If the man or woman in the street were asked to come up with a new set of Ten Commandments to suit modern society, what do you think people might come up with?
Thou shalt not insist that the god you believe in is the only god. Thou shalt not be old-fashioned in your attitudes, particularly about marriage and family life. Thou shalt be non-judgmental towards everyone except bigots. Thou shalt live thy dream. Thou shalt own a smart phone. Thou shalt be cool.
No doubt you could think of some others that people today might come up with.
We’ve seen so far in our series on the Ten Commandments that these good rules for life have their origin in the God who has acted to save his people. These are God’s commands, spoken by the one true God who created the universe and who rules it. “God spoke all these words” to his people Israel through his servant Moses, the book of Exodus tells us as it introduces God’s commands for his people, the people God had lovingly and miraculously rescued from slavery in Egypt.
The Lord God rescued his people and then gave them his rules, his rules for life in the Promised Land he was going to give them. God saved his people first and then gave them his rules. That’s important because it shows that God’s people did not earn the right to be his people. Their privileged status as God’s chosen people was God’s gift to them, God’s loving gift to the people he had chosen to save.
And we have also seen that when we as Christians view God’s Ten Commandments through the prism of the gospel, through the lens of the fullness of the revelation that we have received in our Lord Jesus Christ, they function in three ways for us.
Firstly, they show us the character of the God who has saved us in the Lord Jesus. God’s commandments reflect his wonderful and loving character. For example, two commandments – you shall not steal and you shall not bear witness against your neighbour – reflect God’s character of generosity and truthfulness.
These two commandments reflect the fact that God wants to protect people’s property from theft and he wants to protect people’s reputations from false accusations, from malicious falsehoods, slanders and in court cases which rely on witnesses giving evidence he wants to protect people’s liberty and in countries that have the death penalty their very lives. The Ten Commandments reflect God’s loving character of generosity and truthfulness.
Secondly, God’s commandments show us the depth of our sin and thus drive us to the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness that we need. God’s commandments shine a searchlight into our hearts and show us that we are breakers of God’s laws. Now in case I am tempted to try to restrict God’s commandments, to try to the limit their scope, so that they don’t include me, God won’t let me do that. For example, in relation to the Eighth Commandment – thou shalt not steal – I might be inclined to think, “I don’t shop-lift, I don’t house-break, I don’t car-jack, so I’m OK on that one.”
But it is a serious mistake to think like that about God’s commandments because the God of the Bible is the sovereign Lord who sees what I do all of the time, so what about when I’m doing my tax return? The commandment applies to that too, because I am stealing from the government if I withhold information about what I have earned during the year. And what about time theft from employers? Because the God of the Bible is the God of the whole of life, it is wrong to restrict the scope of this commandment.
Properly understood, the Ten Commandments shine a searchlight into our sinful hearts showing us our need of God’s inner cleansing and the forgiveness which wonderfully we receive through faith in the Lord Jesus.
Thirdly, God’s Ten Commandments give spiritual and moral shape to our Christian lives. They show us the good way God wants us to live as his Christian people, as the people God has saved in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the people God is leading to his eternal Kingdom of Heaven, our Promised Land.
These commandments show us what should be the spiritual and moral shape of our Christian lives as we journey through the wilderness of this world. I should have no other gods apart the God who has saved me in the Lord Jesus. My ultimate trust and confidence should be in him and in him alone because he and only he has saved me for eternity in the Lord Jesus. I should be a generous person because the God who saved me in the Lord Jesus is a generous God. I should be a faithful person because the God who saved me in the Lord Jesus is faithful. I should be a truthful person because the God who saved me in the Lord Jesus is the God of truth.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians applies the Eighth commandment against theft and the Ninth Commandment against lying to Christians belonging to local churches. Ephesians chapter 4 verse 25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are members of one body” (NIV). And verse 28: “Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
“Therefore” – in the light of what Paul has just said in the Ephesians chapter 4, highlighting the fact that we Christians have been taught in the gospel of the Lord Jesus “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (v24) – in the light of our calling in Christ, we are to avoid lying and to avoid theft.
Those behaviours are contrary to the character of the God who has saved us for eternity in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why might we lie to one another in the church family or lie to those close to us in our families? It’s probably to avoid conflict, isn’t it? We think a little lie will solve a bigger problem. It doesn’t because we corrupt ourselves by habitual lying and we become untruthful, untrustworthy people. We become people who are unlike God who is truthful and trustworthy.
That is not to say that we are to be tactless with people, blurting out what we think at every opportunity without regard to the relational consequences, but it is to say that we are called as Christians to be people who tell the truth. We are called to be truthful like the God who has saved us in the Lord Jesus. The Ninth Commandment reflected in the life of the church.
And also the Eighth in this passage. It’s very significant that Paul addresses former thieves directly in his letter to the church at Ephesus. That shows that there were thieves who had become Christians in the church community Paul was writing to. Paul commands these former thieves to stay that way, former thieves, to make a clean break with theft and to earn an honest living. Why? So that they are in position to give to people in need.
We see how in the light of the gospel these two commandments, the 8th and the 9th, reflect the character of our God and how his character is to be reflected in our characters. We are to be truthful and generous because this is what God is, the God who has so graciously and lovingly saved us in the Lord Jesus.
This is an edited version of a recent sermon at the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge.