Many of us are admirably diligent about our work, about taking care of our homes, about paying our bills, and about maintaining good relations with those we love. We devote great amounts of time, energy, and devotion to those aspects of our lives. Sadly, many of us who know the Lord are far less diligent about spiritual things, about the state of our souls. But there is scarcely a graver error than to be careless or casual about eternal matters. Diligence in those things is a cardinal emphasis in God’s Word and should be a prime consideration in the lives of believers. The word diligence first occurs in the Old Testament in adverbial form. Take a moment to consider its significance.
Moses is preparing the generation of Israelites who have survived the forty-year wandering in the wilderness to enter the Promised Land. His instructions include this critical command: “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” (Deut. 4:9).
God, through His human voice, Moses, begins with the big picture: “keep your soul diligently.” Relationships, work, and stuff all have a degree of importance, but nothing else matters and nothing else can be taken care of properly unless the “soul” is what it should be. It should go without saying that we must be more deliberate about the care of our souls than of anything else: it alone will pass into eternity and survive time. It alone has the ability to honor God, and as go our souls so go all that we have—will, thoughts, emotions, ambitions, time, energy, human relationships, and temporal possessions. So what is involved in keeping our souls with diligence? I believe Moses tells us in the instructions he gives leading up to the command regarding our souls; they are as follows.
1. “Listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform” (v. 1). Listen often means more than using our auditory sense; it often implies obedience. Such may be the case here, too. But given the remaining instructions, I believe, Moses has in mind here simply hearing carefully with our ears. Before we can properly believe or obey we must properly understand God’s Word. That understanding begins with carefully listening to (and carefully reading) God’s Word so that we understand what He is telling us. We must disdain presuppositions and assumptions and just listen to the Word.
2. “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God” (v. 2). Faithfully fulfilling the previous command will enable us to fulfill this command. For many times we add to or take away from God’s Word, not so much due to overt rebellion as to misapprehension resulting from casual hearing or careless reading. But we must never forget that God has told us all we need to know “pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). And the Bible ends with a curse upon anyone disobeying this command (Rev. 22:18, 19).
3. Hold fast to the Lord your God (paraphrase) (v. 4). We do this by believing and obeying God’s Word. But what Moses reminds us here is that faith does not consist of following a system of moral principles—even those demanded by the Word—but of living in a vital relationship with the One who gave those principles. Mechanical adherence to principles will never please God: we must fellowship with Him.
4. “Statutes and judgments . . . keep and do them” (vv. 5, 6). The redundancy is purposeful: there is no substitute for diligent obedience to the Word of God. And if you will read John’s first epistle in the New Testament, you will discover that the truths set forth in Deuteronomy remain not only relevant, but essential for the New Testament church. Can you say that by God’s definition (the only one that counts), you are diligently keeping your soul, which entails teaching the next generations these truths (see v. 9)?
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