The Greatest Commandment | Deuteronomy 6:4-9

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. 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.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

 

The mission and purpose of God’s people, the church, is clearly given by Jesus in His Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Of the four commands given, making disciples is the primary. We go into the world for the purpose of making disciples. We baptize believers into the church in order to make disciples. We teach one another every command of Jesus so that disciples are made. Making disciples of Jesus, therefore, must be at the heart of everything we do as a church.

The book of Acts gives us a further glimpse at how the New Testament church sought to make disciples: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They devoted themselves to the Scriptures, to prayer, and to community. It is my belief that a life molded by these values cannot help but obey the Great Commission. In our present text, we will observe particularly how a life saturated in God’s Word is essential to obeying the Great Commission.

Deuteronomy literally means “second law,” which is fitting because it is composed of the final sermons of Moses given to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land, and much of their content is reiterating the laws and commandments that God gave them forty years earlier. In the sixth chapter, we find our present text, which is one of the most important portions of Scripture. Called the Shema (the Hebrew word for hear), they essentially formed the doctrinal thesis of the Jewish religion, the central belief of their faith. Because of this, these verses were regularly prayed in both the morning and the evening and were often the final words upon the lips of dying Jews. Jesus, of course, affirms their importance by citing verse 5 as being the greatest commandment within the Bible. This text, therefore, is certainly worthy of our study and careful attention.

The general outline of the passage is: the central doctrine is presented in verse 4, the central command is given in verse 5, and proper application is given in verses 6-9.

THE LORD IS ONE // VERSE 4

Hear.

I am tempted to spend all our time with this one word, but alas, we shall not (today…). The importance of our text beginning with this word is multitude.

First, by being command to hear we must conclude that something is about to be said that is worth listening to. Something important is about to be communicated, so we would be wise to give our attention.

Second, we must remember who is commanding us to hear: Moses, the prophet of God, the vessel through whom God provided His holy law. Moses is such a dominating figure within the Old Testament that Jesus was prophesied to be a prophet like him (Deut. 18:18). This prophesy is the confirmed to apply to Jesus by how frequently their lives are paralleled. Both survived mass infanticide by an evil king, from which both found refuge in Egypt. Both were sent to rescue God’s people from slavery. Both issued the commands of God. And Moses is issuing those very commands here. He is speaking on God’s behalf, commanding us to pay careful attention to his words.

Third, because Moses is speaking the words given to him by God, we know that God not only communicates to us but actively entices us to listen to Him.

Fourth, God speaks this command to Israel, His people. God’s people should, of course, listen to their God.

This, then, begs the question: are you listening?

The reality of life is that we are hearing messages constantly. The entire field of business marketing is devoted to getting you to listen to a company’s message. People and devices are constantly vying for our attention, and we are largely influenced by the voices we are hearing. The Creator knows this, so He steps forward and demands our listening. As we will see, this God wants nothing less than to have our full attention. He requires it of His people. Why?

He is God. Two names are given here for the Creator of everything: the LORD and God. The LORD, in Hebrew, is God’s holy name, His personal name, while God is His divine title. Although we know that there is only one true God who formed the cosmos, people constantly worship other beings that they call gods. The LORD, therefore, is God’s proper name for clearly identifying the God of the Bible, which is why He specifies to Israel that He is their God.

This is intriguing because we might expect God to declare Israel as His people, as He often did. We would expect the Creator to brand them with His mark of ownership; however, He reverses the order. He calls Himself their God. He attaches Himself to them, not the other way around. I don’t think this observation is merely semantics for the sake of semantics; rather, this displays the kind of condescension that God shows repeatedly throughout the Scriptures. God does not treat us as nothing more than a pet or property. He doesn’t merely claim us as His own (even though that thought is no small wonder either!); He ties Himself onto us. Jesus is the most obvious example of this glorious condescension by literally becoming a human as we are human.

God, therefore, identifies Himself as being the God of Israel, but He also identifies Himself as being one. This means that God alone is God. Christianity is a monotheistic religion because we live in a monotheistic reality. There is only one Creator, and His name is the LORD. And He is our God. Other spiritual beings (i.e. demons) might establish false religions in which they are called gods, but they are not divine. The LORD is God, and there is no other.

Jews have rightfully identified this as being a cornerstone doctrinal statement, which specifies which God we serve. To affirm this declaration is to reject other views of God. For instance, we cannot properly believe that Allah, the god of Islam is the same as the God of the Bible because Allah is not the LORD. We serve the God whose name is the LORD, who attached Himself to the people of Israel, and who is uniquely God.

THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT // VERSE 5

Following such a necessary declaration of doctrine, Moses then provides us with what Jesus calls the Greatest Commandment: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you might. Each command is contained within this one. Even the second command, love your neighbor as yourself, will naturally be accomplished if we truly love God as we ought. Therefore, if the aim of our life is to obey God, the process has been simplified tremendously. Obey this one command, and everything else will be naturally obeyed. How then should we obey it?

Moses explicates three realms of obedience.

First, we must love God with all our heart. In Hebrew, this refers not only to feelings and emotions (as we think of the heart today) but also to the mind alongside its thoughts, desires, and will. When Jesus added the mind onto this list, He was not adding a new concept but making the idea more explicit.

Second, we must love God with all our soul. Again, the Hebrew’s conception of soul differentiates from what is common to today. We tend to imagine the soul as metaphysical, akin or even conjoined to consciousness. While the Hebrews did conceive of the soul as being alive (perhaps even the lifeforce of a person), they also viewed the physical body as part of being a soul.

Finally, we must love with all our might. The word used here is often translated as very or much. For instance, it is used when God declared creation very good in Genesis 1. When used as a noun, the word implies might, strength (as it is said in the Gospels), force, or we might add, fervor or zeal.

Together these categories encompass the entirety of a person.

So how then do we obey the command?

Here’s an idea. Grab a piece of paper and write those three realms of life side-by-side. At the end of each day, think back over how much you loved God within those categories and assign a percentage value to your effort. Now strive each day to increase those percentages until you are living each at 100%.

If the previous paragraph didn’t raise a few red flags, your heresy alarm system might need some maintenance. Such a goal-setting mindset misses the entire point of this command. After all, what is the command again? To love God. While true love often requires us to act without emotional backing, love itself is an affection. Love is not simply an action that can be accomplished; it is the prime motivator behind our actions. We spend time with our spouse because we love them. We watch television because we love it. Even actions we dislike, we do out of love. We work a job we hate because we love what it provides for us (at least more than the alternative of not having an income). Because love is a motivation, while it is easy enough to do loving things, it nearly impossible to force ourselves to love something or someone. Yes, we can certainly stir up the flames of love, but can we actually create love? Can I force myself to love something that I am truly apathetic towards? Without outside intervention, I don’t think we can. Our loves proceed from our being, and so what we love is a reflection of who we are.

This command, therefore, is not so much about what to do as it about what to be. In order to properly obey this command, your love of God must become your identity. You love God with your whole person. Every thought, emotion, desire, intent, word, action, breath, and heartbeat come from your love of God. That is what the word all means, after all. Nothing lies outside of your love for God. Loving God is woven into each fabric of your existence.

Of course this means that we can never hope of obeying. Even if, by some miracle, we managed to love God with our entire being for one whole day, we’ve still fundamentally disobeyed. Not loving God entirely yesterday ruins an entire lifetime. The command says all, and everything less than that is disobedience.

But, you interject, God will judge me by my effort, not the result; He knows that I tried. But have your really? Might could also be translated as effort, so did you actually make every effort every moment of every day to love God? I don’t think so.

But, you offer again, won’t God show me His mercy by relaxing such an unattainable standard? For God not to demand obedience as the command is written would be for Him to lie. To command one standard but accept a lower one is dishonesty, and God never lies (Titus 1:2).

All of this means that you can never do enough to obey this command. More than that. You, as a person, are not enough to obey this command. The problem is not just your actions; it is you as a person. You are utterly incapable of loving God as He commands and deserves.

And I’m in the same boat.

We all are.

No effort will ever be enough because we ourselves are not enough. We each stand before God, disobedient to His commandments and deserving His just judgment.

Yet for all the insufficiency that mars our love for God, His love for us is more than sufficient. The glorious news of the gospel is that God extended His boundless love toward us, even when we willfully refused to love Him. Although we could never fully obey this command, Jesus did. He lived a life of total love for God, never once failing to glorify the Father in all things. Such obedience is a battle to even comprehend for us. Yet He obeyed perfectly, and then He willingly submitted Himself to die in our place. His undeserved death then became the payment of the penalty for disobedience for all who believe in Christ. For those who are united with Christ, we are now presented before God as if we have completely obeyed this command. Our status before the Father by the blood of Christ is as if we truly have loved God with all our heart, soul, and might for every single moment of our lives. Jesus Christ is our only hope. Without His righteous being imputed onto us, we are each guilty of blatant and continual disobedience, earning us the fury of God’s wrath, but in Christ, we are now children of God.

SCRIPTURE AND DISCIPLESHIP // VERSES 6-9

Verse 4 gave us the key doctrine, and verse 5 was the key command. These final verses show us how to apply them into our lives. Verse 6 is the backbone for the remainder of the passage, while verses 7-9 explain what that verse looks like when lived out.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. What words is Moses referring to? Of course, the immediate context is in reference to verse 5, but they also apply to the words of all of Deuteronomy and, then, to the rest of Scripture. But even if Moses only meant verse 5, we could not properly love God without keeping His entire Word upon our heart.

What then does it mean to keep the Greatest Commandment specifically and all of Scripture generally on your heart? As we said earlier, the heart in Hebrew entailed much more than just feelings and emotions; for them, the heart was always the center of thought and reason. Therefore, keeping God’s commandments on your heart is the same practice as meditating on God’s law, which the Psalms urge us to do. Because God is revealed through His Word, we must treasure the Word in order to properly love Him.

Verses 7-9 describe how to do this. First, Moses gives the command of discipling our children in the Word of the LORD. Notice how Moses describes the manner in which such teaching ought to be done: diligently. Just as the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, so Moses commanded the Israel’s to diligently teach their children God’s commands. Discipleship has always been God’s idea of expanding His kingdom in both Testaments.

While peer-to-peer or mentorship forms of discipleship are thankfully resurging today, we must never forget this ancient truth that, for parents, our children are our primary disciples. They must not be recipients of our secondhand efforts. They must be our first and most important ministries, second only to our spouse. While the community of the church can be lifesaving in childrearing, the God-given responsibility is upon the parents’ shoulders and no one else.

If that sounds intimidating, Moses continues in verse 7 to show how this is to be done. By stating two pairs of opposites (sitting-walking and lying down-rising), the prophet is emphasizing that all of life should be filled with discussion of the Scriptures. Tremendous benefit can be found in having a daily time of family prayer and Bible reading, but that is not enough. The goal is not simply to read the Bible at least once a day; the goal is the saturate life with it. That is how to disciple our children.

The great difficulty of saturating life with Scripture is that we tend to be very biblically illiterate. Living in the Bible Belt, this is especially tragic. Many people spend their entire lives attending church faithfully who still do not know the basic storyline of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. They may know the Sunday School stories (Noah, Jonah, Daniel, etc.), but they do not know which books of the Bible focus on the period of the Babylonian Exile. They do not know the basic purpose behind Paul’s letter to the Galatians or why Revelation isn’t as scary as it seems (for Christians, of course).

By God’s providence, the tide is changing, but much progress remains to be made. In order to discuss the Scriptures with our children and the people around us, we must first know them, and we can only know them by first consuming them. This is why Moses tells the Israelites to bind these words to their hands, place them on their forehead, and write them on their doorposts. While many Jews have (and still do) take these commands literally, the prophet is simply commanding them to be remembered. He essentially saying: do whatever you need to do to keep God’s Word in your mind and heart.

Of course, the added depth of meaning to having them on your hand, forehead, and doorposts is that they are visible to others. The significance here is that as we saturate ourselves in the Scriptures, we will be marked by them. They will brand us in such an obvious way that we might as well have them glued to our forehead. The Bible-saturated life is easy to recognize and impossible to hide.

If we don’t have to literally bind Deuteronomy 6:5 on our hands, how then do we dive deeper into Scripture? How can we place it constantly before our eyes?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Read it for the story. One of the best ways to become more familiar with the Bible to read it, and particularly read it with the goal of first becoming familiar with the overall narrative. While the Old Testament can be quite intimidating, it’s story can be fully grasped by reading eleven books (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah), and the other twenty-eight books take place within the timeline of those. The New Testament typically isn’t as frightening, but if the complexities of the letters are an issue, try reading them an entire letter in one sitting (as their recipients would have read them), focusing on understanding the main idea. Reader’s Bibles can be a great asset in the endeavor to enjoy the story and message of the Bible. They remove chapters and verses so that it is easier to focus on the actual words. This also makes them ideal for a self-paced reading plan.
  2. Listen to it. I think audio Bibles are awesome. They might not be for everyone (I certainly go through seasons of use), but I’ve found them to be of great aid. While visibly reading the Bible is still ideal, listening is a valuable supplement (especially when remembering that most Christians throughout history only heard the Bible read on Sundays). Most Bible apps and websites have free audio to use, but my two favorite apps are Bible.is and Streetlights. Bible.is contains dramatized Bibles, which I’m a fan of, and Streetlights throws really great background music behind them.
  3. Pray it back to God. Reading the Bible is often be boring because we fail to properly interact with the Scriptures. Praying God’s Word back to Him is the easiest (and probably best) way of developing such an interaction. Plus, if the Bible is how God speaks to us and prayer is how we speak to God, this truly turns our reading time into a dialogue with God.
  4. Meditate on it. Meditation is hard because there are, at once, so many ideas of what it might look like as well as no ideas at all. So how should you meditate on Scripture? Having a time of silence to think through a portion of Scripture is one form; however, if you are like me, our distracted age has made maintaining internal trains of thought quite difficult. Journaling can remedy this problem. Follow a formula of questions (like from 2 Timothy 3:16) or simply ask a question about the text and attempt to answer it. Regardless of how it is done, think deeply about the text and keep thinking about it throughout the day.
  5. Choose a book to study in-depth. I know this is the polar opposite of the first suggestion but hear me out. First of all, I would not suggest this approach until you have at least read the entire Bible and have a basic understanding its whole. That said, every Christian should remember that Bible commentaries are not pastoral exclusives. Anyone can, and should, grab a biblically faithful commentary and have it aid you in a deeper study of God’s Word. Tim Challies (at Challies.com) and Keith Mathison (at Ligonier) both have lists of the best commentaries on each book of the Bible, which are invaluable resources. The Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary Series is easy to read and contain questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. Also listening to a sermon series or reading a book of sermons can be use in the same way.

The point of these suggestions is not a heap a new burden upon you but to give ideas for how to begin swimming in the sea of God’s Word. The more we see God in His Scriptures, the more we will love Him. And the more we love the LORD, the more we will saturate our lives with His Word. And the more our lives are saturated with His Word, the more naturally we will disciple those around us.

Brothers and sisters, it is a new year; take this season to renew your hunger for God’s Word.

Read the Scriptures.

Meditate on them.

Study them.

Pray them.

God is speaking.

Are you going to hear Him?

Are you listening?

 

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Pray With All Prayer

With all prayer and supplication.
Ephesians 6:18 ESV

Paul’s next ALL statement is that we should pray with all prayer and supplication. Since supplication is a particular type of prayer, I believe that Paul means to use various kinds of prayer whenever we pray, with a special focus on supplication. Fortunately, throughout the Scripture, the authors display and model for us the multifaceted nature of prayer. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Psalms, which are themselves God-breathed song-prayers. Thus, I will briefly touch upon a few of the main types of prayer and then provide a list of Psalms that incorporate that type of prayer.

ADORATION

Adoration isn’t used much outside of saying that kittens are adorable, but biblically adoration is a great word to describe our worship of God. Adoration simply means to deeply love and respect someone or something in a worshipful way.

We worship and adore God by loving Him deeply, but in order to do this, we must first know who God is.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model for them to use. In this prayer, He taught His disciples to begin praying by focusing upon God.

Here are a few characteristics of God that can be seen within the Lord’s Prayer:

  • God is our Father, which means like a father, He loves us, wants what is best for us, and is willing to discipline us as needed.
  • God is heavenly, which means He is not physical nor living on earth.
  • God’s name is holy. Holiness means unique, set apart, distinct, or other. This means that God’s name is completely unlike any other name in all of creation.
  • God has a kingdom that is coming; therefore, God is also a king.
  • God’s will is done in heaven, and it will also be done on earth, which means that God is sovereign and in control.
  • We can ask God to provide for our needs, like having food to eat, which means that He loves us and cares for us.
  • We can ask God for forgiveness, which means that He is ready and willing to forgive us.
  • We can ask God to keep us from evil and temptation, which means that He is able to help us overcome our sins.

Notice that Jesus spends the first half of the Lord’s Prayer describing God and praying for His will to be done. Jesus worshiped God before He asked God for anything.

Jesus knew that prayer is not about our desires but about submitting ourselves to His will. God is not a genie, granting us our wishes. He is the Creator of everything who will do whatever He wills.

The best way to adore God in prayer and know His character is by reading the Bible, which is how God has revealed Himself to us. The Psalms in particular are filled with prayers of adoration, and there are dozens of small ones in the New Testament called doxologies.

Psalms of Adoration

Psalm 8, 19, 33, 34, 103, 109, 145

New Testament doxologies: Romans 8:38-39; 11:33, 36; 15:5-6; 15:13; Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16; Hebrews 13:20-21; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 24-25; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:12-13; 7:12; 22:20-21

 CONFESSION

Because confession is the pleading guilty to our sins before God, confession cannot be properly understood without first knowing what sin is.

The Bible gives a clear definition of sin in 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”

Of course, John is not merely referring to city, state, or country laws; rather, he is talking about God’s laws, which are summed up nicely in the Ten Commandments.

But the problem does not end with simply being guilty of sin. In Isaiah 59:2, the prophet describes how our sins separate us from God: “But your iniquities [sins] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Notice how frightening is that last part: our sin stops God from listening to us!

We broke God’s laws, so we rightfully deserve His punishment and to be cut off from any relationship we might have had with Him.

But by the grace of God, even though sin earns us eternal separation from God and left us incapable of doing enough good works to fix it, Jesus Christ came to offer eternal life with God as a free gift instead.

Of course, believing the good news that Jesus came to save us from our sins does not mean that we stop sinning.

We continue to break God’s laws on a daily basis, and the gospel is not a get-out-of-hell-free card that we believe in once, continue to live in sin, and still go to heaven when we die.

The Bible calls us to continually kill the sin in our lives and to admit the sins we commit to God in prayer. This is called repentance.

When we repent, we confess our disobedience to God and strive to obey Him from now on.

Confessing our sins in repentance to God is so important that John uses it as a test to see if we are truly Christians: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)

Followers of Christ confess and repent of their sins to God, knowing that He will graciously forgive them because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

Psalms of Confession

Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, & 143

THANKSGIVING

Most Christians probably agree that we should give thanks to God in our prayers, but why is that? By journeying through a few texts of Scripture, we should be able to get a brief look at what thanksgiving is and isn’t, and why it’s important.

The story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 is one of the most popular in the Gospels because of its lesson on thanksgiving.

Of the ten, only one returned to thank Jesus, which Christ equates with giving praise to God. Because they did not give thanks, they failed to praise God for healing them.

Some people have wondered how the other nine lepers could be so ungrateful, but I imagine that they were indeed very grateful.

Because it is a highly contagious skin disease, people with leprosy were exiled from normal society and forced to live in groups with other lepers. They were completely cut off from their friends and family, forced to die a slow death alone.

How could they not be grateful for being cured!

But Jesus did not fault them for being ungrateful; He faulted them for not giving thanks.

Ultimately, gratitude is feeling and giving thanks is an action.

Jesus never questioned how grateful the other nine felt. He only remarked that they did not give praise to God through giving thanks.

We, therefore, must understand first of all that thanksgiving is not the feeling of gratitude. If thanksgiving is not spoken, then we have not truly given thanks.

If Jesus equated giving thanks to praising God, why should we give thanks to God?

James gives us a pretty great answer to this question: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17-18)

Notice James’ wording: EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from the Father.

All of the good things in this world come from God.

As the Creator, He has given us the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Rain and sunshine, friends and family, meat and fruit, dogs and cats, everything comes from Him.

As our Savior, God declared His love for us by dying on a cross for our sins, allowing us to be called the sons and daughters of God.

This is why Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice that Paul views thanksgiving as so important that he calls it the will of God for us.

God’s will for your life is for you to give thanks in all circumstances.

Because God has given us countless good gifts, we ALWAYS have something to give thanks for. There is no circumstance in life where we cannot thank God for something He has done for us.

Psalms of Thanksgiving

Psalm 27, 37, 42, 56, 100, 117, 136, 139, 145

SUPPLICATION

Supplication isn’t exactly the kind of word that comes up in everyday conversation, but even though it’s an uncommon word, supplication is probably the most common type of prayers that we pray.

Supplication simply means to make a request or petition, so praying a prayer of supplication is asking God to meet our needs or wants.

It can be tempting to feel uneasy about making requests to God after having discussed confessing our sins to Him, adoring Him in worship, and thanking Him everything. We might wonder why we should bother God with our small needs.

Fortunately, bringing our requests to God isn’t only something we are invited to do, we are commanded to do it: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Paul commanded the Philippians not to be anxious but to bring their request to God instead.

Let’s think through this verse together for a bit.

What does it mean to be anxious, and why does Paul command us to pray instead?

Anxiety is excessive worry about something.

The Bible repeatedly tells us to trust God by taking our needs to Him instead of being anxious.

What kind of requests does Paul urge us to bring to God?

The answer is all of them. Paul commands us to bring all of our needs to Him in prayer. God as our Father invites us to bring everything to Him, no matter how small.

Before you get too crazy about bringing God your requests, it is important to remember that God is not a genie. He does not exist to grant our wishes, and He makes no promises about giving us everything we want.

Remember the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. Before Jesus taught His disciples to pray for their needs, He told them to pray for God’s will to be done.

God’s will often doesn’t match our own, which can lead to God not answering our prayer (or really just telling us no).  This is ultimately for the best because God’s will is better than our will. God may deny our requests because what we want would actually be bad for us.

Can you think of anything that you wanted in the past but now know that it was best not to have?

We think we know what we need, but God actually knows what we need. It’s important for us to trust that He knows best when we bring our requests to God.

Psalms of Supplication

Psalm 4, 5, 25, 28, 54, 56, 77, 106, 130, 141

LAMENTATION

If you noticed, I just described a popular acronym for prayer, ACTS. While adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication are certainly biblically mandated types of prayer, we must take care to understand that they do not encompass every form of prayer. In fact, there is one more type of prayer that often gets neglected, but it highly prevalent throughout the Scriptures: lamentations.

Praying a lamentation, or lamenting, is a form of bringing our trouble, sorrow, or suffering before the Lord. Too often, we feel uncomfortable about praying our sorrows or complaints to God for fear of being disrespectful. While fear of disrespecting God is healthy, God is also big enough to handle our questioning, and He is loving us to listen to our pain and confusion. As with all prayer, lamentations are best guided by Scripture, which help prevent us from praying unbiblical prayers.

Psalms of Lamentation

Psalm 12, 13, 44, 74, 85, 90, 137

Also, there is a book of the Bible called Lamentations that is composed of five prayers of lament.

Pray at All Times

Praying at all times in the Spirit…
Ephesians 6:18 ESV

Paul begins his discussion on prayer in verse 18, and within this verse, we find four all statements made about prayer. So we will divide our study and view prayer through the lens of these four declarations on prayer.

The apostle first tells us to pray at all times in the Spirit.

It is worth noting that there is never an inappropriate time to pray. That may be incredibly obvious, but even so, I think it is still worth saying. Prayer is always appropriate.

After all, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing.

Wait a minute.

If ceasing means to stop, does this mean that we are supposed to pray continuously throughout the day? If so, how often does Paul intend? Every hour? Every minute? Every second?

How are we supposed to pray without ceasing?

Here is my suggestion at what Paul means: our entire day should be prayerful, though not always with words. Remember for a second what prayer is: communion, or communication, with God. Though we may not always use words, living our lives in fellowship and communion with God is living prayerfully.

The Bible frequently calls our lives with Christ a walk with Jesus, so perhaps walking is a helpful metaphor to use here as well. When I am walking somewhere with my wife, our conversations tend to be numerous but not necessarily constant. Even if there is a moment of silence, we are still together; we haven’t left one another’s presence.

I think Paul desires for us to have this kind of attitude of prayer throughout each day. Praying at all times means living our lives in constant fellowship and communion with God, and like walk with a friend, verbal communication will be frequent but not necessarily constant.

How then do we live prayerful lives?

Praying in the morning tends to be immensely helpful, as it sets the pattern for the rest of the day. Morning prayer is not a requirement, but it is a wise discipline. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy or formal, just begin the day with prayer. Is there really a better way of beginning our day than by immediately coming to our loving Father in prayer?

We also need to address the final three words of our present phrase: in the Spirit.

To your disappoint or relief, please note that Paul is NOT describing the need to speak in tongues here.

In Romans 8, Paul describes the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer as being the One who enables us to call God our Father (8:15). The Holy Spirit guarantees us that we are children of God, and it is only by His strength that our prayers are able to reach the throne room of God.

This means that we could very much call prayer an act of the Trinity. We pray to the Father. The Spirit lifts our prayers into the presence of God. And the Father hears them as the prayers of His children only through the mediation of Jesus Christ.

In this way, true Christian prayer cannot be made outside of the Holy Spirit. We cannot come to God as our Father without the continuous power of the Spirit. If we do not pray with the Spirit at all times, it is only because we do not have the Spirit. Prayer in the Spirit is the regular, but powerful, prayer of a Christian.

Preach the Word!

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:1-4 ESV

I’m not always a big fan of chapter divisions in the Bible.

Yes, they are helpful for finding passages quickly, but they can sometimes hinder our proper understanding of the Word by causing us to subconsciously separate connected thoughts. The first four verses of 2 Timothy chapter four is one of those cases. Paul did not originally write this letter to Timothy with chapter divisions or verse numbers. He just wrote a letter, and if we read it like a letter, we will quickly realize that he is applying the truths that he stated in verses sixteen and seventeen of the last chapter.

Because all Scripture is inspired, profitable, and sufficient, Paul commands Timothy to preach the Word, but the command is not alone. The apostle prefaces his charge to his disciple by declaring that it is being made in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. He does this to emphasize the divine element of the command. It is not Paul’s idea for Timothy to preach the Word; it is God’s. Paul is simply the messenger.

Because God is driving the command to preach, we must not take preaching lightly. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort should immediately call to mind the profitability of Scripture. Though we can (and should) allow the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct, and train us individually, the primarily vehicle for profiting from Scripture is through hearing it preached.

The regular, faithful preaching of the Scriptures should be a key focus of all followers of Christ. Since through preaching we are taught the sufficient, profitable, and inspired Bible, we are able to rightly call preaching the Word a means of communal discipleship. By hearing the Word preached, we learn more about the God who authored it, and we learn how to better follow Christ. Preaching makes disciples, and disciples of Christ should love to hear the Word preached.

Unfortunately, many people prefer to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” turning away from the truth and chasing after myths. There are many false teachers who improperly use the Bible to tell people what they want to hear, and in many ways, they are judgment of God. We must be careful not to assign the blame entirely to false teachers. They only exist because people want to follow after lies. False teachers give the people what they want, and if we are not wary, we can become our own false teacher. Many claim the name of Christ, but never attend church because they believe that they can read the Bible and know God themselves. Though avoiding community does not guarantee false doctrine, it almost always leads to it. We are not meant to follow Christ alone, and we are not meant to interpret the Bible alone. When we read the Bible entirely apart from other believers, we risk avoiding what we do not want to hear. We, in essence, become our own false teacher. We need to hear the faithful, expository preaching of the Word. We need to be in a congregation with other believers, where we have elders who hold firm to the trustworthy Word, instructing sound doctrine and rebuking false doctrine. (Titus 1:9)

But the work of interpretation is not entirely upon the preacher, the congregation of believers must also hold the him accountable to sound doctrine. In Acts, Luke writes this about the Bereans in this way:

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Notice that Luke was not annoyed or offended that the Bereans fact-checked everything that him and Paul preached to them; instead, he commended them for doing so! A pastor whose heart is to see the congregation grow in their love of God and His Word will likewise rejoice to find the church daily searching the Scriptures to make sure that his preaching is correct.

For these reasons, regular attendance of the Sunday morning worship service is one of the primary expectations of a member at Western Meadows. Because we value the Scriptures as God’s Word and value making disciples as Jesus command to every believer, followers of Jesus Christ should desire to sit often under the proclamation of His Word.

Healthy Members | Ephesian 4:17-32

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clarmor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

We now conclude our study of the church’s values by turning to Ephesians 4. In the first half of the chapter, Paul described how to become a healthy church by prioritizing unity and helping one another grow in maturity through our diverse gifts. The second half likewise describes being a healthy church member. Here Paul urges us to put away our previously sinful way of life and to live like Christ. He ends with a volley of quick commands that show practically how we are meant to live around each other in Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 17-24 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Paul commands us to put off our old, sinful ways of living and to put on our new life in Christ. What aspects of your life before Christ have you put away? What aspects do you still wrestle with? How does this gospel provide us hope even in the midst of our sin?

Read verses 25-32 and discuss the following.

  1. Within these verses, Paul delivers a series of exhortations for how we should live as members of the body of Christ. Which verse is most convicting for you? Why? What practical steps might you take to walk in obedience?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Sufficient: completed & equipped by the Scriptures

that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:17 ESV

Though Paul does not use the word, sufficient well describes the message of verse 17. Once we know that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for us, we are now ready to learn that it is sufficient for bringing us to completion and equipping us for every good work. Let us, therefore, examine these two effects of Scripture more closely.

First, all Scripture is sufficient for completing the man of God.

What might Paul mean by becoming complete? His letter to the Philippians might offer us a clue: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) Since day of Jesus Christ is a reference to Jesus’ second coming, Paul encouraged the Philippians that God who first saved them would complete their salvation on the last day. This verse contains allusions to the entirety of the salvation, which occurs on three fronts: past, present, and future. First, our salvation occurs in the past through what is called justification. When justified, God imputes the righteousness of Christ onto us, legally declaring us to be righteous. Our salvation is also occurring in the present through the process of sanctification. Being sanctified means continually growing conformity to the image of Christ, everyday walking closer to Him. Our future salvation is called glorification. Upon our death or Christ’s return, God will give to us a glorified body that is no longer corrupted by sin. Justification destroys the legal power of sin over us, sanctification is our present and continued battle against sin, and glorification is how God grants us final victory over sin. Bringing God’s first work to completion means that God will be faithful to carry us from justification to glorification. And God uses Scripture to do so. It is through God’s Word that the man of God becomes complete, not apart from it. We need His inspired Scriptures to continue forming us into His image.

Second, all Scripture is sufficient for equipping the man of God for every good work.

Though good works do not save us, God still desires for us to be a people of them. The beauty of the gospel ought to produce within us the hunger for good works. For example, elsewhere Paul writes that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14) He also claims that God created us “for good works” and ordained for us to walk in them. (Ephesian 2:10) Of course, James also famously stated that “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26) The point is that good works are still important for God’s people, and the Scriptures are meant to equip us for them.

Paul writes a similar thought about God’s giving of leaders to the church: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12) The work of ministry ultimately belongs to every Christian, and God gives each congregation leaders to equip the saints for their task. Since we know that we have each received the call to make disciples, we also realize that God provides church elders to equip the church by instructing them in the Scriptures. The Word is sufficient for equipping us to make disciples.

Healthy Church | Ephesians 4:1-16

Sermon | Week 5

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

Having now studied our values, we will finish by spending two weeks in Ephesians 4 where Paul provides a wonderful glimpse at what healthy churches and church members look like. In the first sixteen verses, Paul gives to us a description of a healthy church, noting that it will be a church of diverse members united and growing one another into the maturity of Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 1-6 and discuss the following.

  1. Why does Paul emphasize the importance of unity within the church? What might a united church look like? What might a divided church look like?

Read verses 7-13 and discuss the following.

  1. What is the main purpose of leadership within the church? What are some common gifts found within churches? How does the diversity of gifts benefit the church?

Read verses 13-16 and discuss the following.

  1. What are some characteristics of Christian maturity? Which characteristic is most convicting? Why?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.