Don't throw out the old for the new
All of scripture is written to some particular "audience". Although our passage today was originally written for the people of Israel, the content of what is laid out quite clearly applies to all believers today. We have an obligation to not discount the entirety of the Old Testament just because we have the New. We also have to be aware of the principles taught - for they are meant as "safety guides" for our lives as much as they are meant to point us toward the heart and mind of God. Moses has just given the people the outline of the Ten Commandments - the basis of what it is we use to often evaluate if we are "keeping" God's intention for our lives in an honorable manner. For example, when Moses taught there should be no other god before God, he was probably not aware of the tremendous struggle which was just ahead for the people - with all manner of worship ahead of them as they entered the Promised Land - but only one manner of worship would connect them to the heart of God. There are times when we are equally unaware of the dangers which lie right in our path - but if we will remain consistently faithful to the truths we are given, we should know safety as we travel these paths.
The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 MSG)
Several things begin to unfold as Moses speaks these words - God has a tremendous desire for us to turn to him with our whole hearts, not out of obligation, but out of love; the conscious decisions which must be made in choosing to turn our eyes consistently toward God, not being swayed by the other things which can cloud our sight; and the tremendous amount of focus it takes to maintain focus! That said, let's dig into a few things outlined for us in this passage:
1. One God - not many. This must be established first and foremost in our hearts and minds if we are to grow in Christ, for all of our battles (emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually) are really based on this idea of who will be "God" or "god" in our lives. There are lots of "gods" we could bow down before - like money, career, collectibles, people, etc. There is but one God we are called to bow down before - God, the Lord of heaven and earth, the creator of all things, and the one who commands the course of all things which are and will be. Any time we allow something or someone other than God to be in the position of "god" in our lives, we will be setting ourselves up to falter and ultimately know failure. The only time we know safety from external and internal forces is when the right "God" is in control!
2. Love requires three elements: Heart, Soul, and Strength. Heart is often referred to in scripture as the mind, will, and emotions. In other words, the seat of what makes us uniquely who we are and helps to determine what it is we believe, do, and feel. There is connection with the one true God on this level - for we are inherently "feeling" creatures, but we don't live by what we "feel" and we are thinking creatures, but we don't live by what we can understand or imagine. We need faith and this requires will. Will helps us move beyond our "maybe this could be true" in to the place of "I know God isn't going to lie to me, so I will trust this to be true". To this we see love involving the soul. The soul is what sets man apart from animal and all other forms of life. The soul is the part of man which lives on eternally - even after decay and age has taken its toll on the body. In reminding us that love involves the soul, we are reminded that love is eternal - not momentary, not time limited, but everlasting and abiding. Strength is part and parcel with heart and soul - for both would falter if there was no strength behind the commitment to love.
3. The commandments are not just to be recited, memorized, and written in stone - they are to be "written" upon the heart. This seems a little garish to some, but it is not literal. People weren't to walk around with scripture tattoos on their foreheads and hands, but they were to allow scripture to affect all aspects of their being - mind, will, emotions, hands, feet, etc. I think God is best honored when he sees us connecting scripture in our lives with the actions we take. For example, when he speaks to us to keep him first, we remind ourselves our emotions cannot continue to guide our every action. Sometimes this means we literally have to remind our emotions what scripture says: "God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind!" Then we need to remind ourselves over and over again to put the fear behind us, take the steps we are asked to take, and trust that we will have the wisdom to respond as we should and the power to live in ways which seem contrary to the present set of circumstances.
4. Scripture isn't for personal use alone - it is to be the topic of discussion and the consistent "interloper" in our decision-making processes. I used the word "interloper" because we often don't think to turn to scripture for our "normal" activities and decisions of the day. Some of these are just by rote - such as brushing our teeth and washing the dishes. Trust me on this - it is not God's will for us to have rotten teeth or to have cockroaches in the kitchen because the sink is filled with dirty dishes! We don't need scripture to tell us some of this stuff, but when we are considering if we should marry the one we are currently in relationship with, this is a whole different matter. We need to see what scripture defines as the characters or qualities of a spouse who honors God. We also need to realize where it is we have strengths and this is often revealed in what we learn in scripture. We want complimentary strengths in our mate - for a household made up of two people with exactly the same strengths has no opportunity to have the counter-action of another with the opposite strengths to bring balance.
5. Using scripture at transition points in our lives is quite important - this may be the inference of the doorways, roadways, and gates. These are all transition points - we come and go by these passages. In other words, all our comings and goings are to align with scripture - it is to guide us in our decision making and to keep us on the straight and narrow. Transition points are often the places where we get "hung up" the easiest because they are places and points where we have to make decisions which may not be comfortable for us or may be "new". When we face these transitions, we need the solid foundation of what has already been outlined for us as principles by which we can make decisions as to the actions we should take - principles found in scripture.
So, as we begin to see Moses' instruction those many years ago as applying to our lives today, we might be challenged a little in the areas of focus, trust, and obedience. Maybe we are challenged in the area of getting to really know scripture for ourselves and not being reliant upon another to continually unveil the hidden secrets for us. Or perhaps we are just challenged to keep our focus off things which really don't matter and remaining attentive to the things which do. Either way, we are doing exactly what God intended when he directed Moses to pen these words! Just sayin!