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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Recorded Lectures - Inscriptions for Your Doorposts

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