Key verse: Deuteronomy 6:5
Big idea: Obedience to the covenant begins with love.
Deuteronomy, which means "second law," details Moses' farewell addresses just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. In it, God gives the Law once again, reiterating that the failure of the previous generation had not nullified God's promise and that He would still maintain his relationship with those who were entering the land. It is roughly outlined around the ten commandments, where this whole book could be understood as Moses' sermon on the implications of that most basic set of laws. The longest section is on the first commandment: "Thou shalt not have any other gods before Me." It details proper worship and the honor that God deserves. All of the other commandments flow from that first relationship.
As we have worked our way through the first five books of the Old Testament (called the Law or the Torah), we have seen many instructions about various details of life. But it all begins with the proper attitude toward God. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is the beginning of the daily Israelite prayer called the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates."
When Jesus was asked for the most important commandment, this is what He quoted. It all begins with love of God. If we love Him and fulfill our responsibility to point others toward Him, beginning with our own children, then everything else will follow. Jesus described the second most commandment as being a different form of the same thing: "And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." But if we love God rightly, we will love the people made in His image too. If we do not love people, there is something missing in our love of God.
Discussion idea: What does it mean about love that love can be commanded?
Prayer focus: Teach me to love, O Lord. Bend my heart to You and teach me to live for your glory.
Key verse: Luke 11:26
Big Idea: The Son of Man demands obedience from the whole man.
Luke 11 is largely about hypocrisy. Prayer that asks God for things, but does not trust His goodness. Claiming to believe in God, but asking for a sign and then refusing to respond to the sign. People who wash the outside of their "cups," but not the inside - their behavior looks good, but their hearts are rotten. People who count the leaves on a mint plant to tithe every tenth leaf, yet care nothing about justice or mercy. Undermining the prophets while they lived, then building monuments to them when they died. Hypocrisy! Hypocrisy Hypocrisy!
Jesus is not impressed. The Son of Man knows what is in the heart of a man, and He is not satisfied when we merely remove external acts of sin. But in the middle of this passage (Luke 11:24-26), a fascinating parable sheds a lot of light on this situation. If a demon is cast out of a person, Jesus says, then he may depart the person for a while. But when the demon returns, he finds the person an empty house, neat, clean, and ready to inhabit. So the demon goes, finds seven demons eviler than himself, and the man who had one demon cast out is now possessed by a posse.
The discussion of demons is interesting but is not Jesus' real point. Instead, He is pointing out the problem with the religious hypocrites is that their hearts will not stand a vacuum. When evil is cast out, it must be replaced with something, and if not, all of your self-discipline in resisting sin will just make you into a better sinner: a house swept, dusted, and ready for a bigger party. Only one thing is going to keep the demon from returning in the parable: someone stronger already living in the house. When we try and fight off our own sin, we are sweeping a dirt floor. When we instead give our whole selves to Jesus, inside and out, He fights our battles for us. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will add everything else.
Discussion Idea: Many people are struggling with anxiety right now. If that anxiety is resisted head-on, it will simply be replaced by a different worry. How do we replace it instead with the indwelling power of Jesus? What is a specific anxiety in your life, and how can you replace it with seeking the Kingdom?
Prayer Focus: Pray that God would empower us and transform us to serve Him with our whole hearts, exposing any hypocrisy and leaving only devotion.