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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Your Top Priority: Love the LORD your God!
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 1st Commandment (God alone)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 98:1,2                                                                                           

Hy 1

Reading – Deuteronomy 6; Mark 12:28-34

Ps 78:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 34 (Q&A 94, 95)

Ps 116:1,7,8,9

Hy 78:1,2,3,4,5

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

Beloved in Christ, probably we all feel the need at times to get back to basics, to simplify and re-focus. For life gets complicated. There’s so many things going on, and we’re pulled in many directions. There’s family time, work commitments, and church activities. There are finances to take care of, projects on the go, meetings to attend.

Maybe I shouldn’t remind you about this on a Sunday—today’s a day for resting, not fretting about work and other things. That’s one of the blessings of the Lord’s day: having a day to open the Word and get back to basics, to simply adore God our Saviour, and to be refreshed in the purpose of our life here on earth!

So let’s get to the heart of the matter. What does God really want from you, his child? How can you bring him the most pleasure, the highest honour? This calling is something to reflect on and to be busy with, even as you drive to work again tomorrow morning, or as you open your books again at school, or as you clear away the breakfast dishes—it’s something to think about as life crowds in on your days. What am I here for?

And the first commandment instructs us. God tells us clearly what He requires: Put God first. Love God best. Trust in him alone. In all of life, that’s our high calling and our main purpose. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme from Lord’s Day 34,

Your top priority: Love the LORD your God!

  1. love God for all that He is
  2. love God with everything you are
  3. love God wherever you go


1) love Him for all that He is: Any good relationship requires you to really know the other person. For instance, that’s what a young man and young lady are working on when they’re dating or courting: they’re getting to know each other, becoming familiar with each other’s character, gifts, flaws, likes and dislikes. Through knowledge comes closeness, intimacy. It’s the same with our relationship with God: to walk close with God every day, to trust in God, to please God, we need to know him.

That is the first ‘positive’ requirement in this commandment. After telling us ‘to avoid and flee all idolatry,’ etc., the Catechism says we must “rightly come to know the only true God” (Q&A 94). To love God first and best, we must know God: his character, his priorities, his will.

So who is God? And how do we know him? Daily we can dive into Scripture, for that is where God reveals himself. For instance, consider our reading from Deuteronomy 6. There Moses is preaching to God’s people before they embark on the final leg of their journey, across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. In verse 4, he wants to get their attention: “Hear, O Israel.” This is vital. ‘If there’s any take-home lesson today,’ Moses says, ‘then this is it!’

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (v 4). We’ve heard this text before, sometimes together with the Ten Commandments. The Israelites always gave this verse a prominent place. They took this passage as foundational, where it even became something like their creed, a confession of faith. They called these verses ‘the Shema,’ from that first Hebrew word in verse 4: “Shema,” or “Give ear! Listen up!”

You have to know this: “The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” This punchy phrase means, in the first place, that God is the only God—the true God. He is the God who is without comparison and contradiction.

The Israelites had witnessed his greatness many times. Think of four decades before, standing on the shore of the Red Sea. Having just seen all the hosts of Egypt destroyed, Israel sang, “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exod 15:11). Who is like the LORD? Not anyone, not anything! God stands alone.

By his mighty acts in Egypt, God showed that He is without rival. For the Egyptians had their gods too. These were gods reputed to do amazing things, like making the Nile to flood so that the crops could grow. But it’d become brutally obvious how these gods could in fact do nothing against the LORD.

The LORD is the one and only. This is a truth with real consequences: in our life there can be no rivals for our worship and love. No ‘close seconds,’ just behind God. No ‘back up plans’ as our real security instead of God. Only He is worthy of our trust. 

This is a reminder we always need, isn’t it? Together with frequent warnings against idolatry. What is idolatry? It is “having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God who has revealed himself in his Word” (Q&A 95). All too soon, we’re ready to let something push God out of top place.

Moses gives that warning too: “You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you, for the LORD your God is a jealous God among you” (Deut 6:14-15). He is jealous. Now, we usually think of jealousy as a bad thing, like if I’m jealous of someone else’s nice sportscar. That’s sinful coveting, because that vehicle doesn’t belong to me. But you can also be jealous in a good way, when something is rightfully yours—like if I am jealous for the attention of my dear wife. I have a just claim on her loyalty and love because that’s what we promised to give each other. God is jealous, in the sense that He is possessive about what is rightfully his. As the only God, as our Creator and now also our Father, He wants our obedience, our loyalty, our love.

‘So don’t go after gods,’ Moses warns. He wasn’t a fortune-teller, but Moses had a bad feeling about how it was going to go in Canaan, once Israel settled in. Canaan had a well-stocked buffet of religion and idolatry. There was a god for every occasion. For times of drought, there was the god of rain. For times of conquest, the god of war. For a good harvest, there was the god of fertility. Always another god!

It’s like how we’re tempted by a range of different idols at different times. Call them ‘the god of the moment.’ On Friday night, we might venerate the god of the good times: we’re willing to sacrifice everything on the altar of having fun, being with friends, being entertained. Or in a season of financial blessing, we slip into resting in the god of material security. Or during our busy weeks, we might be bowing before the god of work and productivity. Probably in any moment of life, another idol lurks just behind the corner. For Satan is never idle. There’s no end to the gods that our hearts run after and cling to.

But this is our confession: God is one! He is unrivaled. Never surpassed. This means that to love other gods is to love nothing, it is to love a nobody. In themselves, and next to God, our idols have no standing or power at all. Despite all our devotion and investment, they won’t provide us with a blessing or a lasting reward: they’re empty.

But “the LORD is one.” That expresses a second thing, too: God’s unity. He’s not made up of many parts, divided in his purpose, or inconsistent. But He’s one, unified in all his attributes. The Belgic Confession says in Article 1 that God is “simple:” an undivided, unbroken, uncompromising God—and uncompromised God.

Think of the comfort that we have in this truth. God’s perfect unity means that when He speaks, He’ll never go against his Word, having second thoughts. And neither can anyone in all the universe contradict him! God is perfectly dependable, for He is working for our good with his whole being, without reserve or hesitation. When God saves us in the blood of his Son Jesus Christ, there’s no one who can snatch us from his hand.

Our God is the LORD, the One who is He who is, never-changing. He won’t become less than He is today, but He will always be great. God’s dominion over creation won’t ever decline, but He will always be Lord of all. God won’t ever be distracted from his attention for us, his covenant people, but He will forever be constant and true.

This is knowledge that’s the basis for a good relationship with God. When you know this about God, and when you really treasure his truth, it can inspire a confidence in him. Like how trust develops between those two friends as they slowly get acquainted and as they see each other react in different situations: they demonstrate trustworthiness. Rightly knowing God, we may “trust in him alone” (Q&A 94).

Such a generous God, so dependable, so almighty, doesn’t deserve divided allegiance. God isn’t worthy of a lukewarm affection. He is jealous for your loyalty, for your priority, for your wholehearted desire to walk with him. He deserves it, so God is jealous for your love. Is that what you’re giving him?


2) love Him with everything you are: In just nine words, the Catechism gives us our life’s work. What does God require of us? That I “love, fear and honour him with all my heart” (Q&A 94). That’s an assignment big enough to keep us going ‘til the day we die. Love God with everything that you are! As Moses exhorts us: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (v 5).

Don’t underestimate what a radical teaching this was for Israel. Sounds strange, but the command to love didn’t really fit the pattern of religion in that time. Does God want love? The pagans of Egypt, the pagans of Canaan—many people, still today—think of their gods in quite a different way.

The thinking is that what a god really wants is flattery, bribes and gifts. What does God require of you? He wants expensive offerings, costly presents, notable sacrifice. It was less relationship and more transaction: give something, receive something. With the right gift, you could bribe a god, sway him to your advantage. If you were generous with him, a god could be moved to act on your behalf. So what’s love got to do with it?

To be sure, Israel fell for the same bad theology. Because transactions are always easier than relationships! Israel knew the LORD wanted love, but He also said He wanted sacrifice. And material things are simpler to give than an undivided heart. Offer a priestly-certified animal. Bring some Grade A barley to the temple, and all is well.

For us it remains a challenge. We still find it difficult to give God a broken and contrite spirit. That takes humility on our part—being honest about how we sin—and it means daily repenting, coming to God with empty hands. But if I only have to offer him the right monetary gift, perform some acceptable activity, I’m OK. It’s relatively easy to figure out what other people expect of us, and then to reckon it’s the same for God: go to church like I should; answer with what I think is the ‘safe answer’ on a homevisit. But is there a heart beneath all performance? Underneath, is there still a heart that loves?

God’s demand cuts through every good appearance. Again, what does God require of you? In Mark 12, the man talking with Jesus was quite correct. He said, “To love [God] with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (v 33). That is total commitment: heart, understanding, soul, and strength.

What does it mean if you love God “with all your heart?” We’ve learned before that your heart is the centre of your person. Your heart sets the pace, determining your word, giving shape to your thoughts, numbering your priorities. So make the heart right! God commands that it be filled with an affection for him. We love the Father, and delight in Christ, and enjoy our fellowship with the Spirit—from the heart.

This is echoed by what God commands in Deuteronomy 6:6, “These words which I command you today shall be in your hearts” (v 6). Putting his words ‘in our hearts’ means that we don’t just have a vague idea of what God has said. But keep his will right at the centre of your life. Take his promises, turn them over in your mind daily, and treasure them up. If your heart is well-stocked with God’s Word, your love for him will surely grow.

“Love God with all your heart, and with all the understanding” or ‘with all your mind’ (Mark 12:33). To love God for who He is requires us to set our mind on things above. God wants us to dwell on his mighty works: think about how God has created and saved and protected and judged. Dwell on his greatness so that you can love him with your mind.

And then even in the way that we think about other things—about our job, or other people, or our troubles—God desires that we bend our minds toward him. It becomes an instinct, a sanctified way of thinking: ‘What would God say about this? How does the Lord’s character change how I lead my life?’ This is what we think about, day by day.

And love God “with all the soul” (Mark 12:33). If your ‘heart’ is the command-centre of your life, then your ‘soul’ is your whole existence on this earth as an individual. It’s the whole blend of abilities and talents, duties and responsibilities, blessings and burdens that God has given you: your person here on earth. So, God says, take all that you have, all you are, and love him with every bit of it!

This kind of love takes great energy. That’s why it also says, “Love the LORD…with all your strength” (Deut 6:5). Loving God is a great joy. But it’s going to take effort. It will take your strength. Haven’t you found that to be true for any relationship that you’re in? It requires work and it takes time. There can be those easy days and weeks, of course, but for the long haul, any relationship needs you to put into it ‘all your strength.’

So for God. Loving him won’t ‘just happen.’ You won’t stumble into having a closer bond with God, where it happens without you really noticing or doing anything to stimulate it, like becoming more devoted to prayer, and spending more time exploring his Word. But press on to lay hold of what for which Christ Jesus also laid hold on you! Love God with all your strength, with effort and focus each day.


3) love Him wherever you go: Where are you going to be this week? Probably in many different places. In the boardroom. At the shops. At school. At the dentist. At home. And when we honour our first priority—to love God above all—we need to think about how this will shape our conduct wherever we are, wherever we happen to be.

On Sundays it can be good reflect occasionally on the triple-t question. What is the triple-t question? What will you be doing this time tomorrow? And how will you be living out your love for God? It’s good to ask that because on Sunday, everything can seem pretty easy, predictable, safe and sanctified: going to church, having fellowship, resting from work. Then comes Monday and Tuesday and the sudden challenges of office politics and school deadlines and stressed-out households. How will you be loving God at this time tomorrow? Will you still be trusting in God, submitting to him, loving, fearing and honouring him? How will you show it?

Moses too, touches on how love for God shapes all of life, wherever we are. He begins in the most obvious place, the home. Take God’s commandments, Moses says, and “teach them diligently to your children” (v 7). Literally he says, “Repeat them to your children!” That word is well-chosen. It takes a while for children to learn, and there’s much to learn. So we’ve got to work at it, teach them, then teach them again.

Moses says about the commandments, “Talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up” (v 7). This is making God’s Word the subject of natural, everyday conversation. Not just on Sunday, and not just at devotion time, but anytime.

And our love for God doesn’t only shape those conversations at home between parents and children, but also between husband and wife. We demonstrate our love for God in the way we speak to our spouse during the week, how we lead our wife with wisdom and care and consideration, how we help our husband with love and support.   

Loving God is something we take with us always. Think about the interactions we have with other people. Does our love for God come up in conversation when we’re together as fellow believers? Or does our love for God show when we interact with people who don’t know him? Speak of the things that are most important to you, wherever we are.

Then Moses says this of the commandments, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (v 8). Affix the Lord’s Word to your hand, to your forehead. Why there? The hand is the symbol of action, while the forehead stands for our direction and intent. For it is to be the first thing we think about, the first question we ask, “What is God’s will? What does the Lord’s Word say about this?”

This means the Word must be central to our life as church: “Bind these commandments as a sign on your hand, and between your eyes.” You might know how the Jews took this verse literally. They heard the command to attach the law to their persons, so they made up something called phylacteries. Maybe you could Google it when you get home to see what they looked like. These were little boxes in which were kept short passages from the law, written out in tiny script. And they wore them on the forehead or around the arm, binding them there with leather bands. In Jesus’s time, this had become just another religious show, and He criticized the Jews for doing everything “for people to see… [making] their phylacteries wide” (Matt 23:5).

Today too, you might have an inspiring text of Scripture, hanging in your house. You might wear a Christian symbol like cross or a dove on a golden chain around your neck. Or you have the Bible on your phone, and a Bible verse as your email signature. These can be good things, but we also need to live the message! Bind God’s Word to your head and hand!

By our holy life, today and at this time tomorrow, and at this time the next day, God wants his people to show: ‘This is who I am. I’m a child of God. I love my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. I’m going to listen to him and trust him in everything.’ God wants it so obvious that everyone passing by can see it, that here is someone firmly committed to God.

Can that be said of us? Do people see on our hands and our heads and all our conduct that we love the LORD? In the midst of everything else going on in our lives—amidst all the busyness and bustle—is this truth still able to shine through, radiant and clear? That our top priority is to love the LORD God?

For that’s the heart of the matter: What’s the purpose of your short time here on earth? That you love the LORD with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

For all that God is,

and for all that God has done in Christ,

let us love him with everything we are,

and love him wherever we go!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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