Loving God’s Law


March 5, 2006 | Brian Bill

I enjoy preacher jokes.  Here are some that I’ve heard over the years:

A woman by the name of Gladys Dunne was visiting a church for the first time.  After the service, as the congregation was exchanging greetings, she extended her hand to a parishioner and said, “Hi, I’m Gladys Dunne.”  To which the member said, “I’m glad he’s done, too!”

The pastor was greeting folks at the door after the service when a woman came up to him and said, “Pastor, that was a very good sermon.”  The humble pastor replied, “Oh, I have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.”  To which she replied, “It wasn’t that good!”

One preacher came to the pulpit with a Band-Aid on his chin and before the sermon said: “I’m sorry about this Band-Aid.  I cut my chin this morning when I was thinking about my sermon.”  At that moment a voice came from the back of the auditorium: “Next time why not think about your chin and cut the sermon?”

The definition of a good sermon: It should have a good beginning.  It should have a good ending.  And they should be as close together as possible.

Moses was a preacher as well but he doesn’t strike me as someone people would have joked around with.  We come this morning to the Book of Deuteronomy, which is really a collection of sermons that he preached at the end of the 40-year period in the wilderness in order to get God’s people ready to enter the land of promise.  Interestingly, the time of year would have been March and he preached this sermon series on the plains of Moab.  We could say that Deuteronomy is his sermon archive.  For our purposes this morning I want to draw out six sound bites from these sermons.  

If you think I preach long, if Moses were in the pulpit, we’d be here all day.  His sermons were extensive but they were also heavy on practical application. When he was finished the people knew exactly what they were supposed to do.  I heard a statement once that a fog in the pulpit makes for a cloud in the pew.  Moses spoke with clarity which led to conviction and renewed commitment among the people and when he was done, there was no confusion about what they needed to do.  I hope that’s where we end up as well.

Deuteronomy is quoted or cited at least 95 times in the New Testament and was one of Jesus’ favorite books.  Many have referred to it as the “Romans of the Old Testament” because of its beautiful doctrine and emphasis upon duty.  By the way, we’re beginning our study in the Book of Romans next week in a series we’re calling, “I Am Not Ashamed.”

Let me summarize where we’ve been the last two months since this is the last sermon in our Old Testament Journey series, at least until next January and February when we tackle the exciting Book of Joshua and the other historical books.  There’s a lot more that can be said about the first five books but I think these one-word summaries are sufficient and easy-to-remember.  In fact, let’s learn them together right now…

Genesis Beginnings

Exodus Redemption

Leviticus Holiness

Numbers Wandering

Deuteronomy Review

Exodus covers the first year after coming out of Egypt; Leviticus was their worship manual; Numbers deals with most of the next thirty-nine years while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and Deuteronomy is set in the last month as God prepared them to enter the Promised Land.  The first four chapters look back over the forty years; the middle chapters focus on looking up to know God’s will; and in the last eight chapters Moses is looking out into the future.

Deuteronomy 1:3 tells us that Moses was simply being God’s mouthpiece as he shared God’s message with them: “In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the LORD had commanded him concerning them.” The method he chose to use is found in verse 5: “Moses began to expound this law…”  The word “expound” means to dig deep; to explain and make plain.   The people knew the Law but Moses knew they needed to apply it.  That’s the model we follow. On Sunday mornings, we take God’s Word and then “expound” it, which is what expository preaching is all about.  We dig deep in order to explain and make plain.  Whether we’re working verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, or highlighting sections of Scripture, everything we do is an exposition of Scripture that leads to application.  Let’s listen now to some of Moses’ sound bites so we can apply these truths to our lives.

1. Take possession of God’s promises (1:8). 

God’s people are so close to the land of promise and now Moses rallies them to possess what God has promised in Deuteronomy 1:8: “See, I have given you this land.  Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers — to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and to their descendants after them.”  Over 50 times in this book, Moses tells them to take possession of what is already theirs.  This is easier said than done because the people have been focused on problems and have failed more than they’ve been faithful.  Moses is essentially saying, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past.  Now is the time to possess the land.”  He reiterates this in verse 21 because he knows they are afraid: “See, the LORD your God has given you the land.  Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your fathers, told you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” In Deuteronomy 9:6, Moses makes sure they know that everything they have is by God’s grace: “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

Take possession of God’s promises

Some of you feel like failures but its time to go forward in faith.  I’m troubled that too many Christians are not living the abundant life described by Jesus in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Why is it that so many of us live with worry and concern when we’re told in 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you?”  Why do we live as defeated and deflated believers when Romans 8:37 says: “…We are more than conquerors through him who loved us?”  Don’t miss the point that while they were given possession of the land, they had to actually get up and go into it.  Some of us know all of God’s promises but we’ve not personally applied them to our lives by putting them into practice.  Friend, what’s holding you back?  Refuse to be stiff-necked any longer.  Take possession of God’s promises.

2. Remember your redemption (5:15). 

One of the worst things we can do is to forget what our lives were like before we came to Christ.  I loved hearing the testimonies of those baptized last Sunday because it reminded me of how God can redeem anyone.  Deuteronomy 5:15 tells us that the nation of Israel was to remember their redemption: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” One reason we’re to remember is so that when things start to go well we will recognize how far God has brought us.  

One of Israel’s problems was that pride set in and they began to believe that they no longer needed God.  Success and prosperity can cause us to forget God as seen in Deuteronomy 6:10-12: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you — a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant — then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” 

Friend, never forget where you’ve come from.  If it were not for God’s grace your sins would consume you, you’d still be in bondage and you’d have no hope of heaven.  Deuteronomy 4:9: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen…”

3. Operate with obedience (4:1-3, 6). 

God’s people had a wonderful possession and they were to never forget what God had given them.  Moses’ third preaching point is that they were to operate with obedience.  Look at Deuteronomy 4:1-3: “Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you.  Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.  Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” Verse 6 adds that in relation to God’s laws, they are to “observe them carefully.” 

In chapter 5, Moses reiterates the 10 Commandments because he wanted to make sure they had no doubts in their minds about the absolute importance of obedience.  He concludes this chapter by saying in verses 32-33: “So be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.  Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.”  

How serious are you about walking in God’s ways?

The people of Israel did not see the commandments of God as laborious because they literally loved God’s laws.  Listen to Psalm 119:97, 111: “Oh, how I love your law!  I meditate on it all day long…Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.”  If you want to follow God’s laws, you must first love what He says.  Is the Bible a drag to you, or is it your delight?  Are you operating with obedience or are you cutting corners?  How serious are you about walking in God’s ways?

4. Give generously out of gratitude. 

One way the Israelites demonstrated their love for God’s law was in their generous giving that was motivated from hearts that were filled with gratitude.  Do you know how much they were commanded to give each year?  The percentage may surprise you.  Before we look at that, let me clarify what the word tithe means.  This word literally means “a tenth” or 10%.  Let me also remind you that both Abraham and Jacob gave a tithe spontaneously, even before it was mandated in the Law (see Genesis 14:17-20; 28:20-22).  Let’s look at a few passages to see how God’s people were to give.

  • A tithe for the Levites.  Because the Levites were priests and had no inheritance in the land of Canaan like the others tribes, God provided for their needs through the tithes of the people.  We see this in Leviticus 27:30-33 and Numbers 18:21: “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting.”
  • A tithe for the feasts.  Another 10% was to be given to provide the resources for all the religious feasts and festivals of Israel.  This is found in Deuteronomy 12:16-18; 14:22-27.  God wanted His people to celebrate and rejoice on a regular basis.  Reverence and rejoicing are not mutually exclusive.
  • A tithe for the needy.  An additional 10% was to be given every three years according to Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-13 in order to care for the aliens, the orphans and the widows.  That means that every year they would need to also give 3 1/3% for this offering.

If we add this up, the actual requirement for giving in the Old Testament would look like this:  10% + 10% + 3 1/3% = 23 1/3%.  On top of that, if you figure in the gleaning laws, where farmers were to leave some of their crops in the fields for the poor (Ruth 2:3), in addition to their special freewill offerings, God’s people gave much more than 25% of their income to the Lord and His work.  According to Leviticus 27:30, the motivation behind their giving was that they knew that their tithes did not belong to them, but to the Lord: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.”  Because they knew it was the Lord’s, they were able to give out of gratitude, with a sense of expectancy that God would bless them.  We see this in Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

That reminds me of the story of Fred Smith who had inherited ten million dollars from a relative.  But because Fred was high strung and had a weak heart, his wife was afraid that this amazing news would be too much for him to handle and so she asked her pastor to stop by and break the news gently to him.  The pastor sat down and said rather nonchalantly, “Fred, what would you do if you were to inherit ten million dollars?”  Without batting an eye, the man said, “Why, I’d give half of it to the church.”  At that moment the pastor dropped dead of a heart attack.

I did a quick survey of New Testament giving this week and came up with these ten principles.  I’ll just list them quickly and let you look up the references on your own.  We are to give…

  • Anonymously (Matthew 6:1-4)
  • Sacrificially (Mark 12:41-44; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
  • Generously (2 Corinthians 8:3)
  • Voluntarily (2 Corinthians 8:3)
  • Proportionately (2 Corinthians 8:11-12)
  • Expectantly (2 Corinthians 9:6)
  • Obediently (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • Personally (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • Cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • Systematically (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)

While tithing is not a command it’s a good place to start.  Actually, a case could be made that the New Testament raises the giving bar even higher.  But let me come back to tithing for a moment by asking you to ponder this statement: tithing is trusting.  Are you ready to honor God with your finances by giving generously out of gratitude for all that He has done for you?  Will you trust Him in this area?

5. Keep your journey joyful. 

The fifth sound bite has to do with celebration.  Ortberg points out that too often we view God as solemn and even angry: “They miss the reality that God is filled with passionate joy and that He calls His children to lives of committed celebration.”  Deuteronomy 16 spells out three times that God’s people are to be involved in pilgrimage festivals as they are told to observe the Passover (16:1-8), the Feast of Weeks (16:9-12) and the Feast of Tabernacles (16:13-17).  Suffice it to say that they were to be seasons of celebration and joy.  We see this in Deuteronomy 16:10-11: “Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you. And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name…”  Notice that they received another offering for this feast and that it was to be proportionate to how people had been blessed.  We also see the celebration breaking out in verse 14: “Be joyful at your Feast…”

Let me quickly add that there were seven feasts celebrated by the Israelites.  In addition to the three mentioned in Deuteronomy, they also celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Trumpets, and the Day of Atonement.  I won’t go through each one but I do want to put this chart up on the screen to point out that the first four, celebrated in the spring, deal with the work of Christ at His first coming; while the final three, that are celebrated in the fall, relate to His second coming.

6. Make the Lord and His Word your life (30:20; 32:47). 

As the Book of Deuteronomy closes, Moses is on the mountain looking into a land he will never enter.  But he wants to make sure those who do go in will walk with the Lord for the rest of their lives.  In his final sermon sound bite, he blesses each tribe and lays his hands on Joshua who according to 34:10 was “filled with the spirit of wisdom.”  I want to close this morning by focusing on that which is most important: Make the Lord and His Word your life.  We see this in 30:20: “For the Lord is your life” and in 32:47: “These are not just idle words for you—they are your life.  By them you will live long in the land you are crossing to possess.”

Moses constructs his entire sermon series so that His people will recommit to the Lord.  In fact, the structure of Deuteronomy follows an Ancient Near East treaty that begins with a summary, gives some stipulations and then concludes with a statement of commitment.  He wants them to take possession of God’s promises, to remember their redemption, to operate with obedience, to give generously out of gratitude, and to keep their journey joyful.  But the only way any of this will happen is if they make the Lord and His Word their very life.  

You’ve heard the summary and the stipulations.  The question now becomes extremely personal.  Will you make the Lord and His Word your life?  This is similar to what we read in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  Can you say this morning that the Lord is your life?  Is His Word your life?  If not, it’s time to make it so.  As we come to communion this morning, I want us to approach it two ways.

  • Surrender.  If you have not surrendered fully to the Lord, it’s time to do so right now.
  • Celebration.  Once you surrender, it’s time to celebrate.  And that’s what we’re going to do as we remember what God has done for us in sending His Son to die in our place…and that’s no laughing matter.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?