fill more of your life? Who are you going to talk it with? Where are you going to write this? How are you going to make sure that never a day goes by where you are not hearing the word of the LORD?

3. This is for your children too.

So what do we tell the kids? Do you notice how often Moses talks about their children in this chapter, and through the whole book? It’s right at the heart of what he says to the people in verse 7 isn’t it? You see it’s not just the people themselves who need to love the LORD, it’s their children too. It’s not just the people themselves who are in danger of forgetting the LORD and going after idols, it’s their children too.

That hasn’t changed has it? Our children too need the word of the LORD. Our children too are all the time hearing the false gospels of the world, calling them towards all the fake things you can build your life on. Our children too have idol factory hearts. There’s an application for us as a church straightaway. For all of us. And it’s this: passing on the gospel to the next generation is important for us as a church. I'm very grateful and very happy that at Christ Church we have an active children's work. It's a wonderful thing. And it's hard work for those involved. You know don't you let things like our Sunday groups and holiday clubs take a lot of time and energy and even money to run. But they need to don't they? Because this is not just for us; it’s for the next generation too.

But now just three things about how we ought to bring up children within God’s family. Especially as Christian parents at home, but also as a whole church family. It’s just extensions of what we’ve been saying so far:

1.  It’s got to come from the heart

2.  It’s got to be part of ordinary life

3.  We’ve got to give them the gospel, not just morals

It’s got to come from the heart. Everything Moses says to parents is built on what he’s already said to them about loving the LORD themselves. Verse 5: “Love the LORD…” Verse 6 “these commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts” Verse 7 “impress them on your children.” We want our children to love the LORD because we love the LORD. From the heart outwards.

Parents, if you want to pass this on to your children then know that your heart has to be in it. I often meet fathers, and it is usually fathers but not always, who talk about wanting to support their wives in bringing up their children as Christians. They think it’s the right thing for their kids, although to be honest it’s not a big thing for them themselves. “Listen to your mother,” that sort of thing. My response is normally to say, yes, they might well listen to her, but they’ll do what you do. Of all the people in your life, your children will watch you the most closely. They know when you mean it. It’s got to come from the heart.

It’s got to be part of ordinary life. All that stuff about talking about the Lord’s words at home and out walking and writing them on your house and so on – that’s all part of what Moses means when he says “impress them on your children.” That assumption here is that children growing up within families where their parents love the LORD, will be continually exposed to the word of the LORD. It’ll be part of everyday life for them.

Christians at their best have grasped this. Family devotions, family Bible times, are an important part of growing together in Christ. If we’re parents this has to be one of our key priorities, spending time with our children reading the Bible and praying. I know that it’s not easy to get it done; I struggle enough with and I’m a vicar whose wife is a Christian. I know it’ll be much harder for some of you. But it’s worth struggling for. There are loads of resources than can help it to happen. And not just Bible time, but ordinary conversations too.

It’s got to come from the heart. It’s got to be part of ordinary life. We’ve got to give them the gospel, not just morals. Have a look at verse 20, because I think this is essential reading for anyone who wants to see children growing up knowing the LORD:

“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?"  21 tell him: "We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  22 Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders-- great and terrible--upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household.  23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers.  24 The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.  25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness."

Here’s Moses’ little catechism. I love verse 20. Do you see that? If you’re living like this, loving the LORD, speaking about him, your kids will ask you about it. Kids ask questions don’t they? Why do we live like this? What’s this all about? Why don’t other families do this? Yep, they will. Look carefully how Moses tells them to respond. It’s not “tell them the right thing to do” is it? It’s not even “tell them to love the LORD.” It’s “tell them the gospel.”

“We were slaves, but the LORD saved us – He did it! He gave us all of this, and he has told us to obey him for our good!” It’s the gospel, isn’t it? It’s quite striking that even here when Moses is talking about our response to God, he’s still crystal clear that the message which brings about that response is not what we must do, but what the LORD has done.

Don’t just teach your kids morals, for goodness sake. Right from wrong. Oh yes, right and wrong will come into it, of course it will, but people don’t start loving the LORD because they told to do it. People love the LORD because they see what a wonderful, loving Lord he is. They see that he’s worth loving. They respond to his love and grace. If we just give our children Christian values or morals, we will produce a generation of kids who feel the obligations and perhaps feel guilty a fair bit, but we won’t grow children who love the LORD from the inside out. They need the good news of the one and only true God. They need to know that we were slaves to sin, heading for death and hell, but that God gave his only son Jesus to die for us so that we could be forgiven and set free, and be given new life. They need to know, as John puts it, that this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

My ambition for my children is not just that they would good people. I want them to be God’s people. I want them to know and treasure the LORD, because he is the greatest treasure in the world. I want them to love him with all of their heart and soul and strength.

Do you know, if you’re anything like me, then as you hear this you’ll be thinking “who is up to this task?” Both of loving the LORD ourselves, and passing on that love to children. Isn’t it a good thing, on this Pentecost Sunday, that the LORD has given us his Holy Spirit. The Spirit who takes the words of the LORD and makes them break through so they reach our hearts. The Spirit who gives us who believe in Jesus Jesus’ own love for his Father. Let’s ask him now to give us that love, shall we?