“The Most Important Thing” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 sermon)

In 1962 Birch Bayh was elected to the Senate from Indiana, and he and his wife Marvella came to Washington D.C.  Marvella had always wanted to see Europe, and she was delighted when she and her husband received an invitation to attend a small dinner at the Norwegian Embassy. But the afternoon of the dinner, they got a call from the White House, inviting them to drop by there for a movie night. She asked her husband: “What shall we do?” He didn’t know. (What would YOU do?) He called the Protocol Office and they instructed him: send your regrets to the Norwegian Embassy. In Washington, a White House invitation was a command. In Washington, there’s nobody more important than the President. (Marvella Bayh, quoted in Katharine Graham’s Washington, p. 91)

Well maybe in Washington society nobody takes priority over the President, but in all of life, no one should ever take priority over God. That’s one of the things our scripture for today reminds us of.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that preaching from our daily Bible readings this year will give us the opportunity to share from some of the greatest passages in all of the Bible. This is one of those passages. These verses are foundational, fundamental to our faith. And they remind us that loving God is to be “The Most Important Thing” in our lives.

I. There Is One True God

:4 “Hear O Israel! YHWH is our God; YHWH is One!”

This passage begins, “Hear, O Israel!” The Hebrew word for “hear” is “Shema.” “Shema O Israel!” “Hear O Israel!” It is a command to listen to what is being said, because it is so important. And this verse, Deuteronomy 6:4 is THE central verse in Judaism. One Jewish teacher calls it “THE quintessential Jewish declaration of faith.” It is recited by every committed Jewish worshiper, every morning and every evening. And they call it “The Shema,” after the first Hebrew word of the sentence: “Shema O Israel!”  “Hear O Israel!”

And just what is it that we are to hear? What is so important? That “the LORD our God, The LORD is one.” Now, if you remember, whenever you see the word “LORD” in all four capital letters in the Old Testament, it means that in Hebrew, it is NOT the Hebrew word “Adonai” which means “Lord,” but in Hebrew it is YHWH, the personal name of God which He gave Moses in Exodus when he asked His name.  

So this verse teaches a fundamental truth our faith is built upon: that there is ONE true God, not many gods and idols; and that the name of this one true God is YHWH.  

This belief in one true God is called “monotheism” (mono = “one”; “theos” = God) and it came from God’s revelation of Himself to the Jews here. All the other nations of the world believed in multiple gods. The Hindus in India; the Chinese; the ancient Greeks and Romans, the people who lived in Canaan and Egypt, all believed in multiple gods. But here in these first 5 books of the Old Testament, God reveals Himself to the world as YHWH, the one true God; all the other gods are false idols. 

This was Israel’s confession of faith, and our Christian faith is built on it too. I Corinthians 8:4-6: “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”

I Corinthians 8 certainly applies today: people talk about all kinds of different gods: Islam says there is one God, whose name is Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet. The Hindus worship Ram and Krishna and Shiva and Vishnu and thousands of other so-called gods.

And a very common belief today, is that it doesn’t matter what god you worship, that they are all the same, and we all go to the same place regardless. That’s the philosophy of the world, but as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, as Christians we are “swimming against the current” of this world’s beliefs. Our confession is that there is ONE God, YHWH, and the New Testament teaches that Jesus is His only begotten Son, YHWH God Himself; God the Son; and there is no other way to God than through Him, as Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”  

Every so often some of our deacons and other men and I play golf at the Freeport Municipal Golf Course. To get there you get off of Highway 36 in Freeport, and you have to turn on Slaughter road, past an old Baptist Church. James Peterson told me that he heard the pastor of that church once say, there is ONE road to this church; if you want to get there, you have to take this road. There’s just no other way. Now, when he said that, he was not being “exclusive;” or “bigoted,” or “narrow-minded;” it’s just a physical fact: THERE IS ONLY ONE ROAD to get to that church (or to the golf course just past it).

And what we need to understand is that the same thing is true in the spiritual realm. When we say there is only one true God, and that Jesus is the only way to God, we aren’t being “exclusive” or “bigoted” or “narrow-minded,” we are only describing a spiritual FACT. There is in truth only one God. All of us have sinned against that God. And as the Garden of Gethsemane showed us, there was only ONE possible way God could save us: through the death of Jesus on the cross. The fact is that Jesus was the only Perfect Person who ever lived; He was the only One who ever died for our sins; and He is the only One who ever rose again, attested to by over 500 witnesses! Romans 1 says “He was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” No one else ever did all that. It’s just a fact. This is why we must believe in HIM in order to be saved; and it’s what we have to share with others so that THEY can be saved too. 

So this verse IS foundational to spiritual truth and Christian belief. We should all know this verse: “Hear O Israel; YHWH is our God; YHWH is ONE.”

There are not truly many gods; there is ONE.

There are not many ways to the one true God; there is ONE, through Jesus Christ alone. 

II. Loving This One True God is the Most Important Thing

:5 “You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”

So what is our responsibility towards this one God? He tells us here: LOVE Him! “You shall LOVE YHWH your God …”. This is what God wants from us: to love Him. And He says He wants us to love Him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

— “Heart” is the Hebrew word “lab;” the “inner man, mind, will, heart”

— “Soul” is the Hebrew word “nephesh”: “soul/life; passion, emotion”

— “might” is “meod”: “muchness, force, abundance.” It is often translated as “very, greatly” It means we are to love Him VERY much; intensely!

So this verse says we are to love God with all our inner man; with our whole soul/passion; very greatly/with intensity! 

Loving God is to be the most important thing in our life. 

Jesus confirms that in Matthew 22, when one of the Jewish experts in the Law asked Him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus answered him by quoting THIS verse: “You shall love the Lord your God …”. Loving God is the Greatest Commandment; loving God is literally the most important thing. 

Dr. Richard Feynman was one of the most brilliant physicists in the 20th century. Among other things, he worked on the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb during World War II. Feynman taught at Cal Tech for much of his life, and he had a student who was just enamored with Feynman’s teaching on physics, so much so that he would go home and tell his mother all the marvels of physics he was learning at school, but she just wasn’t interested. Her son invited her to come up to school and listen to Dr. Feynman, because he thought surely then she would fall in love with physics like he had. But it was all to no avail; she didn’t care. Finally, he went to Dr. Feynman, and he asked him: wouldn’t you please write a letter to my mother, and tell her how important it is for her to learn physics? Feynman said yes, I’ll write your mother a note, and he did. He gave it to this student, but when he opened it, to his dismay the letter read: “Dear Mrs. Chown; please ignore your son’s attempts to teach you physics. Physics is not the most important thing. Love is.”

And Jesus tells us here that not only is “love” the most important thing, but loving GOD is the very MOST important thing. We get caught up in SO many things, but we need to simplify what we are really here for. Most importantly, we are here to LOVE GOD! It’s what we were created for. It is the most important thing we can do any day. Love God! 

We see this emphasized when Jesus went to the home of Mary & Martha in Luke 10. Martha was busy with all the preparations for the meal and so on, but Mary just sat at the feet of Jesus. Martha was upset with Mary, and told Jesus “tell her to help me!” But Jesus said in :41, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only ONE thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  

That story shows us two kinds of people: one who gets all caught up in the “busy-ness” of life, but neglects God. And the other person, who neglects all the busy-ness of this world, and just loves Jesus. Jesus said THAT person is the one who’s got it right. Because THE single most important thing in life, is loving God. That’s it. It’s not complicated. Love God! 

— The most important thing you can do today is not make a building or make a grade or make a home run or make a sale. The most important thing you can do today is love God. 

— That’s why it’s so important to begin your day in God’s word and prayer. NOT because we have to do this “religious ritual,” but because the most important thing we can do today is love God, and one of the best ways you can love God is by spending time with Him in His word & prayer daily! Get up and read a Psalm of praise to Him. Thank Him for all His goodnesses to you. Sing some songs of love and praise to Him! Then read what He has to say in His love letter to you, His word. Don’t let it be just a “religious ritual;” instead sit at His feet like Mary did, and LOVE GOD! That’s what that time should be about. 

It’s what our whole lives are to be about as Christians. God made us to love Him; our sins separated us from loving Him; but Jesus bought us back so we could be saved, and start learning to love Him now, and then love Him in heaven for all eternity. But it’s all about loving God.

Jonathan Edwards, who lived in the 1700’s, is widely considered to be the greatest theologian America ever produced. A recent book on Edwards said: “(Jonathan Edwards) saw Christianity not essentially as a system of truth onto which one maps one’s existence but as a fountain of love into which one is swept up.”  (Nathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble, ed., A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards, p. 31)

That’s a great picture. Coming to God is like coming to a fountain of love. That is what it is supposed to be for us as Christians. Loving the One True God is the most important thing there is.

III.  The Bible shows us How to Love the Lord

:6 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart …”

So if loving God is the most important thing, HOW do we love Him? That is what God shows us next in :6 and following. Unfortunately, many Jews throughout history have misapplied these words.  As I mentioned before, Deuteronomy 6 is probably THE most important scripture in Judaism. They memorized it; they would quote it every morning and every evening. And they took it very literally: maybe  TOO literally. Because :8 says: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” So they literally did this. They would put scriptures in little leather containers, and literally tie them on their hands, and on their foreheads like in this picture:

These little boxes with scripture in them came to be known as “phylacteries”: and the Jews would wear on their hand or on their head. Jesus condemned the Pharisees in Matthew 23:5, saying of them: “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.”  In order to impress everyone, they made their phylacteries really BIG, so people could see how much scripture they had in there! 

But of course that missed the whole point. God wasn’t saying LITERALLY tie the scripture on the front of your head! He was saying, keep these scriptures in the front of your mind all the time: “when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Wherever you go; whatever you do, His word should on your mind. And WHY is it so important for us to keep the scripture in mind?  Because the Bible shows us HOW to love God like we are commanded to. 

It is no accident that right after God says He is the One True God and we are to love Him with all our heart, that He immediately commands us in the next verses to have His word ever-present in our lives. Because His word shows us HOW we are to love Him like He just commanded us. 

— Deuteronomy 11:1 says “You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His ordinances, and His commandments.” How do we love God? Keep His ordinances and commandments!

— Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
— Jesus said in John 15:10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” His commands show us how to abide in His love; they show us how we can love and please Him.

See, some people try to create an artificial “divide” between loving God and keeping His commands. They say things like: “I don’t worry about the Bible and all those commandments; I’m just going to love God and not worry about His commands.” But that is creates an artificial division. You say you’re “just going to love God”? That’s great. But HOW are you going to love God? What are you going to do? It is His word that shows us specifically HOW to love Him. We can’t really know how He wants to be loved, without His word!

Let’s say a young man falls in love with a young lady, and he wants to do something nice for her, or give her a gift, but he doesn’t really know her very well yet. So what can he do? Well if he’s smart, he might go to one of her best friends, or to one of her brothers or sisters — or someone who knows her well — and ask them: what kind of candy does she like? What kind of restaurant does she go to? What kind of flowers does she prefer? He can find out from them, the best way to show his love for her, by doing something that she likes.

So in the same way; we love God, because He’s saved us; and we see that it’s the most important thing we can do. So how do we find out the best way to love God? What does He like? How best can we show our love to Him?  We can find out what pleases God in His word! 

That’s a good way for us to look at the Bible: it shows us HOW to love God! 

— The Bible shows us the things we will DO if we love Him: if we love Him we will keep His commandments; if we love Him we will talk to Him and sing to Him and worship Him. If we love Him we will love His people — and so on. It shows us things we can do to show our love to Him.

— AND His word shows us things we will NOT do if we love Him: we won’t worship Him with idols; we won’t take His name in vain; we won’t break the commandments He has given us, because that displeases Him. 

— Especially in places like the Psalms He shows us specific ways to love God better: He gives us examples of songs and prayers, and words to say to Him:

— Like Psalm 18:1 “I love You, O Lord, my strength; the Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my Rock!”  See, He’s giving us words to teach us how to love Him in our prayers.

— Psalm 63: “O God, You are my God; I will seek You early. My soul thirsts for you; my flesh yearns for You, as a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Psalms like these teach us HOW to love God. They teach us what to say. They teach us the kind of attitude we should have. They teach us the kinds of prayers we should pray; names we can call Him. God’s word teaches us HOW to love God.  And as we’ve seen; that’s the most important thing.

CONCLUSION:

One of President Lyndon Johnson’s fond memories as a little boy, was of his dad Sam coming home from work. He would swing open the front gate to their yard, and he would be met by what his sister called “a flying mass of children”!  He would swing the baby, up on his shoulders, and put his arms around his other children and they would walk to the kitchen, where his wife Rebekah would be cooking, and then he’d go through a ritual they would all remember fondly decades later. He’d say, “I’ve brought a bag of sugar” (or a loaf of bread, or candy or whatever). And then he’d say “and what will you give me for bag of sugar?” They might call out: “A million dollars!” Sam would say: “A million dollars isn’t enough’” He would never surrender the package until he had been paid in kisses.”

(Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, p. 64)

I believe LBJ’s father Sam gives us a pretty good picture of our Heavenly Father. What does God want from you? He doesn’t just want your cold, intellectual “belief.” He doesn’t just want your “religious obedience.” Like Sam Johnson, God doesn’t even want “a million dollars” from you. What He wants from you, more than anything else, is your true, heartfelt love. “LOVE the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”! 

INVITATION:

— What would it mean to your life, if you were really loving God with all your heart? What would that look like? What might be different? Are there some things you need to start doing? Are there some commandments you need to stop breaking? Do you need to spend more time loving Him, worshiping Him, singing to Him? What needs to change? Talk to God about that now.

— Maybe you’ve been trying to do a bunch of religious “stuff,” and you need to realize that God just wants you to LOVE HIM more than anything else.

— Maybe for the very first time you need to come back to God through Jesus Christ, so that you CAN love Him …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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