12. Be Contented

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  12. Be Contented

Ex 20:17   You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

The counter-balance to this last of the Ten Commandments, let’s say from the outset could be, I believe, “Be contented with all you have.” Strictly speaking, we might say that coveting is wanting something that someone else has and a dictionary definition says, “to want ardently (esp., something that another person has); long for with envy,” but that envy element means that we could say covetousness is, “desiring something with evil motivation.”

Now it is interesting that when Moses repeats the Ten Commandments on the plain before the people enter the Promised Land, forty years after the original commandments were given, he very slightly changes the wording to make it more understandable: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Deut 5:21) Do you see that second sentence- “You shall not set your desire on….” It isn’t just wanting something but it is setting or establishing or fixing your desire on something and once you do that you start getting frustrated that you can’t have it, and simple desire turns into something more, envy and coveting schemes, planning how you may get the thing.

The classic example of this in Scripture is of King Ahab wanting an adjacent vineyard belonging to a man named Naboth: “Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.” (1 Kings 21:1,2)  Now up until that point there is nothing wrong with Ahab’s request and we might suggest Naboth was rather foolish, especially when the king had offered him a bigger and better vineyard and adequate payment. Even more foolish was Naboth ignoring the dubious character of this king. If he had thought what might follow prudence might have suggested he give it a second thought, but he didn’t (which was his prerogative) and so we read, “So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat.” (1 Kings 21:4) Ahab reacts badly and when his wife comes across him she plots for Naboth to be killed. Bad attitudes all round.

So this is coveting: desiring what others have – with bad attitude. Yes, it is probably linked with envy and jealousy and maybe worse and it inevitably leads to unrighteous behaviour. The apostle James, in his very practical letter, wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (Jas 4:1-3) The struggles of life, one person against another (or even one nation against another) come from this thing, this desire to have what they have. You want their possession, can’t get it and so resort to violence of some kind. We hope that indeed that description does not apply to Christians today. It is wrong.

Now we probably say, “Oh, I would never try and take from someone else what is theirs.”  No, that is probably true today because the only things that are unique are plots of land or buildings and valuable works of art. Virtually everything else is freely available (at a cost) because we live in a day of such abundant provision in this consumer society, that if we have the money we can get the item. Nevertheless the “keeping-up-with-the-Jones” mentality is still alive and well, and indeed modern advertising and selling is based on that – he has a bigger car, I want a bigger car. They are moving into a bigger house, we ought to think about a bigger house. They have new furniture; we ought to think about a makeover. It is at the heart of capitalism and a country is said to be doing well if its citizens are able to consume more and more goods.

Our use of our money probably goes beyond this study but a wise Christian certainly thinks about their spending habits and seeks the Lord over the wise use of their money, both how to make it go round and what to do with the excess.

At the end of the day, lack of contentment is a sign of a sense of inadequacy as well as unbelief. We think we can only be somebody if we have more and more. If we constantly want more and more it means we are dissatisfied with God’s present provision for us. Having a lot isn’t in itself wrong (Solomon proves that) but it is the attitude that goes with it.

The apostle Paul instructed, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) Greed (which is a cousin of covetousness) is there linked with and described as an expression of idolatry. An idol is something we worship, something we put before God. Being constantly discontented and constantly wanting more and more is greed and that desire for more is something that eats away at us and becomes the central focus of life, and that is idolatry. It replaces God as the central focus of our lives.

All of these things comes as warnings to the Christian in this especially materialistic age of super abundance in which we live.  Don’t be put off or feel bad about material things – God gave them to us – but be careful about your attitudes towards them.

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11. No Telling Lies

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  11. No Telling Lies

Ex 20:16   You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

When God created  Adam and Eve, peace reigned. There was no reason for a cross word. Even immediately after the Fall both Adam and Eve spoke the truth and yet within it was blame and blame puts the onus on another person: The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” …..  The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12,13) Once we have sinned it opens the door for other sins. Because we ARE sinners, sinning came naturally (until we met Christ and he put his Holy Spirit within us). All sins are against God and many sins are against other people.

In this context our ‘neighbour’ is anyone in close contact with us. As we saw above we can speak the truth about our neighbour but it is still unkind. To constantly point out the failings of someone near us may be pointing out the truth, but it is still unkind and ungracious. We often speak against others because they are different from us; their lifestyle or their values may be different from ours. Unless we can do something about the difference, do something to bridge the gap, then speaking out our differences may make us feel good but does little good otherwise, and may subtly, even  in our own thinking make it more difficult for us to communicate with them. But so far we haven’t told lies about them, but I mention these things to show how complex relationships can so often be.

The lies, or the lack of truth or distorting the truth can come from two very similar origins and they both flow out of ‘self’. In the first one we can simply be an unpleasant person who, for whatever reason, just is unpleasant. May this never be able to be said about a Christian. This is a person still living the old life as the apostle Paul speaks about it, a life with no knowledge of Christ. Such people can have so many issues in their lives that it isn’t worth categorizing them; they simply need to come to Christ and be made anew.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Mt 15:19) Such people care little for the truth; they may say things out of sheer vindictiveness, sheer unpleasantness. It is how some people are. Inside they are all twisted up and so their words reflect what is going on inside. They desperately need to have an encounter with Christ. As I say, these cannot be Christians, or if they are they may have asked Christ into their life but never let him have his way in bringing grace and change to them. To them the law still comes – don’t say wrong things about those around you!

But then there is the far more common case, I believe, where somehow or other we come under attack from others and we retaliate – we speak back. The only thing about speaking back when you are hurt, is that your words cease to be careful and can so easily stray into the territories of exaggeration or ever complete untruth. I know let myself down when I put the word ‘always’ into a description, or perhaps, ‘never’. Speaking about the young preacher: “he is always straying away from the truth in his theology and isn’t worth listening to when he is preaching.” Perhaps he did once. Always is an exaggeration and is untrue and it is a false testimony about him. Or there is, “She never thinks before opening her mouth and so you’d do better never to listen to her.” Well sometimes she has a tendency to do that but often, no. That was a false testimony.

People who pass on information about others (it is called gossip!) are the most prone the passing on inaccurate information and any distortion is false testimony. You’ve no doubt heard of ‘Chinese whispers’ where a message is passed from person to person and by the time it has reached the tenth person is utterly different from how it started. A silly example perhaps but nevertheless it is an illustration of how false testimony comes about.

It also comes about so often through speculation. I wonder why they did that? Speculation, suggestions and soon the suggestion, the speculation, become ‘facts’. Well, no, that actually wasn’t what happened so that was false testimony. False testimony always demeans the reputation of someone, pulling them down in the eyes of the watchers and subsequently their behaviour towards that person subtly changes, and not for the better.  Love they say is the mortar that holds the building blocks of relationships. False testimony is the acid that corrodes the love and causes separation.

Recounting what went on or what you heard is always difficult. Only yesterday I was listening to a CD in my car, and recounted to my wife a little later, a story being told. I had no desire to give false testimony and the effect of inaccuracy in this case was completely harmless, but when we put the CD on to listen to it together I realised I recounted the story with two inaccuracies. It is so easy to do, and when it is passing on details of what someone at a church meeting says, or even recounting a conversation, it is so easy to inadvertently be inaccurate. False testimony.

Speaking the truth is the call to all Christians and that is the up to date version, if you like, of this commandment, but it is also a call to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15) which means sometimes we would do better to remain silent and sometimes really check our motivation,. This command seems simple but it can have serious effects.

10. No Stealing

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  10. No Stealing

Ex 20:15   You shall not steal.

This eighth command is the third of these short and to the point commands that leave no room for negotiation. These four words of this verse do not need great skills of interpretation; a child can understand them. You must not steal!  Stealing is very simply taking what belongs to someone else without their permission, for your use, not to be returned. Stealing is not borrowing; it has a finality about it. You take it and intend to keep it. That is stealing.

Stealing as a prohibition was not a new thing. People before the Ten Commandments had this sense of ownership and with ownership comes rights – the right to hold onto your possession and not have it taken away. Laban challenged Jacob as he was leaving, “Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s house. But why did you steal my gods?” (Gen 31:30)

Jacob’s brothers in Egypt trying to defended themselves from his schemes said, “We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” (Gen 44:8,9) They saw stealing from the Pharaoh as a seriously punishable offence.

No, stealing was recognized as wrong even before this time on Sinai, but here it is part of the decreed Law of God so there is no question about it: if you steal you are sinning against God. The prohibition is repeated in Deut 5:19 but also in Lev 19:11 so three times we have it in the Pentateuch.

When Jeremiah spoke against the sins of the people he cried, “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jer 7:9-11)  Thieves and robbers was the accusation. It was an accusation that came up a number of times in the mouths of the prophets, especially about those who were powerful, grabbing land that belonged to the poor.

Hosea included stealing in the group of things for which he condemned Israel: “Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.” (Hos 4:1,2) These prophetic denunciations suggest that stealing is just one of the symptoms of a society that has become godless. Remove the presence and remembrance of God and the people feel free to do whatever they like, and so often that means taking from others that which does not belong to you.

When the apostle Paul was laying out his gospel and chiding the Jews for their unbelief over the years, he asked, “you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?” (Rom 2:21) To be able to ask that he must have had something in mind? Appropriating what belongs to another crops up in every society where there are sinful human beings – and of course, we all are. We need the Law to inhibit us, to restrain us, to point out the things that are wrong. We live in a society in the West where increasingly it is being heard, “Who am I to criticize the behaviour of other people?” It is the language of relative thinking which undermines absolutes so that anything goes, it just depends on the circumstances whether we consider it wrong or not. Thus in a society where there are rich and privileged, we who are poorer justify our ‘Robin-Hood-attitudes’ because we see their riches as unfair, and “they probably got their riches unfairly anyway.”  All of that may be true but two wrongs don’t make a right, as they say. If their business practices have been dubious, that does not give me the right to take from them when I can. We justify our dubious behaviour sometimes in modern society until the point when someone steals from us.

Stealing, is the prerogative of the godless and it is unrighteous, in whatever form it comes. It undermines civilized society and it offends God. It is that simple.

9. No Adultery

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  9. No Adultery

Ex 20:14   You shall not commit adultery.

This seventh command is the second of the short and to the point ones that comprise a large part of the second half of the Ten Commandments. It is found here in Ex 20 and in the list in  Deut 5:18. As with murder, in this list it is a simple prohibition: you will NOT commit adultery. To be clear, adultery is having  sexual relations with a member of another marriage. It is thus having sex with another man’s wife or another woman’s husband. In that marriage is a lifelong covenant – and most couples do make promises to that effect –  it is both breaking your own vows and stealing away someone else’s partner and getting them to break their vows.

The severity of this prohibition, in the eyes of God, is seen in the punishments found elsewhere in the Law: If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death,” (Lev 20:10) and “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel,” (Deut 22:22) and the reason must surely be that it undermines the family, the basic building block of civilization. It is that simple.

Disregard for this command, as with the others, is a disregard for God. Joseph in the Old Testament makes that point for us when Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him: “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Gen 39:6-9)

Solomon in the early chapters of his Proverbs when speaking about wisdom, really lays into adultery: “It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.” (Prov 2:16-19) He spreads out there the folly of it. Speaking to his sons he warns them of “the adulteress….  the wayward wife with her seductive words.” (v.16) She is a wrong woman and she will seek to entice you, he says, Perhaps he has Potiphar’s wife in mind. He identifies her activity as a twofold sin: “who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.” (v.17)  It is a sin against the partner and against God.

But he doesn’t leave it there; he brings a strong warning of the consequences:  “For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.” (v.18,19) It is a downward path and the consequences of it are self-destruction, and that may be spiritual (certainly) and physical.

In the UK an analysis found fewer than one in six marriages now ends with a charge of adultery – half the level of the 1970s. The reason for the fall is that unreasonable behaviour is another and now more favoured ground for divorce because it is easier to prove. It may be that adultery is there in the background but not cited.

The biggest folly of adultery – apart from the fact of it being a sign of rebellion against God – is the deception that always plays a part – you will be all right, this is all right. The devastation that follows proves that it isn’t. Whoever the innocent party is, they will be left with a major sense of rejection. I have counselled those who have been thus abandoned (for that is what it is) and the hurt and anger, the sense of rejection and desire for revenge are sometimes almost out of this world!

Where there are children, they likewise feel a sense of betrayal and abandonment which affects the whole of their lives. It is now commonplace for school teachers to be warned that Jane or John are likely to be showing negative behaviour because their parents are splitting up. Where there has been adultery it is rare for the marriage to continue because, even if the adulterer wants to come back, the sense of betrayal is so great and the breakdown in trust is so great that immense grace is needed to continue, and many simply do not have that grace. Where there is a breakdown because of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ (the most common ground for divorce today) then the relationship will have been breaking up from both sides, but where adultery occurs it is doubly hard because although the relationship may have been getting shallow, the act of adultery is still on one side and is thus devastating for the other partner.

The awful thing about adultery is that it starts with the almost overwhelming thought of a momentary pleasure but can end up in something far deeper, with marriage destruction and long term instability and loneliness. Short-term thinking says the present pleasure is worth the risk. The figures show that those who divorce (and I suspect it is worse where there is adultery) are three times more likely to break up in any subsequent relationship.

Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount could be taken as a warning not to go anywhere near this problem: You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’E But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5:27,28) It starts in the mind and through the eyes and so don’t even let your mind think in that direction. This other women is off limits to you because you are a married man. This man is off limits to you because he is already married.

If you venture down this path all I can promise is hurt and pain and anguish and recriminations and an uncertain future. You may think you will be the exception and will weather it and come out of it with a new relationship that lasts, but remember that that is the exception and you still have an issue with God. Beware those – two came to our church once – who are adulterers (call them what they are) and appear to look good. They are living in deception and they have an issue with the holy God who says, “You shall NOT commit adultery”! They will be held accountable in the longer term, if not the shorter.

Yes, there are Christians I know who have sinned, fallen and been restored by the Lord, although the way was still painful and repentance was a part of it, but one thing I notice with sadness is that every person I know who has walked the path of adultery and divorce and has carried blame, still carries something of that stigma in their spirit. Rarely is the repentance of such a depth and the rebuilding of such a depth that a person is truly clear and clean from that past. It is an area in which the modern church is weak and suffers because of it. God’s grace is wonderful and yet still, I see the signs in those who have come via this path.

I believe that the modern church is weak on relationships and so you may not have a close friend who sees the signs and can speak into you life, so may I say it. If you are looking at him or her and wondering, don’t. Step back from that abyss. God has got something better for you than to go through weeks, months, years of alienation from Him, and self-justification in a lost cause. Decide to step back right now. You are worth more than to be branded ‘adulterer’. If you have a shallow marriage seek Him and seek others to remedy that. Don’t look for an answer in someone else’s arms. If they are willing to disregard your vows and their own vows now, why shouldn’t they do that in a year’s time? Step back now, share it with the Lord and get His grace for a new tomorrow.

8. No Murder

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  8. No Murder

Ex 20:13   You shall not murder.

This sixth command is the first of the short and to the point ones that now follow.  It does not say you shall not kill; it uses the word ‘murder’, premeditated, purposeful killing of another person. It is what Cain did to Abel: Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” (Gen 4:8) This sixth command does not spell it out and does not specify what should happen to a murderer, it leaves that to other parts of Scripture.

In the Law there is a distinction between murder and manslaughter: “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.” (Ex 21:12-14) In a day where absolutes appear a thing of the past, these laws come with a refreshing clarity: You will NOT murder, i.e. murder is wrong!

We should perhaps note that the indicators of God’s attitude towards the taking of life came before the Law of Moses, which we are noting was instituted in Exodus and has been since the primary law source for Israel. For example: “for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Gen 9:5,6)

Note:  i) A respect demanded for human life, ii) The reason for that is that humans are made in the image of God and iii) Whoever sheds the blood of a human being shall have his blood shed. The value of life thus seems a high priority and the reason for that is not some utilitarian reason such as ‘it makes for a stable society’ but that we are God’s design, made in his image and precious to Him. That creates a far deeper and more meaningful reason for the sanctity of life that anything else.

Thus, although modern society is easy going about abortions, killing of terrorists, going to war to repulse an invader etc. if we had the heart of God we would see every violent death (no doubt including abortions) as a tragedy. Sometimes they are necessary – as in the case of saving the life of an expectant mother, of shooting terrorists as the only way of saving possibly hundreds of others, and of going to war to repulse an invader – but nevertheless we should grieve over ever life lost violently. It may be that because generally we do not feel like this, we have opted to do away with the death penalty completely and we allow abortions for a variety of social reasons. ‘Tragedy’ is not part of our modern vocabulary unless it appears on stage.

I have commented in various places before that the stringent requirements of having at least two reliable witnesses and then the death penalty imposed by people who knew the guilty party by stoning, would make it such an horrific event that it would rarely happen.

Compare that society with ours today. Compare that society to London where the media have been excited that the murder numbers per annum in recent years appears to have fallen at last below three figures. Before that we were talking about well over a hundred murders a year in London. In New York they similarly rejoice over falling figures which are now down to a little over 300 a year. In 2011/12 there were 640 murders/homicides in the UK and this appears to have fallen to a little over 500 a year in subsequent years. In the USA in the middle part of the first decade of the 21st century murders fell from a total of over 15,000 to just under 13,000. That is still a lot of murders. And God says, “You shall not murder.” Murder, therefore appears a symptom of a godless society, a society that is not good at conveying moral requirements, a troubled society.

In these years when the media and authorities are focusing us on the start, progress and no doubt completion of the First World War, it is easy to get caught up with the story, the facts and the figures and, yes, in a measure the horror. Behind this sixth command is an inherent respect for human life that comes from heaven. When you study and read about the initial combatants of the First World War, and then later the Second World War, not only were the aggressive leaders guilty of mismanagement but above that they were guilty of a callous indifference to the death of men.

I have never heard of the Kaiser, or generals on both sides being accused of murder and yet the callous and thoughtless sending thousands upon thousands of men to their guaranteed deaths must surely in the courtroom of heaven be just that.  What did we say earlier was the definition of murder?  The premeditated, purposeful killing of another person.  The folly of sending the cavalry into the arms of death by machine gun has been possibly one of the greatest examples of wilful stupidity and callous indifference to the loss of life recorded in history.

The word ‘negligence’ cannot even be applied because that would almost give an air of respectability to it. Hitler’s use of the gas ovens even eclipses that and every person who joined in bringing that about was guilty of wanton murder. Today it is Jihadist terrorists. If a terrorist dies at the hands of interrogators who tortured him, it is still murder, slow, prolonged and possibly regretted, but still murder. All those people claimed they had reasons for it, but in the light of history and before the throne room of heaven, all such deaths are pure and simple murder and God says, “You shall not murder!” and all such people face the most serious accounting in heaven.

Why have I titled these studies, ‘The Wonder of the Ten Commandments’? Because they stand out like beacons in a sin-sick world and declare THIS is God’s will and if you disregard it – or try to excuse it – you WILL be held accountable. The clarity of these commands is simple and sharp and however much we wriggle to explain away our behaviour, unless it is the only option in a fallen world, we will be held accountable. Remember, Christian, Jesus said murderers will be liable to judgment – but so also will those who harbour anger against their brother (Mt 5:21,22). The inner attitude is wrong and it can develop from anger to revenge, to spite, to scheming, to who knows what. Don’t go down the slippery path. Get God’s grace not to go a further step down it. Do not murder – in reputation as well as literally.

7. Families

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  7. Families

Ex 20:12   Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Deut 5:16  Honour your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Eph 6:1-3  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

The fifth commandment moves from speaking about a right attitude towards God to having a right attitude towards people. Jesus summed up the Law with, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39, being a combination quote of Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18) The first four commands are about loving God and the latter 6 about loving everyone else (‘neighbour’ simply means everyone with whom you come in contact.)

But in starting to bring laws that protect humanity, this very first one is about the building block of civilization, which is under such attack today. If the Bible says Satan is a lair and a destroyer (and it does) then we should not be surprised that his strategy in the Last Days is to destroy the basic building block of civilization, families. How many families today in the West are missing a parent (mostly a father) and how many are torn by dissension as parents war against each other and children war against parents. We have ignored this command and we have ignored it at our peril.

The command is simple and straight forward: “Honour your father and your mother.” The big question is what does ‘honour’ mean? First of all it means to esteem or think highly of (see Prov 4:8). It is also in scripture linked with caring for or protecting (see Psa 91:15) and it certainly has a ‘respect’ element to it (Lev 19:3). Indeed the opposite of respecting and honouring might be considered to be cursing and the Law specified the death penalty for cursing your parents (Lev 20:9); that is how significant this is. Rank ongoing disobedience and rebellion also brought the death penalty (Deut 21:18-21), Those latter verses end with a significant, “You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.” (Deut 21:21).

So honouring includes respecting, obeying, esteeming, caring for and protecting (these latter two apply more obviously in older age). Of course there are two sides to every relationship and parents are charged with loving and caring for their children and Paul’s instruction to fathers is not to be overbearing in disciplining them: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:4) In passing, it is interesting to note that in the past forty years, say, the roles of fathers appear to have changed dramatically, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. For the worse, many fathers abandon their children through separation and divorce. For better, many fathers take a much greater part in looking after and caring for their children. Where the father stays with the family, the picture of the distant Victorian father who has little emotional attachment to their children, is rare.

Now we have already indicated how important this simple command is to God by the references to the death penalty for cursing parents and for ongoing outright disobedience and rebellion resulting in a dissolute life (that’s what the Law indicates) but the second part of the command further shows this. In the original impartation of this command on Sinai, it simply says, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) The apostle Paul spoke of this as “the first commandment with a promise.”  The promise is of ongoing blessing in their new land IF they followed this law. We have already referred to the family as the basic building block of civilisation and it most certainly was, in God’s eyes, as they settled in the Land.

In repeating this on the plains before they entered the Land, Moses slightly changed it to, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deut 5:16) which separates the original, “so that you may live long in the land,” into “so that you may live long” AND “ that it may go well with you in the land.” Length of life indicates God’s blessing generally and reference to going well in the land also implies His ongoing blessing on their life and security in the Land. However you look at it, God promises blessing on those who hold to this command and, by inference, curses those who don’t.

The apostle Paul expands this double promise to apply to us who don’t live in the Land to, ““that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  When he says, “that it may go well with you,” he is referring to the daily lives we live, under God’s blessing, and of course the latter part of the verse refers to length of life.

The message is very clear: family division that comes from children breaking away from their parents is NOT God’s will. There is a message here that many modern children would do well to heed. The cry of the defence is always, “You don’t know my parents!” True, but psychologists tell us that when children reach their teenage years they start to sense their uniqueness, i.e. that they are distinct from their parents, and they seek to show their independence. How they do that is all important and it is also important that parents give them space for them to become themselves. They can rebond with us when they have done this, but they do need to do this, and this is the danger zone when it comes to this command which still applies today!

Learning who you are, young person, does not mean you have to demeans or reject your parents. Yes, they were less than perfect but so will you be this side of heaven. Nevertheless, they were there for you (hopefully). If they weren’t then you have much greater need of the Lord’s grace to cope with that. Something I have observed over the years, is that the revelation of what the parent was going through sometimes helps. It doesn’t excuse them leaving you, but it may help in understanding and if and when they seek your forgiveness, it makes giving it easier. Don’t ever say, “I will never forgive them,” for you step out beyond the Lord’s love at that point. With God’s grace you can, as and when they come seeking it. Honour them by seeking God’s grace to be able to say, “I do” if and when they should come asking for forgiveness. This is a minefield in the present age, so don’t let the strategy and works of the enemy ruin your life. God’s grace is there to enable you to comply with this law, as difficult as that sometimes seems. Confronting with grace and talking through the past with grace, may bring a healing to your relationship and his life (it is usually in respect of the disserting father) and healing within the whole wider community.

Thank the Lord that His grace is available to us today through Jesus to counter the lies and works of the enemy who seeks to destroy our lives and communities. May we receive that grace to do that.

6. Rememberand Revere (2)

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  6. Remember & Revere (2)

Ex 20:8-11   “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

In the previous meditation I said we would look at what the Law said first of all and then how it was applied and then at what Jesus said about it for us today. We noted, in considering what the Law actually said, that it was a call to remember or mark the seventh day of every week  and make it holy (distinct and special, a unique day), and that was for every man, woman, child and beast in the community. The remembrance appeared to be two fold – to remember God as Creator and to remember God as deliverer.

Now we have to consider how they applied it and how Jesus applied it for us.  An incident before entering the Promised land shows how it was applied in their early days: “While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Num 15:32-36)

Today we  might think the death penalty for collecting sticks was harsh in the extreme. But the sticks were not the issue; the issue was a man who basically said, “I may be part of the covenant community but I am not going to do what God says.” It was that simple. He separated himself from that community by his attitude and actions. They could have banished him from the nation but in the middle of the wilderness on his own he would probably have died anyway. Stoning would certainly have contained a strong message but the end result was the same.

In the centuries that followed, as we see Israel again and again drifting away from the Lord, it is probable that this command, with many others was disregarded, but whenever there was a return to God it is obvious that this law came back into its own.  Even after the exile we find it was an issue: “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day,” (Neh 10:31) and then later, “In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing–desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.” When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day.”  (Neh 13:15-19) Nehemiah saw disregarding the Sabbath keeping as one of the causes of the Exile itself.

Now into the New Testament and we find the religious Jews having a problem with Jesus over Sabbath keeping: “At that time Jesus went through the grain-fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” Jesus appeals to the historical testimony: He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread–which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. He also appeals to the Law:  Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. There are bigger issues to be followed: If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” His conclusion is that as God HE decides what is best use of the Sabbath. Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. The opposition looks for trouble over healing:  Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He appeals to their practice: He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! His conclusion: Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:1-12) Mark added to the grain field incident – “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mt 2:27,28) From these verses we can suggest the following:

  1. Jesus, the Son of God, is the ultimate arbiter of how to use the Sabbath. It can be used for good!
  2. In ‘using it’ he doesn’t detract from its original purposes of remembering God the Creator and God the Provider, but in fact demonstrates Him doing that still.
  3. The Sabbath law is not to become a legalistic straight-jacket but as an instrument to bless and protect us – it was made for our benefit.
  4. The Jews added many minute detailed applications of the original law but that made it man-focused and not God-focused.
  5. We now have freedom to use the Sabbath (Sunday as followed by the early church  e.g. Acts 20:7) for anything that might be considered ‘good’ while not detracting from using it as a day to specifically remember the Lord’s goodness.
  6. As those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the truth is that anything covered by 5 above can also be done on any other day of the week as well. Nevertheless when we work it is not always easy to ‘remember the Lord’ and so opportunities to meet together as church and perform such things as the Last Supper, are wisely, from a general administrative point of view, done on a ‘standard’ agreed day.
  7. History suggests that when people (maybe those disillusioned by church) cease meeting on a Sunday, they separate themselves off from the rest of the Church and soon become those for whom the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25) Recognising the value of meeting together for witness, worship, ministry and teaching, why not make it on the same day as the rest of the church. If we feel disillusioned by ‘church’ rather than abandon it, work to change it. Enough said.

We live in a day and a society which largely disregards God and one outworking of that (to our detriment)  is that business is carried on seven days a week often. Arguments can be made for caring in hospitals etc. but the issue is not so much what constitutes ‘work’ as what are our feelings towards God. That we have gone beyond what is wise in terms of procedures as a society will no doubt become clear in the future. The big issue, though, is what is our attitude towards God?