June 17, 2007 | Randy Smith
Loving GodDeuteronomy 6:5
Sunday, June 17, 2007 (Father's Day)
Pastor Randy Smith
On February 1st, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia commander, Rick Husband and six others died when their spacecraft broke apart and disintegrated over the Texas skyline just miles from their designated landing. The day after the tragedy, a memorial service was held for the forty-five-year-old Husband at the church he attended in Houston (Grace Community Church). Before his death, Commander Husband recorded a video. At the service, the tape was played.
He said, "If I ended up at the end of my life having been an astronaut, but having sacrificed my family along the way or living my life in a way that didn't glorify God, then I would look back on it with great regret. Having become an astronaut would not really have mattered all that much. And I finally came to realize that what really meant the most to me was to try and live my life the way God wanted me to and to try to be a good husband to Evelyn and to be a good father to my children" ("Rick Husband, Mike Anderson 'fervently lived for God,'" Baptist Press, February 3, 2003).
As you know, today is Father's Day. As I presented a special message for mothers a month ago, I would like to do the same for fathers this morning. Although this message is applicable to everyone who hears my voice, my primary concern is to encourage fathers in what God wants them to be. And like we heard from Rick Husband, I am convinced that the best fathers are the ones who know how to properly love their heavenly Father. For when we put a love for God at the heart of everything we do, everything we do will fall into perfect place. For until we truly love God, we cannot properly love those He has entrusted to our care.
Loving God. There is no way I can do justice to this topic this morning. For one, a subject that stands at the foundation of our faith is too deep to be covered in one sermon. Furthermore, the love of God and the love we are to have for Him are infinitely beyond our finite understanding and the imperfect example of this preacher. Nevertheless, as we step outside of our current study in 1 Samuel and use some material we covered in our last men's class, I hope I can introduce a topic central to life but sadly misunderstood by many even within the church.
1. WHY SHOULD I LOVE GOD?
Lest I presume that everybody in this sanctuary accepts the fact that it is necessary to love God, I think it would be wise to give some rationale behind the need for this message. So why is it so important that we love God?
For starters, it is important because God commanded it from us (Dt. 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16; Jos. 22:5; 23:11; Psm. 31:23). Need I say more?
I already read Deuteronomy 6:5, but that statement is repeated off the lips of Jesus in the New Testament as well. When questioned about the greatest commandment (Mt. 22:36), I say that again, the greatest commandment, our Lord responded, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment" (Mt. 22:37-38).
Be very careful to notice, my friend, that the call is not to love any nebulous god or the deity of our own choosing. Jesus said, as He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 that we must love "the Lord your God." In the Hebrew this was an exclusive call to love Yahweh (the proper name for God) and Yahweh alone. As Yahweh stated in the First Commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Ex. 20:3).
Is God simply a power-hungry tyrant? Is it really true love when it needs to be commanded? Are we to love God at the exclusion of loving others? Let me see if I can answer those common questions.
Every wedding I have officiated begins with a four-part charge to the couple at the beginning of the ceremony. After reading a line, the bride and groom respectively respond with an "I will." The final line of the charge states: "Will you honor and keep her in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, keeping thyself only unto her, so long as you both shall live?"
In a marriage relationship, the two become one flesh. Second only in their relationship to God, is to be their love for one another. Does this mean they are not allowed to love others? Absolutely not, for that would be a violation of the second greatest commandment (Mt. 22:39). What it means is that for the sake of their relationship, they are to forsake all competing forces that vie for their heart's allegiance. For that allegiance on a human level belongs to the spouse alone. Anything less, as defined by Jesus, is considered adultery.
The Bible calls the church the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7; 21:9). Are we to be surprised that God is jealous when we are spiritually married to Him and yet run after other lovers (idols), especially lovers that pull our hearts further away from our heavenly Husband? Why are we surprised when God expects fidelity in our relationship with Him?
This is a repeated theme in the prophetic books between God and the nation Israel. Deuteronomy 32:21, "They have made Me jealous with whatis not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols." Jeremiah 5:7, "Why should I pardon you? Your sons have forsaken Me and sworn by those who are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the harlot's house." It is also a problem between God and those who claim to be in the church.
How soon we forget that our God first loved us (1 Jn. 4:10, 19). And our God proved that love for us, Romans 5:8, "in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." While our eyes were scaled to His glorious presence and our hearts rebellious to His holy standards, the Lamb of God went to the cross as our perfect substitute to take our sins upon Himself. And on that cross He received the wrath of God that we deserve. Through His atonement, the free gift of salvation is offered to all who come on the basis of faith and repentance. He saved us from hell and gave us the gift of Himself while we were yet enemies (Rom. 5:10)! Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" How can we not love Him if we understand and experience these truths (2 Cor. 5:14-15)?
Yet as our Creator and our Redeemer, I believe God has every right to demand that we love Him. For He is too lovely and too glorious to accept our leftovers.
But there is another reason we must also love God and that is for our own sake. Actually, I could put it this way. It is so much to our advantage to love God, that God would be unloving if He did not command us to love Him.
As a father, I command my children to eat their vegetables, look both ways when they cross the street, and not open the door for strangers. Are these rules unloving? Though the immature child might think so, any responsible parent can attest that these rules are an indication of my love. It is no different than discipline - unpleasant to the child, but biblically speaking, the proof that I actually love my children (Heb 12:6).
In the same way, the command to love God is the evidence of God's love for us.
Consider a couple thoughts.
If sin is the reason for the majority of my suffering and the root of sin is not loving God, isn't it in my best interest to love God so that I might resist the temptation to sin and subsequently be spared the consequences of sin?
If "God is love" as the Bible declares (1 Jn. 4:8), won't I enter into the greatest self-fulfillment (notice I did not say "selfish-fulfillment"), if I can come to love that which is the essence of love? If I have been made in the image of God, am I not most authentically human when I surrender myself to His love? Is it not a paradox as I surrender myself to the One to whom I am an extension that I become most profoundly what I have been created to be?
Is it not maximum fulfillment to forsake the second-rate treasures of the world and give my whole heart to that which is most precious and most satisfying (Jer. 2:11)?
2. HOW DO I LOVE GOD?
We have established the need to love God. The next logical question is "How do we love God?"
Believe it or not, loving God in a way He expects is not the natural inclination of our hearts. Because we are born in sin and depraved in our thinking, we tend to love other things more than we love God. Just as my children find it easier to play with their "Game Boy's" then listen to the catechism I have been conducting after dinner, we gravitate to the things of the world over the things of God. On my own I may express a sentimental or shallow love for God, but apart from His assistance I will never love Him with all of my heart - love Him without qualification, reservation, hesitation or calculation.
Since we need His assistance, the key to loving God is first receiving His love. In 1 John 4:19 we read, "We love, because He first loved us." Since He is the standard of love and only His love meets His approval, we must love Him back with the love He has given to us-love that is unconditional, free, sacrificial, dedicated and without measure (Eph. 3:17-19).
Therefore, God must be the source of love. Our worldly love is insufficient for Him. If we are to love Him as He desires, it can only come from the love of God, Romans 5:5, "(that) has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit." As we abide in Christ through the Christian disciplines (Bible reading, church attendance, service, prayer, fellowship), we are filled up with God's love as the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). And the more I surrender, the more His love is manifested in my life. Then, as it is the nature of our faith to give, we fulfill the two greatest commandments to give the love we received from God back to God and others (Mt. 22:36-40). We become conduits and not cul-de-sacs of God's love. All in all, it is God's love coming to us and going through us so that our love may be divine and Romans 11:36, "From Him and through Him and to Him (may be) all things, (and He will receive)the glory forever."
3. HOW DO I DEMONSTRATE A LOVE FOR GOD?
So I see the need to love God. I love God with His love that He has given to me. Now, as we move to the third point, how do I demonstrate this love for God?
This is unfortunately the question most humans do not ask. I mean it is easy to demonstrate love for a certain type of food. To observers, there was no doubt that I loved those crab legs when Julie and I went out this week to celebrate our anniversary. As men I trust we know there are certain specific ways we demonstrate our loves for our wives. Some wives might feel the most love through words, others gifts, others touch and others acts of service. We demonstrate love for our children differently as well. But how do we properly demonstrate our love for God? Or put another way, how can I prove it to Him and myself, that I really love Him? Is it just saying, "I love you, God?"
I believe we should allow God to speak as to how we can love Him in a way that is most pleasing to His heart. Fortunately He has spoken. Permit me to provide three that I have found in Scripture.
First, we love God when we obey His commandments. 1 John 2:3-5a, "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected." 1 John 5:2-3, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." John 14:15, Jesus speaking, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."
I believe the majority of us as fathers feel the most loved when our children honor and respect us. When they comply with our reasonable demands with joy and prompt obedience. When they trust our reasoning and support our decisions. Our heavenly Father is no different. How beautiful it is to His heart when His children trust what He has commanded and delight in obeying those commandments.
It has been said, "The colored sunsets and the starry heavens, the beautiful mountains and the shining seas, the fragrant woods and the painted bowers, are not half as beautiful as a soul that is serving Jesus out of love, in the wear and tear of common, unpoetic life" (Faber, Quoted in: Knight's Master Book of 4,000 Illustrations, p. 393).
True love for God is demonstrated in a desire to surrender to His will as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures.
In addition to our obedience, a second way we love the Lord is by loving His children, especially during times of adversity when we are tempted to fight or run away.
Again, to go with a parenting illustration, if someone is mean to your children, you have a hard time believing that that individual really loves you. Parents, is it not true that we are most hurt when our children are hurt? And when someone blesses our children, they are in turn blessing us? And is it not true that the more we love a parent, the more we are emotionally attached and inclined to love their children?
In the same way, when we love people, especially other believers in the faith for whom Christ died (Gal. 6:10), our heavenly Father is pleased and delights in the love we are expressing to Him. God takes it seriously as to how we treat His children. What I am trying to say is that God defines how well I love Him by how well I love you. And as we grow in our love for one another we grow in our love for God. That is why Paul praised God when he wrote to the Thessalonian church, saying, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because…the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater." God is glorified when we love Him. We love God by loving His children.
Listen to these verses: 1 John 2:9-10, "The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him." 1 John 4:20, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen."
It is my prayer for this church that we would grow in our love for one another. And the most tangible way we can love one another, as we prayed Wednesday evenings, is to practice the "one-anothers." And there is no way we can practice the "one-anothers" unless we take time to be aware of needs and spend time in ministering to those needs.
I would love to see everybody in this church get beyond the "what's-in-it-for-me-attitude." May we approach every gathering with a "how-can-I-minister-to-someone-attitude." For example, instead of missing the ice cream social a few weeks ago because you are a little tired or had 10 things of less significance to do or wanted to avoid the extra calories on your waistline, begin to view it from a different perspective. Come with the attitude that says, "God's people are gathering. There will be many opportunities to minister to hurting people." Give 100% expecting nothing in return. That is the way good marriages work. That is the way good churches work. And that is the second way we demonstrate our love for God.
Obey His commandments, love His children, and third, we love God by what we choose not to love.
From a positive perspective, we love God when we set our affections on that in which He delights. From a negative perspective, it is unloving to God to pursue that which He hates.
Psalm 97:10 could not be any clearer, "Hate evil, you who love the LORD." Or how about 1 John 2:15-17, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever." Or the ever popular James 4:4, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
Possibly it will help if you think of it from this viewpoint. God's laws are not arbitrary. As I have said often from this pulpit, He is not a celestial killjoy demanding rules only to make our lives miserable. His laws are for our good, but moreover, they are a reflection of His character. So as we pursue biblical living, we are paying God the greatest compliment. We are saying that we delight in His character and desire to be just like Him ourselves.
God's children should delight in imitating their heavenly Father. In Ephesians 5:1 Paul said, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children." Consider the example of God's perfect Son when Jesus said, "I always do the things that are pleasing to Him" (Jn. 8:29b). Though we fall short, this should be our ultimate aim as well. This explains why Jesus delivered the following scathing rebuke to those who were living contrary to God's will: "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father" (Jn. 8:44). The motto, "Like father like son" certainly rings true. Our parentage is proven by whom we desire to imitate.
So when I have no desire to study God's character, when I pursue that which is contrary to His nature, when I enjoy the things He hates, when I take pleasure in that which nailed His Son to the cross, it is hard to say I am acting in love toward my heavenly Father.
So today we learned the need to love God as He has commanded and how to love God properly with the love He has poured into our hearts. We also learned three tangible ways to demonstrate that love, namely by obeying His commands, loving His children and not loving that which He dislikes.
The blessings for loving God are endless:
Salvation - From the negative, 1 Corinthians 16:22, "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed." From the positive, James 2:5 speaks of the "kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"
Assurance of that salvation - Psalm 145:20, "The LORD keeps all who love Him." Nehemiah 1:5, "I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandment" (cf. Dt. 7:9).
General goodness - 1 Corinthians 2:9 speaks of "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him." Romans 8:28a, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God."
So how can we be so foolish to not love the Lord? There are so many reasons, but one poet, I believe, expressed the greatest reason:
Then why, O blessed (Lord),
Should I not love Thee well'
Not for the sake of winning heaven,
Nor of escaping hell;
Not from the hope of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward;
But as Thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord.
So would I love Thee, dearest Lord,
And in Thy praise will sing;
Solely because Thou art my God,
And my most loving King.
Francis Xavier, 1506-1552
Space Shuttle commander Rick Husband was a man that loved God. It showed by the way he loved his family. There is no doubt this Father's Day that the greatest gift we give to our wives and our children is to "love the LORD (our) God with all (our) heart and with all (our) soul and with all (our) might" (Dt. 6:5).