Loving the Lord with our Minds

This is my sermon manuscript for the March men’s breakfast at Word of Life Baptist Church. I have edited it a bit to better fit this online format. For example, before giving this sermon, I gave a twelve question “pop-quiz” that had a few basic Bible and theology-type questions within it: How many books are in the Old Testament? How many books are in the New Testament? What’s the orthodox view of the Trinity? What is sin? Stuff like that. I did this is make the point that, while we might all agree that biblical and theological knowledge is important, it’s often the case that we know less that we might think. Myself included. This quiz is not included in this blog nor are the discussion questions we worked through afterwards.

“Loving the Lord with our Minds” 2.29.2020

When it comes to being a disciple of Jesus, there are four areas in our lives that need to be tended to.

Nobody is perfect. This comes after salvation; it is not a requirement for it. And we will always be imbalanced within this as God gifts us all with unique gifts. But as Jesus puts it in Mark 12:30, we are to love the Lord with “…all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength.”

And surely what Jesus was doing here was simply making a point that a person needs to follow him completely and with his very being. But church tradition and the wider corpus of scripture has taught us that each of these four components might represent an aspect of how we should follow Christ in different ways. And at least for me, this distinction has been something that’s proved very beneficial.

That is, we love the Lord with our hearts by rightly aligning our passions and desires to match God’s. Are our convictions His convictions. Does our heart beat for what God has willed for us? And in some sense, this one’s really the source of the other three. You can’t really do the rest truthfully without the heart piece.

But again, church tradition states that we love the Lord with our souls by learning to worship him sincerely and passionately. Does our soul sing for our salvation? Do we feel at home honoring God through music, prayerful expression, meditation, fasting, or other spiritual disciplines?  We love the Lord with our minds by learning about his creation and what he’s revealed to us in scripture. Do we use our brains for God’s glory? Do we enjoy studying the Bible, or reading about theology and Church history? And lastly, we love the Lord with our strength by serving him well through our actions. Do we use our hands and feet for his purposes?

But if I was to just make a stereotypical assumption, the average male believer is both really good and really comfortable at two of those four ways to love the Lord.

Typically, guys are great at loving God with their hearts. We can make sure that our passions align with the Lord’s and that our commitment to Him is firm. We are also usually pretty good at loving him with our strength, right? When a church member has a need in some physical way, guys are usually the first ones to act. We can build handicap ramps, charge batteries, and change tires. And while those two are the most common, I think it’s also not uncommon for males to also excel at loving the Lord with their soul. Some of us feel very comfortable singing to God in worship or praying to him deeply and desperately.

However, and if I am going to continue to be stereotypical, it’s that fourth category which is often the one most overlooked and underdeveloped.

And that’s why I wanted us to start with such a silly quiz at the beginning. When it comes to following the Lord, it’s really common to put a lot of weight on loving him with our heart, strength, and soul.

But it is easy to forget about loving him with our minds. The problem is, feeding our mind is so important.

Because, what we know shapes how we act and behave, and how we act and behave is to be a direct representation of the God we serve. And as men, we are meant to be leaders within our homes. But what happens when we are unable to answer the theological questions that our families might bring up? Or what happens when a co-worker asks us a question about scripture, and we fumble the answer and end up severely misrepresenting the God we serve?

Feeding our mind is important.

Judges 11 and Jephthah’s Tragedy

I want to give an example of this from scripture.

If you’ve got a Bible with you, go ahead and turn to Judges chapter 11 or the story of Jephthah. And we’re not going to read his chapter in its entirety. Instead, I’m going to summarize it and we will then go back to read some key moments.

Jephthah was a judge. Specifically, he was a military leader that God raised up by giving him his Spirit to defeat the Ammonite armies and to deliver Israel from idolatry. And although he’s kind of a lesser known character today, Jephthah appears in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11:32. He was praised by the author of that New Testament book as being one filled with faith. His story is an important story to know.

And, in sum, it goes something like this:

Jephthah was a mighty warrior, but he didn’t have the best family life. His father was a Gileadite, but his mother was a prostitute. And this mixed heritage was the cause of him being run out of town at a young age.

However, while he was gone, the Ammonite nation rose up and began oppressing Israel. And when this happened, the elders of Israel remembered Jephthah. They had also heard about his leadership skills within a gang of men at Tob, so they send for him and asked him to lead their armies against the Ammonites. After some hemming and hawing, Jephthah agrees.

The judge first goes out to simply meet the Ammonite king. He attempts to persuade him diplomatically.

But after that fails, he immediately takes action. Jephthah, trusting that what he’s been called to do is God’s will, marches his troops out and conquered 20 Ammonite cities. As 11:33 puts it, he struck them with “a great blow.” And ultimately, the judge was successful in saving Israel from their foreign oppressors.

So, if we were to map where Jephthah might fall on our “loving the Lord” paradigm, we would see that this judge has really got the heart down pat.

Even though he was run out of town, he still was committed to God’s will and passionate for his people Israel. He also had strength too. He led armies. And, if we were to read a bit more, we’d see that Jephthah also had soul. He was very much willing to worship God through sacrifice and prayer. But and you probably know where I’m going with this: it was the mind that got Jephthah in trouble.

Read: Judges 11:29-36

Right after trying reason with the Ammonite king, but before marching off to war, Jephthah made a vow. He made a deal with the Lord.

He desperately wanted to win this battle. So, if God were to allow him this victory, he would make sure to sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house as a burnt offering. If God would do this for him, he would do that for God.

And he probably meant this to mean some sort of animal. Ancient Israelites didn’t really have barns but would instead keep their sheep and goats in the first level of their homes so bandits couldn’t easily steal them away at night. When you opened your front door, sometimes these animals would escape.

However, when he arrives back from war, the first thing out of his front door was his young daughter running, dancing with tambourines, happy to see that her dad was home safe.

And, admittedly, the text is kind of ambiguous on whether or not the judge went through with this murder or not. I’m of the opinion that he did. There’s a custom mentioned in 11:40 that talks about a corporate lament. After this act, all the daughter of Israel felt compelled to remember this event. And at a grammar level, the text seems to imply that he did go through with it too.[1]

Jephthah killed his daughter. 

But the sad part is, it didn’t have to be this way. He didn’t have to go through with the vow.

First of all, God already clothed him in his Spirit and promised to free the Israelites from the Ammonites. Jephthah didn’t really have any business asking for another assurance on top of that. It wasn’t necessary. In fact, it was a theological mistake to treat God like any other pagan god who grants wishes based on good behavior. That is not how YHWH works. And secondly, if he knew his scripture like all Israelite leaders were meant to, he’d know that Leviticus 5:4-6 explains that vows and oaths taken rashly could be backed out of. Instead of sacrificing his daughter, he could have simply taken another animal and offered it as burn offering instead.

But he didn’t.

Jephthah had the heart and strength parts of following God down pat. He even had a bit of the soul going on as he was more than willing to worship the Lord through religious practices like sacrifice. But it was the mind that ultimately got him in trouble.

By not loving the Lord with his mind, Jephthah led his family right into tragedy.

Conclusion

Feeding our minds is so important.

Because, what we know shapes how we act and behave, and how we act and behave is to be a direct representation of the God we serve. And as men, we are meant to be leaders within our homes. But what happens when we are faced with theological dilemma or tough biblical questions? Will we lead our families well?

I’d like us to end using whatever time we’ve got left to work through our discussion questions at our tables. But I would be remised if I didn’t bring up any sort of application here up front.

How might we begin to feed our minds if we aren’t already? How can we be good examples and spiritual leaders for our family on this particular front?

You don’t have to be a scholar! You don’t have to have a big vocabulary, know biblical languages, or anything crazy like that. In fact, you could start to feed your mind by simply starting to take notes during sermons. You could make it a priority to attend our Wednesday evening discipleship tracks. You could read books like “Pray Big.”[2] You could download and listen to podcasts that talk theology or Bible when you’re working out or heading to our jobs. There’s an endless amount of low impact stuff we could do towards this end.  

Again, we don’t have to be perfect.

And feeding your mind alone cannot bring you salvation. Even the demons know theological concepts like God’s oneness as James 2:19 put its. It’s only putting your faith in trust the One who shed His blood for you that saves you. Nothing we do could earn that. 

But, if we want to be a balanced disciple of Jesus, we should attempt to tend to all four of these areas in our lives: heart, soul, strength and mind.

As men, let’s lead our families well. Let’s love the Lord with our minds.


[1] Jephthah appears late in the Judge-cycle. In some ways, each judge within the book gets worse and worse. Because of that alone, it would make sense for the biblical author to portray Jephthah as a Torah-breaker. But some do find it troubling that one of God’s judges committed an “abominable” sin (Deuteronomy 12:31) especially as he’s one mentioned in the Hebrews “hall of faith.” He was allowed to judge Israel for 6 more years after the sacrifice without the opposition one might expect from someone willing to practice child sacrifice. And the text is truly ambiguous on this matter. Did he sacrifice his daughter to the Lord as a burnt offering, killing her? Or did he devote her to life-long service in the tabernacle and that was why she “mourned her virginity” and “never knew a man?” Nevertheless, I do think that it is the best reading of Judges 11 to understand this as an example of child sacrifice. The Hebrew word for “burnt offering” is only ever used in the Old Testament to mean a blood offering; it is never used for dedication. Why also would Jephthah respond with grief when his daughter greets him? And why would there be a corporate festival of remembrance for the judge’s daughter if she was still living?

[2] This was a book that our church read together in the month of January. It corresponded to a corporate fast we participated in. See: https://www.amazon.com/Pray-Big-Learn-Like-Apostle/dp/1784983365/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3MRMGOCTCIHGR&keywords=pray+big+alistair+begg&qid=1583005837&sprefix=Pray+Big+Ali%2Caps%2C226&sr=8-2

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