dianoigo blog
Showing posts with label Ten Commandments. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ten Commandments. Show all posts

Wednesday 16 May 2012

The Ten Commandments Test

In the previous ten articles we took stock of each of the Ten Commandments. With help from the rest of Scripture, we reached some surprising conclusions about what these commandments are really saying. Now it’s time to take the Ten Commandments test: have you kept the Ten Commandments? Note that if you have broken even one of the Ten Commandments on one occasion, you fail the test. As it is written in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”

Tuesday 8 May 2012

You shall not covet

The last of the Ten Commandments reads, in Exodus 20:17, like this: “You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour's.”

Saturday 28 April 2012

You shall not bear false witness

The Ninth Commandment reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). This commandment is often paraphrased simply as, “You shall not lie.” This is not strictly accurate, as it refers to lying in a legal setting (often called perjury) rather than general cases of lying. This doesn’t mean lying isn’t a serious sin in God’s eyes; we shall see that it is. However, the Ten Commandments were part of a human legal system, and (like modern criminal codes) set down perjury as a crime because this kind of lie has particularly serious consequences.

Monday 23 April 2012

You shall not steal

I would venture that there are few, if any people in the world who reach adulthood without experiencing theft of their personal possessions. Burglary, smash and grab, pick-pocketing, fraud, and many other strategies are used to take what belongs to someone else. We all feel violated and outraged when we are victimized by any of these crimes. Beyond the pain of losing money or valuables, we react sharply to the feeling of injustice.

However, if we are honest with ourselves, we will probably have to admit that we have also been guilty of the Eighth Commandment, which reads simply, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). We may not have committed any of the crimes listed above, but there are many forms of theft that are more subtle and passive.
For example, you might borrow something (such as a book or a CD) from a friend and never get around to returning it. You may damage someone else’s property and cover it up rather than offering to fix or replace it. In the digital age, millions have openly stolen from the comfort of their own homes via piracy of movies, music and software.

So perhaps we are a bit hypocritical when we become so outraged about stealing. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "You preach, "Do not steal"---but do you yourself steal?" (Romans 2:21b)

The Bible names and prohibits many different types of theft, most of which are still prevalent today in some form. Leviticus 6:1-5 describes theft through deceit (such as failing to return a deposit, or failing to return a lost-and-found item). Indeed, the close relationship between theft and deceit is apparent throughout Scripture (Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 11:1). Modern crimes that combine deceit and theft include fraud, ‘phishing,’ and identity theft.

Normally the penalty for theft, as for destruction of another person’s property, was to restore the value and then some (an additional 20% in Leviticus 6:1-5, or up to five times as much for outright stealing in Exodus 22:1-4). If, however, it was a human being who was stolen (kidnapping or human trafficking), the penalty was death (Deuteronomy 24:7).

There are certain forms of theft which are usually perpetrated by the rich toward the poor, which could be generally described as oppression or exploitation. These include withholding of a worker’s wages (Leviticus 19:13), charging interest on loans to the poor (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19), and false balances or scales (Leviticus19:35-37; Deuteronomy 25:13-16). In the ancient world, balances were the standard by which goods and currencies were weighed in business transactions. A dishonest businessman could rig his balances in order to cheat his customers, thereby stealing from them. Since businessmen tended to be people of privilege, this sin too was associated with oppression of the poor by the rich (Amos 8:4-6).

Another class of theft could be generally described as abuse of power or corruption. In particular, people who hold positions of influence (such as politicians and judges) are prone to bribery (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:9; Micah 7:3). God also warns against using threats to exact money from someone else (under which fall robbery, blackmail and extortion) (Ezekiel 22:12; Luke 3:14).

Another form of theft which remains relevant in today’s society is tax evasion. Jesus commanded disciples to pay taxes to the authorities of the day (Matthew 17:24-27; 22:17-21), which was echoed by Paul (Romans 13:6-7). Obedience to God requires compliance with tax laws regardless of how the government may use (or misuse) tax revenues.

How many of us have returned everything we have ever borrowed? Paid every cent of tax that we owed? Refrained from paying or receiving a bribe when it would save us a lot of time and money? How many have never taken something that didn’t belong to us? Have never tricked another person out of their money or goods? Have never illegally downloaded a movie, song or software package? Have never scratched a rental car and returned it without informing the company, hoping they wouldn’t notice (okay, maybe it’s just me who’s done that). We may be outraged at someone who breaks into a house to steal, but are we not guilty of the same sin in some measure?

Let there be no doubt that God takes all forms of theft seriously. Jesus listed theft among the basic forms of sin (Matthew 15:19) and endorsed the Eighth Commandment as still binding (Matthew 19:18). Paul listed theft among the sins that exclude one from the kingdom of God, apart from the cleansing that comes through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

It is probably time for all of us to pause and offer a heartfelt prayer of confession and ask God’s forgiveness. Having confidence that our sins are now forgiven on account of Jesus Christ, how do we go about “Bearing fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8)? Paul’s advice for the reformed thief was this: “If you used to rob, you must stop robbing and start working, in order to earn an honest living for yourself and to be able to help the poor” (Ephesians 4:28).

Friday 13 April 2012

You shall not commit adultery

The Seventh of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). The Commandment does not define or qualify what adultery is; nor does it prescribe a penalty for the offence. Elsewhere within the Law of Moses, however, we find both a definition for adultery and the penalty:

“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10)

In the Book of Deuteronomy the definition of adultery is extended to include sexual intercourse between a man and another man’s fiancée (Deuteronomy 22:22-24), which was likewise a capital offence.

Some have claimed that the term ‘adultery’ in the Seventh Commandment refers collectively to all forms of sexual sin. However, this is not strictly correct. The Hebrew word na’aph used here refers to the breaking of wedlock by having sexual intercourse with the wife or fiancée of another man. The law did not even explicitly cover the case where a married man cheats on his wife with an unmarried woman.

This is by no means to say that other forms of sexual behaviour were permitted under the Law of Moses. Leviticus 18 and 20 prohibit a number of other types of sexual act, including homosexual sex, bestiality, various forms of incest, and sexual intercourse with a menstrual woman. All of these were punishable by death except the last (which was punishable by exile).

Premarital sex is dealt with elsewhere in the Law of Moses. Exodus 22:16-17 states that if a man seduced a virgin who was not engaged, he had to pay the bride-price for the woman and marry her. If her father refused to let him marry her, he had to pay the bride-price anyway. Deuteronomy 22:13-21 further prescribes capital punishment for a woman who was not a virgin at the time of marriage if her husband chose to formally complain.

The Law of Moses had strict and detailed statutes regarding sexual behaviour; however the Seventh Commandment concerned only one specific aspect, namely sexual intercourse of an engaged or married woman with someone other than her husband/fiancé.

Having clarified the meaning of the commandment, we must ask how to apply it today. As with previous commandments, the key is to be found in the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish religious leaders had established loopholes that were not fair to women. A man could divorce his wife for any reason (Matthew 19:3) and take another wife. The bonds of marriage could be easily broken and reformed to prevent adultery from occurring by the letter of the Law.

Jesus’ teachings brought out the spirit of the adultery law:
“27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 31 "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:27-28,31-32)
As we saw with the commandment against murder, one need not commit the physical act in order to bear the full guilt of the offence. The desire to commit the act is enough. Furthermore, to divorce a faithful wife in order to take another, or to marry another man’s wife who had been so discarded, is adultery in Jesus’ eyes. There are no loopholes with Jesus; he sees straight to the heart of the matter.

Jesus also made it clear that there was no double standard between men and women. For a man to sleep with a woman other than his wife was just as much adultery as it was for a woman to sleep with a man other than her husband (Mark 10:11-12). Both husband and wife are to honour the sanctity of marriage (Hebrews 13:4).

Jesus’ judgment of a situation where a woman was caught in adultery showed his mercy and wisdom (John 8:3-11). He had mercy on the woman, preventing her from being stoned to death although this was the punishment called for under the law. He saved her from being another victim of the gendered double standard: she had been “caught in the act of adultery” (John 8:4), which means a male must also have been present; yet no male had been apprehended.

Jesus’ mercy on this woman showed that there is hope for those who get involved in sexual sin such as adultery. However, it is still a very serious sin. We in the Western world have forgotten how serious it is, because it is no longer a crime in most Western countries (unlike “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness”). Yet adultery can irreparably damage relationships and destroy families.

“Do not be deceived,” wrote the Apostle Paul, before mentioning “adulterers” among the unrighteous who, apart from the cleansing that God offers through Jesus Christ, cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9).

Friday 10 February 2012

Thou shalt not kill

This Sixth Commandment is perhaps more famous in its King James Version verbiage than the modern versions which usually translate “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Whatever dialect you say it in, this commandment stands out starkly from those that come before it. It is short and to the point. One could say it is unmistakably clear, but in fact its scope has been hotly debated.

Some have interpreted “Thou shalt not kill” in absolute terms, using the commandment as a proof text to oppose capital punishment, or even killing animals for food. However, such uses of this verse ignore the wider context in which it was written. The Law of Moses mandated capital punishment as well as the killing of animals for sacrifices and food. There is no way that the law would blatantly contradict itself in this way. Thus, without wading too far into the debate on these social issues, we can conclude that the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” does refer to the murder of a fellow human being in a civil context.

The vast majority of us live out our earthly lives without ever murdering a fellow human being. Does this make us innocent of the Sixth Commandment? It does not. Just as we saw in our studies of the Second Commandment, one need not create a physical idol in order to commit idolatry. In the same way, the commandment against murder reaches past the physical act into the thoughts of hatred, greed, envy and malice that can lead to murder.

Jesus said as much in a part of his Sermon on the Mount known to theologians as the Antitheses:
“21 You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
John made much the same point in his first epistle:
“12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:12-15)

Cain was the first murderer in the history of the world. He murdered his brother Abel out of anger because Abel’s sacrifice was more pleasing to the Lord (Genesis 4:1-8). According to Jesus and John, we can follow in Cain’s footsteps without even physically harming anyone. If we allow ourselves to be ruled by hatred, anger, insults and arrogance, we are no better than murderers. These are the same negative attitudes that spawn murder (Mark 7:20-21).

In fact, the fear of punishment is likely what keeps a lot of hateful, angry, arrogant people from committing murder. Given the opportunity to commit murder and get away with it, a person ruled by these emotions is likely to seize the chance. But God can read our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10), and in his eyes, the desire to commit sin is as bad as the sin itself. God wants his people to do good and refrain from evil, not out of fear of punishment, but out of love (1 John 4:18). This is why Paul writes that the second half of the Ten Commandments can be aptly summed up by the single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Romans 13:9).

Friday 3 February 2012

Honour your father and your mother

After a lengthy hiatus, we are continuing our series analyzing the Ten Commandments and their relevance to us as people living in the fast-paced digital world of 2012. The Fifth Commandment reads as follows:

"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

This commandment is a transition of sorts, since the first four commandments concerns worship and “vertical” relationship with God, while the final five commandments concern “horizontal” dealings with fellow humans. This Fifth Commandment, in a sense, is both vertical and horizontal: it concerns dealings with parents, who are fellow humans and yet are in a position of authority over us. God also relates to us as a father, and even invokes this commandment in Malachi 1:6: “"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, 'How have we despised your name?'”

That this commandment is still fully applicable today is apparent from the teachings of Jesus. He mentioned it among the commandments which should be kept in Luke 18:20. Even more importantly, he defended the commandment against a tradition by which the scribes and Pharisees tried to circumvent it, in Matthew 15:3-6:
“3 He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' 5 But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God," 6 he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.”
The scribes and Pharisees had a tradition whereby if one verbally committed himself to using money for God, he was freed from any responsibility for caring for his parents. Jesus condemns this behaviour and thus establishes that the commandment to honour one’s parents was still in force. Jesus exemplified the commandment himself inasmuch as he made sure his mother was cared for even as he suffered the agony of the cross (John 19:26-27).

Paul also endorses this commandment in his writings, and notes that it is the first commandment with a promise attached:
“1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land."” (Ephesians 6:1-3)
This promise demonstrates that obedience to parental authority is a precursor to a long and happy life, both on an individual and national level. Conversely, “disobedience to parents” is mentioned among the vices that would prevail in the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-2).

A number of maxims in the Book of Proverbs enjoin sons to honour their parents, and here a particular focus is taking to heart the wisdom and instruction received from one’s parents (see, for example, Proverbs 1:8-9; Proverbs 15:5).

A survey of biblical commentary on the Fifth Commandment shows us that this commandment remains very much in force, and that it applies to the way we treat our parents both as children and as adults. As a child, we honour our parents by obeying and respecting them. (Paul’s qualifier, “in the Lord,” may reflect the fact that there are unfortunate cases where a parent does not merit obedience.)

As adults, we honour our parents by applying ourselves to the wisdom, advice and values that they instilled in us as children: “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Proverbs 10:1). We also honour our parents by making sure that, when they lose their independence in old age, we give them the same love and care that they gave us when we were dependent on them.

Once on a Saturday morning when I was about 15, my mother scolded me for my idleness and ordered me to go down to the nearest old age home and volunteer my services. This became a very memorable experience as I met a 93 year old Scottish lady named Martha with whom I developed a close and unlikely friendship. I visited her regularly for about a year until she died. Martha had nine children and was very sad that all of them were too busy to take her in and had instead banished her to spend her final days in this oblivious home. She used to tell me regularly, “Tommy I’ll give you three rules to live by: Never smoke, never drink, and never put your mother in a home!”

So, whether we are young or old, and whether our parents are young, old or even deceased, let us reflect on how we can honour them.

Note: I'm not saying it's intrinsically wrong to put an elderly parent in a home; I'm merely calling for people to think about their motives for doing so.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Remembering the Sabbath

Let me first apologize for not updating the blog over the past four weeks. For two weeks I was travelling, and upon returning I moved into a new apartment where I do not yet have an internet connection. I hope to get this remedied soon!

We now continue our series on the relevance of the Ten Commandments today with the Fourth Commandment, which reads thus:
“8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
There has been much disagreement within the church about the continuing role of the Sabbath. Adherents to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, like the Jewish religion, continue to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week. They point out that the basis of the Sabbath commandment was not something intrinsic to the Law of Moses (which has been fulfilled by the coming of Christ), but rather pointed back to Creation, and thus remains applicable forever.

Other Christians continue to observe the Sabbath but have changed it from the seventh day of the week to the first day of the week. For these believers, Sunday has become the “Christian Sabbath” because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Mark 16:2; John 20:1). They follow the precedent of the early church in coming together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10).

Still other Christians believe that the Sabbath day has passed away as a strict, literal requirement. They believe that the spirit or underlying principle of the Sabbath is to regularly set aside time from the pursuits of daily business and worldly concerns to worship God and fellowship with God and other believers. However, they do not consider themselves bound to set this time aside on a particular day of the week, but rather to prioritize God on every day of the week. Many of these Christians still come together for a worship service on Sunday, if only for reasons of convenience and convention.

This non-literal view of the Sabbath commandment looks to Jesus’ own teachings and practices for support. Jesus infuriated some of the Jewish religious leaders of his day by healing the sick on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10-12; Luke 13:10-16; John 9:14-16), and allowing his followers to perform certain tasks on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; John 5:9-16).

By the letter of the law, Jesus did break the Sabbath. He commanded a healed lame man to carry his mat into the city on the Sabbath, which was in direct contravention of the Law which prohibited carrying a burden through the city gates on the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:21-24). The real purpose of this law, though, was to prevent commerce from taking place in the city on the Sabbath (see Nehemiah 13:15-22). Jesus argued that important tasks such as giving an ox a drink (Luke 13:15), pulling a sheep from a pit (Matthew 12:12) or circumcising a child (John 7:22-23) were allowed on the Sabbath, so “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” He provided a much-needed reform to the legalistic Sabbath practices of the Jewish religious leaders who were enforcing the law to unreasonable extremes. He urged us to keep the Sabbath in perspective: the Sabbath was made for man, and not the other way around (Mark 2:27).

However, Jesus’ novel interpretation of the Sabbath went beyond simply allowing exceptions for good deeds. In the case of his disciples’ picking corn on the Sabbath, his justification was that in Old Testament times, priests had broken the Sabbath in the Temple and been blameless, and that “One greater than the temple is here.” He also pointed out that the Father works continually, and therefore so does he (John 5:17). The key principle here was that “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus’ right to break the Sabbath derived from his divine authority. This gave him the right to set aside Sabbath Day restrictions for himself and his followers, and this is the basis for many Christians to claim today that the Sabbath restrictions are no longer in force.

Ezekiel’s prophecy of the age to come envisions Sabbath Day observance (Ezekiel 46:4), so it would be presumptuous to say that the Sabbath has been done away with. However, it must be noted that the Sabbath was hardly mentioned in the epistles of the New Testament, and even in the Book of Acts it comes up only when the apostles used it as an opportunity to preach to the Jews.

Paul’s only teaching about Sabbath observance is found in Colossians 2:16-17: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” This shows us that there should be tolerance for different Sabbath practices. It ought to be recognized that the principle of setting aside time at intervals to worship God and build up fellow believers is a good thing to do. The Sabbath commandment is not obsolete, but its observance is in spirit and not only in letter.

I want to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all readers of this blog!

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Blaspheming and Misusing the Name

In our last blog we discussed the second of the Ten Commandments (“You shall not make for yourself a carved image”), and how it appears irrelevant to modern Western citizens, but is in fact broken by most of us through, for example, our obsession with digital images with which we are willingly bombarded on a daily basis.

I suspect it would be hard to find a person who believes the Third Commandment is obsolete: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

It is somewhat ironic that, even as belief in the biblical God and the Lord Jesus Christ have declined in popular culture over the past few decades, the use of their Name has remained steady. Exclamations of “Oh my God” (so commonplace that it now needs an acronym, OMG) and “Jesus Christ” fly from the lips of people who place little or no value on the Christian faith. I have never heard anyone exclaim “Oh Mohammed” or “Oh Buddha” or “Oh Vishnu” – it is consistently the founder of the Christian faith whose name is blasphemed. Maybe this is because Christians are generally a tolerant bunch and they can get away with it. Or maybe it is because they know, on some subconscious level, that Jesus is worthy of their attention. It is not unheard of for God’s enemies to inadvertently prophesy (John 11:49-52).

Let there be no doubt that to exclaim “Oh my God” or “Jesus Christ” in a moment of surprise or disgust, without any intention of actually invoking the Lord and his power, is blasphemy and a violation of the Third Commandment – an offence that God solemnly declared he will not leave unpunished. In fact, a form of blasphemy (speaking evil when confronted with the work of the Holy Spirit) is the only unforgivable sin, according to Jesus (Mark 3:28-29, on which this explanation). So it is not a subject to be taken lightly. However, exclamations of this kind are often a merely a bad habit that is difficult to break, and in my view they are not the worst way to break the Third Commandment.

If invoking the name of God or Jesus Christ in a meaningless or irreverent way is bad, then what about invoking the name of God or Jesus Christ in order to achieve evil motives? For example, falsely claiming to be a prophet or miracle worker in order to obtain wealth or fame. Or, using the Word of God to manipulate or extort people. Or, taking an oath in God’s name to make a lie sound convincing (Matthew 5:33-37). Or, going on a murderous Crusade and claiming a divine mandate to do so. These are all gross abuses of the divine name, and they are traps within which we as human beings can easily be ensnared.

There are still less blatant ways of committing this sin. Maybe we tried to behave righteously in order to impress a devout Christian girl. Maybe we volunteered for a church outreach program because we thought it would look good on our C.V. Maybe our studies of the Bible are focused on proving our own presumptions right rather than growing and correcting our errors. We may have done things that are good on the surface, but if we did them to advance our own interests rather than Christ’s, we have taken his name in vain.

If we Christians search ourselves, we are all guilty of taking the Lord’s name in vain on many occasions, whether in word, in deed or in motive. If we are keeping an honest scorecard, we are all 0 for 3 after considering the first three of the Ten Commandments.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Carving up the Second Commandment

In our last blog we referred to the Ten Commandments as the bedrock of morality for the ancient Israelites as well as (to some extent) modern Western society. We noted the attitude of a wealthy, religious Jew of Jesus’ day, who believed he had mastered the commandments: “All these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20).

One of the threads of Jesus’ teaching ministry, later picked up by the apostles, was that no one masters the commandments. In fact, we all fail miserably. As Paul pointed out in Romans 7:9-13, the commandments are a standard of holiness which show us how sinful we are when we fail to keep them.

We looked at the first of the Ten Commandments in the last blog and saw that whenever we let something compete with God for our worship, prayer, gratitude and desire, we are putting other gods before God, and breaking the first commandment.

What about the second commandment? Exodus 20:4-6 reads thus:

“4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
It could be argued that this is actually an elaboration or clarification of the first commandment, which read simply, “You shall have no other gods before me” period. However, tradition has named it a separate commandment, hence the Ten Commandments, not the Nine Commandments. It is certainly in the same vein as the previous commandment, but focuses more on tangible, physical idols as opposed to gods of the imagination.

Once again, the knee-jerk reaction of a citizen of modern Western civilization may be, “Those primitive people and their silly carved idols.” This kind of thinking suggests that there is no risk that a modern, monotheistic Christian could violate this commandment. However, the truth is that we are a lot more engrossed in carved images than the ancients were. It is just that our methods of “carving” are a lot more refined – digital, in fact. Through the media, we view hundreds if not thousands of images daily. What effect do these images have upon us? Do we not model our way of speaking, dressing, and behaving after what we see in the media – TV, movies, magazines, Internet?

We may not literally bow down to carved images, but we spend a lot of time sitting in front of digital images and being transfixed by them, during our free time that we could be using to serve God and bring his glory to the world.

If the First Commandment is fundamentally about God’s uniqueness, the Second Commandment is fundamentally about faith. Faith is “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We cannot see God (1 Timothy 6:16) or the things he has promised to those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9). So, will we model our lives after the visible things we have created that we see all around us? Or will we model our lives after the unseen One who created us? That is a choice we face many times a day; and every time we make the wrong choice, we break the Second Commandment.

So, as much as I may think I’m pure and pious when it comes to the Second Commandment, having dug deeper I have to admit that I’m a serial servant of carved images! And I bet you are too. So where does that leave us? In the next blog we will continue our march through the ever-more-menacing Ten Commandments.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

How many of the Ten Commandments have you kept?

The Ten Commandments (recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) formed the bedrock of morality for the ancient Israelites, and were also foundational to the development of modern Western civilization. In ten short rules are contained the standard of a righteous life before God.

1)      I am the LORD your God…you shall have no other gods before me.
2)      You shall not make for yourself a carved image…you shall not bow down to them or serve them…
3)      You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…
4)      Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…
5)      Honour your father and your mother…
6)      You shall not murder.
7)      You shall not commit adultery.
8)      You shall not steal.
9)      You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
10)   You shall not covet…

Some of the religious elites of Jesus’ day, such as the Pharisees, and the rich young ruler who spoke to Jesus in Mark 10:19-20, felt that they kept the Ten Commandments without fail. At first glance, it’s not such an outrageous idea. The commandments seem pretty straightforward, and most societies, regardless of religious beliefs, have laws and social norms that more or less square with the final six.

Some may think that keeping these commandments is not so difficult, and that most members of society do a reasonably good job of it. When we consider the Ten Commandments in light of Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings on the subject, however, it is apparent that even the best among us fall far short of this moral standard. In fact, I would venture to claim that every human being who has ever lived – with the exception of Jesus Christ – has broken all ten commandments. This may strike you as absurd, but as we look closer at the spirit of these commandments, you will see what I mean.

Let us start with the First Commandment. At first glance it seems irrelevant to a modern Western mindset. Most of the debate in our society is about whether there is one God or no God. Isn’t this commandment obsolete, belonging to past ages of pagan polytheism and tribal deities? Not at all, once you realize that ‘god’ has a pretty broad range of meaning. It doesn’t have to be a deity as such; it can be something as mundane as your belly (Philippians 3:19). Anything or anyone that becomes a competitor with God for our worship, our prayer, our desire and our gratitude, is another god. 

We may not have “idols of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 29:17), but we have houses of wood and stone and other possessions that draw our attention away from God. We may not have “idols of silver and gold” (Psalm 135:15), but we spend a lot of our time thinking about money. Then there are obsessions with sports, celebrities, soap operas, video games, and other pursuits that draw our energy and passion away from worshiping God. For some, science and technology have become their god.

John Stott, in his book Basic Christianity, wrote the following: “For us to keep this first commandment would be, as Jesus said, to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind; to make his will our guide and his glory our goal; to put him first in thought, word and deed; in business and leisure; in friendships and career; in the use of our money, time and talents; at work and at home. No man has ever kept this commandment except Jesus of Nazareth” (p. 82).

We will continue by looking at the Second Commandment in the next blog entry. It’s all pretty depressing so far, but I want to promise you that this series on the Ten Commandments will have a very happy ending!