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From the Pulpit: The commandments civilize us

January 6, 2019

Has anyone ever offered you a piece of advice? “Take it for what it’s worth.”

A suggestion is simply that, a suggestion; an offering of advice, a tip, a recommendation or a proposal. We can take it or leave it; consider it, act on it, or ignore it. A suggestion is not written in stone.

A suggestion, by its very nature, is fluid. God gave us two ears and one mouth. Perhaps we should heed the suggestion.

Some people refer to the Ten Commandments as the ten suggestions. Are the Ten Commandments open to individual, autonomous consideration, or are they mandates issued by Almighty God for universal human obedience? Are the Ten Commandments optional or compulsory; outdated and in need of revision, or timeless and universal?

Am I free to filter the Commandments through my personal biases and opinions? Or am I obligated to “thank and praise, serve and obey God,” and obliged to “be His own, live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness”?

When asked about inheriting eternal life, Jesus replied, “You know the Commandments.” The whole law is summed up in one word: “Love! Love the Lord your God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself.”

I personally find the commandment prohibiting false witness to be “most challenging” in my life. “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” What does this mean for us? Martin Luther explained it thus: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not despise, anger, or lie about our neighbor. But defend them, speak well of them and explain their actions in the kindest way.” Easier said than done.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphatically declared, “I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” The Commandments and our obedience can’t save us. Only the free grace of God, given in Jesus Christ, can save us.

The Ten Commandments were given to free people after their deliverance from Egypt. The Commandments don’t make us free. Free people keep the Commandments as a treasured keepsake. The Commandments are not rules intended to make us righteous. The Commandments don’t make us better people, but by the grace of God they do lead us and our neighbors to better lives. The Commandments civilize us.

In John 15, Jesus spoke these words: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

If I may humbly offer a suggestion: Confess that Jesus is Lord. Believe that God raised Him from the dead. Keep His Commandments. Abide in God’s love!

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