Friday, September 25, 2015

Commandments toward Others (Exodus 20:12-14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

On the Tonight Show, former host Jay Leno frequently conducted "man-on-the street" interviews, and one night he collared some young people to ask them questions about the Bible. "Can you name one of the Ten Commandments?"  One man replied, "Freedom of speech?"   Now if the question had been about the Bill of Rights, he would have been spot on?

What does the Bible say about the Ten Commandments?  God spoke all these words!   That's how Exodus 20 begins.  I am not giving other people's opinions or my own opinions on these commands.  God's authority is behind them.  No one can say: “Well, that's your viewpoint, that's your opinion, but I see it differently from you.”  No, you see it differently from God.  

Dennis Prager in his book, The Ten Commandments, writes:  “No document in world history so changed the world for the better as did the Ten Commandments.  Western civilization, the civilization that developed universal human rights, created women's equality, ended slavery, created parliamentary democracy would not have developed without them.  These commandments are as relevant today as when God gave them to Moses over 3,000 years ago.”

Let's turn to the Fifth Commandment - Honor your Father and Mother.  A father lost his patience with his rambunctious children and scolded them as he put them to bed.   The next morning he found this note stuck to his bedroom door:  “Be good to your children and they will be good to you.  Yours truly, God.”

In the Fifth commandment, God expresses His will for how people are to live within the structure of the family.   Honoring parents strengthens and unites the family unit.  The integrity of the family is paramount in terms of shaping human beings spiritually, intellectually, morally and emotionally.  And further, the survival of a nation depends upon some key factors, and in particular upon the stability and health of the institution of the family.   We know that the breakdown of the family structure negatively impacts communities.  If you build a society in which children honor their parents, society will long survive.  Sadly, the corollary is also true.  Honoring parents teaches children respect for and accountability to a higher authority.   It can also teach children to ultimately honor a higher moral authority than parents, God.  Psychology has shown us that one's attitude towards one's parents shapes one's attitude toward God. 

God's commandment is serious.  It says that to live in peace for generations in the promised land, the Israelites would need to respect authority and build strong families.  This commandment summons us to respect, to honor, to follow, to support, to show our gratitude due our parents.

We often think of this commandment as directing children to obey their parents.  But originally it was intended for the welfare of aging parents, older parents, and the attitude and behavior of their adult children.  There was no social security or medicare or pension plans or investment portfolios 3,000 years ago.   God was commanding adult children to love and care for elderly parents and to assume responsibility for them.  Aging parents who could no longer work, depended entirely upon their children to care for them.  

A common practice among some nomadic tribes of the Canaanite culture was to leave elderly or sick parents behind to die.  This commandment condemns such cruel and inhumane treatment.  Israel was not to resemble other nations, it was not to follow the practice of other tribes, for God had made a covenant with Israel in these commands. 

In the New Testament Jesus condemned using religious laws as a justification for neglecting caring for one's parents.  Jesus denounces the practice in his day where some Jews dedicated their money to Korban or to God to evade their rightful duty to God.  If parents needed financial assistance, an adult child could say:  “Sorry, Mom and Dad, I wish I could help, but can’t, I've dedicated my money to God, my money belongs to God.”  Jesus repudiated this religious loophole and his critique echoes Proverbs 28:24:  “He who defrauds father or mother and says it is no crime is partner to a thug.” 

The Bible has much to say in support of this commandment: “With your whole heart honor your father; your mother’s birth pangs forget not, remember, of these parents you were born; what can you give them for all they gave you?” “Listen to your father who begot you, and despise not your mother when she is old.”  “He who mistreats his father or drives away his mother, is a worthless and disgraceful son.”    

The problem of course is if we were raised by responsible, loving and healthy parents we are more receptive to obeying God's command.  But what if we were abused by our parents, what if we were neglected?   Then this command becomes much more problematic.   

This command means remembering your parent’s humanness and learning to forgive them.  It means acting in a way that shows them courtesy and respect.  It means showing them they are valued and worthwhile.   It means praying for them.   It means not blaming them for all of the problems in your life.  It means not physically or emotionally abusing them and elder abuse is a tragic reality today.   It means to support them, to listen to them, and to help them financially if needed.    It means to assist them in making difficult and emotional decisions, such as when the time has come for them to move out of their home because they can no longer live independently.   I've been through this; it is very difficult. 

I will tell you how inspiring it has been over the years in the churches I've served as pastor, including Pacific Beach, to see many adult children caring so responsibly and lovingly for their aging parents.  I have seen this commandment put into action in many beautiful ways.

Let's turn to the Sixth Commandment – You Shall not Murder!   The Bible makes a distinction between killing and murder.  In English we have two words for taking a life – to kill and to murder.  It is the same in Hebrew; there are two Hebrew words for taking a life.  In the Sixth commandment, the Hebrew word is murder, you shall not murder.

Murder is the illegal or immoral taking of a life.  It is the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.  Our law has first and second degree murder. First degree murder is the intentional murder that is willful and premeditated with malice aforethought. Second degree murder is an intentional murder, but is not premeditated or planned in advance.  Murder is evil.  Murder is a despicable act.   Perhaps you have known someone who was murdered.  Murder is against God's will.  Murder is immoral.  I doubt if anyone here would disagree with this. 

One the other hand, the Sixth commandment does not prohibit killing.  That is an important distinction.  The Bible allows the killing of animals for food.  It allows the killing of another to defend your own life.  It allows killing in times of war.  It allows killing executing a murderer as a penalty for murder.   Some people are against killing in all circumstances.  They might identify themselves as pacifists.  They believe it is wrong, immoral, to kill an animal or another human being period.   They certainly have the right to their view.  The only thing is that they cannot cite the 6th commandment as biblical support for their position. 

Let's turn to the Seventh commandment – You Shall not Commit adultery!  What is adultery?  God's prohibition on a married person having sexual relations with anyone except his or her spouse.    It of course has not gone away.  It occurs outside the church and can occur inside the church.  I remember, years ago, a single woman, a church member, was telling me about some problems she was having in a new relationship.   She casually dropped the fact that the man was married, had two children, and was still living with his family.  He had promised her he was going to leave his wife and that they would get married, but he was dragging his feet. 

She hoped I would be happy for her because of the bad luck she had had with men over the years and because she was lonely.  I reminded her, gently and yet clearly, that she was in an adulteress relationship and I recommended she break it off.  I told her I would be there for pastoral support after she had broken it off.  She became incensed, accused me of being judgmental, told me I didn't care about her, that I had just lost a church member and walked out.  

Why is adultery wrong?  Why is it prohibited?  The Bible offers these reasons, which of course, stand in stark contrast to the tolerant society in which we live today.   Adultery is wrong because God forbids it!   This commandment expresses God’s will for people who have entered into the commitment of marriage.  If we claim that God is the Lord of our lives, if we are accountable to God, if we acknowledge God’s authority over us, then we will honor this commandment.

Adultery is wrong because it’s a sin!  It is an act of disobedience against God’s word and God's intention for the marriage relationship.   It threatens the institution of marriage, it places the marriage in jeopardy.  

Adultery is wrong because it breaks the promises that two people make to each other.  It dishonors the marriage bond and violates mutual trust and respect.  It breaks the marriage vows made in the presence of God and other witnesses, when a couple promises to love one another, and to remain faithful to each other, so long as they both shall live.

Adultery is wrong because it threatens the stability and integrity of the family and society.  It strikes at the heart of the family.  The family is the building block of a society.  It can destroy the very fabric of family life.   It devalues the spouse.  It is hurtful and even devastating to the children.    A healthy and stable marriage is a gift parents can pass on to their children.

Is adultery forgivable?   Yes.  As painful and harmful as it can be, it is forgivable.  God’s grace is always reaching out to us.  It requires genuine repentance and an honest decision to stop/end the behavior.   You recall the story of the men who brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus.  Jesus said:  “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone.  Then he turned to the woman and said:  “Has no one condemned you.  Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and do not sin again.”  

Should adultery always lead to divorce?  Must it end in divorce?  In my opinion the answer is that it depends.  It depends upon the couple and the circumstances.  Some marriages do end in divorce.  The trust is broken forever and they cannot find it in their hearts to forgive the offending spouse.  Other couples work through the pain and sense of betrayal and gradually rebuild and restore their marriage. 

These three commandments are directed not toward God, but in our interactions with others.  May we truly hear the word of the one true God.   Amen!

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