Sermon - Fear the Lord Your God

Fear the Lord Your God

Deuteronomy 6:1-15
October 25, 2015


Manuscript

Love the Lord Your God

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
10 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, 11 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, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.
Deuteronomy 6:15

Today, the title of the sermon is “Fear the Lord Your God.”  Before I begin a study of the text with you, I wanted to think about this word - Fear.  

What does it mean to Fear, and how does it relate to Love?


“I love my wife.”  You can say that, and it’s taken as a good thing.  People say, “I love my husband” and it’s a sweet thing.  I remember at the Newcomer Banquet, one of the new girls had to answer an icebreaker question, “What’s one thing you can’t live without,” and she said, “My husband, he’s so awesome.”  And she said it with such sincerity that I was moved by the sweetness of the moment. But if you say, “I fear my wife,” people are waiting for a punchline.  That’s because stand up comics will say, “Man my friend is on lockdown since he got married.”  T-shirt vendors sell “Game Over Shirts” with stick figures at the altar.  If you say, “I fear my husband,” people get uncomfortable and wonder if they should give you a hotline number for victims of domestic violence.   

In general, our culture teaches that it’s good to be in love and it’s bad to be in fear.  This is because in human relationships, we do things we shouldn’t do because of fear.  If it’s right for me to go out and have fun, but I stay home because I fear my wife’s disapproval, than I’m rightfully teased.  It might even be appropriate for people to be concerned or suggest counsel.  If a woman has a legitimate desire to spend time with her friends and she stays home because she fears her husband’s disapproval, then it’s right to worry for that woman.  

Whether it is a partner, a parent, or other significant figure, when you are blackmailed or emotionally manipulated by fear, appeasing acts will cause you to resent and hate that person.  It also makes you demean and betray yourself.  Fearing and appeasing others is often spiritually poisonous.  But the title of the sermon is Fear the Lord Your God.  And even a quick glance at today’s text will show you that loving God and fearing God are often used almost interchangeably.  How can this be?

It boils down to the essence of God's nature. God is good and will never ask you to do something wrong.


In fact, the best way to define “right behavior” is “the things that please God” and the best way to define “wrong behavior” or “sin” is “the things that displease God.”  So, if God will never ask you to do something inappropriate or wrong, and if everything God asks you to do is truly righteous, then Fearing God is different from Fearing people.

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To understand this, you have to think about a time when a person asked you to change for a legitimate and righteous reason. To come up with an example from my marriage, I had to think about a time when I was clearly wrong and Grace was clearly right.  Fortunately, as far as this sermon is concerned, it was pretty easy to remember such a moment.  In fact it happened several times over the course of this week.

One of the things that annoys my wife is that I’m always losing things.  She’s relaxed a lot since we’ve gotten married, and she doesn’t mind much when I lose MY things.  But when I lose HER things after borrowing them without asking, she gets mad.

I lost her keys and couldn’t find them for about 36 hours.  When she asked where I placed her keys and I knew that I had no idea, I was literally afraid.  I remembered clearly that I took them without asking.  And I could not remember where I put them.  As she began questioning me, I felt fear. I knew that her words and demeanor would raise my stress level.  I really needed to find those keys.  So I looked for them.

She first asked about them In the middle of the night.  I went outside with a flashlight to see if I dropped them on my way in.  I even dug through the trash and checked the dumpster because I was afraid that I threw them away with the trash in my jet lagged state.  

I went to sleep only after she fell asleep.  The next day I cleaned the house and looked for the keys on every shelf, counter, desk, and by every sink. Fear of her voice was my motivation to do the right thing and look for those keys.

12 hours after I lost them, I felt a prodding in her voice.  24 hours into it, I felt a stabbing in her voice.  36 hours in, I felt tortured and I was desperate to find them.  And thanks be to God I found the keys inside the sock drawer.

When my wife first confronted me, I was tired, and just wanted to lie around, but I got up and I was looking for those keys.  My motivation was fear.  A healthy Fear of my wife means fulfilling her legitimate request for MY benefit.  If I want the benefit of peace, I need to look for and find her keys.

Now I am not only motivated by fear but also love.


Once I found the keys and the stress lifted, the fear lifted from my heart and was replaced by love.  I ached, not because of how I was inconvenienced, but I ached because I knew I had caused my wife trouble and filled her with unnecessary stress.  She had run the the household while I was away, and instead of making her life easier when I came back, I just lost her keys.  I could imagine her frustration as she imagined having to ask to borrow the keys of her coworker to make a new copy.  I could imagine her mourning having to replace the keychain she liked, and could imagine her hurt that I had so little regard for her things.  

Concern for her stress is love.  But love is not a very strong motivator for me.  Concern for my stress is fear.  It’s a stronger motivator.  But in the end, both fear and love unite, and they work in tandem to prod me towards righteousness.

This is how the love of God and the fear of God unite.  Loving God means we do the right things for God sake.  We think about the stress our sins place in God’s life.  We think about the joy our good behavior will give to God.  And this is how love for God prompts us to do the right thing.  But truth be told, loving God is not a very strong motivator for me because I am immature and selfish.  I also need fear of God.  Fear of God means I do the right things for my sake.  Fear of carrying guilt and being disciplined and losing authority and intimacy in key relationships prompts us to do the right thing.  

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Usually I find that fear gets me motivated to act. And love gives me satisfaction that I've acted.


It’s hard to separate the two motivations.  It’s like putting peanut butter on one slice of bread and jelly on the other and sticking it together and pulling it apart.  When you look, you can tell the difference between peanut butter and jelly but you can’t necessarily separate the two entirely.  That’s the way it is with recognizing how fear of God and love for God are at work in our lives to lead us to righteousness.

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Now that we see the unity between love of God and fear of God, let’s examine our passage for today.

Deuteronomy 6 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
10 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, 11 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, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

The text is rich, and from it I want to share one message in 3 parts.  

“Fear the Lord Your God”

  • First, the passage warns you about the consequences of not fearing God.
  • Second, it points out why you will be tempted to not fear God.
  • Third, it teaches how you can recover and maintain a fear of God.

The passage doesn’t make these three points in order.  But I think organizing this points in this sequence is faithful to the text.

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Point 1.  If you do not fear God, then terrible things will happen to you.  

I see this most clearly in vs 15.  If you do not fear the Lord, then the Lord your GOd, who is real and is not far away but is right among you, God will be jealous and God’s anger will burn against you, and God will destroy you from the face of the land.

This is an important warning.  God does exist.  God does care.  God is powerful.  And if you make God angry, everything you hold dear is in peril.

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A quick point.  I smile a lot.  And people have asked me in the past, “Pastor Sam, do you smile even when you talk about hell and of the just punishment of God, of the dread that should fall upon us should the wrath of God be unleashed against us?”  I answered, I probably would smile.  

Today, I am smiling.  This is because I can’t help it.  I smile because I’m self-conscious.  Even when I meditate on the awesome majesty of God and of the indignation God rightfully has in response to our sin, my mind can’t fully be conscious of God.  These thoughts of the legitimate anger of God and the immense anguish of God do not fill me completely.

 Instead, my mind is full of me.  So sheepishly I smile.  I know that this is a serious matter.  Like a kid at a funeral, I can sense there is a weight in this room as we discuss the Fear of the Lord.  But like a kid who can’t comprehend the fullness of death, I am not capable of fully focusing on the Fear of God and the reality of punishment that awaits those who ignore God's anger and spurn God's mercy. I'm immature and self conscious; that’s why I’m smiling.

One day, I want there to be more of God and less of me in my consciousness.  Today, I glimpse the truth of God as if with my peripheral vision, barely perceiving God’s hurt and God’s rage because the center of focus is on me, my reputation, my comfort,and my achievements.  RIght now, in the middle of my God talk I am wondering “How do I look?  How do I sound?  Do people approve of me?” .  

But in the future, I want to be a pastor that Can center my attention on the person of God.  The verse talks about the jealousy of God.  Do you know when jealousy drives you mad?  When the person you love is flirting with someone who is better than you, who has more to offer than you, then it makes you jealous.  But we become mad with jealousy when the person we love is flirting with someone who is much worse than us, who has nothing of worth to offer.  This is the jealousy of a wife who discovers that her husband is addicted to lust.  This is the jealousy of a son who discovers his mother only sees his achievements but doesn’t see him.  This is the jealousy of a friend who is betrayed for no good reason.

The jealousy of God is a furious jealousy, and a righteous jealousy; because it is so righteous, it is so furious.  God roars, “When I am so worthy of you, how can you scorn me?”  God whispers, “When I have done everything for you, how can you forget me?”  

I want to be a pastor that can hear God say these things, that weeps because of the jealousy of God, who responds, “I will not forget you, you are my God my king,” And as one who has wept and has committed in private I want to stand before a congregation and say with no smile on my face  “13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.”

This is a truth. Unless you Fear God and serve God alone, God's anger will burn against you and God will destroy you from the face of the land. It is a truth proclaimed throughout the Old and New Testaments.


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Point 2.  

Our ingratitude keeps of from fearing God.

When it is the clear teaching of the Bible that God cannot be mocked and that God must be obeyed, why do we insist on holding on to a worldview that trivializes that justice of God?  Why do we rarely recognize that we live in a universe in which God is the all powerful judge?

Vs 10-12 helps us to understand why we are tempted to deceive ourselves.  

10 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, 11 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, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Scripture teaches that the human heart loves a lie that flatters more than a truth that challenges.  So when we live in comfort and security, we believe the lie that we are responsible for our condition.  “Because I worked so hard, I deserve everything I have. Since I deserve everything I have, I owe God nothing.  SInce  owe God nothing, I have no need to fear God while living godlessly.”

Scripture tells us we have received much grace. We benefit from God's actions on our behalf. But everyone tends to believe they have earned all they have. Most believe they deserve even more than they have. This is fundamentally a lie.  We can see a speck in the eye of another better than we see the plank in our own. So consider this example.

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Let’s say there’s a North Korean woman who escapes to China.  She braves barbed wire and risks mine fields and demonstrates quick thinking and poise and crosses into China. She is raped in China, repeatedly, but she does not stop dreaming. When she becomes pregnant she decides to dream Not just for herself but for her unborn child as well.

Because she does not have any medical care, she dies during childbirth, but her son is born healthy.  This orphan is somehow rescued, adopted, and raised in Seoul.

This boy is given a home in a land with large flourishing cities he did not build, with houses filled with all kinds of good things that he did not provide, with roads and transportation infrastructure he did not build, with an education system that he did not pay for. He is only in this land because of the sacrifice of his mother and the sovereign grace of God. What would be God’s hope for this adopted boy who has received such grace?  

I believe God’s hope would be that this boy would take advantage of all his opportunities to become strong, knowledgeable, capable, and healthy.  I believe God is delighted when such children say, “God, use me to bring light to the darkness.  Send me to help others who need your hope.”

Grateful children want to live for the glory of God. However, ungrateful children live godlessly.


What if this boy spent all his energy working out to fit into skinny jeans, spent money on expensive multi-step treatments to have super-moist skin, and believed that he was the best looking student in his high school?  Since he worked to manage his appearance, he feels entitled to popularity and even a little taste of celebrity.  He feels like his quest for self glory is somehow righteous because he has no sense of gratitude.

Imagine this past week that he’s watching tv and the program he wanted to watch is  interrupted by coverage of reunions that brought together family members who were separated by the Korean War. He sees an 87 year old babbling, overcome with emotion, as he hugs his 86 year old sister, whom he has not seen for almost 70 years.  Instead of being moved, the boy changes the channel. 

“Who cares about these old people?”  “Why do we even care what happens in North Korea?”  “This is boring.  How come I can’t watch what I want?”

The boy forgets where he was rescued from.  He disdains the lowly forgetting to admit, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  Instead of seeking to share with others the blessings God has poured into his life, the boy dedicates his life to vain narcissistic pursuits.  And instead of having pity and love for the suffering who are his own flesh and blood, he gets annoyed that thinking of them gets in the way of his pursuit of entertainment.  

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The Israelites, in the times that Ezekiel began his ministry, were living like that boy.  You and I are living like that boy.  We forget that everything we have we have received.  Instead, we convince ourselves that we’ve earned everything we have.  We tell ourselves that our quest is to elevate ourselves.  We tell ourselves that even if God happens to exist, God is irrelevant.  And the refusal to admit what we have received tempts us to forget God.  And forgetting God causes us to lose our fear of God.  

It is dangerous when we take our material blessings for granted and forget God. But it is even more dangerous when we take our spiritual blessing for granted and forget God.


When the grace we claim and the theological system we appropriate inoculates us from the fear of God, then we believe in a false grace. The Israelites believed that because they were a chosen people, and because they had the temple, that God would never allow enemy armies to overrun Jerusalem.  “It doesn’t matter if we sin.  God already chose us to bear his blessing.  God will cause us to prosper no matter what.”  They hide behind the temple without understanding what God is speaking to them through the temple.

They forgot to be grateful, and the spiritual blessings they inherited made them proud.  Their false interpretation of their spiritual legacy caused them to lose their fear of God. And they realized too late that they were wrong.  It took war, death, deportation, and generations in exile for them to be humbled and to realize that God cannot be mocked.

Even with the benefit of the Bible’s account of these things, many Christians make the same mistake.  Like the Jews who relied on their nationality and the temple, many so called Christians say, “I go to church and call myself a Christian, so God has to protect me.  It doesn’t matter if I sin.  God has already chosen us to bear his blessing.  God will cause me to prosper no matter what.”  They hide behind the cross without understanding what God is speaking to them through the cross.

They forget to get grateful and their false interpretation of their spiritual legacy makes them proud.  This causes them to lose their fear of God.  And they will realize too late that they are wrong.  On Judgment day, Jesus will say to many of them, “Away from me, I never knew you.”

The second point is that when we live without gratitude, we will lose our fear of God.

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The third point is the most important for us.  If right now we do not subjectively feel a fear of God or a love of God, if God is nothing to us - how can we experience a connection to God again?  If God is just an idea to us, if God does not seem real to us, if the jealous anger of God seems irrelevant to us, what can we do to recover that sense of God’s reality?  How can we get this fear of God?

The answer is profoundly simple.  The text tells us how to experience this fear.

“These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.”

Let’s look at the verbs and how they relate.  

  • Moses teaches the law so that Israelites will observe the law.
  • Israelites observe the law so that they may fear the Lord.
  • They demonstrate they fear the Lord by keeping the law.
  • Keeping the law they enjoy long life.

What is the point of preaching and teaching? It's to get people to follow the will of God by observing God's commands, summarized as "Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul strength and Love your neighbor as yourself."

My goal in preaching must be to help you understand why and how we obey God.  When I declare the gospel I am explaining how God has demonstrated his great love in forgiving us and declaring that God is truly worthy of our grateful obedience. When I declare the gospel I am explaining that we who were once slaves to our selfish desires, can, by turning our eyes to the cross and seeing there Jesus dying for our sins, can receive a faith that makes us able and willing to live for God.

Again, the point of preaching and teaching, the role of Moses and the role of every preacher is to tell people what God wants so that people will observe it. The temptation for every pastor is to think that I speak to inspire you or to cause you to feel something.  The temptation is to think that my preaching goal is to give you a subjective experience of the reality of God. I assume the point of preaching is to make you feel fear of God or feel love of God.  (Incidentally, those are the same thing really, both come from an awareness in our heart about the reality of God).

But, that's Not the goal of preaching! Listening to a sermon is not the primary means of you feeling fear or feeling love of God.  No listening to a sermon helps you and equips you to observe the commands of God. 

Observing the commands of God is what allows you to experience the feeling of God's reality, the reverent fear and the passionate love.


Of course, sometimes you come to church and from simply singing and listening to a message you feel something. Often this is because you are experiencing a social stimulus not a spiritual stimulus on your heart.  Or, to be a little less cynical, you are experiencing the feeling because you are fulfilling some of God's commands by Sabbath keeping, praising, and meditating on the Bible. But what is the answer for when you are coming to church but you're Not feeling "it"?  Is it time to join a more stimulating church? 

Before you think that, remember the basic path of recovering our fear of God, recovering our love of God, the recovery of our awareness that God is real. Observe God's commands.

All you should seek from a sermon is clarity about why and how you observe God's commands.


What you should seek in a church beyond this is help in finding ways to observe God's commands. Can someone offer me fellowship so that I can feel I am not alone in learning how to serve God?  That's why we offer small groups, and really that's why we offer lunch. Can someone organize an activity I can join to observe some of God's commands? That's why we offer local outreach opportunities.

If Michelle thanks you for going to Jesus Love House, you should say, "No, thank you for providing me with a way of observing God's commands."  You should thank Lydia for organizing Harlem Explorers. You should thank your short term mission trip leaders. You should thank the church for teaching how and why we obey God and for giving you opportunities to obey God together. And if the church is not doing that, then we need to stop whatever else we are doing and do that well.

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Sometimes we get into a spiritual funk. I'm Not feeling it. I'm not doing anything. And we often think, "If God gave me some feelings in service, I would have the motivation to do some stuff God commands." But that's not the way it works. Teaching leads to Observing which leads to Feeling Fear which leads to continued Observing which leads to continued blessing.

If you want to feel a fear of God - if you want to become convinced of the reality of God - if you want to experience a connection to God, then you must obey. "Obey so that you fear."


And I hear this principle in our small group material.  John Ortberg defines disciplines as things you can do that, if you do them, will make you able to do things that you can’t do yet.  For instance, if you run 1 mile, and you do it, you will eventually be able to run 3.  If you practice scales, you will eventually be able to play a Sonata.  

If you can't fear God, if you can't subjectively experience God's reality, the do what you can. Obey God. If you can control your actions, you will be able to experience a change in your emotions.


And if you can’t obey yet, then the passage suggests another discipline.

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

If you can’t get yourself to love God and neighbor with your actions, then write the command on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.  Put visual cues that remind you of this command.  Memorize these commands.  Talk about these commands.  Teach these commands to your kids.

If you can't feel love, the do love. If you can't do love, the talk about doing love, put up posters about doing love, and memorize verses about love.


In small group, a member asked, “How can we experience selflessness?”

I didn’t have an answer handy.  But if you can’t feel that love, then do that love through service.  If you can’t do that love, then talk about that love in bible study.  Memorize a verse on that love.  Meditate on the call to love.

Another person shared in small group that she lacks the courage and faith to evangelize. But now she is asking for courage and faith to make eye contact instead of turning to her phone when she has downtime with coworkers. And she's praying for incremental changes that will lead to an organic and healthy sharing of her faith.  I believe she's on the right track.  Where does the conviction to share the gospel come from? Where does the feeling of "God wants to use me to share this message with you" come from? From the obedience of spending our time and opening our heart to others.  

Seriously, God will not zap you and change your heart.  God will offer you teaching about what God wants. And then it’s on you to take action and obey.  And as you obey, God will cause your heart to feel.

This is how Jesus put it.

John 8: 31 So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

Take Jesus preaching and put it into practice.  Then you will know the truth - you will feel conviction, you will experience that awareness of God’s presence in your heart - and the truth will make you free.

May it be that our church declares the will of God. And may it be our church obeys the will of God. And through these things may it be our church feels the Fear of God and the Love of God, the full awareness of God's reality.

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Pastor Samuel An