Sunday, February 17, 2013

on being good

Read Exodus 20, Mark 10

For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of their fathers to the third and fourth generation, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who keep my commandments. From Ex 20: 5&6
“Why do you call me good,” Jesus answered. “No one is good, except God alone.” Mark 20:18

Larry Rodgers writes:

Those of us who are Believers take it as a given that we are unable to keep the Ten Commandments. Paul tells us, “By the works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight.” Rom 3:20.  But, curiously, I think most Believers do keep the Ten Commandments. Most of us can say like the rich young man in the gospels, “All these things I have kept since my youth.” Mark 10:20.

The Apostle Paul said covetousness was his Achilles heel in keeping the law. I may be delusional, but I don’t think, covetousness is an issue in my life. (I’m not sure how we as part of the Church age should relate to the Sabbath. But if the Sabbath was a requirement for us, for me; keeping it would definitely be doable.)
But then our Lord Jesus gave His commentary on the Ten Commandments and the law in the Sermon on the Mount and which puts things in a whole new light. There is no way any of us, even the best of us can begin to measure up: “Do not resist the one who is evil; everyone who is angry with his brother is guilty; let what you say be simply ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” As a wrap up, Jesus said, “You therefore be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

A few years back I counseled a group of ten year old boys at Story Book. One of the boys made sure he was always very very good. He was perfectly neat—he combed his hair whenever he entered the chapel or the dining hall. He was perfectly devout—I’d come back from the 7 am counselor’s meeting and he’d be reading his Bible. He was perfectly obedient. “What do you want me to do now? Mister Rodgers.” Another of my boys, nick-named Skeeter, was oblivious to being good. He needed perpetual direction. One morning he caught a small frog and he threw it as far as he could straight up. The frog came down in front of us with a splat. My good boy was horrified and gave Skeeter a lecture on the need of humane treatment for all of God’s creation. A look of grave concern came over Skeeter. “Mister Rodgers,” he asked. “Is that a sin too?”

A couple of thoughts:
1.       God gave us law for our own good, the good of those about us, and because He is a God of love and righteousness. Obedience to the law is necessary for good relationships with our neighbors and with God
2.       The law is not about our own achievement. As the Lord Jesus clearly shows through His Sermon on the Mount, we don’t even come close to accomplishing the good and perfect law of God, which is quite unlike our Lord Jesus, who in all ways perfectly accomplished the law.

The complete, unabridged law brings us a point of despair about ourselves where we cry, “Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” But curiously, if we are Believers, the Holy Spirit can then bring us to a brand new point, a point of joy! “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! For there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (from Rom 7:24 - Rom 8:1)

Daniel Triestman writes:

In Exodus 20, God delivers to Israel the Ten Commandments that would serve as the outline for the rest of the nation's religious and civil laws. Since the day Moses descended Mount Sinai these Ten Commandments have been re-purposed to a variety of ends ranging from historical legislation to political fodder to spectacular entertainment. The Ten Commandments have grown to take on an other-worldly mystique in popular culture, gaining favor in places where much of the rest of the Torah never really connected. There is something so fundamentally natural, yet profound in the teachings of the Ten Commandments that people who would never dream of keeping Kosher or sacrificing a bull to Jehovah would display them in front of their homes or insist that they be enshrined in front of their courthouses. Yet as ubiquitous as the Ten Commandments have become, it is perhaps the initial meaning that these commandments had for the nation of Israel that have the most significant implications for us today.

According to tradition, the Ten Commandments were contained on two tablets of stone each consisting of five commandments each. The first five commandments outlined religious law -how man was to relate to God. The latter five commandments detailed civil law -how man was to relate to one another. There has been some discussion as to how best to list the commandments so that they come out to exactly ten. Do we clump together no other gods and no idolatry? Do we distinguish between coveting your neighbor's wife and coveting his ox? As well, there are differing thoughts as to how to keep the commandments: What about the Sabbath, has it been replaced by “The Lord's Day?” Is taking the Lord's name in vain the same as yelling “goddamit”when you hit your thumb with a hammer? Is watching too much TV a form of idolatry? Regardless of how one divides the commandments or keeps the commandments, they carry little authority without appreciating the first great truth of Exodus 20 -that the commandments come from Jehovah, the God who has brought you out of Egypt. Without this personal and national relationship with a redeeming God, the Ten Commandments are just fun moral lessons to play with, argue over and occasionally fail at.

In Matthew 22, Christ responds to inquiries by people who “play with, argue over and occasionally fail at” the law for a living. When one of the Pharisees tests Him by asking “what is the greatest commandment” Christ shows how not only is all religious and civil law perfectly summarized in the sentiment of loving God and one another, but also that the utility of the entire Torah depends on first having a relationship of love with Jehovah and His people.

Question: What does a Biblical relationship with the Ten Commandments look like? Should we still keep them? Which ones? How? (Feel free to answer in the comments section below)

1 comment:

  1. I like the answers to these questions found in Romans 3:31 and Romans 10:4 .
    “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31)
    “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)
    Although I guess that is not as specific of an answer as Dan was really asking for. :)