Family Is the Foundational Focus

In the Ten Commandments we are told to honor father and mother (#5) and to avoid adultery (#7).  Heeding these two commandments makes for strong families.

Why is it important for families to be strong?  Because families are the atoms of which a nation is comprised.  Destabilize the atom and you destabilize the object of which it is a part; destabilize the family and you destabilize the nation of which it is a part.

It is for good reason that our elders said, “Charity begins at home.”  It shouldn’t end there, but it surely should begin there.  There are many “social justice warriors” on the march in the world today whose family lives are in ruins.  Let these people save their own families and then we might be interested in how they can save the rest of us.

Don’t worry that putting family first will make you uncaring about others because every strong family is concerned about the families around it.  You make your family strong so that your family can make others strong – or at the every least not be needy toward other families.  The first and foremost way to love a neighbor is not to be a burden to him.  That is, before you try to do anything good for him, make sure you are not doing anything bad to him.

Family is the foundation.  Save the family and you save the world.

Ten Commandments: Their Context

Everything that is spoken, is spoken in a context.  What is the context in which God speaks the Ten Commandments? His love for us.  To this point, note the parts of the outline below that I’ve put in bold print.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

We should not try to understand the Ten Commandments apart from their context.  Moreover, we need to distinguish their B.C. context from their A.D. context.  That is, we need to differentiate what Moses meant by them from what Jesus meant by them.  It won’t work to apply a B.C. understanding to an A.D. world.

Moses gave the Ten Commandments to ancient Israel approximately 1,500 B.C.  These commandments did not apply to any other nation until the time of Jesus.  Approximately 33 A.D., Jesus commissioned His disciples to carry His teaching to all the nations of the world.  This is the point in time during which the commandments of Moses to Israel became the commandments of Jesus to the whole world.  This is what made the Ten Commandments as taught by Jesus become law for the entire human race.  What had been limited to one nation became applicable to the whole world; what had been limited to behavior became applicable to the entirety of one’s thoughts.

Note that the pivotal event – Jesus sending His disciples to teach the world to obey Him – came only after Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead according to the promises of God as recorded in the Scriptures (specifically, the Old Testament).  Therefore, we should see that God did not command us to love Him and love each other until after He had dramatically demonstrated how much He loves us.

As our Creator, God had the right to command us to love Him and love each other without any further justification.  Does the pot tell the potter what a pot is supposed to look like?  Yet God did not command us to love until after He had justified His request by loving us with the greatest of loves.  For what greater love is there than laying down your life for the lives of others?  What more does anyone have to give beyond his life?  God gave His life for our lives.  Thus our Creator went way beyond what was required of Him to demonstrate His love for us.  Do I have to describe the pain of having your body nailed to a cross?

Get firmly in your mind that it was after He had been nailed to the cross, and after He had died from the experience, and after He been raised from the dead (without a single human being lifting a finger) that Jesus sent His disciples into the whole world to proclaim His forgiveness of their sins.  After!  Can there be any doubt that God loves us?

And so, having established beyond the shadow of any reasonable doubt that the very essence of God’s character can be described as love, and that, specifically, He loves the human race enough to die for it, He – in that context – commands us to love Him and each other.  Is it too much of Him to ask?

We were made in God’s image.  God is love.  Therefore, we were made to love.  Modern society has so misused the word “love” that few people even understand it anymore.  Love is not a feeling.  Love is a decision – a decision to put the interests of another above your own.  The Ten Commandments tell us specifically how to put the interests of others above our own in ways that are important to how life takes place on this earth.  The Creator of life knows better than any of us what preserves life and what destroys it.

God is not commanding us to do anything that is bad for us.  Neither is He commanding us to do anything that He Himself is not willing to do.  More than that, God is not commanding us to do anything that He has not already done.  Never think that the Ten Commandments are too much for Him to ask of us.  Given that we are made in His image, they are the least He could ask us to do.

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This post concludes our study of the Ten Commandments.  I intend to gather the posts and make them into a short book, arranging the material into approximately 30 chapters so that it can serve as a month of daily devotionals.  This will allow you to return to it whenever you think it would help you to spend a month meditating on the Ten Commandments, refreshing your awareness of and sensitivity to them, so that you might better practice them before the One who loves you so.  When the book is ready, I’ll announce it through a blog post.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.

Ten Commandments: Two Tablets; One Theme

We’re approaching the conclusion of our study of the Ten Commandments by continuing our review and summary.  Recall that when Moses presented these ten directives to the Israelites, they were written on two tablets of stone.  Moses was not explicit about what was written on one tablet versus what was on the other.  However, as we have seen, just reading the commandments reveals that they fall into two groups: those that deal with our interactions with God and those that deal with our interactions with each other.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

Throughout our study, we have drawn a distinction between the way Moses originally gave the Ten Commandments and the way Jesus interpreted them.  Since you and I are not ancient Israelites, Moses’ interpretation has no direct application to us.  We are wholly concerned with how Jesus wants us to understand them.

When Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” He replied:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.
–  Matthew 22:37-40

We might have expected Jesus to name one of ten, but instead He gave us two commandments that reinforced the natural organization of the ten.  Thus in Jesus’ words above we see the ten directives summarized into two, as demonstrated in the following outline.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

It is the two summary commandments that should be the focus of our attention. The groups of four and six just help us better understand what the two mean.

The two great commandments are not prohibitions (“Thou shalt not’s”).  Rather, they are exhortations (pro-positives).  And their common theme is love.  Therefore, love is the great commandment.

Before asking us to obey these commandments, Jesus demonstrated to us how they are to be obeyed.  That is, He lived the perfect life.  He loved until the end.  He loved to the limit.  And beyond.

The ministry of Moses was not for you and me.  Moses ministered to ancient Jews.  Most of us are not Jews, and none of us are ancient.  What makes Moses’ words relevant to us are the life and teaching of Jesus.  Let us therefore take to heart what Jesus has said about the commandments.  He confirms to us why they came in two tablets, and He shows us their common thread.

The common thread is love.  Love is the power to fully keep the ten commandments – in the way that Jesus taught us.  Remember that Moses warned against murder, but Jesus warns against the thoughts that lead to murder.  Moses warned against adultery, but Jesus warns against the thoughts that lead to adultery.  And so it is with all the commandments.  Moses’ version of the Ten Commandments warned against the fruit of sin, whereas Jesus’ version warns against the seed of sin.  Love is the only power strong enough to keep such seed out of your heart because only love cares enough to resist sin in all its forms and sizes.

Therefore, you and I cannot be content to avoid the act of murder; we must keep hate, bitterness, and resentment out of our hearts.  We cannot be content to avoid the act of adultery; we must keep thoughts of lust out of our hearts as we would keep a snake out of our house.  And so on with all the commandments.  This is the way of love…for God and for man.

The commandments of Moses in the mouth of Jesus – this is the voice we hear and follow.  Two tablets, one theme…and one Lord.  This Lord is Jesus, and He famously said:

Why do you call Me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?
–  Luke 6:46

Let us live in such a way that He never has need to ask us this question.

Tomorrow will be the concluding post in our study of the Ten Commandments.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.

Ten Commandments: Review of #1 through #10

Now that we’ve covered all of the Ten Commandments, let’s go back through them one by one and see how they say something collectively beyond what they say individually.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

To assist our review, I’ve used simplified language in the list below.  Also, I’ve used bold print for one of the words to demonstrate similarity and contrast.

  1. No other gods.
  2. No idols.
  3. No vain names.
  4. Keep the Sabbath.
  5. Honor father and mother.
  6. No murder.
  7. No adultery.
  8. No stealing.
  9. No false witness.
  10. No coveting.

Notice that most of the Ten Commandments are given as prohibitions (anti-negatives).  Only two are exhortations (pro-positives), and they fall in the middle.  “Keep the Sabbath” (#4) is the culminating point of the commandments having to do with our interactions with God, while “Honor father and mother” (#5) is the gateway to the rest of the commandments which have to do with our interactions with each other.

Appreciating this structure to the Ten Commandments helps us understand how the commandments fit together into an organic whole.

Remembering that “Keep the Sabbath” (#4) according to Jesus is living life for His sake instead of for our own, notice how the first three commandments pave the way to it.  We are to have no gods but the one true God (#1), no idols for the one true God (#2), and no meaningless names for the one true God (#3).  In other words, the first three commandments are all about making sure we have the one true God properly in view.  (Although the Ten Commandments first appear in the Old Testament, it is by the New Testament that we know that the one true God is Jesus Christ our Lord.)

Once we have the one true God in proper view (#1, #2, #3), we are to live our daily lives in devotion to Him instead selfishly for ourselves (#4).  Living our lives in devotion to Him means serving our neighbors…and that leads to the commandments that follow.

The rest of the commandments begin with the commandment that we first encounter in life, assuming our parents know the Ten Commandments.  It is by “honoring father and mother” (#5) that we best learn the rest of the Ten Commandments.  The job of our parents is then to teach us to not to kill (#6), commit adultery (#7), steal (#8), lie (#9), or covet (#10).

To honor father and mother properly is to lay the proper foundation for treating other people with the sort of respect and care that the remaining commandments require.  Each successive commandment builds on that foundation.  At the most basic level, we learn to respect life (#6), which lays the foundation for honoring marriage (#7), which lays the foundation for respecting the property rights of others (#8), which lays the foundation for speaking the truth in love (#), which lays the foundation for being content in life (#10).

Just as the first three of the Ten Commandments put us in the best position to obey the fourth, so the fifth commandment puts us in the best position to obey the remaining five.

The more you think about these commandments, the more you’ll appreciate how they’re organically related to each other.  Even more important is the fact that only by giving them some thought will you have a decent chance of obeying them.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.

Ten Commandments: Summary of #5 through #10

Having given you a preview of the fifth through the tenth commandments (Ten Commandments: Pre-Summary of #5 through #10) before I addressed them individually, it’s now appropriate, having covered them individually, to summarize them…and to show the thread that holds them together for us.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

Let’s begin our review of commandments five through ten as Moses gave them.  Through this lens we can see that they basically require us to honor our parents, which means obeying them while we are growing up, and living in a way that brings credit to them as adults (#5), and this would include not being a burden or bother to other people (#6-#10).

Think about those last five commandments (#6-#10).  If I don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet what someone else has then I will not have brought shame on my parents.  Those commandments cover the major areas of human interaction in which problems occur.  Thus keeping them means that my life won’t have become a problem to someone else’s life.  My parents will not be shamed.

Whereas Moses’ focus was that we should seek to not be a negative for others (not be a subtraction to their lives), through Jesus these commandments blossom into more than just the avoidance of evil.  They become the practice of good. That is, we should seek to be a positive for others (an addition to their lives).  Rather than merely avoiding being a curse to others, we should seek to be a blessing to them.

With Moses, it was more of a “live and let live” approach to life. With Jesus, it becomes a “lay down your life for the sake of others” approach.  For this reason, Jesus’ extolled the behavior of the good Samaritan who interrupted his own life to serve someone else’s interrupted life.  With Moses, it was about not interfering with the lives of others as you sought to live your own life; with Jesus, it’s about giving up your own life so that you can live completely for the benefit of others.

By the way, I’m not suggesting that living according to Moses’ view would make us uncaring toward others.  I’m speaking comparatively; I’m sharpening the distinction between the two.  Moses gave the commandments more as directions to avoid doing wrong to a neighbor, whereas Jesus interpreted them as essential aspects of actively doing good to neighbors.

To make His point, Jesus summarizes the human-interactions commandments (#5-#10), if we can call them that, as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and also as “Treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”  These two statements represent the same summary principle being viewed from opposite perspectives.  Let me explain.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” begins with thinking about how you treat yourself and then projecting that same level of care outward toward others.  It says, “the love you naturally show yourself, show others, too.”  For example, self-preservation comes naturally to us.  Jesus is saying that we should seek to preserve others just as we seek to preserve ourselves.

“Treat people the same way you want them to treat you” begins the opposite way – with thinking about what you want coming toward you from the outside and then letting that shape what proceeds from within you outward toward others.  It says, “The love you want shown you, show to others.”  For example, you hope people will do good to you, so you should do good to them…even if they don’t live up to your hopes.

Because these are just two different perspectives on the same principle, they will result in the same motivations and the same behavior.  That is, whether you “love your neighbor as yourself” or “treat others the way you want them to treat you,” the outcome will be the same.

Jesus is making sure we understand Him by communicating to us the same commandment in different words.  He’s paraphrasing Himself.  And He also giving us detail so that we don’t go astray from His fundamental meaning.  By that I mean, for example, that no one can say he loves his neighbor if he’s hating him, stealing from him, lying to him, etc.  This should be self-evident but there are people today who, for example, justify the normalization of homosexual and honor “same-sex marriage” on the basis that Jesus said “Treat others as you want to be treated” – as if Jesus taught nothing about sexuality and just wanted to be sure everyone was being equally licentious.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Treat others as you want to be treated” include keeping the Ten Commandments because they summarize the Ten Commandments.  In fact, if there were no other commandments, those two summary commandments would be practically meaningless.  That is, they work as summary commandments but they would not work as standalone commandments.  As standalone commandments, they would amount to “Doing whatever you think is right is acceptable to God as long as you let everyone else do what they think is right” – in other words, “Let everyone do what is right in his own eyes.”  That would be anarchy.

To sum up the summary, Jesus gives shape and direction to the commandments having to do with human interaction (#5-#10) by summarizing them as “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Treat others as you want to be treated.”  At the same time, He gives substance and meaning to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Treat others as you want to be treated” by the detail of the fifth through the tenth commandments.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.

Ten Commandments: #10 – No Coveting

We’re surveying the Ten Commandments, and today we’ve come to the final one.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

The shorthand way of expressing the tenth commandment is to say “Don’t covet,” but God gave it to Moses in a fuller form.  Here it is:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
–  Deuteronomy 5:21

It would not be off the mark to say that God was commanding the ancient Israelites to avoid wanting to “keep up with the Joneses.”  Given how many people are still trying to keep up with the Joneses in modern times, this commandment demonstrates both the universality of the sinful nature of human hearts as well as the timelessness of God’s wisdom.

There is an obvious connection between the tenth commandment and the eighth.  In this regard, the eighth commandment is “Don’t steal someone else’s stuff,” while the tenth commandment is “Don’t even obsess over someone else’s stuff.”  Let your neighbor enjoy what is his; you enjoy what is yours.

The positive way to express the intent of the tenth commandment is “Be content.”

Contentment does not come to us naturally.  On the contrary, it is natural for a child to want all sorts of things that are his neighbor’s.  And, of course, some people become adults and live a long time without ever learning how to be content.  Indeed, contentment must be learned.

Contentment is not the absence of ambition, for in the words of Jesus and throughout the Bible we find laziness condemned.  You can simultaneously be goal-oriented and content, but you have to learn how to do this.  That means practice.  That means trial and error.  The key?  Start by making contentment a goal.  (I frame it thus because in this day and age there are a lot more goal-oriented people than there are contented ones.

Moses preceded Jesus by about 15 centuries.  The Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were intensified by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (a different mount, but a mount nonetheless).  The tenth commandment is a hint of what Jesus would bring to the anti-murder (#6) and anti-adultery (#7) commandments: that is, a focus on inward thoughts and intentions and not just outward actions.

Adultery is a lack of contentment regarding sex.  Gluttony is a lack of contentment regarding food.  The love of money is a lack of contentment regarding money.  God created us so He knows that sex, food, and money are necessary to our lives.  He doesn’t expect us to do without them, He just expects us to content with reasonable amounts of them.  Is that too much for Him to ask?  Would you enjoy giving birthday presents to a child who is never satisfied?

Beyond being content with what God has given us, our avoidance of coveting enhances our love of neighbor by making room in our hearts to be happy for our neighbor about what he has.  And why shouldn’t we be happy for our neighbor?  The more he has, the less he has need for anything of ours.  If there is some upside of having a needy neighbor, it escapes me.  The better off the Jones are, the happier we can be for ourselves…as well as them.

Happy indeed is the man who can not only be happy when God gives him something, but who also experiences happiness when God gives his neighbor something.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.

Ten Commandments: #9 – Examples of True Witnesses

We’re surveying the Ten Commandments, and today we conclude our discussion of the ninth commandment.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

Jesus’ apostles – Peter, John, James, and the rest – were all Jews.  Even Paul, who came later was a Jew.  Of course, Jesus Himself was a Jew.  Many people fail to appreciate how thoroughly Jewish was the original Christian enterprise.  Even the word “Christian” stems from “Christ,” which is the Greek way of saying “Messiah” – an entirely Jewish concept.

Because the New Testament came from this Jewish context, we can be sure that all Jesus’ apostles were thoroughly familiar with, and practitioners of, the Ten Commandments.  They would have been well aware of how grievous an offense would be the giving of false testimony.  In other words, they knew what the ninth commandment required and they knew what would constitute the breaking of it.

I mentioned in an earlier post on this commandment that, in a bitter irony, some Jews gave false testimony against Jesus at His trial.  We can be sure that those Jews did not have regard for the ninth commandment.  Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they must have thought that ridding Israel of a heretic was worth breaking the ninth commandment – that the end justified the means, that they committed in their minds the lesser of two evils.

Let us then consider Jesus’ twelve apostles.  Would they have been as willing to break the ninth commandment?  Here’s where I’m going: Unlike us, the apostles didn’t claim to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead; they claimed to know that He had been raised from the dead.  They claimed to have seen Him, heard Him, touched Him, and ate with Him…not just before, but after He had risen from the dead.  Therefore, when it came to Jesus’ resurrection, they were either telling the truth or they were lying.  They were either testifying truthfully or they were bearing false witness against all of us by saying things that they knew to be untrue.

Though historical records are scanty, it appears that all of these men except for one died a violent death because of their testimony.  These deaths included crucifixion, stoning, beheading, and even being flayed (skinned) alive.  The one who apparently didn’t suffer such a cruel death  – John – was boiled in oil to no negative effect.  Only because of this miracle was he able to later die a natural death.  All these men had to do to alter their fate was to alter their testimony.

I cannot, for the life of me, imagine for one second that the apostles testified as they did knowing that their testimony was false.  Nor can I imagine that they were deceived or confused about the matter; there were too many of them to all be deceived, and they were too bold and clear in their declarations to be confused.  Because of the culture in which they were raised, these Jews were too steeped in the importance of the Ten Commandments to disregard the ninth one in order that they might face the same sort of painful and ignominious death that their leader had faced.

I believe in Jesus Christ because of the apostles’ testimony, but they believe because of no one’s testimony.  They believe because they either did or didn’t experience, as they claim, a resurrected Jesus over a forty-day period beginning the third day after He was crucified and buried.  You’ll have to decide whether you think they were breaking the ninth commandment or not.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.

Ten Commandments: #9 – No False Witness Doesn’t Require Constant Jabbering

We’re surveying the Ten Commandments, and today we will examine what the ninth commandment does not require of us.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

Keeping the ninth commandment – that is, speaking the truth in love – doesn’t mean you have to blab everything you know in every situation.  There’s a time to speak and a time to be silent.  Your conscience will help you decide which is which.

In general, God wants us to cultivate a quietness of heart.  Have you ever noticed how much noise a worried heart makes?  Angry hearts are likewise loud.  A noisy heart makes God’s voice hard to hear.  His voice, which is peaceful and calm, can be easily drowned out by the multitude of voices we leave chattering in our hearts.  The more anxious we are, the more we feel the need to speak in order to relieve our anxiety.  You can only control your tongue by first controlling your heart.

God has designed that our conversations with Him can be thought to thought.  That is, we don’t have to address Him out loud in order for Him to hear us.  We have a thought toward Him, He has a thought toward us.  We understand Him in our hearts without having to speak out loud.  This fosters having a quiet heart.

It’s in this quiet heart that we should cultivate only thoughts of truth.  Some thoughts we have to think to live practically in this world don’t seem like truth, but all truth does not have to be grand, magnificent truth.  Whatever you think, whether it’s important or mundane, let it be truth.  If you maintain a heart of truth, you will have little trouble in speaking truth.  Or, using the words of our commandment, if you bear no false witness against your neighbor in your heart you will have little trouble doing the same with your mouth.  If your heart is a place where you are always thinking the truth in love, then your mouth will be a place where only speaking the truth in love comes out.

The most important truth you will ever carry in your heart is the knowledge that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord of heaven and earth – and, therefore, your Lord and Savior.  This truth anchors your life in reality and keeps you grounded in every storm, large and small.  Nothing can bring more peace to your heart than knowing that He is, and that He loves us.  Yet sometimes nothing can bring more upset to the people around you than for you to utter this truth.  Jesus Christ is the most polarizing name in the world.  People either love that name or they want to run the other way when it is spoken.  Try mentioning Him in your next conversation at the office or at a cocktail party.

Jesus wants us to be unashamed of Him.  After all, He is unashamed of us so it’s not too much for Him to ask us to reciprocate.  Moreover, He has good reason to be ashamed of us, and is not.  How much less we have reason to be ashamed of Him!  Yet He also counsels us not to cast our pearls before swine or give what is holy to dogs.  That is, He’s not interested in our starting a riot at the office or cocktail party by carrying on about His importance.  As it is written, there’s a time to speak and a time to be silent.

I think it’s very unfortunate that new believers are often encouraged to go and immediately tell everyone they know of their newfound faith.  You’ve seen how it works.  With everyone’s head bowed and everyone’s eyes closed, the preacher asks the would-be believer to quietly raise his hand…then stand up…then walk down the aisle…to the front of the crowd.  By now, everyone’s eyes are open and the new believer is making the most public of statements.  I fear for such people in the days that will follow.  Some survive, but many die from the exposure like newborn infants left out in the elements.

In contrast to this, I urge new believers to love and serve Jesus in the privacy of their own hearts before revealing the decision to the world.  In this way, you can not only strengthen your faith, but you can make sure that your faith is indeed in God and not in other believers.  Alas, many Christians have faith in Christians rather than faith in Christ.

There will come a time when every believer is called upon to bear witness to Christ, and to be silent in that time will be to bear false witness to Him and thereby disobey the ninth commandment.  In order to have strength for that time, use the time until then to build up the truth in your heart so that when it becomes time to speak it from your mouth, the roots of it will run deep and wide in your heart.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.

Ten Commandments: #9 – More on No False Witness

We’re surveying the Ten Commandments, and today we continue our discussion of the ninth.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

In this series of posts about the Ten Commandments, I have shown how Jesus intensified Moses’ fourth commandment (about the Sabbath) by explaining that in the kingdom of God the Sabbath is every day – not just one day a week.  I have also shown you how Jesus intensified Moses’ sixth commandment (against murder) by explaining that in the kingdom of God even thoughts of hate toward a neighbor are disallowed.  And I have shown how Jesus intensified Moses’ seventh commandment (against adultery) by explaining that in the kingdom of God not even private imaginations about a woman other than one’s wife should be tolerated.  Today I want to show how Jesus also intensifies the ninth commandment (against false witness).  I assumed it in what I wrote yesterday, but I want to be explicit about it today.

When Moses originally gave the ninth commandment, its wording implied a legal environment.  Moses’ comprehensive legal code for Israel had specified that some aspects of it were so important that violation of them called for the death penalty.  Yet Moses also said that no Israelite should be put to death except on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Therefore, it would take such testimony before any Israelite could be condemned to death. The ninth commandment was there to emphasize how soberly such testimony should be given.  No Israelite was to be cavalier about bearing witness against his neighbor.  It was a matter of life and death.

The Jews took the issue seriously and, in the generations following Moses, developed a variety of means to make sure that proper heed was given to such testimony.  An Israelite could swear by (take an oath on) heaven, earth, Jerusalem, one’s own head, the temple, the altar, the offering on the altar – you get the idea.  The gravity of the testimony was to be related to the importance of what was being sworn upon.  Jesus came along and said “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.”  In other words, Jesus made clear that the subjects of His kingdom would have to tell the truth in every utterance that came from their mouths at any time of day or night – not just when a trial was taking place or an oath was being solicited.

Moses gave the Ten Commandments, but Jesus interpreted and applied them in a way that takes them to a whole new level.  The contrast between Moses’ way and Jesus’ way is dramatic.  Moses delivered the Ten Commandments to the ancient Israelites – not the whole world.  Moses’ focus of those commandments was comparatively narrow and literal, dealing generally with outward behavior.  Thus almost everything about Moses’ application of the Ten Commandments was limited in scope.  By contrast, Jesus applies them to every thought we think, every word we utter, every action we take.

The only way to make sure that only truth comes out of our mouths is to make sure we only have truth dwelling in our minds.  As computer programmers have long been taught to say, “garbage in, garbage out.”  If we allow garbage in our hearts, it will eventually come out of our mouths.  Some people try to control the garbage at the mouth, or even think that the garbage can be dressed up to look like something else when it comes out of the mouth – but such strategies are doomed to failure. Only by controlling garbage at the source can we control it at all.

Let us be careful therefore to think only the truth, lest anything other than truth come out of our mouths.  This honors the king of the kingdom of God – Jesus Christ our Lord.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.

Ten Commandments: #9 – No False Witness

We’re surveying the Ten Commandments, and today we have come to the ninth.

  • God is love.
    • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
      • 1 – You shall have no other gods before Me.
      • 2 – You shall not make for yourself an idol.
      • 3 – You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
      • 4 – Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.
    • You shall love your neighbor as yourself; that is, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.
      • 5 – Honor your father and your mother.
      • 6 – You shall not murder.
      • 7 – You shall not commit adultery.
      • 8 – You shall not steal.
      • 9 – You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
      • 10 – You shall not covet.
  • We love because He first loved us.

One of the many ironies of Jesus’ crucifixion is that it was justified by a trial which based its verdict on the testimony of false witnesses.  That’s right.  The very people whom the Lord commanded not to bear false witness against their neighbors bore false witness against their neighbor – and their neighbor in this case turned out to be God Himself.  Imagine how the Lord must have felt giving this commandment, knowing that one day outright disobedience to it would result in His execution.

By contrast, Jesus Himself told nothing but the truth at His trial…and that, too, was used to convict Him!  Truth was in short supply that night.

As we have seen in our survey of the Ten Commandments, they were taken at face value in the time of Moses and therefore had a relatively limited scope.  As Jesus interpreted them, however, their scope became pervasive.  In the case of the ninth commandment, the essence of the commandment becomes an unyielding commitment to the truth…on behalf of others.  For this reason, the apostle Paul used the phrase “speaking the truth in love.”

I’ll get to the “in love” part shortly, but as for the “speaking the truth” part, surely you know that truth is in short supply these days as well.  It’s not that there’s no truth at all; it’s that what truth is presented to us is often distorted, twisted, and manipulated…for someone else’s purpose.  It’s not that we don’t get any truth; it’s that we don’t get “the whole truth,” and we don’t get “nothing but the truth.”  It seems everyone has an angle.  They emphasize the parts of the truth they want us to know and de-emphasize the parts of the truth that they’d rather we didn’t think about.  They don’t want us to think truth – they want us to think what they want us to think.

One of the most powerful ways to learn the importance of truth is life is also one of the most painful.  It is having to have a relationship with someone on whom you cannot rely to tell you the truth.  Being deceived is a painful experience.  It destroys quality of life; it destroys relationships.  You would normally avoid such a person at all costs, but sometimes you can’t.  Deceit corrupts life, and the trail of destruction it leaves is long.

We cannot control whether or not others tell us the truth, but we can certainly control whether or not we tell them the truth.  Jesus told us the truth, and we ought to follow His example.  He did not refrain from telling the truth just because it was unpleasant for someone to hear.  He told the truth that needed to be heard.

This brings us to the “in love” part of “speaking the truth in love.”  Love does not mean trimming the truth in any way, but it does mean that our motive in telling the truth but be for the other person’s benefit.

…love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly…
–  1 Corinthians 13:4-5

You have heard the truth told in bragging, in arrogance, in an unbecoming way.  That’s not how we are to handle the truth.  Rather, we are to speak the truth only in love.  That requires us to remember that:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous…it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,”
–  1 Corinthians 13:4-5

None of this is to justify so-called “little white lies.”  No lie is justified.  What it is to justify is being gentle with the truth while we are being bold with the truth.  Gentleness and boldness are not mutually exclusive; Jesus demonstrates this vividly.  In all that He said, He was the epitome of gentleness and the epitome of boldness.  He spoke the truth in love.  And when false witnesses kept testifying against them, He kept bearing a true witness to them and for them.

We could not have a better example of keeping the ninth commandment than the Lord Himself.

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If you want to know where to find all of these commandments in your own Bible, see the post Ten Commandments: Scriptural Locations which gives the chapter-and-verse reference for each commandment and statement in the outline.