Ten words. Ten statements. Ten Commandments.
No study of the Book of Exodus would be complete without taking a look at these hallmark statements, given to the people of Israel by God at Mount Sinai. These words are familiar to us. We have hung illustrations of these words on our walls. We have established much of our understanding of law and justice around these words. We have watched Charlton Heston receive these words in “The Ten Commandments.”
As familiar as we are with these words, we often wonder what they mean for us today. The commands set up questions about their application for our lives and how we should interact with them. Are they words that we are to follow? Are they marks that define our lives? Or are they words that have no bearing on life today? What are we to do with these Ten Commandments?
I think a story from Jesus’ earthly ministry helps us to understand how we are to apply the Ten Commandments today. The particular story was when Jesus was confronted by a teacher of the law who asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus responded to the question with two passages that came from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. He says we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. At the same time, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. In simple terms, we are called to love God and love others.
These two ideas, love God and love others, provide the basic foundation for understanding each of these ten statements that we find in Exodus 20:1-21. It is central to the very idea of what God seeks to speak to the people of Israel and us today. As we look at these Ten Commandments, we find that they are not about telling the community of faith what they cannot do. Instead, what we find is that God speaks these words to establish a community that is based upon the very idea of loving God and loving others as a living response to the love of God.
We receive these statements as the people of Israel have arrived at Mount Sinai. The exodus journey took them through Egypt, across the Red Sea, and through the wilderness. They now find themselves at Mount Sinai, which already was an important place for the people of Israel and Moses. It was here that Moses received his calling to be the one God would use to redeem and rescue the people of Israel out of slavery. Now, Israel has arrived at this central place, awaiting their entry to the land filled with milk and honey. It is here that the redeemed community receive a new way of living as God establishes what he desires from the community at this place.
The words expressed at Mount Sinai will set the people of Israel apart from other communities. They are coming out of a community that had specific practices, and God seeks to define what this community will look like. Israel is to be different and live differently than the people who surrounded them and currently inhabit Canaan. They are to be a living representation of the one, true God in the ways they live in community with one another.
That is why God speaks these words to Israel. God speaks directly to them as a way to express his hope and desires for this new community. He begins by saying these words are spoken in response to the activity of God’s redemptive work in bringing the people out of slavery. The commands, then, are God’s desires of how the Lord desires the community to live in response to this work. Think about what this says to us today. In response to our faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ seen through the cross, we are called to be defined by the marks of the relationship that God expresses through these commandments.
God’s commandments, here, can be separated into two segments – one segment of four commandments and another of six. The first sets of commandments focus on what it means to truly love and worship God. They are commandments that get to the heart of this idea that in response to all that God has done for us we are called to be people who devote our entire selves over to God and to live in a relationship built upon faith, trust, hope, and joy with the Lord. Our response to God’s redemptive work through bringing our ancestors out of slavery and providing for the pardon of our sins on the cross is to love God.
The first four commandments express what loving God looks like. We are to be people who love the Lord, our God. We are to be totally committed in our lives to the one true God who has redeemed us. Even more, we are not to seek any other Gods by making an image into a god. We are not to turn the things of this world into something that is to be worshiped over above our God. We are called not to misuse God’s name. To value the name of the Lord in such a way that not just do we refrain from slandering God’s name, but that we are completely focused on seeking God’s purposes in our lives and communities. We are called to be a people who rest in the presence of God. To be people who do not see ourselves above God and claim that we do not need to rest, when God, himself, rested on the “seventh day” of creation.
In reality, the first four commandments give us the groundwork for establishing communities that love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To allow everything about us to be used to inspire deep and powerful worship of the Lord.
After these first four commandments, the next six move into a discussion about our shared lives and how we are to live with one another. What we see, here, is that in response to God’s redemptive work in our lives and our faith in God that we are called to love others as we would love ourselves. To value the fact that all people are created in the image of God and are people of immense worth and value in God’s eyes. We are called to love others as a living expression of the fact God loves us and desires us to share this love with everyone we meet without exception.
Once again, these commands give us an idea of what this may look like. To be people who honor our parents in the same way that we honor God. To establish relationships with our parents that are built upon the foundations of love that we have of God. We are called not to commit murder. To value the lives of others so much that we are protective of human life and see the image of God in others, even in those whom we dislike or do not value as much as others. We are called to build communities where adultery is looked down upon. To build communities where we value the importance of loving relationships and do all that we can to empower relationships for longevity. We are called not to steal. Essentially, we are to be protective of the resources that belong to others and, at the same time, only use as much resources as need to provide for our families. We are called to build communities where we do not lie about one another. To be honest with each other and speak the truth in love with those whom we are in relationships with. Finally, our communities are to be places where we do not covet what our neighbors have. To be places where jealousies over personal property does not exist.
Through these words God establishes the boundaries of the community of faith and what God desires of us in response to all that God has done. In response to our faith in Christ, we are called to live out this community not because we seek to fulfill them in order to receive salvation. Instead, we seek to live out God’s expectations, surrounded by God’s grace, as a living response of love to all that Jesus did for us on the cross. We establish communities built upon the framework of these ideas based on our love of God.
At first glance, it would appear that the community God desires is one that is built upon what we cannot do. Yet, to have this understanding would be to miss the point of what God seeks to do through these words. What God does in these ten statements is to establish the limits of a healthy and fruitful community. God provides, here, the boundaries of the community. Within these boundaries there is much room for the community of faith to establish practices and relationships that empower others and builds upon the basic ideas of loving God and loving others. Truly, within the boundaries God establishes in the community there are opportunities for life-giving expressions of faith that allows for flexibility and wondrous possibilities in thinking about what it means to live in response to God’s love in our communities.
These Ten Commandments empowers us to build a community that is based upon the idea of loving God and loving others. To be people who worship God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and then share that love in the ways that we interact with the people around us. There is much that we can do to build loving communities that values the worth of others in response to God’s redemptive work in our lives.
You have a big part in building that community here at Claylick. There is no better descriptor for a community than to be known as a place that loves God and loves others. What are you willing to do to build that kind of community here? What might you be willing to do to love God and love others here at Claylick so that others might see the great things God is doing in their lives?
In response to what God has done in our lives, may we build a community of faith that is forever known as a place that loves God and loves others.