The Ten– Why They Matter
On Wednesday evenings, here at the building we have been drinking coffee and talking about the book of Hebrews. Over the last three weeks we have been camped out in the 11th chapter. So many of us grew up referring to this chapter as the Faith Hall of Fame and I was taught growing up that if we were going to be faithful then we needed to emulate the folks found in the chapter. At first glance that sounds like great counsel; Abraham who was the Father of Faith, Moses who left the comforts of the Pharaoh’s palace to lead the Israelites through the wilderness, and David who was a man after God’s own heart.
Growing up in the church I was taught what it meant to seek out God. Elders, Deacons, Preachers, and Bible School teachers used the folks found in Hebrews 11 to teach that if you want to be pleasing to God then you need to find God’s will for your life and follow it perfectly. The problem I ran into was the more I studied these men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11, the more I realized that they didn't follow God’s will perfectly. Noah was a drunk, Abraham lied about Sarah twice, Moses had an anger problem, David cheated with his good friends wife and then had him killed, Rahab was a lying prostitute, Gideon set up a gold idol and the people worshiped it. When you dig deeper into the lives of these men and women that are held up as faithful, you begin to see a problem.
While we lean on the perfect way that we kept God’s Law we tend to focus on the wrong things. We boast in the fact that we have not murdered anyone, or committed adultery, or that we got Baptism right, or the proper order of worship. But deep down we know that we can’t keep the law perfectly.
Our struggle is compounded when we come across passages like James 2:8-11: If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
My greatest struggle in this journey I am on, is that I have spent so much time searching for God through trying to keep the rules that I missed the chance to form a relationship with Him. I have noticed that God uses the rules to bring me closer to Him so that we can have the relationship He desires.
In the introduction to her book, The Ten Commandments, Dr. Laura Schlessinger writes; Each day we make many, seemingly minute decisions about things that don't really seem earth shattering. So what if we broke a promise? So what if we find passion in another bed while we or they are still married? So what if we are too focused on work, TV, or clubs to spend time with our family? So what if religion is not a big deal in our lives? When one adds up all the so-what’s, one ends up with a life without direction, meaning, purpose, value, integrity, or long-range joy.
She is spot on. I doubt that you can find another passage in the Bible that so concisely, clearly and compassionately outlines the grace of God and our response to that grace than the Ten Commandments. If you have a Bible with you this morning, or a tablet or phone, I want you to turn with me to Exodus 20 and let’s read verses 1-17 to see the relationship God is inviting us to. (Read Text).
These is so much power found in the the Ten Commandments that we over look because we get fixated on the Thou Shall’s and the Thou Shalt Not’s. Any document that has lasted as long and has exerted as much influence on humanity as this one must have something going for it.
First, we need to know that they are rooted in a relationship.
These are not arbitrary laws that require blind obedience to an invisible authoritarian. Exodus 19:5 says, If you keep my covenant. A covenant is a sacred promise between two parties. You can have a contract without having a relationship. But you can't have a covenant without one. Think about the Ten Commandments less like a set of laws and more like wedding vows.
God pledges His power, love, and presence to Israel. In turn, God expects Israel's loyalty to himself and compassion toward others. God didn't jot down the Ten Commandments then answer Israel's question, Why should we do this? by saying Because I told you so. There are times God tells His people to obey because, I am the Lord. But even then His commands are predicated on this relationship. I think it’s pretty cool that God is as bound to the Ten Commandments as we are.
That's why the Ten Commandments won’t work with people who don't have a relationship with God. Why should a person avoid stealing if he or she doesn't acknowledge the God who said, Thou shalt not steal? Why should a person honor their marriage commitments if they haven't already made a commitment to the God who said, Thou shalt not commit adultery?
The power of the Ten Commandments is not found in the fact that they are laws, but in that they are descriptions of how people live in relationship with God. At first glance these are law, but as you dig deeper you realize they are more than that, they are words that describe a relationship.
Next, The Ten Commandments outline the human response to the grace of God.
Exodus 19:1-2 uses the word after twice. So that should lead you to ask, after what? That’s verse 4, After I carried you on eagle's wings and brought you to myself. God continues this idea in Exodus 20:2. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Before God ever commands them to do anything or to refrain from doing anything, He saves them. Moses doesn’t show up in Egypt with two stone tablets and say, If you guys will agree to obey all these commands, God will deliver you from Egyptian slavery. He showed up and said, God has heard your cry and has sent me to deliver you. Then, and only then, did God outline the response Israel was to make.
God includes the outline in Exodus 19:4-5. First He says, You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle's wings and brought you to myself. He follows that with, Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Deliverance first. Commandment second.
For a moment I want you to fast forward to what happens 40 days after they received the commands. Moses has gone back on the mountain and the folks get nervous. They decide to violate at least the first two commands by making a golden calf and having a party. If God was strictly interested in justice, He would have wiped them off the face of the earth and gone in another direction. But that’s not what He does. Instead, He forgives them and reissued the commands. That's a show of Old Testament grace.
When I mentioned that I wanted to spend an extended amount of time looking at the Ten Commandments I had a friend tell me that it was a waste of time since the law was nailed to the cross. He was quick to remind me that we are saved by grace, not law. So he wondered out loud why I would spending all this time talking about the ultimate example of law?
I guess my answer to him and to you is that even Paul writes to the Christians in Rome that the law is good. While the law doesn't save us; it does describe how saved people respond to the grace that saved them.
Then, The Ten Commandments move faith from the abstract to the actual by specifying behavior.
If you were to do an impromptu survey and ask people, Do you believe in God? I bet the numbers would surprise you. A huge percentage would say; yes, absolutely, I believe in God. But then if you examined their lives you'd find that what they profess to believe and how they live show very little correspondence. For example, I can tell Trista, I love you. But if I never come home or treat her with respect and act out that love in specific, concrete behavior, my words are empty.
Faith, like love, is too easily kept in the realm of theory. Remember that faith is a verb, it demands action. The Ten Commands don't allow us to claim belief in God without demonstrating that belief in concrete actions and behaviors. They require us to affirm our faith in the daily grind of living.
So instead of, "Do you believe in God?" the Ten Commandments ask us ten questions,
Do you honor anything or anyone above the one true God?
Has God been replaced by something physical or material in your life?
Have you dishonored God's name by using it in a frivolous manner?
Is your work more important than your relationship with God?
Do you honor your father and mother?
Do you value human life?
Have you kept your marriage vows?
Do you respect other's rights of ownership?
Do you tell the truth?
Are you content with what you have or do you covet the possessions, relationships and successes of others?
By giving us the Ten Commandments we are given the chance to move from the abstract of what we claim, and into the concrete of how we actually live our lives. You see our answers to those specific questions about behavior and morality demonstrate the truth about our beliefs.
Next, They require personal responsibility for the well being of the community.
One of the great things about our culture, is our ability to separate ourselves from everyone and everything else. The Ten Commandments force you to take responsibility for the community where God has placed you. I hope you noticed that the you in everyone of these commands is singular.
One of the reasons, maybe one of the top three reasons, our country is in such a moral mess right now, can be summed up in the words; It's not my problem. Really, it doesn't make a big impact on my life if someone in Houston covets his neighbor's way of life. If someone in Denver lies about a real estate investment, big deal. If there is a murder in Michigan, that's too bad. What's the weather going to do tomorrow? Those sins don't affect me; it’s not my problem. The problem is, though, that most everybody feels that way. And sooner or later you are going to be lied to, or robbed, or see your marriage go up in smoke.
When God came down to the mountain, He did not address the crowd, He addressed each and every individual. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me.
You, standing there by that rock, and you over by that cedar tree, and you in the red turban who is thinking how glad he is all these other people are hearing all these commands. I'm talking to you! There is a connection between personal responsibility and the welfare of the community. The Ten Commandments shout at the top of God's voice, it is your problem!
Every lie you tell or tolerate, every covetous thought you allow to live longer than a flash, every secret lust, every act of dishonesty, all of them matter. And the only way you are going see your community healed is if you take personal responsibility to make it a holier, healthier community by beginning with yourself.
Finally, They illustrate the connection between our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with each other.
The first four commands describe our relationship with God. The last 6 or 7 describe our relationships with each other.
In Mark 12 Jesus was asked which of these commandments was the most important; which one carried the most weight. His answer was, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And He not only answered the question asked, He also answered the question that was implied: The second is this; Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. What Jesus did was summarize the Ten Commandments by saying Love God and Love your neighbor.
Jesus filtered the Ten Commandments to just two, but our culture wants to filtered Jesus' summation of the Ten Commandments from two down to one. As long as people love each other we're happy. You can keep God, thanks. All you need is love. The problem is we can’t get everyone to love each other. You see God is love. You get rid of God, you lose the ability to love.
What sounds like a thoroughly New Testament teaching had its origin in the Ten Commandments You can't have a healthy, holy relationship with humans without having a healthy, holy relationship with God. This is so important to us because we were created to live in and thrive in relationships, and God established His laws not to keep us in line, but to invite us into a relationship with Him.
What relationship do you have with God today? Is it a cold distant relationship where you wonder if He’s there and if He even cares? The Ten Commandments say to us this morning that not only is God there, He cares deeply for you. His greatest desire is for us, the creation, to have a relationship to Him, the creator.