Sermon: The Power of Ten WordsPosted: August 2, 2015
Introduction to the Ten Commandments
A little while ago Time Magazine ran a cover story entitled “The God Gene.” It was about research being done in over a dozen universities in the United States. Different researchers in different universities from California to New York are all looking into the same question: Does our DNA compel us to seek a higher power? The remarkable part of this study is that the researchers say “yes!”
Does that surprise you? To be honest I was a bit surprised by, not so much by what the researchers found, but that they agreed that to some degree we are all looking for a higher power, someone else to be in control. We have a deep longing for there someone, something to guide our paths and to give us hope.
Blasé Pascal, a French philosopher, is known for his work in maths, and chemistry. At age 12, he had discovered the principles geometry and at 16 wrote “The Geometry of Conics”. He also invented the calculating machine and the theory of probability.
In his mid-thirties, Pascal became interested in religion. And he penned the theory that these scientists are trying to prove today. You have probably heard his theory without knowing where it came from. He wrote: “Within each one of us there is a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill.” If that is true then everyone of us was made to seek out God.
Growing up in a church school I was taught indirectly what it meant to seek out God. I watched chaplains and priests profess with their lives that if you want to fill the God- Shaped vacuum in your life then what you need to do is find God’s will for your life and follow it perfectly. These people who had an early influence on my life taught me that I needed to lean on the perfect way of keeping God’s Law.
The problem I ran into was that I couldn’t keep the law perfectly. I really struggled to find God through trying to keep the rules and ended up never forming a relationship with Him. I now know that God uses the rules to bring us closer to Him and that only a personal relationship will fill the God shaped vacuum in your life.
To prove this I want to look, over the new eleven weeks) at the most famous set of laws the 10 commandments in a way that we see the grace of God in every command.
We live in an age that has lost its way. Though we don’t condone murder or theft, we are debating whether it’s okay to lie and commit adultery. On a recent visit to the Melbourne Business School, the Principal of Wesley College wrote that they were teaching ethics to future CEO’s using Utilitarian, Aristotlean, Kantian and Natural Law Theory – where is the Biblical viewpoint?
In the introduction to her book, The Ten Commandments, Dr. Laura Schlessinger writes; “Each day we make many, seemingly minute decisions about things that don’t really seem earth shattering. So what if we broke a promise? So what if we find passion in another bed while we or they are still married? So what if we are too focused on work, TV, or clubs to spend time with our family? So what if religion is not a big deal in our lives? When one adds up all the so-what’s,” one ends up with a life without direction, meaning, purpose, value, integrity, or long-range joy.”
I doubt that you can find another passage in the Bible that so concisely, clearly and compassionately outlines the grace of God and the response to that grace human beings are called to make than the Ten Commandments.
Each week I want for you to hear all of them. So when we get together we will hear the whole law and then look into the relationship that comes from each law.
So lets read together Exodus 20:1-17.
And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 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.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
The Ten Commandments are more correctly “The Ten Words”. They were first given verbally to Moses on Mount Sinai, according to this account in Exodus 20. They were later twice written by the finger of God on both sides of two tablets of stone. Moses shattered the first pair in response to Israel’s sin of the golden calf, according to Exodus 32. The second pair were deposited in the Ark. In Deuteronomy 5, Moses republished them in a slightly modified form.
This morning I want to start by talking about the power of these Ten Words. Any document that has lasted as long and has exerted as much influence on humanity as this one must have something going for it.
1. They are rooted in a relationship.
Look at Exodus 19:4-5.
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.
These are not arbitrary laws that require blind obedience to an invisible authoritarian. Vs.5 says, “If you keep my covenant.” A covenant is a sacred promise between two parties. You can have a contract without having a relationship. But you can’t have a covenant without a relationship. The Ten Commandments are like a wedding vow in many ways.
God pledges his power and love and promises and presence to Israel. In turn, God expects Israel’s loyalty to himself and compassion toward others.
God didn’t simply jot down the Ten Commandments then answer Israel’s question, “Why should we do this?” by saying, “Because I told you so.” Often, God does tell his people to obey because, “I am the Lord.” But even then his commands are predicated on this relationship. The Ten Commandments are built on responsibility. God is as bound by them as we are.
That’s why, in part, the Ten Commandments don’t work with people who don’t have a relationship with God. Why should a person avoid stealing if he or she doesn’t acknowledge the God who said, “Thou shalt not steal”? Why should a person honor their marriage commitments if they haven’t already made a commitment to the God who said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”?
The power of the Ten Commandments lies not in the fact that they are laws, but in that they are descriptions of how people live in relationship with God. It is true that they are law. But more than that, they are words that describe a relationship.
2. The Ten Commandments outline human response to the grace of God.
Exodus 19:1- 2 uses the word ” After” twice. 1 In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on the very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
After what? Vs. 4 answers that question. “After I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”
And Exodus 20:2 says “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Before God ever commands them to do anything or to refrain from doing anything, he saves them. Moses did not show up in Egypt with two stone tablets and say, “If you guys will agree to obey all these commands, God will deliver you from Egyptian slavery.” He showed up and said, “God has heard your cry and has sent me to deliver you.” Then, and only then, did God outline the response Israel was to make.
Exodus 19:4-5 outlines this order perfectly. Vs. 4 says, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”
Vs. 5 says, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” Deliverance first. Commandment second.
Remember what happened just 40 days after they first received the commands? They decided to violate at least the first two of them by building the golden calf and having a pagan party. And what did God do? He forgave them and reissued the commands. That’s grace.
Paul in Romans, said that the law is good. The law doesn’t save us, it does however describe how saved people respond to the grace that saved them.
3. The Ten Commandments move faith from the abstract to specific behaviour.
If you were to do a nationwide survey and ask people, “Do you believe in God?” I’ll bet the numbers would surprise you. A huge percentage would say, “Yes, absolutely, I believe in God.” But then if you examined their lives you’d find that what they profess to believe and how they live show very little correlation. I can say to Margie, “I love you.” But if I never act out that love in specific, concrete behaviour, my words are empty.
Faith, like love, is too easily kept in the realm of theory. The Ten Commandments don’t allow us to claim belief in God without demonstrating that belief in concrete actions and behaviours. They require us to affirm our faith in the daily grind of living.
So instead of, “Do you believe in God?” the Ten Commandments ask us ten questions,
“Do you honor anything or anyone above the one true God?
Has God been replaced by something physical or material in your life?
Have you dishonored God’s name by using it in a frivolous manner?
Is your work more important than your relationship with God?
Do you honor your father and mother?
Do you value human life?
Have you kept your marriage vows?
Do you respect other’s rights of ownership?
Do you tell the truth?
Are you content with what you have or do you covet the possessions, relationships and successes of others?”
To God, our answers to those specific questions about behavior and morality demonstrate our belief.
4. They require personal responsibility for the well being of the community.
The “you” in all these commands is singular. One of the reasons, maybe one of the top three reasons, our world is in such a moral mess right now, can be summed up in these words; “It’s not my problem.”
Really, it doesn’t make a big impact on my life if someone in Adelaide covets his neighbor’s way of life.
If someone in Sydney lies about a business investment, big deal.
If someone murders his business partner in Perth, that’s just too bad.
Those sins don’t affect me; it’s not my problem. The problem is, though, that almost everybody feels that way. And sooner or later you are going to be lied to, or robbed.
When God came down to the mountain, hundreds of thousands of people were gathered around its base. He didn’t address the crowd, though. He addressed each and every individual. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me. You, standing there by that rock, and you over by that cedar tree, and you too, the one in the red turban who is thinking in his heart how glad he is all these other people are hearing all these commands. I’m talking to you!” There is a connection between personal responsibility and the welfare of the community. The Ten Commandments shout at the top of God’s voice, “It is your problem!”
Every lie you tell or tolerate, every covetous thought you allow to live longer than a flash, every secret lust, every act of dishonesty, all of them matter. And the only way we will see our nation healed is if we take the personal responsibility to make it a holier, healthier nation beginning with ourselves.
5. They illustrate the connection between our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with each other.
The first four commands describe our relationship with God. The last 6 describe our relationships with each other.
In Mark 12 Jesus answered a question about which was the greatest command. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this; Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” What Jesus did was summarise the Ten Commandments. Love God. Love your neighbour.
These days in our culture we’ve edited Jesus’ summation of the Ten Commandments from two down to one. As long as people love each other we’re happy. You can keep God, thanks. All you need is love. The problem is we can’t get everyone to love each other. You see God is love. You get rid of God, you lose love.
What sounds like a thoroughly New Testament teaching had its origin in the Ten Commandments You can’t have a healthy, holy relationship with humans without having a healthy, holy relationship with God.
At the beginning of this message, I said that if you want to fill the God-shaped vacuum in your life, you need to find God’s will for your life.
Mostly we are told that means we must follow His rules … I have realised that it is much more than that.
If I want to know God’s will, I must surrender my own will.
And that is really what these ten words are all about!!
Over the next ten weeks we are going to see what this might mean in each of the ten commandments but you don’t need to wait that long to surrender your own will to God – you can come forward now for prayer!!!