Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bookend of the Decalogue: Thou Shalt Not Covet

I've found it difficult to find inspiration to blog of recent (as you may have noticed). I think one reason has been the content that I've been teaching on. Do not steal. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery (not necessarily in that order). The cut-and-dry topics haven't granted fodder for great blog posts. Perhaps that's a flimsy excuse, but hey, it's better than "I'm just too busy."

Why do I mention this? Because, this week's content is markedly different. It struck me as I was driving today: Paul encapsulates the whole Law in this on commandment as illustrates the Law, Sin, Faith, and Forgiveness in Romans 7. "Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet'" (Romans 7:7). There must be something to this. Paul had so many other sins he could have illustrated, but he chose covetousness. Why?

This final commandment in the Decalogue against a covetous heart really book-ends the set of commandments that precede it. It's a summary command, but also an expansion upon the previous so-called "social" commandments. Whereas Paul may have been able to keep his body from outwardly stealing and murdering, he recognized that the tenth commandment made all of God's statutes an issue of the heart, not merely actions themselves.

Why is God so concerned about the attitude of our heart--and, particularly, the desires of our heart? Covetousness is simply a desire for one item/person or another. God knows, and indeed created us so that our desires play a major role in governing all the rest of our being. Our obedience, our worship, our love, our devotion, our acts of service, our everyday behavior--all of these find their root cause in the overpowering sense of desire within each of us. Likewise, adultery, murder, lust, stealing, lying, divorce, abortion, selfishness--all find their root cause in the overpowering sense of desire within us as well.

[As an aside, this makes for great fodder for discussion on the subject of compatibilism]

God gives strict warning in His law--not only in the Decalogue, but all throughout the Law--that Israel should guard their hearts and be mindful of their desires. A covetous person is no longer master over his/her desires. The tempter can exercise control over this person with disastrous consequences. It is for this reason that God commands His people: you shall not covet..."

"O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you." -- 1 Chronicles 29:18

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Positive Spin on Adultery

HA! I got you to read the article, didn't I? No, of course there's no positive spin on the act of adultery. None whatsoever. But, hopefully I can help you to see what I mean when I say "a positive spin."

When I began my study of the 7th commandment these past few weeks preparing for this Sunday's lesson, I realized I had to start with a definition of adultery. And, once there, I was forced to define marriage. Without an understanding of the underlying framework, the commandment is worthless to us as Christians. So, what is marriage? No. Let me restate: what was marriage to the hearers of this covenant in 1500 BC?

Marriage was a societal institution. It protected women, giving them an identity and a purpose in society not elsewhere realized. It provided much benefit to men--domestic support, sexual pleasure, and a general status of having "grown up" into manhood. It completed both partners. And, most of all, it did all of this because that's how it was designed by God. The two become one, they complete one another, they interact with one another in a way that (ideally) preserves equality without disregarding their inherent differences.

And, if you haven't caught on, God didn't just do this so we could all have sex and make babies. Marriage is a picture of God's relationship to Israel. In unity with Him Israel found an identity and purpose not elsewhere realized. God receives their ministry, their worship, and is glorified on earth through Israel. It delighted God to love Israel. And, Israel was treasured and shown to be valuable even while they were submitted to God's authority.

Does that last part sound impossible? Does it sound impractical and chauvinistic to think that my wife can submit to me and glorify me and yet not be devalued in the process? I hope not. Jesus did it. Remember, He's submitted to the Father in hierarchy but nonetheless exalted and God Himself. (1 Corinthians 11, and for more good reading on the subject read Wives and Husbands)

So, that brings us to the issue of adultery, then. What is adultery? It's thumbing one's nose at the covenant of marriage. It's a bride saying to her husband, "I will disgrace you, not serve you." It's a husband saying to his bride, "The respect of you alone is not enough for me, I will find others and build a harem." Adultery disrespects the covenant God made with Israel. It defiles it. It dishonors it. It violates it.

So what are we to do? Is it enough that we do not commit adultery? Can we just abstain and be safe? Israel tried this. They drew their lines and found their loop holes. "I'll just think about it, but not act." One man might think. Or, "I'll act privately as a measure of controlling my lusts." another might have concluded. But Jesus came along and closed off the loop holes. He cut out the comfort zone.
"Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away... And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away." -- Matthew 5:28-30
Oh, great. Now what can I do. Here's an idea: take a positive spin on adultery. When we focus on what we ought not do, we tend to forget the fervor with which we ought to do many things. Love your wife as Christ loved the church. Submit to your husband as to the Lord. Have sex often. Enjoy one another's company. In short: invest passionately in your marriage. Do not commit adultery, instead, "Rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Proverbs 5:18).

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Murder

"Check!" For most of us, anyway, this is probably the one command above all others that we can easily gloss over. Unless I've been deceived, there are no hardened, cold-blooded murderers in our Sunday morning class. So, why invest an entire study into this command? For starters, it's a twelve week course, so we have to fill it up somehow. But there are better reasons than that. Much better reasons.

First, let's get the academic debate out of the way. The King James translates this term "kill" only one time: this time. Elsewhere, the same term is rendered manslayer, murderer, or slayer. And, of course, most other modern translations are clear to use the term murder in this command. This command does not negate or contradict other scripture--scripture which commanded military conquest, capital punishment, or divine judgment. It is not a ban on killing. It is a ban on murder.

So what's the difference? All of the above--military conquest, captial punishment, divine judgment--entail the taking of a life at the command of God and for the preservation of His glory. Murder, on the other hand, is taking a life for our purposes. It's killing to meet solely our needs, our requirements, or to fulfill our rage. Quite simply, murder makes us into gods.

But here is the shocking truth. Each man causes death. Every man is a killer. But not every man is a murderer. Every man is a killer in one of three ways:
  1. 1 John 3:12 says Cain killed Abel, "Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous." When we kill out of envy or selfish ambition, we murder. When we malign, slander, or hate for such reasons, we are murderers.

  2. So, what if we reverse the motives listed in 1 John 3:12. Are we then no longer murderers? How many times throughout the history of the church have men killed, "because his own actions were righteous and his brother's were evil." Cain killed because he realized his own iniquity. But if we view ourselves as righteous, incomparably better than our brother, and thus kill, slander, malign, or hate him as a result, we are no less guilty of murder.

  3. What can we do then? We must become killers. We must take a life. But it is not our brother's. "We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16). The follower of Christ will, in view of Christ's example, forfeit his own life for the sake of his brother's--in word, in attitude, or even in deed.
As I said: Each man causes death. Every man is a killer. Christ came into the world to destroy all wickedness and sin. But, much to the Jews' dismay, he murdered not one Roman. Stoned not one adulterer. Instead, he gave up his own life to be taken at the hands of such sinners. Therefore, in view of His sacrifice, "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1).

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Taking the Lord's Name in Vain

Ever since I was young, the conventional application of the 3rd commandment has never set well with me. There is a tradition, handed down in our churches and ingrained in our societal standards, that this commandment forbids the expletive use of the word "god." I was never allowed to say, "oh my God!" much less issue a petition for damnation (I'll let you interpolate the phrasing).

Here was my struggle: tucked in between two introductory commandments and a fourth commandment, all of which dealt with core theological and pragmatic issues, I'm supposed to accept that God included a ban on Jews running around using the expression "Oh my Yahweh!" It just didn't fit. I'm no linguist, but I was pretty sure that expression wasn't around back then. Could it be that there's something much more significant God wants us to see in this commandment?

Let's begin with the Name. Of course, we all know that g-o-d is not the real name of God. What is God's name? I AM. Yet, there must be something more transcendent about this name than just the configuration of letters (after all, that's not even the original language). No, a name bears one's power. Their authority. The Romans had a saying, "There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved but the name of Caesar." It implied their emperor's power to save. Imagine the shock of Peter's hearers when he turned this truth toward another name. The name of Jesus.

The temple in 1 Kings 5:5 was built, not for God, but for God's Name. In Malachi 1:11, God says that it is His Name that will be great among the nations. Jesus commanded His followers to baptize people in the Name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We get the picture that one's name is his power, his authority... even his reputation. The 3rd commandment is the first trademark law. God is, in essence, protecting His brand.

How could one defame God's Name by their use of it? By "taking" it. The word for taking could be translated carry, lift up, or one might say to "wield" His name. God showed His might and power. Demanded exclusivity. Declared Himself too great for any depiction by an image. And then, what is Israel to do with such a mighty power? Can they "take" it whenever they wish? No. God's name--His power--must not be invoked in vain. It must not be invoked for empty, worthless reasons.

And now we again get to ask ourselves, how do we today take the Lord's name in vain? Is it in flippant use? Perhaps. But I think there are far deadlier breaches of this command each day in the Christian faith. Bearing the very name of the incarnate God, "Christians" are His priests, His ambassadors speaking His truth to the world. Do we bear that name in vain? Or worse, every time we bow our heads in prayer, do the words "in Christ's name we pray, amen" flow with reverence, or in vanity?

If we look beyond the societal norms that stem from this command, we allow the scripture to speak a convicting message. I am challenged to fully understand and hold with great reverence the privilege of pray and the call to be His priesthood.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me

In many traditions, the first and second commandment are lumped together. It is as though the command to have no other gods is one in the same as the command against idol fashioning and worship of created images. But is it? Is there not a fundamental difference between method of worship and belief structure about God?

I think it is no accident that God delivered his first commandment, distinct from the second but undeniably related, at the beginning of his Law. Whereas the second commandment, and all that follow, are related to orthopraxy--the correct practice of following God--the first commandment is very plainly orthodoxy--the correct belief system that under girds all moral truth and orthopraxy itself.

God says in His first command: You shall have no other gods before me. His command is not of worship. It's not of action--either required or prohibited. It is one of theology. In this command we see that we cannot believe whatever we wish to believe about God.

It was not acceptable to believe God was one of many regional ba'als. Israel could not believe that God was one with nature and nature one with God (pantheism). The people identified by His covenant could not hold to a belief that God was in an epic battle of good vs. evil (such as a yin and yang).

No. In this commandment we learn that we are not free to simply believe what we want to believe about God in the false hope that there are no practical repercussion. As soon as Israel forgot their theology, sin resulted. At Peor. Throughout Judges. In Jeroboam's sin. All throughout scripture, the failure to recognize God as the one true God and the God that He declares Himself to be ultimately leads to sin.

So, who do you declare God to be? Do we have other gods before our God? Do we believe that we can have the god of money, of love, of luck, or of capitalism and not affect our practice of faith?

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Monday, June 8, 2009

A Covenant of Identity

Yesterday, as we kicked off our study of the 10 Commandments, we faced the difficult question for Christians studying the Law: "Why do I care?" Some positions, critically referred to as "cheap grace" or "free grace," leave little reason to study such statutes in view of the unconditional love of Christ. While still others, even the most staunch of reformers, can't quite affirm that a failure to adhere would equate in damnation or loss of salvation. So, what are we to get from the Old Testament, the old covenant, and the Law that will benefit us as Christians?

The underlying issue with both positions which I (admittedly caricatured slightly) introduced above is that they both fail to see the covenants as anything more than justifying measures. The former covenant justified by repeated sacrifice. The latter did so by Christ's death. Nonetheless, emphasis in the debate falls firmly on the matter of our justification. But was that the premise of the old covenant? Is it the premise of the new?

In Exodus 19:5-6, God introduces the covenant to Moses saying, "If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then..." What? You'll be saved from Hell? You'll enter Heaven? No. God's covenant was to make Israel His "treasured possession... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." His covenant was to turn a people who were nothing but helpless slaves into a nation with their own land and borders. His purpose was for them to be His priests on earth, holy for His service.

Did that all change when Christ instituted the new covenant on the cross? Did He die for anything different? No. Christ died, fulfilling the justification requirements to make us righteous, holy, and blameless--ready for service unto God. He redeemed us from bondage to sin, wherein we were helpless slaves, and turned us into something not dissimilar to the recipients of the first covenant: "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9).

God's holy standard--that which would make His treasured people stand apart from the world--has not changed. In the 10 commandments we find the standard of how a holy people behave. The convicting thought, then, is that we as the Church are indeed God's holy people. So, hey you holy people: be holy!

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Inscriptions for Your Doorposts: Intro to the 10 Commandments

This Sunday I'll be starting a new series for the quarter on the 10 commandments. Being a marketer by trade, however, I'm always thinking of creative names for classes. We've chosen to title this "Inscriptions for Your Doorposts"--a reflection of Deuteronomy 6:9, where God tells Israel just how close these commands should be to their everyday life.

Over the next 12 weeks, you'll see me writing and posting Mp3 Lectures on the 10 Commandments. But, this week is the introductory class. What many Christians struggle to understand as they look at the commands is how they apply to our lives today.

Sure, we should behave well. We should follow a moral standard. We should obey God. But once anyone starts contemplating the Law on a theological level, it can get to be a sticking point of legalism vs. justification by faith. Why do I follow these laws? Why do I observe religious code in obedience to God? What do I write them on my doorposts? Aren't I forgiven--freed from the Law?

As we'll discuss in detail this Sunday (and my readers can enjoy via Mp3 when it's uploaded by Monday) the Law of the Old Covenant was a covenant of identity. So often, we focus on the justification and forgiveness of sin as the sole end of God's covenant with Man, we forget that Christ died to set us apart; to make us holy and worthy of serving God.

God introduces the 10 commandments in Exodus 19:4-6 describing how He'd freed them from bondage in Egypt. He turned a helpless tribe into a great nation by His power so they might be His treasured possession. The correlation, then, should be very clear as He later speaks through Peter to the church under the New Covenant saying,
"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God" (1 Peter 2:9-10).

So, as we consider our identity--the Church chosen by God to be His people and declare His praises on earth--we should study with great interest the holy standards by which God commanded His covenant nation Israel to live.

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