How Do We Love and Obey God?
Preached @ Chapel NeXt Fort Stewart on April 17, 2016
- Introduction –
- How do we love God? So a big question that we need to ask as Christians is how do we love God? This is huge for us because it will shape the way we live our lives and the way we prioritize them. But here’s one of the most important things that we have to understand about loving God. We don’t make the rules. Every single one of us has access to a Bible. That Bible teaches us not just about God’s love for us but also about how he expects us to structure our lives to show our love for him and to bring him glory. And you know what? This is not a bad thing! It’s a very good thing. We don’t have to try and figure out what it means to love God because he tells us! So as we consider these commandments in Exodus, I don’t want us to see them as stifling but rather as something that is freeing. Not only do they help us learn how to love God but they reveal to us God’s perfect character and also shine a light on our need for a Savior.
So as we consider these this morning, I want to be upfront about how we are going to approach each of these commandments. We could easily spend an entire sermon unpacking each individual commandment but we just have this one sermon. So I want us to consider these commandments in the framework of question 4 of the Children’s Catechism. For those unfamiliar, a catechism is a series of questions and answers that has long been a part of Christian history. In some denominations they play a large role in the life of a church. In my family, we use a Children’s Catechism to help teach our children truths about God. We keep a copy by the dinner table and many nights after dinner we will ask our oldest questions from the catechism. Our youngest is just starting to get to the age where he is able to repeat the answers so we’ve started teaching him too.
But I think question number 4 of the catechism sums up very well the importance of these eight verses in Exodus. It asks, “HOW CAN YOU GLORIFY GOD? BY LOVING HIM AND DOING WHAT HE COMMANDS” It’s so simple a child could learn, right? And that’s what we are going to look at here is what it looks like for us to live our lives in such a way that we bring glory to God by loving him and doing what he commands.
- Love God above all else- Do what he commands- So let’s start with loving God. God tells us that to love him, he must be preeminent in our lives. That we must not make a god that comes before the one true God. He tells us that we must not make anything in the created order into an idol that we worship either instead of God or as a representation of God. He tells us to show honor and respect in how we speak of him and use his name. Finally, he tells us that to love him means to set aside time specifically for a period of rest where our time and energy is focused on worshipping him and the New Testament makes clear that this is to be a time of corporate worship where the body of believers comes together and worships as one.
So we’ve read the passage and we know what the text says. But I know the question on the mind of everyone when they read the Ten Commandments is, “Okay, so what does this look like in our context.” Right? We are individuals and families in 2016. We are not the people of Israel living in a theocratic society. We live in an increasingly secular representative democracy. We are not people who make a living primarily by farming and raising livestock. We have technology and capabilities that the original recipients of these commandments would never have imagined. And yet, the amazing thing about God’s Word is it never stops being relevant. So I want us to take a look at a few things where we can practically show the preeminence of God in our lives and what that can look like in our context.
- Job – Easy for career to become an idol (3-5) – One of the biggest areas where idolatry can crop up in our lives is with our work. Whether your job is a servicemember in the military or working a career path in the civilian world, our jobs can fast become all consuming. I wonder how often our offices turn into temples where we worship at computer screens, telephones, and meetings? Where, whether we admit it or not, we’ve compartmentalized our work-life from our spiritual life and see them as two separate things. When we divorce our lives into sacred realms and secular realms it is so much easier to turn something like our jobs into an idol. We find ourselves saying that worship is something we do on Sunday. We will give glory to God on Sunday morning or during our devotions before we go to work but once we step into the office the worship of God stops and the worship of career and advancement starts.
Thankfully, Christians, it does not have to be that way. I know sometimes it might not seem like it, but God created work and he created us to work. Work was created to be a good thing and something that we do for the glory of God and not just for a paycheck. We recently heard Chaplain Oliver talk about spiritual gifts and using your gifts for the glory of God and the advancement of the Kingdom. Well, God has not placed you in your position by accident. Some of you have a gift of leadership and God has placed you in positions of leadership in our formations or in your civilian job. Some of you have the gift of administration and God has provided opportunities for you to exercise that gift in your job. Sometimes you might find yourself doing a job that you don’t feel play to your strengths and instead of relying on your own strength you find yourself relying more and more on God to provide. In each one of these scenarios there is the opportunity for work to be something that is so much more than just toil and misery so that you can get to the weekend. It’s an opportunity to worship. So I would encourage you to consider how something that can so easily be an idol can become something that causes you to worship. Thank God that you have a job when there are many who do not. Thank God that you have the health and mental capability to your job when there are some who do not. Don’t worship work. Worship the God who created us to work and then provides us those opportunities to use our talents, our spiritual gifts, in our jobs for his glory.
- Family – Good things must not become God-things (3-5) – Let’s take a look at something else that can easily become an idol in our lives. My wife is the greatest earthly blessing God has ever put in my life. My kids, even with all the challenges that come with parenting, are an undeniable gift. To get to be the daddy to two, and soon to be three, boys is amazing and it’s difficult for me to imagine what my life would look like or who I would be without them. But do you think it’s possible for our family to become an idol? Sadly, yes. It’s so easy to let this good thing become a god thing. For husbands and wives, how often do we find ourselves depending more on our spouses than we do on God? Do you get your meaning and your identity from your spouse or from your Savior? When your spouse lets you down does it crush you because you’ve put them on a pedestal so high that it eclipses the place God should occupy in your lives? It can happen. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve counseled couples who are so co-dependent that it starts to destroy them because they’ve made their spouse into a deity and even the greatest husband or wife was never meant to function in your life as God.
But let’s turn this on it’s head. While our marriages can easily become idols, they can also be living and breathing examples of the Gospel. The Bible says that when a man and woman are married they become a picture of the relationship Christ has with the church. Imagine the sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated when he came to Earth and died for his bride, the church. Imagine a marriage where sacrificial love is the norm and not the exception. Where husband and wife both serve the other sacrificially. Christians, when that happens, you are bringing glory to God and you are worshipping him! Your marriage becomes not an idol that distracts from God, but rather a giant billboard that points the world to him!
And with our children it can be so easy for our lives to become so wrapped in our kids that if you were on the outside looking in, a person would be forgiven for thinking we’d turned our kids into little idols. Our universe becomes so wrapped up in school, extra-curricular activities, sports, music lessons, and trying to make sure that little Johnny at age four is set up to get into Harvard. Man, all our kids want to do is go to the park and play but we’ve wrapped up so much of our meaning in the success of our kids that they’ve become little gods and goddesses who are effectively ruling our lives. Christians, that’s not how it should be! Our children are not the center of our universe and when they think they are we end up with a generation of kids who believe the world revolves around them. Our kids need to see parents who have God at the center of their universe. Parents who place a higher premium on the spiritual growth of their kids rather than worrying about getting them into their third sport at age six. Our world does not need more kids who have been turned into idols. Our world needs more kids who have been taught by their parents that Jesus is the most important thing in life. Parents, you want your kid to change the world? Teach them to love Jesus and model that yourself.
- Time – Do we regularly set aside time for rest and worship or do we worship the calendar? (8-11) – The last one I want to talk about is time as it relates to the commandment about keeping the Sabbath. Now we can have a hard time with this commandment. We’re not Jewish and there’s nothing in the New Testament about one day being more holy than another or mandating that the only day we can gather for worship is Sunday. As a Chaplain, when I have guys in the field it doesn’t matter what day or time of day it is when I do a service for my soldiers. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing here for us. On the contrary, I think this commandment is incredibly relevant in a society that moves as quickly as ours does and in a culture like the military where the clock holds a god-like status in our lives. God commands his people to observe a Sabbath rest where work stops and the focus is on worship and resting in the sovereignty of God that it is he who ultimately provides and not us.
This is so important for us to remember today. More than ever before it is harder to break away from work. We have cell phones that can ring at any time with someone on the other end demanding something of us. We have email that can be checked just about anywhere and that we feel drawn to even when we are on a weekend or on vacation. It’s so hard to truly take a break. But we must. And one of the reasons we must is because it forces us to recognize God’s sovereignty in our lives and in our world and in our vocation. It forces us to have the uncomfortable realization that we are not indispensable. From the bottom to the top of the Army chain of command there is always someone who can step in and cover down. When we leave, someone else will step in and do the job. We are replaceable when it comes to our jobs and so taking a break reminds us of this and of the fact that it is God who is the master of our destiny. As Christians we should be hard workers and excellent workers. We should also be workers who model to our unbelieving peers what it looks like to rest.
- Why do we love God? – Now all that sounds really good, right? Living lives that honor God, bring him glory, and point others to him? But I think if we’re honest, we often find ourselves asking why? God, why can’t there be things in my life as important or more important than you? God, why do I need to take a Sabbath rest when I could use that time to get ahead at my job? God, what’s wrong with packing my calendar so full of good things that sometimes you get squeezed out? God, sometimes the way you say things should be and the way culture says things should be end up clashing. Can’t you line your Bible up a little better with 21st century sensibilities?
Or am I the only one who sometimes asks why? A few weeks ago I had a bit of an epiphany as to why we should love and obey God. The epiphany came in the form of one of my children misbehaving. Wait? A misbehaving child taught you something about God? Yes, indeed. At one point I had my son in my arms and as I held him I whispered in his ear, “You just have to learn to trust us. We love you and know what is best for you.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I pictured myself wrestling with God and His Word. I could see myself pushing back against the things God tells me to do in Scripture. I could see myself in my pride and ignorance rebelling against the things God has said to do. And then I pictured my loving Father, whispering in my ear, “I made you and I take care of you. I know what is best for you.”
As I sat there holding a son who had been misbehaving, I nearly broke down in tears. I thought about how deeply I love my kids. How, even when they don’t like it, we make rules and put in place structures in order to protect our children and to help them thrive and reach their full potential. We know this is for their good even with bow up and stomp their feet and rebel with every fiber of their little being. And I thought, man, if imperfect sinners like me, like my wife, and like you can love our kids and our families that much…how much more does God love us? If we desperately want what is best for our children even when that means we deny them things that they want, things that their hearts deeply desire; how much more does God do that for us?
God’s not some cosmic killjoy dictator in the sky. He didn’t write a book about how to live a life pleasing to him because he doesn’t want us to have any fun. He wrote it because, as our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer; he alone knows what is best for us. My kids would eat ice cream at every meal. They would insist with every fiber of their being that it is good for them to eat ice cream at every meal. They would believe in their hearts that somehow Laura and I repressing them for not letting them eat ice cream at every meal. And yet, no matter how much they believed they were right, because Laura and I have the wisdom of knowing that the only thing that lies down that path is diabetes, we would not let them eat ice cream at every meal. Now, they might think they are not being able to live up to their full potential, but with the wisdom of decades we hold over them, we know that we are actually protecting them and helping them thrive.
Christians, God made you. He saved you. He sustains you. We love and obey God, even when it seems like the way he has told us to structure our lives flies in the face of our desires or flies in the face of what culture deems acceptable, because God knows what we need better than we do. He knows that as humans we are at our best when God is on the throne of our lives and nothing else. He knows that as humans we are at our best when our worship is directed toward him alone and not our jobs, our families, our money, or our sex drives. He knows that as humans we need time for worship and rest to help us remember that it is God who is sovereign and not us.
He tells us to live like this not to box us in. Not to steal our joy. Not to keep us from what we perceive to be our full potential. But because he loves us so much that he will not leave it up to guesswork. So he spells it out for us in his word. This is how you structure your life. This is how to divide up your time. This is who you worship. This is what marriage looks like. And on and on. And never once does God tell us that to live that sort of life is easy. Never once does he say that it won’t mean sacrifice. To obey God and love God above all else means you have made your own desires subordinate and have sacrificed them to God’s desires and will. That’s not an easy thing to do and it will be a constant and recurring struggle for as long as we inhabit bodies and a world marred by sin.
But Christians, to love God is to obey God. To obey God is to have faith in that, as our creator, he knows what is best for us. So let’s remember that when we find ourselves responding to the love and care of God with disobedience and rebellion. He made us and takes care of us. He knows what is best for us and we have to learn to rest in that love and to trust and obey.
- God’s law is so perfect and God so holy that we can never measure up on our own
- God made provision for us through Jesus so instead of mourning we have cause to rejoice
- The law reminds us of God’s magnificent gift of grace which should cause our hearts to overflow in worship