I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: God Wants Our Total Commitment
It was in a 1986 Preaching Magazine article that pastor B. Clayton Bell gave this rather convicting illustration. He said:
A number of years ago Norman Cousins wrote an editorial in the Saturday Review in which he reported a conversation he had on a trip in India. He was talking with a Hindu priest named Satis Prasad. The man said he wanted to come to our country to work as a missionary among the Americans. Cousins assumed that he meant that he wanted to convert Americans to the Hindu religion, but when asked, Satis Prasad said, "Oh no, I would like to convert them to the Christian religion. Christianity cannot survive in the abstract. It needs not membership, but believers. The people of your country may claim they believe in Christianity, but from what I read at this distance, Christianity is more a custom than anything else. I would ask that either you accept the teachings of Jesus in your everyday life and in your affairs as a nation, or stop invoking His name as sanction for everything you do. I want to help save Christianity for the Christian."
Well, what was true in 1986 is just as true today. The average persons in America who calls themselves Christian have very little commitment to Christ. And the life that they lead throughout the week has little resemblance to the faith that they proclaim. Also, they seem to care more about what the world thinks of them than what Jesus thinks.
According to Barna Research Group, those who would be considered Evangelicals make up only 7% of the population. By Evangelical they are saying those who hold to what used to be called the fundamentals of the faith. What is meant by this are things like the deity of Christ, the belief in the Trinity, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Jesus, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world and a personal faith in Him for salvation. It includes a belief in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone apart from works.
Evangelicals, according to the research are the most likely to live a lifestyle different from the world, but being few in number, aren't what the world observes when they think of Christians. In contrast to the Evangelicals, there are what Barna Research calls Notional Christians who make up nearly half of those attending our church's today. These are adults who say they are Christian but have never made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. These individuals were more likely to behave in ways that characterized non-Christians than to reflect the behavior of born again adults. In other words, their faith does not seem to be a defining factor in many of their lifestyle choices.
And I would add that the reason for this is that those who have abandoned the fundamentals of the faith are not truly Christian at all. They are Christian in name only. Which shows us that the church in America, in large part, has become a mission field itself rather than one which sends out witnesses into the world.
The bottom line is that the Hindu priest was right. And we do have to pray today that God will save the Church in America. We further must also take some warnings and lessons from history. God's people Israel had similar problems with living in and not compromising with the world in which they lived.
In the book of Deuteronomy, for example, we have a new generation of God's people who are now about to enter the promised land. The Israelites had been taken out of Egypt by the God of their fathers. And they were lead by Him into the wilderness in order to enter the land that was promised to them.
Unfortunately, when 12 spies were sent into the land by Moses to explore it, all but two came back with a negative report about going forward and taking the promised land. Ten of the spies, though impressed by the land, were fearful of the inhabitants and of Israel's ability to conquer them. Joshua and Caleb were the only two who said not to fear and that the Lord would triumph over their enemies.
Because of that, the people were made to wander in the desert until that whole generation died because of their unbelief. The only two who eventually made it into the promised land, of that original group who came from Egypt, were Joshua and Caleb.
Now, in Deuteronomy, Moses is preparing a whole new group of God's people to enter into the land, complete with warnings of what will happen if they compromise their faith in Yahweh and decide to follow the evil ways of the people whose land the Lord is giving them. Sadly, these warnings were not heeded by future generations, which lead to Israel being dispossessed and scattered out of the land again for their sins.
It is in the book of Deuteronomy, while Moses is speaking to the children of that banished generation from the land, that we get a section of God's Word known by every good orthodox Jew today. It is Deuteronomy 6:4-9. These verses are known as the 'Shema.' which is the Hebrew word for 'hear' or 'listen.' And since there is no separate word that means to obey in the Hebrew language, the word also implies 'to hear and to obey or do what is commanded' The name for this Scripture comes from the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4 which states:
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is one!
This verse, and the five that follow, are as important for God's people in the 21st century as they were to God's people back then. This is true because, in these commands, Moses asks the Lord's people for a total commitment to the one God, Yahweh. And if the Church living in the United States will follow Moses' admonitions, the world will cease to have the effects on us as it seems to have on most who claim the name of Christ in America today. Further, it will make the Body of Christ be the salt and light in this world that it is was meant to be.
Let us examine the Shema and see what applications we can glean from this wonderful Scripture that will help us in our lives today. We can begin by giving more details about the sacredness of this passage to the Jewish world.
I. The Shema in the Jewish World
The first verse of the Shema is considered the most essential declaration of the Jewish faith because it teaches that God is one. By this it emphasizes the fact that there is only one true God and that this one God is Yahweh. Also, the words which follow make up the most important prayer in Judaism. Here is the prayer in its entirety:
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
Later Jewish tradition developed a three-part Shema prayer that also included Deuteronomy 11:13–29 and Numbers 15:37–41. Tradition states these three parts cover all aspects of the Ten Commandments.
A good Jew will recite the Shema twice daily, both morning and evening. The prayer has become so central to orthodox Jews that it is the final closing prayer of Yom Kippur ( i.e. Day of Atonement). The significance of the Shema being recited then is seen when we realize that Yom Kippur is the most solemn religious fast of the Jewish year and the last of the ten days of penitence that begin with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year).
And on top of all of this the Shema is traditionally said to be a Jew’s last words on earth. It is indeed central to the Jewish faith. However, someone else with better credentials has given validation to this prayer as extremely important. And that person is our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself.
II. Jesus' Acknowledgement of the Shema
We see the importance and significance that Jesus gave this prayer when He used it as the beginning of His answer to the question of what is the greatest commandment. In Mark 12:28-30 we see this. It states:
"And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these."
On the website 'Gotquestions.org it has this to say about Jesus' use of these verses:
"When Jesus began His answer with the Shema prayer, He acknowledged the Lord God as most important and that complete devotion to Him is the most important of the commandments."
Now let's break down the verses that follow Deuteronomy 6:4 and see what God expects His people's response to Him to be, who is the one and only God of the universe, once they hear and acknowledge that fact.
III. The Response to the Shema
We can see the words of the entire Shema prayer as a pledge of allegiance to the one true God. All other gods are not real and following them amounts to idolatry.
In today's world the gods are not just some pagan statues or other objects that a person gives divine status to. They rather include anything, even something good, that takes first place in our lives over the God of the Bible. It could be sex, money, possessions, fame, fortune, family, friends or status. All things that we may value above God are idols.
And how do God's people express their commitment and total loyalty to the Lord? It begins with a love for Him with every fiber of their being, with all their heart, soul and might.
What follows is a desire to have Him in every aspect of life and to have their children do the same. We notice how God wants to have His people think about Him and meditate on His commandments constantly. The people of Israel were to teach them diligently to their sons. They were to talk about them while sitting in their houses, walking outside, when lying down and when getting up out of bed. It was literally every hour of every day, of every month of each year. God wanted the supreme place because He was and is sovereign. He is Lord.
The Israelite was to be continually meditating upon and being redirected by the Law of God. They were not to do this as a matter of formal legalism but as a response to God's love. You do things for love, not because you have to do them but because you want to respond in order to please the one you care for. The continual meditation upon these laws would make them second nature to God's people. They would become an automatic response of the heart to obey them because the Jewish person would know God's laws so well.
God's people were told to:
"Bind them as a sign on your hand. And they shall be as frontals on your forehead." (6:8)
And Moses goes further by commanding that they were to:
"Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (6:9).
In other words, make them visible everywhere so that God's people could remember and apply them.
Later in Jewish history the phrase about binding them on hands and forehead was taken literally. The people tied phylacteries, or boxes containing these verses, to their hands and foreheads with thongs of leather.
All of these things were to say that God wasn't just a part of life that one adds on at their convenience. God was the source of His people's life and the One who sustains it. God was their life.
We see later in the passage that Moses gives them a warning that when they enter the promised land that God had given to them and lived in cities that they didn't build and houses full of all good things that they did not fill, and hewn cisterns which they did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which they did not plant, that they should not take these blessings for granted and forget the Lord who gave them this abundance. And they were not to worship other gods in His place. Otherwise the Lord's anger would be kindled against them (6:10-15).
Although we are not Israel and are living here in the 21st century, the Church in America should heed the same warnings today of abandoning the God who has given us so much and rather replace Him with the false gods of sex, gold, silver, fame and fortune that our culture worships today. False gods will destroy us as they did the people of Israel centuries ago.
In seeing this account of Moses' talking with God's people Israel all those centuries ago, and the comparison of it to the Christians in America today, it reminds me of the admonition of Pavel Poloz who was exiled from Communist Russia in 1987. Moody Monthly Magazine reported these words from this Christian man:
In Russia, Christians are tested by hardship, but in America you are tested by freedom. And testing by freedom is much harder. Nobody pressures you about your religion. So you relax and are not so concentrated on Christ, on His teaching and how He wants you to live."
What Poloz said about Christians in America is just as true today. And the Church needs now, more than ever, to heed the words of the Shema, given to the people of Israel all those centuries ago. We should look to what this Scripture is telling us and heed what it says. We have to stop playing church and start loving the Lord our God as He alone deserves to be loved. Further we must demonstrate that fact by obeying His commands for us today in all areas of our life.
We serve a jealous God who will not forever permit us to put false deities in His place. And we would all do well to ask ourselves which modern day gods stand in the way of our worship of and service to the one true Lord of the universe.
It is my prayer that we take the words of Moses that he gave to Israel and apply it's precepts to ourselves. When we listen to Him speak may we hear him say:
"Hear of Church of Jesus Christ! The Lord our God, the Lord is One! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."
Only the Triune God, our Savior, is worthy of such devotion. Let us demonstrate this to the world by living a consecrated life of dedicated service to Him! And that service will be used by our God to change that same world for His glory. May our Lord make it so in each of our lives!
© 2021 Jeff Shirley