In their book The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner recommend a way for you to clarify what's really important to you.
Imagine that your organization has afforded you the chance to take a six-month sabbatical. You will not be permitted to communicate to anyone at your office or plant while you are away...But before you depart, those with whom you work need to know the principles that you believe should guide their decisions and actions in your absence. They need to know the values and beliefs that you think should steer the organization while you're away.
You're allowed just one page, and the result, according to the authors, is going to tell you a lot about what's really important to you.
In the passage that we have before us, Moses is not about to take a sabbatical. It's much more serious than that. Moses is about to die. He has led Israel for all these years, but he's now preparing for his death, and thinking about Israel's future. Before he dies he gives a series of sermons to Israel. These sermons are all found in what we call the book of Deuteronomy. These sermons reveal what's most important, according to Moses. These sermons are Moses' last chance to impress upon Israel some of the key lessons that they will have to remember if they are to continue faithfully.
And out of the whole book of Deuteronomy, we have come to the very core of the matter this morning. This is the very core of what Moses wants to leave behind. In fact, it's affirmed by rabbis and even Jesus himself that we have here the very core command that we need to apply as we follow God.
So let's look at this passage. We're going to see that Moses gives a command to know God in a way that transforms the whole of our lives and that deals with our greatest temptations, so that the next generation will experience God as well.
First, Moses commands us to know God.
Verse 4 says: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one."
This is called the Shema. It is the centerpiece of the Jewish faith. It's the pivot around which everything else in Deuteronomy revolves. It's been called the touchstone of Israel's faith.
What is so important about this verse? In this passage, God reveals himself. God says in this verse that he is going to identify himself, that he wants his people to understand who he is. In that day, people generally thought of multiple deities depending on the location and country. Today we generally have the same thing as well - we each get to decide what God is like, and we respect that you may have a different god or understanding of God than we do. But in this passage, God reveals himself. He says, essentially, that he is the only God, and that he as God is one. He is not divided. He is not one of many. And he alone is worthy of our allegiance. God begins with saying that he wants us to understand who he is.
Do you know what Moses is telling us here? He's saying that the most important thing is to know who God is. That's not all he's going to tell us - there's more - but it's important to pause here because it's tempting today to think that this doesn't matter at all. God reveals himself to us so that we will know who he is. As J.I. Packer puts it:
Knowing God is crucially important for the living of our lives...we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentenced yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.
Back then, as is the case now, there are a lot of false understandings about who God is. Some of us think that this doesn't really matter. It's a topic for theologians and academics, but not for normal people. But don't you see that the core of having a relationship is knowledge. It's getting to know about somebody, to accurately understand who that person is like, what motivates them, what gives them joy, what they love. You can't say that you have a relationship with somebody until you know them.
Moses is telling us that the great business of our lives is to develop an accurate knowledge of who God is - what he's like, what he has revealed of himself. To help us, God has revealed himself in Scripture so that we can grasp who he is. So Moses says that this is our primary task: to understand what God has revealed of himself. But then Moses says:
Our knowledge of God is meant to transform our entire lives.
It's not enough to know in our heads only. Moses continues:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)
Jonathan Edwards says, "The Scriptures represent true religion, as being summarily comprehended in love, the chief of the affections, and the fountain of all others." So, Moses says, we aren't supposed to just understand who God is. It's got to be much more than that. It's meant to transform our entire lives. It's meant to capture our hearts. It's supposed to transform every part of our lives. They are to love him totally. Later on, Jesus affirmed this as the first, greatest, and most important commandment, so it's very important that we pay attention to it.
You see here that the relationship that we have with God is intensely personal. What Moses calls us to is not mere outward obedience. I've had jobs in which I've done my part. I've worked all day and given my best effort, but at the end of the day I was glad to walk away. They had my work but they didn't have my heart. Moses here says it's not to be like that. You're not to go through the motions with God. It's not even enough to do the right things. You've also got to have the right heart. It's not just outward obedience. It's about heartfelt love and the commitment of the whole person.
That's why he says "with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" - with your entire personhood, with all of you. And the commands of God aren't just supposed to be on tablets; they're also supposed to be written on your hearts. Talk about them constantly, so it's not just about talking about God during devotions. Talk about them both at home and when you go out - not just in your personal life, but in your public life; when you lie down and when you get up - not just some of the time, but all of the time; on the door frames and the city gates - in your personal life, but also in your public life. Our love for God is to encompass all of our lives.
I was listening to a book this week. The author talked about his favorite radio station in Atlanta. It plays some good music. Some of the lyrics really aren't that good. But then they'll insert something they call an "inspirational vitamin."
The thing I find most interesting however is how they wedge the Inspirational Vitamin into their normal programming. What often happens is that right before they transition to the spiritual segment of the show they play some sort of [rap] song...Then they do the Bible verse and then they go back to booty music when it's over...
It's easy to laugh at how insincere that Inspirational Vitamin seems when it's sandwiched between hardcore rap songs, but to do so misses the bigger point - we Christians often live our lives the same way. Maybe God is listening to the broadcast of my day and this is what he hears:
- Quiet time in the morning. Read the Bible, prayer, give thanks.
- Go into work and act completely different and disconnected from God.Come home.
- Spend time with wife. Read the Bible, pray.
Moses tells us that this is not the way. The greatest priority is to know God. But don't just know him intellectually. Allow your heart to be engaged. Love God with the totality of your being, all the time, in every area of your life, not as an inspirational vitamin that you stick in occasionally.
Moses seems to anticipate our reaction here. I think many of us can see the logic in what he's saying, and we may even agree that this is a good idea, although we also know we won't really be able to do this consistently. That's why Moses goes on to say:
Our knowledge of God and relationship has to take into account some of our greatest temptations.
In verses 10 to 19, Moses is very realistic about the fact that we will be tempted to forget God in our lives. Moses addresses the land that the people are going to enter, "a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 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." And then he gives a warning: "then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). The blessings they are going to enjoy will also present them with dangers. The very blessings of God can take the place of their relationship with God.
And that's not the only danger they face. They're going to be tempted by other gods, according to verse 14. And ironically they're going to be tempted not only by abundance but by times of suffering, as they were in Massah, according to verse 16. They're going to be tempted by both blessings and suffering, as well as by false gods of the people around him.
Today we could update this and say that some of us are going to be tempted because we've got the house with the double garage, as well as a high-definition TV and money in the bank. But some of us are going to be tempted by the bad diagnosis at the doctor's office, or the period of unemployment we weren't expecting. We're also going to be tempted by all the gods that people around us worship - power, sex, money, pleasure. In the middle of all of these temptations, Moses warns us to not forget God. Forgetting is a constant problem. At every turn we're tempted to forget God, and abandon the first and most important commandment.
One of the best things for us to do would be to begin to identify the things in our lives that make us forget God. What is it in our lives that causes us to live one way on Sundays, and a completely different way other times? We need to identify the temptations specific to you that may cause you to forget God.
At this point in the message you may be thinking that this is all well and good. But you may be feeling guilty because you don't live this way. You don't love God completely, and you don't have a hope of remembering him in all areas of your life. But this passage ends with perhaps the key for how we can do this. Because the last thing Moses says here is this:
Do all of this in such a way that the next generation will experience God as well.
Let's end with this one. The biggest test for you is going to be children, if you have them. You can fool people at church. You can fool the people in your small group. You can go through all the motions and even have daily family devotions. But the real test is if you're living in such a way that will transform not just your life, but the life of your children.
That's why verse 7 says, "Impress them [these commandments] on your children." Verse 20 assumes that you'll be living in such a way that your children will ask, "What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?"
One elder statesman of a Christian church has devoted himself to a fifty-year study of Christian and non-Christian families. He says that in American culture today, most young adults following Jesus Christ either come from non-Christian homes where they were converted to Christ in their teenage years through a dynamic youth ministry, or they come from homes where they grew up in love with Jesus because mom and dad were so in love with Jesus that love permeated their lives. It passed through their pores. Very few believers come from homes where there was a kind of indifferent, apathetic commitment to Christ.
It is sobering and thought provoking to suggest that, in American culture, the chances are better for a child growing up in a non-Christian home to become a Christian than for a child growing up in a home that has an indifferent, apathetic commitment to Jesus Christ. One of the keys to our children experiencing God is that we ourselves have a love for God that permeates our lives.
How do we get this? Notice what Moses says. When children ask the meaning of the stipulations, decrees, and laws, don't just answer, "God commands us to." When your kids ask why we go to church, don't say, "Because we're supposed to!" Moses says: answer with a story. And what a story it is. In verses 21 to 23, Moses says to answer this question with a story of the gospel. He told them the best story of the gospel that they had up until that time: that God had delivered them out of Egypt and saved them and made them his people. And Moses says, "That's why we obey God! As a response of gratitude for what he's done for us."
That's the best story that Moses had at that time, but we've got an even better one. If you want your life to be transformed, and not only your life but the life of your children, then tell yourself a story. Drill it into your hearts. And then allow it to overflow so that your children get it also. What's the story? That we were slaves to sin. And God brought us out of judgment and captivity with a mighty hand. At the cross, Jesus bought our freedom at the cost of his life, so that now we have peace with God. Tell the story of what Jesus has done for your life. Drill it down deep into your own life, and when your kids ask why we do what we do, tell them the story too. Our obedience is a response to that story.
In this very important passage, Moses tells us that we need to know God, not only know him but also to love him. And the way to do this is to get the story of what Jesus has done for us deep into our souls. And when this happens, it will change our lives, and it will also allow the next generation to experience God and his gospel as well.
So Father, I pray that in the next few weeks you would help us. We're going to look at how to know you, and also how we can pass on that knowledge of you to our children. We're looking at this because this is such an important issue. We want to be transformed, but we want our kids to know you as well.
We begin today by realizing that it starts with us. It doesn't start with forcing our kids to attend church or to follow all the rules. It starts with us getting so caught up with the gospel that it overflows into every area of our lives. Transform us with the gospel, Father, and allow our children to be transformed as a result. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.