Chapter 2: God gives me the freedom to choose - commitment
A Veteran sat in the chaplain’s office. “I have decided my life isn’t working. After what I saw in combat I decided there couldn’t be a God, not the God that I was taught about. I came home bitter. My wife had waited loyally. She tried to stick it out. But I had changed. I did drugs and when I wasn’t doing drugs, I was drunk. I couldn’t hold a job. I swore constantly. My faith was trashed. My only commitment was in finding the next high.
“I joined the service with high ideals. I felt loyal to my country. I was ready to give my life, if necessary, to protect the freedoms of this nation. I was soon disillusioned with, like what they say…‘man’s inhumanity to man.’ I lost myself. I was trained to be a killer and in the process I forgot who I was.
“It’s not working, Chaplain. If I go on like this I am going to end up dead, I can see it coming. I want to believe in God again. But I don’t know how. I don’t even know who God is. I can’t believe God is an old man in the clouds or heaven. That didn’t work for me on the battlefield. I need help. Can you help?”
When our sense of purpose and meaning dies within us, so does our sense of who we are, so does our desire to commit ourselves to God, to others, or to a high ideal. This is a life-threatening situation. Without a deep commitment we become like a ship without a course, tossed about by every storm.
Yet God gives us the freedom to choose a new purpose, to make a new commitment, to choose a new reason for living. Scripture declares that though we become like one lost sheep in a hundred, God never gives up on us; God searches us out. God always offers us a new way of choosing life, a new purpose. That purpose begins with setting God as our top priority and learning to live in God’s love.
Readings from the Old Testament / Hebrew Scriptures
Moses instructs the Israelites, and tells them the most important commandment.
“Israel, remember this! The LORD — and the LORD alone — is our God. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Never forget these commands that I am giving you today. Teach them to your children. Repeat them when you are at home and when you are away, when you are resting and when you are working. Tie them on your arms and wear them on your foreheads as a reminder. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”
Moses tells the people what God demands.
“Now, people of Israel, listen to what the LORD your God demands of you: Worship the LORD and do all that he commands. Love him, serve him with all your heart, and obey all his laws. I am giving them to you today for your benefit. To the LORD belong even the highest heavens; the earth is his also, and everything on it. The LORD your God is supreme over all gods and over all powers. He is great and mighty, and he is to be obeyed. Have reverence for the LORD your God and worship only him. Be faithful to him and make your promises in his name alone. Praise him – he is your God.”
“Love the LORD your God and serve him with all your heart.
Do not let yourselves be led away from the LORD to worship and serve other gods.
Love the LORD your God, do everything he commands, and be faithful to him.”
In his final speech to the Israelites, Moses reminds the people to remain faithful to God.
“I am now giving you the choice between life and death, between God’s blessing and God’s curse, and I call heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Choose life. Love the LORD your God, obey him and be faithful to him.”
Nearly three centuries later, the prophet Samuel also reminded the people of Israel to remain faithful to God. He also spoke of God’s promise to all who obey the Lord.
“Do not turn away from the LORD, but serve him with all your heart. Don’t go after false gods; they cannot help you or save you, for they are not real. The LORD has made a solemn promise, and he will not abandon you, for he has decided to make you his own people. Obey the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. Remember the great things he has done for you.”
1 Samuel 12.20b-22,24
Many of the psalms express trust in God.
You, O LORD, are always my shield from danger;
you give me victory and restore my courage.
I call to the LORD for help, and from his sacred hill he answers me.
I lie down and sleep, and all night long the LORD protects me.
Look at me, O LORD my God, and answer me.
Restore my strength; don’t let me die.
I rely on your constant love;
I will be glad, because you will rescue me.
I will sing to you, O LORD,
because you have been good to me.
As for me, I will pray to you, LORD;
answer me, God, at a time you choose.
Answer me because of your great love,
because you keep your promise to save.
Answer me, LORD, in the goodness of your constant love;
in your great compassion turn to me!
Teach me, LORD, what you want me to do,
and I will obey you faithfully;
teach me to serve you with complete devotion.
I will praise you with all my heart,
O Lord my God;
I will proclaim your greatness forever.
With all my heart I try to serve you;
keep me from disobeying your commandments.
I keep your law in my heart,
so that I will not sin against you.
I praise you, O LORD;
teach me your ways.
I will repeat aloud
all the laws you have given.
I delight in following your commands
more than in having great wealth.
I study your instructions;
I examine your teachings.
I take pleasure in your laws;
your commands I will not forget.
The book of Proverbs teaches the value of wisdom.
“Everything I say is true;
nothing is false or misleading.
To those with insight, it is all clear;
to the well-informed, it is all plain.
Choose my instruction instead of silver;
choose knowledge rather than the finest gold.
What you get from me is better than the finest gold;
better than the purest silver.
I walk the way of righteousness;
I follow the paths of justice.
Those who find me find life,
and the LORD will be pleased with them.”
Put your hope and confidence in God. The LORD says, “I am the high and holy God, who lives forever. I live in a high and holy place, but I also live with people who are humble and repentant, so that I can restore their confidence and hope.”
Readings from the New Testament
Following a discussion Jesus had with some of the religious leaders, a teacher of the Law approaches him with a question about the most important commandment. Jesus responds by quoting from the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 6.4, 5 and Leviticus 19.18.)
A teacher of the Law was there who heard the discussion. He saw that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer, so he came to him with a question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: ‘Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment more important than these two.”
While in the desert for 40 days in preparation for his ministry, the Devil tempted Jesus by offering him wealth and power. Jesus resisted and said:
“The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’ “
In teaching about what it means to be a faithful servant of God, Jesus said:
“Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones; whoever is dishonest in small matters will be dishonest in large ones. No servant can be the slave of two masters; such a slave will hate one and love the other or will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
“Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am. And my Father will honor anyone who serves me.”
Jesus teaches a new commandment and relates it to discipleship and what it means to abide in his love.
“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
“I love you just as the Father loves me; remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them. And you are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. This, then, is what I command you: love one another.”
The apostle Paul, writing to Christians in the first century, talks about life in God’s service.
So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God — what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers.
And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you. We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have; if it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard; whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.
Ask God to bless those who persecute you — yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says, “I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.” Instead, as the scripture says: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink; for by doing this you will make them burn with shame.” Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.”
The commandments, “Do not commit adultery; do not commit murder; do not steal; do not desire what belongs to someone else” — all these, and any others besides, are summed up in the one command, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you love others, you will never do them wrong; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law.
The apostle Paul speaks of the responsibility that freedom in Christ entails.
As for you, my friends, you were called to be free. But do not let this freedom become an excuse for letting your physical desires control you. Instead, let love make you serve one another. For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
By having true love for one another, Christians demonstrate that they follow the example of Christ.
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.
Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us.
We love because God first loved us. If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.
1 John 4.7,11,12,19-21
This love I speak of means that we must live in obedience to God’s commands. The command, as you have all heard from the beginning, is that you must all live in love.
2 John 1.6
Thoughts for Reflection
- Who has been the person most committed to my well-being? Have I seen God reaching out to me in that person?
- What keeps me from making a commitment to love God as I understand God? Am I willing to let go of these barriers and take the risk of loving God as I understand how to love?
- What keeps me from making a commitment to love others? Am I willing to take one step toward loving others? What would that step be?
O God, you know better than anyone else that I am not perfect. You also know that I am afraid to make a commitment to love you and to love others. You know that because I am afraid I act in ways that drive others away. Yet, how I ache to be loved! How I yearn to feel the closeness of your Spirit and the connection to another human being. Will you help me let go of my fear long enough to begin loving again?
I am asking you because I am slowly dying, my spirit is withering, I need help. Bring me healing through your Spirit. I do not ask this because I deserve your love, but because I do believe, deep in my heart, that your nature is one of unconditional love. Hear my prayer, dear God. My life depends upon it.