Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
It has been said that the first five books of the Bible are God's code of creation. It also has been observed that God's purpose of creation is purely altruistic, for God's only purpose of creation is to bestow upon his creation the ultimate good. We can easily understand this nature of God when we consider who God is. By definition, God is infinitely good. He is already perfect, so that he has no reason to create anything. Yet he created his creation. Why? The only logical conclusion is that he wants to give what is good to his creation.
Deuteronomy is the last book of the first five books of the Bible, collectively called the Torah. In this book Moses sums up the teachings contained in the first four books. In a way, this book is the summary of summaries, the core of cores of God’s instructions. Tonight we would like to cover this book briefly based on what Moses says in the two verses we just read. The reason we chose these two verses is, as many of us already know, the command to love the Lord is the key to seeing God's purpose of creation being fulfilled in our lives. Yes, God has a good purpose for his creation. Yes, we humans are the crown of creation. Yes, it is to bless his children that the Lord redeemed them. Ultimately, then, how is the Lord going to fulfill his good purpose for his children? Again the key verses for tonight answer the question, for these verses set forth the key conditions for God to fulfill his truly good purpose for his children. With this in mind let us study this passage in three parts:
First, Hear, O Israel.
The first condition for God to fulfill his good purpose is for his children to listen to what the Lord has to say. Meeting this first and foremost, important condition requires a little bit of humility on our part. And a humble person empties himself and respects others' opinions better.
This is more easily said than done. The Bible says that Moses was a very humble person. Yet he too had the problem of hearing. As we briefly covered in the book of Numbers, Moses could not enter the Promised Land for his lack of ability to hear the Lord. On one occasion the Israelites were thirsty. They cried out to the Lord for water. The Lord heard their cry and he asked Moses to speak to a rock to secure water. But Moses struck the rock twice. Water still came out, but the Lord was greatly displeased. Why then did Moses strike rather than speak? His emotions were in the way. Plus, he did not listen to the Lord carefully enough.
However, for the most part, Moses set a good example of hearing the Lord. He heard the Lord so well that the Lord was able to speak to him face to face, just as two friends talk to each other face to face. How was Moses able to do this? Most of us already know the answer, that is, he emptied himself, so that nothing was in the way for the Lord's word to stream into his spirit.
But then like everyone else emptying one's own ideas does not come easily. In Moses' case, it took forty long years of life in a desert for him to fully emtpy himself. Acts 7:22 reads, "Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action." The expression, "powerful in speech and action" is both good and bad. It is good according to worldly standards, but is bad from a spiritual standpoint. If you are stuffed up with worldly wisdom, you are left with no room to listen to the Lord. Luckily though through the forty years of life in a desert, Moses had the time to let all the input he received in Egypt be siphoned out. Then he was ready to attend to the word of the Lord. He became literally the Lord's instrument.
We find another example in the life of the Apostle Paul. While he lived as a Pharisee of Pharisees he was so filled with his own ideas that he ended up living as an instrument of the devil. But after he met the Risen Jesus on his way to Damascus he realized that nothing good resided in him. So he made a decision to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Since then the Lord could use him mightily for his redemptive work.
Tonight then we have an important prayer topic for all of us: we need to humble ourselves and train ourselves to listen to God and go by his word.
Second, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Many interpretations have been presented on the meaning of this Bible passage. But for our own purpose we can say that this passage sets forth the purpose of God's redemptive work, that is, to build a unity between God and his children. The word "one" has many different meanings. One of the meanings is the unity among the members of a unit, such as the unity among the three persons of God, that is, God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As they are one, God wants his children to form a unity of love with him.
We can easily understand this will of God when we think about the way he helps out his children. For example, the Lord called Abraham so that he would overcome himself, put trust in the Lord, and thereby become a man to whom God can fully reveal himself. As Abraham put trust in the Lord, the Lord God revealed his glory in and through Abraham. Last Sunday we studied about the faith of Abraham. One of the striking messages that come out of Abraham's life of faith is that God revealed his glory by granting Abraham a son even though Abraham was past age. Although Abraham was 99 years old and his body became as good as a dead person, still when God commanded him to circumcise, Abraham obeyed. By faith Abraham received a son, Isaac, and thereby rendered glory to God. In this way Abraham grew up to God's level. God was pleased with Abraham's faith. So the Bible calls Abraham "God's friend." God blessed Abraham and his children, Isaac and Jacob, so that when Moses asked God his name, God identified himself with Abraham and his children, saying, "...I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. This is my name forever, by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation."
“Here, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” When Jesus came he announced the same purpose of his redemption when he said to his disciples in John 14:20, "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." Further in John 17:20-23, Jesus offered a high priestly prayer to the Father saying, "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." So we have another prayer topic, that is, the need to struggle to form a unity of love with God the Father and with fellow brothers and sisters. Then we are called to make disciples of all nations, so that all would live for one and one for all, all forming a complete unity, all in and through the work of our Lord Jesus.
Third, love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Practically, then, what should we do in view of God's purpose of creation and redemption?
1) Love the Lord.
This is what we need to as a matter of first importance. What then does "love" mean? We can find an answer to this question when we think about the meaning of the word “love” in Hebrew, for in Hebrew love has its root in the word e-hav which means "I will give." This is consistent with the Greek concept of love called agape, for in Greek agape, which refers to the kind of love God has, means the love that is totally altruistic, that is, God seeking the highest good of the one whom he chooses to love. It was in this vein that the Apostle John said, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." So love chooses to give rather than to take.
Viewed in this way we can better understand what it is to love the Lord, that is, we give the Lord what is best: our time, money, energy, and all other blessings we receive from him, such as family, career, or ministry.
Then again the Lord God wants us to love him by us offering all that are valuable, for this act of giving creates the environment in which God can bless his children. Not all people understand the secret of this truth. But in the Bible there are tons of people who understood it and sacrificed their lives fully to the Lord that the Lord God blessed them as much as they sacrificed themselves. Just think about Abraham. How much did he sacrifice? He loved the Lord so much as to be willing to sacrifice even his one and only son Isaac. The same is true with people like Moses. Moses gave up so much and he did it all for the sake of Jesus Christ. As a result, he came to be a source of blessing for so many.
This same truth works not just individually but collectively. One small example is the people of S. Korea. When I visited Korea a month ago, I realized that the Lord blessed Korea very much. As I walked through the Kang-Nam District, I realized that Seoul is even better than New York or the streets of any other advanced metropolitan city. And I heard that in Seoul alone there are a lot of mega churches where they conduct early morning prayer worship three times a day--and they to this every day. Let us pray then that the people of this nation America would fully devote themselves to the Lord. Let us also pray to offer what is best to the Lord.
2) With all your heart, soul, and strength.
While the call to love the Lord sets forth the general direction for our devotion, the phrase "with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength," gives us the specific direction. Since I already served a message on this point a while ago, I do not want to bother you with the details of what these phrases mean, except to say that what the Lord desires us to do is to get our whole person involved in the act of giving. What God wants is, first of all, ourselves. In giving anything to the Lord, we must first give ourselves to the Lord.
We can better understand this requirement when we think about the function of the heart, the function of the soul, and the function of our strength. Heart refers to the functionality of a man by which he can have understanding and communicate with God. Soul represents the functionality of a man by which one comes to have a sense of identity that is unique, different, and separate from all others. Strength refers to the output in serving the Lord, such as physical strength, mental strength, or spiritual strength. The three functionalities correspond to the three levels on which we exist, that is, the level of spirit, soul, and body, for the heart is the vessel to hold the spirit, the soul is the vessel to hold the self, and the body is the housing for both the spirit and the soul.
“Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Here the word "all" is repeated three times. And the key for us to remember then is that in serving the Lord what counts is "all or nothing." In other words, God cannot bless a "half-hearted" person. And God is not pleased with any offerings that are not accompanied by one’s heart. For example, although you are seated on a chair during Sunday worship at the Downey Bible Center, when your mind meanders to all different places such as Sierra, Nevada, will the Lord find your act of worship as a fragrant offering? The answer is NO. By the same token, if your heart, soul, or mind is divided, God cannot use you as much as he desires. At this point let us read James 1:2-9, and 4:2-10.
In conclusion, let us read Deuteronomy 6:4-5 again. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."
Moses wrote Deuteronomy during the last five weeks before his death.Imagine that you have only five weeks to live here on earth in a physical body. What would you do for the flock of God that the Lord has allowed you to serve? As we know, during the forty long years Moses served the flock of God as their shepherd. As a shepherd he did mainly two things: teaching the Bible and offering intercessory prayers for them. As he was ready to leave the flock of God behind and depart from this mundane world,he gave them a review of the Torah. And one word he left for them was: "Hear, O Israel!" He knew the flock of God very well. Knowing that they go astray so easily, and yet praying that they should pay attention to the word of the Lord that all may go well with them, Moses solemnly proclaimed the word of the Lord for the last moments of his life. Tonight we are blessed to hear the word of the Lord coming through his servant Moses: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." May the Lord bless us to hear the Lord and obey, so that God's blessings would overflow in and through us to the four corners of the world.
One word: Hear, O Israel!
Cf. Deuteronomy 1:3 ("first day of the eleventh month - January 18, 1273 b.c.e.); 34:7 (According to Josephus, Antiquities 4:8:49, he died on 7 Adar, 2488 b.c.e. [i.e., Feb 17, 1273, b.c.e.])