Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–9, 15–20, 39–40comment (0)
June 7, 2007
By Matthew S. Kerlin
Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–9, 15–20, 39–40
Bible Studies for Life
Minister to the University, Samford University, Ph.D.
Practice Obedience Diligently
Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–9, 15–20, 39–40
Contemporary culture presents Christians with a serious challenge. How do we live obediently to God’s commands and to the ethical principles of Scripture while surrounded by a culture that, in many ways, rewards those who do otherwise? Some today see no conflict between Christ and culture. Others see the two as diametrically opposed to one another.
A view somewhere in between these extremes probably makes the most sense, for culture sometimes expresses the will of God but more often does not. Thus Christians today are faced with a challenge similar to that faced by the ancient Israelites as they prepared to enter the promised land — faithful living in the midst of a culture of unfaithfulness.
Make God’s Word Your Standard (1–2)
Moses urged the Israelites to listen carefully to God’s statutes and ordinances, synonyms for the law. He warned them to add nothing to the law and to take nothing from it so that they might live in careful obedience to God’s standard. Inevitably Christians today ask whether they are bound by the ceremonial laws of the Pentateuch. Theologians and Bible scholars have often responded to such questions by offering three basic principles of biblical interpretation. First, Old Testament scholars often distinguish between moral, civil and ceremonial laws. While civil and ceremonial laws, sometimes called case laws, applied specifically to situations only the ancient Israelites faced, moral laws such as the Ten Commandments apply to people of all historical periods. Second, where the New Testament repeats an Old Testament law, that law certainly remains in effect. Third, the high moral and ethical standards established by the law certainly remain in effect since Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of that law. With this background, we can interpret Moses’ call to obey the law as a call to Christians today to remain faithful to God’s Word.
Carefully Guard Your Testimony (6–9)
Moses encouraged the Israelites to obey God’s law in the “eyes of the people” and to teach God’s law to their “children and grandchildren.” In other words, Moses was mindful of the fact that we live out our faith before many witnesses who see our behavior and accordingly make decisions about their own.
We may not recognize the influence that we have on others, but surely we will be aware of our responsibility to the generations that follow us. Our responsibility to pass on a legacy of faith may require us to worship in ways unfamiliar and uncomfortable so that the message has relevance to younger generations. Failing to share our churches with younger generations will damage our testimony to them and to those outside the church.
Avoid Idolatry at All Costs (15–20)
The Israelites were surrounded by idols on all sides, not unlike Christians are today. Sometimes modern readers smirk at the ease with which the Israelites seemed to abandon their worship of Yahweh in favor of an ancient deity. Yet the fertility gods and goddesses of Canaan in 2000 B.C. were just as tempting to Moses’ original audience as the gods of materialism and gluttony are to us. How often do we give priority to our own financial prosperity at the expense of tithes and offerings to advance God’s church or to ease the suffering of God’s creation? When we understand that an idol is anything that takes our primary attention off of God, we may realize that we are just as idolatrous as the ancient Israelites.
Realize That God Blesses Obedience (39–40)
Moses challenged the Israelites to keep in mind that obedience brings prosperity. Of course, we should not interpret this to mean that we should pursue obedience as a means of personal or financial gain. Bear in mind the lesson of Job that those who fear God and shun evil sometimes suffer greatly in spite of, or even because of, their faithfulness. Nevertheless obedience never goes unrewarded by God, just as disobedience never goes unpunished.
We may not always see the reward or punishment in this life, but the God who calls us to faithfulness is indeed faithful Himself.