The 10 Commandments

You shall not bear false witness

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Which of these pairs of crime do you think has the greater sentence?

  • Speeding or burgling a house?
  • Plotting to kidnap the Queen or littering? 
  • Telling a lie in Court or murdering someone? 

As you may have guessed, in the first two pairs it’s burglary and plotting to kidnap the Queen which would carry the greater sentences. But when it comes to the third pair, while you probably would get a longer sentence for murdering someone than telling a lie in Court, it’s not that simple. Depending on the circumstances you can get sent to prison for life for lying in Court. 

God in his law also takes truth telling very seriously and therefore he takes lying very seriously too. That is why it’s included in his top ten. After the commands against stealing and lying we get ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.’ 

God himself is a truth-telling God, in fact the bible says he never lies - our eternal salvation depends on it (Titus 1v2).  He wants his people to share his concern for truthful speech. 

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You shall not steal

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In 2015, the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit company was burgled. Six men abseiled down a lift shaft and using heavy drilling equipment, tunnelled through the 50cm thick vault wall. The burglary was the largest in British legal history, with over £200 million worth of valuables stolen. 

Interestingly, the verb ‘to steal’ means: i) to take something without permission and not return it, and ii) to claim someone else’s work or idea as your own.

Most people have not stolen £200 million but there will be times when all of us have taken something without permission and kept it or dishonestly claimed an idea or someone else’s work as our own.

God does not only say that stealing is a sin against him, here in the ten commandments, but it also demonstrates that we do not love our neighbour as ourselves.

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You shall not commit adultery

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Generally, adultery is still considered wrong in our culture – most people wouldn’t actively encourage someone to go and commit adultery. There is a recognition that the breaking of the significant promises made during marriage is neither loving or good. Most people will know someone who has been deeply affected by adultery and we can all see the wider impact on the communities we’re part of. 

However, in the Bible, adultery isn’t a terrible wrong because of the pain it causes others but also because it’s an offence against God. In the Old Testament after King David has committed adultery he says, “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” (Psalm 51:4). I don’t think that David is saying he hasn’t wronged Bathsheba (with whom he committed adultery), nor Uriah (her husband) or anyone else involved. What he is acknowledging is that at its heart, adultery is despising God and His word (2 Samuel 12:9). There is a God-ward dimension to adultery which adds to the human pain and suffering it causes.

Secondly, adultery undermines the Gospel and misrepresents God. The unity that is found in marriage is supposed to be a very visual, lived out picture of the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:25-33). The indissoluble union, the love, affection, faithfulness and submission that exists between Christ and the church should in some small way be reflected by marriage. A marriage marred by adultery paints a very different picture of the relationship between Jesus and the church. It paints a picture which calls into question everything that is good, comforting, joyful and secure between Jesus and the church.

The commandment to not commit adultery is, at root, a commandment to love other people and to love God, including representing God and the Gospel faithfully. Marriage lived in faithfulness to one another and to God is a wonderful testimony and picture of God’s faithfulness and love to his church. 

For those who know their guilt in this area all too well, Psalm 51 continues with David calling God his salvation, deliverer and the one who can clean him. Adultery is serious, but not unforgivable. In his Psalm, David is crying out to God knowing that God will wash clean those who turn to Him in repentance and faith. David knows that even for those who have committed adultery, God will not despise a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17) and we know there is always forgiveness at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

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You shall not murder

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It is perhaps the most familiar of the 10 Commandments, yet rarely meditated upon deeply. We find the sixth commandment in Exodus 20v13.

You shall not murder.

 

I think that there are two common attitudes towards this verse:

1) We look to it as evidence that we’re one of life’s ‘good guys’. We may not be perfect but we’re in the right on the important issues. This commandment, coupled with my own lack of murdering, shows that God and I are on essentially the same moral wavelength. (Hopefully he will reward me for this down the line.)

Or

2) We gloss over it entirely. It’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? I guess ‘No murder’ had to be in the commandments somewhere (for completion sake).  But it’s so easy I think I can skip safely on to the next one.

Whichever of these attitudes rings most true for us, I don’t think many of us spend much time contemplating the sixth commandment. But the Bible finds much more depth in this command than we are disposed to. Where we nowadays minimise the application strictly to the taking of life, the Bible teaches an expanded understanding, with both Old and New Testaments making it clear that God had much more in mind. 

For example, Leviticus 19 v 17-18 elaborates

You shall not hate your brother in your heart… you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge… but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus teaching on this subject adds:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
— Matthew 5v21-22

Murdering in deed was of course forbidden, but God’s people were expected to put away murderous words too, and even thoughts of ill-will. Moreover, merely refraining from causing/willing harm still falls short of God’s call for active love, mercy and peace-making towards our neighbour.

Thus moods of anger, the bearing of grudges and scorning others with words are all filed under the category of ‘murder’. Suddenly this is not feeling so comfortable. A commandment which appeared to affirm my purity instead shockingly reveals my heart to be murderous. 

We began by suggesting two common attitudes to the sixth commandment. To conclude, here are two possible directions for further reflection:

  1. In directing us to prefer others’ welfare to our own, this commandment is revealing God’s own heart and character. It is perfectly fulfilled by Jesus laying down his life for us.
  2. The commandment challenges us to reconsider habits of deed, word and thought where we are naturally most satisfied with our behaviours. Even here we are very much in need of grace, forgiveness and help to change. 
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Honour your father and mother

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The fifth commandment is in Exodus 20v12 and it says

Honour your father and your mother…

Which means we must respect, love and (if we’re a child living in their house) obey our Mum and Dad. But why does God want us to do this? 

It’s not just because if we don’t we’ll get in trouble.

It’s not because parents always get things right (they don’t).

It’s because God has given Mums and Dads the job of bringing us up, and especially bringing us up to know him. That’s why the command is accompanied with a promise:

…that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

The message of God’s love and promises for his people was to be passed down to the next generation through the teaching, example, discipline of your father and mother. So that if children were to ignore them, they would be ignoring Him. 

This has some big implications for parents - for what they teach, how they discipline, what they want for their children, and how they organise life in their household. This is something the bible goes into in more detail elsewhere (Deuteronomy 6v4-9 for example). But this commandment emphasises the responsibility children have in all of this. 

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Remember the Sabbath day

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Which of these have you heard, or said, in the last week?

‘I mustn’t waste time’

‘If only I had more time I could…’

‘The time has flown by!’

How God’s people spend their time is at the heart of the 4th commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.
— Exodus 20v8-10

Sabbath means ‘to rest’ or ‘cease.’ This pattern of working 6 days and having 1 day off was unheard of in the ancient world, and reflected the goodness of Israel’s God. All they had known was slavery in Egypt, now God commanded them to have one day off a week, as well as festivals!

What does the Sabbath mean for Christians today?                                                              

The New Testament suggests some Christians continued to observe the Sabbath as a special day, while others regarded every day as the same (Romans 14v5). It seems for some Christians the Sabbath was a cause of tension and division. Colossians 2.16-17 states:

Therefore let no one pass judgment… with regard to the Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
— Colossians 2v16-17

If we want to know what Sabbath rest from work is all about, we have to look away from the shadow and to the substance, or reality. Christians are to look to Jesus. He has finished our work of salvation, and is sat down at the right hand of God our Father. From there he invites us to ‘come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11v28).

Christ is the end of working for salvation. Christ is the end of justifying our existence by what we do. Christ is the end of slavishly living for the approval of our peers or bosses. It is easy to overwork and idolise our jobs, trying to find in them our identity, worth, and satisfaction. It is easy to live for the weekend, the next holiday, or ‘me time’ without the pressures of work and family. But Christ offers us the life we were always made for. Our Creator and Redeemer invites us to come to him and find ‘rest for our souls.’

In our work and rest, may we discover more of what St. Augustine discovered so long ago: ‘You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until it rests in you.’

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The Name

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What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

So says Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. What’s in a name she asks? It doesn’t matter what you’re called, what your name is, it’s just a label that we use for convenience. 

It’s the same way we use names today, they’re a helpful way of referring to people. When I shout up the stairs for one of the children to come down (in principle!) the right child comes.  Their actual name doesn’t matter that much, we don’t pick baby names with the serious expectation that it will influence the character and identity of the child as they grow up.

But in the Bible, names are much more than simply tags so we know who we’re talking about. In the Bible, names tell you about the character of the person, it tells you what they’re like. Their name is intimately wrapped up in who they are as a person, in their identity. Treating someone’s name in a certain way was the equivalent of treating the person themselves that way. 

So how we treat and speak God’s name is how we are thinking of and treating God himself – the two can’t really be separated. Hence, the third commandment is so important even though in the midst of the other nine it’s often overlooked.

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who take his name in vain.
— Exodus 20v7

As we’ve seen in previous weeks the context of this commandment is important. A few chapters earlier God has revealed his name to Moses, “I am who I am.”  He is the God of Israel’s Fathers, the God who has made and kept in covenants with them, the God who is powerful, the God who can save and rescue them. 

When we speak God’s name it’s the good and powerful God of underserved rescue who we are speaking of. And so, our use of His name should have the right sense of gravity and weight behind it. We should treat God’s name in the same way we treat God.

To take God’s name in vain has the sense of making it worthless or emptying it. It’s to use God’s name in a way that is false to who He really is. That might be by using God’s name inappropriately, swearing an oath on God’s name or wrongly claiming to speak words from God as we see elsewhere in the Bible.

But, and perhaps close to home, it’s also when we use God’s name in a way that empties it of its meaning – that makes God into someone much smaller than he is. 

When we pray we take God’s name and often in our speech we use God’s name. But are we doing it in an empty or meaningless way? Does the way we use God’s name reflect who he really is, or does it distort or empty him?

It’s worth a thought over the coming week.

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No Idols!

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There is so much in this world that can drive us away from God, and we are gluttons for it! And God knows this, that's why the second commandment is to not create any idols. Make nothing, put nothing in place of God. Whilst the second commandment focuses on not creating graven images, things that we think might offer some resemblance to God, a real issue for Israel, our problem is often that we create idols of things that aren't inherently in and of themselves. 

We do it with our favourite toy, with our spouse, with children, with our work, our hobbies or our houses. Things that can so easily become all consuming and dominate our lives to the extent that they become our entire focus. Our lives become orientated to them, rather than to God.

It's no coincidence that this second commandment comes when it does - after the reminder of who God is and what he has done for Israel. "I am the LORD your God, who bought you out of Egypt." God says, "You shall have no other God's before me." God has revealed himself in such amazing ways to his people that to make something to represent God, or to worship something else is daft. More to the point, something that we could make - even the greatest of artist or sculptors - would not even come close to being a true representation of God. In fact, to look at an idol as our God, actually takes away from his glory because we would miss the mark by such a long way.

To avoid this completely God commands, for our own good, that we do not make idols of anything.

When Jesus comes we get even greater revelation:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me
— John 14v8-11b

You see Jesus is revealed as the image of God, the first born of all creation. The author of the letter to the Hebrews starts with these words about Jesus:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
— Hebrews 1v3-4

The Bible points us to Jesus. Jesus shows us the Father. Jesus is the image of God we need to look to and to worship. 

No idols, because God has revealed himself to us, ultimately in Christ. 

No idols, because Jesus is the one who rightly sits on the throne at the Father's side. 

No idols, because the LORD is far greater than we can ever imagine.

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Why the 10 commandments?

Our pastor, Pete Jackson, tells us why we've started looking at the 10 Commandments together - 

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We’ve recently started a series in the 10 Commandments on Sundays across all ages. It’s helpful to ask why we think this is worth doing.

In this post I just want to highlight one aspect of the answer, and it’s because Jesus links ‘law’ with mission

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
— Matthew 5:14-16

In Matthew 5v14-16 Jesus tells his disciples that they are the Light of the world, like Israel of old. They are to the let the light of their good deeds shine before others and the result will be glory to God the Father - presumably as people trace the light to its source and become his worshippers. So far so good.

But what does Jesus mean by good works? Where do we find out what that sort of thing is? It's no accident that from v17 onwards Jesus starts talking about his relationship with the old testament law, how he has come to fulfil it not abolish it. That means lots of things, but part of that is seen in Jesus’ teaching, where he gives (like he does from v21 onwards) the true meaning and application of the commandments. 

We should note that this is the case, even when our ‘good works’ are aspects of the Christian lifestyle that raise the curiosity, misunderstanding or even criticism of the world around us. The 10 commandments inform how we live in relation to money, truth-telling, sex, parents, human life - all areas of opportunity for our gracious witness to the difference that following Jesus makes.

Finally, at the very end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples the great commission. They are to go and make disciples of all nations. But how do you do that? Jesus says it's by 'baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ This is broader than the 10 commandments of course, but it certainly includes Christ’s fulfilment of them in his teaching. 

Growing firm convictions about God’s commandments (and how these flow from and are a witness to his gospel) is part of being equipped for mission in today’s world.

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What other God would you want?

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We are made to worship, whether or not we’d always describe it like that. We worship other people, money, things, God, even hopes and dreams. We all have a god, or many gods, in our lives. It seems an unescapable part of our humanity – we were created to be those who worship. So, as we come to the first of the 10 commandments the question isn’t whether you will have a god but what kind of god you will have? 

And God spoke all these words, saying, “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. 
— Exodus 20v1-3

  Exodus 20 very briefly describes to us the God of the bible. He’s the God of rescue, power, love and grace. He is the God who rescued his people out of slavery to one of the most powerful empires of the day and He did it out of a love for his people even though they had done nothing to deserve it. 

The rescue of God’s people from slavery in Egypt gives us a very visual picture of our rescue from slavery to sin. A rescue that flowed out of God’s great love for his world and was of pure grace, it cost him his only son and we’d done nothing to deserve it.

It shows us what kind of God it is who calls us to worship him alone and have no other gods alongside him. There will be many other gods that call us to follow after them, things we desire, that drive us, that captivate us. But none of them offer us the freedom, life and deep-seated joy that the God of the bible can give. Often other gods seem to offer so much, security, happiness, longevity, the easy life, but in the end they all fail. The God of the bible has shown that he’s a good God who has the power to deliver on His promises. 

It is a command that we should have no other gods, but it’s a command that’s for our good because it leads to freedom and life. What other god can offer that? What other god would you want?

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The 10 Commandments

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Last week we began a series in the 10 Commandments. We’re going to be looking at them in brief in every service, the children are going to be learning about them in their groups, and the adults will also be studying them in their mid-week small groups

It’s very important to see, right at the beginning, before he gave any commands or rules, God said this:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
— Exodus 20v2

This tells us that the 10 commandments are

Not a ladder...

God did not give these commandments so his people could climb up to him. He’d already come down to them. He was already their God and they were already his people. What’s more, he had already rescued them, even though they didn’t deserve it

Not a chain…

Some people think these rules are God’s way of spoiling our fun by controlling our lives. As if trying to obey God’s commandments is like being chained up as a slave. But they are given by the God who had rescued his people ‘…out of the house of slavery.’ The bile tell us consistently, it’s when we don’t live by God’s ways that we end up as slaves, not to Pharaoh, but to sin. 

Train tracks 

Everyone knows it is good for a train to be on its tracks. And (to stretch things for a minute) if a train decides ‘these tracks are a bit of a pain, they stop me going where I want to go’ - we know that would not be a good idea. 

When a train is on the tracks, whizzing along, it is doing what it was made to do. It’s the same when we follow what God says about how we should live. He gives us his commands because they are like the train tracks for a train. We might think we are restricted by them, told not to do certain things, and so on. But the reality is that living life God’s way is the life we were made for.

(Look out for more blogposts on The 10 Commandments over the next few weeks...)