Christianity 201

February 10, 2019

The First Commandment is the Cornerstone for the Other Nine

Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the LORD.
 Psalm 144:15

Listen to me and make up your minds to honor my name,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “or I will bring a terrible curse against you. I will curse even the blessings you receive. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you have not taken my warning to heart.
 Malachi 2:2

And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
 Deuteronomy 6:5  
(all NLT)

More than anything else in the past two years, our Sunday Worship feature has resulted in us connecting with a great variety of writers in a the widest variety of places. This time around the search process took us to Pembrokeshire, Wales; and to a congregation where a large number of the leadership take turns in delivering the weekly sermon. The article was written by Gareth Edwards and appeared on the website of Penuel Baptist Chapel, Roch. The article really didn’t have a title, so we gave it one, and you can learn more by clicking on the header which follows.

No Other Gods

You shall have no other gods before me.’ Exodus 20:3

The first four commandments are about our relationship with God and lay the foundation for the remaining six, which refer to our relationship with others. To be right with God is our first priority, it gives the basis on which we can be right with others. Even within the first four commandments there is a logical progression. The first commandment acts as a cornerstone on which the rest are constructed. ‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:3) is the prime directive for life.

Each of the commandments is expressed as a negative, ‘You shall not.’ The purpose of the commandments being presented in negative language is to underline a positive. The first commandment tells us that we are to worship God alone. God is demanding an exclusive commitment to Him alone. All must be put aside (verse 5). The Lord speaks about Himself as being a jealous God. He will not share us with anyone or anything else. God is jealous for His people. They are His, they belong to no other. He is jealous for all His creation. Therefore, the devotion of our lives in worship belongs uniquely to God (Isaiah 42:8).

Why is this so? There are no other gods. He is the only supreme God (Isaiah 44:6). There are no other gods, but men invent them. When men refuse to worship the true God they make false ones. They have a natural desire to worship. If they refuse to worship the one true God, they will worship a lie (Romans 1). There are no gods – just the foolish rebellion of men (1 Corinthians 8:4). God expects the exclusive worship of our lives. He alone is deserving of worship.

He alone has done all. The Ten Commandments are set against the context of God saving Israel against tyranny (verse 2). They were to worship God not only because of who He is, but also because of what He has done for them. For them and for us there is nothing better than to spend our lives in the worship of the one who gave us life in the first place, and whose grace has brought us spiritual life through the death of His Son at Calvary.

It’s unjust and ungrateful that we should give away our worship to anyone but God. It is He who gives us life, He who gives us our daily blessings, He who gives us new birth and eternal life.

What are the implications of the first commandment?

  1. The Almighty is God alone, therefore we should render to Him alone the adoration and worship of our lives. This is the very purpose of our existence – to fulfill a calling to worship God and to give to Him the unadulterated commitment of all we have. The Westminster Confession begins ‘The chief end of man is the glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.’

Psalm 144:15. There’s nothing more worthwhile then the worship of the triune God in every part of our lives. It is a particular grace and blessing of God that we come together to enjoy worshipping Him. That’s the purpose of this day, a day set apart in which we come together to glorify His name and to enjoy Him. Did you come this Sunday morning to have the privilege of worshipping God and to enjoy Him, to meet with Him? The songs and sermon are the means to the end, to enjoying God.

We were made to know God. When we sacrifice our lives for His glory we experience what it means to be truly human. This commandment is for our blessing.

  1. What fools men are. They will worship everything and anything rather than the one true God. There are those who will worship idols – the gods of man’s imagination. Romans 1:21-23. God declares men either worship Him or waste their lives in the pursuit of imaginary gods. Those who reject Him come under His curse. Malachi 2:2.

Men, in their sin, reject God and are rejected by Him. Our nation is under the curse of God. The lives of our friends and family members are under the curse of God because in their sinful rebellion they do not worship Him. They have gods of their own imagination and creation. There are those who will think they are so intellectually complete that they think they are wise and can look disdainfully down on us. Were we once not with them – devoted to other gods? Did not God, in His grace and mercy, have compassion on us and open our eyes to see, open our ears to hear and open our hearts to know Christ? How gracious God has dealt with us. He has called us to Himself. Will we not pray for our friends, our family, the people of Roch, of Wales, Europe and the world, that God will have mercy upon them as He has mercy on us? Their greatest need is to know Him, to know that there is but one God and that He is to be worshipped for who He is and what He has done. Will we not tell them, preach to them, by the lives we live, declaring here is the Lord Almighty, and you must know and worship Him, have your sins forgiven? Man is a fool until God’s grace comes.

  1. You cannot worship God half-heartedly. He demands our all (Deuteronomy 6:5, Mark 12:30. He’s unwilling to share this with anyone else. This doesn’t mean we can’t serve our community and others. What it means is it’s shaped by our desire to glorify God in all that we do. In our love for our family, to do a good job of work, primarily our deepest desire in doing all of these things is that He will be glorified. In all we do we are to have a single-minded dedication to the Lord which puts Him first, above all else. We must guard against doing anything in the name of the Lord which, in fact, we are doing for ourselves, for our own praise. That is a denial of the first Commandment. We cannot play games with God. This is the most serious business, the worship of the Lord Almighty. Because it is so serious we need the help of God, God the Holy Spirit, when we fail in this duty, which we so often do. We need to know the saving grace that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh gracious God, grant to me the strength, the faith, the desire to honour you in all things. You are worthy to be praised.

October 21, 2018

The Ten Commandments in the New Testament

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , ,

by Ruth Wilkinson

A group of us decided recently to read Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible, which is the focus of some controversy right now. And, yeah, I found it somewhat challenging.

Challenge accepted. If my life is not to be governed by, for example, the Ten Commandments, but I know that they were there for a reason at the time, I needed to find out for myself how those principles and taboos turned up in the teachings of Jesus and in the letters to the early church.

Whether, and if so how, they were taught and exemplified by my brothers and sisters in The Way.

Here’s what I found:

***

You have heard it said:

Do not have other gods besides Me.

And?

  • Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 14:6

  •  From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.”

 John 6:66-68

So?

I look only to Jesus, and through Him to the Father.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.

And?

  •  “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:21, 22

  • The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.

Acts 17:24, 25

So?

I’m called to avoid worshipping things I can touch and shape, things that are created by the One who created me. Even when those things are in my bank account.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.

And?

  • Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me, but Him who sent Me.”

Mark 9:37

  • “I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”

John 15:16

So?

If I am called by His name, I act in His name. And in His name I welcome, embrace, grow and bear fruit.

***

You have heard it said:

 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labour six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work.

And?

  • Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

  • Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

So?

I’m not obliged to sit idle on a particular day, but a day has been carved out for me to be free to rest. And the greatest rest of all is to be found in following the one who calls me.

***

You have heard it said:

Honour your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

And?

  • Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honour.

Romans 10:12

  • Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

So?

The family I find myself in, the family of the Church, is one in which I have the joy and the challenge of stepping back from my own self importance, and learning to serve, to honour, to elevate those around me. Especially the vulnerable.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not murder.

And?

  • “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, ‘Do not murder,and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Matthew 5:21-22

  • None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. But if anyone suffers as a “Christian,” he should not be ashamed but should glorify God in having that name.

1 Peter 4:15

So?

To indulge in the luxury of hatred not only wounds those around us, it wounds us. We carry the name of Christ. And His love is our standard.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not commit adultery.

And?

  •  “But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Mark 10:6-9

  •  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:27-28

So?

Adultery is a broken covenant. A tearing of flesh. A death of the heart. I have no right to kill a living promise.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not steal.

And?

  • The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Ephesians 4:28

  • But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!”

Luke 19:8

So?

Honest work is an opportunity to share my time, my ability and my earnings. A chance to err on the side of relationship and generosity.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not give false testimony against your neighbour.

And?

  • You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:43

  • Since you put away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbour, because we are members of one another.

Ephesians 4:25

So?

I put away dishonesty and speak truth, because my job is, as far as I am able, to love and to live in peace with my ‘neighbour’, which means everybody.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not covet your neighbour’s house…. or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

And?

  • Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.

Mark 11:24

  • I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.

Philippians 4:12

So?

I stop looking around to see what I might be missing out on, and start looking up to the Father for what I actually need.

***

September 8, 2018

Don’t Even Think About It

A few years ago I was speaking with someone who was heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, but it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall 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.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

January 28, 2018

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Honor your father and your mother… (Deut. 6:10, Exodus 20:6)

For this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments. And his commandments do not weigh us down (I John 5:3 NET)

Last week we discussed the idea of worship as “worth-ship” as we give honor to Christ. But is there any other honor that it is legitmate to give?

In the Protestant version* of The Ten Commandments, we speak of dividing the commands into two ‘tablets.’ The first four deal with our direct relationship with God, the next six deal with our relationship with our fellow humans.

Here’s a short version of the ten from the website Life, Hope and Truth:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

We honor God when we keep all ten, but the first also asks us to honor him exclusively, the third not to trivialize his name, the fourth to honor his day.

But what if we place the fifth one in the first tablet, and think in terms of honoring God when we honor our earthly parents? Or is there a concern here, that honoring our parents somehow takes away from the worth-ship due God; the honor due Christ?

A well known U.S. author who I follow on Twitter buried his father yesterday. To watch the love and care and honor he gave his dad in that final season of his dad’s life was a great example. In doing so he honored God, but don’t miss this: In doing so he did not take away one iota of the honor due to God.

However, make no mistake, it’s possible to do that.

But it’s also possible for the pendulum to swing too far the other way. The Pharisees created an interesting situation.

Mark 7:11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

At The Christian Courier, Wayne Jackson writes (click to read the full text from Mark and a fuller explanation)

Some of the Jews, however, had concocted a scheme to avoid parental responsibility. They would designate certain of their financial resources as “corban.” The Greek word korban is related to the term korbanas, signifying the “temple treasury.” In Jewish practice, therefore, the word “corban” had been coined as a sort of “vow” term. According to the prevailing tradition, one could designate his financial resources as “corban,” which, practically speaking, was a way of “tagging” them, suggesting, “this belongs to God,” and thus was not to be used for personal interests.

There is a passage in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus, that illustrates the fact that funds from the temple treasury were “corban,” hence could not be used for secular purposes, e.g., city improvements, as in the building of an aqueduct for water supply (Wars 2.9.4).

Thus, in the manner just described, the covetous, ungrateful Jews callously neglected parental responsibility by an appeal to this perverted human tradition. In so doing, they flouted the law of God.

So this again suggests a balance.

I had a friend who, when his mom was in her last days, worked a full day at the business he owned, and then drove for over two hours nightly to be with her. His dedication amazed me. When I asked him how he did it, he told me, “I’m honoring Dad by doting on Mom.’

That sums this up for me well. I would argue that fifth command fits well on either tablet. We honor God by honoring our parents. It doesn’t subtract anything from the debt of love we owe Christ provided we hold both loves in tension.


*Catholic Bibles are the same on the texts, but the version in the Catechism is different. We discussed that in this 2015 article.

February 14, 2016

God’s Commands: More on The 613 Commandments

Today’s post by Russell Young is a response to the February 3rd post, The 613 Commandments.


ten_commandments

There seems to be a great deal of confusion over whether or not the believer needs to obey God’s commands. This should not be so because the Word is quite clear if it is examined.

The Lord said that He did not come “to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) Therefore, they still have relevance; HOWEVER, Christ came to fulfill them. It is the manner in which He fulfills them that has brought on so much confusion. He said, “Anyone who breaks the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

The manner in which the Lord accomplishes the Law and the Prophets is important. It is often accepted that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross provides one’s eternal salvation but this is not so. The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “For this reason [to cleanse our moral consciences from acts that lead to death] Christ became the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may [not will] receive the promised eternal inheritance-now that he had died as a ransom to set the free from the sins that they had committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15, NIV) Accordingly, the sacrifice of Christ relieved the believer from the consequences of the sins that he had committed while under the first (Old) covenant and became the mediator of a new covenant.

The Lord’s “mediation” is not by words only, it is by His life. Paul wrote of a “mystery” that had been kept hidden and was now being revealed and that mystery is “Christ in you [the Holy Spirit], the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) The Christ who had lived a sinless life in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary is the same Christ who is prepared, if obeyed, to live a sinless life in the body of the believer. The ONLY passage that references “eternal salvation” states that it comes through obedience. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9, NIV) It is common to mistake the need for obedience as an issue of “works” while it is really faith in practice.

To further understand the means in which the Law and the Prophets are being fulfilled, Paul wrote: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4, NIV) That is, Christ is prepared to met the righteous requirements of the law in us. He was victorious in the flesh of Jesus and He will be victorious in the believer but it does demand obedience. His ministry must not be seen as having been completed; He is living personally and intimately in all of those who have confessed His lordship. (Romans 5:9-10)

Are we under the law? Absolutely NOT! We are now servants to Christ however, and are under His lordship. How does this satisfy the law? His convicting work though one’s conscience will lead him to avoid sin or to repent and confess it when sin occurs. What a wonderful Saviour! What a wonderful God! What personal love!

It is those who are led by the Spirit who are NOT under the law. (Galatians 5:18) It is those who are led by the Spirit who are sons of God. (Romans 8:14) And, it is those who are led by the Spirit who will reap eternal life. (Galatians 5:7) The Law and the Prophets must be fulfilled, but it will be accomplished by Christ in one. Paul taught that you are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12) and that he was given “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:16)

Those who reject His leadership will suffer judgement for their rebellion and disobedience in light of His provision, starting with the household of God. The One who is in the believer will be his Judge.

The law must be completed but the Spirit enlightens, leads and empowers the obedient for its accomplishment. The believer need not walk around under the oppression of the law because Christ will satisfy it for the obedient. As Paul has recorded, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6, NIV)

Doesn’t this make your heart rejoice?

 

February 3, 2016

The 613 Commandments

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a wild ride today!

I always enjoy returning to K.W. Leslie’s blog, but this time around the blog has a new name, The Christ Almighty Blog, and a new location. Clicking the title below will take you to the site, and you’ll want to click through today because we’re only bringing you half of the article, the rest is a list of all 613 commandments!

What, you thought there were only 10 commandments?

ten_commandmentsGod’s 613 commands, and how Christians treat them.

Most Christians are familiar with the fact there are 10 commandments. Ex 20.1-17 Not so familiar with the actual 10 commands, but we do tend to know there are 10 of them, and it wouldn’t hurt to live by them. In fact the politically-minded among us think it’d be a good idea for the whole of the United States to live by them… although it’s a bit of a puzzler how we might simultaneously enforce “You’ll have no other gods before me” Ex 20.3 and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Amendment 1

Some of us have also heard the idea there are 12 commandments. Where’d the extra two come from? Well, someone once asked Jesus his opinion on the greatest command.

Mark 12.28-31 KWL
28 One of the scribes was standing there listening to the discussion.
Recognizing how well Jesus answered the Sadducees, he asked him,
“Which command is first of all?” 29 Jesus gave this answer:
“First is, ‘Listen Israel: Our god is the Lord. The Lord is One.
30 You must love your Lord God with all your heart, life, purpose, and might.’ Dt 6.4-5
Second is, ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ Lv 19.18
No command is higher than these.”

Since these two commands aren’t among the 10, certain Christians tack ’em on at the end.

But there’s far from just 12 commands. There’s 613.

Technically there are even more than 613. But when you combine redundant commands—namely all the commands repeated in Deuteronomy, like the 10 commandments Dt 5.1-21 —you get 613 of them. Or at least that was the conclusion of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon of Spain (1135-1204, also called Maimonides by westerners, Rambam by Jews). Moshe listed them in his book Sefer Hamitzvot/“Book of Good Deeds.” He had slightly different priorities than Jesus, which is why he put loving God at 3 and 4 in his list, and loving neighbors at 13.

These commands are mostly for everyone. There are many priest-specific commands, which don’t apply to the general population. (Although Pharisees customarily practiced ’em anyway, figuring all Jews ought to be as ritually clean as priests.) There are also many gender-specific commands, which apply to men and not women, or women and not men.

And let’s be honest: There is a double standard in the Law. Women and men may be equal in Christ, Ga 3.28 but not under Law. Fr’instance there’s a test for a wife’s faithfulness, Nu 5.11-30 but no such thing for husbands. ’Cause under patriarchy, men could have sex with any woman in their household. The Law abolished many of patriarchy’s customs—no they couldn’t have sex with just anyone they wished. But though abolishing patriarchy was God’s goal—with men in leadership or service practicing monogamy 1Ti 3.2, 12 and loving their wives like Christ loves his church Ep 5.25 —he didn’t do it outright in his Law. Though certainly the test of a wife’s faithfulness under the Law is considerably better than the previous patriarchal custom: Kills her without any trial. Ge 38.24

How Christians see the Law.

Christians are of three minds when it comes to following the Law. And some of us are of multiple minds: Sometimes we follow one of these practices, and sometimes another, depending on when it’s convenient or advantageous.

  1. Fulfilled. The most common belief you’ll find among Christian theologians is there are three types of commands:
    1. Moral, defining right and wrong. They always apply.
    2. Ritual, defining the religious practices of ancient Israel and ritual cleanliness. In his self-sacrifice, Jesus rendered them irrelevant: We don’t need to sacrifice animals and grain anymore, or practice ritual cleanliness. (In fact, doing so indicates we don’t really believe in what Jesus did for us.)
    3. Judicial, defining the civic society of ancient Israel. They apply to Israelis, not gentiles. Gentile Christians should study them, since they describe God’s will and justice, and adopt their principles in our cultures. But obedience isn’t mandatory; just recommended.
  2. Abolished. The most common belief you’ll find among Christian non-theologians (i.e. everybody else) is every command, of every sort, has been abolished altogether. Except maybe the 12 commandments, and the commands against homosexual stuff, and anything else we’d kinda like to apply. But in general Jesus wiped out sin, freed us from the Law, and we’re no longer under it. We’re totally, absolutely free, to do what we want, any old time. (Scholars call these folks antinomians. Jesus just calls ’em lawless. Mt 23.28)
  3. Advisory. Certain Christian libertarians agree with the antinomians: Every command was abolished, and we needn’t do them. But same as with the judicial commands, the Law still describes God’s will and justice, and they’re a good guideline, a good set of principles to live by. In that spirit, we should adopt those principles as our lifestyle. (But not enforce them on others. ’Cause grace.)
  4. Applicable. Jesus, because he’s the LORD who handed down the Law in the first place—it’s his Law—didn’t abolish any of it. He simply affirmed some issues in the Law are more important, and some issues are less important. Use your head, but follow the Law.
  5. Semi-applicable. Among certain Christian legalists, you’ll find the position that Jesus fulfilled the ritual commands, which no longer apply; but all the others do apply. (They’ll even include some of the cleanliness rules.) Further, these laws ought to become the law of the land.
  6. Applicable to Jews. If you’re a Jew, the Law still applies, ’cause God’s covenant with Israel is an everlasting one. If you’re gentile (like me), we’re not obligated to follow any commands other than the ones God applies to all humanity, as told to Noah:
Genesis 9.1-7 KWL
1 God blessed Noah and his sons.
He told them, “Bear fruit. Be many. Fill the earth.
2 Respect for you, and terror of you, is upon every beast of the earth, bird of the skies;
upon everything which crawls in the dirt, every fish in the sea. They’re put in your hand.
3 Every moving, living thing is for you,
for food like the plants I gave you. All for you.
4 Only don’t eat living meat, or blood.
5 I only demand from your hand your blood, your lives.
I demand it of every living thing; I demand it of humanity.
I demand the life of humanity from your and your brother’s hand.
6 One who spills human blood: Their blood will be spilled by humanity.
For God made humanity in God’s image.
7 And you: Bear fruit. Be many.
Swarm the earth. Be many in it.”

From this, they extrapolate “seven Noahide commands”: Don’t deny God, blaspheme God, murder, have illicit sex, steal, eat live animals; and create a justice system to ensure people follow the above. If gentiles do this, they’re fine with God. This is also called a dual-covenant system, and appears to be what the early Christians endorsed. Ac 15.19-21

My own view? The historic fulfilled view: Moral commands count, judicial commands ought to be taken seriously, and ritual commands are moot.

But the danger of all commands is when we try to follow them without taking God’s character into mind—without his love, grace, patience, and forgiveness. When people sin against you, forgive. Lk 17.3-4 Too many Christians “forgive,” but try to exact penalties from people for sinning, and obligate people to earn back their good graces. That may be fine for civic authorities, but wholly inappropriate for Christians.

>>Click here and scroll down to read all 613 commands.

 

January 10, 2016

The Don’t Commandment That Has a Do

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The Decalogue in Exodus 20 is often referred to as the “Thou Shalt Nots.” There is of course the command to honor father and mother, which is the “command with a promise” but there is also the very long-worded command about Sabbath which takes up 4 verses.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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. (NIV)

(It is second only to the command about “graven images” which takes up 3 verses.)

This command however actually has a “do” among the “don’ts.”  Six days you may work and do all your tasks. (CEB).

Our friends Stephen and Brooksyne picked up this theme last week at Daily Encouragement

Today let us consider the positive element in this commandment which is found in the phrase, “do all your work”.  From the very beginning God has ordained work in some form as Adam and Eve were called to subdue and rule. Do you see your work as a blessing or a curse?

A common attitude among many in the work force is to view labor as a curse. Mondays are dreaded by many and a popular phrase for the end of the week is “TGIF” (Thank God It’s Friday) which typically is not a reverent expression of gratitude to God, who made every day for us to rejoice.

What should our attitude be toward work?  God wants us to view work as a blessing and respond accordingly. We are to live in His presence and glorify Him at all times, including our time at work.

The apostle Paul expresses this perspective in Colossians 3:23:

“Whatever you do, work at it wholeheartedly as though you were doing it for the Lord and not merely for people.”

David C. McCasland writes, “We may feel that work is secular, but view leading a Bible study as spiritual. The Bible draws no such distinction, however. When we honor God and help people, then our work and ministry blend together in pleasing service to the Lord.”

Today we urge you to begin this year with an earnest thankfulness for your job and a recognition of this provision that comes indirectly from God. Daily work done for God takes on eternal value while it also builds character and provides a good role model for others to follow.

Daily prayer: Father, help us to labor wholeheartedly according to Your command. We want to bless You with a grateful attitude and bless our workplace in regard to our productivity and loyalty. We thank You for our daily provision and blessing that comes through the work of our hands. We also thank You for our employers who help to meet our monetary needs. We pray for those who are presently seeking employment that You will provide a place of gainful employment. But until that financial door opens we pray that You will provide through unexpected means and the generosity of others. As You bless us through the work of our hands we in turn bless You by faithfully giving back a generous portion to finance Your kingdom through the local church, Christian ministries, and other worthy endeavors and needy individuals. Grant us the desire to live with less so that others can have more. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

October 14, 2015

The Gift of Restraints

Clarke Dixon returns for his regular mid-week column. For this one, you need to know that this past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada. So if you’re Canadian, this is a few days late, but for most of our readers, it’s a few weeks early. Click the title below to read this at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

Thank God for Rules

Many people gather around the traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving with a custom of each person sharing something to be thankful for. These can be somewhat predictable, with family, friends, God’s goodness, health and chocolate often on the list. Rarely, if ever, will someone say they are thankful for rules. Why is that? There are three reasons:

  • We value individual liberty and freedom. Rules are seen to push against freedom.
  • We fear judgementalism. Those who do not like rules may feel that those who do are judgemental.
  • We value self-esteem and self-confidence. Consistently being poor at keeping rules can make one feel like a bad person.

Since we do not seem to like rules very much, why are we talking about them on Thanksgiving? Why are we thinking of God’s law, and why are we focusing in on the Ten Commandments? It is partly because I have begun a sermon series on Deuteronomy and didn’t want to leave it for Thanksgiving. However, I was intentional in getting the Ten Commandments to land on this particular weekend. Why? Because the God’s law is something we can be truly grateful for.

While my wife remembers most of our wedding gifts from sixteen plus years ago and can identify items around the house that were gifts, I can identify very few. Typical man perhaps? But one I do remember. A plain black power drill. I can remember it partly because among all the gifts which tended to be quaint items, or kitchen items and the like, the drill stood out like a sore thumb. I remember it because it was from my parents. I also remember it because it is the wedding gift that over the years I have been most grateful for. A strange gift at the time perhaps? Best wedding gift ever in the long run! My parents knew what they were doing. We may think that rules make a strange gift from God. But they are a great gift in the long run. God knew and knows what He is doing in giving them! So in what ways are the rules a gift that we can be grateful for?

As the people of God stand ready to enter the land God has promised to them, Moses reminds them of the ten commandments God had given them earlier. Let’s take a look at the first group of the ten commandments:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, 10 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

11 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

12 Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  (Deuteronomy 5: 6-12 emphasis mine)

These are rules given to help the people of God honour God. Remember that God is Creator, God is Sovereign. To honour God is truly important. To be given guidance on how to do that is priceless. Such guidance is a wonderful gift.

Let us consider the last group of the ten commandments:

16 Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

17 You shall not murder.

18 Neither shall you commit adultery.

19 Neither shall you steal.

20 Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbour.

21 Neither shall you covet your neighbour’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbour’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
(Deuteronomy 5: 16-21, emphasis mine)

These are commandments that help us to honour one another. Keeping in mind the violence of the world that led to the flood in Noah’s day, and also the violence still in the world in the days of Moses, to be given guidance on how to honour one another is a gift. Indeed the good relationships that would be found among God’s people if they keep the law would be noticed by the neighbouring nations:

See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, emphasis mine)

Not just the Ten Commandments, but the entire Law was a wonderful gift of God in guiding His people toward good relationships.

So far we have considered God’s law as being a gift to his people as they prepare to enter the promised land. But are rules a gift for Christians today? Some have said that Christians are not about the rules, but only about grace. Let us consider the following:

First, in following Jesus in the way of the cross, the Christian is to live out a wonderful ethic of love. Some see this as contrasting to a way of rules as given in the Old Testament. However, this is not a contrast, as the law and love belong together. Remember the words of Jesus:

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” (Matthew 5: 17-21)

How can we have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees when they were known to be the best at knowing, keeping, and enforcing the rules? By coming at the rules from a place of love and practicing them for the sake of love. The religious leaders were practicing the rules for the sake of religion, but the Christian is to be ethical, living out the rules, as a means of loving God and loving others. God’s law helps the Christian know how to express love. What a gift!

Second, the Christian finds in the Old Testament rules foundational teaching on what pleases and honours God. We are not required to become Jewish in becoming a Jesus follower, and so there are many customs and laws that are not binding, especially with regards to dietary restrictions and the like. However, we do see in the Old Testament law what pleases God and what does not. We still learn from them practical advice on how to honour God and how to honour others. What a gift to have such guidance!

Third, the rules open our eyes to our need for salvation, and our need for a Saviour. I know I am speeding on the #2 highway, not just because of the number the needle my speedometer is pointing to, but because there is a posted limit as to what that needle should be pointing to. We become very aware of our shortcomings in keeping the rules when the rules are posted for us in black and white. As Paul writes:

What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ (Romans 7:7)

In becoming aware of our lack with regard to the rules, we become aware of our need for grace. In becoming aware of our need for grace we are awakened to the wonderful joy of knowing salvation in Jesus. The Holy Spirit convicts and encourages all along this journey. The rules, in being a part of that journey toward salvation are a real gift!

So when we think of the things we can be grateful for, I hope that we can all thank God for rules!


All scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

June 21, 2015

Remembering God Without Making Idols

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5aYou shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…

It’s interesting that as God was giving these commandments to Moses, the people at the bottom of the mountain were building a calf out of gold. They were immediately in violation of the text above…

For almost all Evangelicals and most Mainline Protestant, the Second Commandment is explicit in its prohibition against idols. The King James used the phrase “graven images” by which some interpret “engraved” or three-dimensional objects; though in the early days of printing, photographic plates were engraved.

We have no problem with Bible story books which picture Jesus — some recent ones using a rather cartoonish style of illustration — but the Jesus doll we recently saw in a Christian bookstore (for $50 US) would clearly cross the line for many people (and for a number of reasons.)

On the other hand, our friends in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have no problem with statuary, their houses of worship are filled with them, as are many of their homes. (The Catholic Church’s catechism even ‘rearranges’ the Ten Commandments to exclude the second one altogether, balancing things out with a split of the command regarding coveting into numbers 9 and 10; though Catholic Bibles themselves do not so tamper with the text.)

This doesn’t mean that are not other physical means whereby we’re encouraged to remember.

  1. The Jews were told to “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deut 11:18) Then, two verses later, “Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (:20) In the most literal form, this gave way to phylacteries, the small boxes containing small scrolls worn on the forehead of Jews while praying. In a less literal form, most of us have plaques with Bible verses on the walls or end tables of our homes.
  2. There are certain locations that help us remember when God met us there or somewhere nearby. In the story of Jesus and “the woman at the well,” there is mention that this is Jacob’s well, and all the significance that entails. A girl whose testimony we heard talked about driving through northern Ontario and recognizing the terrain as nearby a camp where she felt close to God as a much younger person, and she pulled her car over to the side of the road and prayed. Is there a special physical location where you have memories of meeting with God?
  3. There are times where God instructed his people to construct a memorial. Joshua 4:9 reads, “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.” While many Christian facilities have plaques that honor the donors who gave money toward the building of that place, others, either with a plaque or through the naming of the facility, honor a particular part of a Bible story. The Christian conference grounds I attended as a child was named Elim Lodge, after a reference in Exodus 15.
  4. We learn the ways of God chiefly through narrative. You don’t sit your young children down and teach them the doctrines of systematic theology, but rather, you tell them stories from both the First and Second Testament. We can represent those physically by having artist renderings of Jesus walking on the water in our homes. Some of you have children who had Noah’s Ark bedsheets. While I like the first idea better than the second, these all reinforce the stories.
  5. Speaking of Noah, sometimes God just likes to give us reminders. We all know the scientific reasons why rainbows appear after a rainstorm, but God imputes significance to this by telling Noah to accept it as a pledge that he will never flood the earth again. (But maybe the rainbow was supernatural; it rained for 40 days, but then there’s a year between the rain stopping and Noah being given the rainbow as a sign.)

These are all examples of tangible objects which serve as reminders of God, Jesus, Bible stories, and places where God revealed himself.

So we don’t need statuary, and the Bible’s commandments are not to be trifled with. It’s true that contextually idols were the trademark of other surrounding nations, but I believe that the commands are 100% applicable to the idea of making statues of those who have been conferred sainthood, and certainly could be applicable to statues of Jesus himself.

I will concede however, that there are sculptors who have carved three-dimensional works that are simply an extension of the two-dimensional images mentioned in point #4 above. An example would be the Good Shepherd statue at the former Crystal Cathedral, which reminds us of the picture Jesus paints of himself in John’s Gospel. However, the danger comes when we worship those pieces, or suggest that the sculptures themselves have some supernatural abilities or powers.

I also realize this is a very limited interpretation of Exodus 20:4 which seems to ban any image of any created thing. But here, the context is concerning the things which come between us and God; the first four commandments are about not allowing anything to stand in the way of our relationship with God. This is in line with Romans 1:25, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”

Summing this up, you can’t read the Second Commandment without knowing the First Commandment. Nothing is to come between us and God.

 

 

March 15, 2015

Where Does the Old Testament Law Apply in New Testament Times?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:25 pm
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We continue with the weekend theme Greg started yesterday; this is from the blog Having Life, written by Robbie in South Africa.  Click the title below to read at source.

Is the Old Testament Law Still Applicable to me as a Christian?

 

I met a Christian the other day on campus and he was speaking about him not needing to keep the law because he’s been saved by grace. “The law is gone right? There’s only the grace of God who saved us.” And didn’t Paul say in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Then I thought that there’s the other side where Christians try to keep the law because in Matthew 5:17 the Lord Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” And there’s this urge within us to be really good and to keep a requirement that someone put on us. So that’s why some people try to keep the law given to us.

Then another party may say “well there’s your proof that the bible is fake, the bible contradicts itself clearly in these two verses, the one says the law is over but the other that it needs to be fulfilled”

Just read on. The bible isn’t as black and white as it appears here. This is how I see this situation. So the way God dealt with His people in the Old Testament was according to the law; that was the basis for Him in receiving them. But in the New Testament the principle of how God deals with us is different; it’s by faith. We are believers who have faith in Christ, and that justifies us before God. That’s all He requires from us in the way He deals with us today.

What has ended is the principle of how God deals with people; He does it according to faith, not the law as He used to. Another thing that’s over are the rituals of the law that were meant to be kept, like offering sacrifices at the temple and keeping the Sabbath – so the “ritual law” is over, too. But the commandments of the law haven’t been done away with, in fact they’ve been uplifted to higher standard than they were before. This is seen in Matthew 5 where for example the Lord said not only to not murder someone, but to not even be angry with them in their heart. It’s Impossible right!? So here the Lord definitely didn’t remove the law in the way of “morals”, or the moral law. He actually made it higher and harder to keep. He definitely doesn’t want lawless people in His kingdom.

So when reading Matthew 5 of things like committing adultery not just being the physical act, but actually it being to look at a woman lustfully, what’s your response? Are we going to say “but there’s grace so it’s okay”, or will you say “let me try harder to not do it”? If you have the “it’s impossible, I’m hopeless, I know I’ll fail” response then you’re on the right track.

The Lord knows we aren’t able to keep His very high requirements, so the way we need to read them is not just as requirements but to see them as the capability of His life that is able to meet the demands that He places on us. However high the demand is, that’s how much the Lord can do for us by His divine life in us. Whatever He demands, that’s how much He can do.

Quick recap – Yes God does deal with us by faith through grace. The “ritual law” is over; we don’t need to offer up bulls anymore. But the “moral law” still exists and it’s higher than before, making it impossible for us to keep by trying – so it seems we are in a dilemma.

Okay, so here’s the drum roll verse to put the cherry on top of it all. Romans 8:4that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit.” This is God’s thought here, the law can be fulfilled by us, it is possible, but it’s by those who see their own life as hopeless, they realize they can’t make it, and they choose the Lord’s divine life by walking according to the Spirit.

When we flee to Jesus to walk according to the Spirit then His life can do all that is required to live in His kingdom. So yes, the law is still here, we are not exempt from it, and until we stop trying by our natural life to keep it and learn to walk by the spirit in constant fellowship with God then we’ll keep falling short. The point is to walk according to the Spirit. This is quite an aspiration to have. And surely if you love someone you’ll walk by them.

October 22, 2014

What’s In It For Me?

Pastor Clarke Dixon continues his series on generosity; to read this week’s entry at source and check out previous installments, click the title below.

Selfish Generosity? Reflections on Matthew 19, 20

 

Rich Young RulerCan you be generous and yet remain selfish and self-centered at the same time? According to the Bible, yes!

First, let us consider the rich young ruler who asks: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NRSV). Notice incidentally that he is looking for only one thing to do! But notice especially what he is not asking: “Teacher, what must I do to see God’s name honored? Teacher, what must I do to see your Kingdom come? Teacher, what must I do to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Teacher, how can I be of help?” Instead his question is very self focused. He may as well be asking “What about me? What’s in this for me?” Being rich, he would have had the resources to be helpful to Jesus in His ministry, being young he would have had the energy, and being a ruler, his influence also might of been of help. But helping himself is the only thing on his mind at this time.

A short conversation between Jesus and the young man ensues, but there is something notable about Jesus’ response as to which commands the man should focus on:

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:18-19 NRSV)

Do you notice anything about this list? These are all commands that focus on relationships. Jesus is here looking to wean the young man off his self-focus and instead to focus on others. Jesus takes this focus on others a step further:

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21 NRSV)

The young man walks away grieved for being rich now he cannot fathom becoming poor and trusting the Lord with his treasures in heaven. He cannot focus on others. He cannot get beyond his self-focus.

Jesus takes the opportunity to teach, as we read 19:23-26 , about the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom of Heaven but things quickly get back to the theme of self-focus: “Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”” (Matthew 19:27 NRSV). Peter here is comparing himself and the other disciples to the rich young ruler. They had left everything to follow, the young man had not. Is there reward for that? Yes, great will be their reward according to Jesus in verses 28-29. However, notice how Peter’s question is very much like the rich young man’s? He may as well be saying “What about me? What’s in this for me?” It is a self-centered question.

The next parable in 20:1-16 develops this. Some laborers are hired to put in a full twelve hour day, while others are hired for less, some even for only one hour. But at the end of the day they all get the same amount, and understandably the workers who worked the longest are upset. But to this the master responds:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:13-16 NRSV)

That we are to take this parable as furthering the thoughts of reward in the previous chapter is made clear by the repeating of “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” in both 19:30 and 20:16. To summarize those two passages: “First; yes you will be rewarded. Second; do not focus on your reward.” Someone who has fully surrendered to the Master will trust Him with the final outcome of all things. Someone who has a self focus, however, will focus in on the rewards and make comparisons with others receive. Though we may leave all to follow Jesus, we may still be self-centered rather than fully surrendered. Self-sacrifice may not be sacrificial at all if it is an attempt to come out on top.

Keep reading and we will keep seeing this lesson on self focus. Next up, Jesus speaks of His own death in 20:17-19, which of course has its focus on you and me. Right after that in 20:2-,21 the mother of James and John, with both of them along, asks Jesus to give her sons the best places in the Kingdom. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on others. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on God. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on the Kingdom. They had left everything to follow Jesus. But they had not yet left their self focus. Have you?

July 9, 2014

Where Coveting is Permitted

Steve DeWitt, Senior Pastor of Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana recently completed a detailed series of studies on The Ten Commandments. Often when we sample a series here we start at the beginning, but this time we wanted to share this particular devotional study, but we encourage you to go back and start at the beginning. Click the link for the blog All About Him and go all the way back to January 12, 2014.

To read today’s devotion and find an audio link to this message, click the title below.

The Tenth Command: Covet Christ!

Covetousness or Contentment?

Each command tells us about the character of God and has a positive command with it. How about the tenth? What does no coveting tell us about God? It tells us that God alone satisfies the human heart. God alone provides what we need. God is sovereign over our lives and our circumstances. God is good in what he provides for us and what he provides for others. If I have something, it is because of the goodness of God. If I don’t have something, God also deems that good. The tenth command is about the sufficiency of God as soul-satisfier and the final judge of what is good for me. All of that is another way of saying that the tenth command is a command to covet God and God alone.

You might say, Wait, what? Are you saying it’s wrong to strive to improve my lot, wrong to improve my car, wrong to improve my savings account, wrong to improve my health? No. God is for human flourishing. 1 Timothy 4:4 says, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

  • The tenth command is about freeing us from the materialistic mindset
  • Freeing us from identity in things
  • Freeing us from thinking he who dies with the most toys wins
  • Freeing us from the lustful accumulation of this world
  • Freeing us from the kind of misdirected, obsessive, and pathological life pictured tragically in Gollum and the ring of power in The Lord of the Rings…his precious

If there is one command that is needed in American materialism, it is the command to covet God. We must never think that having anything but him will satisfy the longings of our hearts. What can satisfy? What can provide my soul with peace and contentment? God alone through his Son Jesus. When I realize that God gave me his own Son as a sacrifice for my sin and redemption for my guilt, now there is no circumstance that I cannot be content in because in every circumstance I have Jesus. This is Paul’s argument in Philippians:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need,  for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”(Philippians 4:11-13)

People quote verse 13 and apply it to anything and everything. No. This has to do with contentment. Paul was familiar with seasons of abundance and seasons of want; times of plenty and times of hunger. Yet there is a secret he had learned. Are you in a time of want? A time of hurt? A time of trial? Or have you lost something or someone very dear to you? You long for peace and contentment. As Christians, there is a secret. Do you know it?

If we are looking to our circumstances for contentment, we will never find it. Our circumstances are always changing, and in a broken world, ultimately disappointing. There are some circumstances that can never be changed. I’ll never have contentment in those IF I derive peace from circumstances. But Paul’s contentment wasn’t in his circumstances.

Contentment does not come from changing my circumstances to meet my desires, but rather changing my desires to meet my circumstances.

How can the Christian do this?

My circumstances are controlled by a sovereign God who loves me.

Do I believe God is in control or not? If he is, then the things I deem unchangeable and undesirable are here for reasons I may not understand but can trust God in. How do I know he loves me? He gave me Jesus.

In every circumstance, whether desirable or not, Christ is the source of my strength and satisfaction.

That is Philippians 4:13. But what does it mean? It goes back to Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul treasured having Christ so much that even death was gain to him because in death he gained Christ. This is so hard for us because this world and this life have such a hold on us. But Christ assures us of eternal life and that we should live to be rich there.

I can battle coveting what I don’t have or what others do have by treasuring above all else what I have in Christ.

Do you think about your final days on earth or even your deathbed? There will be no more houses to buy. Hobbies to live for. Money to make. Degrees to earn. Possessions to accumulate. All there is ahead is eternity. What do we step into eternity with? Not a house. Not a spouse. Not an ox. Not a donkey. That’s true for Warren Buffet and the homeless man on the street. Death reveals the true value of all these things we covet so dearly. What is their value? Nothing really. So how can the Christian die happy? If in my life I coveted Christ, then I can step into eternity with anticipation because in death I finally get what I have longed for—personal presence with Jesus and eternal life in paradise with God.

Dear friends, the things in this world are not evil in themselves but we make them evil when we covet them and mistakenly place our hope for happiness in them. It is better to covet God. Better to covet Christ. Better to covet the godliness of godly saints. Better to covet commendation from Christ as a good and faithful servant. This is how we fulfill the tenth command: enjoy the freedom it provides to live in this world without loving it and to be rich in eternity as our spiritual longings are fulfilled in Christ.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

September 25, 2013

Sin: Don’t Even Think About It!

On Tuesday I was speaking with someone who is heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, and it turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall 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.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking.  Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Before we conclude, another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5. These are in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

This translation also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

May 10, 2013

The Ninth Commandment as Israel Understood It

If you read the comments here, you’re familiar with the author of Meeting in the Clouds. I visit her blog occasionally and always enjoy the use of illustrative stories to teach scriptural principles. It’s a great starting place for someone who wants to develop an online devotional habit.  While there yesterday however, I click on a link to another blog I hadn’t noticed before, Christian Blessings to which she is a contributor.  That’s where today’s devotional — written by a different author — comes from, where it appeared under the title Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16, KJV)

We all recognize this. It’s the 9th commandment. It’s often understood today as “don’t lie.” Let’s take a look at this commandment and why it was included, why it was so important in the world of the Israelites.

During the time of the Exodus the Israelites didn’t have the court systems that we have today for settling disputes like we do today. May other things were also missing. The people didn’t have many of the means of gather evidence like we do today. Limited written records, no forensic science. Disputes were settled via testimony those involved in or witnessing. One of Moses’ main responsibilities was to judge these disputes. It took so much of his time that, eventually, he delegated these tasks to tribal leaders and priests for all but the most important disputes.

For most disputes, the testimony of two or more witnesses was required to settle the case. The penalty for giving false testimony was to receive the same penalty that would have been given to the charged party had he been found guilty. This could even include death for the person bearing false witness in a capital case. Keeping civil order among the people depended very heavily on honesty in court cases and settlement of disputes. The “against thy neighbor” was extremely important in the application of this commandment in the time of the Exodus.

In explaining this commandment and its application, Jesus expanded its meaning to include all lies or (knowingly) untrue statements. Very simple, in Jesus’ explanation, knowingly making an untrue statement is an offense to God. Lying separates us from God and is, therefore, a sin.

Today we place much less emphasis as a society of being truthful. Whether in business negotiations, when preparing our taxes or even in court cases, lying is commonly accepted and even perjury in court cases is seldom prosecuted. The oath to “tell the truth” is often given little value.

Perhaps our society would benefit if we returned to the practice of applying the same penalty to a person who lies to what the accused would have received if found guilty!

Shalom, Art  Alive in The Word

January 26, 2013

Kyle Idleman on Idolatry

This is an excerpt from chapter one of a forthcoming book (Feb 19) by Kyle Idleman, author of Not a Fan. The book is titled Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart (Zondervan).

…[W]hen Moses stook on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God, the first one was, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3)

Gods at War - Kyle IdlemanWhen God issued this command during the time of Moses, the people were familiar with a lot of other gods. God’s people had spent more than four hundred years in Egypt as slaves. Egypt was crowded with gods. They had taken over the neighborhood — literally. The Egyptians had local gods for every district. Egypt was the Baskin-Robbins of gods. You could pick and choose the flavors you wanted.

The Bible’s paradigm is different. When we hear God say, “You shall have no other gods before me,” we think of it as a hierarchy: God is always in first place. But there are no places. God isn’t interested in competing against others or being first among many.

God will not be part of any hierarchy.

He wasn’t saying “before me” as in “ahead of me.” A Better understanding of the Hebrew word translated “before me” is “in my presence.”

God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board. And life doesn’t work until everyone else sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired. He is God, and there are no other applicants for that position. There are no partial gods, no honorary gods, no interim gods, no assistants to the regional gods.

God is saying this not because he is insecure but because it’s the way of truth in this universe, which is his creation. Only one God owns and operates it. Only one God designed it, and only one God knows how it works. He is the only God who can help us, direct us, satisfy us, save us.

As we read Exodus 20, we see that the one true God has had it with the imitation and substitute gods. So God tells the nation of Israel to break up the pantheon; send it home. All other god activity is cancelled. He makes sure the people understand that he is the one and only. He is the Lord God.

You may be thinking, Thanks for the history lesson, but was a long time ago. After all, in our time the problem doesn’t appear to be that people worship many gods; it’s that they don’t worship any god.

Yet my guess is that the list of our gods is longer than theirs. Just because we call them by different names doesn’t change what they are. We may not have the god of commerce, the god of agriculture, the god of sex, or the god of the hunt. But we do have portfolios, automobiles, adult entertainment and sports. If it walks like an idol, and quacks like an idol…

Kyle Idleman – Gods At War pp. 23-24

For my review of the book, click here

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