If you’ve been a part of this congregation very long, do you ever look around and notice who all is not here and has not been for quite a while? I remember a big family that used to sit up close to the front over here. And I remember another big family that used sit up close to the front over there. I remember a smaller family that used to sit over here and a middle aged couple that used sit just behind them. And I can recall individuals who used to sit at different places. And many of them have not moved out of town. They’re still in the area. Maybe some of them would really like to be here, but they just have special circumstances that prevent them from being here. Maybe some of them are meeting with other Christians elsewhere to encourage other Christians and be encouraged and learn the word and “do this in remembrance of Him,” as He’s told us to do. But quite possibly we’ve had a number among us who have just simply wavered in their faith and their devotion to the Lord. I think of the people that I’ve been privileged to baptize into Christ over the years, and I can think of about a dozen of them who have returned to the lifestyle they lived before they became Christians. I feel guilty when I think about them. Maybe I should have had them over more, visited them more, called them more, prayed for them more. Maybe I should have taught them this or taught them that. Maybe I should have invited them to more things where they could build relationships with other Christians. Maybe. I think of my extended family and several come to mind who started the Christian path but then decided to take an exit and go their own way. I don’t know the actual statistics, but it seems to me like maybe close to half of Christians do not keep the commitment they made when they became Christians; to put the Lord first and strive to do His will in their lives.
How important is it that we stay faithful to Christ? And how do you do that in a world that constantly calls and allures and pressures you to go a different direction than the way Christ would have you to go?
Deuteronomy is mostly made up of 3 speeches that Moses delivered to the people of Israel camped on the east side of the Jordan River, just before he died, and they crossed over the Jordan without him into the land that God promised to give them. These are Moses’ farewell speeches to these people that he had lead out of Egypt and in the wilderness for the last 40 years. His speeches are all about how important it is that they stay faithful to God, what staying faithful involves, and how to make sure that they and their children after them stay faithful. Though Deuteronomy was written in a very different time, to a nation with a different covenant, a different arrangement with God, with different promises and a different law than what we are under today, still one of the reasons that God had this book written and preserved through the ages was for our instruction. Romans 15:4, “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Deuteronomy has lots of practical instructions and principles about how to stay faithful, instructions like, write God’s word on the door posts of your house and on your gates (6:9). Talk about God’s word with your kids when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up (6:7). Don’t intermarry with pagans, or they’ll likely draw your heart away from God. And destroy all their idols so you’re not tempted to worship them. Remove unnecessary temptation. Things like that. But as I read through Deuteronomy this week I had this question in mind, what are the main things that Moses was trying to get across to these people that would help them to stay faithful? And here’s what I noticed.
Number one, Moses wanted them to understand and never forget…
How worthy God is of their wholehearted loyalty.
Deuteronomy 4:39, after he’s reminded them of their history that clearly proves this point, he says, “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” 10:14, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.” All that is up there is His. All that is down here is His. We are His. He made us. Just for that reason alone He deserves our loyalty.
Remember chapter 8, Moses reminded them of something God taught them in the wilderness, that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. All that we live on every day, all the food, water, air, medicine, clothing, shelter, everything that sustains us is all stuff that God has spoken into being and into our lives. Every day of life is a gift from God. Won’t you love Him for that? Won’t you live each day how He would have you to because it’s a day He’s given you that He didn’t have to give you? Moses also told them 8:6, “Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 9 a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.” And 8:17-18, “you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth…” Will you love and obey Him because every pleasant enjoyable thing in your life, from the beauty of the mountains and the sky and the lakes and the sunshine, to the deer and elk you like to hunt, and the fish you like to catch, from your house and your cars, down to the cups of coffee and eggs you enjoy in morning, your family, your friends?… Do you realize that it has all come from God? Won’t you stay faithful to Him for that?
And Moses reiterates over and over again in Deuteronomy, “the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut 8:14). In Egypt the people of Israel were just nameless, faceless drones. Their lives were endless work, endless misery. It was an existence like being cattle used for plowing. They were making bricks endlessly, they were dragging stones endlessly, they were building buildings endlessly under the harsh task masters of Egypt. Every night they went to bed exhausted. Every day they got up exhausted, and looked forward only to more slavery. And that’s where they would still be had not God taken notice of them and had compassion and intervened with those mighty plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and freed them. They owe their freedom to God. But you know folks, God has done something even grander than that for us. We sold ourselves into a far worse slavery, into the bondage of sin, and in which we would have received what we deserve, which the Bible describes as eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord, outer darkness, hell. But God had compassion. God chose to suffer for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to. God worked in our lives to bring us the gospel about the deliverance from our sins that’s available for the taking if we will embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord, as our new Master, and be baptized in His name. And if we did that, He delivered us from our own sins. Won’t you love Him and be faithful to Him for that?
And Moses assures them, from God’s track record in history of fulfilling His promises, that God will always be faithful to them. 7:9, he says, “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” God will always uphold His end of the deal when He makes a deal with people. God was going to uphold His end of the deal with Israel, and we can see in history that He did. And He will uphold His end of the deal with us. In the gospel He says to us here’s the deal. “You listen and follow Jesus the rest of your days and I will forgive you of all your sin, I’ll accept you as My son or daughter, I will reserve for you an inheritance in the world to come, I’ll be with you and help you to be like Christ. You don’t have to be perfect, you just try, just strive to be, and My grace will cover you.” And when we were baptized into Christ, it’s like we shook God’s hand on that and said “We’ve got a deal.” Well, God will always uphold His end of the deal. He will always be faithful to us. We must realize how worthy God is of our wholehearted loyalty.
But Moses knew that just teaching these people of God’s worthiness would not be enough to keep them faithful. It should be enough, it should create in their hearts such gratitude and admiration and love for God that they would never rebel against His commands. But Moses knew that it was not enough, that they also had to understand and never forget…
The blessings of faithfulness and the curses of unfaithfulness.
They had to understand how absolutely essential it was for their own wellbeing that they remain faithful to God.
And so all through Deuteronomy, over and over and over again, Moses establishes and explains and assures them that if they stay obedient to the Lord their God, it will go well with them, they will live long in the land and multiply and their fields and vineyards and herds and flocks will flourish and their enemies will be subject to them and they will prosper. But if they rebel against the Lord their God, God’s anger will be kindled against them, their fields and vineyards will dry up and their flocks and herds will die off, and He’ll give them into the hands of their enemies and they will perish. He talks about that all through Deuteronomy. When he gets to chapter 28 he gives vivid descriptions first of the blessings of faithfulness in verses 1-14… and then the curses of unfaithfulness in verses 15-68…. The description of the curses is much longer and it gets to be horrifying; it describes how if they continue to be rebellious God will bring against them a ruthless foreign nation that will besiege all their towns until they’re so hungry that they start eating their own children and the most gentle caring fathers and mothers among them when they eat one of their kids won’t share with the rest of their starving family. It’s horrible.
Well, like Moses, Jesus knew and His apostles knew and the other writers of the NT knew that even Christians sometimes need more to motivate them to be faithful than just the fact that God is so worthy. Often times we don’t have enough gratitude and love for God to be motivated by that alone to stay faithful. We should, but often we don’t. Christians also need to realize the blessings of faithfulness and the curses of unfaithfulness. Of course they’re not the same as they were for the ancient Israelites. We have a different covenant with God as Christians. There’s no promise in the NT that you will be healthy and rich and prosperous in this life if you obey God. The blessings and curses that we’re looking at are not so temporary and earthly and material. They are infinitely more significant.
I remember a young man that I baptized here several years ago. And as a new Christian he was really struggling to stay away from drugs, fornication, and those sort of behaviors of his past. He had a group of friends pulling him that direction, and then he had me and others in this church pulling him the other direction. For a while he was fighting to stay faithful. When he messed up, he’d confess, and repent and he’d keep studying the Bible with me. Until one of his buddies convinced him of this doctrine many espouse today of “once saved always saved “. I thought he’d learned enough to know better, but he bought into that idea, I think because he wanted to believe it. And he avoided talking to me once he did. And that was all it took for him to quit fighting the good fight and just go back to the way he wanted to live. As soon as he let someone convince him that heaven and hell, the destiny of his soul, did not depend on his staying faithful, he was no longer faithful.
Let’s run through a few Scriptures in the NT.
Jesus tells a parable about a man who owed his king 10,000 talents, which is like trillions of dollars today, an impossible debt to repay. And the king could sell him and his wife and his children to get just a little faction of his debt. But the slave fell before the king and begged for patience. And the king had compassion on him and, incredibly, totally forgave him of his debt. And then that forgiven slave went out and found a fellow slave who owed him 100 denarii. And he choked his fellow slave and demanded that he pay back what he owed. His fellow slave fell before him and asked for patience. But the forgiven slave would not have any mercy or patience and had his fellow slave put in prison. Well, other slaves saw what he did and they went and told the king. 18:32, “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” The king reversed his decision to forgive the slave, didn’t he? 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Our forgiveness can be revoked if we’re not faithful, which includes forgiving those who wrong us.
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire… 45 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell… 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.” Isn’t Jesus saying, there is real hell and it’s a place that you want to avoid no matter the cost, and if you just go on willfully sinning you will go there, and so no matter what it takes you put an end to the sinful habits in your life?
I Corinthians 6:9-10
Paul writes this to Christians to warn them. “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” Why does he say that? Isn’t he warning them that if they go back to practicing any of these sins again, they’re not going to be with God in the hereafter?
To Christians, he warns them, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”
II Peter 1:4-11; 2:20-22
In II Peter 1 we’re encouraged to work on developing our minds and hearts into the image of Christ, to work on growing in moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. And in verse 11 it says, “for in this way [that is in being faithful to try be like Christ, in this way] the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” God is going to welcome you with open arms if you’re faithful. But in 2:20-22 he talks about some people who do the opposite. It says, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.’” He’s talking about people who became Christians. They escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of Christ. They got cleaned up through learning the gospel. But then they fell away, they got themselves entangled in the defilements of the world all over again. They’re like a sick dog that throws up, that gets rid of what’s making him sick, but then laps up the vomit. And they’re like a dirty pig that gets washed and cleaned up, but then goes back to rolling in the filth. And Peter says the last state is worse for them than the first. In other words having become a Christian and then fallen away is worse for a person than to just never have become a Christian in the first place. It’s better not to know the way of righteousness, than to know it and then turn away. Judgment will be more severe for those who know better.
At the end of each of the 7 messages to the 7 churches there is a statement about the blessing of staying faithful. We’ll just notice the first couple. Revelation 2:7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes [that is the one who overcomes the temptations and pressures of Satan and the world (3:21; 12:11), the one who stays faithful], I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.” We will have what Adam and Eve lost in the beginning, that wonderful perfect paradise, where the Bible says everything was very good. There was no curse on the earth. There were no thorns or thistles. Man didn’t have to work so hard just to eat. Woman didn’t have the childbearing pain. And there was no sickness and no crime and no pollution. And there was the tree of life. Man and woman could enjoy life forever. That’s ours if we stay faithful.
Revelation 2:10, at the end of that verse, Jesus says to the church in Smyrna, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” And I don’t think it’s actually a round thing that He will place on your head. Rather it is a crown that consists of life. Better life, without end, is the crown that will be awarded to those who stay faithful. Verse 11, “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’”
14:9-12, “Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand [Now, in the book of Revelation the beast is the Roman Empire. And we know historically that Christians were pressured to worship the emperor, to burn some incense to his statute and proclaim Caesar as god, or be killed. This is a warning to Christians not to cave in to the pressures and worship of the Emperor. And it says he who does…], 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” 12 Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Do you see that last part, “Here is the perseverance of the saints.” In other words, this is why the saints stay faithful. This is why they don’t worship the emperor. It’s because of the curse of unfaithfulness, it’s because of this punishment, it’s because they know if they’re ashamed of Jesus and become unfaithful, this is what will happen. This keeps the saints faithful.
Whenever I read that I think of the story about old Polycarp that’s been handed down to us by the early church. He was an elder of the church in Smyrna and likely one of the original readers of the book of Revelation. He understood this point in Revelation. About 60 years after the writing of Revelation, in 155 A.D., soldiers escorted old Polycarp into the arena in Smyrna. The proconsul gave him the choice of cursing Christ and acknowledging Caesar as a god or death. He said, “86 years I have served Him, and He has never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” And proconsul gave him another chance threatening to throw him to the wild beasts. When he still maintained that he was a Christian, the proconsul said, “Since you think little of the wild beasts, we are going to burn you alive at the stake unless you denounce Christ.” And Polycarp said, “You threaten me with the fire that burns for a moment and is quickly quenched, but you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Come, do what you will.” Polycarp understood and believed with all his heart, Christ is worthy of our loyalty and the curse of unfaithfulness, and it kept him faithful to the end.
In Deuteronomy 27 Moses gives the Israelites some instructions about a certain ceremony they were to hold when they entered the land of Canaan. Moses tells them that the whole nation is to go to the area of Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, and 6 of the tribes were to station themselves on the fertile slope of Mt. Gerizim to represent God’s blessing, and the other 6 tribes were to station themselves on the adjacent barren slope of Mt. Ebal to represent God’s cursing. And then the Levites were to be in the valley between the 2 mountains. Deuteronomy 27:14, “The Levites shall then answer and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice, 15 ‘Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’ 16 ‘Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ 17 ‘Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” and so forth. And perhaps they were to do the same with blessings. The Levites shouting things like, “Blessed is the man whose God is YHVH who does not make an idol or molten image.” And all the people say “Amen.” “Blessed is the man who loves his neighbor as himself.” And all the people say “Amen.” It was to impress in their hearts how they’d be blessed and how they would be cursed.
I was thinking maybe we should do something like that. Why not? To impress on our hearts how we will be blessed and how we will be cursed. How about I be like the Levites and you be like the people on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. I’ll recite some of the curses that we find in the NT and you, if you understand and realize its truthfulness, say “Amen.” Should we try that? Let’s see how that feels. Are you ready?…
Cursed is he who doesn’t love the Lord above all others… Cursed is he who will not forgive his brother…. Cursed is he who steals…Cursed is he who commits adultery… Cursed is he who commits fornication… Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother… Cursed is he who is a drunkard… Cursed is he who is dishonest… Cursed is he who is unfaithful… Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn over their sin… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… Blessed are those who stay faithful.
One other thing that God told Moses and Joshua to do to further impress these truths into the hearts of the people, in 31:19 God said, “Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips…” And the song they were to write is recorded in chapter 32. Its 43 verses long. And they were to put it on the people’s lips, meaning they were to teach it to the people so well that they could sing it from memory. And guess what the song is about? It’s about how worthy God is of their love and obedience, because of what He’s done for them and how faithful and righteous He is and how He rules heaven and earth and how all that we are and all that we have is from Him, and it’s about the blessing for faithfulness and the curse for unfaithfulness. They were to learn that song so that they would never forget those things and they would stay faithful.
– James Williams