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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God gives the Simple Gift of His Law
Text:LD 2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good
 
Preached:2021
Added:2021-08-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 116:1,9,10                                                                             

Hy 7:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Deuteronomy 6:1-9; 1 Corinthians 13

Ps 14:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 2

Hy 18:1,3

Ps 32:1,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, by nature all people resent the law. We don’t like rules and regulations. If you’ve ever received a speeding ticket, then you’ll probably know about this. There’s a part of you that just resents the idea of a speeding limit, and the fact that the police chose to enforce it on that stretch of road. You’d be much happier without this law.

That’s small glimpse into how human beings generally want to cast off every law that doesn’t agree with us. For example, there are many laws of God that are now being changed or discarded: laws about life, about marriage, about the family. What’s more, people are quick to protest that a particular law is unfair and that it infringes on their rights. Someone guilty of breaking the law blames his upbringing. Others say that many of our laws were made by old white guys, and that it is time to overthrow the system for something new.

But God’s Word, and God’s law, are timeless. They are without mistake, because they are rooted in God’s perfect wisdom. And his law is plain and straightforward. Even if people try to deny it, or change it, his law speaks clearly. There’s nothing uncertain about it. Which is reassuring: we can know what God desires from us, to love Him and to love our neighbour.

Yet God’s law is also painful. For it shows us with brutal honesty how we have failed. There’s no arguing against it, and no exceptions, and no excuse-making is allowed. It’s black and white: here is your duty, and here is how you have missed the mark. Even so, this same law points us in the direction of our Saviour, the one who was able to keep the law of God completely. Let us look at God’s law, and the summary of it in Lord’s Day 2:

God gives the simple gift of His law:

  1. two comprehensive commands
  2. one invariable inclination 
  3. one flawless fulfiller

 

1) two comprehensive commands: When the Catechism asks, “What does God’s law require of us?” (Q&A 4), it could’ve answered this question in a variety of ways. It could have recited the Ten Commandments that we hear every Sunday morning. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make a carved image,” and so on.

Or it could’ve presented God’s law in kernel form, like such texts as Micah 6:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” In short and powerful passages like that, God reminds us about the two basic orientations for our life: “How to live in relation to God,” and “what duties we owe our neighbor” (Q&A 93).

But the Catechism answers the question in a different way. It answers with the well-known summary of the law which Jesus gave in Matthew 22. On that day He was asked by a legal expert what commandment is the greatest. It was a trick question, so Jesus replies not with his own words, but with the words of Scripture. He combines a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:5 with one from Leviticus 19:18, “‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt 22:37-39).

That is simple and direct, short but comprehensive commands. With them God is putting a claim on every square centimeter of our lives. As we walk this earth, He commands us live in love for God, and in love for our fellow human beings.

We’ve heard those words often, so it may be hard to really grasp them. They’re too familiar to fully sink in. But let’s slow down for hearing what God says. What does God want from us? In a word, God wants love. Our chief and central calling on this earth for as long as we live is to give God our love.

The word ‘love’ can be overused in our favourite love songs and romantic movies, of course, so we’re quick to say that love is more than an emotion, more than a passing feeling. And that is true. But let’s not jump there too quickly. Love is more than an emotion, but it is certainly not less. For love is affection. Love is the warmth of the heart toward another.

God himself is full of tenderness and love for his people. And so God in turn wants us to desire his closeness, to adore his character, to think about him a lot, and to speak of him often. We may not draw near to God, or be in a relationship with God, and be utterly cold on the inside. He desires that our love and delight for him overflow from within us.

On that point, I wonder how often we tell God that we love him. Maybe you have found that telling someone close to you that you love him or her—just coming out and actually saying it—can be a hard thing to do. The loving words seem to stall, right on the tip of our tongue, and they don’t come out. It can seem even harder to say to our God.

Yet think of the good examples we have in the Psalms. There is David’s confession in Psalm 18:1, “I love you, O LORD, my strength.” Or what the Psalmist says in Psalm 116:1, “I love the LORD, for he heard my voice.” God created us to love him, and He desires that we feel this love, and tell him about it.

And such love must indeed come out in our actions. We see this in how God wants nothing less than total commitment. Notice how God keeps emphasizing the completeness of his demand. Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Love God,” but He says, “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 greatest command begins like this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” In the Scriptures, your heart isn’t just the wellspring of emotion; your heart is the centre of your life. Christ says somewhere else that the things that come out of you (like your words, or your attitudes, or your deeds), reveal what’s really in the heart. So God desires that our hearts be devoted to him. If we seek anything to fill our life, it must be God. If we have joy and happiness over anything in life, it has to be over God. Does your heart beat everyday with love for God?

“Love God with all your heart, and love God with all your soul!” If your ‘heart’ is the centre of your life, then your ‘soul’ is rest of your person—it’s even your life in its entirety. Here God is commanding us: “Love me with all that you are.” The truth is, if we love God truly, this begin to dominate our life. It shapes my plans. It colours my dreams. It gives a different tone to my behaviour. When we love God, we will serve Him with everything we have and all we do.

Just a few examples: If we love God with our heart and soul, we’ll obey his command to put away the idols from our life, and obey his command put our trust in him alone. If we love God, we’ll obey him when He tells us to keep our bodies and our minds sexually pure. And we’ll obey him when God tells us not to be greedy for money, and when He tells us to speak the truth.

We don’t keep God’s law because we’re scared of being condemned by him, or because it’s a church obligation imposed on us. We obey God because we love God. We know that things like sexual purity and gentleness and truth-telling and contentment are important to God, so we strive to do them for him. If your soul is filled with love for God, this will be seen in all you do. Writes John in his first letter, “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3).

Such love also begins to rule our thoughts. For we must love him “with all our mind.” Scriptures says that our mind must be set on things above. God wants us to dwell on what He has done, and to meditate on his character, and to fill our mind with his Word. Also in the way that we think about other things—about our work, or other people, or our possessions—God desires that we bend our minds toward him.

No question, this kind of love requires all the energy we have. That’s what it says in Deuteronomy 6, “Love the Lord your God with all your strength” (v 5). The great God is worthy of an intense love. Don’t love God with the leftovers of your day. Don’t fit him into the margins, when it’s convenient for you. But love him with all your might.

Love for our neighbor flows out of love for God. That’s the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So does that mean we should love ourselves? Well, it’s natural to have a regard for our own security and safety. A lot of our daily thoughts are about our own well-being: How am I feeling right now? Is it time for me to eat? What do people think about me? We shouldn’t obsess over ourselves, but it’s normal to have a basic concern for ourselves, for our bodies as God’s handiwork, and for our souls living in his presence.

But God calls us to take that inward-orientation, and to point it also another way: Try to love other people like that! Think about the needs of your neighbour, too. Get their physical good, and their spiritual benefit, onto your radar. Pursue the good of those around you. Ask them, “How are you doing? And how can I help you?”

You understand how this will give a different outlook to our life. If you love others (even half as much) as you love yourself, what happens when you hear about a family who is in need? If you love others as yourself, what happens when you see someone standing on their own after church? You take action. You put yourself into their shoes, and you think about how you would want to be treated, and you try to bring blessing.

This new orientation comes across in the New Testament, in the numerous texts that end with “one another.” There’s at least a few dozen. Here’s just a few: “Love one another. Be devoted to one another. Live in harmony with one another. Accept one another. Serve one another. Be kind and compassionate to one another. Submit to one another. Bear with one another. Encourage one another. Offer hospitality to one another.” In short, make “one another” your concern. Love them genuinely and love them actively.

 

2) one invariable inclination: One of the trademarks of the Catechism is its direct questions. After reviewing what God’s law requires of us in Q&A 4, the Catechism asks one of these blunt queries: “Can you keep all this perfectly?” And the answer is to the point: “No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbor” (Q&A 5).

That’s the answer we all know already. We are sinful. But the Catechism wants us to see how bad it actually is. What does it mean to be “inclined to hate God and our neighbor”? Let’s look at our hatred for God in contrast to the love He commands.

We’re supposed to love God with our whole heart. But instead of having a delight in God, do you ever think of him as a distant and mysterious being? Like a stern judge, or an easily-offended parent? Do you think of God as someone who is usually annoyed with you because of your sin? If our view of God is wrong, it will be hard to love him with our whole heart. So isn’t it true that we sometimes grumble when we have to do things for God? Maybe we complain about getting out of bed on Sunday for church. Maybe we’re reluctant to give away part of our earnings. Perhaps it’s because our love for God is weak. Maybe our heart’s not in it.

Or instead of loving God with all our soul, presenting him with the totality of who we are, do we prefer to give only select portions of our life? “I serve God on Sundays, but what I do with my mates, or with my girlfriend—that’s my own business. And I’ll pray at mealtimes, but nowhere else.” Is this the passionate love God seeks?

We are called to love God with our mind. So what is in our minds, and on our minds, for most of the week? We can cram our heads with the endless content of social media, or with non-stop news or sports or movies. Or we can meditate on how people have hurt us. I can have time for thinking about a lot of things every day, but somehow I let love for God be crowded out.

Are these things hatred for God? Do any of us actually say, “I hate God?” as we ignore his commandment about gossip? Do we say “I hate God,” as we choose to ignore his gift of prayer? Well, let’s remember what love for God is. It is focusing your mind on God. It is delighting your spirit in God, devoting the best of your strength to God. It is trying to keep his commands in action and truth. If that is love for God, then what is hatred? Hatred is not giving God the kind of love that He desires. And that’s what we do.         

It’s in the same sense that we hate our neighbor. In 1 Corinthians 13, we learn about the way of loving other people. It’s a beautiful and well-known chapter. But notice how for much of it, the Holy Spirit speaks in negatives. He expresses many of love’s characteristics in a negative way. Love does not envy. It’s free of pride. It never fails. This is because he is realistic about us.

He knows, for example, that we can seem like gold-medal, all-star Christians. We have many gifts, heaps of knowledge, and sound opinions. Yet we might be terrible at practicing true love, carrying out “one another” love. Even if you have a great intellect, mighty faith, and many accomplishments, you need to love your neighbour.

God wants us to have a heart for fellow members in their suffering. He wants us to have a heart for our neighbours in their life apart from Christ. For without that kind of love, “I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2). Without that kind of love, I am not leading the life God created me for. Even though we give away lots of money to the church, and we are ridiculed at work because of Christ, if we’re coasting through our life without a real love for other people, “it profits [you] nothing” (v 3).

In 1 Corinthians 13, God puts a mirror in front of us, and it exposes a whole lot of ugly blemishes. Instead of loving our neighbour, we actually boast over him or her, or we criticize them endlessly. Instead of loving, we are sometimes rude, often self-seeking, and easily angered. Again, do we say that we actually ‘hate’ our neighbour? We’d probably never say that we’re living in hatred for our fellow church member, or our classmate, or the person across the street from us. From childhood, we all know that ‘hate’ is a bad word!

But perhaps the opposite of love isn’t hatred; perhaps the opposite of love is indifference. We just don’t care about some people. We don’t have time for them, we can’t be bothered to show them kindness. To us, they’re invisible. They’re not worth the effort, and we’re pretty sure that anything we do for them will be wasted. We are indifferent toward some people. And again, that is a long way from a love that is Christ-like.

To such sinful attitudes and actions, the Catechism says we’re “inclined by nature.” When something inclines, it bends toward, it leans. Think of the famous leaning Tower of Pisa. That tower, built on spongy soil, leans or inclines in one direction. Engineers have tried to stop that leaning a little. But it’s a hard task. The tower weighs hundreds of tons, and it’s been inclining that way for centuries.

So it is with us: we chronically lean toward sin. We’ve always been inclined toward idolatry instead of faith in God, and always inclined toward selfishness instead of love for other people. And what happens when something inclines too far, when we keep leaning in the wrong direction? We fall. As those who have the Holy Spirit, sometimes we can stay upright, and we strive to obey. But it’s a hard and lifelong struggle.

We are inclined to give God second or third or tenth place in our life. We are inclined to be indifferent toward our neighbour, to treat some of them like they’re not even there. So often we incline this way, and so often we fall. And so we need,

 

3) one flawless fulfiller: When the Catechism speaks about our sin and misery in Lord’s Day 2, there’s no mention of salvation. If you read this Lord’s Day on its own, without anything of what surrounds it, you’d think there was no way out.

Yet the Catechism is a book of comfort; it’s a guidebook for the true joy of the Christian life. Even in Lord’s Day 2, we’re on a journey toward the gospel of grace. And Q&A 4 drops a hint of this gospel. Did you notice the hint? Who teaches us the summary of God’s law? It is not Peter, Paul, or someone else, but Jesus Christ.

Christ teaches us the comprehensive commands of the law. Christ confronts us with our invariable inclination. And Christ presents himself as the flawless fulfiller. He is one who can perfectly love God and other people, and so He is the one who can save sinners like us.

Even when He was born, Jesus was called holy, free from the stain of sin. Later, Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty long days, but Satan had to depart from him, defeated. During his ministry, Jesus could speak sharp words, be moved by anger, and break manmade rules, yet in all this, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Pet 2:22). Even at his trial, Pontius Pilate had to conclude, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 18:38).

First, his love for God was perfect. When you look at his life, Jesus was fully dedicated to God in heaven. For He was devoted to prayer and worship. He always asked that God receive the glory. He obeyed God, and He poured himself out for God. He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.

And Christ also kept the second greatest commandment. He loved his fellow man as He loved himself, for He was always meeting their needs. You might even say that Jesus loved us more than He loved himself. For He sacrificed his heavenly glory to live as a man, surrendered his body to the shame of the cross, and He gave his soul over to the darkness. He did all this out of great love for sinners! Because of Christ’s righteous life and his atoning death, God has pardoned all our failings and washed away all our sins.

God’s law then, isn’t a dead end. It doesn’t spell out eternal misery, and nothing more. Scripture says in Galatians 4 that God’s law is our tutor—like a mentor, a wise guardian—a tutor who is keen to show us the way. The law is the kind of teacher who doesn’t point to himself, but a teacher who is happiest when he can talk about the great subject matter who is Jesus Christ.

From the law and the gospel, we learn what Christ was able to do, what He was willing to do, and what He did do—in our place! He loved God, He loved his neighbour, and then died for our many sins. He covered all our unbelief and all our indifference with his great love. When you know about this gift, and you’re grateful for it, then you’ll want to love God more, and love other people too!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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