When Jesus identified the greatest commandment [Matt. 22:37-39] He quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This is the premier prayer of Judaism and is known as “The Shema” which is the word that we translate “hear” [v.4]. Deuteronomy is the book that Jesus quoted more than any other portion of the Scriptures. It is Moses’ swan song and an effort to prepare God’s people to enter the Promised Land. The Land of Promise was, and is, a good and pleasant land with material abundance where they would be likely to neglect God and thus rebel against Him. In three epic addresses, Moses reminds God’s people of God’s faithfulness, the blessings of obedience and adverse consequences of neglect and rebellion, and finally the assurance that when they rebel or neglect God that He will forgive and restore them when they confess and repent.
Understanding the Shema will allow us to understand why Jesus affirmed that this was the greatest commandment. And we will discover how to love God better in the context of a Neighborhood Group [NG].
Responding to God’s love for us [v. 4-5]:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Moses begins by reminding Israel of whom God is and their relationship with the True and Living God. He urges God’s people to hear. They are to listen with their ears, minds, and hearts. They must understand and apply what they are about to discern. The Lord, YHWH, the covenant God, is the only God. The Hebrew words translated “God” and “one” reference compound unity and preview the triune nature of God. This is the God that they entered into a covenant with at Sinai. He is the One that delivered them from oppression in Egypt with the miraculous plagues. This God parted the Red Sea so they crossed on dry land while their enemies were drowned. This God provided water miraculously from rocks, turned poisonous water sweet, provided manna from heaven, protected them for forty years in the wilderness, gave them victory over their enemies, and brought them to the edge of the Promised Land in the plains of Moab east of the Jordan River.
In essence, Moses appeals to God’s people to reason. In light of who God is and all that He has done for them, it is only reasonable that God should be the consuming master passion of their lives (love Him with all your heart, soul, and strength).
In the New Testament, we see this principle of responding to God’s love reaches its apex in the gospel. “We love Him because He first loved us” [1 John 4:19]. The Bible reveals that all humanity has a major problem called sin that separates us from God and the life He intends for us [Rom 3:23]. Each of us deserves God’s judgment for our sin [Rom. 6:23]. But God demonstrates His infinite love and gave His Son to take the penalty for our sin even while we were enemies with Him [Rom. 5:6-11]. Forgiveness and restoration to God is available as a gift when we place our faith in Jesus and His work for us [Rom. 10:9].
In our Neighborhood Groups [NG] we need to be reminded of the gospel regularly. First, the basis of our desire to love God and neighbors is an understanding and response to His love for us. Second we want our NG to be gospel-centered rather than performance based. We need to be reminded of what God has done for us more than we need to be told what we need to do for God. Third, we need to be reminded of the gospel because we are prone to pride and to forget that we are sinners. Fourth, we are prone to conflict in relationships with others, and need to be reminded that people are worthy of relationship not because of performance but because of God’s love.
There are times that I hurt people in relationship with me that I love. Sometimes when that happens I feel guilty or ashamed, and need to be reminded of the gospel as the basis of my true worth and condition. I’m not perfect, but I’m forgiven because of God’s love for me, and what He has done for me.
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Moses explains that this love must touch all aspects of life. First, this value must be in your heart. In Hebrew, the heart is the center of who you are. Loving God and living His Word are necessary elements of being a disciple. In addition, a disciple imparts what he has learned to others. The primary disciple relationship of a parent is their children. Parents are to diligently teach their children what God desires and what God requires. This process is to flow from the rhythms of the day and night, and work and rest cycles. Nevertheless, the responsibility to make disciples did not end in the home. God calls Israel to be a light to the Gentiles [Is. 42:6, 49:6].
In the New Testament we see the principle of making disciples more clearly. The Great Commandments are connected to the Great Commission [Matt. 28:18-20]. Because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, He has authority to command us to make disciples. This charge would involve communicating the need to submit to Jesus and His teaching, the gospel, and the apostle’s doctrine. This is the sacred charge of all of Jesus’ followers. Yet despite His encouragement to be with us in this commission the majority of professing Christians have not made disciples.
A primary cause for failing to make disciples is that we have not been mentored, and thus feel incapable of mentoring. Jesus’ method of making disciples was simple and profound. He spoke to multitudes of followers. From the large group he separated a smaller group of twelve. They would engage in active learning rather than passive listening. In essence, Jesus method could be summarized as: I do you watch, I do you help, you do I help, you do I watch, and finally at maturity – you do and someone else watches. From the group of twelve there was a smaller group of three that shared unique experiences with their mentor.
Our NG model is similar to Jesus’ method. We move from the larger weekend assembly to a smaller group. In the context of the NG we learn to love God and neighbors. We learn from others and help others to learn as well. Prospective leaders are encouraged and given opportunities to lead and are mentored. Within the group people will often develop one on one, or one on few mentor relationships. NG are often mixed gender, however we generally encourage the smaller group to generally be same gender. For example, I meet with a group of about fifteen once a week. I also meet with up to three guys once a month or more to encourage accountability, develop relationship and transparency, and to build-up one another in the faith.
Bible Learning + Other Spiritual Disciplines [v.8-9]:
8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
God’s people would create memorials to remind them of their covenant relationship with God. The mezuzah on the doorposts of Jewish residences and workplaces contain a small scroll containing Deut. 6:4-9. There may even be a small hole where one can see the scroll that reveals the Hebrew letter shin (that looks like our “W”) that is the first letter in “shema.” The Jewish custom of phylacteries that are tied to hand and forehead were intended to remind Jews of their covenant and God’s commands [Cf. Jesus rebuked abuses Matt. 23:5]. It should be remembered that the forehead is aligned with thoughts and hands with actions. Thus we could summarize that God’s people were to create rhythms and reminders of their covenant with God and the need to represent God in thought and deed when they left the home and returned to it. The value of loving God must be consistently and intentionally before us.
In the context of NG each participant is encouraged to grow in Bible learning and other spiritual disciplines so that progress is made. The goal is to love God and neighbors better as a mature follower of Jesus (disciple). Apart from the development of these disciplines it is unlikely to occur. As people in our NG share their experience with spiritual disciplines, I discover new approaches and am inspired to try new and different approaches to grow in Christ.
Bible learning is arguably the most important spiritual discipline. Other spiritual disciplines include prayer, fasting, giving, confession and repentance, service, solitude, worship, and communion.
“A farmer is helpless to grow grain; all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing of grain. He cultivates the ground, he plants the seed, he waters the plants, and then the natural forces of the earth take over and up comes the grain… This is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines – they are a way of sowing to the Spirit… By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done.” – Richard Foster.