August 15, 2013
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
As Christians – and those who stand in the Reformed tradition – we have always had a bit of a struggle between the law and the gospel.
If you need evidence of this tension, read one of Paul’s letters to any number of his churches – in Rome, Galatia, or Corinth. For disciples of Jesus, salvation does not come from an adherence to the law but by the grace and glory of the cross.
However, Jesus still has a high regard for the place of the law in the lives of those who are his disciples. What are we to do with this apparent conundrum?
John Calvin is of help here. Calvin – one of the forefathers in our Reformed tradition – described three uses for the law for those whose identity and salvation are secured by the grace of Jesus Christ.
The first use of the law is to convict us of our sin. Knowing the law – even if we cannot perfectly keep the law – reminds us of the fact that, as humans, we fall short. It also reminds us of the utter dependence we have on God’s grace.
The second use of the law is to restrain our passion. God’s law, again, even if we cannot fully abide by it, curtails our tendency toward behavior that is driven purely by our desire for pleasure. In this way, the law functions the way that civil law does in our society – it sets boundaries for our behavior that create order.
Calvin’s third use of the law is to show us how to live. Here is the connection to grace. It is when we understand ourselves as redeemed by God’s grace that we are motivated – not out of fear, but out of gratitude – to walk in paths of righteousness.
August 1, 2013
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Exodus 20:16
Speech is a sacred act. It has the power to create community, ignite imagination, break even the hardest of hearts. Speech can call people toward a common cause, change the will of a nation and leave us breathless. As a people of speech, the spoken word clarifies our proclamation and directs our hope. But speech is a two-edged sword. Just as it can protect and secure, it can cut deep into the heart and tear bonds beyond mending. It can steal reputations, leave scars, inspire goodness and hope, convince hate and declare war.
A lie is most dangerous form of speech in that it can create a world that is simply not true. It can stain the innocent with guilt, frame the generous with suspicion, turn the curious into ‘The ignorant,’ and the faithful into ‘A heretic.’ A lie cuts bonds of community because it is no more than a bi-product of one’s individual, self-serving agenda.
Have you ever been hurt by a false witness? Is silence the same as not telling the truth?
July 25, 2013
You shall not steal.
Consistent with scripture that warns against false balances, charging interest and unfair taxes, this commandment was to help maintain justice by maintaining equity over the common property of the clan – the water well, the grazing land and the herds of cattle and sheep. They believed that the land belonged to God and, at most, they were merely stewards or managers of that land, which was theirs in trust for the welfare of the whole clan. To deprive anyone of what they were due from God was, therefore, a direct sin against God.
Today, it is hard to imagine common anything. The fences that once “made good neighbors” have grown into walls that designate what is “mine” from what is “yours.” We work hard, earn money and (with that) the right to purchase and protect our private property.
So what can this commandment say to us beyond what our civil law has since made perfectly clear?
July 17, 2013
You shall not commit adultery. Exodus 20:14
We’ve gotten ridiculously good as humans at making excuses for certain kinds of harmful behaviors, and often tend to believe that if it makes us happy, then it can’t really be all that bad. But the Ten Commandments remind us that our lives are meant to be about something greater than our own happiness. And when the pursuit of our own happiness infects and impacts relationships, then we are going against God’s will for creation.
The prohibition against adultery calls us to a level of commitment that is not always easy, but that has at its heart an understanding of the depth of God’s love for creation. It is a reminder that sometimes in a relationship things get difficult, and that there are powerful temptations in this world. But it tells us that there is something greater than our own wants, desires and feelings. True commitment calls us to transcend our base desires and live in faithful covenant with another, no matter what. For many people, this is an extraordinarily difficult thing.
But this is not simply a prohibition. This commandment, while clear in what we are not to do, also has a positive side, which points to God’s very real, very loving concern for healthy relationships in all our lives. How we interact with others in relationship is not, ultimately, a private matter. It is a community matter.
July 12, 2013
You shall not murder.
As Christians, we have the tools to proclaim a different word to the world’s violence and killing. We have been given scripture that describes the Source of all life and our calling to honor that same gift of life in everyone.
We have the tools of confession and reconciliation that equip us to extend life to others.
We have the cross that proclaims that life is greater than death but does that absolve us of honoring life on earth?
We have the church to tell each other (and the world) what it means to be made “in the image of God,” but do we proclaim this (in word or deed) beyond the sanctuary into a violent and broken world?
It doesn’t seem to be enough to say that we’ve never murdered anyone. It seems that our unique calling as “God’s chosen, holy and beloved” is to honor, bless and enlarge life. Maybe more than what it prohibits, this commandment’s power is in what it proclaims: “life is worth struggling for.”
What do you think? What causes people to murder? How can you respond to where death exists?
July 10, 2013
“You shall not murder.”
The Hebrew word that we translate as “murder” is ratsah. It refers only to criminal acts of killing often committed as revenge or a form of retributive justice. Using the term ratsah, the sixth commandment prohibits taking the law into one’s own hands and prevents that which threatens the sanctity and security of a community. Read more deeply, the sixth commandment speaks to more than just the one pulling the trigger.
As scholars continue to debate the essence of the commandment, one such Rabbi had his own interpretation, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).
Jesus is opening this commandment beyond its face value to uncover the role that you and I play in facing the violence that condemns us all. He is standing in the Jewish tradition that says that because life is a gift from God, each individual’s life is not only sacred but also connected to all other life. Jesus is turning all of the reasons we might have for one “deserving” death back on our own role and responsibility to that individual, to the community and to God for nurturing, preserving and encouraging life in all its forms.
But today is a different world. Sixty percent of all war deaths have occurred in the twentieth century. We have been startled in the twenty-first century by killing fields of the Twin Towers, high schools, elementary schools, movie theaters, marathons (and that is just in the United States). Social scientists and psychologists will tell us that we have become more desensitized to the killing out of gross familiarity and self-preservation. It is simply too familiar to startle us anymore and too much to handle if it did.
While this is understandable, does it numb us to the “image of God” in each perpetrator and victim? Does it absolve us of any responsibility in these killings? How does the sixth commandment speak to us?
June 26, 2013
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
The Israelites weren’t to rest because they were tired. They were to rest because they were human – humans who get distracted by busyness and forget that we are all children of God, created to delight in the presence of God. There is an old saying that, “Just as much as the Jews kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept the Jews.”
In the midst of a world that refuses to slow down, Noah benShea, a contemporary Jewish writer, compares our life of work to weaving a tapestry. Like a tapestry weaver, “we are working at it from the back, ‘in a blind.’” He says that the Sabbath allows us to step back and to
turn the tapestry over so we can see “the larger pattern of who we are, and [through that] the implication of our relationship to the world in which we do our work.”
June 20, 2013
“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.”
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his book Biblical Literacy, highlights an important textual matter in the third commandment. While we are used to the commandment being translated, “you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain,” Telushkin points out that the literal Hebrew translation is, “you shall not carry the Lord’s name in vain.”
Though take and carry are relatively small words, the difference between them is significant. If we think in terms of how we take the Lord’s name, then it can be easy to rationalize our way out of its inappropriate use. But if we truly consider how it is that we carry the name of God, then suddenly we are dealing with something weightier, and more significant.
To carry God’s name means that we understand that it is not just our words that reflect our belief, but our actions do so as well.
How do you carry God’s name?