David Jeremiah - Fully Engaged With God
Today, I'm going to talk about how to be fully engaged with God. And since this message is about love, I want to tell you a little story I read this week about a little girl who regretted breaking her engagement, and she wrote this letter. "Dearest Tommy, no words could ever express the great unhappiness I felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you'll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you. Yours forever, Marie. P.S. And congratulations on winning the state lottery". I don't know what that means, I just thought that was a funny story, so I thought I'd share that with you.
As you get older, people always have interesting things to say to you about getting older. And I've had people ask me what the advantages are to getting older, like we had a choice. Getting older gives you perspective, and I think that's one of the great things. You know, you can look back over your life, and you can see things as they've happened. And it gives you a sense of, "Oh, oh, so that's how that works". I have the distinct advantage to have grown up in ministry during the time when the issue of how we worship the Lord and what kind of music we use has been at the forefront. Some people have called it the worship wars. I started out in a pastor's home in a very fundamental, strict church. And we sang only the old hymns, all of the verses of the old hymns. And we stood up for every hymn we sang. Some songs had five, I remember one song had seven verses. We sang them all.
You know, the Bible says we're to worship the Lord in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We started with the psalms, and then we went to the hymns, and the hymns were like the new music that was then introduced and started with a man by the name of Ira Sankey, who led music for Dwight L. Moody, and it began with songs like "Blessed Assurance," and like that. And then in the early 70s, late 60s, the new music started, the contemporary music, the praise and worship music. And you cannot imagine the challenges that created for so many people. Many churches thought that that was certainly not something you should ever allow. And they would say that the words weren't meaningful.
I always like to remind them of some of the songs they sang growing up, like "Deep and wide," and "Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me," remember that one? I mean, their words weren't any more ridiculous than some of the words we sang when we were growing up, but it was new and different, and that's always tough. You know, I love music, and I love all of the music. I love the hymns, I love the gospel songs, I love the praise and worship music, I love it all. We do it all here, and we try to make sure that whatever we do, we do it with excellence because we have an excellent God, and he deserves our best. But I must tell you that, over the years, I began to change my mind about a couple of things. They used to say that the worship wars were all about style and not about substance.
That the words were okay, but it was the style, and of course, it was the beat, and all of that, and everybody had their ideas about it. But I do need to tell you that one of the things we should be careful about is substance. I don't think it's so much the style, it's what we say in our songs, what our words are. And I'm going to tell you something, I love all of the music that we sing, but once in a while, I get a little bit uncomfortable because it sounds like some of our music that we're singing to God is Frank Sinatra singing a song to his lover. The words, even sometimes the style, and I wonder, is that the way we should be expressing our worship to God? I mean, what if some of the old hymn writers were less emotional, but more theological? When they wrote their lyrics, maybe the argument was more to them about what the lyrics said than how they were expressed in music.
So, what does it really mean to be fully engaged with God? How do we even talk with him? How do we love God? How do we engage with God? I mean, God is spirit. I'm flesh and blood, I can't give him a hug. What do I do to love God? And how can I express that love to him as I worship him? That's what I want to talk with you about today in these moments that we have. Actually, the story begins in the Old Testament, primarily in the book of Deuteronomy, but even earlier than that. Let me set the stage. As you know, the children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt for 400 years. And when they came out of Egypt, it was called the exodus, and we have a book in our Bible called Exodus, and it's the story of the people of Israel coming out of Egypt, their exodus. When they came out of Egypt, they were going to be away from any central place. They needed some information about how to worship. So the book of Leviticus is ours to tell us how they were instructed to worship the Lord, all the ceremonies, all the feast days, all of the ins and outs of the Tabernacle in the book of Leviticus.
Then you get to the book of Numbers, and it's a sad story because the children of Israel have come to the place where they're about to enter into the Promised Land, but they send spies into the land to check it out, and ten of the spies come back and say, "We are not able to go in and take this land". And in their disbelief of God, the whole nation was punished. Do you remember what the punishment was? No one in that generation would be allowed to go into the Promised Land. Everybody in the generation that refused to obey God had to die, and the only people out of that generation who entered the Promised Land were Joshua and Caleb. So, in the book of Numbers, what you have is you have an obituary column on steroids, everybody dying.
Then you come to the book of Deuteronomy. I love that book, it means the second time. Deuteronomy, the second time, that's kind of the meaning of the word. Once again, the people of Israel are on the verge of going into the Promised Land. They've come out of Moab, they've camped on the plains of Moab, they're about to cross over the Jordan and conquer the Promised Land. And at this critical stage in their history, God inspires Moses to deliver several speeches to the Israelites, in essence, renewing their relationship with God, and defining the terms by which they will be able to live in the Promised Land with God as their God. On the brink of the Promised Land, Moses reminds the people of Israel of the Ten Commandments. And then he pauses to focus on the most important commandment that God ever gave. And the introduction to loving God is found in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5, in a passage called the Sh'ma, or the Shema.
Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5 says, "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 strength". These two verses are called the Shema because Shema is the first word, hear. And it is the central prayer to Jewish prayer books. It is often the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child will learn. Orthodox Jews pronounce each word very carefully, and they cover their eyes with their right hand. Many Jewish people recite the Shema twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. It has been called the fundamental truth of Israel's religion and Israel's pledge of allegiance, the Shema. Once again, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength".
Now, before we dig into this and how it teaches us to be fully engaged with God, there are three things we should note about this little passage. First of all, the priority of God. The purpose of the Shema was to impress upon the people of Israel the privilege and the sheer grace of their relationship with God. The injunction to love God was based on the precedent that God had already loved them. He had shown his love to the Israelites through the Exodus, and through their wilderness wanderings, and through the second opportunity to come to this place in the Promised Land. In other words, they were to love God because God had first of all shown his love to them. It's in the very same way that we read in the New Testament, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. We love him because he loved us".
The priority of God. The second point has a very interesting word, the particularity of God. Here we read, "The Lord our God, the Lord is one"! What in the world does that mean? Here are some of the ways it is translated in other paraphrases and versions, "The Lord our God, the Lord is one! The Lord our God, the Lord alone. God, our God! God the one and only! The Lord our God is one Lord! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one"! Now, in order to understand the meaning of this, you have to see it against the backdrop of where the Israelites have come from and where they're going. For instance, they've just come out of Egypt, a land full of idolatry. They have been exposed for all those years to the idolatry of the Egyptian nation. And where are they headed? They're headed toward the most wicked, polytheistic, idolatrous nation that ever had any space on this earth, the Canaanites.
And so, in these messages that Moses preached to the Jewish people in the book of Deuteronomy as he's preparing them to go into the land, one of the main key things is that they understand they are not to get caught up in this idolatry, their Lord is one. They have one God, and one God alone. There are not many gods, there are not some gods, there is one God. Our God is Yahweh, Yahweh alone is our God. That's what the Shema was communicating to them, and why it was so critical that they repeat that often, and never forget they have one God, not many. And then there was the purpose of God. The purpose of God is found in the last part of the verse, "You shall love the Lord your God". Now, on the surface, that sounds very simple and not very hard to understand, but it's profound.
First of all, how can you command somebody to love? Love is not something you do by virtue of a command, at least not the way we think of it in our culture today. Love is an emotion, love is a feeling, love is something right in here when you're near the person that's special to you. Love is more something you feel than anything that you do. I have a little note in the Jeremiah Study Bible that says, "How can love be commanded"? And it cannot be understood apart from the fact that the love, as it is described in the Old and New Testament, is far different than anything we know about love, at least normally. You see, biblical love is not merely an emotion. It's not just a pleasant disposition towards somebody else, but it is a commitment that is demonstrated by your action. The simple fact that Deuteronomy's love is a love that can be commanded shows that it's not merely an emotion. It's a commitment to God. It is expressed in loyalty and in service.
And one of the things that's most amazing about the book of Deuteronomy, as I mentioned to you, these are the thoughts that were in all of the messages that Moses preached as they were getting ready to go into the Promised Land. I went back through the book of Deuteronomy, and I was astounded at how many times the people of Israel were told what the definition of love really was. I can't give you even many of these verses, but I can give you enough so that you can see what I'm talking about. I'm not going to ask you to follow me in your Bibles this time, but on the screen, I'm going to go through these verses as fast as I can, but I want you to see, as you watch them on the screen, the connection between loving God and being obedient to God. Are you ready? Here we go.
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all of his ways and to love him? Therefore you shall love the Lord your God, and keep his charge and his statutes, his judgments, and his commandments always. And it shall be that if you earnestly obey my commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God, serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. If you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do, to love the Lord your God. And if you keep all these commandments to do them, which I command you today, to love the Lord your God. In that I command you today to love the Lord your God, and walk in his ways, and keep his commandments and his statutes, and his judgments.
Just a few, a smattering of the verses that are scattered throughout all these messages that Moses was preaching to the Israelites. What was he saying to them? He was saying to them, "Don't give me your empty words about how much you love God. I want you to demonstrate your love for God by doing what God asked you to do, by following his instruction". You say, "Well, Dr. Jeremiah, that's great, but that's Old Testament theology". Oh no, it isn't. It's New Testament theology. Have you never read? John 14:15, "If you love me, keep my commandments". John 14:21, "He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me". Wow. John 14:23, "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.'"
1 John 5:3, "And this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome". The introduction to loving God is simply a reminder to us that, as important as it is that we express our love to God verbally, that isn't really the essence of loving God. How many of you know you can go out into the world and live like the rest of the world without any knowledge or reference to God all week, come to church on Sunday, and stand up and sing how much you love God? But how empty is that? Our words should be expressed, absolutely, but not without content. And the content of loving God is obedience. And that's just true. I mean, I can't tell you that any clearer than I have today. I'm not telling you this is my opinion. I've read to you all these verses from the Old Testament, all these verses from the New Testament. It's wrapped up in that one phrase, "If you love me, keep my commandments, do what I tell you to do".
Now, don't we say that to our kids in so many words? So, now we come to the interpretation of loving God, that's the introduction to it. When you get to the New Testament, an amazing thing happens. The Lord Jesus gives a little sermon on this text. One day, a lawyer comes to Jesus, and he says, "Lord Jesus, what's the greatest commandment in the Bible"? And the Lord Jesus just grabbed hold of the question, he said, "The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And the second is like unto it, 'You should love your neighbor as yourself.'" When Jesus was asked about the one greatest commandment, he answered by giving them two. To the Shema, he added the command to love your neighbor as yourself. And he lists two commandments, but he only lists one command, and that is the command to love.
And by making love of your neighbor part of loving God, he's simply saying, "If you love me, keep my commandments because I've commanded you to love one another. So, when you love one another, what are you doing? You're loving one another, and you're loving me". In his letter to the Romans, Paul summarizes the last five of the commandments. How many of you know the first five of the commandments have to do with our relationship with God, the last five have to do with our relationship with each other? I don't know if you've ever seen this commentary in the book of Romans chapter 13, but I'm going to read it to you, and you absorb this. This is one of those passages you want to underline in your Bible. "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandment, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this one saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law".
Here, Paul says that if you want a good summary of the importance of the law and how it relates to loving God, this is it. If you love your neighbor, you're loving God because when you love your neighbor, you don't steal his wife, you don't steal his goods, you don't lie about him, you don't covet his stuff. You don't do things to hurt your neighbor, you love your neighbor. Keeping the last five commandments is just a way to express your love for others. But the key issue in our message today is that this whole discussion of love has nothing really to do with emotion until it first of all has something to do with obedience. The introduction to loving God, Jesus said, "Here is the greatest commandment, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind,' and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' because that illustrates how much you love God".
There is a real sense, men and women, in that we cannot love God unless we love others. And Jesus himself said on one occasion, "If you do it unto the least of these my brethren," what's the rest of it, class? "You have done it unto me". How we treat others usually is a pretty good illustration of how we treat God. The fully engaged part of this message is caught up in one little word in Deuteronomy 6:5, and it's the word "all". "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart," fully engaged. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul," fully engaged. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your strength," fully engaged. There's no room here for divided affection. No one can serve two masters. If you know the Lord and you love the Lord, you serve him with all your heart.
Notice in this text there are three things we're told that are a part of our loving God, loving God with all of our heart. Now, here's a revelation for some of you. In the Bible, your heart is not a pumping station. How many of you know, kids, you ask them, "Where's Jesus"? and they say, "Jesus is in my heart," and they point right here? And they really believe that he lives there, in that little space in their heart. And I'm okay with that because they learn better later on. But the heart in the New Testament and in the Old Testament wasn't necessarily what we think of as the heart. The heart represented the center of command in your life, where decisions were made, where plans are hatched. It is the control center of the inner being. It controls your feelings, your emotions, your desires, and your passions.
And so, what we're told to do here is to love our God with all of our thoughts, and with all of our choices, and with all of our decisions. Love the Lord your God with all your heart. And then he says with all your soul. What does that mean? Well, the word "soul" is a word for who we are as a person, including body and spirit and all that. Have you ever heard somebody say, "Well, that poor soul, that poor soul"? What they mean is that poor person. So your soul is the life that you live. It is used to express the self, with all of its emotion, desire, the personal characteristics that make you who you are. When you die, your soul goes to heaven. And remember last week, we learned this verse, "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name"! So your soul is who you are.
Now, watch what's happening, the Lord says, "Love the Lord your God with everything that's inside of you. Love the Lord God with everything that's part of you". And then he says, "With all of your strength". Oh, what does that mean? This is not simply a term for people who work out, although it could include that. Literally, the Hebrew word for strength is this, it's the word "very muchness". Love the Lord with all your very muchness. It is so wonderful a word. It's a call to love God not only with our physical muscle, but with everything we have available for honoring God, our very muchness, which includes our spouse, and our children, and our house, or our dorm room, our pets, and our wardrobe, and our tools, and our cellphones, and our movies, and our music, and our computers, and our time. All of our very muchness we're to bring to the way we love the Lord.
Now, in the Shema, there's only three categories, but if you've read carefully, you know that when Jesus got a hold of this passage, he added a fourth one. He says you're to love the Lord your God with all of your mind. That's not in the Deuteronomy passage, but it's in the passages in the New Testament. And I think that was put in there maybe even for such a time as this. Have you ever heard the term "mindless Christianity"? In fact, there are some versions of quote unquote Christianity where they actually tell you to divorce your mind from whatever you're doing, and to get in kind of a free space where your mind isn't working at all, and that's when you can worship God the most. If you ever hear that, that is jumbo gibberish. Don't ever listen to it. It's crazy. It has nothing to do with the Word of God. The Word of God tells us that we're to love the Lord our God with all of our minds.
How many of you know we could stand a little more dedication to the thinking process among evangelicals today? We need some people to think with their minds, give their minds to God. So, here we are with the implications of loving God. We're to love him with all of our heart, and our soul, and our strength, our very muchness, and our mind. We look at that and we say, "Wow, has anybody ever done that"? Well, you know, the Lord Jesus did that when he was here on this earth. He did always those things that pleased the Father. He came to live completely under the complete control of the Father. He never sinned, he walked perfectly on this earth, so the Lord Jesus Christ is a great example. But I don't want to put him on the table and leave him there alone because we aren't Jesus Christ, and we're not in his category. Was there anybody else who loved the Lord like this?
I just want to give you a couple of examples that have touched my heart. First of all, I don't know what this woman's name is. She has this unfortunate title in the Bible, she's called the woman of ill-repute. And the Bible tells us in Luke 7 that she showed up one day at a meal where Jesus was in attendance in a Pharisee's home. And she breaks open a flask of real expensive ointment that she brings in the door with her. And weeping over Jesus' feet, she pours that oil all down on his feet, and she wipes his feet with her hair, anointing them with oil. And the Pharisee, whose house this was being held in, a man by the name of Simon, who was probably still pretty ticked off that Jesus would let a woman like that even get close to him, he thinks if Jesus were a real prophet, he would know the kind of woman she was and have nothing to do with her. And Jesus tells him a story, just a couple of verses, but listen to this story.
When Jesus saw what was in Simon's heart, this is what he said: "'There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed a five-hundred denarii debt, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him more?' And Simon answered and said, 'Well, I suppose the one whom he forgave more.' And he said to him, 'You have rightly judged.'" After mentioning Simon's lack of courtesies, like he didn't wash Jesus' feet, and he didn't welcome him with a kiss, and he didn't anoint his head with oil, he pointed out how the woman washed his feet with her tears, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with oil, and then he delivers the punchline. And here it is in verse 47, "Therefore I say to you, Simon, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little".
Let me just add this little dimension to how to love God. The secret to loving God much is contemplating the immeasurable debt Jesus paid for you, and how vast in his mercy and grace you are living. One of the things we should always do when we come to communion, and I try to encourage you and instruct you to do this, it's to remember what Jesus Christ has done for us. It's a really good thing to remember from whence we have come, what we would be like if we did not know Jesus, what our lives would be like if we did not know God, and in the midst of all of that, to remember how blessed we are. And when we do that, we will love much. I suppose there are some here who, like your pastor, grew up in a Christian home. Maybe you don't feel like you were saved out of much, but you were saved from much.
I always used to get jealous when I'd go to testimony meetings because people would stand up and talk about how terrible they were, how they were almost ready to die because of drugs and alcohol and all the rest, and then Jesus saved them, and hallelujah. Then I realized God didn't save me out of it, he saved me from it. I mean, it's a really wonderful thing to be able to contemplate that. He didn't save me out of that, he saved me from it. That ought to make me bless his name, amen? So there's this woman of ill-repute. And then I couldn't finish a story on love without talking to you about my favorite person in the Bible, a man by the name of Peter.
I love Peter because he makes me feel better. Peter messed things up a lot, didn't he? In John chapter 21, there's this marvelous passage where the Lord Jesus comes up on the shore and begins to talk to Peter. And the Lord really is reassigning him and re-commissioning him, but there's this little interchange that goes on between the Lord and Peter. I want you to listen carefully to this. I see this for the first time in a totally different light. "So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Peter, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?' And he said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.' And he said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' And he said to him again a second time, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?' And he said to him, 'Lord, you know that I love you.' And he said to him, 'Tend my sheep.' And he said to him a third time, 'Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?' And Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love me?' And he said to him, 'Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.' And Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'"
Now, without going into a lot of detail, let me just tell you the key to this whole story is the words that Jesus used and the word that Peter used. Jesus asks Simon Peter, "Do you agape"? That's the Greek word for love. "Do you agape me? That means, "Do you love me fully? Are you fully engaged with me"? And Peter answered with the word "phileo". "Lord, you know that I'm fond of you". And the Lord said, "Peter, let me ask you a question again, do you agape me? Do you really love me"? And Peter said, "Lord, you know that I'm fond of you". And I always wondered, why would Peter do that? Why would he not accept the word that Jesus used? And finally today, I realized it. He had violated the whole content of agape love because he had not done the things he was told to do.
In fact, he had totally, totally betrayed his Lord three different times. Peter knew that there was more to love than the word that you said. And I have more respect for him as I understand that, that his integrity and honesty was on the line again. Would he say to the Lord, "Yes, Lord, I love you," using the word that the Lord used, or would he be honest with himself, that his conduct really illustrated a man who did not agape the Lord, but perhaps was fond of him? And isn't it interesting that when the Lord finished his inquisition of Peter, on three different occasions what did he do? He told him what to do. "So, Peter, if you want to really love me, go do what I tell you to do. Feed my sheep, feed my lambs. Then you'll be teaching others and yourself what it means to love God".
You know, in response to all of this about love, there's an interesting illustration. And that is that only once in the Old Testament is it said about anyone that they loved God. I'll show you where the passage is, it's 1 Kings 3:3, "And Solomon loved the Lord". Nowhere else in the Old Testament does it say David loved the Lord, Jonathan loved the Lord, Samuel loved the Lord. It's just not there. It is even more remarkable in light of current trends of praise and worship, that the word "love" never occurs with the first person subject when it has God as the object. No one, not even the psalmist ever declared that he or she loved Yahweh. From the words of Moses, we learn that spirituality arises from the heart, and it extends to all of life.
The people of the Bible understood how awesome a thing it was to say that you loved God because it was much more than words that rhymed with other words and fell into the lyric. But it represented their life. And I'm not saying that we should never say to the Lord that we love him, but I am saying that when we say to the Lord that we love him, we should think about the content that goes with that. When we sing to the Lord, "Lord, I love you," we should realize that when we're saying that, what we're saying is, "I love you so much, I'm going to do what you tell me to do. I'm going to be obedient to you, I'm going to honor you not just with my lips, but with my life".
The words of Moses teach us that spirituality arises from the heart, and it extends to all of our life. And those who claim to be religious tend to be subject to two different issues. First of all, there are some people who treat spirituality as if it were a totally private thing, and nobody needs to know anything about what's going on in your heart. "It's just me and God, and it's none of your business". And then there are others who don't have anything on the inside at all to talk about, and they're all external. They're posing for everyone. And Moses comes along and says, "No, hear, O Israel, the Lord your Lord is one God! You have one Lord! You shall love him with all your heart, be inwardly loving God. In all your soul be outwardly loving God. In all your strength, in your very muchness, love God. And with your mind, love God".
Can I tell you a secret? Most of my life, like most of you, I always realized that I knew God, I loved God, and I wanted to continue to doing what I'm doing. And don't you ever have some doubts once in a while? I always, "Lord, I know I don't love you like I should". What does that mean? Well, up until recently, it meant I don't pray as much as I should. I don't witness as much as I should. You know the list, all those things. And then, over the last few days and weeks, I began to realize when I do what God calls me to do, I'm loving God. Amen? And so are you, amen? You may not be loving God as much as you should, but probably you're loving God more than you thought.
And I just want to be here today to tell you whatsoever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. If you're loving him more than you thought, love him more than you've loved him. And it's not just coming to church to sing praise to his name. You love God when you live for God. Let's commit ourselves as we enter this new season, "This year is going to be a year when I live for God with all of my heart, with all of my soul, with all of my very muchness, and with all of my mind". By the grace of God, let that be our commitment.