The Law, Part 3 – Relationships 101

Each of God’s commandments defines a safeguard to our relationships. Conversely, the breaking of any one of these principles results in the fracturing of a relationship — either with God or with our neighbors. The last six commandments focus specifically on our relationship with others. The fifth commandment, of course, addresses the love and respect which we owe to our own family, our parents in particular. The remaining commandments instruct us not to murder, cheat on our spouse, steal, lie, or covet.

As we explore God’s law and its demands on our lives, we tend to get caught up on the “don’ts” of it all. In his writings, however, Martin Luther makes that fascinating point that whenever there is a negative prohibition in the commandments, then a positive implication is, in fact, assumed. Pastor Stephen Um expands on this and explains that, for example, when we are told not to murder, the inverse application is that we are to radically love others. (This includes our neighbors and our enemies! See Matthew 5:44.) And when the commandment says not to commit adultery, the assumption is that we are supposed to be uncompromisingly faithful to our spouse. (Matthew 5:27-28.) We are to recognize sexuality as something that is a gift from God and, therefore, treat it as a covenantal commitment. And when it says we ought not to steal, we realize that we ought instead to be fanatically generous with what we do have! (Matthew 5:42.) And to not lie, of course, means that we live a life of complete transparency and extreme integrity. As Jesus expounded, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No'” (Matthew 5:37).

The tenth commandment drives us even deeper into what it means to live in harmony with God’s law. I like how Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile describes the root of coveting: Imagine that your heart had a pair of hands, and, with those hands, it begins reaching, grasping at things that are outside of its fence of proper ownership. That interior grasping for things that do not belong to us consumes our thoughts and desires. It eventually leads to the breaking of the other commandments in God’s law, all to the ultimate injury of our neighbor! See how devastatingly vicious the cycle is? Pastor Anyabwile goes on to point out yet another deeply-rooted transgression that our hearts can lure us into: “In the act of coveting, what we’re actually saying is that God has not apportioned His creation properly; He hasn’t given us everything that we desire.” It all goes back to the first lie of the serpent, doesn’t it? “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) In other words, much like the serpent in Eden, our heart begins to accuse God of not giving us everything we need to be happy. We begin to distrust His motives and distort His character.

In closing, I like how Stephen Um summarizes it all: “You cannot break the rest of the commandments without first breaking the first commandment.” In other words, we are led into breaking God’s statutes when we begin to look at something other than God as our primary source of value — when we follow after another “god.” This ultimately takes us down a road to broken trust and fractured relationships.

But God wants to take us down a very different path, doesn’t He? God wants us to find comfort and security in the protection of His law! And so, rather than thinking of God’s law as an arbitrary set of dogmatic rules, let’s start thinking of them as promises! In reality, each of the commandment acts as a beautiful promise reminding us of God’s power to recreate us into new beings who can and will live in harmony with God’s eternal law of relational love. From now on, every time you read a commandment, read it from God’s point of view, like this: “I promise you that I will create you into a person who won’t ever want to injure yourself or others by ____” (You can fill in the blank.) Isn’t it amazing what God is willing and eager to do in our lives if we will just let Him?

As we close up our three-part study on God’s law, I wanted to share a piece of an enlightening article I read entitled “The 10 Commandments, Sayings or Promises?” Let’s spend some time thinking this week about how each of God’s commandments translates into a beautiful promise for our lives today:

  • Promise #1 – You do not have to live in constant disappointment anymore.
  • Promise #2 – You can be free from rituals and religion and trust in a relationship.
  • Promise #3 – You can trust in a Name that is above every Name.
  • Promise #4 – You can rest.
  • Promise #5 – Your family does not have to fall apart.
  • Promise #6 – You do not have to live in a constant state of anger because you will be motivated by love and not hate.
  • Promise #7 – You do not have to live a life dominated by the guilt, pain and shame associated with sexual sin.
  • Promise #8 – I will provide.
  • Promise #9 – You do not have to pretend.
  • Promise #10 – I will be enough.

The Law, Part 2 – Sabbath

At the heart of God’s law, we find the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The Sabbath promise acts, in many ways, as the central connecting point between the first half of the Ten Commandments and the second half. It’s a command that intersects our relationship with God and our relationship with others. The Sabbath promise takes us right back to the creation story. In fact, it is the one commandment that gives us a direct reason to obey it, all because of who God is (a Creator God, no less) and what He has done for us: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (verse 11).

The Sabbath reminds us that we were designed for a weekly rhythm of work and rest. Although we are to labor for six days of the week, there is one day, the seventh, where we are supposed to let it all go and simply cease (what the word sabbath literally means). It’s a day where we stop worrying about how we are going to balance the checking account at the end of the month. We lay aside the distractions of our careers and the frenzied consumerism of the world around us. It’s a day where we exercise our complete faith and trust in God’s provision for our lives. It’s a day where we place our relationship with God and our relationship with others (verse 10) as our highest priority. In fact, Jesus went on to expand the meaning of the Sabbath by emphasizing our responsibility to others, to our community. Jesus was all about healing sickness, relieving suffering, lifting burdens, and breaking bonds on this extra special day, and we should be, too! “Therefore it is right to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, WNT).

The Sabbath promise goes so much deeper than mere weekly physical rest, however. The Sabbath signifies a salvational rest. It’s a day where we remember that we can stop working to earn anything with God. We can’t impress Him. We can’t earn our way to heaven. Instead, we simply rest in His sacrificial provision for us. In Ezekiel 20:12, God reminds us why He gave us His Sabbath: “Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” It is so that we would be reminded weekly that HE is the one who sanctifies our hearts, purifying our lives and washing us clean from all sin.

rest_here

Sabbath is so much more than a day of the week. It’s an attitude. It’s a state of being. We can either live our lives striving to get something that we already have, or we can begin abiding in the promises that God has bestowed upon us. (See John 15:1-8.) The Sabbath, at its core essence, is an invitation from our Heavenly Father to lay aside our own man-made works and attempts at righteousness and surrender our hearts to the sway of His Holy Spirit’s rule. We are to simply rest in the assurance of His grace and love.

To illustrate this point, I want you to try something with me: Take a really, really deep breath and hold it for five seconds. Now, slowly exhale… Did you feel it? That that one fleeting moment of almost complete peace and relief? That indescribable feeling of just letting it all go? That right there is a taste of what Sabbath is all about–both in the physical sense, as well as in the spiritual! “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10). God’s invitation for us to enter His rest is standing wide open. What a beautiful promise to start our day with.

Happy Sabbath, friends!

The Law, Part 1 – Worship

The Hebrews’ journey reaches its climax at Mount Sinai. Here, in Exodus 19 and 20, God reveals Himself to His people, and, here also, God unveils His eternal law. What comes to your mind when you think of the “Ten Commandants”? Respect? Awe? Discomfort? Fear, perhaps? How sad that so often we react to God’s law from a position of obligatory compliance or even fearful obedience… That’s never how God wanted it to be. James 1:25 identifies God’s commandments as the “perfect law of liberty.” Psalms 19 calls them “perfect,” “sure,” “true and righteous altogether.” God knows what will bring us ultimate peace and happiness in this life, and so He reveals the formula to us in ten principles of relational integrity and love.

As we explore these ten eternal principles, let’s notice that, before telling us anything about our part in all this, God first introduces His law by making a statement about who He is: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). Our God has redeemed us from the slavery of our past. He has rescued us from certain death and claimed us as His very own — that is why He is worthy of our worship and obedience.

The first three commandments define the safeguards of our relationship with our Heavenly Father. The first forces us to reckon with a God who simply won’t settle for anything less than to be the supreme priority in our lives: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (verse 3). There are many competing “gods” in our world today – financial success, career prestige, even relationships. Anything that we begin to look to as a source of fulfillment, meaning, or security above our Creator is a false god in our lives.

The second commandment is not so much a warning against running after other false gods (a mere repetition of the first commandment) as it is a warning against creating God into our own image. Pastor John Lin summarizes it this way: “Worship God according to who He is, not according to who we want Him to be. In other words, do not worship false gods and do not worship God falsely.” We can be in danger of breaking this commandment when we relate to God based on how we believe He ought to act or what we believe He ought to give us: relationship stability, health, job security, lifestyle comfort, etc. When we do this, we have, in fact, imposed our conception of “God” onto the throne of our hearts. We’ve created our very own “custom designer God,” as Lin puts it. But as God told Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.” He is YAHWEH, the Self-Existent Eternal One. God, in His very name, defies any sense of boundary or restriction. When we attempt to put God in a box and constrain Him to who we want Him to be, then we have broken the second commandment. We’ve duped ourselves for an idol molded after our own image.

The third commandment also has profound implications on how we live our lives and how we worship our Creator. This commandment goes so much deeper than merely addressing how we should use or not use God’s name in our sentences. Remember that God’s name is a representation of His character, a reflection of who He is at His core Being. When we accept Christ’s rulership over our lives, we become Christ-ians, don’t we? We take God’s holy name onto ourselves, and we become representatives of His character and kingdom to the onlooking world. To take God’s name in vain, then, is to misrepresent Him to those around us. It’s to treat a waitress rudely. It’s to flip someone off on the freeway. It’s to make a back-stabbing comment about a coworker. This gets uncomfortable real fast, doesn’t it? The implications on our daily lives reach far and deep…

In His law, God isn’t trying to make a big list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” He is outlining timeless principles of relational love. These first three commandments each deal with the place God is to hold in our hearts and how we are to reflect that relationship to the world around us — our worship, in other words. And why does God make these demands on us? Is He trying to be an arbitrary dictator over our lives? No. Our God is a Father of indescribable love. He knows that only He can provide the fulfillment and satisfaction that our hearts yearn for. He knows this because He designed us. And so, it is only when we place God–and only God–on the throne of our hearts, and when we worship Him as He really is, and when we take His name and character onto ourselves to let it rule over every facet of our lives… Then THAT is when our heart will satisfy its longing and fulfill its ultimate desire. Augustine sums it up this way: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”