Summary: July 1988: God's way of life is not burdensome or negative or arbitrary. To know God's way and to do it is to have abundant life.
There is an old saying to the effect that what you don't know won't hurt you. I beg to differ. If it is true that what you don't know won't hurt you, then why don't we just let babies pop anything and everything into their mouths, just as they want to do? Obviously we know that some things will hurt, and if the child is too young to know, then we have to protect him.
If is true that what you don't know can't hurt you, then ask the folks who only a few months ago set up camp right in the valley which engineers had planned to flood with the opening of a dam upstream. It all looked perfectly innocent, harmless, beautiful, but because they had not taken the time to learn what was going to happen, and because they had trespassed and gone where they should not have gone, they all were drowned. Oh no, what you do not know can hurt you and it can even kill you.
Of course there is also the possibility that I may know what to do but just ignore it, and that can hurt too. I do know that there is a law of gravity; I know enough physics to be able to use the law of gravity to help myself. But if I choose to ignore it, if I choose to disregard the law of gravity, if I just climb and jump off our local Eiffel Tower up here at 4-D, I can get hurt, I can even be killed.
In other words, if I am going to stay alive, there are some things I must know, and if I know them, I have to follow through. I have to act on the basis of what I know. To know and to obey is to live. To be ignorant; or to be disobedient even if I am not ignorant – that is to die. That is to forfeit my chance to live.
Now you and I live in an age that prides itself on freedom. We think it is awfully important to determine our own directions and to make our own choices. We want to do what we want to do. And we are not too excited about folks telling us what we should do or making us do what they want us to do. Something down inside rebels against that. If you tell me I have to do something, that just kicks up in me a very loud, "Oh yeah, we’ll see about that." We defend our freedom from restraints very forcefully. I know of a church which invited a guest preacher, who said, "Do I have to wear a robe?" The host minister said, "Only if you want to." The guest replied, "Then I will; if you had said I have to, I wouldn’t!"
And yet, can you see this: there are some laws, there are some standards, and if we are ignorant of them, or if we just choose to walk away from them, we are going to get hurt. We may even die.
I submit to you this morning that God's way of life, God's law, is like that. What you don't know may indeed hurt you. It may even squeeze the life out of you. And when you know it, if you choose to disregard it, it will surely bring destruction.
At least that's what I hear the editor of Deuteronomy saying in the passage for today. That's what I sense is being taught us in this wonderful exhortation – that our God in His grace has given us instructions about how life is to be led. You can if you like remain ignorant about these instructions, but you run a very great risk if you do. Or you can take a cavalier approach; you can know something about God's expectations but decide that you are above the law. But the risk is great. Life or death issue.
"And now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them; that you may live, and go and take possession of the land. Notice that sequence: give heed, and do, so that you may live." Know, obey, and live.
Well, does it matter how I live? Are there consequences from my moral standards? The rest of the text is given over to a recital of an incident that had happened out in the desert wanderings of the people of Israel. They had come to a place called Peor, and there had stopped for a while. At Peor two things happened, two closely related things: first, quite a few of the people got caught up in idolatry and began to worship the Baal, the idol that was popular in that place. And second, they got caught up in some very unhealthy sexual alliances. Not the first time nor the last time, by the way, that spiritual wanderings and sexual wanderings went together.