Posts Tagged 'Ten Commandments'

Panic Podcast: Why We Need the Bible, Part 5

It’s Friday again! And what a week it has been. After the wettest spring I can remember we are in drought conditions now. We live in a world of extremes, don’t we? Our Bible study today reminds us of the importance of the Bible in society. Can you imagine what the last 3 or 4 months would have looked like if the our governing authorities and journalists had even a modicum of respect for and knowledge of the moral imperatives of Scripture?

Today, we are looking at the Ten Commandments. Remember those quaint things? Open up your Bibles, first to Exodus 20 and the to Deuteronomy 5. May the Lord bless you as we dive into His Word.

 

Biblical Justice

social-justice

Justice is a big deal to God. He spends a lot time in the Bible dealing with it. Oddly enough, most of us don’t think of God in terms of His justice. Forgiveness, compassion, mercy, holiness, and righteousness are all words we routinely use when we think about the wonder of our God. If we happen to hear about God being just, it’s almost always linked to His being faithful, as in, “God is faithful and just.” Rarely do we stop to think about God’s justice. Isaiah 58 is a chapter that deals with God’s idea of “justice.”

What God really wants

In the first few verses of Isaiah 58, we read about a group of seemingly impressive believers. Any pastor would love to have members who are as diligent and as serious about their church attendance as the folks being described. They never missed a service. They never showed up late. They always gave offerings. They always stayed awake during the sermon. Yes, these people took their worship seriously. And yet, something was amiss.

They come to the Temple every day and are so delighted to hear the reading of my laws—just as though they would obey them—just as though they don’t despise the commandments of their God! How anxious they are to worship correctly; oh, how they love the Temple services! (Isaiah 58:2 TLB)

These people were positively astonished to learn the truth: they had deluded themselves. They thought they knew what God wanted from them, but they were wrong.

“We have fasted before you,” they say. “Why aren’t you impressed? Why don’t you see our sacrifices? Why don’t you hear our prayers? We have done much penance, and you don’t even notice it!” (Isaiah 58:3 TLB)

In fact, God wasn’t impressed at all with His people. While they were worshipping Him they were taking advantage of their neighbors. They were treating each other with contempt. This selfish, narcissistic behavior was intolerable to God. Instead of their apparent fastidious worship and attention to the legalistic details of their religion, God wanted something else from them: Biblical justice.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6, 7 NIV)

God must have shocked His people with that statement! But they shouldn’t have been shocked because the Old Testament is full of verses that speak of God’s sense of justice and how important it is for His people to practice it. Verses like these:

Anyone who oppresses the poor is insulting God who made them. To help the poor is to honor God. (Proverbs 14:31 TLB)

When you help the poor you are lending to the Lord—and he pays wonderful interest on your loan! (Proverbs 19:17 TLB)

When God set His people free from their bondage in Egypt, the first thing He did was give them His Ten Commandments, a document upon which their new society was to be built. That document is all about Biblical justice, that is, all the commandments related in some way to how the Israelites treated each other. Even the commandments that dealt with their relationship to God ultimately impacted how they behaved toward their neighbors. This idea is carried on in the New Testament when Jesus taught things like this:

The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me! (Matthew 25:37 – 40 GNB)

It’s inescapable but true: a Christian cannot claim to love God without loving Biblical justice. That’s hard to do in our age because our modern idea of justice is not Biblical justice. Biblical justice has to do with a single Hebrew word: shalom. Tim Keller gives this illustration of what shalom means:

If I threw a thousand threads onto the table they wouldn’t be a fabric. They’d just be threads laying on top of each other. Threads become a fabric when each one has been woven over, under, around, and through every other one. The more interdependent they are, the more beautiful they are. The more interwoven they are, the stronger and warmer they are. God made the world with billions of entities, but He didn’t make them to be an aggregation. Rather, He made them to be in a beautiful, harmonious, knitted, webbed, interdependent relationship with each other.

That’s the essential meaning of shalom and Biblical justice: God’s people living, to the best of their ability, at peace with each other, helping each other out, and even treating strangers as though they were members of their own family. Does that seem a bit extreme to you? Read again Isaiah 58:7, and pay particular attention to the final few words of the verse:

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

The “wanderer” referred to is not necessarily a “homeless person,” as some modern translations suggest; he’s an alien – a stranger; a foreigner who is far from home. To this person, the Israelites were to open their homes and their hearts as though that alien were part of their very own “flesh and blood.” That’s the essence of Biblical justice.

Exodus 20:16

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (NIV)

This is the ninth of the Ten Commandments. Before we look a little deeper into this admonition, it’s important to remember what God was doing when He gave Moses His Ten Commandments to give to the people. God was not establishing a new religion, but a founding a new society. The religious aspects of this new society would come later, but for now, consider the Ten Commandments the “founding document” of Israel, much like the Constitution is the founding document of America.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how each Commandment given, even the ones dealing with how the individual was to relate to God, encouraged a peaceful, ordered, and ultimately free society.

The ninth Commandment forbade two things: lying in court and lying in general. But really, this Commandment is all about always being truthful. First, the courtroom interpretation. Scholars, both Jewish and Christian, are certain that this interpretation is not the main one; that being truthful in general is what God had in mind. However, being truthful under oath in court is essential if justice is to prevail. Under Jewish law, lying while under oath was considered such a heinous crime that if the perjurer was found out, his punishment would be equal to the punishment of the crime he lied about. In other words, if a witness in a murder trial told a lie and was found out, his punishment would be death. That’s how serious God views preserving justice in the courts.

But this Commandment is mainly about being truthful in general; in everyday life. There are many important values an individual and a society may hold, but truthfulness might very well be the most important. Compassion, goodness, and kindness are wonderful values you would want in a neighbor, for example, but are they the most important values you want your community at large to hold? Probably not. The most important value for a functioning, just society to cherish is being truthful. A society can survive many things but it cannot survive a contempt for the truth. Slavery, Nazi totalitarianism and communism are all evils based on lies, but there were slave owners, Nazis, and communists who were very compassionate in their personal lives; they loved their children and their flag. Yet all of them believed a lie and spread that lie in both word and deed. Slavery, for example, in the early years of America was generally accepted because many people believed the lie that black people were inferior to white people. In Nazi Germany during World War 2, the Holocaust was allowed to happen because so many Germans believed the lie that Jews were inferior to the so-called Arians. And communist totalitarianism is completely based on lies – that the state is superior in every way to the individual and that the state is the custodian of all truth, and is therefore never wrong. When objective truth is held is such low regard by the majority, there cannot be Biblical justice because Biblical justice is based on the objective truth of God’s Word.

In a society, only so much damage can be done by individuals bent on committing acts of evil. A sociopath with a knife can only kill for so long before he’s caught. A nihilistic-narcissist may make life miserable for a few people, but unless he’s the president, he can’t harm a whole country. But in order to, say, take advantage of or harm vast numbers of individuals, vast numbers of otherwise normal and decent individuals must believe a lie. In a society, large-scale evil is committed not because most of its citizens are evil, but because most of its citizens were lied to, thus believing the evil to be good.

Justice: The end justifies the means? NO!

Objective truth is essential if Biblical justice is to thrive. Without objective truth, even very good people might be tempted to lie – or tell non-truths as they say in politics – in order to advance their very good cause. A classic example of this occurs in the media all the time.  When a politician (who is usually conservative) goes under the microscope and a particularly nasty incident from his past is magically unearthed, it makes headlines for days.  When, after closer examination, that incident turns out to be a lie, that same media may print a retraction (though not as a headline, of course) yet won’t let go of the lie. They keep repeating it; it’s “the seriousness of the charge,” they say.  That politician’s character has been ruined.  It’s okay, though, because he’s a politician.

There are scores of other examples that could be cited, from bogus medical claims to bogus crime statistics, but the point is the same for all of them: lying on behalf of good and just causes is destructive. Lies hurt the reputation of all good and just causes and even good and just people. How many times have you heard, or maybe even said, “Used car salesmen are all crooked,” or in the case of politicians, “They’re all the same; they’re all liars.” Claims like that are all exaggerated, not accurate, but are the result of lies.

The Lord understood that the foundation of a just society must be truthfulness. When we are truthful, we will treat others, even strangers, the way we ought, the way God wants us to.  When we do this, we will be treating people justly, even as God does, and our society will be a (Biblically) just society.

 

The Key to a Healthy Society

cheating-spouse-signs

The sixth Commandment goes like this:

You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14 NIV)

That’s pretty simple, and there is no other way to interpret this commandment from God. The problem with this commandment is that more often than not, the people that break it think they are entitled to. It might well be the easiest of the Ten Commandment to justify breaking.

“But we love each other,” they say.

“He understands me,” she says.

And so it goes. In fact, this attitude toward sexual purity goes way, way back. Cicero, a Roman politician, had this to say about his culture’s sexual preferences:

If anyone thinks that youth should be forbidden affairs even with courtesans, he is extremely severe. That view is contrary not only to the license of the age, but also to the custom and concessions of our ancestors.

In spite of the prevailing attitude of Cicero’s day, the early Church grew and the teachings of Christianity spread like wildfire. One of the teachings and practices of Christianity was that of sexual purity, which was a transplanted bit of theology from Judaism. Jesus, a Jewish rabbi Himself, had this to day about it:

The laws of Moses said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say: Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27, 28 TLB)

Now that’s strict! And it goes downhill from there.

So if your eye—even if it is your best eye!—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. Better for part of you to be destroyed than for all of you to be cast into hell. And if your hand—even your right hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Better that than find yourself in hell. (Matthew 5:29, 30 TLB)

Talk about severe. Since most Christian men and husbands still have two eyes and two hands, there seems to be an understanding that our Lord, while seriously defending sexual purity, was exaggerating to get His point across. Or was He? Let’s delve into the meaning and reason for the sixth commandment and see how Jesus interpreted it and how it applies to our modern society.

Sexual purity=a healthy society

The sixth commandment, which prohibits have sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse, is the most difficult of the Ten Commandments for some people to observe. The reasons are many and diverse and obvious. I would wager that even those husbands and wives who have remained absolutely faithful to each other during their entire marriage have, at one time or another, thought seriously about having a fling or an affair. That temptation is hard to resist because the person you are not married to is always more attractive than the person you are married to. That attraction could be physical, but often it’s emotional or something else that captivates the attention and imagination. It’s very surprising what people find attractive in other people, and in the context of sexual purity, that attraction can sneak up on you and catch you off guard. As my wife is fond of reminding me, sin will always take you farther than you want to go. How true that is.

But one of the main causes of adultery is simple: the strong desire to love and be loved. When that most basic of human needs is not met within a marriage, one or both spouses will often find someone else to meet it. It takes a lot of effort to fight that temptation.

For Christians, adultery is not only wrong but it’s sinful. Even people who have never picked a Bible and have had no exposure to the Christian or Jewish faith instinctively know how bad cheating on your spouse is. But it hasn’t always been like this. At the time God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, adultery was common, especially in pagan Egypt, where sexual promiscuity inside and outside of marriage was the norm. As the Israelites marched on to the Promised Land, they would encounter other societies with similar lose attitudes toward marriage and commitment. It’s no wonder, then, this admonition was given.

Remember, the Ten Commandments was to be the “founding document” of a new society God was building. Like the other commandments, this one is indispensable to forming and maintaining a decent, ordered, higher society. Adultery threatens the existence of society unlike any other because it endangers the very building block of all societies: the family. And in spite of the fad of our day, a family by definition includes a married father, mother, and children. Throughout Scripture, not limited to the Ten Commandments, anything that threatens the well-being of the family unit is prohibited. Sticking to the Law, in addition to adultery, not honoring your parents threatens the family, as does the Scriptural prohibition against incest.

This raises a very good question: Why is the family so important to God? The answers should be obvious.

* Without stable, strong families, a stable, strong society is impossible.

* Without the family, the passing on of values from one generation to the next doesn’t take place.

* A wife and children make a husband more mature and responsible.

* A family meets a woman’s deepest emotional and material needs.

* Nothing can offer a child more security and stability like an intact family does.

Adultery threatens a family more than unemployment or sickness or economic stresses or anything else. Again, the reasons are simple. Sex with someone outside the marriage often leads to one or both parties walking out of the marriage. Cheating on ones spouse is a horrible betrayal of vows that cuts deep. Adultery doesn’t always break up a family, but it always harms it, even if the betrayed spouse is unaware.

The prohibition against adultery is absolute; there are no exceptions. Ever.

The New Testament spin

Over in Matthew 5, as part of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tackles the sixth commandment and proceeded to give it a higher interpretation. Let’s take a look at the context before we consider His view of adultery.

As Christians, we ought to thank God every day that we live under grace, not under the Law. However, that doesn’t get us off the hook for living righteous lives that please God. Throughout His teachings, Jesus stated emphatically that He requires a higher righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave six examples of what He wanted from His followers. In a sentence, Jesus wants a righteousness not based on rules and regulations, but rather a righteousness that flows from an inner attitude. This is a lot harder to achieve than it sounds. A serious Christian must guard not only his actions, but also his attitudes; not only his words, but also his thoughts. To keep the law of Christ is far more demanding that keeping the Law of Moses!

In re-stating the sixth Commandment, Jesus seems to take it even further than merely forbidding the act of adultery. Jesus was concerned with thought, too. But this wasn’t unique to Him. Jesus actually applied the final Commandment to the sixth, which forbade lust.

The wording of Jesus’ statement needs to be understood, otherwise it would be easy to get the impression that every Christian husband is an adulterer in his heart! The NIV states it like this:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28 NIV)

The way this is worded in the Greek helps us understand what Jesus is getting at. It seems almost unreasonable that a man could be considered an adulterer without actually committing the act; that a thought is the same thing as an act. In the Greek, the man who casts the lustful looks is already an adulterer to begin with. That particular sin is already “in his heart” and the fact that he looks lustfully is evidence of that. In essence, then, what Jesus is saying is, “Stop acting like an adulterer. Only an adulterer would look at another woman like that.” If your heart is pure, as your heart should be if you are a Christian, no lustful look should even be possible. The only lustful look husbands with pure hearts should have is the lustful look at his own wife.

But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:9 NIV)

We understand that what Jesus said of a man also applies to a woman.

The commandment against adultery in the Old Testament and Jesus’ admonition provide no way out. There is no exception given in either Testament. To drive that point home, Jesus said things like this:

So if your eye—even if it is your best eye!—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. Better for part of you to be destroyed than for all of you to be cast into hell. And if your hand—even your right hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Better that than find yourself in hell. (Matthew 5:29, 30 TLB)

What Jesus is doing in these verses is meeting excuses head on. If the man with a lustful eye wants to blame his sin on his eye, then he ought to just gouge it out. The seat of the sin is never the eye or the hand; it’s always the heart. Jesus just gave a principle a lot us miss. If we slip up and sin, we can’t blame anything or anybody but ourselves. So, if a man commits adultery, he has no right to blame his lover or his wife or his eye or short skirts. The fault lies with his heart.

 

On Loving Your Neighbor

neighbors-703772

Exodus 20:15, 17

A case could be made that if you do not love your neighbor, you cannot love God. In the New Testament, a lawyer asked Jesus a question. The answer is profound and far-reaching and encompasses every area of life.

“Sir, which is the most important command in the laws of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others.” (Matthew 22:36 – 40 TLB)

That sounds good. Everything Jesus taught sounds good, but how do we actually apply those words? Just what does it mean to “love your neighbor?” If you’re like me, you probably don’t even know your neighbor, beyond his name, and often your neighbor is a complete stranger. Is it possible to love somebody you don’t know? Or more to the point, is it possible to love somebody you don’t like? What if your neighbor is a jerk? The answer to those questions is found back in the Old Testament; it’s found in the Ten Commandments. Specifically, it’s found in Exodus 20:

You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15 NIV)

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17 NIV)

Loving your neighbor has nothing to do with how you feel about him. Loving your neighbor has everything to do with how you treat him.

Don’t steal, Exodus 20:15

This is the eighth commandment and it’s a unique commandment because the others all relate back to it. For example, if you murder somebody, you are stealing their life. Adultery is the stealing of another’s spouse. When you covet, you want to steal what somebody else has. Stealing justice occurs when you give false testimony.

This commandment is unique for another reason: It is completely open-ended. Other commandments are specific. For example, the commandment to “honor our parents,” is specific; nobody else is mentioned, only our parents. And only married people can commit adultery. When God says, “Don’t steal,” He means we can’t steal anything; we can’t take anything that belongs to another person. There is no qualifying statement given. The commandment is absolute.

This means three things.

We are not permitted to steal another human being. In other words, God absolutely forbids kidnapping. Related to this is stealing somebody else’s freedom and making them a slave. Critics of the Bible love to point out that the Bible, in both Testaments, condones slavery. This isn’t the case. What the Bible refers to often is something called “Indentured Servitude.” This refers to the selling of one’s self to another person for specific period of time in order to work off a debt. “Indentured servitude” has nothing to do with kidnapping free people and selling them into slavery. In fact, slavery of that kind is expressly forbidden by the eighth commandment.

The sanctity of personal property. It has been demonstrated time and time again that private property rights, beginning with owning land, is indispensable to building a free, orderly, and decent society. Totalitarian societies have no individual property rights; the state owns everything.

In medieval societies, a few wealthy landowners owned all the land and the rest of the people worked that land, not for their enrichment, but for the enrichment of the owners. In Europe of the 19th century, socialists argued for taking away private property and giving it to “the people.” Communism ensued, and so did widespread theft of property leading to theft of freedom and finally theft of life. Essential to freedom is the right to own private property. God understood that and that’s why the eighth commands expressly forbids stealing.

The eighth commandment also addresses the many “non-material” things people own. For example, a person’s reputation and dignity. Or things like their trust and their intellectual property.

You can steal a person’s reputation – their good name – through libel, slander, and gossip. This is particularly nefarious form of theft because unlike theft of money, once a person’s good name has been stolen, it can almost never be restored.

You rob a person of their dignity when you humiliate them. The worst kind of humiliation occurs when a person is humiliated in public, and humiliation can do permanent damage to a person’s self-esteem.

Stealing a person’s trust happens when you deceive them or when you trick them. A good example of this when a person is tricked into buying something, like a house, they can’t afford. Or when a used car salesman neglects to tell his prospect that the car he’s looking at needs some major mechanical work done.

People who, for example, illegally copy software or download movies and music without paying for them are stealing another person’s intellectual property.

So, you can see how far-reaching and all encompassing this eighth commandment really is. It applies to every single aspect of your life and the life of your neighbor. Think about that next time you’re tempted to gossip just a little or when you try to sell your old jalopy.

Do not covet, Exodus 20:17

The final four commandments all address how people treat other people. People can’t murder other people. People can’t cheat on their spouses. Stealing anything is forbidden. Lying, or perjury, is a no-no. The final commandment, number 10, forbids all the above. Coveting anything that does not belong to you is absolutely forbidden.

There is something quite unique about this commandment which ties it to Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament. Commandment number ten, unlike the other nine which legislate behavior, legislates thought. Here’s how Jesus worded it:

The laws of Moses said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say: Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27 TLB)

Jesus is talking about coveting, and so is the tenth commandment. This is significant because of the over 600 laws throughout the Torah, the tenth commandment is the only law that legislates how believers are to think. The reason may not be readily apparent, but coveting – a thought – often leads to acts of evil. Coveting leads a person to breaking the preceding four commandments. This was something Jesus well understood but the Pharisees and teachers of the law apparently forgot.

Why do people murder, commit adultery, steal, and lie? All of those sins begin as a thought; they begin when a person begins to covet something or someone he doesn’t have. Coveting is such a serious sin, it is the only thought in the entire Bible that is prohibited; in the Old Testament under the Ten Commandments and in the teachings of Jesus in the New.

To “covet” is more than just “wanting” or “desiring.” The Hebrew verb in behind our English word, “covet,” is a strong one. It means “to want to the point of seeking to take away and own something that belongs to another person.” In other words, coveting something involves scheming a way to obtain something you want through illegal or immoral means. It is far more than envying or lusting, two things that are problematic in their own right but are not prohibited in the Ten Commandments, although they are issues Jesus deals with in His teaching. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, our Lord on several occasions framed His teachings like this: “The Law of Moses says this, but I say something more.” In other words, Jesus takes the Law as only a “starting point” for righteous behavior. A true, devoted follower of God will go beyond what the Law requires. Jesus understood that things like envying and lust, though not dealt with specifically in the Law, are self-destructive behavior that almost always lead to coveting. But it is coveting, not envying or lust, that ends in murder, stealing, lying and adultery.

It is not sinful to look at your neighbor’s house or car and want a house or a car like his. In fact, that kind “envying” can lead to very productive behavior. You’ll work harder and save your money so you can better your situation and maybe own a home or car like your neighbor has. That’s not necessarily wrong (although it can be) and that’s not coveting. The tenth commandment doesn’t prohibit noticing what your neighbor has or even discouraging you from wanting what he has. What it does prohibit is finding an illegal and immoral way to get HIS.

The Ten Commandments as they were originally given represented God’s law for an orderly, free, and decent society. The religious laws would come later. In an orderly, free, and decent society, the Ten Commandments always work, they never fail. And the tenth commandment tells us that we are not allowed to covet what belongs to our neighbor; that we must consider his private property as sacrosanct.

When Jesus spoke about loving your neighbor, He didn’t have in mind you serenading him with love songs and sending him roses all the time. Respecting his person and his property go a long way in expressing the kind of love Jesus has in mind.


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