One of my ideas for this blog is an opportunity to do some brain-storming for upcoming sermons. Therefore, if you read this, please comment on what I write and how you feel about it. This is a really great opportunity for everybody to read what I am thinking and for me to get some honest feedback.
With that in mind, I begin my thoughts on Exodus 20:1-17, the passage containing the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. I think it’s easy for a lot of us to think of these ten laws as rigorous rules that are meant to remind us of how sinful we are. We read them and say to ourselves, “I truly am a despicable sinner.” Well, yes, that is the hard reality of life. Martin Luther said that the Ten Commandments serve as a way to recognize our unrighteousness. And really, that’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Take a look at a newspaper, and you’ll see that the world is pretty screwed up. Human beings are born into a sinful world and cannot not sin.
What’s more, are the Ten Commandments as arbitrary as some accuse them of? Even modern day atheists have a system of morality that is loosely based on these precepts found in Exodus 20. “Doing good for goodness’ sake” is very similar to the last six commandments: honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, and don’t be envious of your neighbor. So the Ten Commandments don’t stand in judgment of the world, because the world would be screwed up even if we didn’t have them.
So what are the Ten Commandments for? If we know that we are messed up as individuals and as societies, and if we know that we can never truly live up to the expectations of all ten of these laws, why do we pay attention to them? Indeed, a very good question. Especially when some creative moralists come up with scenarios where honoring father and mother will lead to allowing child abuse or stealing food is allowable to survive.
Yes, but all of these cases are often obscure cases. And I believe that good, thinking, Christians will have to exercise their God-given faculties of judgment and reason to sort through these ethical dilemmas.
But the deeper purpose of the Ten Commandments is that they serve as guideposts. They are markers that we know are true, not because they are simply in the Bible, but because we know in our guts that they are right (as I said, even Richard Dawkins has a system of morality loosely based on these principles).
There are two parts to the Ten Commandments. The first four, you shall have no other gods before, you shall not make any idols, you shall not invoke with malice the name of the Lord, and remember the Sabbath, are all guides to a right relationship with God. They remind us that God is our Creator, the only one worthy of our praise; we can rest in him. They tell us that God’s name is holy, and that it contains a power that should be wielded with prudence. These four commandments orient the compass of our lives to a loving and right relationship with God.
The second six commandments are ways for us to live in right relationship with other people. We recognize the fact that our parents brought us into this world. It recognizes the fact that lying leads to deception and living false lives. The commandments not to covet and not to steal are to remind us that we are to live with our rightful property, and that we need to respect other’s property.
But then, of course, as I write about these, it sounds like they are all pretty easy to follow, right? When you put them in modern terms, the Ten Commandments don’t sound all that daunting (it’s hard to picture Charlton Heston coming down the mountain with tablets that say “Don’t sleep around”).
Yet we recognize that we break these commandments, sometimes there are days when I feel like I have broken all ten of them. What then? Are we sentenced to hellfire and brimstone because we can’t live up to this set of rules?
Thanks be to God that we are under the law of grace. We do not deserve it, but we are given it freely. While we try with every ounce of our might to live holy lives, there are times when we fall short. The grace of God is that those sins are covered up. But this not some cheap grace, no, this is costly grace. It costs us our entire lives for we are to pledge ourselves to God. We must always seek grace and be open to it.
Sorry for these lengthy musings on the Ten Commandments. Fortunately, my sermons are often better than this undirected prose. But please, if you managed to read all the way to the end, post your comments. I would appreciate them.