This session makes the important transition from belief (in the senses of assent and trust) to the values and principles that guide our daily living.
How important is it for us to have rules? What importance can rules formulated in the time of Moses have for us today?
These are important questions. There is a related question that we addressed in Session 3 what sort of book is the Bible anyway? If the Bible simply records the spiritual aspirations of particular individuals and groups at specific times in history, we might be challenged andlor inspired by their conclusions. But we would feel free to "take it or leave it" - we would not feel under any obligation to these man-made rules. If the Bible is the Word of God - God revealing his presence, nature and absolutes - then we will concur with Martin Luther when he said, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God."
It is true that God's self-disclosure has not meant that the historical and social environment of the human writers has been eliminated. It is also true that divine revelation has been progressive and that we now live in the days of fulfilment (the New Testament) which represents some vast changes over against the days of promise (the Old Testament). Because of this, we no longer maintain a human priesthood and sacrificial system, for example. However, the testimony of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5.17-48) makes it quite clear to us that the moral law is still binding on us. Indeed, it is to be observed by the hidden thought, motive and intention, as well as by outward action.
The daily readings set for last week centred especially on passages significant for understanding the doctrine of the Trinity. They have not demanded as much writing as It's a Great Life! The purpose is three-fold - (1) to encourage and maintain a regular practice of Bible reading, (2) to facilitate some sharing of discoveries from the Word and (3) to ground the teaching of these sessions in Biblical teaching. Spend a few minutes sharing the discoveries that have been made.
The reference in the UCA Regulations is important --"deterrnination to follow him in daily life." But what does that mean?
In session 2, we talked about five important principles for Christian growth - Bible, Prayer, Worship, Fellowship and Witness. But, as we note on the sheet, "Our Bible reading and prayer are private. Our worship and fellowship are in company with other committed people. If the only way to tell a Christian is by their 'witnessing' activities, these will amount to nothing in the final count!"
Those five principles are important for spiritual growth, but - have we grown? That will become visible by what happens in our daily life.
So - #2 What is different about the life of a Christian?
As the class reflects on this question (and shares their reflection), try to distinguish in their responses - (1) those elements that "make a person a Christian" (repentance, believes in Jesus, etc.), (2) the "means of grace" that assist spiritual growth (Bible-reading, church-going, prayer, etc.) and (3) differences of values and lifestyle. We are really looking for responses in area (3). However, remember to receive sensitively every response made.
□ The New Creation
We are really thinking about the life in the Christian and the life of the Christian. Let's reflect honestly about our own Christian life. Has the life we have lived always expressed the life within, the life that is ours in Christ Jesus?
In 2 Cor.5.17, Paul writes dramatically about the new creation. He gets rather excited about it, so excited that he leaves out the verbs! Literally, it reads, "If any in Christ, new creationlcreature! The old has passed away; see! the new has come!" All that is already true "in Christ". In Christ, we already have the life within. Yet the truth is that our outward life does not fully (sometimes even less fully than others!) express the inward life. We look at our outward life and see too much of the old and too little of the new!
In Phil.2.12b-13, Paul is affirming that the inward life is the key to the transformation of our outward life. But we have to desire change and to cooperate with God. Salvation is the gift of God - we cannot save ourselves. And yet we have to "continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us..."
Note the key words, "The battle has been won, but the victory is not yet clearly seen! The key in your deepening relationship with God, but the results must flow through into daily living."
□ Sticking by the Rules
Over twenty years ago, a High School class of years 10 to 12 students requested to vary our religious education programme by having a debate. They selected their two teams and allowed themselves a fortnight to prepare. They chose the topic - "That absolute freedom is more theoretical than possible." But when the day came, they called the debate off. "We can't debate it" they said, "because you have to have rules!"
Spend a short time reflecting on the poem and the paragraph that follows. Then move on to think about the Ten Commandments.
The first four speak about our relationship with God.
The last six speak about our relationship with other people.
This two-fold structure of the Ten Commandments is highlighted by Jesus in the law of love. In the law of love Jesus was bringing together Deut.6.5 and Lay. 19.18. He brings out the positive principles that underlie the ten rules. The ten themselves (found in Ex.20.3-7 and Deut.5.7-21) are mainly in the form of negatives. This is because of our proneness to go astray and therefore our need for correction.
□ Rule 1 - No other gods. The first rule is preceded by a statement about God's gracious activity - "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves" (Ex.20.2; Deut.5.6). It is the gracious God who makes his claim on our lives - this is also true from the Christian perspective. God has shown us his compassion and mercy. He expects us to be truly his people. He expects total allegiance - "Worship no God but me" (Ex.20.3). They had just come out of Egypt where many Gods were worshipped. They were heading for the land of Canaan where the locals would be pressing them to sacrifice to local deities who (so they thought) controlled weather, seasons, fertility... Again and again, they were tempted either to forsake the worship of the Lord for other gods or to worship the Lord and other gods as well.
Jesus calls us to total allegiance too. "You cannot serve God and money," he reminds us (Mt.6.24). The gods of today do not have the same names or garb as those of Egypt or Canaan or even of Jesus' time. They come to us under the guise of materialism, permissiveness, the occult... and, even when we keep on worshipping God, there is strong and subtle pressure to add to our worship of God goals and ideals which contradict our professed faith. The call to total allegiance is a call to get our priorities and values straight.
□ Rule 2 - Don't worship idols. This rule does not forbid sculpture and other forms of art. Art is a natural and important expression of the human personality and had a very definite approved place within the tabernacle and the Temple. Rather it denounces the worship of objects representing some false god. But it goes further they were not to try to make images to worship the Lord, the true God, either. It seems likely that the golden calves set up at Bethel and Dan by Jeroboam 1 (1 Kings 12.25ff) were thought to represent the Lord himself. But to worship God, whether as beast or man, is to make a very grave mistake - it is to forget that God is Spirit, so that any attempt to represent him visually distorts he is the Creator of all, not to be worshipped under the form of something created; to set up an image leads us to think of God in localised terms.
We face the temptation to trim God down to the size we want him to be. When Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, "God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (Jn.4.24, NIV), the issue was not simply the location of true worship this woman's life was completely divorced from her worship of God on Mount Gerizim. When we worship a God whom we hedge around with practical limitations (as far as our lives are concerned), we are making "graven images." It is also part of the warning at the end of John's letter, "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 Jn.5.21, NIV).
□ Rule 3 - Don't misuse God's Name. In Bible times, a name was much more closely identified with the person and character that it represented. The Name of God spoke very definitely of his Presence, Power and Character. God had revealed himself to his chosen people Israel by the personal Name of Yahweh or Jehovah (LORD), a name that speaks of his eternal self- existence on the one hand, yet always stood as a reminder to them of his love, his revelation, his redemption - and the covenant.
The KJV talked about not taking the Lord's name "in vain" - for a Hebrew expression associated with ideas of emptiness, worthlessness and deception. GNB simply translates "Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the LORD your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name." Out of reverence for the Name Yahweh, the Jews before the time of Christ had ceased to pronounce this Name in the reading of the Scriptures in public worship. They substituted Adonai (Lord, Master) - the combination of the consonants of Yahweh with the vowels of Adonai give the mistaken word "Jehovah". (It is curious, by the way, that JWs, by their insistence on calling God "Jehovah" unwittingly bear witness to the fact the first-century Jews did name God "Lord", a term which the early Christians also came to apply to Jesus!)
The Lord had called his people into a personal relationship with himself (note v.2) and this relationship was to be expressed in their worship and in their lives. The Name was not to be used in false testimony or in magical incantations. Nor should it be used carelessly or in profanity. The Name should not be used hypocritically - to express a relationship that does not exist - nor presumptuously - with a claim to do things in his Name without his authority and blessing.
In the Lord's Prayer Jesus taught that the Name of God is to be "kept holy" (Mt.6.9). That doesn't mean avoiding using the Name at all, as the Jews did, but using it rightly in sincere prayer and in consistent Christian living. (Note Mt.7.21 23; Acts 2.2 1; Jn. 14.13,14).
A story from many years ago tells of a young minister, fresh in his new parish, leading the congregation in prayer - "O Thou that inhabitest eternity, living in unreachable light, full of glory, majesty and power... By what name shall we call Thee?" A little old lady down near the front was heard to call out, "We call 'im 'eavenly Father 'ere, sir!"
□ Rule 4 - Keep the Sabbath holy. The Sabbath rule makes specific provision for honouring the Lord, as well as meeting a very practical physical and spiritual need of people. "Sabbath" comes from the Hebrew verb meaning "to cease, desist, rest". The Bible does not subscribe to the modem idea that work is evil, though it does teach that work is more arduous and tedious since mankind chose a course of disobeying the will of God. The restless modem spirit, though having little real love for work, sees little point in "rest" either! This rule teaches the necessity of rest from work. But even more, it is "a day of rest dedicated to me" (v. 10). Some have said that every day should be the Lord's day. Yet in practice, if we do not have one day especially devoted to him each week, we fail to acknowledge his Lordship over every day. It is significant that Jesus regularly attended public worship on the sabbath (Lk.4.16).
Jesus made some important (and startling) statements about the Sabbath. Some of the controversy over the Sabbath is recorded in Mk.2.23-3.6. Over against the rigidity of their Sabbath rules, Jesus stated two important principles - "the Sabbath was made for the good of man; man was not made for the Sabbath" the Pharisees had made it an intolerable burden (cf. Mt.23.4), whereas it had been God's gracious provision for human need - and "the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (v.8) - every day, including this one, finds its true meaning is his Lordship.
From the earliest Christian times, Christians have assembled for worship of their risen Lord on the first day of the week. In so doing, we commemorate, not only the physical creation, but God's new creation in Christ.
□ Rule 5 - Honour father and mother. The last six rules have to do with our responsibility to other people and it is significant that the first of these relates to the basic unit of human society, the family. Home is meant to be the place in which the relationship with God is established and nurtured. It is also the "minisociety" within which effective and lasting relationships with others are established. Parents are not only to pass on and nurture the physical lives of their children - in a real sense, they are meant to be the representatives of God and of society to their children. So the home is the basic school for life - for all of life, whether designated religious or secular (note Deut.6.6-9).
Because our parents are physically responsible for our humanity, as well as their other roles, it is basic to our respect for human life that we honour our parents. This is important, not only while we are still learning the first basics of life, but when we have left home (Gen.2.24) and taken our place in adult life.
Sadly we are aware today of an alarming increasing of child abuse and all parents, not only the abusers, have been called into question. Paul directs that it is the Christian duty of children to obey their parents and calls attention to this as the first rule with a promise (Eph.6.1-3). Of course, our allegiance to the Lord comes first (Lk. 9.60; Mt. 10. 3 7). And, on the other side, parents have an important responsibility. Jesus used the picture of imperfect human fatherhood to describe God (Mt.6.9; 7.11; Lk. 15.1 1ff). Parents should so live that their children will readily grasp the nature and love of their heavenly Father.
□ Rule 6 - Don't murder. Murder is a universally recognised wrong. It is a gross sin against the sanctity of human life itself - for God made people in his own image (Gen.9.6). The rule is absolute, and, apart from the accomplished fact of murder, every act endangering life is also condemned, whether arising from carelessness (Dt.22.8) or malice (Lev. 19.14) or from hatred, anger and revenge (Lev.19.17,18; note the words of Jesus in Mt.5.22). Murder is specifically the wilful and premeditated assault on human life. The Israelites were to establish cities of refuge to allow proper judgment of the case and to distinguish between the murderer and the person who "kills someone accidentally (Num.35.9-34). Alongside the prohibition on murder, it was recognised that the civil authorities had responsibilities that might involve the use of force, even to the point of death, in protecting society against aggression from without and within (we note Ex.21.23,24; Rom. 13.1-7). In Biblical terms, there is no question that both abortion and euthanasia are forms of murder. We are urged to consider the quality of life rather than the value of life. This is a complex issue and it is for us to do all we can in positive caring love.
□ Rule 7 - Don't commit adultery. Marriage and home are the most basic institutions of society as a whole. When they are weak, society as a whole is weak. In these days of sexual freedom, with an emphasis on sex for its own sake, without legal or moral basis, the seventh rule needs to be emphasised afresh.
The creation narrative uses some very significant words about marriage, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one (lit. one flesh)" (Gen.2.24, GNB). This is saying that the act of sex itself is a very deep and sacred bond, not to be entered into lightly, and having the possibility of children who will share genetically their parents' life.
This rule specifically refers to a violation of the marriage vows, but it also covers premarital as well as extra-marital sex. All are a violation of the loving purpose of God. The institution of marriage sets the context of sex in terms of commitment, rather than supposed love. To enter into a sexual relationship with a person to whom no real commitment is made is to use that person as an object for one's own pleasure and satisfaction.
The purpose of God is that marriage be a life-long commitment (Mt. 19.3-9). Paul teaches that within marriage two people are committed to serving one another (Eph.5.21-33).
□ Rule 8 - Don't steal. This rule presupposes the right to own property and expressly forbids any act that would defraud another and obtain his possessions dishonestly. Our ownership, of course, is never absolute - as the Psalmist put it, "The world and all that is in it belong to the Lord; the earth and all who live on it are his" (Ps.24.1). Our ownership is really stewardship. When David received the gifts for building the temple, he expressed the principle "Yet my people and I cannot really give you anything, because everything is a gift from you, and we have only given back what is yours already- (2 Chron.20.14).
Stealing does not imply violence and takes many well-respected forms, so that our moral sensitivity becomes blurred. We quickly recognise the crimes of burglary, fraud or embezzlement, but condone tax evasion, underworking for an employer, underpayment of employees, gambling...
The law clearly established the principle of restitution. Not only was the thing stolen (or its equivalent) to be restored, but often the payment of a number of times its value (as in Ex.22. 1 - 15). In the New Testament it is clear that only absolute honesty is compatible with the Christian life (note 1 Cor.6.10; Eph.4.28). The response of Zacchaeus to the Lord's forgiveness was not only a fourfold restitution, but a deep sense of responsibility to the poor (Lk.19.8).
□ Rule 9 - Don't give false testimony. The Hebrews weighed their words very carefully (note Isaac's grief in Gen.27). We wouldn't give words that weight unless they are in writing and duly signed. This rule doesn't only forbid lying in general, but particularly lying that damages the integrity of our neighbour's name. The law in fact provided that the offender was to receive the punishment that his testimony would have brought on the accused (Dt. 19.18,19). The rule, of course, is not just about courts of law, but about the informal, casual comments of ordinary conversation as well.
The problem is that we too often play God with people and their character. Gossip is dangerous. Inevitably what is merely suggestion and interference tends to become part of the "attested facts" as the story is passed on. Jesus warns us, "Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way as you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others" (Mt. 7.1-2). We ourselves are accountable to God, and ought not to pass on stories, even though we think them true.
□ Rule 10 - Don't covet It is significant that this rule stands at the end of the ten - evil attitude lies at the heart of evil action. To covet is to desire intensely. This great desire for commendable things is praiseworthy (1 Cor. 12.31; 1 Tim.3. 1). But too often it expresses our self-centredness and is directed to forbidden things. The actions forbidden in our relationship to our neighbour all spring 'm some sense from covetousness. This rule, however, indicates the wrongness of the attitude or desire, even when it isn't expressed in action. Finally, with this rule, we cannot be tried before an earthly court, but are nevertheless liable to the judgment of God.
Much of what Jesus says in Mt.5 is in fact related to this command. He continually points to the basic attitude. There may not be murder, but resentment and hatred. There may not be adultery, but still a lustful desire. Jesus finally gives the antidote to covetousness in the sort of love that does good even to those who do not return it (vv.43-48).
Reflect again on what Jesus said in the law of love - "He was not denying the importance of the Ten, but giving their motivation and enabling power."
Be sensitive if there are any specific areas in which any class member may be aware of having broken any of the Ten Rules. Emphasise the forgiving and saving grace of God for us all, since none of us has any room for complacency and lead the group in prayer for divine forgiveness and help.
□ Some More...
The readings for the coming week include the Ten Rules (Ex.20) and the whole of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.5-7). Encourage class members to read these important passages, as well as to look through their notes for today and the references they have noted.
© Peter J Blackburn 1995, 1999