16. Be Contented

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 16. Command Ten: Be Contented

Ex 20:16    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 neighbour.”

Reflection: There is a danger, I believe, in thinking that some of these latter commandments are so obvious that we modern Christians wouldn’t do any of them and so they are not relevant for us, but the truth is that whether it is the temptations put before us by the modern world, or the things those around us are drawn into, as I have revisited them, I have seen more clearly than ever before that actually they are more relevant and more vital than ever before.

The Command: “Don’t covet”. Coveting is not a word we hear used today and yet, as I have just said, I suspect it is more relevant to us than ever before because of the nature of the world in which we now find ourselves.

Very simply, 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.” 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.”

Context & Understanding: Now it is interesting that when Moses repeats the Ten Commandments on the plains 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 neighbour.” (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.

Example: 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.

The Family of Wrongs: 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.

Abundant provision: 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 so that, if we have the money, we can get the item.

The Problems that Arise: Nevertheless the “keeping-up-with-the-neighbors” 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.

Modern Conflict: But in our modern world it is more complex than that, which we can see as we investigate ‘generation competition’. This comes in the form of the younger generation who observe the older, retired generation who lived through a period that was not one of austerity as has been experienced from the 2008 financial collapse on, and who are often quite well off, comfortable, able to take life easy and just sit back and watch the struggling younger generations who often cannot afford to buy their own house (at least that is how it is often put). It is exacerbated by the incredible technology changes that have taken place in the last forty years, in which many of the younger generation are involved in developing, giving them a feeling of superiority over the older generation who grew up in an almost primitive world by comparison (or so it is sometimes expressed).  The temptation for a wrong attitude, and attitude fuelled by covetousness is very strong.

Thinking below the surface: 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 around and what to do with the excess. Yet behind or below the outward practice is the way we think deep down. At the end of the day, lack of contentment is a) a sign of a sense of inadequacy as well b) a sign of unbelief. Inadequacy: We think we can only be somebody if we have more and more. Unbelief: If we constantly want more and more it means we are dissatisfied with God’s present provision for us. Why hasn’t He let me have what others around me (or on TV) have? Having a lot isn’t in itself wrong (Solomon proves that) but it is the attitude that we sometimes allow to go 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) There is a list of things there that go to make up idolatry but greed (which is a cousin of covetousness) is there linked with and described as an expression of that idolatry. An idol is something we worship, something we focus on more than God, something we maybe even revere or yearn for, such as the big-screen TV my brother has, the new car my sister has, the latest iPhone my friend has, and so on. Being constantly discontented and constantly wanting more and more is greed and when it is fueled by what others have, that is covetousness, and so easily 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 come 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.

Conclusion: I will conclude this series the way I started this study: There is a danger, I believe, in thinking that some of these latter commandments are so obvious that we modern Christians wouldn’t do any of them and so they are not relevant for us, but the truth is that whether it is the temptations put before us by the modern world, or the things those around us are drawn into, as I have revisited them, I have seen more clearly than ever before that actually they are more relevant and more vital than ever before. That is, I fear especially true of this last one.

And so to pray: “Lord, each of these things that you put before Israel are, I see, just as relevant today. Please open my eyes to see them for what they are, and the grace to reject the wrong things here, that I may live a live at peace with you and with others, keeping you at the center of my life and rejecting the temptations the enemy may put before me. Amen.”

15. No Untruths about Others

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 15. Command Nine: No Untruths about Others

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

Historical Example: 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.

The Command:You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” 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 and even wrong. The reality, the above example shows us, is that we can speak truth  but it is a half-truth. So OK Adam she offered you the fruit but you knew it was wrong, so why did you give way? OK Eve, this Satan made some wrong suggestions to you but you knew they were wrong, so why did you give way to the pleasure of the moment?

Practice: 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. 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 relationship can so often be.

Origins/Causes/Expressions: 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, second, 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 even complete untruth. I know I 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.

A Modern Expressions: People who pass on information about others (it is called gossip!) are the most prone to 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. That is how it used to be but a new form of this has come about in the form of social media, passing on, joining in, speculating, exaggerating and thus producing so often what is now abundantly clear as “false testimony”. If you are a Christian and you use social media today, please, please, be careful what you pass on, what you say. How good it feels to be part of the conversation, in the know, even a contributor to a new line of thinking about someone else. And yet it has become patently obvious by so many examples picked up by the main-stream media that “giving false testimony” has occurred again and again and again in modern life. It should not happen and it should certainly not be Christians doing it. It is wrong and it offends God!

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.

Viewing People: These considerations raise a further thought about how we think. How we think determines how we act and speak and so it really impinges in a major way on this subject. Here is a simple question: do you think the worst, assume the worst, and therefore speak the worst about other people? When someone says something do you interpret what they’ve said through the filter of your own insecurity or your own lack of sanctification?

I used to write on a church community page of Facebook, contributing a regular mini bible reflection. One day I suddenly found there was outright hostile reaction that was not saying nice things about my character, yes from Christians. I had written this ‘bible reflection’ in very general terms but these people viewed it as a personal attack on them (although they had never even been in my mind when I wrote) because it was an area in which they felt vulnerable. But the sad heart of this sort of thing is that we can think badly about other people and assume negative things about them, when no such things were in fact true. Thus our comments about them so easily become ‘false testimony’.

The use of e-mails is a particularly vulnerable means of communication today in that it is impossible to hear the tone of voice or see the face of the one writing and, unfortunately, so often we are left to interpret how they are speaking. It is at this point that ‘thinking best’ about people really needs to come into its own. If we are to truly love one another, as Jesus commands us to do, then we will give people the benefit of the doubt and think well of them rather than badly of them, when it is unclear.

To Summarize: First of all things to beware:

  • blaming others while we also share blame,
  • speaking half-truths,
  • gossiping,
  • joining in social media chat about a person and what you think of them,
  • jumping to conclusions about others, about what they say or do,
  • speaking negatively about anyone else that is opinion and not fact,

therefore always checking the truth of a situation and if it unclear, stay silent.

Second, the realities:

  • false testimony is speaking that which is wrong,
  • false testimony is sin,
  • false testimony will draw God’s attention and discipline to us.

Because of the incredible increase in communication by the use of modern technology, opportunities for false testimony have increased a hundredfold and therefore creates a minefield into which the unwary Christian can find themselves drawn. Let’s be careful!

Application: May I suggest we pray something incredibly simple: “Lord, please guard my mouth and convict me whenever I stray from the truth or speak without love. Amen.”

14. No Stealing

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 14. Command Eight: No Stealing

Ex 20:15   You shall not steal

The Command: 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.

Examples: 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)

Joseph’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.

Later History: 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.

Today: 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.

A Counter-Balance: The truth is that if someone does steal it reveals various things about them:

  • they are perhaps poor,
  • they have lost respect for other people and their possessions,
  • they have given way to a temptation born out of a wrong perspective,
  • they have not realized it offends God.

We could probably add a few more things but the point is that we have lost perspective and demeaned ourselves as well as the one from whom we have stolen.  If we wish to regain our self-respect, respect for others and for God, we would do well to look afresh at our attitudes:

  • as a believer have I submitted my whole life to the Lord?
  • am I secure in Him so that I do not have to take what is not rightfully mine to make ends meet?
  • do I legitimately work to earn my keep?
  • do I have a heart of generosity towards others that seeks to give rather than get?
  • do I need to restore anything I have wrongfully taken?

They are simple things but they go towards adjusting our attitudes so that we will NOT succumb to the temptation to take what is not ours in whatever context.

Application: May I suggest we pray something like, Lord please keep me from temptation to take what is not rightfully mine. Please help me to maintain a right attitude towards you and towards others that will deliver me from such a temptation. Amen.”

13. No Adultery

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 13. Command Seven: No Adultery

Ex 20:14    You shall not commit adultery.

Revisiting: Since I wrote the original series many years ago, I believe society has changed so dramatically in the whole area of relationships, that it almost makes this particular command irrelevant, as I’ll examine below. Yet there is a deception even in that thought so let’s look again at this command while being aware of the nature of society in the West today.

The Command: 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. (Look up ‘marriage’ and you’ll probably find references to a ‘legal relationship’ but I believe formal marriages, marriages seen in this light, have only been around a few hundred years. Any ‘committed relationship’ intended for life, I suggest, is marriage in God’s eyes. A wedding is just a way of reinforcing it.)  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.

Seriousness: 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 neighbour–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)

Warnings from Wisdom: 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. (Solomon in later life, as he allowed himself to drift away from God, proved to be the greatest hypocrite on earth as he simply took over 300 ‘wives’. Perhaps that is unkind as they probably didn’t come from previous marriages, but…..)

Today: 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. Another aspect of life in the West today is the ‘normality’ of sex for many, the normality of cohabitation for many. Age, it seems, doesn’t matter, swapping partners, changing partners, not having a partner but a one-off experience, living together, sometimes just for a while, sometimes long-term, appear in all age groups, as we have moved away from God into the quicksands of a constantly changing life where stability in a long-term relationship has been abandoned for being too risky and even boring.

In all these ways God’s design – one man with one woman for life – has been abandoned and so talk about ‘adultery’ almost seems old-fashioned and inapplicable, but it doesn’t matter whether it is a formal marriage or cohabitation, the challenge is still there to resist wandering eyes and to learn to build a long-term relationship of loyalty that can create a stable environment for both partners and their children, and create a more stable society.

Deception: 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!

Pain & Anguish: 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 schoolteachers 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.

Temptation: 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.’ 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.

Stigma in the heart: Yes, there are Christians I know who have in this area 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, in their heart. 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.

Please, be careful: 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 your 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.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying and bringing our own life relationships to the Lord, aware He is a holy God, a righteous God, but also a God of grace. Be honest. Also ask for grace to model His design today. Amen? Amen!

12. No Murder

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 12. Command Six: No Murder

Ex 20:13   You shall not murder.

The Command: 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.

Distinctions: 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!

The Sanctity of Life: 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 what this says:

i) A respect is 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 than anything else.

Grieve over such tragedies: 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 as a tragedy. Sometimes, in this fallen world where we are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, 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 every 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. Perhaps it need reviving.

I have commented in various places before that the stringent requirements of the Law 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. Stoning sounds shocking to the modern mind but we tolerate killings in modern societies that can no way stand up in comparisons with the order of life in Israel that was never perfect but certainly considerably better than our modern societies.

Comparisons: Compare that society with ours today. Compare that society, for example, to London where, when I wrote originally, the media had been excited that the murder numbers each year, in recent years, appeared to have fallen at last below three figures. Since then figures of murders in recent years have been 2017 – 116, 2018- 137, 2019 – 149.  In New York, according to the New York Times, city officials have proudly claimed that it is the safest big city in the country, but in 2019 over 300 people were murdered. In 2019 there were 650 homicides in the UK and this appears to have fallen from 774 in 2018. 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. In California alone in 2018 there were over 1700 murders. That is a lot of murders. In fact it is almost impossible to comprehend that number: Imagine a long line of people, the ones who were murdered last year, those numbers. 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.

Who is responsible? The first murder in the Bible was Cain killing Abel (see Gen 4); Cain was held responsible.  Centuries later Uriah was put in a place where he was killed in battle on the order of David. David was held responsible even though he didn’t actually kill him. (2 Sam 11:14-16). However, what is fascinating is that in the Law there was provision made that if a murder took place and no one was found responsible, the elders of the community would need to come before God and go through an act of atonement (see Deut 21:1-9). Trying murderers is about bringing justice, about the victim having society stand up for him or her and for their name, but in this case, justice cannot be seen to be done, so what can be done?

This Law required those leaders of the community to be responsible before God for it (not that they did it) and so need to stand before God and declare before Him (and be accountable to Him) their innocence and the fact that despite having done all they could, they have not been able to find the killer and therefore they recognise that justice has not been done for the murdered person.  It is a way, if you like, of upholding two things. First, there is the concept of justice and the need for it in society. For the Israelites they had to take a sacrifice and wash their hands in this holy activity before God as leaders of society taking responsibility before God for the bad things in society that they have not been able to resolve. But, second, there is the upholding the respect of the murdered person, the honour of their name and society stands before God and says to them we have had to let you down, and we’re sorry. That is what is behind this. If only we had this today!

A Look Back: Behind this sixth command is an inherent respect for human life that comes from heaven. When you study and read about the initial combatants last century in 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 during the First World War has been possibly one of the greatest examples of willful stupidity and callous indifference to the loss of life recorded in history. For this we each need the Cross.

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.

And So: The original series I titled as, ‘The Wonder of the Ten Commandments’? Why? 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, we who are Christians, Jesus said murderers will be liable to judgment – but so also will those who harbor 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.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord, please forgive us that in modern life we have trivialized murder and almost take it for granted.  Please have mercy on us for we see it as an outworking of a society that has turned its back on you and is living with the consequences, and we desperately need your help to turn this society around. Amen.”

11. Focus on Families (2)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 11. Command Five: Focus on Families (2)

Deut 5:16   Honor 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. “Honor 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.”

Recap: So honoring 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 we majored in the previous study on the role of the parents to create an environment that makes it easy to “Honor your father and mother,” at least as far as we are able! Perhaps we should remind ourselves of  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, to 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.

In the Land: Now we have already indicated how important this simple command was for the 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 civilization and it most certainly was, in God’s eyes, as they settled in the Land.

The Promise of Blessing: 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 that 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.

Struggling to Obey: So back to the original command: “Honor your father and your mother.”  The message is very clear:  when parents together work to enable this to happen, and children seek to work it out, family division that comes from parental breakup or children breaking away from their parents is NOT God’s will. The fact that we live in a world where it has been happening in recent years in numbers counted by hundreds of thousands, means that you may be one of those casualties of the modern approach to life that conflicts with God’s design. But the command is still there.

The cry of the defense by the child has always been, “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 re-bond 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!  This just makes this period of life more difficult when it comes to applying this command. On our own it may be very difficult, but with God’s grace it is possible.

An Area of Heartache: Learning who you are as a young person, does not mean you have to demean or reject your parents, especially when you feel they have failed you.  Yes, they were less than perfect but so will you be if or when you become a parent. 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, if that happened, 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. Honor 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, or at the very least limit the blessing He wants to bring into your life. (Remember the promises of blessing we referred to earlier.) God’s grace is there to enable you to comply with this law, as difficult as that sometimes seems. Confronting your parent 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 diserting father) and healing within the whole wider community.

Recap:  Let’s try and summarize the things we have considered in these two studies:

  1. Being a parent or a child is a life-long experience.
  2. God’s design is for a father and mother who stick together throughout life and who, when bringing children into the world, work to create an environment of love that is conducive to developing personality and character in the children to equip them to the rest of life ahead.
  3. Although the command appears to bear on children, there is, I have suggested, an equal requirement on parents to work to make obeying that command easy, by creating that environment of love.
  4. As parents we will always fall short but that should not stop us aiming for that goal with the enabling of God’s grace. Watching us doing that will help our children in their growth.
  5. The command came with promises of blessing from God, that if we do seek to obey this command we will receive His blessing, not only on length of life but also quality of life.
  6. If we have come to Christ after having suffered either marriage breakup, parental abuse or abandonment, the command does not lesson, but the need for grace will obviously be greater.
  7. Failure yesterday doesn’t mean hope is not possible for tomorrow. Although the Lord hates divorce, hates abuse (partner or child) and abandonment, and hates child-rebellion, that doesn’t mean He stops being a God of redemption and that can apply as much to these things as any other aspect of life. Yes, repentance and tears may be part of the package, followed by forgiveness, but His love and grace will always still be there for us.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study in a different way. May I pray for you: “Lord we have been touching on areas of life which, today especially it potentially seems, are areas fraught with pain and anguish and hurt, and for that reason I ask for your love and grace to reach out right now to any who have been using this study who are feeling casualties in this particular war zone today. May they know your love and grace, your healing and reconciliation, your peace and comfort, and above all give them the grace to address any areas in their past experiences and present life that you have put your finger upon. May they be able to become bringers of light and peace as your grace flows in and through them, that their joy may be full and you be honored and glorified. Amen.”

10. Focus on Families (1)

PART THREE: Latter Six Commandments – about others

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 10. Command Five: Focus on Families (1)

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

Deut 5:16   Honor 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.

A Change of Perspective: The fifth commandment moves from speaking about us having a right attitude towards God, to us 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.)

I am going to develop this study, as we go to revisit the command, by looking at very practical issues, what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a child, so we can place this command in context. So let’s start with some basics about this building block.

Facing Today: I believe what I am about to say needs saying in the light of the things we see in modern societies in the West today and I hope you may find wisdom here in the midst of the undergrowth of modern thinking that might be helpful in navigating the modern world. I suspect more children come into being today by accident than in past decades because sex plays a much bigger part, so we are led to believe, in modern society and ‘safe sex’ doesn’t always happen. Abortion is thus also a bigger issue today than in the past simply because it happens more and we legislate for it to theoretically protect women. Because of these things, it would appear that many parents (often not married) half-regret at least, being saddled with a child. It is at this point that many men depart, to the loss of the child. We have thus lost, I believe, the bigger picture of what bringing a child into this world entails, the responsibilities that go with it, and also the potential that is there. But let’s look at some of the practicalities, the basics if you like of what being a family is.

The Basic Building Block: In starting to bring laws that protect humanity, this very first one is about the basic building block of civilization, the very heart of relationships, which is under such attack today. If the Bible says Satan is a liar 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), how many live in ‘mixed families’ from previous relationships (teaching the children that this is normal), and how many are torn by dissension as parents war against each other and children war against parents. The fact of many relationships merely being cohabitation (now clearly known to be less stable than marriages) only goes to normalize what is abnormal in the word of God.  We have ignored this command and we have ignored it at our peril. But to be more helpful, how can we help, support, readjust to the various modern situations that might confront us?

The Heart of Life: If relationship, and how we handle them, is at the heart of being a human being, and I believe it is, I believe the seed bed for growth of personality and for learning how to cope with life generally, and relationships specifically, is the family unit. (I realize that for many today this is going to be a study that emphasizes painful issues, but unless we face them together we will never be able to change either ourselves or the way we go about life in this twenty-first century.) I had the privilege earlier in life of being trained by the local authority as a Parent Trainer and ran a number of parenting courses, and as I did that it enlarged my thinking.

Life-Time Parenting: Here is a concept to play with! Once you have conceived a child you will be a parent for the rest of your life until either you or they die. Why? Because the definition of a parent is simply a father or a mother. However old your ‘child’ is, you are still a parent:

  • When the child is an embryo in the womb, you are a parent-in-waiting.
  • When they are born you are a parent-in-action.
  • When they have left home and have a partner of their own, you are a parent-in-support.
  • When they have children of their own, you are still a parent-in-support, now what we call a grand-parent.

Life-Time Child Developing: So here’s another interesting concept to play with: you will always remain a child, while you have parents – that is simply a description of your relationship with them, but you will, if you fulfill your potential, become each of those descriptions above. Now here’s the important issue: as you enter into parenthood it should not mean that your role as a child and your parent’s role as your parent should be lost. I believe God’s intent is that they now become a resource to you in a new way (and that is more than just baby-sitting!!!).

A Two-Way Street of Possibilities: Attitude and outlook are crucial. Let’s focus on the parent side first of all and then go on to consider a child in the next study. Consider a couple of possibilities:

You are a parent in support (i.e. they have flown the nest)

  • well, you are glad they are off your hands and if they go and live abroad you’ll be glad they are out of sight, so now you can get on and enjoy life again, OR
  • you realise that when you look back none of us can ever say we’ve been the perfect parent, but we were there for the kids. We’ll keep in contact, remember birthdays and be there for them when they allow us to be, a quiet sympathetic, caring and helpful support in the background when needed.

You are a Grandparent

  • you recently heard through the grapevine that they have had a child and you’re glad that you’re at such a distance that you’re not going to be called upon to be a baby-sitter or anything silly like that! Now they can suffer like you did as a parent! OR
  • they rang you last night and told you the good news and you asked if there was anything they needed, and could you help in any way. When the little one arrived you were there rejoicing with them and were an extra pair of hands in the background to ease the way. You welcomed them into your home and had toys available for the little one that matched their years as they grew. You became a very real part in the little one’s life, a continuing influence for good for the next generation and an ongoing support of its parents.

Wrong Focus? Hold on, I hear you saying, I thought this was all about how my kids are to honour me, for surely this command is, “Honor your father and your mother,” not me the parent honoring them? Absolutely right, but the big question is what does ‘honour’ mean? Surely it means to esteem or think highly of (see Prov 4:8) and as much as I will always insist that none of us can be perfect in the ways we raise our children, that is not to be a cop-out clause to remove our responsibility. The parent who has been harsh, domineering, absent, indifferent to the children, violent, even abusive can never expect  – except with an exceptional dose of God’s grace – their children to think well of them.

Community: In the days of Israel in its infancy, community was all important. They had been slaves together in Egypt, wanderers together in the wilderness, solders together in taking the Land, and settlers together as they established the Land. All of that speaks of community, close community, big families, multi-generational families together and when you have that, you have mutual support, mutual care, wisdom and experience being passed down the generations – and an absence of those negative things I’ve just listed in the paragraph above.

Today we lack these things. Generations often live apart, even on other sides of the world and, because of that, there can be sense of potential isolation where there is little or no accountability and less than perfect parenting can prevail in a large measure. To counter this we need to take on board and work at these things. If we are to make sense of this commandment we need to first look at this matter of parental responsibility. Have I failed my children? Do I need God’s grace to bring reconciliation, healing and maybe forgiveness?

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord, please give me the grace to be honest about how I am going about being a parent and have been as a parent. Please give me the grace to still be a family supporter, a family builder, there for my children and grandchildren, your representative to them. Amen.”

8. Remember & Revere (1)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 8. Command Four: Remember & Revere (1)

Ex 20:8-11   “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour 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.

Two Extremes: Christians seem to fall into two extremes, so often, in respect of these verses. First, there are those who hold to them so legalistically that Sunday becomes a day of imprisonment. My wife, and others I know who grew up in Christian families over forty years ago, tells of Sundays where you were hardly allowed to do anything at all, days of misery almost! Second, the other extreme are those people who say, “Well this is the Old Testament law so it doesn’t apply to us anymore so we can do what we like.” This view gains followers in a day when certain jobs require you to work on a Sunday. I suggest these are extremes because I want to suggest there is a middle way. Let’s 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.

The Basic Command: First of all note what it says: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (v.8) That is the basic law and everything else is

  1. an explanation of what it covers and then
  2. an explanation of why it is to be like this.

The Sabbath here simply applies the seventh day. This basic law or call was

  • first to remember or acknowledge this day or mark it out and,
  • second, you did that by making it holy (distinct and special, a unique day).

So in a moment we’re first going to ask the question, remember what? Then, second, we’re going to ask how do we go about remembering?

The Command Explained: There is next a clarification: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour 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.” (v.8-10) So there it is, a differentiating between the rest of the week of work and this one day whose objective is succinctly put by the ‘Easy to Read’ Bible: “You must remember to keep the Sabbath a special day. You may work six days a week to do your job. 10 But the seventh day is a day of rest in honour of the Lord your God.”

Sabbath? Now something fascinating about this is that the word ‘sabbath’ (from the Hebrew verb shabbat meaning ‘to rest from labour’) first arises in this form a few chapters earlier in the context of gathering the manna, which they were told they could do for six days but then not collect it on the seventh for it “is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord,” (Ex 16:23) “So the people rested on the seventh day.” (v.30)  It is all about resting from work, or at least that is the first expression of it.

Having said that, in Genesis 2 we find the origin of the thinking behind this command: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Gen 2:1-3)

Think about this! Now I believe we need to think about this carefully. I recently heard someone preach that God had to rest on that day. In human terms and, perhaps why the command is given for our blessing, human beings have limited energy, need to rest, need to sleep, need to take food etc. God does not! God is all-powerful and His energy, if we dare put it like that, never runs out. Remember Isaiah’s word, “The Lord is the everlasting God,  the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary.” (Isa 40:28)

So yes, when in Gen 2:2 it says God rested it does come from the root of the Hebrew shabbat but because it is God and in the light of what we have just said, it is better to suggest it is better read, “he stopped” His work, not because He was tired and needed refreshing but because, as it said earlier in v.2, he “had finished the work he had been doing.” i.e. it was complete, it didn’t need improving on, it was “very good” (Gen 1:31). And in passing, remember that chapter 2 is a different view on what had already happened, He had already, by the end of chapter 1, made male and female (v.27). It’s all done, He doesn’t need to do any more so He simply stops and, wanting to make a point about the completeness of His work, He emphasises it by the ‘seventh day’, a special day in which nothing happens except, perhaps, He looks on His completed work with satisfaction. Note there is no ‘eighth day’ in Genesis 1 & 2 so the seventh day is specifically to make the point of completion. So the reasons given for this day to be remembered:

Reason 1 – To Pause up to Remember and be Refreshed: This is what comes over first of all for us. Yes, we need to stop and get reinvigorated by stopping work, that is God’s blessing, the way He has made us and, yes, we ignore that at our peril.

Reason 2 – To Remember God’s Greatness: Now the bigger reason, for the people of God, is to remember God as the Creator (and provider) of all you know. Stopping work on that seventh day of every week is thus a statement of faithful obedience and reverence and trust in Him

Reason 3 – To Remember the Exodus: What is interesting is in Moses reiterating the Ten Commandments in Deut 5, one of the few differences comes here and is first an emphasis on the totality of the rest – “so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do,” (Deut 5:14) – and the background of it – “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deut 5:15)

If we assume both passages were inspired, we must see first see the Creation as a key element of belief (see the start of the faith list in Heb 11:3) to be proclaimed, and then second, the Exodus as the acts of deliverance to be remembered. Remember the prologue of these commands: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deut 5:6) These commands, you may remember, in Deuteronomy are being given to Israel just before they enter the Promised Land. They need to remember the wonder of what the Lord has done for them, and one way will be to take out this day of rest to do it.

Helps to remember: The Lord, it seems, is very much aware that we are people who have a propensity to forget things and therefore Scripture is scattered with examples of things done to help remind people. The Feasts and the fasts of the law did just this; they provided an opportunity to remember (e.g. Ex 12:26,27). The twelve stones at the side of the Jordon were to act as a reminder for future generations of the miraculous crossing of the Jordon (Josh 4:6). For us, Communion or the Lord’s Supper has the same effect – “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19).

Now we have got a lot more to cover – how they applied it and how Jesus applied it for us – so rather than rush this or make it too much to take in at one sitting, we will continue it in the next meditation.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord, thank you that you have revealed yourself to us as Almighty Creator of all things, the Lord who is all powerful and holy. Thank you that you are not only my provider but you are first and foremost my Redeemer. Thank you Lord for saving me and giving me this wonderful world to enjoy. Amen.”

7. Careful with the Name

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 7. Command Three: Careful with the Name

Ex 20:7    You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Significance: At first sight this always seems to me a minor instruction. I mean, does God get upset when silly, puny, tiny, foolish human beings say nasty things about him? I’m sure not. You only get upset about what people say about you when you are insecure but, having said that, God does get upset but I believe it is for an entirely different reason.

These first commands in this list that we find in Exodus 20 are all about God, about who He is and about how we perceive Him AND about how we communicate Him. Don’t have other gods, was the first one, because if you do, you fall into error and deception because there is only ONE God. Anything else is the figment of man’s imagination. Don’t make idols, was the second one because no idol can convey anything of the greatness of God and making an idol is a sign of wanting to control the divine. And so we come to how you speak about God. There are various ways that we use God’s name and they each reveal a wrong way of thinking which leads into wrong speaking.

Error 1 – Denial: Sometimes I believe us uttering words gives us a sense of power. It is foolish and it is deception. Speaking out false truths (which are no truth in fact) helps the unbeliever be even more convinced that he is right. The well-known crusading atheist who denies God and is known for his rants about God, I am sure, makes himself feel good and strengthens his pride that he could come up with a whole paragraph of unpleasant (an inaccurate) words about God. In his denial of God he merely reinforced his unbelief (and misunderstanding) and closed his mind even more. The psalmist (Psa 14:1) wrote, The fool says in his heart, There is no God.” He speaks in his folly and reinforces his folly. Denying the Lord is the first way people misuse the name of the Lord, for they deny the truth.

While we are thinking about what people say, when we speak out words, somehow they take on a strength in our lives. Perhaps that is why the apostle Paul said, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom 10:10) We need to speak out our salvation and in so doing we are strengthened.

Error 2 – Demeaning: And then we find the primary reason, I believe, that God is upset when people foolishly misuse the Lord’s name, because so often they not only deny Him, in some way they demean Him, distort Him, make Him appear less than He is, and in so doing that will put other people off from coming to Him, finding Him and entering into a relationship with Him. The first way of misusing the name of the Lord is by denying Him, the second is demeaning Him, making Him less than He is. That doesn’t hurt Him as a person, but it does mean that it will hinder others coming to know the truth, knowing Him.

Error 3 – Abuse: The third command uses the word ‘misuse’ but there are two similar words that are linked to that. The first is abuse. We have already touched on the foolish atheist who denies and demeans the Name by saying silly and untrue things about Him, but there is misuse by using the name in an abusive way. Some Christians seem comfortable with using the expression, “Oh my God,” in an expressive way but they are not appealing to God when they are doing that; they are using the name ‘God’ to vent emotion. I suggest this is misuse by abuse.

Error 4 – Personal Use: If we use the name ‘God’ or even ‘Lord’ (“Oh, my Lord!”) we are using it for our purpose. Misuse is the main word, abuse is the second word, and the simple ‘use’ is the third word. We use the name God for our purposes, we make His name servant to our desires and again, in so doing we belittle Him, we treat Him casually, we show that we think little His name or the way we use His name. God will not be used – in any way. He will hold us accountable.

Error 5 – Personal Affirmation: Jesus chided people for using God’s name, not as a swear word, but as a support or confirmation to swearing an oath: “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem , for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your `Yes’ be `Yes,’ and your `No,’ `No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Mt 5:33-37) The Law said don’t break an oath but Jesus said you shouldn’t need to make an oath. The implication was that your word should be sufficient without any form of verbal backup, and especially not using or abusing the names of heaven or Jerusalem or of God Himself. In all those ways we use God to support what we are saying. We should not use His name like that.

Honoring the Name: An example of the power of words came when Jesus stood before the high priest: “The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God.” (Mt 26:63) Invoking God’s name made the charge doubly strong in their eyes, but it was still using God. God is not to be used or abused, because He is the Holy One of Israel, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Creator of all things. Nevertheless Jesus responded to the challenge, one of the rare times that he was provoked into answering and it was because he was honoring his Father’s name, even when used badly by the high priest.

More of the Law: As well as in the Ten Commandments, the Law declared, “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” (Lev 19:12) The ‘Easy to Read’ Bible put it, “You must not use my name to make false promises. If you do that, you will show that you don’t respect the name of your God. I am the Lord!” Whichever version we are given the reason – don’t misuse the holy name LORD – the I AM, the unique holy, eternal God. Furthermore in Deuteronomy we find, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Deut 5:11) which the Message version helpfully puts, “No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.” I like that, no curses or silly banter, no using it as a swear word or casually, no “OMG” or “Oh Christ.”

The command, please note, comes with a strong warning: “for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” i.e. this is not a casual thing; this is an important thing and God WILL hold you accountable for how you use His name. You know I believe there are number of ways we Christians in the West in the twenty-first century miss God’s blessing and tolerate lives that are not what they could be, and the poor use or even wrong use of God’s name is one of them

When Praying: Just a small point in closing: what name do you use when you are praying? I ask the question because I believe it indicates something of what we feel about Him. I never address Him as ‘God’. God is what He is. It is like us approaching another person and saying, “Human being, will you…..” It is impersonal. It is blunt and hard, and it lacks any sense of either reverence or intimacy. I confess I will pray, “Lord….” or “Father….” or “Lord Jesus….”. I believe the way we address the Lord says something about what we feel about Him. I may be wrong about this and it may be a cultural thing, but I don’t think so. Think about it.

And Us? I have a suspicion that the way the name Jesus is used sometimes in modern songs verges on misuse. Sometimes we seem to use it as an icon (and I know there is a part of the church that uses icons) and the emphasis is on ‘use’ which often verges on or is ‘ mis use’. When we utter the word, ‘Lord’ does it come with either a sense of awe (reverence) or intimacy (love)? Are we expressing it about the one we love and adore so much or are we expressing it to the one who we revere and adore? The way we speak should convey our relationship with Him. It even reveals that we are people who are known not to use the name for abuse, and that should communicate the truth of it to others. This third commandment has very real meaning.

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord, please guard my tongue and keep me from ever using or abusing your name. I purpose to never demean you or make you sound less that who you are by my speech. You are the Lord of glory. Help me to convey that always through my speech. Amen.”

6. Command Two: No Imitations Please (2)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 6. Command Two: No Imitations Please (2)

Ex 20:4,5   “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;  

Significance: What do these verses say? They say, put most simply, that God will not tolerate imitation competitors or substitutes and will hold His people accountable if they do hold to such ‘competitors’ (though they are in reality no competition!) or substitutes. We said in the previous study that an idol is “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship,” and as we noted previously, this command requires the people of God not to have any substitute ‘gods’ or make any such representations of those ‘gods’ who we considered in detail in respect of Israel and other nations in history.

But why? Why was it that Israel kept turning to idols? We highlighted it before: they wanted gods and idols that they could see. But it is more than that, they wanted something closer to them who they felt they could speak to and though whom they could feel reassured about daily life, who they felt they could rely upon. There is something about expressing out loud your concerns. We do it through prayer and we must assume that Israel did it with their idols in some measure or another.  They would burn incense to these idols as a means of ‘doing something’ they felt might please the idol, the god. There was a reliance there upon the god, through the idol.

An idol, therefore, was a substitute for God although it is difficult not to assume that in the case of the three golden calves (at Sinai and on the north and south borders of the northern kingdom) these idols were initially, at least, supposed to represent God. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses icons as ways of directing their thinking towards God. The Roman Catholic church uses statues of Mary similarly. Both would deny that they worship these as God but are simply tools to help their faith, yet whether it be in modern forms or in the life of Israel, such practices can easily become a substitute for a real, live, vibrant relationship with the Living God.

And Us? An idol today, therefore we might say, is anything we use as a substitute for God but that doesn’t take us to the heart of the matter.  The apostle Pail wrote, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.(Col 3:5). To the Ephesians he also wrote, For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph 5:5) Now we tend to simply equate greed with idolatry here but, if we read it properly, the truth is that he is saying in both cases – and this is very important – that all of these things that “belong to your earthly nature” are the thing (the expression of ‘self’) with which we replace God.

The person who rejects God does so because they make ‘self’ the all-important heart of their life. They rely upon themselves to the exclusion of God. It is not a case of making one particular thing in their life – money, ambition, fame, family, work, an expensive car, two houses, a yacht, all the things that usually come to mind in these conversations – but the whole issue of what their life is given to, worshiping and relying upon self, or worshiping and relying upon God is what is important. Those things in that list I have just given are not in themselves wrong, none of them! They become ‘wrong’ when they are the expression of God-excluding-self.

But why – again! We still haven’t, I feel, yet got to grips with why people do this. In the first of this series we spent some time considering the absence of wisdom when we focus on behaviour rather than identity, on self-effort achievement rather than change that flows out of a Cross-centred and Holy Spirit based love relationship with God through Jesus. As I ponder on the two verses above from Colossians and Ephesians, I can’t help but feel that the heart of it is the effect of the presence of sin in every person seen in the form of that propensity that we have to ‘self-centred godlessness’ (my usual definition of Sin). The fallen world around us is often unpleasant and unkind and we want to take protective steps against that but with it comes a blindness (2 Cor 4:4) which can even remain in believers (Rev 3:17) and which so often prevents seeing life as it is, or the reality of the Gospel as it is.

So what changes that? The word of God that is the Gospel that comes by the Spirit usually through the mouths of others, and certainly on the pages of the New Testament. This and this alone, I would suggest, is how God brings a blend of conviction and hope that brings us – whether unbeliever for the first time, or believer perhaps again and again – a reason for turning away from ourselves and turning towards Him, of giving up our reliance upon ourselves and declaring our reliance upon Him. That reliance has to be in respect of the Cross – the foundation for any reassurance that forgiveness, cleansing and a new life is possible – and the presence and filling of the Holy Spirit – who is our power source to enable that divinely supernatural life to be lived.

Not that Simple: Now that may appear simple (when your eyes have been opened) but there is a little verse in Scripture that should bring warning. When Israel, the northern kingdom, were deported by Assyria in 722BC ending their existence after about 208 years, the king of Assyria did what was common practice back then of importing people from elsewhere but also sent back a priest to teach these new people about how to respond to God (see 2 Kings 17:24-28) but sadly it proved semi-abortive because those new people then exercised a mixed religion – “They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods.” (v.33) Do you see that? Worshiped God (great!) BUT they also served their own gods.

Now from what we have been saying, the options we presented are worshiping the god of self or the One True God, but the verse above reminds us that you can try and do the same – apparently worship God but at the same time hold on to major expressions of self.

So How? It isn’t a case of focusing on individual ‘bits’ of our lives, for that simply takes us back to behavioral theology, self-effort, the try harder approach that we rejected at the beginning. Yes, it is important to teach and face these things as stumbling blocks in our lives, but the bigger issue is still all about identity. This, we said at the beginning, is all about who you are in Christ, this is the wonder of what he has done for you, this is what he thinks about you, these are the resources he has provided for you, and here is the wonder of the life that you can aspire to with the help of his Spirit and his word.

Focusing on individual imaginary ‘idols’ simply brings us guilt, a need for more self-effort and likely sense of failure. Recognizing the wonder of who we are, in its fullest, sense – loved and accepted children of God, forgiven and cleansed by the work of the Cross, now indwelt by the Holy Spirit – these are the remedies for that self-life, these are the things that are at the heart of the Gospel, and these are the things that deliver us from the guilty wonderings of how to apply this commandment.

If you have been brought up in a legalistic Christian environment that has left you with guilt, shame, and an ongoing sense of failure, may I invite you to read back through the fairly detailed content of this particular study and ask the Lord to open your eyes to the wonder of who you are in him, and set you free from your past. Amen? Amen!

(There is more that could be said about this particular command but I don’t want to detract from what we have here, so we will simply move on to the next command in the next study.)

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord Jesus, thank you that you have saved me and delivered me out of the dominion of darkness into your kingdom of light. I affirm you alone are my Lord and I give my life to you afresh this day. Amen.”