Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Romans 12:9-21
We are in a series looking at revising our faith. Revision is an interesting word. When we revise something, we consider what we’ve done before, find mistakes, consider different possibilities, and change or alter course. Last week we looked at the simple word “Hope.” So much in our lives hinges on whether we have a sense of hope or a sense of hopelessness. For the Israelite people at the time of 2 Chronicles, they had been without hope for several generations. Suddenly, a political change brought some small hope – the opportunity to return home, to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. It wasn’t freedom, but it was something – if they could just move past their fear and doubts and uncertainty and grasp hold of it. Most chose to stay where they were, content to remain in a life that, while not exactly comfortable, was at least familiar. Only a few of them saw, and grabbed, the sliver of hope available to them. Today we look at another way in which we are challenged to revise our faith and that involves a willingness to reconsider, and then change, our number one priority in life.
The word “priorities” is not one of my favorites. It implies I can’t do everything I want to do. It forces me to make choices. And because priorities change over the course of our lifetimes, sometimes even daily, it is a balancing act we engage in often. The truth is that life is a juggling act involving keeping a number of balls in the air and we all know that if we don’t prioritize – if we try to do everything – then all the balls will fall. So, we choose what we think we can do, discard the rest, and hope for the best. But the question for today is: Where is our faith and our relationship with God in our list of daily priorities? Is it a one hour on Sunday morning thing or on occasional, when we think about it, thing – or is it an everyday, all-day, top of the list priority in our life?
The Book of Deuteronomy is one very long speech from the prophet Moses to the people of Israel. The people are, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, about to enter their promised land. Moses will not be going with them. He has led the people ever since they left Egypt, but now he’s 120 years old and his days are numbered. Their new leader, Joshua, will take them across the Jordan River but before that happens, Moses wants to remind them what is important, what their priorities should be. As Deuteronomy opens, he reminds them how they got to where they are now, the journey they’ve taken, the battles won, and the times they let their fears overcome their faith in God. He reminds them of the promise they made to follow and obey God. Now, in Chapter 6, Moses comes to what is possibly the most important part of his speech. He comes to God’s greatest commandment, God’s priority, for the people: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
Love God. It sounds so simple. But Moses isn’t finished. He continues by giving the people concrete suggestions on how to make the love of God the priority in their lives. It turns out he is telling them to revise their way of thinking and doing – because love of God is not just a vague feeling or emotion; love of God is a mindset that involves action. Hear, O Israel. Keep these words in your heart, recite them to your children, talk about them day and night, bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, write them on the doorposts of your houses. The words “to hear,” in Hebrew, mean “to hear and obey.” Moses isn’t just telling the people to listen to him, he is telling them to hear what he is saying and then put his words into practice. To hear God without putting into effect God’s command is not to hear God at all. The command to love God is made to all Israel: every man, woman, and child. What are they to do?
First, they are to keep the words of the command to love God in their heart, teach the words to their children, and talk about them daily. Loving God with one’s entire heart, soul, and might or strength is all-encompassing and all-consuming. It takes priority above everything else. It shapes what we think, what we say, and what we do.
Second, the love of God is so important that Moses tells them to bind or write the words on their hands and on their foreheads. What does that mean? In a figurative way of stressing the importance of his words, Moses instructs the people to, in some visible, concrete way, make a sign of their commitment to God. Their love of God should be visible to anyone who sees them; they should be immediately identifiable as a follower of God. If you are walking around with something on your hand connecting you with God, it will be noticeable to anyone when you greet them. If you are walking around with something stamped in the middle of your forehead, that will be obvious as well. The people of Israel actually wore bands wrapped around the head at the level of the forehead and on the forearm at the wrist to serve as symbols of their identity. I don’t think that today’s application means we should tattoo “God” across our foreheads, but our identity as a child of God should in some way be visible in our lives. There are far too many people who wear a cross as some sort of talisman or good luck charm, and far too few of them who do so who put the love of God first in their lives.
Finally, Moses gives the people yet one more instruction: Write his words about loving God on the doorposts of their houses and on their gates. Interesting words for a nomadic, wandering people. At the time Moses says these words, the Israelite people have been, and continue to be, on the move. They don’t have houses or gates; they’re living out of tents. Where do these words come from? In Egypt, there was a tradition of placing inscriptions on doorposts, whether words of blessing or a warning of a potentially dangerous situation, such as an illness, inside the home. Before leaving Egypt, the Israelites placed blood on their doorposts as a means of protection so that God’s plague would pass over their house and all inside would be safe. It was a sign.
So, do Moses’ words have meaning for us today? The command to love God, certainly. In Matthew 22:37-38, Jesus answered the question, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.” This, according to Jesus, is our number one priority. But what about Moses’ other words? What does it mean for us to keep the God on our hearts, bind God on our hands, fix God on our forehead?
The first admonition is fairly straightforward. Moses told the people to keep the words concerning the love of God in their hearts, recite them to their children, and talk about them wherever they were, before they went to bed and first thing after rising in the morning. We do this through prayer, devotional time, and worship, but it should be part of our daily routine rather than an occasional occurrence. If our love of God is not a priority, how can it be a commitment of our entire heart, soul, and strength?
But what about making our love of God a visible sign in our lives? The Apostle Paul provides us with examples in Romans 12, beginning with v. 9. If I’m being honest, none of these are easy – they require work on my part. Here is what Paul says: Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. Outdo one another in loving. Serve God. Rejoice in hope (that’s a reminder from last week), be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of others; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Never avenge yourselves; if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. In these ways, we show our commitment to loving God with all we are and all that we have. How did you do on the list?
So, we’re back to the question: What are our priorities? Family? Friends? A comfortable lifestyle? A good retirement? A career? Happiness? There is nothing wrong with any of these things, but only one thing should be the number one thing. Love God will ever fiber of your being. Let your love for God show in everything you think, say, and do. Make your love for God the first thought of your day and your last thought at night. Why? Moses answers this question for his people: “So that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, so that your days may be long, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.” But Moses’ words are just as true for us. Like the people of Israel, we are on an exodus journey. We’re being led through a wilderness to a promised land where a life awaits us that is greater, and more infinitely wonderful, than we can imagine. God’s promise to the people led by Moses was that Joshua would lead them across the Jordan into the promised land. God’s promise to us is that Christ will lead us into our promised land. Our words of promise come from the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Then he said to me, “Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Jesus). Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. Nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life … Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and – listen to this part – his name will be on their foreheads.”
For those who love God, Moses’ words will come true. God’s name will be written on the foreheads of those who love him. My hope is that these words of promise are true for every person here this morning. It’s not too late to revise your priorities to make this the truth in your life.