2.6.1 God is One, and there is Only One Lord Jesus
A Demand For Our All
That God is one is not just a numerical description. If there is only one God, He therefore demands our all. Because He is the One God, He demands all our worship; and because He is One, He therefore treats all His people the same, regardless, e.g., of their nationality (Rom. 3:30). All true worshippers of the one God, whether Jew or Gentile, are united in that the one God offers salvation to them on the same basis. The fact there is only one Lord Jesus implies the same for Him (Rom. 10:12). Paul saw these implications in the doctrine of the unity of God. But that doctrine needs reflecting on before we come to grasp these conclusions. Christ taught that the command that God was one and therefore we must love God included the second command: to love our neighbour as ourselves. The first and second commands were in fact one command; they were inseparably part of the first commandment (Mk. 12:29-31). This is why the 'two' commandments, to love God and neighbour, are spoken of in the singular in Lk. 10:27,28: " this do…" . If God is one, then our brother bears the one Name of God, and so to love God is to love our brother (cp. 1 Jn. 4:21). And because there is only one God, this demands all our spiritual energy. There is only one, the one God, who seeks glory for men and judges them (Jn. 8:50)- therefore the unity of God should mean we do not seek glory of men, neither do we judge our brother.
That God is one is a command, an imperative to action (Mk. 12:28,29). It underlies the whole law and prophets (Mt. 22:40)- it's that fundamental. If there were two Gods, Yahweh would only demand half our energies. Nothing can be given to anything else; for there is nothing else to give to. There's only one God. There can be no idolatry in our lives, because there is only one God (2 Kings 19:18,19). Because " there is none else, thou shalt keep therefore his statutes" (Dt. 4:39,40). The Hebrew text of Dt. 6:4 suggests: " The Lord is our God, the Lord is one" , thereby linking Yahweh's unity with His being our God, the sole Lord and unrivalled Master of His people. It also links the first principle of the unity of God with that of the covenant to Abraham; for " I will be their God" was one of the features of the covenant. The one God has only one people; not all religious systems can lead to the one Hope of Israel.
Dt. 6:4 is far more than a Sunday School text. Indeed God is one; but consider the context. Moses has set the people up to expect him to deliver them a long list of detailed commands; he has told them that God told him to declare unto them " all the commandments…that they may do them…ye shall observe to do therefore as the Lord your God hath commanded you…ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you…now these are the commandments…that ye might do them…hear therefore O Israel and observe to do it [singular]…" . Now we expect him to reel off a long list of commands. But Moses mirrors that last phrase with simply: " Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one" (Dt. 5:31-6:4). And in this context he gives no other commandments. " Observe to do it " is matched with " The Lord our God is one" . This is the quintessence of all the commands of God. And he goes straight on to say: " And these words…shall be in thine heart" and they were to talk of them to their children in the house and by the way, bind them upon their hands and on the posts of their homes. Some Jewish traditions, perhaps correctly, place the shema, " Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one" in their phylacteries. And this is indeed the context. It was the unity of God and the imperative from it to love Him with all the heart which is what was to be programmatic for their daily living. This is why it was Jewish practice to recite the shema several times a day, and also on their deathbed.
Dt. 6:1 RV reads: " Now this is the commandment [singular], the statutes and the judgments…the Lord our God is one" . And then they are told to write the statutes on their door posts etc. It would have been hard to literally write all 613 of them there. Yet the whole way of life for Israel was epitomized in the single command…that God is one. It was and is a command; not a mere statement. The Jewish zealots who died at Massada had as their battle cry " the Lord our God is one!" , and some time later Rabbi Akiba was flayed alive by the Romans, crying as the skin was stripped from his bones: " The Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might" (1). And there are many accounts from the Holocaust of similar things.
We do not have two masters; only one. Therefore, the more we grasp this, the more we will give ourselves solely to Him. And this leads on, in the thinking of Jesus, to having no anxious thought for tomorrow; for a life of total devotion to Him means that we need not worry about tomorrow (Mt. 6:24,25). If we seek first His Kingdom, then we will not be anxious for tomorrow (Mt. 6:33,34).
There is a religious impulse within all men, a desire to serve someone or something. Generally, men and women sink this in the worship of the many idols of this materialistic age. But for us, there is to be one God, one channel alone for our devotion; for God is one. When Israel rejected the fountain of Yahweh, they hewed out many other fountains, in the form of idols (Jer. 2:13). The urge to worship is there within all men and women. We are asked to concentrate and consecrate that passion solely for the one God- not to share it between the many things that demand it. Romans 1 goes so far as to condemn men because they worshipped the created things besides (Gk.) the creator. All their adoration should have gone to the one God Himself. And there will come a day when all the world realizes that God is one (Is. 37:20 Heb.)- in that they will realize that He alone is God and all else is pure vanity. Because God alone is holy, only He will be worshipped then (Rev. 15:4). " The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (Is. 2:11,17).
Our brethren have often and so rightly pointed out to us that we are just as much at risk from idolatry as were Israel. Our worlds, our lives and hearts, are full of potential idols. And what, in the most fundamental essence, is wrong with idolatry? It seems to me that idolatry trivializes this wonderful God of whom we have spoken. It makes the Almighty Jehovah of Israel into a piece of wood or stone, or into a smart career or new house. And so anything that reduces the majesty, the surprise, the passion, the vitality in our relationship with God is an idol. Time and again in our lives, God is edged out by petty distractions- a car that needs repair, a leaking gutter, a broken window. One could almost weep for the frequency and the way in which all this occurs, so tragically often.
Even under the Law, " Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger as for one of your own country: for I am Yahweh your God" (Lev. 24:22). The inclusiveness of Yahweh of His people, the nature of who His Name reveals Him to be, should of itself have led Israel to not discriminate against other races. Because Yahweh is who He is, therefore we must be like Him; His very existence and being demands it of us (Lev. 20:7 cp. 19:2, 10). If we really know the characteristics implicit in His Name, we will put our trust in Him (Ps. 9:10; 124:8). If we see / know God in the experiential sense, we will do no evil (3 Jn. 11). To have the true knowledge of Jesus Christ means we will not be barren [Gk. 'idle'] nor unfruitful (2 Pet. 1:8). When Zacharias wanted to have grounds for faith, he was simply told: " I am Gabriel..." , the man like God (Lk. 1:19). The declaration of God's Name in Ex. 34:6,7 doesn't include statements like 'Trust in God! He'll help you!'. Instead we read of the grace, mercy, justice and inevitable judgment of God. Knowing and experiencing these more abstract things will lead us to a practical faith in God. Because David remembered God's Name, therefore He kept His law (Ps. 119:55 RSV). This is why the Bible uses the idea of 'knowing' God in the sense of knowing Him by experience, not just 'knowing' the right theory. Likewise John uses 'the truth' in the sense of not just correct knowledge but the way of life it brings forth.
The unity of God is related to His sovereign power in our lives: " He is one [and therefore] what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth that which is appointed" (Job 23:13,14 RVmg.). The idea of truth is often linked with the fact there is only one God (Is. 45:5,6,14,18,21,22). This means that all He says is the total Truth; for there is no other God. Thus one God has given us only one faith, hope etc (Eph. 4:4-6). Other belief systems can't be acceptable with us. And it also follows that as James points out, faction amongst true believers is a lie against " the Truth" . If we deeply believe it, these factions we experience would not occur. It's as simple as that. Such was the crucial importance of the unity of God; and likewise it should influence our lives, hourly. It is thereby so so evident that those who do not believe in one God are far from God not only in their intellectual understanding but also in their living.
David had to remind himself: " My soul, wait thou only upon God [one-ly upon the one God]; for my expectation is from him [i.e. Him alone]" (Ps. 62:5). There is only one God, one source of help and power- and thus the oneness of God inspires our faith in Him. This motivated Asa to cry unto Yahweh in faith: " LORD, there is none beside thee to help…help us , O LORD…for we rely on thee, and in thy name" (2 Chron. 14:11 RV). Summing up, James 2:14-18 speaks of the connection between faith (believing) and works (doing). It is no co-incidence that 2:19 then says in this context: " Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well" (RV). To have faith in the unity of God will lead to works, 'doing well'.
God would not be inquired of by Israel, i.e. He would not answer their prayers, because they worshipped other gods, whereas God is one (Ez. 20:31). Prayer and wholeheartedly requesting things from the one God, relying on nothing and nobody else, is thus a form of worship of the one God. If we are truly believing in one God, then we shouldn’t feel awkward about asking Him for things- it’s a form of worshipping Him.
Paul, writing to those who thought they believed in the unity of God, had to remind them that this simple fact implies the need for unity amongst us His children, seeing He treats us all equally as a truly good Father: " If so be that God is one...he shall justify the circumcision by faith, and [likewise] the uncircumcision through faith" (Rom. 3:30 RV).
(1) See L. Finkelstein, Akiba: Scholar, Saint and Martyr (New York: Atheneum, 1975) p. 277.