Deuteronomy Series #4

A thinking, reflecting member recently asked me a perceptive question. "What did people in the early church study when they assembled? We study the Bible in our classes and worship. What did they study?"

Early Christians frequently studied the scriptures we call the Old Testament scriptures. For Jewish Christians, this always was God's word. Israelites respected and learned from this living word of God, this divine authority, this holy scripture for hundreds of years. For Christians who were not born Jews but attended Jewish synagogues prior to conversion to Christ, the Old Testament was the living word of God, the divine authority, and the holy scripture. They were taught the value and authority of God's word by learning the value and authority of those scriptures. For Christians who were not born Jews and never attended the Jewish synagogue, they needed to learn God's concept of holiness, righteousness, and godliness. These scriptures were used to teach them these concepts.

In addition to Old Testament scripture, they heard, read, or studied the writings of early Christian apostles and missionaries. Some of these writings became what we call the New Testament. But before they could hear and study these writings, they had to be written and shared. That took time. By our standards, it took a lot of time.

  1. Let me ask you to think about some things.
    1. Consider 2 Timothy 3:14,15.
      You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
      1. This was Paul's personal instruction to Timothy, the young preacher and missionary that Paul guided, taught, and mentored.
      2. Timothy was to continue following the things that he was taught.
      3. His godly mother and grandmother taught him these things from his childhood (2 Timothy 1:5).
      4. Paul wanted him to remember and follow the lessons of the "sacred writings."
        1. His understanding of these "sacred writings" gave him wisdom that would lead him to salvation.
        2. Wisdom produced by the "sacred writings" produced faith in Jesus Christ.
      5. What were the "sacred writings?" We call them the Old Testament scriptures.
    2. Consider Romans 4:19-25.
      Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God hd promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
      1. Paul is reminding Christians in Rome of Abraham's faith in God's promises.
        1. God promised Abraham a son, an heir, and years passed without that son being born.
        2. In Genesis 15 a discouraged Abraham asked God to allow Eliezer, his servant, be the promised heir.
        3. God said no; He would keep His promise; the son would be born to him.
        4. Genesis 15:6 states Abraham believed the Lord, and God "reckoned" (credited, regarded, considered) Abraham to be a righteous person.
      2. Carefully note Paul's point.
        1. Paul said this occurred for their benefit as well as for Abraham's benefit.
        2. If Christians place their confidence in the God who resurrected Jesus in the same way that Abraham placed his confidence in God, God will regard us to be righteous just as He regarded Abraham righteous.
        3. God had written what happened to Abraham for the benefit of Christians.
    3. Consider Romans 15:4.
      For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
      1. The Old Testament scriptures were written for Christians' instruction.
      2. Those scriptures exist to give the Christian hope.
      3. Those scriptures challenge us to persevere and be encouraged.

  2. Those understandings serve as a background for this truth: the book of Deuteronomy served an important role in the lives of early Christians.
    1. Deuteronomy played an important role in Jesus' life and teachings.
      1. One of the critical moments in Jesus' life occurred when Jesus faced Satan in the early wilderness temptations (Matthew 4:1-11).
        1. Jesus rejected the temptation found in turning stones into bread by both understanding and quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.
        2. Jesus rejected the temptation to jump from the temple area by both understanding and quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
        3. Jesus rejected the temptation to worship Satan by both understanding and quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 (or 10:20).
        4. An understanding of those scriptures will just as surely help us fight those kinds of temptation just as they helped Jesus fight those temptations.
      2. Jesus often used statements found in Deuteronomy in his teachings.
        1. An excellent illustration is Jesus' use of Deuteronomy 6:4 to declare that the greatest commandment God ever gave was to love God with all the heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37).
        2. Jesus stressed an eternal truth: the only proper foundation for obeying God is loving God.
        3. I assume we agree that for the Christian there still is no greater commandment than loving God with all the heart, mind, and soul.
    2. Perhaps this is your reaction: we should expect to hear Jesus use Deuteronomy in his teachings since Jesus was a godly Israelite who lived before the Christian age.
      1. If that assumption is correct, we would not expect the see New Testament writers using Deuteronomy for scriptural authority after Jesus' resurrection.
        1. If the reasoning is that Jesus used Deuteronomy because he taught prior to the Christian age,
        2. Then the reasoning would follow that you would not find the writers of the epistles citing Deuteronomy's concepts as divine authority.
        3. May I state clearly that I do not agree with that reasoning.
        4. For me, to dismiss any emphasis in the teachings of our own Lord and Savior with that kind of reasoning is a rejection of the word of the divine Son of God.
        5. I do not believe the eternal God abandons His word and its concepts.
      2. Allow me to read scriptures from Deuteronomy and then read scriptures from New Testament epistles.
    3. Examples of Deuteronomy's statements and concepts found in New Testament epistles.
      1. Deuteronomy 4:6 So keep and do them [the commands], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'
        1. 2 Timothy 3:15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
      2. Deuteronomy 4:9 Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.
        1. Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
      3. Deuteronomy 4:16,17 so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky
        1. Romans 1:18,23 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness . . . and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
      4. Deuteronomy 4:20 But the Lord has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today.
        1. Titus 2:14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
        2. 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light
        3. Deuteronomy 7:6 For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
      5. Deuteronomy 5:33 You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.
        1. Ephesians 6:1-3 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.
      6. Deuteronomy 6:7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
        1. Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
      7. Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!
        1. 1 Corinthians 8:4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.
        2. Ephesians 4:6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

  3. At times we get so caught up in the worship differences, the differences in forms of purity, and in ceremonial differences that we fail to see fundamental parallels.
    1. Many things never change in God's people of faith who follow Him in any age.
      1. The basic qualities of godly character never change--God's people always trust Him.
      2. The basic qualities of godly integrity never change--God's people always are honest and trustworthy.
      3. The basic qualities of reverencing God never change--God's people always humble themselves before Him.
      4. The basic quality of treating people properly never changes--God's people always treat other people like they want to be treated.
    2. The eternal God has not changed, and He has not changed His will.
      1. He always wants the same kind of godly character and integrity in His people.
      2. What changed was the way people can come to God and belong to Him.
        1. Jesus Christ is the perfect means of coming to and belonging to God.
        2. Jesus does for us perfectly what all the Jewish ceremonies and rituals did imperfectly for Old Testament Israel.
      3. God has not changed.
      4. His eternal, living word has not changed.
      5. What changed is the way we can come to and relate to God.
        1. That changed because it no longer depended on imperfect human deeds.
        2. That changed because it now depends on the perfect Savior.

When you study from the Old Testament, study to learn and study to understand. It can strengthen your bond with Jesus Christ. It will make you wise as it brings you to salvation.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 5 November 2000
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