Sermon: Sanctified Reputation

Exodus 20:1-17

I want to begin with three famous quotes. They are all from American President’s and I am sure that you have heard them before, but I want you to think about what they all have in common.

“Read My Lips, No New Taxes.” – George Bush

“I do not know that woman.” – Bill Clinton.

“The American people have a right to know that their president is not a crook. And I am not a crook.” – Richard Nixon

What do they have in common?

They are lies. Each one breaks the ninth commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The word translated as “False witness” or “false testimony” refers to all kinds of false speech – perjury, innuendo, lies, deceit, falsehood and gossip.

We read in Proverbs 6:16 – 19 a list of seven things which God hates. “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

Virtually all of them touch on some aspect of false speech.

And our never changing God carried that thought over into the New Testament when He led Paul to write in Ephesians 4:20 25 the implications of living as children of light. Listen to how much of this passage is devoted to truth and to avoiding deceit.

” But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

25          What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.” THE MESSAGE

I doubt that there is another commandment, other than the first, which is so routinely violated in our culture these days. And it’s not just these days. You probably can’t find another topic so thoroughly covered in the Bible. Scripture’s prohibitions against lying, and its commandments to tell the truth, are found in both Testaments and in almost every book. Clearly, human beings have had a problem with telling lies when the truth would have done better since the very beginning.

The most direct application of the ninth commandment involves perjury in a formal judicial hearing. And the Law of Moses took perjury very seriously.

Listen to Deuteronomy 19:15 – 21.

15 One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, 17 the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, 19 then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

God knew that when testimony is given in a court of law, more than fortunes are at stake. Lives may be on the line. But we must not limit this law to legal proceedings. It covers far more than the testimony people give under oath. This commandment seeks to protect the sanctity of a person’s reputation.

Solomon writes in Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

When we falsely accuse someone of something, we have taken from them something that cannot be returned. Ask anyone whose ever been accused of dishonest business practices if they’ve ever lived down the false charge? Or of those falsely accused of sexual crimes.

And its not just false testimony about someone’s character that robs them of their reputation. Anytime we gossip about someone, even if it what we say is true, we are violating at the very least the spirit of the 9th commandment, if not the letter. Gossip is simply the vice of confessing someone else’s sins.
Let me suggest something you can do to stop gossip. The next time someone sidles up to you and says, “Hey, did you hear about …. “, say this; “No and I don’t think I want to hear about it. I’m sure you’ve carefully researched all the facts, but in the unlikely event that you are wrong, what you are about to tell me will forever change how I feel about this person. And even if it is true, I don’t need to hear it. You need to speak directly to the person concerned.”

Or you could simply quote scripture to them. James 4:11 says, “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against or judges his brother or sister, speaks against the law and judges it.”

Now I know that’s pretty strong language and we might have a hard time saying that. But I’ve found that you virtually have to hit gossips over the head with a plank to get the point across. And if they talk to you about someone else, you just bet that they are probably talking to someone else about you.

Don’t think you are jeopardizing a healthy relationship by being blunt. In fact, you may be saving their soul by wounding their pride. Remember, one of the things God hates is someone who stirs up dissension among brothers and sisters.

A good rule to deal with issues which we feel are offensive is found in Matthew 18:15-18. “If someone has offended you, tell them privately. If that doesn’t help, take one or two others along as witnesses. And if you are still frustrated, tell it to the church. If even that doesn’t help, then no longer treat him as a brother.”

Perjury and gossip are covered by the 9th commandment and so is good old fashioned lying. There are many different ways to tell a lie. Sometimes we lie by intentionally using inaccurate words.

But there are other ways of lying. Someone once said, “The essence is in deception, not in words. A lie may be told by silence, by hedging, by the accent on a syllable … and all these kinds of lies are worse than a lie plainly told.”

Perhaps a workable definition of what it means to lie would be like this – anything we purposefully say or do that is intended to mislead another person.

So does that mean that not telling everything you know is a lie? Not necessarily. Honesty means that everything you say must be true, not that everything that is true must be said.

If I think your new hairstyle is funny, I’m not going to volunteer an opinion. But if you ask me what I think of your new hairstyle, we both have a problem. I must be quick enough on my feet to give you an honest, but gentle answer and you must be brave enough to accept the answer you asked for.

On the other hand, if you have information that you are morally obligated to share, your silence is a lie.

And let me add this just here. Lies don’t come in colors. There is no such thing as a white lie. What we mean by a “white lie,” is apparently one that doesn’t hurt anybody. One that doesn’t involve important issues. One that simply spares someone hurt feelings or avoids a potential confrontation we have deemed unnecessary. But there is no such thing.
In real life people’s feelings are wounded, their trust in what we say is eroded, our relationship is made cheap.

Jesus said something haunting in Matthew 12:36, 37. “But I tell you that men and women will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.”

Dallas Willard writes about a two-year-old girl in the backyard who one day discovered the secret to making mud (which she called “warm chocolate”). Her grandmother had been reading and was facing away from the action, but after cleaning up the mess, she told little Larissa not to make any more chocolate and turned her chair around so as to be facing her granddaughter.

The little girl soon resumed her “warm chocolate” routine, with one request posed as sweetly as a two- year-old can make it: “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”

Nana of course agreed. Larissa continued to manufacture warm chocolate. Three times she said, as she continued her work, “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”

Then Willard writes, “Thus the tender soul of a little child shows us how necessary it is to us that we be unobserved in our wrong.”

Any time we choose to break the 9th Commandment or any of the Commandments in fact, we choose hiddenness as well. It may be that out of all the prayers that are ever spoken, the most common one-the quietest one, the one that we least acknowledge making-is simply this: Don’t look at me, God.

It was the very first prayer spoken after the Fall. God came to walk in the garden, to be with the man and the woman, and called, “Where are you?”
“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid, … so I hid.” Don’t look at me, God.

When we cheat on our taxes or deliberately make a coworker look bad, or when a student who looks at somebody else’s paper during an exam. A church member who looks forward to the chance to gossip.

All first must say a little prayer. Don’t look at me, God.

We don’t say it out loud, of course. We probably don’t admit it even to ourselves. But it’s the choice our heart makes: Don’t look at me, God.

After a while this prayer can become so ingrained that we’re not even aware of it.

When we lie, by our silence, by intentionally misleading someone, by outright deceit, we erode the foundation of trust on which community is built, and our prayer becomes Don’t Look At me God.

Lies are the deeply hidden fault lines beneath our lives. Even the slightest movement away from full and total honesty sends a tremor to the surface where we live, shaking everything we have labored to build.

It takes decades to build a citadel of trust. It takes just one lie to tear it down.


Sermon: Trusting Community

Exodus 20:1-17

YOU SHALL NOT STEAL
Beneath these terse words of the eighth commandment, is an ageless principle. God intends for his people to live in trusting, loving community with each other.

To steal is to take something which belongs to another and to claim it for yourself.

It is more than simply taking stuff – it is a violation of trust.

It creates insecurity in the community

And it raise walls between friends,

 

FIVE PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNITY

First, the right of ownership
If you and I are forbidden to take by stealth or violence the property of another, then God is in fact affirming the right of human beings to own possessions.

All through the Scriptures, the rights of people to own and manage property and possessions are affirmed. In fact, in the Old Testament, restitution is demanded of thieves who steal another’s property.
Exodus 22:3 requires a thief to pay back double what he took.

Why does God seek to protect the right of ownership. Things cannot make us happy, but we do need things – houses, money, food, clothing, and transportation – to live. In protecting ownership, God is protecting life and health.

The second principle is the dignity of work.
There are really only four scriptural ways to gain something; work for them, purchase them, inherit them, and receive them as gifts. Any thing else is sinful.

Virtually every experiment with socialism has failed because people stop working and/or lose any incentive to work well.

Why work when the community will force those who already have the necessities of life to give them to you?

Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4:28. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Stealing is often, not always, but often a means of avoiding work. By its very nature it devalues labor and productivity. But it does more than that. It devalues people.

It assumes that other human beings exist as an opportunity for exploitation and gain. They exist to serve the needs or desires of the thief.
Again, the focus is not on possessions, but on people. Paul wanted his readers to work not so that they could amass for themselves limitless possessions, but so that they could help people in need.

A third principle of community is honesty.
Without honesty, community becomes a combat zone where people take advantage of every opportunity to exploit another’s misfortune for their own gain.

Margie and I were driving back from a holiday with my late Dad one time when we came across a truck rollover. A truck was full of liquor – there were up to 40 cars in front and behind the truck and people were carrying box loads of gin bottles from the truck to their cars. At the truck itself, the poor driver was hopelessly trying to stop the looting but people just pushed him out of the way.

It’s pretty easy for us to judge to people who pillage an overturned truck. But what about when the till operator short changes you? What happens when the waitress forgets to include something on your bill?

Insurance claims? Taxes. Expense reports.

Incorrect or falsified billing – charging for 6 hours when you only worked 5. What happens when you find a $10 note on the floor?

We’re tempted to blame the inefficiency of till operators or the gullibility of customers. Or we fall back on that tired old cliché, “Finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers.”

But the Bible calls us to a rigorous standard of honesty. Deuteronomy 22:1 says that if you find your brother’s ox you are to return it. And just in case someone tries to get fancy with the definition of “brother,” Exodus 23:4 says that if you find your enemies ox, return it!

Stories like the one about the pillaged liquor truck can be balanced by good stories. A man filled up with petrol, paid the attendant and was preparing to drive away when he realized he’d been given too much change. He went inside and reported the error to the owner of the petrol station. The owner was taken aback by the man’s honesty. He said that in twenty years that had happened only once before. He remembered that a man, somewhat older than this honest customer, had returned for the same reason. “In fact,” the petrol station owner said, “the man was driving a truck with the same logo as the one you have on your van.” There were only two trucks in the whole town with that logo. One owned by this honest customer, and the other by his father. Honesty runs in the family.

The fourth principle of community is the importance of giving.
In Malachi 3:8 – 10, God asked a question. “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ’How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me.”

Israel was stealing from God by failing to give. But pay careful attention to what the next verse says.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”

God didn’t want the food for himself. He wanted money in the treasury so that those who needed financial help could find it. God has always wanted his people to give so that those in need could be cared for.

Stealing does more than reduce the victim’s ability to give. It reduces our will to give as well. When something is taken from us, we naturally become more possessive of what is left. The more possessive we become, the less generous we are.

The less generous we are, the poorer the church becomes.

It is rare that you find a victim of theft as eager to give as someone who has never known that fear. And you never find a thief who has a heart to give. The eighth commandment seeks to protect and affirm the value of generosity.

One last community principle is affirmed in this commandment; the inability of possessions to make us happy.
Someone once said that contentment is a virtue to be cultivated not by expanding wealth, but by diminishing desire.

When we keep a $10 note we find on the floor without trying to return it to its owner, when we pocket the incorrect change, when we cheat on our taxes, when we overcharge a client, when we lie about our age to get a discount, we are confessing something. We are confessing that we believe happiness comes from possessions. The more we possess the happier we are.

It’s a slow process so often we don’t notice it. But when we live that way, our community begins to break down. Eventually we begin to see people not as valued creatures made in the image of God, but as something to exploit. Possessions become more important to us than our relationships.

We see people who have more than we do and we envy them. Envy turns to jealousy and our jealousy has the potential to turn to violence. Life together becomes a dangerous, sometimes deadly game, where the one with the most is perceived to be the winner. Ultimately, though we all lose.

But losing touch with each other is not the greatest loss. When we violate the eighth commandment, whether by outright theft, or by other, more socially acceptable forms of dishonesty, we are also violating the first commandment to have no other gods before the one, true God.

Something has become more important to us that the most important Someone … God!

And like we said at the beginning of this series every command follows from the first one of putting God first.

When something is stolen from us it’s fairly easy to replace it.
But when God wanted to replace a stolen relationship, it cost him dearly.

Satan stole our relationship with God by deceiving Adam and Eve. And that’s what’s at stake here.

Not stuff but Souls.

The next time you or I are faced with an opportunity to practice community-building-honesty or community-destroying-dishonesty, we need to remember what price our God had to pay for us to have community in the first place.

The same price He paid for your soul. The price paid on the Cross.


Sermon: Pure Covenant

Exodus 20:1-17

Today we are looking at the 7th commandment – verse 14 of Exodus 20 – “You shall not commit adultery”.

It’s also the sex commandment – and throughout the Bible God we see that God is deeply concerned about sexual relationships.

On the one hand, He blesses and honours sexual relationships – even celebrates it, as in the Song of Songs; while on the other He places severe restrictions and penalties on sexual relationships outside of marriage.

And these sexual relationships are not confined to physical encounters but also to fantasies.

Matthew 5:27          “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28   But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

And these sexual fantasies are not confined to men.

Isaiah 3:16 speaks of the daughters of Zion who walk around with wanton eyes.

We tend to focus on physical adultery (meaning a sexual relationship with someone who is not your marriage partner) and to some extent on mind adultery – fantasies, such as pornography.

But there is also spiritual adultery!

Ezekiel 16 is a tirade against the spiritual adultery of God’s people. Verse 32           “ ‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! 33 Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors.

In Matthew 12:39 Jesus calls the Pharisees “a wicked and adulterous generation”.

Today I want to look further than sexual adultery – sexual relationships outside of the faithful marriage of one man and one woman.

However, because the Bible uses marriage to help us understand the sanctity of relationships – between husband and wife, friendships and between God and His people, I will use marriage to illustrate the depth of covenant between people and with God.

Our Father in heaven is a covenant making God. He is committed to the relationship with His creation and particularly with the people made in His image.

It begins in Genesis and continues through Revelation …

From the moment God brought the woman to Adam and the man said, “this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” to John’s vision of the Bride coming down from heaven beautifully dressed for her husband – we see God’s intense passion for pure covenant relationships.

The Bible refers to the ritual of covenant making in a number of places, perhaps most explicitly (but not completely) in Genesis 15 where God enters into covenant with Abram.

The ancient covenant making ceremonies involved the relationship between two people in which they gave themselves totally to one another.

  1. They exchanged their outer garments (which represented their status in the world),
  2. They exchanged their belts and weapons (which represented their individual strength),
  3. They incorporated their names into each other (eg Abram became Abra-ha-m, incorporating the “ha” from Yahweh),
  4. They cut their hands or wrists and clasped them together saying, ‘As our blood mingles so may our lives be mingled.’ (This signified the total togetherness of their lives – the subsequent scars were a sign to others that they were in covenant relationship with another person. Circumcision was later to become this sign of the ‘cutting of the flesh’).
  5. They slaughtered an animal and cut it in half down its length, circled them in a figure 8 and vowed before God that He could cut them in two if they failed to keep the covenant.
  6. They then shared a meal together to complete the covenant ceremony. (In Hebrew, the word for “covenant” is “b’rith” which means “to eat together.”)

Of course man can never enter into covenant with God on equal terms, which is why God put both Adam and Abram into a deep sleep when He entered into covenant with them. They were then unable to contribute anything to the covenant terms – it is all God’s grace.

When God made the covenant with Abram, it was choosing him to be the father of nations … that covenant still prevails today. We, as Christians, still worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who has been revealed in Jesus; and through Him a new covenant has been made.

We even see the covenant “marks” in what Jesus did for us: He gave us robes of righteousness in exchange for our filthy rags of sin, He, who could have called upon 12 legions of angels took our human weakness. there are the marks of the nails in his hands, He is the Lamb that was slain, the terms of the covenant are set out in Jeremiah 31:33            “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And we have the Communion meal as our b’rith –our eating together.

The covenant that God made with Adam was the forerunner of the marriage covenant and signifies to us that God is very much a part of it.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Gen 2:24

In fact the marriage ceremony still contains many aspects that relate back to the ancient covenant making ceremonies, eg the taking of the right hand, the vows, the ring (symbolising the scar), the change of the wife’s surname, the cutting of the wedding cake (symbolising the slaughtered animal, the cutting of the flesh and the covenant meal).

Covenants are lifelong commitments, our lives become intermingled: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

And God desires us to be faithful to our covenants: in marriage, in our friendships and in our relationship with Him.

And so when He gives us the 7th commandment and says, “You shall not commit adultery” He is calling us into faithful relationship, not only with our spouse, but also with God, and with each other.

Seen in this sense, the 7th commandment may well be the most important of all of these ten words – if it were at all possible to grade them.

By keeping our relationship right with God, our spouse and with each other we will automatically fulfil all of the other commands.

And the enemy understands this much more than we seem to. This is why we face a threat to our understanding of marriage, and the massive decline in sexual morality.

Click for CHART The Mortality Drift

God has set a Way before us in Covenant, in the Law and in Christ Jesus. These are not different ways, but the same Way expressed in different terms and becoming progressively more dependent on the grace of God, which, incidentally, is more than sufficient for us, because His power is made perfect in our weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s Way is a straight path. In Matthew 7:13 Jesus says, “   “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14           But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Satan does not want us to walk in the Way of Christ and so he entices us into physical, mental and spiritual adultery. Our world is steadily drifting away from the Way of Christ.

And it is happening most obviously in the area of sexual sin – remember though that sex is not sinful, indeed it is wonderful – perhaps the most amazing gift which God has given us. And because of that, the evil one seeks to pervert it.

In the beginning, sexual union was the way in which a husband and wife consummated their covenant relationship. In Genesis 2:23 when it speaks of “a man being united with his wife, and they shall become one flesh” it refers directly to the physical act of sexual union. Today we call it “making love” because we have lost the meaning of love.

Love now becomes an embrace of anyone and anything. It is an acceptance of sin for grace, of evil for good and satisfaction in “whatever floats your boat”.

And in the process satan has quite efficiently destroyed relationships in marriages, relationships and with God.

So back to our chart …

Contraception

Lowering of age of consent

Paedophilia

Sexual intercourse before and outside marriage

Abortion

No fault divorce

De facto legal equality

Legal equality for same sex relationships

Same sex parenting

Gender selection of children

Personal choice for gender identity

Polyamorous marriages

I’m not sure where we go from here: Romans 1:24 onwards tells us that this is nothing new … They turned their hearts to sexual impurity, they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones, men committed indecent acts with other men, they have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity – they invent ways of doing evil!

But if the world is intent on following this drift, it does not mean that we have to.

I believe that God is calling us back to the Way.

He is challenging us to follow the path of righteousness and to return to Him.

He has given us this Way in Jesus Christ.

And the way of return is repentance.

This doesn’t mean that we go straight from now onwards.

It means that we must return to the Way of Christ.

And by our example in our homes, families, workplace and church we will show the world how it might recover from its foolishness, and find true meaning in the life God has given us, rather than in the relentless pursuit of desires which are never satisfied and which can never bring satisfaction.

Do not commit adultery against your husband or wife

– neither physically, nor in your mind

Do not commit adultery in other relationships

– not against your friends, your family nor your employer

Do not commit adultery against God

  • not in your faith, nor in your practice.

And if you have failed in any of these in the past, remember that we serve a loving Father who looks with grace upon those who return to Him, and will always restore the repentant heart!