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September 26, 2010

“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.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

If you have the idea that the Old Testament is all about external rites and rules, then take this in: Love God with all your heart (6:5), These commands are to be on your hearts (6:6). We are talking about a personal, spiritual relationship with Almighty God, formed by faith and characterized by love—and it is right here in the Old Testament.

The Gospels remind us of the central place of these words in the Scriptures. On one occasion a teacher of the law asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” That’s a good question. Of everything God has said, what matters most? What is it that God wants of me?

Jesus answered: “The most important one 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…’ And the second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:29-31).

Then Jesus said, “All the Law and the Prophets hang of these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). Everything that God says to you, all that He calls you to do can be summed up in these two things:  Love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.

The Ten Commandments, which were given back in Deuteronomy 5, lay out what loving God and loving your neighbor looks like. The first four commands tell us what it means to love God:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me (5:7)
  2. You shall not make an idol (5:8)
  3. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain (5:11)
  4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (5:12)

The last six commands spell out what it means to love your neighbor:

  1. Honor your father and mother (5:16)
  2. Don’t murder (5:17)
  3. Don’t commit adultery (5:18)
  4. Don’t steal (5:19)
  5. Don’t give false testimony (5:20)
  6. Don’t covet what God has given to your neighbor (5:21)

The Ten Commandments tell us what it means to live a life of love. They spell it out. Martin Luther’s analysis of the book of Deuteronomy is that it is an exposition of the Ten Commandments:  Chapters 6-18 apply the first four commandments. They explain what it means for God’s people to love Him. These chapters are about worship, keeping from idols, etc.

Chapters 19-26 apply the last six commandments. They explain what it means to love your neighbor as yourself—unsolved murders, violations of marriage, weights and measures in the market place and so on. Chapters 27-34 set out the blessings the lie on the path of obedience to these commands and the curses that lie on the path of disobedience.

You could say that this whole book is an exposition of love. God is love, and His people are called to a life of love. The commandments tell us what this love looks like, what it means to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. That is why love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). The law is an explanation of what love is.

If you love God with all your heart and you love your neighbor as yourself, then you will have done all that God commands you.

The People

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4

Moses is speaking to Israel, and He describes the LORD as our God.

They are God’s people because God has chosen them

“The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” Deuteronomy 7:6

They are God’s people, not because they have made God theirs, but because God has made them His. Nations choose their gods, but God has chosen this nation.

They are God’s people because God has redeemed them

“Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation… like… the LORD your God did for you?” Deuteronomy 4:34

Look at what God has done for you:  “Do not forget the LORD who brought you ought of the land of slavery” (6:12), “when your son asks you… tell him we were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out” (6:21), “it was because the Lord loved you… that he… redeemed you from the land of slavery” (7:8).

They are God’s people because God has made a covenant with them

“The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.” Deuteronomy 5:2

God has bonded these people to Himself forever in a unique covenant that goes back to the promise He made to Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation” and “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).

This command to love God with all your heart is not given to God’s enemies but to His friends. This command is given to the people He has chosen, the people He has redeemed from slavery, the people to whom He has pledged His promises, the people He is leading into the Promised Land.

God does not call His enemies to love Him, for the simple reason that they cannot do it. God calls on His enemies to repent and believe the Gospel. God calls on His enemies to be reconciled to Him. But to His redeemed people, He says, “Love the Lord your God.”

The message to your unbelieving friends or to your rebellious children is not “Love God with all your heart.” They can’t do that. They don’t have it in them. Our message to the world is not, “Love the Lord your God,” our message is, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” But to those who do repent and believe, God says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.”

This message today is for Christians. It is not for everybody. But, if you know the Lord Jesus Christ, it is for you. If God has laid His hand on your life, if you have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, if you have embraced the Savior by faith, this message is for you.

I want to call you today, if that describes you, to love the LORD your God with a love that reflects what He is doing for you in Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit will bear witness to you because you belong to Christ.

The LORD

Whenever you see the word “LORD” in four capital letters in the Old Testament it is because the Divine name is being used.

When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses asked, “What is your name?” God said, “Yahweh,” which means “I Am” (Exodus 3:14ff). The name “Yahweh” was never actually pronounced by the Jews and was normally written without vowels “YHWH.” When it was anglicized to “JHVH” it was thought that the Divine name was Jehovah. But there is general agreement that the name Moses heard from the fire was “Yahweh.”

It is the personal name of God that is used here. You are to love Yahweh, your God. Now that’s important because in a pluralistic society, loving God becomes, for many people, loving God as I conceive Him to be. When you say “love God,” to someone who is not a believer, they often feel the freedom to fill the word “God” with their own content. But God is not whoever you want Him to be. He is who He is.

Yahweh is not whoever you want Him to be. He is who He is, “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. Love Yahweh, your God with all your heart…” (6:4). He is the One who made promises to Abraham and appeared to Moses. He is the One who brought Israel out of Egypt and who came down to Sinai in the fire. He is the one who cut a covenant, making these people His own, and who spoke through the prophets. Supremely, He is the One who has revealed Himself through Jesus Christ.

God’s name is of great importance, especially because the kind of religion that is becoming increasingly prominent is one in which God becomes nameless. It says, “Have a faith, but you define who or what that faith is in—whatever works for you. Love God, and let the god you love be a god of your own choosing.”

Pluralism thrives on the assumption that all names for God are simply human constructions, human stories, merely human ways of expressing what is ultimately unknowable. Our culture is quickly moving from a consensus that there is one God who has revealed himself in the Old Testament and the New, to a consensus that everything is one. Our culture is sliding from “monotheism” to “monism.”

“Monotheism” is the conviction that there is one God (6:4), and “monism” is the conviction that everything is one. There is all the difference in the world between these two things! To get from “monotheism” to “monism,” you have to take out the “theos.” You have to take God out of the middle. That is why religion will always be popular, but the name of God will always be offensive.

Our distinctive witness is not that we are “people of faith,” or that we uphold “religious values.” Our witness is tied to the Lord’s name. Our witness is that we love Yahweh, and that there is no one like Him. Our witness is tied to the name of Jesus Christ, whom Yahweh has sent, in whom Yahweh is known, and by whom Yahweh has reconciled us to Himself. We love Him and our loyalty is to Him before any other.

The Love

“Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5

Love Yahweh your God with all your heart

Love God with all your affection. Don’t ever think of your salvation as some kind of business transaction in which Jesus Christ does certain things, and then you do certain things and it is all done and settled with a courteous handshake.

Christ redeemed you. He shed His blood to bring you to Himself. He does this because He loves you. The relationship into which He brings you is one in which you know Him and you come, increasingly, to love Him.

The heart is more than affection—never less, but always more. In the Hebrew language, heart includes the mind, the will, the desire, the intent and the motive. Your thinking, feeling, and your desiring are all done in your heart.

We often think of the head and the heart as two different departments that have difficulty communicating with one another, “Should I go with my head or my heart?” But when Jesus quoted these words, He added the word “mind,” making it clear that the head is in the heart.

“Love God with all your heart,” means “Love Him with all that is in you.” Bless the Lord, O, my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name (Psalm 103:1).

Love Yahweh your God with all your soul

The word “soul” could also be translated “life.” Love the Lord with all your energy, with all your talent and with all your years. Make commitments that will deploy what God has given you in ways that show you love Him. People see that you love your family, that you love your work and that you love your sports. What are you doing that makes it obvious that you love Christ?

Love the Lord with all of your life! Don’t let your years slip away. Don’t let your talents lie wasted.

Love Yahweh your God with all your strength (all your “much-ness”)

The word strength literally means “your very much-ness.” Love God with all your much-ness! It means your substance, your possessions—all that God has given you in this life.

Jesus spoke with a man who had great “much-ness.” He had lived a moral life and felt that he had kept all the commandments—no murders, no adultery, no stealing and he had cared for his father and mother.

The man thought he had kept the law, but Jesus brings him to see that he has missed the point. The whole point of the law is this:  Love God with all your heart and soul and strength and then love your neighbor as yourself.

So Jesus challenges this man to love God and his neighbor with his much-ness. Jesus says, “Here’s what you can do:  Go sell all you have. Give to the poor and come follow me.”

He was saying, “You are living a moral life and you think this fulfills the commands, but you have missed the point. You love your much-ness more than you love God. Your much-ness is the idol in your life. Love God with all your much-ness!”

What happened? When Jesus said this, the man walked away sad. That is what happens with people who want to keep the Lord Jesus Christ at a distance.

What are you doing with your much-ness? The way you use your much-ness is a reflection of what you love. What proportion of your “much-ness” would be a suitable expression of your love for Christ this year on your tax return—that advances the name of Christ? Is it ten percent?

What do you think of the man who says he loves his wife, but he never goes out and splurges on her? He doesn’t know what love is! “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength—all your “much-ness.”

How Are You Doing?

“Jesus said, ‘Simon… do you truly love me?’” John 21:16

Can you picture the risen Lord Jesus Christ looking deep into your soul and asking you that question? “Do you really, really love me?”

“I chose you, I have redeemed you. I went to a cross for you. My body was broken for you, my blood shed for you. I awakened you, regenerated you, breathed life into you, gave you faith and repentance.”

“I made a covenant with you. I watch over you. Before a word is on your tongue I know it completely. I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have said to you, ‘I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.’”

I would be saying with Peter, “Lord, you know that I love you” (21:16).

And as I said it, I would be feeling ashamed that my love for Him is so small. Don’t you feel that as you look at the immensity of all He has done for you?

I believe it was R. C. Sproul who read these words:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” and then said, “All your heart? All your soul? All your strength? I haven’t done that for 5 minutes.” [1]

I look at this and do you know what I see? I see that I need a Savior. I need a Savior who can forgive me, because my best attempts at loving God come nowhere close. I need a Savior who can lead me to love God with more of my heart and more of my soul and more of my much-ness. I need a Savior who can bring me into this—constantly and increasingly

When I think about the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me, I feel ashamed of my own love for him. It seems such a small thing compared to His amazing love for me. My love for Christ is so much less than it should be…

“And yet I want to love thee Lord

O light a flame within my heart.

And I will love thee more and more

Until I see thee as thou art.” [2]

How Can I Love God More?

We love Him because he first loved us. When I see more of His love for me, then I love Him more. That is one reason we gather for worship every week.

Bishop Ryle tells a story about an Englishman traveling in America. [3] He meets an Indian who talks with great enthusiasm about Jesus Christ:

The Englishmen is rather reserved, as they tend to be, and he says to his new friend, “You are always talking about Jesus Christ. Why do you make such a big deal of Him?”

The Indian knelt down and gathered some leaves, some twigs and some moss, and placed them in a circle on the ground. He picked up a live worm and put it in the middle of the circle. Then he lit the leaves.

As the flames rose, the worm began to move, but every way it moved, it got nearer to the flame, and so after a few moments, the worm curled up in the middle and prepared to die.

The Indian reached his hand into the flame, picked up the worm, and held it next to his heart. Then he said, “I was the worm—helpless, hopeless and on the brink of an eternal fire. Jesus Christ stretched out His hand. He saved me from the fire, and took me into the heart of his love. That is why I make much of Him.”

Loving God is learned at the cross:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing so divine
demands my life my soul my all. [4]

[1] R. C. Sproul, “The Holiness of God,” p. 88, Tyndale House Publishers, 2000
http://www.amazon.com/Holiness-God-R-C-Sproul/dp/0842339655/

[2] By William W. How, from the hymn, “It Is a Thing Most Wonderful,” 1872

[3] By J. C. Ryle, “Holiness:  Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots,” p. 245, Moody Publishers, 2010
http://www.amazon.com/Holiness-Abridged-Hindrances-Difficulties-Classics/dp/0802454550/

[4] By Isaac Watts, from the hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” 1707



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