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Light to the Eyes, not a Fat Heart, That must be Our Prayer

“giving light to the eyes of your heart to know the hope of his calling, which is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints and  which is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us, those who believe, according to the outworking of his power and might.”

(Ephesians 1:18-19)

As we have noted already, the density of ideas that are found in these verses is immense and profound. To begin with, we need to tackle this idea of giving light to the eyes of your heart, which is really little more than a continuation of the previous thought. Verse 17 closes with the language of Paul’s prayer for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God to be instilled in the people of these churches. Having such a spirit, then, produces light for the eyes of the heart.

When Moses stands before the people on the plains of Moab to renew God’s covenant with them, he makes a profound statement. Here he reminds them again of the mighty works of deliverance that God has done. He reminds them of the plagues in Egypt and of the defeat of their enemies in the wilderness. He reminds them that their shoes did not wear out and of God’s provision. And further, Moses reminds the people that they have been stubborn and rebellious despite seeing these mighty works. How does Moses explain this? Notice his words:

“But Yahweh did not give to you a heart to know nor eyes to see nor ears to hear, even to this day.”

(Deuteronomy 29:3 — verse 4 in English translations)

Do you see Moses’ point? The people of Israel witnessed these great events with their human eyes. They heard the great sermons on the Law with their human ears. They understood what they heard with a human heart. Yet, at the same time, God did not give them ears or eyes or a heart so that they might hear and respond in faith.

As is written in the prophet Isaiah:

“And he said, ‘Go and say to this people, ‘You shall surely hear yet you will not understand and you shall surely see yet you will not know. The heart of this people will be made to grow fat and his ears will be heavy and his eyes will be blind — lest he see with his eyes and hear with his ears and understand with his heart and turn and he be healed.’’”

(Isaiah 6:9-10)

These words of God to Isaiah are devastating indeed. God has every intent on keeping Israel dull and unrepentant as a form of judgment upon them. What is even more disconcerting is that Jesus uses these words himself when he explains to the disciples why he teaches in parables (Matthew 13:14-15).

As we look back to Ephesians, the opposite of this language of judgment is what Paul has in sight. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that this church has eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. Further, it will be by a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God that the church will grow in their understanding and that they will live lives in accordance to God’s Word.

At the same time, there is a warning that remains. Those who reject the Word of God and who reject the one who brings that Word will have their ears grow heavy. Or, to borrow from Paul’s letter to Timothy, their ears will grow “itchy” (2 Timothy 4:3). And in turn, their hearts will grow fatty and calloused so as they will not abide with truth but only with those things that suit their sensibilities and passions. Such is the judgment of God and are there not countless illustrations of this all around us today?

Heart and Soul

Moses says that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our abundance. Jesus clarifies and arguably expounds on this when he says that you are to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). In fact, Jesus says that this is the first and the greatest commandment. I have written elsewhere on how Jesus’ language harmonizes with Moses’ and I have also explored each one of these aspects of loving God in depth — for our purposes here, let us say that Jesus is commanding us that we are to love God with every aspect of our being, both earthly and spiritual and even with our material possessions.

What I want to explore here is not so much the detail of loving God with the totality of your being, but why it is important to do so. Why should you love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and, why should you love him with all and not some of these aspects of your character? Why not just give some while holding part of it back for yourself? Surely, that is what most professing Christians do anyway, is it not?

Billy Graham was well-known for saying, “If you want to know a person’s priorities, give me five minutes with his checkbook.” I prefer to ask the question in terms of how someone spends their time. There is work, sleep, eating, commuting, etc… that are required parts of living in this western world, but out of the day, how much time do you spend in prayer in comparison to how much time you spend watching television or playing video games? How much time is spent in reading your Bible in comparison to personal pleasure reading? According to a New York Times article from a few years back, American adults average about 4-5 hours of television (or other forms of entertainment — YouTube, movies, etc…) per day. If that describes you, may I ask if you are genuinely loving God with all of your being — in this case, with all of your time? Or, are you holding back?

Truly, I am not arguing that all television or other “screen-time” is bad; the occasional game, movie, or television show is not a bad thing (of course, I suppose that depends on what you are watching too…). But, what I am saying is that your prayer and devotional time should vastly outweigh the time you commit to entertainment. And when I say “vastly,” I do mean vastly. 

It seems to me that when I hear preachers talking about why we are to love God with all, much of what I hear has to do with the benefits of doing so. People say that you will be more “spiritually fulfilled” or that you will discover the “blessings of God in your life.” And while this may be the case, it should say that these are (at best) only the byproducts of being wholly committed to God. 

The real reason that you and I are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is because God is worthy of your love and your devotion. There are many things in your life that vie for your attention and for your affection, and many of these things are beautiful and wonderful things, but they are not God. God is infinitely better. And while you will gain incalculable satisfaction from worshiping him because he is worthy, an even better way of looking at it is that worshipping him is the only right thing we can do in life. 

Truly, I do understand, none of us will do this perfectly in our lives. Thanks be to God that our eternal salvation does not depend on meriting anything — that work was done by Christ — but ought we not strive for what is right and true when we know it to be so? 

The fourth question in the Heidelberg Catechism adds to this that the Law of God commands us to love Him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. Why a command? The answer is simple. The purpose of the Law is to instruct us in how to live in a way that is right (righteous) and true. If it is the right thing to do to honor God with all of our existence, is it any surprise that the law of God requires that we do the same. And again, this is not about earning merit or making points with God. This is simply proper and what is expected  not just of redeemed Christians, but of the creation itself. Psalm 117 instructs even the pagan nations to praise God because God has been faithful to his own people (something they cannot say about their pagan idols).

Stuff

Thus, where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.

(Matthew 6:21)

Stuff, stuff, and more stuff…  We fill our lives with stuff, we fill our homes with more stuff, and we fill the homes of others with even more stuff.  In and of itself, stuff is not bad—we need stuff to survive.  We need food to eat; we need water to drink; and we need shelter and protection from the elements.  All of that is stuff.  Certainly, some have more stuff than others, but it still is stuff. Frankly, I like stuff; I cannot deny it, but I would suggest that God also likes stuff. Roughly 6,000 years ago, God decided to create, well, stuff.  And not only did God create stuff, but he pronounced it, “good.”

The problem with stuff is not the stuff itself, but what we use it for. Often, our stuff just collects dust. We fall into a trap of wanting to have stuff and more stuff just for the sake of having the stuff. Even worse, we find ourselves embattled with others, each trying to gain and secure more and more stuff than the other.  Our lives begin to be consumed by the pursuit of stuff.  Where does it all end!?!

Ultimately it does come to an end. There will come a time when all of us will die and leave behind our stuff to others. Death is the great equalizer as someone once said; we all die and we cannot take any of our stuff with us. Where we go next is not dependent on the stuff we have or even on what we have done with our stuff; where we go is dependent upon the finished work of Jesus Christ and whether or not our name is in his great Book of Life.

So, if my salvation is neither dependent upon the stuff I have nor upon how I use it, what does it matter? Jesus has some words to this question, because while your salvation is not dependent upon anything but Christ’s finished work, Christ’s finished work in your life should affect what you do with your stuff in this life. We are taught two major lessons about our stuff in scripture. The first is that God blesses us with stuff primarily so that we can be a blessing to others—not only in how we share our stuff with them, but in how we share our stuff with them for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.

The second thing we learn from Scripture is found in this verse—our heart will dwell with what we treasure. Now, for the Hebrew culture, the heart not so much reflects the passions as it does the personality and mind—in other words, the thing that you think about all of the time will be what you treasure. For the Christian, our minds and thoughts ought to be on Christ and upon God’s word; sadly, we often are tempted to fall into the trap of pursuing more stuff and in that pursuit they become consumed. The Apostle John warns about this trap:

Do not love the world, nor that which is in the world.  If a certain person loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all of the things in the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and arrogant living-is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away as well as its lusts.  Yet, the one who does the will of God will continue living eternally. (1 John 2:15-17)

So, the question is not so much about the stuff, but it is about the heart. Have you set your heart upon God and upon the things of God or is it on the stuff that those who live in this world set their hearts upon. If, then, your heart is set upon God, the stuff that you have and accumulate in this life becomes rather secondary. And when stuff is secondary, using it to bless others becomes second nature. All our stuff comes from God anyhow, let us use it as an evangelistic tool and not an end in and of itself.

Love God with All (Mark 12:30)

“And you will love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your life, and with all of your understanding, and with all of your strength.”

(Mark 12:30)

 

Jesus continues the passage with an explanation of what it means to be committed to God as Wnyheloa/ (Elohinu), or “our God.”  And Jesus says that the way we live this out is by fully committing ourselves to God’s adoration and service.  The first section of this passage is a direct quote of the LXX, the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, yet, it would seem, at the initial onset, that Jesus has added to the text as we move to the latter half of what Jesus is teaching, but we will address that as we get to that section.

Jesus begins with the command from Deuteronomy 6:5 to love the Lord our God with all of our heart.  In the modern, Greek, mindset (remembering that our way of thinking is predominantly influenced by Greek thought, not Hebrew thought), the heart is the seat of the emotions or passions.  Thus, when many of us read this line initially, we immediately assume Jesus to be commanding us to love Yahweh with all of our passion.  While Jesus certainly does command us to love Yahweh with our passions, that is not what he means by heart.  In the Hebrew mindset, the heart was the seat of one’s personality and reason.  If a Hebrew person wanted to speak of one’s passions alone, he would talk about something as being from our bowels (I can’t figure out why Hallmark hasn’t picked up on that idea—I can just see the Valentine’s Day cards now; I love you with all of my bowels, dear…).  Thus, the command that is being given is that everything that makes you a reasoning human being—the whole of your personality, if you will—is to be dedicated to the love of God.  This would include, then, not only your reason and intellect, but also those little quirks that make you who you are.  Beloved, have you ever considered the fact that you are to love God with your idiosyncrasies?   They are part of your very makeup, thus, they are designed to be used by you to the glory of God!

Jesus continues with the command that we are to love God with all of our life.  This is the Greek term yuch/ (psuche), which is the word from which our English word “psyche” comes.  Many of our English translations will translate this word as “soul,” but I have opted to translate this as “life” out of deference to the Hebrew word that yuch/ (psuche) is being used to translate in this case.  The Hebrew term is the word vp,n< (nephesh), which refers to all that which gives life to and animates the body.  It is variously translated as life, breath, and even soul, but it is distinct from the word x;Wr (ruach), which means “spirit.”  In modern English, we don’t normally distinguish between the idea of a soul and of a spirit, so to preserve the Hebrew distinction, I have opted to translate this as life.  In Hebrew, the spirit is understood much in the same way as we understand a spirit today, but the soul was intimately bound to giving your physical body life, and hence our translation.  Thus, the idea being communicated in this first half of Jesus’ statement is not a dichotomy between the passions of man and the soul of man, but a united image of how we are to love God with our personality and with all that gives us life and breath in this world.  We are to be wholly committed to Yahweh, our God.

Now, as we look back to Deuteronomy 6:5, from which Jesus is quoting, we find a peculiar difference.  The Hebrew concludes with a third command, that we are to love God with all of our daom. (meod), or, literally, all of our “veriness.”  The idea expressed, by making the adverb “very” into a noun, is that of applying all of your abundance, all of your blessings, and all of the external things that God has put into your life toward the worship of God.  All of the rich blessings that have come to you in this world, as they have come from God, are to be used and applied toward the love of God.  That raises an important question for all of us—how are we using those blessings?  How do we use our vacation time; how do we use our savings; how do we use the finances that we have been afforded; and how do we use the retirements that God has given to us?  Beloved, we are often guilty of applying these things—these things that make up our “veriness”—toward our own ends and not for the love of God.  How we need to regularly look at our lives and see just how we are using the blessings that God has afforded us.

Yet, Jesus does not use this language, nor is he quoting from the Greek LXX, which reads, all of our du/namiß (dunamis)—or might (dunamis is the word from which we get the English word, “dynamite”).  Instead, Jesus breaks this final command into two separate parts: dia/noia (dianoia) or understanding and ijscuß (ischus) or strength.  My initial response was that maybe Jesus was breaking up the language of vp,n< (nephesh), or life, as yuch/ (psuche) and dia/noia (dianoia) and replacing du/namiß (dunamis) with ijscuß (ischus).  Thus, the idea of life would be expressed by both life and mind or soul and mind and power would be changed to reflect the idea of strength.  The problem with this interpretation is two-fold.  First of all, it seems odd that Jesus would add the word dia/noia (dianoia) to yuch/ (psuche) when yuch/ (psuche) is a direct quote of the Greek LXX.  Secondly, given that Matthew does not record Jesus as saying ijscuß (ischus) at all, but ends with dia/noia (dianoia).  Matthew, being a good Jew, would have been intimately familiar with the text and importance of Deuteronomy 6:5 and it would have been very unlikely that he would neglect to record an element therein.

That leads us with one other reasonable alterative, and that is to understand Jesus as expanding on the idea of our loving God with all of our daom. (meod), or veriness.  Instead of using the LXX translation, then, we see Jesus giving his own translation of daom. (meod) into Greek by using two terms: dia/noia (dianoia) and ijscuß (ischus).  In other words, Jesus is saying that for us to worship God with all of our abundance, or veriness, requires us to do so with our mental capacity, or dia/noia (dianoia), and our physical capacity, or ijscuß (ischus).  In other words, all of the energy we might expend, to accomplish all that we do in this life, we are called upon to use to love God.  We are to think about God, reason about God, meditate about God, and then the work of our hands—as mighty as that work may be, must too be done for the glory and love of God.  Indeed, this translation would capture the idea of the abundance that God has given us (as that abundance so often comes through the labors of our hands and/or our minds).

Thus, Jesus, in quoting Moses here, leaves no stone unturned when being asked the question of how we are to express our love and adoration for God on high—every inch of our life is to be devoted to God’s glory regardless of our career, trade, or background.  Does this mean that all should be preachers and missionaries?  Certainly not!  Yet, this does mean that whatever you do, whether hobby, curiosity, or career, should be done to the glory of God.  Dear friends, I wonder, can we say this about our own lives?  Can we say that the way we have ordered our career or the way we have spent our leisure time is designed to glorify God?  Oh, beloved, how we should look deeply at our hearts, our lives, and our efforts and ask ourselves, “how is God glorified in this.”  And then, when an answer is shown, work diligently to change how we live our days so as to submit ourselves to the challenge of Jesus’ words.  May our lives be lived all for the glory and honor of God alone.