Back in the Summer of 2009, Pastor David Wright of Lifelink Church preached a sermon entitled “What if God meant what He said?” That would mean we know – without a doubt – exactly what is required of us: “First, love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Second, love your neighbor as yourself.” Is it that simple?
Life is full of choices. At first blush it might seem like those two greatest commandments don’t really cover all the choices we are faced with in our lives. But maybe they reach a lot farther than we think.
We all have been faced with decisions that keep us up at night. Does this sound familiar?
Psalm 127:2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to lie down late, to eat the bread of sorrows: so to His beloved one He giveth sleep.
Worrying keeps us awake at night. Sometimes it feels like all the reward we get out of our hard work is just more sorrows. And then we may wonder: “Wait a minute, God, it says right there that You give sleep to Your beloved. So, what’s going on? Why am I stuck here?” The answer is in the verse before it:
Psalm 127:1 Unless Jehovah build the house, in vain do its builders labour in it; unless Jehovah keep the city, the keeper watcheth in vain:
Maybe the house we have been working so hard to build was not the house God wanted us to build. Maybe the city we have worked so hard to design, with all its magnificent walls and safeguards, is not the city God cares for us to live in. Architecturally speaking they may be beautiful. To the casual observers out in the world, that house and that city may look like successes, they may even envy them. But to God…
Isn’t that a scary thought?
How are we supposed to know?
Is it possible that God has a concrete plan for my life that I can ignore to my own hurt?
This is not something we wonder about all the time. Because when everything is going well, when there are no tragedies, no stark disappointments, we tend to go with the flow and enjoy the ride.
It’s only when things go wrong that the questions comes up: “God why didn’t you help me? Why didn’t you prevent this from happening? Why didn’t you tell me?” And then we pray… and pray… and when there is no answer (or we hear no answer) then we begin to wonder, “But God wasn’t this your will?” And then we get to the question that shows up in the life of every Christian sooner or later: “How can I know the will of God?”
How am I to know what it is I am supposed to do, if He doesn’t tell me clearly?
Well…Let’s analyze this logically.
To do something means to take action toward accomplishing a goal. And the kind of action we can take, the strength we can bring into the effort depends on our resources. And all of us have the same resources: time, treasure, and talents. So, the question is really about how I use those resources to accomplish my goals. And perhaps more important: How do I set those goals?
The reality is I cannot attack all problems at once. Likewise, I cannot strive for all goals at the same time, right? If that is so, then I have to prioritize. I have to figure out what to do first, then what to do second, and so forth.
Does God have a plan for that? I don’t see how it can be any clearer than this:
Matthew 22:37-40 And he said to him, Thou shalt love [the] Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding. This is [the] great and first commandment. And [the] second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law and the prophets hang.
What are the actions in these commandments? Thou shalt love. What are the goals? (1) To Love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. (2) To love my neighbor as myself.
So, the question I should really be asking myself is: Are these my first and second chosen actions every day? Are those the goals I am aiming for every time I have a decision to make?
If Jesus meant what He said, then these are #1 and #2. Period. Really, there is no alternative, if I call myself a disciple.
Is that too simplistic?
I wonder how often I have asked myself if what I choose to do with my time, my treasure, and my talents is truly guided by my desire to love God first in my life. (Or as Jesus said in the sermon on the mount: Seeking (action) His kingdom (goal) first?) Or, are my decisions based on something else: something I want… something I want to accomplish… an item on my bucket list?
Am I saying that every decision we make has to be vetted by God? That before I buy that car, I’d better pray and pray until God shows me a sign from heaven that, indeed, that AMC Gremlin is the car for me?
No, that’s not what I am saying. But I am saying that our lives are full of decisions of the heart. They are decisions about what is right and what is wrong. And when it comes to those decisions, He has already spoken clearly:
Micah 6:8 He has shown thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee… but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.
There are a lot of other decisions in our lives that we might want to call “practical decisions”; but I am going to resist that, because there is nothing impractical about choosing to live life God’s way. So let me call those decisions morally, or ethically, neutral. Should it be the AMC Gremlin or the Ford Pinto?
For those decisions, God gave us a brain that can reason and a mouth that can ask for wise counsel from those that know more than we do. We get to decide what we do in those cases. Could we be wrong? Well, yeah…
Will that mistake cost us? Will that mistake hurt our relationship with God?
David and the Temple
If indeed we have been living by #1 and #2, I am pretty sure God will intervene if we are ever in danger of going against His will. It’s like when King David told the prophet Nathan that he wanted to build a house for God:
1 Chronicles 17: 1-4 And it came to pass as David dwelt in his house, that David said to Nathan the prophet, Behold, I dwell in a house of cedars, and the ark of the covenant of Jehovah under curtains. And Nathan said to David, Do all that is in thy heart; for God is with thee.
And it came to pass that night that the word of God came to Nathan saying, Go and say to David my servant, Thus saith Jehovah: Thou shalt not build me a house to dwell in;
Nathan’s first reaction is to tell David, ‘That sounds good to me, go for it.’ What could possibly go wrong with such a noble goal? But, because David thought about it, and asked for counsel (talking to Nathan), he opened the door of his heart to God’s plan. And God’s answer is surprising:
1 Chronicles 17:4-6 Go and say to David my servant, Thus saith Jehovah: Thou shalt not build me a house to dwell in; for I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up Israel to this day; but I have been from tent to tent, and from [one] tabernacle [to another]. In all my going about with all Israel, did I speak a word to any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people, saying, Why build ye me not a house of cedars?
This first part of God’s answer is kind of sobering. He says it nicely, but, essentially, He says: ‘Why do you think I need your help?’ This is echoed in Psalm 50, one of the Psalms of Asaph, where God is talking to his people about the sacrifices in the Temple and He says: ‘If I was hungry, I wouldn’t tell you… I own the world and its fullness already.’ The question God is putting to us when He reacts this way is this one: Whom are you doing this for? Are you doing what you are doing, for Me? because I need your help on this? (Or, are you doing what I told you to do because I know it is good for you?)
We need to hear this (mild) rebuke because we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that God needs our help. I know.
I read a lot. I have studied the Scriptures; I have studied the arguments people who reject them use; I have analyzed the logic behind them and figured out how to prove them wrong. I have even taught Sunday School classes on apologetics. And then one day, reading one of Kierkegaard’s books, I ran across his comment that God needs no apologists. And my jaw dropped.
Not because I didn’t understand it but because I completely understood where he was coming from. I had followed his logical argument up to that point and then suddenly, without warning, he drops this bomb.
Does God need me to defend Him?
In Judges, chapter 6, Joash, Gideon’s father, faced off against his relatives and his neighbors who wanted to kill his son for breaking the altar of Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole. This is what he said to them:
Judges 6:31 … Will *ye* contend for Baal? or will *ye* save him? he that contends for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning. If he be a god, let him plead for himself, because they have broken down his altar.
I love that passage: If Baal is a god, he can defend himself…
So, then, why are we called to evangelize? Why are we called to challenge heresy in the Church? The answer is: Out of love for our neighbor. That’s it. No more no less.
That, we have been commanded to do. And that we must do. We are called to speak the Truth of the Gospel because the Truth of the Gospel is the Word of God; and the world needs to hear His Word, to hear the Father’s Love calling them to Him.
John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.
Every time I speak to a person in the world to tell them about the love of Jesus, I have fulfilled priority #2: Love my neighbor as myself. Because if they embrace His love, they have passed out of death into life.
But if ever these words come out of my mouth: “The reason I do this, the reason I say this, the reason I believe this is because I am a Christian”, and the purpose of those words is to somehow show I am superior, that I know better, that my choices are better than theirs, that I am right and they are wrong, that God is on my side… I am skating on thin ice. He has shown thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee: but to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with thy God.
God doesn’t need our help. He is fully capable of defending Himself. In fact, He is fully capable of defending us. What He wants us to be is vessels of His Love.
Ok, that was an aside. Let’s go on because God’s reply to David was not all rebuke:
1 Chronicles 17:7-10 And now, thus shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: I took thee from the pasture-grounds, from following the sheep, to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies from before thee, and have made thee a name, like unto the name of the great men that are on the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and be disturbed no more; neither shall the sons of wickedness waste them any more, as formerly, and since the days that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel. And I will subdue all thine enemies; and I tell thee that Jehovah will build thee a house.
God is telling David: ‘Think about it, who needs whose help? You know I don’t need your help because you know I have been helping you all this time. Look back and remember all I have done for you. (How I have loved you.) Well… I am not done yet… I am going to build you a house.’
1 Chronicles 17:11-14 And it shall come to pass, when thy days are fulfilled that thou must go [to be] with thy fathers, that I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom. It is he who shall build me a house, and I will establish his throne for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son; and I will not take away my mercy from him, as I took it from him that was before thee; and I will settle him in my house and in my kingdom for ever; and his throne shall be established for ever.
This is the conclusion of God’s message to David: ‘Not only will I establish your family through this earthly kingdom, but because of your faithfulness I will bring My Son to this world through that family. And He will build me the House I desire: the Kingdom that will never end.’
This is an astounding promise. This whole conversation started because David thought he needed to do something for God; and God, seeing that heart seeking to do the right thing, rewards it with a revelation of the way He works.
He is the One who loved us first. He is the One that will give us all we need, exactly what we need throughout our lives. And He is the One that has called us to enter His Kingdom.
How did David’s decision regarding the Temple, pivot on the greatest commandments?
That’s kind of obvious. David wanted to build it because he loved God above all things.
All God asks of us is that we love him the same way. By loving Him first, #1. Then we can do #2. If we do those two, we cannot go wrong.