The Uniqueness of People Who Follow His Word

Steve Viars February 4, 2006 Deuteronomy 4:1-40

- most of us are, or have been, in a contractual relationship with another party...
- where commitments were offered, and commitments were made...
- for example, if you have a mortgage on your home...there was a contract involved...
- when you closed, you probably left with a whole stack of legal documents that spelled out the nature of the relationship...it was a binding contract, a commitment, a covenant...

- now, let me ask you this...what would have happened if a couple months after you signed the deal...you received a notice from the bank adding a bunch of stipulations...
- from now on, you can never have more than 4 people in our house at once because we’re concerned about the structural integrity of the floor joists...
- or you can only make you payment on Tuesday afternoons and you have to mail it in a 9 x 12 envelope that is a pale shade of blue...
- would it be OK with you if they arbitrarily added a bunch of stuff to the covenant...

- or from the other side...let’s say you decided after a month or two that the payment was a bit high...
- so on your next statement, you took a red crayon and crossed out the amount you had agreed to pay and reduced it a couple hundred bucks...maybe with a note that said, we changed our mind...we found the other amount to be a bit inconvenient...
- do you think the bank would be OK with that?

- no, in either case, the parties involved would say...that’s why we put it in writing...
- that’s why we made the contract...it was a set of promises...we made a covenant...
- and it’s not something that either party can arbitrarily break...

- this morning we’re going to look at a passage of Scripture that was written in a particular form by God on purpose...
- the technical term is “Hittite Suzerain Vassal Treaty”...now I know that moves your heart...
- but in the ancient world, kings would often make written covenants with a group of people...there are many existing ancient secular documents written exactly this way...
- Typical form of a Hittite Suzerain Vassal Treaty
1. Preamble
2. Historical Prologue
3. Stipulations
4. Witnesses and Deposit of Text
5. Curses and Blessings
- the passage of Scripture we’re about to read has several of these exact same elements...
- to us, the overall point would not have been nearly as obvious as it would have been to the people of that day by the shear nature of the form of the text...
- they would have rightly concluded...our King is making a written covenant with us...a set of promises, and commitments, and expectations on both sides of the table...

- now, even before we turn to the passage, let me tell you where this is going...
- believers in Jesus Christ have entered into a covenant relationship with God...
- that’s why Jesus said in the Upper Room...this cup is the new covenant in my blood...
- and fundamental to that relationship is a commitment to His written Word...not as a means of earning salvation, but as an appropriate response to God’s work of grace...
- and I want to suggest to you this morning...that too many people in the evangelical church, whether we’re talking individually or corporately, seem to have a very lackadaisical attitude toward keeping their side of the covenant...

- with that in mind, I’d like to invite you to open your Bible this morning to Deuteronomy chapter 4... [page 135 of the Bible under the chair in front of you, page 230 of our Chinese English Bibles...]
- this year at our church we’re talking about Gearing Up for Greater Effectiveness
- Lord willing, 17 months from now, we plan to have two new ministry divisions up and running...our community center to advance our community outreach ministries...and our church-based seminary to offer free seminary level training for people studying for Christian ministry...
- we’re thankful for all that God has entrusted to us...but essentially we believe we’re at a point in our history where it is time to reinvest those resources at a higher level of ministry...
- so we’ve made what we think are fairly aggressive plans...because we believe that matters of eternity are at stake here...
- so it’s anything but easy, it’s anything but problem free, and it’s anything but safe...
- because we’ve essentially crossed the river and burned the boats...so the next year and a half are all about gearing up...
- leadership training, program development, bathing all of this in prayer, and each and every one of us making a commitment to get to the next place in our personal growth and our ministry effectiveness...

- This winter we’re studying the book of Deuteronomy together...because in that book the children of Israel were gearing up to enter the promised land...
- God said to them...you’ve circled the mountain long enough [2:3]...do what the previous generation should have done 40 years ago...arise and take your journey...
- now, the end of chapter 3 records a very important geographical detail...
- this speech that Moses is about to give was delivered at Beth Peor [show slide]
- that’s important for at least two reasons...
1.  They are poised to enter the promised land...you can point to the Jordan river, you can point to Jericho, you can point to the destination...they were at a very strategic point in their journey...
2.  Something very bad had recently happened at that exact same place...it was the scandal of Baal Peor...a violation of the covenant with disastrous results...

- so Moses comes to God’s people...but please keep in mind...he speaks to them in a form with which they would have been very familiar...God our great benevolent King, is explaining the terms...of the covenant...
- now as we read, please be looking for elements of a typical treaty that would have been made in that day...
- and also try to picture in your mind what it would have been like for God’s people to hear words like these just before they arose and took their journey...
- and one more thing....please be asking the Lord to help you apply this passage to your life and ministry today...
- read Deuteronomy 4:1-40 [decide how much of this we can read]

- we’re talking this morning The Uniqueness of People Who Follow His Word
- with the time we have remaining, let’s think about Three reasons we should honor our covenant with our Great King.


I. Because it is a Covenant of Practicality.


- one of the wonderful things about the Scripture is that...
A. The principles of God’s Word are breathtakingly relevant.
- over and over throughout this text, you see an emphasis on doing, on acting, on applying...
- God’s Word was never intended to be simply a series of dry lifeless principles that only applied for a small portion of ones’ week...
- too many people think of the Bible as a book they hear on Sunday, but then they close the lid on that piece of tupperware and get on with the business of everyday living...
- so there’s very little intersection between what God’s Word says and the way they think throughout the day...
- disciplining ones mind to view the details of life through the lens of Scripture would be a foreign concept...
- I’m working now, I’m not doing religious things...I’m playing now, I’m not doing religious things...I’m conducting business now, I’m not doing religious things...
- that kind of false dissection of life into unrelated categories isn’t just unfortunate...it’s a violation of the covenant...
- that’s why this passage is all about doing...
- 4:1 – teaching you to perform...
- 4:2 – you may keep the commandments pf the Lord your God...
- 4:4 – you who held fast...
- 4:5 – that you should do thus in the land...
- 4:6 – so keep and do them...

- we could walk through the entire passage and see similar examples...this written covenant that God was making with His people was intensely practical...
- now, somebody might say...but this is the OT...we’re now under grace...
- but let me ask you this...do NT believers in Jesus Christ...who have been redeemed by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone...
- at a specific point in time by no righteousness of our own...
- do we now have covenant responsibilities to follow the Word of God?...
- would that be a hard case to make biblically?...
- what is one of the essential elements of the New Covenant according to Jeremiah 31?
- Jeremiah 31:33 – “...I will put my law within them and upon their heart I will write it...”
- or the Great Commission...which sometimes is misunderstood to be simply teaching all that Jesus has commanded...that leaves out two critical words...
- Matthew 28:20 – “...teaching them to observe all that I commanded...”
- I John 2:3 – “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”

- and this is not to suggest that Christianity is just a bunch of rules...but any time a person says he/she knows Christ but is not allowing God’s Word to impact them in specific, practical, undeniable ways...whether they know it or not, are living in clear violation of the covenant they made...
- and the bottom line is...what they would never dream of doing to their banker they have in essence done to their God...they’ve defaulted on the agreement they made...
- now, here’s the other side of that...when people live in joyful obedience to the commands of God...it is a wonderful thing...
- last week somebody spoke to me and said...one of the things that attracted me here was when I saw your school’s baseball team playing last spring...
- I thought---I wonder where this is going...
- but she went on to say...the players were respectful to the umpire, the coaches weren’t yelling at the players, the guys didn’t throw their equipment when they struck out or were called out on the bases...
- and what those young men were doing whether they realized it or not is...they were keeping their side of the covenant...
- they were allowing their relationship with Christ impact the details of their day...and by the way...you better believe teenagers can be doers of the Word in powerful ways...
- now, let’s add this...
B. The provision of God’s Word is a demonstration of His love.
- Moses would say later in this chapter...4:37 – “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them...”
- any Israelite hearing this message who was thinking correctly would have said...what a great privilege it is to be in a covenant relationship with this kind of benevolent King...
- every aspect of this Word we are being asked to follow is for His glory but also for our good...those young men learning to put on the Sprit’s fruit of self-control during an athletic contest---that will help them the rest of their days...
- we’re talking about committing ourselves to following the practical commands of a very loving, benevolent God...
- by the way, this is one of the ways that the Hittite treaties differed from those made later by Assyrian kings who were known for their ruthless subjection of other people groups...
- in an article in the Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society, Professor Moshe Weinfeld made this point:
“The Assyrian emperor saw himself as king of the universe by appointment of his gods and therefore felt that it would be both unnecessary and humiliating to justify his demand for loyalty by referring to his gracious deeds in the manner of Hittite kings.” (Moshe Weinfeld, “Covenant making in Anatolia and Mesopotamia.” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 22, 1993, p. 136). 
- in other words, in the Assyrian treaties---it was “open your mouth because these provisions are being rammed down your throat by an emperor who is powerful enough to use you any way he pleases...”
- what a contrast to a loving God who gives us commands that are always in our best interest to follow...and who takes the time to clearly express His love for us...
- would anybody here say...I really regret the times I obeyed the Word of God?...I really regret the times I kept my side of the covenant...(no, these are promises made to a King who clearly and undeniably loves His people...)
- now you might say...but what about the times they failed?...wasn’t God just setting them for judgment by holding them to such a high standard?
- remember that one of the common elements of these treaties was the deposit of the text...well, where had the two stone tablets been deposited since they had been given to the children of Israel?...in the ark of the covenant under the...mercy seat...where the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement...
- Meredith Kline said it this way – “abounding of grace is evidenced even in connection with the function of the stone tablets as witnesses against Israel; for since the divine throne under which the tablets were located was the place of atonement, the witnesses of the tablets against Israel never ascended to Yahweh apart from the witness of the blood advocating mercy.” (Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King, The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963, p. 22).

[mention Brent’s paper]

- here’s another practical aspect of all of this...
C. The purpose of God’s word is to protect you from judgment.
- verses 3-4 explain why it was so important for this speech to be given on this piece of ground...
- because this is exactly where some of the men committed a great sin against God...
- you can read about it more fully in Numbers chapter 25...but here’s the short version...
- a number of the men had sexual relations with the Moabite women in that land...
- and had even sacrificed to their gods, and celebrated a religious festival as part of their pagan worship...
- in other words, they used their bodies to gratify themselves instead of pleasing their God...in direct violation of the covenant they had previously made...
- and those men were greatly judged...but what does Moses report in verse 4...
- 4:4 – But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you.

- now, let’s draw some of this together...first...
1) Individually – if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, if you would say that you are a Christian, a follower of Christ...is there evidence that you understand that you’ve committed yourself to a written covenant?...
- and is there evidence that you work at bringing your necessary obedience to those covenant responsibilities to bear on specific life situations each day?...
- when somebody treats you in an evil fashion...do you consciously choose to remember that there are written covenant requirement to govern your response to that kind of treatment?...I feel like doing such and such...but I’ve made a promise...
- in the way you use your tongue...there are written covenant requirements about that...
- the way you function in your home, the way you function at your job...[you name the area...]...are you committed to keeping your side of the written agreement?

- a number of years ago I was sitting down to pay my bills when I thought about our garbage man...he doesn’t send us a bill/its just a one man operation...so we just have an agreement that he picks up the trash every week and we send him a payment every quarter...
- I got to thinking...I can’t remember the last time I paid the garbage man...so I started going back through my check register...and I couldn’t see when I paid him last...I got all the way through my current check register...nothing...
- I got some of my older check registers out and found out that I hadn’t paid the trash guy for over a year...I was sick to my stomach...
- I called his wife and explained the situation and she said, Oh honey, surely not...
- then she took out her books, and I could hear her on the phone saying...ooh...ooh...oooh...
- and as it turns out, it had been an incredibly long time since I had paid them...of course I asked their forgiveness...of course paid the bill that day, etc...
- but still, what a terrible thing not to keep your agreement with your trash man...

- but friend, listen...the Scripture is clear... By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments [I John 2:3]...
- some of God’s people do a very poor job of specifically and practically applying biblical truth to the everyday areas of life...and apparently for some, that seems to be an acceptable way to live...
- here’s today’s message...it’s not acceptable...it’s a violation of the covenant...it’s a failure to keep our side of the agreement...
- and what we would never think of doing to our banker...in fact what we wouldn’t even think of doing to our garbage man....some of us routinely do...to our God.

- now, here’s the other side of it...
- when God’s people acknowledge His Word for what it truly is...what a wonderful platform that is for ministry...
- because many people in our culture would be absolutely shocked that God’s Word has practical answers for everyday life...

- for the folks from our church family...I want to encourage you to be praying about who you’re going to invite to attend one of our Wednesday evening Faith Bible Institute classes [describe...show the catalog...if we prayerfully do our work, there should be over 1000 people from our church and community here on Wednesday night studying the Word of God...
- and for some of those persons...they don’t know the Lord...yet...and it will be an opportunity for them to hear what the Scripture says about their ultimate need...
- and because of our inability to perfectly keep the law...God sent His spotless Lamb to die on the ultimate seat of mercy...the cross of Jesus Christ...
- and it is possible to enter into a covenant relationship with Him where the law will be written on their inward parts...
- and the Holy Spirit can help them to understand His Word, and apply His Word...and go from being covenant breakers, to covenant keepers...

2) what about the corporate aspect of this?....
- friends, when it comes to addressing the daily problems people face either in the church or the community...the plain truth is, far too many churches, and far too many colleges, and seminaries, and denominations, and radio stations, and publishing houses...have turned to secular sources to address such matters...
- it’s exactly like the days of Jeremiah...
- Jeremiah 2:13 - My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

- and friends, that’s not simply an alternative form of ministry...
- it’s not, any old source of truth will do...
- it’s nothing short of a violation of the covenant....a failure to keep our side of the agreement...
- this passage would also suggest that this is a...


II. Covenant of Wisdom.


- don’t you love verses 6-8?...
- Moses is pointing out...
A. The apologetic value of keeping the law.
- [read 6-8 again...]

- its not unusual at all to have conversations like this around here...where an individual is struggling in marriage or some other area of life...who really needs to come to Christ...but who also knows somebody from this church...
- and I have the privilege of being able to say...friend, if you would trust Christ, your life could be like so and so...you marriage could be like so an so’s...your peace could be like so and so’s...
- and often that’s when the lights go on...
- not because it is a glorification of people...but because wisdom is best recognized when it’s wearing flesh and bones...
- surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people...
- they have a God who answers their prayers...
- and they have a book that gives them direction and strength...

[if time...develop the argument of I Peter 2-3...]

- now, what does this have to do with gearing up?...friends, if we are serious about getting even more involved in community based ministry...be ready for greater scrutiny...that comes with the territory...and it should...
- which leads to an obvious question...does your principle oriented life attract others to the Savior?...
- I want a wise marriage like that....
- I want to use my tongue wisely like that...
- I want to handle my finances wisely like that...
- I want to have wise friendships like that...

- this is why I think Christians make a mistake when they’re always upset about the sins of the world, or the sins of the culture....
- listen, we ought to be most concerned about the sins of the church...
- judgment begins at the household of God...

- and there is no question that in the coming months, there will be more and more people checking you out, and checking us out...that’s part of the whole strategy...
- but here’s the point of this part of the passage...
- you want to impact your community....keep the written provisions of the covenant...
- you want to impact your neighborhood...
- you want to impact your office...
- you want to impact your school...your world...

- you might say...nobody will pay an attention to that...
- this week I was at a meeting with a group of evangelical pastors and other community leaders...
- and a local judge was there to speak to us about some of the problems she sees among juveniles and families that come before her court...
- and the conservative evangelical churches in our town are more committed than ever before to identifying community needs and then working together to provide compassionate and life-changing resources...
- and this judge talked about this very catalog and said...I’ve told Pastor Viars, as soon as their next one comes out, I want a stack of them to recommend these classes and resources to people coming through my court...
- these problems are inherently moral...and I am happy to recommend classes based on the Bible to help people change...
- she also said repeatedly...I love recommending pastoral counseling...

B. Hindrances to covenant wisdom.

1. subtraction
- watering it down...often out of a desire to be accepted by the world...
- this whole passage is about the development of a people who will be decidedly different because of their faithfulness to the covenant...
- often the herd mentality of the church has robbed us of the opportunity to present a unique set of answers to a lost and dying world...
- [cf. the theology of the sweat sock...]

2. addition
- let’s try to add the latest psychological ideas of the day to the Scripture...
- recommend The Question of God – shows how incompatible biblical truth and secular thinking is on the questions that matter most...

3. multiplication
- [as time allows, discuss how legalism often robs biblical truth/living of its robust nature and reduces it to a set of silly rules....]

- [cf. verse 2]

III. Covenant of Depth.


A. Note the emphasis on the heart.
- Deuteronomy 4:29 - But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

- ultimately this is a desire that has to spring from the inner man...
- so many approaches to change are simply a superficial rearrangement of the furniture on the front porch of a person’s life...
- God’s Word is living, powerful...[develop]

[could develop – our culture’s fixation on these programs where wardrobes are transformed, houses are transformed---apparently there is something in the heart of man that is amazed/enthralled/attracted to a true transformation...]

B.  Note the emphasis on carefulness.
- 9 – Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently...
[- apply individually and corporately...]

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video