Love God

Christ Covenant Church
Marq Toombs
Text – Deuteronomy 10:12-13
Go with the FLOW: Love God

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“Well any man with a microphone
can tell you what he loves the most;
and you know why you love at all
if you’re thinking of the Holy Ghost.”
White Stripes, Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground

May the grace and peace of the Lord our God be with you all.

We are doing a mini-series from the Book of Deuteronomy. We are calling this series Go with the FLOW.

Deuteronomy is a collection of sermons that Moses preached on the plains of Moab right before the people went into to conquer the promise land and right before he died. One guy refers to Deuteronomy as Moses’ Locker Room Speech. He is trying to motivate the people of God to do the right thing after they go in and take the land. He is trying to motivate them to go with the FLOW — fear God, love God, obey God, and worship God.

What the Lord required of them he also requires of us. So, for the next few weeks we are going to listen to Deuteronomy and learn how to go with the FLOW.

Today we will focus on the requirement to love God.

Several years ago I was traveling with one of my teachers on a mission trip. One morning before we set out from our hotel room he said, “Let me ask you a serious question. Do you love God? I mean really love God?” I thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I think so — probably not as much as I ought to or need to — but, yes. Why do you ask?” He looked at me for a second, then turned his face to the mirror over the sink. I sunk in my chair across the room by the door. His reflection glared at me and said, “I don’t. And I think that’s my problem. I don’t love God. I love many things about God, but I don’t really love him as a person.” The room fell silent. It seemed dark and cold. I was shocked speechless — and so was he. A knock at the door told us it was time to go. So we gathered our things and set out. Two days later he got sick and stayed in bed for the rest of the trip. By the end of the week he regained his strength enough to travel home with us. On the way back I asked him what he meant about not really loving God. He shrugged it off like it was no big deal and told me not to worry about it. But it was a big deal and I never stopped worrying about it. I could not understand then (or now!) how any professing Christian could love God-things like words, concepts, and ideas, but not love God.

How could anyone love the word, but not love the Word made flesh?!

I never fully recovered from that conversation. But it serves as a warning sign to me. What I saw in a mirror dimly then, I saw more clearly later on. A teacher may speak in the tongues of theologians and philosophers; he may have exegetical powers and understand mysteries and have loads of biblical knowledge; he may even go on mission trips, but if he lacks love he is nothing. His life is nothing to imitate, and his doctrine is nothing to practice.

So let me ask you a serious question. Do you love God? I mean really love God?

Our sermon text for today is Deuteronomy 10:12-13. If you are able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. The word of God reads:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you besides this: to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his living and active word. And all the church says: Amen!

It’s not every day that we see the words ‘require’ and ‘love’ paired together in such a positive way. But here they are in black and white. So what do they mean?

The word for “require” is simply “ask.” When coupled with the phrase “of you” ask becomes a nice way of saying requires or demands. The reason this is so important is because it shows us that God is speaking to us the way a father speaks to his children, not the way a Master speaks to his servants.

God requires you to love him with all your heart and soul. Not as a lover loves a lover, nor as friend loves a friend, but as a child loves a parent. Your Father asks of you to love him with all your heart and soul.

+ CONTRAST

Let’s look at our sermon text again. “What does the Lord your God require of you besides this: to love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, for your good?”

Notice: it tells us who we are to love, why we are to love him, and how we are to love him.

Who do you love? 

We are called to love the Lord our God. He is the Lord, we are his servants.

God is love, and he is a person. He the primary object and target of our love. Our love must be centered on the eternal, self-existent, three-in-one, sovereign, personal-infinite God. Not on some cosmic sky fairy or sweet old man upstairs.

Love the Lord your God means direct your heart-felt affection and devotion to God as a real person revealed in scripture and nature, not as an idea or concept imagined in your head or conjured in your heart.

When we love the triune God we are not giving back to him something that we generated in our own heart; we are giving back to him the love he gave us and generated in our hearts by his Spirit: we are giving to God what belongs to God.

God deserves our total love and devotion. To love God is to obey God. If we love God as he commands, we will obey his word.

Why love God?

The text says we are to love God because God requires us to love him and because it is good for us.

Saint Bernard of Clairveaux, a devout Christian man who led an order of monks in the eleventh century, wrote a little book of meditations and reflections called On Loving God. In it he explains why we are to love God:

“We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God? he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself, for He is as well the efficient cause as the final object of our love. He gives the occasion for love, He creates the affection, He brings the desire to good effect.” http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/onloving/onlov01.html

How do we love God?

The text says to love God with all your heart and soul.

Contrary to popular belief, love does not come naturally. We never love by nature the way we love by grace. By nature our love is inward; by grace our love is outward. By nature our love is primarily self-centered and self-interested; by grace our love becomes primarily God-centered and neighbor-concerned.

As Søren Kierkegaard says in his book, Fear and Trembling: “He who loves God without faith reflects on himself, while the person who loves God in faith reflects on God.”

The point is that we love God by looking away from ourselves to him. Loving God requires us to be extra-spective, not introspective; outward focused not inward focused. If you say you love God, but you do not trust and obey him, then in reality you only love yourself as god. But if you say you love God, and you do trust and and obey him, then in reality you love God and yourself, for you are loving for his glory and for your good.

+ CONTEXT

Now, let’s consider some practical applications.

Start with the context of the command to love God. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, what does loving the Lord your God look like in everyday real life?

Loving the Lord your God looks like

confessing the Lord is our God the Lord alone (6:4)

devoting our heart, mind, soul, and strength to him (6:5)

Loving the Lord your God looks like

writing God’s word on your heart (6:6)

teaching our children the word of God, and talking about it with them (6:7)

decorating your life, home, and speech with the word of God (6:8-9)

keeping his commandments (7:9), and remembering his mighty works (11:1 ,2, 13), and obeying the commandments of the LORD your God. (30:16)

Loving the Lord your God looks like

seeking justice for the fatherless, the widow, and the sojourner; giving them food and clothing (10:18-19)

Loving the Lord your God looks like

not listening to the words of a false prophet or dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (13:3)

Loving the Lord your God looks like

choosing life and good over death and evil. (30:15)

According to Deuteronomy, loving God has little — if anything — to do with how you feel about God; rather, it has much — everything — to do with how you faithfully devote yourself to him. As Sinclair Ferguson says, “Love is not simply romantic emotion towards God; rather it is realistic devotion to/for the Lord God. Love is not maximum emotion. Love is maximum commitment.”

This is why we encourage you to meditate on God’s word, and why we warn you not to read certain authors or listen to certain teachers. This is why we encourage you to go on mission to people on the margins of life. This is why we pray that you will be born again (regenerated) by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, and why we remind you to choose the tree of life over the tree of the knowledge of good and evil moment by moment, for God’s glory and your good.

The way you love God shows up in your google searches, music choices, career decisions, Facebook posts, channel surfing, and everything else.

Now, we are commanded to love God from the inside out, from the core depth of our essence, yet we know that is hard to do. We all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard. So what must we do? How can we make things right? We must turn and trust in Jesus. No one has ever loved God with all his heart and soul the way Jesus did.

+ CHRIST

Jesus did everything God required in the law; he did everything his Father asked him to do in life. Not to avoid punishment or to achieve God’s favor, but to accomplish his mission to seek the lost and sojourners, and to save lawbreakers and sinners.

Jesus came into the world to go with the FLOW. That is why he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, mind, soul, and body.

According to the Gospel of John, loving God the Father looked this for Jesus:

Coming into the world in the flesh to lay down his life in place of sinners (John 3:16)

Doing nothing of his own accord, but only what he saw the Father doing. (John 5:19)

Imitating the Father in all things. (John 5:19-20)

Losing none of all the sheep/people the Father gave him (6:39), but keeping them safe and secure in his hands (10:28).

For Jesus, loving God the Father looked like:

Laying down his life for all his sheep and taking it up again of his own accord (10:15-18)

Speaking everything the Father sent him to speak (12:49-50)

Stripping off his Teacher and Lord glory and wrapping himself in a servant’s humility (13:3

Washing the dirty feet of friends and enemies (13:3)

Doing whatever the Father commanded him, so that the world would know that he loved the Father (John 14:31)

Keeping his Father’s commandments and dwelling in his love (John 15:10)

For Jesus, loving God the Father looked like:

Giving eternal life to all whom the Father had given him (17:2)

Asking the Father to sanctify, unify, and glorify his whole church (17:21-26)

Drinking the cup of wrath the Father gave him to drink (18:11)

Testifying to the truth about his heavenly kingdom (18:37)

Finishing the task he was sent to do — fulfilling his mission to save the world (19:11)

That’s how Jesus loved the Lord his God with all his heart and soul.

Do you know why he loved God in this way? It was for God’s glory, and for your good.

He loved the father enough to keep his commands.

He loved you enough to obey all God’s law and live on your behalf as a law keeper; and he loved you enough to die in your place as a lawbreaker.

He did all these things as God’s son, and as your brother. Your big brother Jesus did for you what you could not do for yourself. Why? Because his father loved you enough to send him to seek and save you.

+ COUNSEL

God the Father loves you and he asks you to love him. Not as a slave, but as a son and daughter.

So let me ask you a serious question: Do you love God? I mean really love God?

This is no joking matter; it is a big deal.

The Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel lay on you and me a personal responsibility to love the Lord our God as individual persons. As individuals in a family, and as individuals in community with other individuals.

What does the Lord require of you? He requires you to go with the FLOW, and that includes loving him.

As you know, Jesus taught that this is the greatest commandment of all 613 commandments: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

What you might not know is that right after he taught this, he also taught that “because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures (in love) to the end will be saved.” (Matt 24:12-13)

I know far too many people who once upon a time used to love God, but they love him no more. They did not just fall out love with him quickly — they faded out of love with him slowly. Over time their love grew cold because they did not keep it warm with the story of Jesus. They were not stirred by the gospel, and they did not stir their hearts with it. The flames of love burned out and smoldered away because they did not add the word made flesh to the fire of love in their hearts.

Jesus might commend people for doing good things, but he will certainly condemn them if they do all those good things but do not love him. There is nothing greater, better, or truer than love.

As Jesus told one church and its pastor, “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:2-5)

Sadly, that church and its pastor no longer exist. They are nowhere to be found. They snuffed out the fire of God’s love in their community, in their hearts, and Jesus took away the lamp stand. What good is a lamp stand without the light of love?

If you do not love God to the end it will not matter at all that you once loved him in the beginning.

If you do not think you love God today, it’s not too late to turn and trust Jesus today.

If you do not feel like you him right now, it’s high time you remember why you ever loved him before.

Look for God’s love for you on the cross, listen to God’s love for you in his word, and learn to love God with all your heart and soul.

When I was in seminary I learned about a man named Augustine who was the Bishop of Hippo in Africa around the turn of the 5th century. In a sermon 1 John 4:4-12 he made a rather shocking statement that I want to echo now: Love God, and do what you will.

Love God, and do what you will. If you’re like me, you might think that seems too far out there, too touchy feely or loose goosey. But it’s not. Listen to that statement in context of his sermon:

We need to consider not what a person does but with what mind and will he does it. … When [actions] are different, we find people made fierce by love; and by wickedness made seductively gentle. [For example] A father beats a boy, while a kidnapper caresses him. Offered a choice between blows and caresses, who would not choose the caresses and avoid the blows? But when you consider the people who give them, you realize that it is love that beats, and wickedness that caresses.

This is what I insist upon: human actions can only be discerned and distinguished by their root in love. All kinds of actions might appear to be good, and yet not all proceed from the root of love. Remember, thorns also have flowers: some actions seem truly savage, but are done for the sake of discipline motivated by love.

Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and do what you will. If you hold your peace, hold your peace out of love. If you cry out, cry out in love. If you correct someone, correct them out of love. If you spare them, spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: for nothing can spring from it but good.

In context of the sermon it is clear that Augustine meant love God. The idea is simply this: So long as you love God first and foremost, you will want to do his will. In fact, you will be pleased to do his will because you love him as a child loves his father. So here is a good, short rule to live by: love God the Father, and do what you want as his child.

As the scripture says: We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19), and this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:1-3)

Now, if God’s commandments feel like a heavy burden to you, it is likely because you lack love for God. If they feel light and easy to you, it is likely because you are learning to love God and to live in his love.

Now, with all this talk about God requiring you to love him, you might think or feel like you can just go through the motions and fake it till you make it. God forbid! Loving God is not just a heartless and mindless duty to perform.

There is nothing wrong with duty per se, but we need to think of God’s requirement in a different way. Instead of duty, think of loving obedience as delight and think of obedient love as destiny. Loving God is your delight and your destiny.

Listen to this pastoral counsel from AW Tozer:

We are all in process of becoming … we are becoming what we love.

We are to a large degree the sum of our loves and we will of moral necessity grow into the image of what we love most. Our loves changes, molds and transforms us. Therefore, what we love is not a small matter to be lightly shrugged off; rather it is of present, critical and everlasting importance. It is prophetic of our future. It tells us what we shall be, and so predicts accurately our eternal destiny. Loving the wrong objects twists and deforms the life and makes it impossible for that life to image the Lord Jesus Christ.

To become like God is and must be the supreme goal of all moral creatures. This is the reason for their existence, and apart from this reason there can be no excuse found for existence. (Thus the hopelessness of our day.)

Love is so unpredictable! Does it mean that I fall in love? No, the love we have for God is not the love of feeling, but the love of willing. We do not come to love God by a sudden emotional visitation. Love for God results from repentance, amendment of life and a fixed determination to love Him. As God moves perfectly into the focus of our hearts our love for Him rises and sweeps everything else out of the way.

We should set our hearts to love God supremely, however hard they may seem to be at the moment.

I want to end the sermon with a song. One of my favorites songs is Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground by the White Stripes. The last verse of that captures the way I feel right now. It goes:

“Well any man with a microphone
can tell you what he loves the most;
and you know why you love at all
if you’re thinking of the Holy Ghost.”

It’s so easy to stand here and talk about loving God with all your heart and soul. But it’s so hard to love God with all my heart and soul.

It’s so easy to see all the ways we fall short of loving God in our flesh. But it’s so hard to see all the ways we actually do love God in the Spirit. The Spirit pours Gods love into our hearts and bears the fruit of love in our lives.

If you are going with the FLOW at all, if you love God at all, it is because the Spirit of God has circumcised your heart so that you will love the LORD your God with all our heart and with all our soul, that you may live. (Deut. 30:6)

For no one is a Christian who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Christian is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. The praise of a heart-circumcised person is not from man but from God. (Romans 2:28-29; Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:39-40; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Deuteronomy 10:16)

If you are not going with the FLOW at all, if you do not love God, you need a change of heart. Your heart needs to be circumcised by the Spirit of God, cleansed by the word of God, and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. God promises to do this for all his people, so let’s lift our hands to the Lord in prayer and ask him to keep his promises to you.

O God, we ask you to keep your promises to sprinkle clean water on your people, and we shall be clean from all our uncleannesses, and from all our idols you will cleanse us. And we ask you to give us a new heart, and a new spirit you will put within us. And we ask you to remove the dead heart of stone from our flesh and give us a living heart of flesh in our spirit. And we ask you to put your Spirit within us, and cause us all to go with the FLOW, to fear you, love you, obey you, and walk in all your ways. Let us hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us. Cast us not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and uphold us with a willing spirit. Act for the sake of your holy name, and vindicate the holiness of your great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and the nations will know that you are the LORD, when you vindicate you holiness before their eyes through Christ and the church. Amen (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Psalm 51:8-13; Ezekiel 36:22-23)

Maple Leaf on River Bed

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