REFLECTIONS ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
M. Frank 1/96
For the Christian, the Ten Commandments are not a way to get to heaven. They are not even the center of our faith. Instead, Jesus is both the way to heaven and the center of our faith. Nevertheless, the Ten Commandments are understood to be of great significance for the Christian. How is that?
Being a Christian is a bit like getting married. When the vows are taken, promises are made. There is a shape to the married life. There are guidelines, which are absolutely essential if marriage is to succeed. Thus, when I married my wife, I promised to forsake all others, I promised to be faithful to her, I promised to do this until death separated us.
Nevertheless, what is central to a marriage is one's spouse. The rules enable the relationship, but they can never replace it. Likewise being a Christian has to do with a personal relationship with God Almighty, a relationship which occurs when a person trusts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
However, when this happens a new life begins, and this life has a concrete shape. This shape is, in part, congruent to a life which is shaped by obedience to the Ten Commandments.
Of course, the life which has been shaped by Jesus Christ is also marked by love, repentance, hope, and so forth. And these qualities are distinct from obedience to the Ten Commandments. What is true, however, is that a life which is not shaped by this obedience cannot be a life where faith, hope and love are flourishing. To run afoul of the Ten Commandments is thus to live a life which is not centered on Jesus Christ. The Ten Commandments, then, are like reflectors on a highway. They warn us of danger. They warn us when our life with God is headed in the wrong direction. They warn us when our life with God is careening toward danger.
The Ten Commandments touch on two relationships. They tell us of our relationship with God and with our neighbor. This is appropriate for the Christian. Jesus Christ died to heal both our broken relationship with God and our broken relationship with our neighbor. As might be expected from what we have already said, the Ten Commandments do not tell us how to love God or how to love our neighbor. They do, however, warn us when we are moving in the opposite direction of love.
I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD
The one true God has come to us, has revealed Himself to us. He is the God of the Bible, the One who called Abraham, the One who sent Moses, the God who gave the Law to Israel, sent the prophets, promised the Messiah. He is the One who has come to us, revealed Himself to us, and given us salvation through His only Son, Jesus Christ.
I AM A JEALOUS GOD
Of course He is a jealous God. It would be a terrible thing if He were not. His love gives our lives meaning, joy and hope. And He jealously guards His relationship to us because He loves us.
Outside of Him there is emptiness, darkness, death. Thank God He is a jealous God. If He were not, we would be lost eternally. If He tolerated sin and idolatry, it would be better to never have been born.
YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME.
The One who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, He is God. There is no other god.
We are not to bow to any other gods, whether they be named Buddha, Allah, Hari Krishna, the Sun, Sophia, etc. These are all idols. The worship of an idol only keeps a person from the one true God who loves us so much that He sent His only Son to save us.
Nor are we to worship pseudo gods, subtly painted with Christian language, but constructed with pagan ideas. We are not to bow down to the false gods of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Unitarianism or any such ilk.
Finally, because we belong to the one true God we are to practice true religion and put away all dabbling in "supernatural things" that have been forbidden by God. Especially we are to put away all that touches on magic or the occult: seances, fortune-telling and the like.
YOU SHALL MAKE NO GRAVEN IMAGE.
This commandment is similar to the first. It forbids us to worship the creation instead of the Creator. This often takes the form of nature worship and is accompanied by the making of graven images.
However, the force of the command can still be felt even when we are not tempted to worship the sun, the moon or the four winds. For the worship of the creation, or a part of the creation, can occur in far subtler ways. This form of idolatry occurs whenever the center of our hearts is claimed by something other than God Himself. This center can be claimed by objects which, in and of themselves, are good and are, indeed, gifts from God. Thus a spouse or a child, a nation, a neighborhood, even an ideology can become an idol. The idols of drugs, alcohol or sex are easily seen as inappropriate because they so quickly destroy one's life. But the other idols are in the end, just as destructive, for they separate the idolater from the source of all life, from God Himself.
YOU SHALL NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD YOUR GOD IN VAIN
We are to love God with our voices, as well as with our hands.
Thus we do not curse using his name. Thus we do not lie about who He is. Thus we do not invoke Him to do harm to another.
Instead, we are careful to honor Him in all that we say.
REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY TO KEEP IT HOLY.
God has given to us this promise: our welfare is in His hands. We are not required to always work. Nor are we permitted to believe that our welfare is created solely by our own effort.
We are commanded to work, it is true. But as a gift of mercy we have been given a day of rest. It is a day of rest from our labors. It is also a day when we are called upon to rest in God. Thus it is marked by the Church's worship.
For the Church, Sunday has become this special day of rest. This is, of course, because Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week.
HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.
Here is the first commandment that speaks about our neighbor. These neighbors are particular ones-- the ones who first touched our lives. We need to begin to love somewhere. And if we don't begin with those about us we really haven't begun.
Our parents are given to us by God. They have been given a specific task to do-- they are to raise us up to know, fear and love God. We are not to make this task difficult for them. We are to honor them in it. When we are young we are to obey them (unless, of course, they command us to disobey God). When we are beyond their command by reason of age, we are still to honor them by praying for them, loving them and even caring for them.
If our parents completely fail the task God has set before them, if they are abusive and godless, then we honor them by forgiving them.
As we become parents and reflect on the task given to parents, we are reminded that our children belong first to God. We are to love them, train them, and finally free them for God.
YOU SHALL NOT KILL
This commandment, which forbids the murder of the innocent, makes great sense for several reasons. Among these are: a) God created my neighbor, and b) Jesus Christ died for my neighbor. My neighbor therefore belongs to God, and God commands me to love my neighbor as I love myself.
On the other hand the motive for murder is rooted in the oldest heresy. This is the heresy that says, "I am god," and the corollary that says, "I am your god and I can dispose of you as I please."
Everyone belongs to God. I am therefore forbidden to murder. I belong to God. I may not kill myself. The elderly belong to God. I may not dispose of them because they are no longer "useful." The terminally ill belong to God. I may love them, comfort them, ease their pain. I may not take their life. The unborn child belongs to God. I may not dispose of him. My neighbor who is close belongs to God. My neighbor who is a stranger belongs to God. I am to love that neighbor for the sake of, and by the command of, God.
YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY
God made man and woman. He made human sexuality. It is a gift. As the giver of the gift, as the Lord of our lives, God has a right to place limits on the activity of sexual intercourse. It belongs only in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. Outside of this context, it is sin. Within this context, it is a rich gift for which we should be thankful.
Marriage between a man and a woman ought to reflect the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Adultery makes a mockery of this intended reflection. Furthermore, adultery is rooted in ingratitude and promise breaking.
Marriage, on the other hand, forces a person, by its very nature, to deal with their spouse as a full human being. Marriage places the act of sex in a much fuller context when we come to know, and even to be subject to, the full humanity of our spouse. Outside of this context, sexual activity denies the humanity of the other, denies the other as a child of God, uses the other only as a lifeless instrument of pleasure. This kind of sexual activity is demonic.
YOU SHALL NOT STEAL
When I steal, my neighbor ceases to be, for me, fully human. For when I steal, I forget that he belongs to God and is to be treated accordingly.
Since my neighbor belongs to God I am not to take from Him what God has given him. When I steal from my neighbor he has become to me no more than a fruit-bearing tree, given to me to use as I please. When I steal, I despise both God and my neighbor.
YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS
To belong to Jesus, the Word of God, is to be a teller of truth. To lie is to bring shame on the name of Jesus. To lie against my neighbor and bring hurt to him, is to despise him, and therefore, to despise God, who loves him and has commanded me to love him.
The Apostle Paul tells us that not only is lying forbidden, but malicious gossip as well. We are to love our neighbor in what we say. But gossip, however tasty, that hurts my neighbor for no good reason, reveals a heart which has forgotten God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
YOU SHALL NOT COVET
If I love my neighbor, I will be happy for his good fortune. I will not betray my joy in his good fortune, by being jealous over what he has. I will not desire his wife (or her husband), his job, his money, his good repute.
Instead, I will love him, rejoice in his good fortune, and totally avoid coveting.
Mike Frank © 1996
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