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Posts Tagged ‘The Ten Commandments’

Committed Love

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

There is a popular fable about a chicken and a pig. It goes like this:  A chicken wants to open a restaurant with a pig. The pig asks what they would serve, and the chicken says, “Ham and eggs, of course.” The pig replies, “No thanks. You might be involved, but I would be committed.” The story is a light-hearted illustration of the difference between involvement and commitment. The chicken’s involvement requires giving up the eggs it lays. The pig’s commitment requires giving its life to provide the ham.

Some employers classify their employees as those who are compliant and those who are committed. Compliant people are those who do what is expected or asked of them, but little more. They seldom take work home, nor will they willingly work extra hours or stray outside of their job descriptions. They are dependable, but not particularly loyal to or passionate about their work. Committed employees, on the other hand, are on fire for their profession and organization. They constantly think of new ways to excel at what they do in order to further the mission of the company. They work extra hours, often without being asked, and readily fill in wherever needed. They are loyal and zealous.

The difference between involvement and commitment is of sacrificial proportion. Both are important and require a measure of sacrifice, but differ in the degree of sacrifice offered. The first sentence in passage from John reminds me of the chicken. To love another requires a sacrifice – giving up something of value to us to serve someone else. A loving sacrifice could be donating one’s time to serve at a soup kitchen. The second sentence from John makes me think of the pig – giving up one’s life in service to another. Of course, giving up one’s life could mean dying for a cause, as a soldier might do for his or her country. It can also mean dedicating one’s life to a cause, as in the case of Mother Teresa. Either way, committed persons give up significant rights to the course of their own lives in order to serve a higher purpose. It is easy for me to list a number of areas where I am involved. It is much more difficult, however, to show where I am truly committed. In the fable of the Chicken and the Pig, both animals provide necessary resources for ham and eggs. What the chicken provides, however, is available in an ongoing way that does not require the chicken’s life. The pig, on the other hand, can only provide its contribution to breakfast one time. John’s passage tells us there is need for both involved and committed Christians in the service of Christ.

Come home to church this Sunday. Be involved, or be committed – but be there.

Greg Hildenbrand

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Doubting God’s Generosity

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17

The dictionary on my phone defines covet as “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.” Clearly, the last of the Ten Commandments addresses the importance of controlling our desires. There is an important distinction to make, however, between controlling and eliminating desire. Desire is a good and Godly force that animates our lives, and the commandment does not call for the elimination of our reasonable longings. Desire for a legacy drives us to excel in our profession, or to marry and have children. Aspiring to a better life provides the motivation to do whatever is required to get from where we are to where we want to be. Our desire for an improved future is a good thing, unless that desire leads us to try to improve our future at someone else’s expense. Our longing crosses the line into covetousness when we want a specific something that belongs to our neighbor. Similar to the commandments against stealing and committing adultery, the prohibition against coveting has to do with respecting that which belongs to another.

There is another aspect to covetousness, however, which is an issue of faith. When we covet something belonging to another, we indirectly express our dissatisfaction with what we have. In the context of the gifts, talents, and relationships given by God, when we covet the gifts, talents, and relationships of others, we cast doubt on God’s generosity. Coveting and contentment do not co-exist. To covet is to be selfish to an extreme that is not likely to end well.

The Ten Commandments have set a foundation for our worship life, as well as our life in community with others, for thousands of years. The first four commandments guide our relationship with God by warning not to have other gods before our God, not to worship idols, not to misuse the name of God, and to keep the Sabbath day holy. The remaining commandments guide our relationships with others: we are to honor our parents, not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not lie, and not covet. Taken together, the Ten Commandments form a timeless set of rules for living, as relevant today as when first written.

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False Witness

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16

 Witnesses in Old Testament days, as now, were vitally important. The Jewish Law reads, “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained” (Deuteronomy 19:15). In other words, conviction of a crime based on the account of one witness would not stand. There had to be at least two witnesses to testify against the accused. The Law goes on to deal with a false witness, saying, “If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then you shall do to the false witness just as the false witness had meant to do to the other” (Deuteronomy 19:18b-19a). As such, a false witness received punishment equal to the consequences for the accused, had the accused been found guilty. If a witness testified falsely against another, and the punishment for the accused behavior was death, the false witness would be killed.

The contemporary term for bearing false witness in a legal proceeding is perjury, which continues to be a very serious offense. The ability to apply justice in a fair and impartial manner is dependent on receiving truthful testimony from witnesses. Although the Old Testament Law is formal and bears resemblance to judicial proceedings today, the ninth of the Ten Commandments has a practical and daily implication – do not lie about others.

Lying goes beyond making a false statement about another in a court of law. It includes making false statements about others in social situations, including implying something untrue about another, such as occurs in gossip. Our legal system assumes a person is innocent until proven guilty, but social situations have no such protection. In Biblical times, two or more witnesses had to agree a person was guilty for a charge to stick. Today, one careless post on the internet, or a few careless words overheard by the wrong ears can tarnish a person’s image for years, even when there is no factual basis for what was written or said. Some people counsel us not to respond to false accusations; but sometimes when a person does not respond to an accusation, others assume the accusation has merit. Being falsely accused causes all sorts of complications. It is like asking a man if he is still beating his wife. There is no good answer, once the charge has been made. Similar to trying to cram toothpaste back into the tube, our words cannot be easily retracted. For these reasons and more, we must speak the truth. Speaking the truth is especially important when we are speaking of others.

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Do Not Steal

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15
He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:13

The eighth of the Ten Commandments, like the sixth and seventh, is straightforward: Do not steal. The common interpretation is that we are not to take what belongs to someone else. While I do not deny it is wrong to steal from another, there are instances that give me pause. The first such instance occurs in a life-or-death situation, when taking something from someone else without his or her permission will help. For example, if my children were starving and I had no resources to acquire food for them, I would steal to preserve their lives. Although this is an unlikely situation, it is an example where I believe the circumstance warrants theft.

A more common, but related situation occurs when people are starving in other countries. Does their right to life override my right to decide the fate of that which I possess? If I have sufficient resources to end the starvation of another, is it stealing for someone to take those resources from me and give them to the other? Is it a form of theft for me to hoard resources well beyond my need when others are in desperate need of those same resources? These are difficult faith questions, and stealing is a faith issue. For the thief, taking what belongs to another shows a lack of faith that God will provide for his or her needs. However, I believe it is equally faithless for those with much not to share their abundance with those in need. Indeed, inspiring people to share is a basic way that God provides for the poor and needy. The faith issue for the richly blessed among us manifests in our decisions about sharing our gifts. If we are miserly in our giving to others, our faith is likely small.

Finally, the story of the moneychangers illustrates another interesting area of theft, one that sends Jesus into a rage in the Temple. The moneychangers and other vendors exchanged currencies and sold sacrificial animals for worshippers. The problem was that they marked their prices up so high they were essentially stealing from those who came to the Temple to worship. Jesus felt this was unacceptable and drove the moneychangers out. Imagine what Jesus would do when buying popcorn and a soft drink at a movie theater today. Our commandment not to steal goes beyond just taking something belonging to another. The commandment requires consideration about taking more than our share, as well as giving less than we can comfortably give.

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Note to parents: This Life Note contains a frank discussion of sexual topics that may not be appropriate for young children. Please review first, and then use your discretion.

Sex, Lust, and Adultery

“You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14

The seventh of the Ten Commandments is short and to the point: You shall not commit adultery. A dictionary definition of adultery is “voluntary sexual relations between a married person and somebody other than his or her spouse.” There are several key elements to adultery. First, it is voluntary—adulterers make a choice. Second, it involves sexual relations. Finally, adultery involves at least one married person and someone other than his or her spouse. Jesus, however, expands the definition of adultery. In Matthew 5:28 he says, “…everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Presumably, the same applies for women. Jesus raises the behavioral standard much, much higher. Adultery is no longer just a physical act, but also a mental one. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus provides additional and difficult commentary on adultery. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus says, “…whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.” Between the dictionary and Jesus, adultery can include a broad host of common maladies like gawking, premarital sex, extramarital sex, pornography, masturbation, and divorce, to name a few.

Sexual attraction, by design, is a powerful force. Like other powerful forces, sex enhances our lives dramatically when enjoyed appropriately. Electricity, heat, and physical strength are also powerful forces that enhance our lives when used appropriately. However, electricity electrocutes, heat burns, and physical strength bruises when used inappropriately. Sex becomes an incubator for sin when used carelessly, sometimes resulting in physical, psychological, or emotional damage. Sin is that which separates us from others and from God. Because sin is harmful to others and ourselves, we strive to eliminate or minimize its presence in our lives.

Sexual freedom allows us to enjoy the amazing gift of sex in all its fullness. All freedoms are subject to abuse, however, and sexual freedom is especially ripe for abuse, as in the case of adultery. Adultery is an act of conscious betrayal—to one’s spouse, to family and friends, to one’s self, and to God. As Christians, we must respond very carefully in the face of adultery. Our responsibility as a faith community is not to cast judgment, but to surround struggling people with love and respect. Unfortunately, some use passages like the ones from Matthew as a hammer to pound guilt into an already troubled soul. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. To judge others by unyielding standards is, at the very least, a violation of Jesus’ command for us to love one another. Consider Jesus’ reaction to the woman at the well in John 4:1-42; or the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8:1-11. Jesus met sinners where they were and helped them to a better place. We are to do the same. When faced with the pain of another, our response should offer the type of mercy offered us in response to our own sin. No sin is unforgivable, and no broken life is beyond repair. Jesus came to meet us in our sin and carry us through it, not to shun us because of it. Adultery may separate us from God, but God is always ready to welcome us back.

Come home to church this Sunday.

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Life Worship Notes

“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13

Do Not Kill

The notes in my Bible state the key word in this sixth of the Ten Commandments translates appropriately as either murder or kill. A quick survey of popular Bible translations shows a slight preference for murder over kill, but both are used. While killing is the taking of another life, murder is the unlawful taking of another life. By earthly law, most killing in war is lawful killing. However, is it appropriate to interpret biblical directives in the context of human definitions of right and wrong? Is it human or divine law that determines when the taking of another life is permissible?

I confess to being a conflicted pacifist. I want to believe killing others is not an effective solution to what ails us. Even in war, the soldiers killing and being killed do not begin, sustain, or end the war. The initiators and controllers of the conflict usually stay safely away from danger. Please understand: the past and present risks taken, and the sacrifices made by military personnel, humble me. I appreciate their selfless dedication and service; and I understand I am able sit at my desk and pontificate because of their willingness to lay down their lives for mine. In spite of my professed pacifism, I imagine scenarios where another person threatens my family. I have no problem visualizing doing whatever is necessary to protect those I love, up to and including killing the person doing the threatening. Is that personal situation significantly different from killing for one’s country? Does this commandment prohibit us from protecting others with all options available? How does Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek inform the discussion?

I turned 18 as the Vietnam War was winding down. When I registered for the military draft, one question asked if I had moral or religious objections to killing others. I thought of this commandment and checked, “Yes.” Subsequently, I received Conscientious Objector status, an interesting designation. Had I been drafted and sent to war, I probably would have served without objection. However, I did not understand how else to reconcile my Christian beliefs with the question about killing. In my mind, I played out a scenario where I had my rifle pointed at an enemy soldier, who was pointing a rifle at me—would I shoot? In John 15:13, Jesus says there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for one’s friends. Ultimately, it was not laying down my life that conflicted me, but the taking of the life of another. Is it permissible to kill a person if that act will save others? Certainly, that is one justification for war. The Jewish authorities justified the killing of Jesus as necessary to preserve the way of life for the entire Jewish community. It would be helpful if this commandment contained clarifying commentary. As written, some of us will struggle mightily with its application. In truth, I believe that struggle is exactly what God intends.

Come home to church this Sunday. Join the ranks of the faithfully conflicted.

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Honor Your Father and Mother

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12

The first four of the Ten Commandments address our relationship to God. We will have no gods before our God, we will not make idols, we will not misuse the name of God, and we will keep the sabbath day holy. The remaining six commandments address our relationships with each other. Commandment number five is to honor our mother and father, so our days will be long. As a child, I interpreted this to mean that if I obeyed my parents, they would allow me to continue living. If I did not obey…well, you get the picture (see Leviticus 20:9). To honor someone means to hold him or her in high regard or esteem. I confess I did not always do this, either as a child or as an adult. I was probably too quick to see the human frailties of my parents, although that was likely a result of my high expectations of them. Certainly, today, I continue to reap the blessings of two loving parents, and I grieve for those who are not so blessed.

However, I believe this commandment goes beyond our relationship with our parents.  Our responsibility to care for the elderly is a common theme throughout scripture. Our parent’s generation, as well as the generations before them, laid the foundation on which we live today, both spiritually and physically. We have a responsibility to assure our predecessors are cared for, with love and respect.

However, I believe this commandment goes beyond caring for the elderly. It is interesting to consider the setting in which the Ten Commandments were given. The Jewish people, recently exiled from their slavery in Egypt, were living for an extended period in the desert, awaiting admission to the homeland God had promised. There was restlessness among the people, some of whom were making the case to return to slavery in Egypt as a better alternative than waiting, in limbo, in the desert. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I suspect the Israelite parents, who spent their lives as slaves, were not among those making a case to return to Egypt.

An important and practical part of honoring our parents and elders is learning from them. As a child, I often thought the ways of my parents and grandparents were old-fashioned. As I have grown, I appreciate the wisdom of their ways. There is value in the traditions of those who have traveled these roads before us that we do best not to ignore. We honor those generations by learning from their lives in a way that respects their struggles and experience. By utilizing their wisdom and experience, we build upon that which has already been learned, thus helping assure better days ahead.

Come home to church this Sunday. Learn from the saints of the church.
Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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