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, 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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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Money in Ministry

In many Christians' vocabularies, worship and ministry are interchangeable. But, there's a distinct difference... and yet, there's also a distinct connection. Money given in worship often finds its way into some form of ministry. Likewise, giving money out of a sincere desire to worship God with our resources goes hand-in-hand with giving money out of a sincere desire to minister.

Last week, we looked closely at Old Testament examples of worshipping Godórecognizing who He is in regard to who we are not. And, intermixed among those very passages we read about providing for the Levites with those very sacrifices, and enjoying the feasts with the aliens, fatherless, and widows.

One thing that is clear throughout scripture is that God has a heart for the poor and marginalized. Jesus ate with societies outcasts. In Isaiah 58, God rebuked Judah for observing fasts without considering what God truly wanted from their fasts: "Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter" (Isa. 58:6).

This Sunday, we will continue our pursuit of understanding God's perspective on money by looking at how He intends its use(s) in ministry. If you're eager to come prepared, re-read Deut. 14-16 and pay attention to His provision for the Levites, aliens, fatherless, and widows.

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