What comes first?
What comes first?
The thing that comes first is often the most important. In a graduation ceremony, the first person to walk is often the one(s) with the highest GPA. The first rule is the most important one. I can still hear a motherly voice saying, “Now, what is the number one rule?” in a forceful tone … probably some remnants of my disobedience in childhood that I’ve since blocked out of memory. But this order of first as most important predates our culture and our time. You could say that it’s been around since the founding of human history. It’s within the history of every culture, every written language. When philosophers create a discourse they put their most prominent point first. When scholars write a paper they propose their thesis right off the bat. And when God gave the people of Israel the law, he put the most important command at the front. The people of Israel knew what was the most important law because it wast he first one given. Yes, all of the law was important, but this first commandment sets the stage for the rest of the law.
If you have your bibles, please turn with me to Deuteronomy chapter 6. That’s Deuteronomy chapter 6, and we’ll be reading verses 1-9.
We are continuing on in our sermon series through Deuteronomy. And if you remember last week, we began our entry into the giving of the Law: Moses gave an outline of the statutes, the permanent fixtures that would be unchanging principles for the people of Israel. And Marcus did an excellent job covering how the Fear of the Lord should lead us into obedience of the law, and then of the ten commandments which form the framework for the rest of the law. But today, we jump into the first commandment, the most important one: And that’s “you shall have no other gods before me”.
And for us as Christians that leads us to an important question: “Is God the Priority in your life?” (repeat).
Let’s take a look at what God’s instruction to the people of Israel is regarding this commandment.
“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Please pray with me. (pray)
Alrighty, let’s take a deeper look.
“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it,
This is the introduction, it’s setting the stage again. Note the use of the statutes and rules here.
that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.
This is the goal: Note, the goal is to know how to fear the Lord throughout the generations. Fear of the Lord entails obedience. The Lord blesses those who fear him. Days may be long … days either referring to the nation of Israel or to individuals who keep the commandments of the Lord. Obedience to the laws and rules is central to who Israel is as a people and their identity.
Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
For Israel, blessing in the promised land was tied directly to their obedience to and love of the Lord. There would be no people were it not for the Lord. There would be no promised land were it not for the Lord. God is instrumental in personally selecting this people as his own possession. And it’s understanding this point that leads us into the beginning: The most important point.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Moses is saying, “Israel: The Lord is OUR God. He is personal, relational. He has chosen us and we are his. The Lord OUR God, the Lord is ONE. He is the only God, the only one to whom we serve.” There has been much discussion over the use of the word one here … Some have hypothesized that it speaks to the Trinity as three in One, that he is unified together, three persons with one divine essence. While that is true, I do not believe that’s what the use of one here denotes. One here means first. And if first, then most important.
The Lord is not Two. He is not second. The Lord is not four. He is not one of the 3.5 million other imaginary Gods that are out there. He is One. He is first. He is the most important of all. He is the highest most supreme being there is. He is the A and the Z, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the first and the last, and everything in between. The LORD is One.
People ask, why should we trust the God of the Bible? Well, no other God actually is One and has proven him/her/itself as one. God is not some distant figure that created the world and then steps back and lets things play out. No, he’s shown himself time and time again to be the ONE God who actually cares enough about humanity and our condition to do something about it. He has been engaged in the progress of human history from the beginning. He has intervened in the lives of humans throughout all of history so that their eternal soul might not perish because of sin but might live because of Christ’s righteousness. And in order to make that happen, we must first learn to leave behind our passions, ourselves and to see God as One. As First.
Who is First in your life?
I titled my sermon ‘Priorities’ for a reason. The First commandment to the Law of Moses, the Greatest One, is to make sure God is One, that he is first in your life. And often that is very challenging and very difficult because we like to think about ourselves a lot.
Tell me, which would you prioritize, an hour spent with prayer between you and the Lord or an hour sat down watching television?
Which would you prioritize, a quiet evening at home or a trip to the grocery store, an hour over a hot stove, and then a drive (which costs you money for fuel) to deliver the meal you just prepared to a brother or sister in Christ who hasn’t been feeling well?
If we’re honest with ourselves, there are many times in which we prioritize ourselves over God and his commandments. In those moments, we are declaring to God, “You are not One … you are not first. I am. We are.”
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when you need to prioritize rest. There are times when you need to remove the beam from your own eye before you help others with the speck in theirs. But if we continually and habitually choose ourselves time and time again over and against what the Spirit is leading us to do, then we are searing our consciences. We are training ourselves to disregard the voice of the Lord and to listen to ourselves. And subtly, ever so slightly, we begin to move God out of a position of being First in our life to taking the backseat. Let me tell you, you don’t want God in the backseat. He’s the only one who knows the direction of where you need to go. Let God do the driving. Prioritize him as number one. Don’t let Satan trip you up by allowing him to appeal to your tiredness or your passions, which are often very real and felt needs … but learn to trust God to be the satisfaction you need.
Where did David turn to in the anguish of his soul? He turned to the Lord! He cried out to him “Oh Lord, my Rock, My Fortress! My Deliverer! You are the Shield and the Horn of my Salvation!”. David sought the Lord as One. He learned to trust in him despite the difficulties or tiredness or stress or anguish he faced. So let me ask you: If there’s a need that you have, do you find that need in the Lord? Do you see him as the answer, or do you listen to the voices of the world that will give you all sorts of answers. None of the world’s answers ever satisfies. But God does. None of those voices lead to peace and rest, but God does. The Lord provides the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.
Israel failed to keep this most basic commandment. They failed to love God and to follow him by keeping him first in their lives. Rather than worshipping at the temple of the Lord, they turned toward Baals and all the gods of the other nations. We know from scripture that Israel not only turned to follow the other idols, but they went above and beyond what those other nations were doing in terms of wickedness and evil. And as a result, Israel suffered. They were robbed, slaughtered, led in chains to exile.
When you abandon God as One, when you remove the Lord from being first in your life, sin will abound. And the wages of sin is death.
What is God’s promise to Israel if they hear and obey his commands? That they will live long in the land, that they will prosper and grow and multiply. Obedience to God leads to life. Prioritizing the Lord as first in your life will lead to life. But abandonment of him, removing him from being First in your life, is a sure way to set foot on the path to destruction and consequences.
And so, hear, people of God. The Lord our God, the Lord is One. God wants you to remember that his way is best, that he is the Lord of your life. Jesus taught this as the first and greatest commandment, and so it is. Let us be faithful to walk in it.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
In order to keep God as One in your life, in order to live long and to see good days, you must have a personal relationship with him. That personal relationship requires LOVE.
And what is the love that is required of you by the LORD? Love with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your might. Let’s briefly examine these three parts of a person.
Firstly, the heart.
The heart given over to the Lord is a theme emphasized in all of scripture.
My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.
The heart is the center of your actions. If you have your heart set on something, you’re going to do it. And the Jewish people understood that the heart represents your inner man, what is your will, what drives your actions. We in our culture associate heart with emotions, that’s why you’ll see hearts all over the place during Valentine’s season. But heart here refers to what we might correlate with mind: it refers to that impetus within us to take action, one way or another. It’s the measurement behind every action you take, choosing what to prioritize.
Indeed, the heart is the window to the soul. Jesus said it better,
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What you value is what you think about and what you make actions toward. It doesn’t take a genius to see this to be true.
If you spend time with someone long enough, you begin to see what they prioritize. They could choose family over work or work over family. They could choose to save up their money for a big vacation that year, or they could choose not to save up their money but to buy little things like candy throughout the year to keep them motivated. Each of these decisions is a measure that the heart makes … it is a decision of what takes precedence, what things are a priority for that person. And at times we come to recognize that what we prioritize as important isn’t what someone else prioritizes. Our hearts are set on different things.
But we as believers are to have the same heart as the believers did when the church was first founded. Our hearts are supposed to be given over to the Lord. When the Lord purchased you through the blood of his son, he purchased all of you. When you gave your life over to Christ and submitted to him as Lord of your life, as first in your life, you gave over everything. So every action you make, every decision you make, every measurement you use when you choose to prioritize one thing over another, is supposed to be done with the Lord in mind. And when you make an action, you are doing it for the Lord out of love for him. That’s what it means to love the Lord with all of your heart.
Secondly, the soul.
The Soul is your life-essence. It’s the breath within you. Dead people don’t have this life-essence, they don’t have this soul. We tend to refer to the soul as the immaterial part of man that continues on after death, but the meaning here refers to the entirety of who you are as a person. It’s the emotions, the feelings. It’s the desire, the passions that drive you. When your soul is caught up in praise and worship of the Lord in singing, you are laying bare the desires of your innermost being. And here’s the tricky part: our culture, our society, has labeled the heart as the center-most well of our passions. But scripture is clear: that’s the job of the soul. When you listen to soul music, your emotions are stirred up within you. Soul is something deep, something felt.
And we are to love the Lord with our soul. When we think of his salvation and grace in kindness toward us, despite our sin, despite our weakness and failings, that even while we were sinning Christ died for us. His love toward us is unconditional. Let us not put conditions on our soul love to the Lord. Sometimes we allow that, don’t we? We judge how our attitudes and affections are toward the Lord based on how life is going: whether or not work is going well, the weather is fine, or our health is in order. But what is the requirement of the Lord? That our love for him through our soul would be steadfast, constant, never-changing. A soul that loves the Lord doesn’t cease worship of him when something in life goes afoul. A soul that is aflame for the Lord is fueled and is not quenched.
And if your soul grows weary, lean into the Lord for renewal.
Remember Psalm 23?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my SOUL.
Believers, it is hard and difficult to maintain a constant and steadfast love for anything. Love in marriage is not simply based on emotion, but on choices and action. In the same way, our Love for the lord might not always be felt in our soul. But in order to find that renewal we must learn to trust in him.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
If our souls are not resting in the Lord by trusting in him, then they are still enslaved. There may be times when you walk into church and your passion isn’t there. You don’t feel love for the Lord in your soul because you feel burdened with life. Have you stopped to consider that the Lord is the one who helps you in your weakness? He is the one who will uplift your spirits and bring you joy and laughter again. He’s the one who says this life is just a vapor, along with its worries and toils. He’s the one who steps alongside you and says, “cast your burdens upon me”. If you are coming to church burdened or you are at home and are hurting and broken within, pray to Jesus. Cast those cares, those worries, those desires upon the Lord. Roll them off of you and onto him. Turn those cares over to the Lord and he will grant you peace. Free the soul from anxiety, worries, cares so that your soul may rejoice in the Lord, just as it was designed to do. Jesus says “I am with you always, I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He is the water that refreshes your soul so that it might not thirst again. So let your soul be led to the water. Let it be freed from the chains of this world that seek to pull it down.
The Lord asks of his people that they love him with the entirety of their soul.
The word ‘might’ here is an adverb in Hebrew. It means with the utmost: it’s all the energy that you have, both physical and mental. In the New Testament, dedication of the mind and of the body are both stressed.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Here we have an example of how your mental energies are to be entrusted to the Lord.
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
And we have exhortation to glorify God with our physical bodies.
Love for the Lord is the complete devotion of the self, whether through your will, your emotions, or your energy. And it can be hard work at times to maintain that relationship with Him. So God, knowing that we as humans need extra steps to help us along the way, continues in his law:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
On the innermost part of who you are, the Lord wants you to meditate upon his commands. We know that the Spirit helps us with that now, but how does the Spirit most often speak to us? Through his word, the Bible. So knowing the Bible and will allow you to know the commands of God so you can have them on your heart.
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
These are the extra steps that we need in order to be strengthened in our love of the Lord.
One of the best ways of learning something is to teach it to someone else. For Israel, teaching their children of the Lord and his commandments was essential to the survival of their nation. For us as Christians, training up the younger generations is essential to the mission of Christ and the preservation of the souls of those who might hear God’s gospel and may be saved. Do note, this primarily takes place within the home. God established the family for a reason. But what happens when the family is broken? Looking at our community, you may recognize the need that many families have. If children are not receiving training from their families, it’s the church’s responsibility to step into that gap. I’m thankful for programs like Veritas and like Gina and Misty’s GA’s that reach out to the younger generation to provide strong Biblical backing to the world. The world is increasingly targeting our children. Let us provide them the tools they need to navigate this life and to know our savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
But teaching is not all that we need to do.
We need to speak of and hear God’s word. We read here that Israel was to talk of God’s commands when they sit in the house and walk by the way, when they lie down and when they rise.
The literary device used here is what we call a merism … it’s using two extremes to encompass one entire idea. So if I said I was looking high and low for my car keys but wasn’t able to find them, what am I saying? I’m saying I looked everywhere. It’s the same idea here: sitting in the house and walking in the way … that’s everywhere. Lying down and getting up to rise, that’s whenever, whether morning or evening.
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
This encompasses whatever is done whether by physical strength or mental strength. Think about how many things you do with your hands … now if you looked down each time you reached out to do something with your hands and you saw a piece of leather with the scripture verse you were trying to memorize on it, how quickly do you think you’d memorize that scripture?
A frontlet is a piece of Jewelry that was worn across the head. Here, this imagery is used to show a perpetual remembrance that is necessary in order to walk with the Lord.
You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Israel was to have these visual reminders of God’s laws. Imagine if you had “you shall not steal” written on the doorposts of your gate and you were walking up with something you had stolen and were intending to keep for yourself, but encountered this reminder of God’s law. Or imagine if you had “you shall not commit adultery” written on the doorway of your house. That would be something which might stop you in your tracks and prevent you from engaging in sexual immorality.
These last three verses show us that we need to be reminded of God’s ways … We need to teach them, speak them, hear them, think about them, practice them, see them. You might think of all of the different ways of learning that there are. Well, God’s law encompasses all of those. With all of your being, all of who you are in your person, whatever that makeup consists of … you are to Love the Lord as One, keeping him first in your life, and to think upon his laws and commands.
Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey my commands.”
If you know God, and you love him, and you are abiding with him, you will also know God’s commands.
So let me ask you, Who is the priority in your life?
Do you have practices set in place that help you remember your first love? As much as we might push against creeds or traditions or old ways of doing things, those old ways often form rituals that are good reminders.
When you rise, when you wake up in the morning, are you setting yourself up to love the Lord that day?
At the end of the day when you lay down for sleep, are you reviewing your day with the Lord, praying with him?
Throughout the day, are you praying without ceasing? Ensuring all of your deeds and tasks are done for his glory?
If you’re not, then now’s the time to rethink some of the habits you have in your life. Perhaps setting aside time for prayer and devotion in God’s word in the morning when you wake up, in the middle of the day, and at the evening. If you think about it, God’s word is the sustenance for your soul. If you eat three times a day to nourish your body, should you not eat of the spiritual food of the word at least as many times, if not more? We need spiritual sustenance, and setting up patterns and behaviors that form our daily habits can help drive us into a deeper love for the Lord.
And even if you have healthy habits in place, there are days when your heart might not be in it and you have to wrestle with your soul to find that motivation … but it’s worth it in the end. There’s no greater joy in life than to be walking with God, according to his way, led by his Spirit. Do you want to be fulfilled as a human? Live according to how God made you to be alive: in relationship with him, proclaiming his glory and excellency in the world. Do you want inner peace? Wrestle through the sin of your own heart and let God work out forgiveness of that sin through the grace of Jesus Christ but also the death of that sin through the power of Christ.
God’s love toward you is complete and utter devotion. It only makes sense that he would expect the same from you. But the expectation is for your benefit, that you might see long days in the land. That you might see eternal life. Trusting Jesus as Lord of your life means that you are giving everything over to him, that you are making sure he is the priority in your world. That he is the one leading your life at the helm. Let God be One in your life, that he is at the root of all of your affections, all of your doings. This is my hope for all of you.
Let us pray.