Monday, August 28, 2006

The Fulfilling of the Law

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Jno.13:34-35)

It was the beginning of the end of Jesus’ time on earth, and there were things that needed to be said—final instructions given, and priorities laid down (Jno.13:1). His motivating force through the past thirty-three years had been, and still was, love (Jno.13:1). And, before He explained just how important it is in the life a true believer, Jesus gave the disciples a picture of love’s demeanor: humility. He condescended to wash the feet of men who were unworthy to even loosen His shoes (Mk.1:7). Afterward, when Peter failed to see past the immediate action, Jesus told him, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (v.7). Humility and love go beyond ritual and figure to life and practice. Washing dirty feet may be a beautiful picture, but putting our arms around a dirty sinner says more about our Christianity.

After giving them a pictorial introduction, our Lord then issues a “new commandment.” New, only in the sense that it was not spelled out in the original list. The kind of love their Lord displayed that day (and all other days) was to be their pattern as His disciples. “If you can love one another the way I have loved you,” He assured them, “everything else will fall into place.” This one thing—Biblical love—was to be their badge. The thing that would set them apart from non-disciples. In fact, it is so telling a characteristic of a follower of Christ that the world will use it as a litmus test for our authenticity. Of course, among ourselves, as believers, we know that adherence to Biblical doctrine and teaching identifies one as a true believer, but love for the brethren is part of this (1Jno.3:14), and it is the only part that a lost world is capable of comprehending. When it comes to sending a message to the world, love trumps every badge, bumper sticker, T-shirt, bracelet, or Christian “uniform” we might choose to wear. Jesus is not saying that if I ever fail in Christian love (as we all do from time to time), I am not a Christian; what He is saying is that when I do, the world has every right to believe I am not.

Where does this “new commandment” stand in relation to the Decalogue, then? Ah, that is the all-important question. In Matthew twenty-two, Jesus was asked by a lawyer to single out the greatest commandment in the law; to which our Lord replied, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (37-40). The love thing again—we cannot get away from it, can we? To paraphrase, you’ll never get the hang of the Ten Commandments without love. As G. Campbell Morgan says, “Every breach of the Decalogue is a violation of love.” If I love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, I will not be tempted to put any other god before Him, resort to spiritual tokens, invoke His name indiscriminately, or fail to set aside one day of the week exclusively for Him. Nor will I dishonor parents that I truly love. If I love my neighbor as myself, I will not kill him, violate his marriage, steal from him, lie about him, or lust after what he has. Jesus, in His own words, did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matt.5:17); and He did fulfill it…by love. “[T]herefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom.13:10b). Our only hope, then, as believers, is to allow the love of God that has been shed abroad in our hearts (Rom.5:5) to become the handle that fits all ten of the original commandments. It is the only thing that makes them workable.

What does this kind of love look like? Well, First Corinthians thirteen gives us a good idea; but I think one sentence in Morgan’s book on the Ten Commandments opened my eyes in a new and living way: “The supreme evidence of the life of love lies in the fact that love takes the blame attached to others.” One has only to look at Calvary, the highest expression of love, to see the validity of that statement. He, who was blameless, took our blame (Rom.15:3). You and I cannot claim blamelessness, yet we are so quick to take the spotlight of individual blame off ourselves and shine it on another. And this can prove disastrous in a life. Like the prodigal son, until we are willing to acknowledge that no matter what part others have played in our lives, we alone are to blame for our sin, we will never exchange the hog pen for the Father’s house.

As you go about your duties, remember that keeping God’s commandments are the “whole duty of man” (Ecc.12:13). Every other “duty” must fit within that framework, if the approval of God means anything at all to us. Remember, too, without love, the keeping of the law is just an exercise in futility; and to break the first and greatest commandment—to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind—is to commit the greatest sin of all. In short, if you don’t know love, you don’t know God (1Jno.4:8).

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mother of All Sins

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his neighbour’s.” (Exo.20:17)

Thomas Watson refers to covetousness as “a mother sin, a radical vice,” because it gives birth to all nine of the other commandments. It was Lucifer’s desire to have God’s place that precipitated his attempt to mount an insurrection in heaven; and it is man’s desire for supreme authority that causes him to become a god unto himself, fashion personal tokens of holiness, and invoke the name of God in pretence. Covetousness would deny respect and remuneration to parents who gave us life and love, as well as room and board; it would take the life, spouse, or possessions of another, for personal gratification; and it loosens the tongue of the slanderer. No wonder Paul categorizes the covetous individual with whoremongers and idolaters in Ephesians 5:5, and Peter describes them as having “eyes full of adulteries,” who “cannot cease from sin, who “[beguile] unstable souls,” and whose hearts are virtually “exercised with covetousness” (2Pet.2:14). G. Campbell Morgan paints a vivid picture of covetousness: “…fever which makes the eye glisten with a false luster, the cheek flush with deceitful color, the muscles twitch with unnatural activity, the nerves throb with restless desire.”

Covetousness is, of course, an internal sin, which, in the final analysis, the worst kind. This last commandment comes closest of the ten to Jesus’ elaboration of the Decalogue in the New Testament, where He goes past the outward to the root. We cannot see covetousness, but it will subsequently rear its ugly head, just as the virus that causes chicken pox, herpes, or shingles can lie dormant in the body for many years before manifesting itself outside the body. Covetousness is so much a part of us that Paul says in Romans seven, we would not even recognize it to as sin, if God had not told us in the Bible. And when we do find it out, we say, “Who can conquer it then?” To which the obvious answer is, “No one,” which is Paul’s point exactly in the book of Romans. If one would be foolish enough to rattle through the Ten Commandments, claiming immunity, he or she would come to a screeching halt at number ten. The fact that within all of us lies the sin of wanting more than what is enough, is proof that we must look for justification before God elsewhere. And here we see the truth of Galatians 3:24: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The law cannot justify us. In fact, it will testify against us, so that the wise man or woman will cry, “I need a lawyer!” And, thank God, One steps in (1Tim.2:5).

The opposite of covetousness is contentment. That is why Paul says, “[G]odliness with contentment is great gain” (1Tim.6:6). Those individuals who are content with who they are, where they are, and what they have, are less likely to succumb to the pangs of desiring what is beyond their legitimate reach. As long as you and I are in these mortal bodies, covetousness will never be cured; but it can be greatly contained. Thomas Watson, in his wonderful work on the Ten Commandments, suggests the best way:

The root of covetousness is distrust of God’s providence. Faith believes that God will provide; that he who feeds the birds will feed his children; that he who clothes the lilies will clothe his lambs, and thus faith overcomes the world. Faith is the cure of care. It not only purifies the heart, but satisfies it; it makes God our portion, and in him we have enough. ‘The lord is the portion of mine inheritance, the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’(Psa.16:5-5) Faith, by a divine chemistry, extracts comfort out of God. A little with God is sweet. Thus faith is a remedy against covetousness.

This concludes God’s holy law, as given to man through Moses. They are what they are: commandments, not suggestions; and when God says, “Thou shalt,” and “Thou shalt not,” He is really saying, “Don’t hurt yourself.” They were not given as an explanation, for we would have been accountable to Him, if He had never given them, simply because of who He is. He gave them to help us understand His holiness and our deficiency. They were part of wooing us to Himself, finding out how badly we need Him, and what He was willing to do to make Himself accessible. We should take these commandments as seriously as He does. And, if we love Him, we will (Jno.14:15). But just before we close the door on this mini-series on the Decalogue, I think we should consider one more commandment. The one Jesus called, “a new commandment.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thy Neighbor

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

Romans 13:9 makes it abundantly clear that the last five commandments have to do with our conduct and attitude toward our neighbor. “Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And it is only those who are trying to change the subject and justify themselves, who have to say, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). It certainly goes beyond the people next door, because we can be sure the unfortunate Jew in the story Jesus went on to tell, in Luke, did not live next door to the Samaritan! Those people we rub shoulders with all through life have every right to expect that we will do them no bodily harm, steal from them, lie about them, nor violate their marriages. And we know by these last five decrees from God Almighty that He expects it, too.

What then can we safely say about this ninth commandment? Well, obviously, it has to do with lying about another person. It is planting in the mind of one individual, something about another individual, that is false. We know, of course, from other verses, that lying about anything is wrong (Col.3:9-10; Prov.19:22; Prov.6:16-17; Eph.4:25, etc.). You are aware, however, that there are instances in the Bible when someone actually did lie, but was seemingly not faulted for it (for example, Rahab). I do not pretend to be able to reconcile this with the clear teaching against lying, but I have never taken it to be justification for my own prevarication. On the other hand, I am not aware of any place in the Bible where giving false witness about another person was ever condoned. On the contrary, Proverbs 25:18 says of such an individual that he or she is a “maul [hammer or club], and a sword, and a sharp arrow.” Paul gives testimony of being “slanderously reported” of concerning his teaching about the grace of God (Rom.3:8); and we all know that, humanly speaking, our Lord was put to death because of two false witnesses, who could not even get their stories straight (Mk.14:56).

The slanderer is the most flagrant offender when it comes to this particular sin. It is a offense that costs the perpetrator little effort, either physically or mentally, yet it harvests the greatest havoc. More “bang for your buck,” so to speak. Hearts have been broken, homes destroyed, and lives ruined by a false witness who methodically or flippantly planted seeds of doubt against the character of his or her “neighbor.” In reality, though, it is only the reputation of the innocent victim that can be harmed. As G. Campbell Morgan has said,“To be right with God depends upon character, and character is not affected by reputation. Character is the engraving of the being upon a man, of the true facts concerning him. Reputation is the estimate which others form of him. The latter should ever be dependent upon the other." Besides slander, there are other means of violation, as well. For instance, insincere flattery, vague false impressions, incorrect attribution of motive, and even silence. When someone is wrongly accused in our presence, and we fail to set the record straight, we are guilty of condoning a false witness. When “devout Jews,” who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost, began to speak in languages other than their own, they were accused by others standing nearby of being “full of new wine.” But Peter quickly rose to defend them against this slander by saying, “[T]hese are not drunken as ye suppose” (Acts 2:13-15). And, it goes without saying that giving false testimony about someone, under oath, is a breach of civil, as well as God’s, law.

As women, with our so called “intuition,” we are sometimes quick to prejudge and, worse, to pass along that judgment to others. I don’t know about you, but I have been wrong about people enough to be suspicious of my innate intuitions. In any case, as Oswald Chambers says, “God never gives us discernment in order to criticize, but that we may intercede.” The slanderer cares nothing for his neighbor, and little for his God. The latter says of such an individual:

“He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Yours, Mine, and God's

“Thou shalt not steal.” (Exo.20:15)

Martin Luther said of thieves, “If we are to hang them all, where shall we get rope enough?” Because of its many possible forms that range from the obvious to the most subtle and sinister, stealing sometimes seems more like an art than an offense. The most adept are considered shrewd, if guilty; and those who claim good intentions are lionized (Robin Hood). We live in an age that looks for heroes in sports arenas, on a movie screen, or gyrating on a music stage, and it is no wonder that men and women of honesty and diligence are often regarded as people who have not learned the fine art of “easy money.” This may be true, but they are smart enough to know, “easy come—easy go” (Prov.13:11).

The first thing this commandment tells me is that God endorses private ownership. Thievery pre-supposes it. Communism is not a Biblical concept, Acts 2:44 notwithstanding. It is one thing for you and I to voluntarily pool our assets for our good and the good of others; it is quite another for a government to arbitrarily take your possessions and land to distribute to strangers, for whatever reasons. Literally, all we have belongs to God, and He allows personal possession of what has been lawfully acquired.

But how do we acquire possessions? Only one of three ways, avers G. Campbell Morgan. They are received as a gift from another person; they are given in exchange for labor accomplished or services rendered; or they are stolen. The first two are legitimate in God’s sight. Ephesians 4:28 seems to bear this out:

“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour,
working with his hands the thing which is good, that he
may have to give to him that needeth.”

All three of the means mentioned are found in this verse. Labor and the reception of a gift are laid starkly against the practice of robbery. And Paul does not mince words. “If you’re doing it, quit it!” he says. It does not take consideration, only determination.

We should probably point out those forms of thievery less obvious than, say, robbing a bank! How about unfair wages, or under par work? Both are a fraud. Then there is borrowing without returning. What else is that but theft? The gambler puts money in his pocket that he neither earned nor received as a personal gift. The wise man says of such a man,
The chronic time waster or late-comer steals time, of which life itself is made up of. And Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that those who steal others thoughts or ideas and claim them as their own, are thieves of the worse sort. It’s called plagiarism. Of course, adultery plunders another man or woman’s marriage, and fornication steals virtue from both participants. But probably the worse thievery of all is when you or I purloin glory and honor that rightfully belongs to God. It is easy to blithely say, “I give God all the glory,” while we bathe in all the praise. It was Herod who blatantly refused to give God the glory and ended up as worm food (Acts 12:21-23)

I would like to end by telling you something my sister told me about our only brother. (He’s 74, but we still call him Billy!) She said that when he was born, during Depression days, Mother and Dad did not have any way at the time to pay the doctor who came to the house to deliver him. For some reason, I do not know why, it turned out that he was never paid. According to the story, my brother, when he was grown and made aware of this oversight, found that doctor and paid for his own delivery. It was an honest debt that deserved to be paid and my brother is an honest man. He may not have the adulation of a movie star or a sports figure, but he has always had the respect of his children and grandchildren (and his sisters, who still make over him).

Stealing is a manifestation of selfishness, discontent, and low regard for oneself and others. It indicates an inability to maneuver through life in a straight-forward, clear-eyed manner. There are those who boast standards of dress and conduct that snicker at shrewd business deals and “harmless” pilfering. But God does not see it that way. It tells more about our character than our church affiliation does. To some among us, “Thou shalt not steal,” really means, “Thou shalt not get caught.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Scarlet Sin

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Exo.20:14)

What used to be called “the scarlet sin” is barely pink in today’s society. Sexual sin, before or after marriage, may be risky, but it is certainly not risqué. “Everybody does it.” Yes, everybody who values pleasure more than purity; and everybody who fears being ostracized more they fear the wrath of God (Heb.13:4). Two years ago, I wrote on this subject as part of a study in the book of Proverbs. I have decided that it still says what I want to say today; therefore, I am reproducing it here, in nearly its entirety. As I re-read it, I was challenged anew to guard my heart and my body, wherein dwells the Spirit of God. I pray it will speak to you, as well.


Sparkling Waters or Poisoned Spring

“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” (Prov.5:15)

Just as diamonds are displayed on black velvet to bring out their brilliance, in this chapter, the joys of marriage dazzle against the miseries of illicit love. If Proverbs teaches anything, it teaches the folly of trifling with sexual sins. The “strange woman” is mentioned and described numerous times and presents a contrast to the feminine personification of wisdom in the book, as well as stark disparity from the woman in chapter thirty-one.

Marriage has been under attack from the Garden of Eden to the present day. The onslaught has only intensified through time, till, looking around, one is tempted to suspect it may be drawing its last breaths. In the last thirty or forty years, it has come to be considered only one of many avenues for expressing love along with such arrangements as living together on a trial or semi-permanent basis or just an occasional rendezvous. Apparently, love and marriage no longer go together “like a horse and carriage.” And now, suddenly, marriage has gained new “champions”—homosexuals and lesbians. Just when we were convinced this ungodly world system had given up on marriage, devotees of sexual perversion have decided it may be a good thing after all. Now, not only has marriage been trivialized, it’s been bastardized. Thank God, while all this social experimentation has been going on, God’s Word, “that liveth and abideth forever,” has remained unchanged: “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb.13:4). The intimate expression of love is only honorable if it is takes place within the confines of marriage, which Ephesians five makes clear is a binding covenant between a man and a woman. Anything else dishonors God, society, and the participants themselves (1 Cor.6:18). God restricts sex to marriage, not, writes Warren Wiersbe, to rob us of pleasure but “to increase pleasure and protect it.”

The lips of the strange woman are said to “drop as an honeycomb,” and her mouth is “smoother than oil” (5:3). Stolen waters are advertised as being sweet (9:17), but it is a sweetness that is cloying—sickening sweet. In the same way overindulgence in rich food leaves us with almost a revulsion to it, the first taste of unholy, unlawful sex may pleasure the sensual palate; but, in the end, it becomes “bitter as wormwood” (v.4; cp. Rev.8:11). No wonder Solomon wails in bitter regret, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!” (5:12-13)

If the preceding verses are a picture of the disease, verse fifteen provides a preventative: “Drink waters out of your own well,” says Solomon in verse fifteen. “Get your lovin’ at home!” There are no sweeter waters than these. The couple whose love enjoys the smile of God, enjoys also the fullness of its pleasures. Or, at least they should. God is the Author of marital intimacy, and any sex education that does not take that into consideration is just basic biology equivalent to the “birds and the bees.”

Paul says it this way: “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1Cor.7:2). Obviously, when Paul says “every man” and “every woman,” he is making a general statement, since he goes on to say that as far as he is concerned, there are times when marriage is not practical or even possible. He makes sure, however, that we know these circumstances are the exception and not the rule. But, either way, sex outside the marriage bond is forbidden. And when the Bible speaks, the argument is over. In the case of a single man or woman, it is fornication; when a married person indulges in it, it is adultery.

As a woman, verse nineteen challenges me in two ways: To bring to my marriage the serenity typified by the quiet deer (“Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe”); coupled with the exuberance expressed in the latter portion of the verse (“…be thou always ravished always with her love.”) It is not always easy to balance these two dimensions, since most of us lean one way more than the other. But because life can be a roller-coater sometimes, ideally, my love should be both restful and ravishing

Verses sixteen through eighteen use phrases that picture these waters of satisfaction breaking forth into fountains “dispersed abroad,” and rivers that will spill out “into the streets.” These are the children of a godly union who flow into the mainstream of life with the underpinning of loving, faithful parents—faithful to God, one another, and the confidence of their children.

The final picture in chapter five is a warning to us that sin is always binding. “He shall be holden with the cords of his sins” (v.22). I remember once when our children were young, my husband made this Biblical object lesson come to life by taking everyday sewing thread and wrapping it slowly around the wrists of our younger son. The first few strands were easily broken, making Josh quite confident in his own strength. After several more were added, however, it became harder and harder, till he was finally forced to admit he could no longer break them. With sin, repetition forms the habit, and the habit becomes the ruling principle. This is especially true of sexual sins. The wise man or woman will turn away from the first strand of its insidious threads.


I will only add to this Solomon’s warning in Proverbs 5:11, where he predicts the end for those who will not heed his words of warning. You will, says he, “…mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bloody Murder

“Thou shalt not kill.” (Exo. 22:13)

Without resorting to confirmation from the Hebrew (consult Strong’s Concordance, if you must), we find a reliable interpretation of the word “kill” in Matthew 19:18, where Jesus Christ renders it thus: “Thou shalt do no murder.” (There’s nothing like getting it straight from the Author!) You have often heard the truism “All murder is killing; but not all killing is murder.” Before we delve into that, however, I want to impress upon you, if I can, the reason why something we see portrayed non-stop in movies, television, video games, and nearly all other forms of media—to the point that we have almost come to see it as a viable form of death—is, in reality, an inexcusable affront to God. Whether it is homicide, suicide, infanticide, feticide, or “accela-cide” (my own word for euthanasia), to cause the cessation of life in another human being is to stand in the place of God, whose image we bear. There is at least one occasion, however, where God actually does ask us to stand in His place in the matter of taking a life.

God told the only eight people left on the earth after the Flood, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (cp. Num.35:31). New Testament verses such as Romans 13:1-4 echo this mandate, and Paul the Apostle readily admitted that there are some crimes “worthy of death,” even saying, if he had committed such a crime, he would not refuse to die (Acts 25:11). And our Lord, who had committed no crime at all, and who justifiably could have called down ten-thousand angels to vindicate Him (Matt.26:53), claimed no extenuating circumstances, witness perjury, or prejudicial ruling (all true), when He was facing execution. Instead, He submitted to capital punishment, because He was representing you and me, who were patently guilty. Therefore, any argument against the death penalty must look somewhere other than that Bible for substantiation.

It has been suggested that capital punishment is not a deterrent, but unbiased statistics prove otherwise; and, in any case, it is deterrent to the executed murderer! In today’s world of DNA testing, however, where cases of individuals on death row have been found to be innocent, the possibility of executing an innocent person is held up. Frankly, though, it seems to me that in today’s court system, where capital punishment is years in coming, if ever, there are far more murderers are living among us than are executed (i.e., Sirhan Sirhan, who at least a dozen people saw shoot Robert Kennedy).

On the other hand, the lives of innocent babies, just weeks away from being cuddled, are snuffed out, with less compunction than the drowning of kittens. Mark it well; when those who operate these abortion mills wash their hands after performing their unholy procedures, they are like Pilate, whose hand washing was not, nor ever will be, enough. God is not unmindful of their sin or that of the women who willfully deprived the hopeful life within them of seeing the light of day. These little ones, however, have the promise of Psalm 22:10: “I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.”

Finally, it should be remembered that murder can always be traced back to its matrix—hatred. “Whoso hateth his brother is a murderer” (1Jno.3:15a); “Ye have heard that it is was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt.5:21-22a). Even so-called “senseless” killing is prompted by hatred of someone—the victim, who the victim represents in the perpetrator’s mind…or God. Murder is inward hatred and malice that has been cherished and nursed to fruition. To God, who is ever mindful of the root, hatred is murder. Man, who cannot see the root, is only responsible to punish the act. Those of us who are adamant that the government fulfill its duty to punish murderers should be careful not to allow bitterness to take root in our hearts, where it can quickly metastasize into hatred.

The only place of forgiveness for one who has shed the blood of another human being, however it is done, is at the foot of a bloody Cross. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col.1:14). Only blood covers blood. And, in order to appease a Holy God, only Jesus’ Blood will do. God is the Giver of life, and only He is entitled to decide when it should end. We have no right, as individuals, to take our own or anyone else’s.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Bridge Between

“Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (Exo. 20:12)

The fact that God wrote His list of ten prerequisites to holiness on two tables of stone has caused many to speculate on how they were divided. The most obvious answer would be five and five, but this would include the fifth one in with the first four that deal with our relationship to God. Therefore some would divide the commandments into two groups of four and six. I, however, am inclined to see the fifth as a bridge that connects the two. The subtle parallel between our relationship to our parents—especially our fathers—and our relationship to God, is too significant to be overlooked. Indeed Albert Barnes (1798-1870), in his notes on Exodus, has said, “All faith in God centers in the filial feeling. Our parents stand between us and God in a way in which no other beings can.” A child’s response to his or her parents—especially a grown child—is so interwoven with response to God that to assert fellowship with either one of them without the other is an empty, unsatisfying claim. First, I think a distinction must be made between obedience and honor.

Notice that the commandment does not use either the word “children” or “obedience.” This is because it is a life-long commandment, demanding honor, which only involves obedience when the son or daughter is a child. Genuine obedience is unquestioning (unless it requires disobedience to God’s laws); and to apply this criteria to adult children is to undermine personal responsibility and stunt developmental possibilities. There can be no growth without questions and the possibility for change. As G. Campbell Morgan, in his lessons on the Ten Commandments, points out, “A boy will never be a man if he must always obey his parents.” The grown child need not thrust aside parental teaching in a blustery show of independence; but, on the other hand, he or she must understand that parental teaching cannot be the sole consideration when making decisions about the determination of one’s own life. The child who seeks to fulfill the fifth commandment will seek counsel of godly parents, and that counsel will weigh heavily in his or her decision making processes, but he or she will recognize that the final responsibility for those decisions rests with him or her. For this reason, the heaviest vote in any decision should rest in the oracles of God.

In yet another example, honor to parents is shown by speaking respectfully to and about them (1Kings 2:20; Prov.31:28); and by giving reverential recognition (Gen.46:29; 1Kings 2:19). In a passage of curses against reprehensible behavior, we read this cutting sentence: “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother” (Deut.27:16). Would this not speak of those sons and daughters who are ever belittling their parents, in or out of their presence, whether living or dead? It is a sobering thought, to be sure. Honor is also seen in the grown child’s solicitous care of his or her aging parents. Our Lord exemplified this with His own mother (Jno.19:26-27). And it was He who berated those who give offerings to the church, while neglecting parents who were in need (Mk.7:9-12). One of my husband’s greatest sorrows is that, as a young pastor of a growing church, he gave sacrificially to missions, while his aged mother lived on meager means. He realizes now that while he made sure she had what she needed, she never received what she deserved.

Children should honor their parents as long as they (the children) live. They should do it, first and foremost, because it is commanded by God. They should honor the love and the cost that went into their upbringing. Godly parents often take more care of their children than themselves. Thomas Watson reminds us, “Children never can equal a parent’s love, for parents are the instruments of life to their children, and children cannot be so to their parents.” To honor one’s parents is “well pleasing” to God (Col.3:20). So much so that we are told in Ephesians 6:3 that it is a potent ingredient for long life. It is not so much “the announcement of a personal reward” as it is “the declaration of the result of accepting and acting upon a philosophy,” suggests Campbell Morgan. He expains, “Character moulded in the atmosphere of honor to parents has within it the element of quiet power which tends to prolong life. On the other hand, character formed in an atmosphere of insubjection has within it the element of recklessness and fever which tends to the shortening of life.”

It goes without saying that children, young and old, will find it abundantly easier to honor honorable parents. Parents who deprive their children of physical, emotional, or spiritual needs, or who provoke them to anger by disproportionate, unfair discipline, partiality, or hypocritical living, saddle their children with a task well nigh impossible to accomplish—rendering honor and respect. Still, the command stands; and God considers it so important that He places it in the place between our relationship with Him and those around us. In many cases it is a “bridge over troubled waters,” because so often our failure to succeed in life—especially in the Christian life—is a direct result of our failure to give proper honor to those who were God’s first gift to us…our parents.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Sabbath: A Sign and a Standard

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work.” (Exo.20:7-8)

It is obvious from Scripture, both in the Old and New Testament, that the sabbath was a sign between God and Israel. “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever…” (Exo.3:16-17a); “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days.”(Col.2:16). Why, then, is it included in these ten mandates God gave for all men and women, for all time? It is because the standard of six days of labor and one day of rest is a principle God laid down, not for His benefit, but ours. “And he [Jesus] said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mk.2:27). As verse eleven of Exodus twenty tells us, God Himself utilized it. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth…and rested on the seventh day…” Obviously, He did not need to rest, as we know it, but He set the pattern for us of six days of labor then one day of cessation and contemplation.

This would be a good time to remind ourselves that there are two parts to this commandment: First, “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work”; and second, “But on the seventh day…thou shalt not do any work…” One is as mandatory as the other. Some would want to observe one without the other. But, the labor is part of what makes the rest so sweet; and the sabbath-rest is what gives meaning to the work. The sabbath was a day to turn from the material to the spiritual. In reality, every day belongs to God, because He alone gives life, but, as with the tithe, He graciously exacts only a portion of it to be given exclusively to Him.

Mark 2:28 tells us, “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” It only stands to reason then that the Lord who instituted the principle of the sabbath can decide on which day it should be observed. After the Resurrection, it was not on the sabbath (Saturday) that the risen Lord first appeared to His disciples but “the first day of the week” (Sunday), indicating that from now on, this would be His day—the Lord’s Day. And to show that the disciples understood this to be the case, Sunday was the day when they met together to preach and “break bread” (Acts 20:7; 1Cor. 16:2). It was only fitting that Sunday would become the day of remembrance. The sabbath was a memorial to the Creation; but the Lord’s Day is a memorial to the Resurrection. In Creation, God gave us life; in redemption, He gave us eternal life. The former required only His voice; but the latter cost Him His Blood. The sabbath was a day of contemplation; we gather together on the Lord’s Day for celebration.

What should characterize our observance of the Lord’s Day? Well, first and foremost, it should be His day. If we are physically able, some part of it should be spent fellowshipping with His people. Are there activities that we do through the week that would not be appropriate on His day? Probably. We read in Isaiah 58:13-14, "If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the his places of the earth…” Again, this is Israel, and this is their sabbath; but the principle is unmistakable. God has set aside one day for Himself, and He expects us to respect that by setting aside our own pleasure, our own ways, and our own words for His

These first four commandments dealt with our relationship to God. The other six will get down to the nitty-gritty of how we are to treat one another. The first ones were necessary before the last ones could even be considered. There are no ethics apart from God. As Matthew Henry said, “If you’re not true to God, you will never be true to man.” So far, we have seen that God will not settle for second place in your life, and we must never rely on anything material to interfere with our worship of Him. His name is holy and we should never desecrate it by anything we say or do…or fail to do. And finally, He has asked that one day out of seven be set aside exclusively for Himself. If we can’t manage that, we probably don’t deserve His name.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

What's in a Name?

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Exo.20:7)

“What’s in a name?” asks Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” This may be true of your name and mine; but the names God has chosen by which to identify Himself to us, are too consequential to take lightly. “THE LORD THY GOD”—is a name to be feared, according to Deuteronomy 28:58. “Hollowed” [holy] is how Jesus told the disciples to regard it (Matt.6:9). God will not leave that man or woman “guiltless” who profanes His name. “Neither shall ye profane my holy name; but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel: I am the Lord which hallow you” (Lev.22:32). Our profanity, says the verse, desecrates and violates the name of the only source man has for personal holiness.

Taking the name of the Lord in vain goes beyond using it in an explosion of hateful speech, however. When we become so “familiar” with spiritual things that God Himself becomes an actor in our jokes and frivolous stories, we prove instead just how unfamiliar we are with a Holy God. Swearing under oath was permitted in the Mosaic Law, as long as you told the truth (Lev.19:12); but Jesus spoke very pointedly in the New Testament against those who feel they must verify what they say with “I swear to God.” If we have a reputation for truthfulness, a simple yes or no will suffice (Matt.5:34-37).

But as long as we are ruffling feathers, we might as well dig a little deeper. The expression “take the name of the Lord” reminds me that when I became a child of God, I took His name. His name is a declaration of His being and His character; and when I speak or act unworthy of that name, I have besmirched it, and as far as this world is concerned, I have taken it “in vain.” Profession without practice is blasphemy. Commenting on this commandment, Alexander Maclaren says:

We take His name ‘in vain’ when we speak of Him unworthily. Many a glib and formal prayer, many a mechanical or self-glorifying sermon, many an erudite [scholarly] controversy, comes under the lash of this prohibition. Professions of devotion far more fervid [passioned] than real, confessions in which the conscience is not stricken, orthodox teachings with no throb of life in them, unconscious hypocrisies of worship, and much besides, are gibbeted [hanged] here. The most vain of all words are those which have become traditional stock in trade for religious people, which once expressed deep convictions, and are now a world too wide for the shrunk faith which wears them.

Whew! For someone like me who considered this commandment to be one of my better attempts at complying with, I find again that it is a good thing Jesus Christ’s record of law-keeping will be credited to me, when I stand before God (Rom.8:4). And speaking of Him, we should not forget that His name—Jesus Christ—falls under this third commandment, as well. It is the only one that gives us access to God (Acts 4:12), and the one to which every knee will one day bow (Philip.2:10). James warns, in no uncertain terms, about the possibility of blaspheming it, as well (2:7).

I am proud of my name—Salle Jo Hopkins Sandlin. My christian name was given to me by my parents who loved me; my family name comes from good English stock, so they tell me; and my married name, God chose and I most willingly took. I am most thankful, however, that God chose to give me His name, the name above all others. It is my desire never to take it in vain with my lips, my life, or my love.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Images and Other "Aids" to Worship

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them…”
(Exo. 20:4-5a)

I once had a biology teacher who told me that he could not imagine a God who would allow all the misery, sickness, and natural disasters in the world. That was his problem: he was trying to imagine God. A very dangerous occupation, according to A.W. Tozer: “Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true”[i] God comes to us, not through imagination, but through revelation. Imagination presupposes a mental image that may or may not translate into a fashioned one, and God hates both of them.

He forbids the making of graven (sculptured, carved) images for the purpose of worship (“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them”) or servitude (“nor serve them”). It is not an indictment against the making of images for beauty, even portrayals of heavenly creatures such as angels, since five chapters later God instructs Moses to have his artificers fashion two golden cherubim to overshadow the mercy seat in the Tabernacle (25:18). Although I am very uncomfortable with all the focus and attention that is placed on angels today, it is not pictures and figurines that are condemned, but the “worshipping of angels” that Paul warns against in Colossians 2:18. There would seem to me to be a definite danger of the former sliding into the latter quite easily, however.

Idol worship was a serious offense in the Mosaic economy (Lev.26:30; 2 Chron.24:18); and God has not changed His opinion about its abomination. We read in Romans one that changing the “the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, etc.,” leads to a “reprobate mind.” The insidious hold of idolatry on its worshippers is the reason why we read in the remainder of verse five that the iniquity of the fathers (and the result) will extend to the children up to the “third and fourth generation.” Ritualistic religion, with its relics, icons, and unscriptural taboos, utilizes the power of suggestion to inflame childhood fears and indoctrination. (Roman and Orthodox churches come to mind, especially.)

So then, because we have no statues in our churches, are we Protestants, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists immune from idolatry? I am afraid not, for we read in Ezekiel 14:3-4 of “idols of the heart.” Idols that are hidden from the eye may still be close at hand. I have asserted that visible images are only extensions of mental ones. Notice the verse says, “Thou shalt not make unto thee…” Mark it down: Anytime we try to imagine God, it will always be to our own specifications. And it will invariably be erroneous. In reality, I can know nothing incontrovertibly true about God beyond what He reveals to me. In nature, I may catch a less than perfect glimpse of His beauty (because of the Fall); in Jesus Christ, I am given a portrait of His Divine humanity; and in His infallible Word, I am presented with word-pictures of the nature and character of God, as well as a history of His dealings with man for approximately 1600 years. If I seek to go beyond these, I am forced to fall back on my imagination, to make for myself an image.

It should be pointed out that God is a Spirit that must be worshipped “in spirit” (John 4:24). When we become overly attached to material paraphernalia that represents something spiritual, or we cling to familiar surroundings and form in our worship, then our worship has become just as ritualistic as any so-called idol worshipper’s. When we only “feel God” if certain songs are sung, the same order of service is followed, or the Bible is preached and taught in a familiar style, etc., we are pharisaical traditionalists, looking for a “sense of God.” I am inclined to agree with the Scottish preacher, Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) who wrote, “The attempt to make the senses a ladder for the soul to climb to God by, is a great deal more likely to end in the soul’s going down the ladder than up it.”

However idolotry may raise its ugly head, we should heed the final warning of the Apostle John in his first Epistle:

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

[i] Tozer, A.W. . The Knowledge of the Holy. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961. p 12.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

No Other God

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exo.20:3)

There are millions of Godless individuals living today, but none are truly godless, in the strict sense of the word. Some will honestly give their gods a name (Buddha, Mohammed, etc.), but others simply render the elements of worship to unnamed entities that they have chosen to put on the pedestal of their hearts. When God wrote these words, Israel was surrounded by nations with multiple gods (polytheism). Their pagan worship was easy to spot. But although visible images may or may not be a part of our devotion, the fact remains, anyone we love, surrender our wills to, and strive to emulate, is our god; and anything we trust to satisfy, sustain, and motivate us to service, is our god.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 come to mind immediately, do they not? “Ye cannot serve God and mammon [Aramaic word for ‘riches.’”] The desire for wealth, and the power that comes with it, is a natural candidate for deification. In fact, as far as 16th Century martyr, Hugh Latimer was concerned, it was the god of this world: “Thys wicked Mammon, the goodes of thys worlde, whiche is their God…” We all know, or have heard of, people who, it could be said, have “sold their souls” for financial gain. By the way, this does not only include the wealthy among us. It is not money that is the root of all evil, but the love of money (1 Tim.6:10). You don’t have to have a lot of it to love it, right?

And what of those “whose god is their belly” (Philip.3:19)? I would offer as a companion verse to this, 2 Timothy 3:4. “…lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” Anyone who indulges in a hedonistic lifestyle, caring only for the gratification of the senses, and the satisfying of physical appetites, has made a of god of his or her “belly.” If it is possible for one god to be less worthy than all others, perhaps it would be this.

In addition, besides the obvious cult leader or demagogue, religious or otherwise, there are other, less ominous individuals we might be in danger of enthroning in God’s room. (There is a good reason that one of today’s most popular TV shows is American Idol.) But even closer to home, I would remind us that our Lord said it is possible to love a mother, father, son or daughter more than Him (Matt.10:37). Elaborating on this first commandment in Mark 12:30, He says, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength…” To siphon any of this degree of devotion from God and lavish it on someone else is to put that person before God. And if that individual happens to be a physical extension of me—either backward or forward—selfishness is added to idolatry.

Finally, I would add something that Paul refers to in Colossians 2:23 as “will worship.” The whole chapter is a warning against letting others set the rules for our lives, instead of God; and, to me, will worship is saying, “You will not tell me how to live…but neither will God.” To put my will in place of God’s is to deify Me. After all, that is what a god does; he makes the rules. Paul says of such self-worship that it is a “shew of wisdom.” No doubt, that is why it is admired by this superficial world: it looks good. (“I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul,” blah, blah, blah.) In reality, this is perhaps the most impotent of all gods, because there is no objectivity. One is left to flounder in a sea of personal whims and impulses. Even our Lord, who possessed a perfect will, refused to allow it to supplant the Father’s (Lk.22: 42).

When God said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” He told us there would be other pretenders to the throne. But like the Philistine’s god, Dagon, who was forced to fall on his face before the ark of the Lord (1 Sam.5), none of these have legitimate claim. On the other hand, of God we read, “…I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me” (Isa.43:10); “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isa.45:22). All other deities are liars, hacks, charlatans, and fakes, whether they stand in the corner of a house, church or temple…or simply call the plays in our hearts and lives. And mark it well: the true God of Heaven and earth will not share His glory for one moment with any of them. He rules the world. Does He rule in your heart?

Thursday, August 3, 2006

The Decalogue: Whole Duty of Man

“Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl.12:13)

In an article written by David Sapsted in the London Telegraph, dated 7/31/06 and under the title, “Teachers to stop teaching right from wrong,” you will read these lines: “Instead of a requirement to teach right from wrong, schools will only have to ensure that children between the ages of 11 and 14 have secure value beliefs and are committed to human rights.” Nothing is said about just where these “value beliefs” will come from, presumably so that they can change as social mores do. What they are looking for, so it seems, is “young people who should become responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.” In other words, if your lying, cheating, adultery, and godlessness in general does not hinder you from fulfilling your duties on the city counsel, you will not be faulted. If our duty to society was all we were going to have to account for, it might not be too absurd to reason this way. But that is not the case.

Every man and woman on the face of the earth has one supreme duty: to fear God and keep His commandments. This is true no matter what our race, gender, religion, or creed of life may be. Whether we ever acknowledge it or not, the obligation is still there. As a non-believer, we may look on them as obsolete, and as a professing believer, we may afford them mere lip service, but the fact remains, God has laid down ten basic precepts that He expects man to adhere to.

“But,” it has been argued, “We are not “under law, but under grace”; Paul says so in Romans 6:14.” This is true, but he hardly takes a breath before adding, “What then? shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid” (v. 17); and he assures us in 7:14, “…with the mind I myself serve the law of God…” The “Law of God,” sometimes called “The Decalogue,” are those Ten Commandments written by His own finger on tables of stone (Exo.31:18) and kept safe within the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle (2 Chron.5:10).These do not change under any circumstances. The ceremonial laws and ordinances, that part of the Law laid down by Moses to the children of Israel, may have been rendered non-binding by the death of Christ on the Cross (Col.2:14), but the Law of God, as given in those ten perpetually binding commandments are “a reflection of the character of God and a revelation of His moral order…binding upon all rational creatures,” says A.W. Pink in his little booklet, The Law and the Saint. This is the law written in the hearts of both Jew (Heb.10:16) and Gentile (Rom.2:14-15).

As further evidence of their perpetuity, we will see as we consider each one individually that they are repeated (except for one) in the New Testament—even elaborated upon. Indeed, our Lord made it clear that He did not come to destroy the law, but rather, to fulfill it (Matt.5:17). He was, and still remains, the only perfect Law-keeper. It is for this reason that we, as benefactors of both His perfect life and perfect death, have the assurance that the law has been fulfilled in us (not by us); therefore we can stand before God blameless (Rom.8:3-4). The fact that keeping the law in itself could never save us is proven by the fact that the substitutionary death of a Savior was necessary. “Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom.3:20). The law is admirably able to provide knowledge of sin, but miserably unable to do anything about it.

So, although the moral law cannot be our Savior, it is still our guide. And, as Puritan writer, Thomas Watson, has said, “They who will not have the law to rule over them, shall never have the gospel to save them.” By this he means that antagonism against God’s moral code is evidence of an absence of the grace of God in the heart. Because of our standing in Christ, the Law of God may not condemn, but it has still has every right to command us.

Proverbs 29:18 says, "[H]e that keepeth the law, happy is he." Commenting on this verse in an article I entitled, “Those Happy Law-keepers,” I said, “When I know that what I'm doing is right, I'm deliciously happy. I am happy now, and I'll be even happier when I stand before the Lord.” First John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” This verse lets us know that God gave us these commandments because He loves us and wants only the best for us. And to those of us who love Him, they are not grievous; they are gratifying. They give me the same assurance that meaningful, enforced rules give to any child: the knowledge that my Father considers me worth the effort.

Today begins a mini-series, if you will, on the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. I hope I have been able to remind you again of their importance. The educational system of England (and, for all practical purposes, the U.S.) may have decided to abandon the teaching of right from wrong, but God has not abdicated His role. And the fact that there will always be at least one point in which I will offend (James 2:10) does not justify simply throwing in the towel. After all, I will never be perfectly clean, but that doesn’t keep me from taking a bath every day!