Does Your Church Teach the Most Important Commandment?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Dave, as you know, last week we talked about the biblical view of love, beginning with the great commandment. I want to read that again for our listeners. This is from Mark chapter 12. I’ll read verse 29-31. “And Jesus answered, The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; there is none other commandment greater than these.”
Now, Dave, you say that God commands us to love Him with all our heart because nothing less could save us from our incorrigible enemy, self. So God is actually giving us the solution to our worst problem, isn’t He?
Dave: Well, I would say so. He is the solution, of course.
Dave: And to turn from ourselves to Him, as we mentioned in our last program. Our problem is self. Self had its awful birth in the Garden of Eden, as we all know, when Satan deceived Eve into thinking she could improve herself by eating of that fruit. And all she was thinking of was self. I, my, me. “How beautiful, how attractive it looks to me; how delicious it will taste to me; how wise it will make me.” She wasn’t thinking of Adam. She certainly wasn’t thinking of God. She trampled upon the rights of her husband. She didn’t consult him at all, but she listened to Satan’s voice. And she was very self-assertive, very self-centered, self-interested—and that’s where . . .
Tom: Dave, this is stunning, because it was prior to sin. Prior to her really disobeying God. But she was leaning in that direction. I mean, she didn’t come from a dysfunctional family—I mean, we’ve kidded about that—but, really, this was a perfect environment. Perfect, certainly, in God’s love for them—for Adam and for Eve.
Dave: You can’t blame it upon anything except Eve herself and Adam himself. That really raises a problem—in some ways, a philosophical problem—that philosophers have philosophized about for centuries. But for God to create creatures—that’s what we are, we’re creatures created by God—who have the power of choice, who are morally responsible and who can determine what they will do, what they will believe—that was a very dangerous thing, because what will prevent us from thinking of ourselves? So even a perfect, sinless Adam and Eve, since they had the power of choice, it would be inevitable that they would choose self.
The Bible defines sin as coming short of the glory of God. And any creatures that are less than God would make less-than-godly choices—would come short of the glory of God. So this is why Jesus said, “You must deny self. Take up the cross and follow Me.”
But our whole society and His covenanted church, as we’ve mentioned—you know, I don’t want to hammer away on that again—but is taken up with self. Self-improvement, self-development, self-confidence, self-image, self-love, self-expression, self-assertion, self ad-nauseam—on and on it goes. And Jesus, in contrast, said, “Deny self. Take up the cross; follow Me.” So this is what He’s trying to express to us in this statement: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
But, Tom, can I go back to something before that?
Dave: Jesus is quoting from the . . . it’s known as the Shema in Deuteronomy:6:4, and you could say, almost, well there was a command even before “Love the Lord your God.” He said, “Hear, O Israel. Listen to Me, Israel.” So we don’t want to emphasize that, but we really need to listen to the Lord. We really need to listen to His Word, and faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
But let me just take a minute. In the Shema, He says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” Now, you read that. That’s what Jesus is quoting. But in the Hebrew, it’s rather interesting. Maybe this is too elementary for many of our listeners, but I think some of them would find it helpful. Wherever you see “Lord” in small caps, all caps, in the Old Testament, that’s Yahweh—Jehovah, some people call it. And wherever you see “God,” it’s generally Elohim, which literally means “gods.” All through the Old Testament you have a plurality and a singularity. You cannot explain it away. Elohim, I think, is about 2,500 times in the Old Testament, and I think Yahweh is about 9,000 times in the Old Testament.
So here’s what it says, “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our Elohim is one Yahweh. And the word “one” there in the Hebrew is echad. It doesn’t mean a singular, but it means a joining together of more than one into one.
Dave: Right. So in Genesis:2:24, when God presented Eve to Adam, husband and wife, and they became one flesh—two became one, that’s echad. Or, in other places where a number of men became one troop. Or, Ezekiel:37:17, where God says to take the stick of Judah and the stick of Israel, they will be come one—one nation. So that’s echad.
So the God of the Old Testament, the God of Israel, is not a singular being but a unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this is what Jesus quoted.
And then it goes on: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God . . .” Now how can I love Him if I don’t know who He is—if I have a false idea of Him?
So, He’s explaining. He’s presenting Himself. And it’s important that we understand this.
Tom: Yeah. Dave, I want to quote a couple of other scriptures. In Jeremiah:29:13, it says, “And ye shall seek me and find me when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Now this is a command of God, and if it’s a command of God, we have to be able to do it. But how do we go about searching for God with all our heart? Now, before you answer that, let me give you my own crisis of faith, which I’ve mentioned on the program before.
After being a Christian for, I don’t know—five, six, months—I really had a . . . my appetite for God’s Word seemed to be insatiable. And I got to this verse that I was to love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength, and so forth, and I just had to close the book. Because I said, “I can’t! I wanted to do everything that was in the book. Remember, I had a Catholic background. You want to get it done. You want to do what it says. I felt that way, as a former Catholic. But here was something that I knew I could not do!
But now I know I can do it! But mainly—and I don’t want to answer this question for you, but . . .
Dave: Well, how are you going to do it, Tom, then? We talked about it last week, but now you said you couldn’t do it, and now you believe you can.
Tom: Yes. Well, I called you up on the phone, and you said, “Tom, now you’re understanding what Christianity is about. It’s not by might, nor by power—that is, the self—doing it. It’s by God’s Spirit. That not only will He enable you. He’ll give you the desire, and you’ll grow in Him, and you’ll get to know Him better.” And the better you know Him—we mentioned this last week, but if I go way back with this (and I’m not saying that I’ve arrived), but I do know Him better, I do understand more and more what He has done for me; what He continues to do for me. And why He would even do something for me is more than I can take, sometimes . . .
Tom: . . . knowing my heart.
Dave: Well, you were quoting from Jeremiah. The Lord says, “And you will seek for Me and find Me when you seek for Me with all your heart.” The word “Me” is important. A lot of people want some kind of a god that’s like a magic genie—you rub the lamp and here it comes: “At your service. What would you like?”
That’s the kind of a god that most of us . . . prayer is a religious technique to get our own way.
Tom: In many cases.
Dave: Yeah, you try to talk into working out our plans the way we would like, and so God becomes sort of a Star Wars force that we can manipulate to get what we want. That’s not the God of the Bible. And if a person is seeking that God, they will not find the true God. So, the true God is saying, “You will seek for Me and find Me when you seek for Me with all of your heart” (emphasis added).
Do I really want to know the God who is so pure, so holy, that He cannot tolerate sin at all for one moment? Do I want to know the God who is so great that I’m . . . I’m nothing? Is this the God that I want to know? Or do I want to know a god that I can sort of put my arm around and say, “Okay, God, you know, I’ve got a little favor I’d like to ask of you.” Or some white-haired grandpa in the sky with a long beard who will pat me on the shoulder when I do something wrong and say, “That’s okay, don’t worry about it”? Or do I want to know the God who is so holy that sin must be punished; the penalty must be paid? Do I want to know the true God, or do I want to know a false God?
By the way, there are false gods! There are false gods. People have false ideas of God, and there are idols, for example, that have been constructed by pagans here and there. There are millions of these idols in India, and in the Bible—Paul very clearly says in 1 Corinthians 10 that the Gentiles, who give offerings to these idols, are giving offerings to devils—demons literally use these idols as a front for their activity.
Tom: Yeah, but, Dave, these people are sincere. Doesn’t sincerity count for something here?
Dave: Tom, I don’t believe you can be sincere and worship an idol. You know, Isaiah mocks them . . .
Tom: So it’s not really sincerity. It’s really delusion. It’s based on self and what self wants.
Dave: I think it’s a . . . the Bible says, “Of this, they are willingly ignorant.” They don’t want to know the true God. The prophet Isaiah, you remember—God is inspiring him. He mocks them. He says, “They cut down a tree. Part of it they cut up and they warm themselves. They build a fire with it, and they roast their meat on it. And part of it they take a little splinter and pick their teeth, and then part of it, they make a god out of it! It has eyes, it can’t see. It has ears, it can’t hear. You have to carry this thing—it has legs and feet but it can’t walk.” You’ve got to carry it, and then Isaiah says, “They that make them are like unto them. Their hearts are darkened.” How could you imagine that a little god that you’ve formed out of wood or stone or clay—that you yourself have made—that this has power?
Tom: Dave, and that applies to . . . somebody says, “Well, I don’t worship idols.” No, that applies to the “god” of your own imagination—the one that you have created, crafted, in your head, to do your bidding . . .
Dave: And, Tom, we have this in the church as well. We have a teaching that came out of Group, I think, Publishers, for youth ministers, to visualize God. How can you visualize God? “He dwells in a light that no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see.” So, whatever “god” you’re going to visualize in your mind, you might just as well make this god out of wood or stone or clay. This is a false god!
Or, the teaching in the church, many Christian psychologists—“Well, if you really want to understand the Bible, visualize Jesus. See him there, and he will really speak to you.” Now, you’ve got a fraudulent Jesus! You’ve made him up with your imagination.
So, “You will seek for Me,” God says, “and find Me, when you seek for Me with all your heart. And we do not create God in our imagination. We do not create Him in our mind or with our hands.
Tom: Dave, let me quote Hebrews 11: 6: “But without faith, it is impossible to please Him. For he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
Dave: Right. I’ve probably said it before, Tom, but nobody remembers what I say anyway [chuckling]. But I can remember as a young Christian reading that verse and thinking, Ah! There’s the formula of success! I can get that Cadillac. I can get that big house. I can get what I want. He’s the rewarder of those who seek Him!
And then it finally hit me. Wait a minute! If you’re seeking Him, what will He reward you with? Himself! He rewards those who diligently seek Him. Well, then He would reward them with Himself. You wouldn’t want something you weren’t seeking. Wouldn’t it be a bad bargain if you seek God and He gives you the whole world, and you miss Him?
So, we have people who are interested in the gifts that God gives but not interested in the Giver of the gifts. And, again, Tom, I’m not trying to be critical. It’s in my own heart, and we’re trying to learn from the Word of God.
Tom: We’re trying to understand the Scriptures, and we began with talking about loving the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, all your strength, all your mind. Yet, if this is a false god we’re going after, it’s all for naught. How can you love something false, although we do?
Dave: At the same time, Tom, as we mentioned in the last program, there’s an element of fear involved. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It’s the beginning of understanding. And this God that I’m going to love—that I do love—this God that I am seeking with all my heart, and I want Him to reveal Himself to me, is so awesome! There has to be a sense of awe and reverence, and, really, fear before this God.
That raises a problem. It’s like the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. God came down. The mountain was on fire! Smoking. It was shaking, like an earthquake, with the power and the glory, of God. God spoke to them with an audible voice! Gave them the Ten Commandments, and they promised to keep them.
But do you remember what they said to Moses? “You go up to the mountain. You get close to God. But we don’t want to get any closer than this, because it’s too awesome; it’s too frightening!”
Well, they had the understanding of fear of the greatness of God, but they did not have the understanding of God’s grace, His mercy, and His love. So these two have to come together if I’m going to really know the true God.
And very often when I watch television—Christian television—which I do very seldom, sometimes in some church services I don’t think the God they’re talking about is the God of the Bible. They don’t treat Him with reverence. They don’t treat Him with awe. But it seems like the god they’re talking about is someone they almost have on a string, and he does what they want him to do. He performs when they want him to perform. He does miracles when they want him to do miracles. And they’re using him to their own end. And, again, Tom, I keep saying it—I’m not trying to be critical. I’m just trying to bring some correction into my own heart from the Word of God, and hopefully into the hearts of others who are listening. And maybe even something that will influence the church. That will influence our worship as we come together to praise God and to worship Him.
Tom: Dave, when we look to the psalms, for example, David crying out, or using the example of a deer thirsting . . . or panting, for the water; or in Psalm:63:1: “O God, I seek thee, my soul thirsteth for thee.”
I’m sure we have listeners out there thinking, That’s what I really want. I want that. I know I’ve been . . . you know, gotten into this and gotten into that, and maybe have deluded myself this way. But that’s what I really want! How do I . . . How can my heart become like David’s, a man after God’s own heart? How can I have this thirst? Have this hunger for Him, that’s not just sincere, but it’s in truth?
Dave: Yeah. I think it’s fairly simple, Tom. Well, for example, if I said, “Tom, I’d like to introduce you to the things the world goes for—the world’s greatest athlete, or the world’s most powerful politician, the greatest ruler, the wealthiest man . . .” And let’s say that they’re good people, as well, at that. We do give honor to men. And we’re interested in knowing people who have some power, some greater knowledge than we have, and we would consider it a privilege if such a person would take you under their wing and would be a real genuine friend to you. But this is the God who created the universe! Wouldn’t I want rather to know Him? To seek Him? He is so far beyond anything that a human being could be. He’s infinite in love, in patience. Perfect in mercy and grace and power! And He loves me! He created me! He created us for a purpose. He made us in His image, in fact. And those of us who are Christians—we’ve opened our hearts to Christ, He’s come to live in our hearts.
Now, I wouldn’t think you’d have to get behind somebody and shove them, and say, “Wouldn’t you really want to know Him?” When I understand . . . I begin to understand a bit of who He is, how wonderful He is, I want Him! I long for Him! “As a deer pants after the water brooks, so my soul thirsts for you, O God.” And we would say that with the psalmist and with Paul, speaking of Christ and of God, who are one, “O that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings . . . ” whoops! “being made conformable unto His death”? Oh, there are some things that are required in knowing Him. He’s going to conform me to His image. He’s going to discipline me. He’s going to guide me and make me what He wants me to be. That's why I want to know Him, and this is all involved in it. How could we hold back from that desire?
Tom: Yeah, if the desire is really sincere, God has His love letters for you. It’s called God’s Word, and as we . . . Hey! You rattled off a lot of things about God’s qualities and His character, but you didn’t make them up. You found them in God’s Word, and that’s our encouragement to everyone listening to this program.