Read time: 3m 40s
Because you did not serve the LORD your God
with joyfulness and gladness of heart,
because of the abundance of all things,
therefore you shall serve your enemies. (Deut 28:47-48)
These verses, at the end of Deuteronomy, are a prophetic indictment of Israel. They see into a future where Israel has not received God’s grace, walked in His light, or done His will; they would not serve Him, and they reap the consequences.
This indictment, written down, was not for them alone, but for us today as well. We’ll spend this week and next making a few observations from this passage.
“Because you did not serve the LORD your God…therefore you shall serve your enemies.”
First, here’s the fact, as Bob Dylan sang nearly forty years ago: “you gotta serve somebody!”
This is a description of facts. They are not threats. They are simply the cause-and-effect of decisions-made. This is a fact for a few reasons. For example, it’s a fact because we’re weak. We are not able to live truly independent lives. Here in the West we like to think we’re all individuals—doing our thang!—aint nobody gonna tell us nothing! But then we all show up to the same parties wearing the same stupid hats digging the same tunes. Yeah. The fact is that we are highly suggestible, easily confused, oft’ forgetful creatures. We will serve someone because, frankly, we’re easy pickings.
But also, we were made to serve someone. We have a worshipful, relational longing that we were created with. We long to be a part of something, to be led by a leader, or by a vision. We will serve someone, and if it’s not the LORD our God, then it’ll be someone else and their gods.
Second, notice: God is not interested in bare service: minions in rags singing dirges to the bing-bang of falling hammers and squeaking wheelbarrows, like some setup for a Disney movie. God doesn’t want slaves—a statement that has nothing to do with free-will, but has everything to do with the kind of heart-response God quite naturally expects for all He has done for us.
“Serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart.” The gods of Egypt, the gods of Rome, the gods of America, do not at all care whether you are happy. But the God of the Bible does. He’s not interested in “the works of the law” apart from faith; He wants “the obedience of faith,” “faith working itself out in love.” (Rom 1:5; Jam 2:22) In other words, it’s not like obedience is what He’s looking for. Our God is looking for glad hearts. If we’re not glad, then we’re not serving Him. We can call our gods, “Yahweh,” or, “Jesus,” if we want to, but if we’re sour in spirit, dragging along, critical and judgmental, stressed at our failures and the world’s dangers, then friend, it’s not this God we’re serving.
Third, How is it fair of God to expect “service with a smile”? “Gladness in heart,” really? Yes, “because of the abundance of all things.”
God knows that if we could see all the beauty of this life, and all the blessings that are ours in His Promises-Kept by Christ—justification by faith, peace with God, access to God, grace to stand immovable in, love poured into our hearts by the Spirit, hope in the glory of God, the ability to rejoice even in sufferings, the knowledge that God is working in our lives (Rom 5:1-5)—if we could see these things, and keep them before our minds, on our hearts, bright in our consciousness, flavoring all our emotions, then gladness would flood our hearts and service would flow freely. It is a reasonable and fair expectation, isn’t it? More than fair.
Like star-crossed lovers, we want God and He wants us. “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship,” goes the cliché. But it’s not even just that. It’s a Father running to his swine hugging son. It’s a husband purchasing his wife from the brothel, again. It’s a mother weeping over her starving son, alone in the wilderness. It’s a shepherd boy facing off against a giant. It’s a hero dying for his people. It’s a wife carving out an Eden “under the sun.” It’s a priest chasing the animals out of the temple and climbing up onto the altar himself. It’s every mythical trope and heart’s hope, writ down, rolled up, corked in a bottle, floated on the sea, rolling in the surf at our feet. It’s salvation, it’s freedom, it’s life. It’s love.
Be loved, my friends. Be loved, beloved.