What is the role of the 10 Commandments in the Church Age? Are we still supposed to abide by them? Haven't they become a little outdated due to advances in technology and shifts in culture? Stephen answers those questions and more in this message.
“TEN COMMANDMENTS AND THE 21ST CENTURY”
Exodus, chapter 20. Someone, last week, gave me a clipping from the newspaper. A gentleman who owns his own, I guess, cable T. V. news system, I won’t mention his name, but he declared, at a meeting of his company’s broadcasting system, these startling words, he declared the Ten Commandments obsolete. I don’t know what that had to do with the news convention but he got off on the subject. He told the members of the National Newspaper Association, “We are living with outmoded rules. The rules we’re living under are the Ten Commandments and I bet nobody here even pays much attention to them because they are too old. Today, the Commandments would never go over because nobody likes to be commanded. Commandments are out.” So he listed ten rules of his own and he calls them, “The Ten Voluntary Initiatives.” I would submit that he is not only misinformed because they do relate. In fact, the series that we are going to begin, that will take us through several weeks, I’m entitling, “The Ten Commandments and the 21st Century,” because they are so applicable to where we are today. But I doubt he has ever sat down and looked at them and, perhaps, even knows what they say. I read a survey that less than fifty percent of everyone who attends church can list even four of the Ten Commandments. So, is the problem that they do not apply or is the problem that we do not know what they say and we’ve never taken time to look? Because we are going through the book of Exodus, we now approach the twentieth chapter, and it is going to be delightful to spend time studying each of the Ten Commandments. And we are going to see how they apply to our lives. I think those study notes will help. We have much to cover this morning. They’re in your worship folder and may help as you follow along.
The first thing we need to do is take an overview of these Ten Commandments and answer the question, “Why did God give the Law?” We studied all of the fireworks in the previous chapter and now He is about to give His revelation. Why did He give mankind the Law? Three reasons. There are more but I have boiled it down to these three. First of all to reveal His glory and His holiness. Ultimately, everything that God says, everything that He reveals, everything that He commands, everything that He demands, gives Himself glory and honor. And everything that we are to do in life is to reflect His purpose; and that is, to glorify and honor Him. So these, ultimately, provide the foundation where His name, His power, His purity, His character can receive glory and honor.
The second reason is to reveal man’s sinfulness. It’s easy for us, as humans, to rationalize any sin or any activity that we may participate in. But, you match up to the Ten Commandments, and it reveals that none of us are perfect and we cannot rationalize what we do. The Bible calls them sins. They are a violation of God’s Commandments. My wife and I, a week or so ago, were watching a documentary that had an interview in there with a man who had killed several people. And they were talking about this individual’s life and how he is, in some ways, very intellectually intelligent. He is sharp. He has earned a degree. And he finally had a chance to appear before one particular courtroom. And they were doing a dramatization of that appearance in court. And it was interesting that this man, who has put a number of people in the grave, stood and he said, “I know I knifed that person, I know I shot that person, but I am not at fault. It is the system that has created what I am.” Well, we look at that and we think, “Man, is he ever dodging the issue.” Perhaps, but you and I also rationalize things that we do. For instance, the command says, “Thou shalt not steal.” Well, none of us would claim that we are liars but yet, we would cheat on an income tax report. We would adjust the hours that we work so that our employer doesn’t get a full forty. We may find other ways but we would never consider ourselves liars. The Bible says not to steal and we would never consider ourselves thieves. But are there areas where we, in fact, take what does not belong to us? Would we consider ourselves covetous and yet, do we look at those things that belong to others and secretly desire them? You see the Commandments are what we could call “straight talk” from God to mankind. He really doesn’t pull any punches. The bottom line is whether or not we will apply them to every area of our lives. You can take a plum line and you can hang it next to a wall and that plum line will reveal how crooked the wall is. The plum line could not make that wall straight. It can only reveal that it’s crooked. That’s the nature of the Ten Commandments. They are revealing, that in our nature, which is crooked, which is deceitful, which cannot be rationalized away. Why is that? It is to reveal our sinfulness so that, ultimately, we will come to Jesus Christ, who fulfills the Law, and find in Him salvation.
There’s a third reason and that is, to reveal a standard, a principle for Godly living. It’s fascinating, as I’ve begun studying these Commandments, that the first four reveal the relationship that we are to have with God. The next six, or the final six, reveal the relationship that we are to have with one another. So the foundation for these commands are that you are to have no other gods before you, you are not to create some other image, you are not to take His name in vain, you are to assign a day of worship and rest to Him. And on the basis of what we now have, in relationship with Him, now we will not kill, we will not steal, we will not covet, etc. So the beginning and the foundation is a relationship with God. A principle that reveals the standard whereby we can live in a way that pleases God.
Now, the next section of your notes is a comparison of the Law to several things. And this is an overview of things in scripture. The Law is compared to a mirror. It reveals man’s sin. James, chapter 1, verse 23, talks about looking into the mirror of the word and we should never look into it and see our reflection and leave, forgetting to put into practice what we have learned. So the Law, that which is perfect, that standard reveals who we are.
I think I may have mentioned, some time ago, my favorite painter is Norman Rockwell. And he has a painting that has always fascinated me. It is the lady standing at the counter at the butcher shop and the butcher has a turkey on the scale. And they are smiling at each other. And at first glance, everything looks just right. The lady is dressed all properly and the butcher is wearing his apron and his cap. But, if you look closely, you will notice, behind the turkey, the butcher’s thumb pressing down. And you will notice the lady discreetly pushing up with her finger. It is interesting when you consider that those individuals would never call themselves thieves. And yet, when you look into the mirror of the word, its perfect standard reveals man’s sin and sin nature.
It also is compared in scripture to a yolk. And that is, disobedience to the Law brings bondage. In bondage to sin.
It is also compared to a school master. The school master, in the New Testament time, was usually a trained slave that would take the children of the household and prepare them for adulthood. He is saying that the Law is, in a sense, a trained slave of His character and it prepares you for the way of Christ, who is the only one who can ever fulfill it.
And finally, the Law is compared to letters written on stone, in II Corinthians, chapter 3. As compared to the new law, the summation of the law, that is, the law of love that is written on our hearts.
Now remember, before we even begin to study, that the Law cannot do several things. I’m sure you are aware of this. I fear we fail to apply it. First of all, it can never justify from sin. Keeping all of the Law could never declare a man righteous. That must be an act whereby a righteous God gives us the declaration of righteousness and that is justification.
It also can never give righteousness. That is perfectness. These verses can be looked up on your own.
And thirdly, it could never produce peace. Following the Law could never produce peace. And let me apply that. You and I are so often intimidated. We are fooled by that moral person who may live next to us, who may work down the hall from us, who seems to be the epitome of clean living. And yet, if they do not know Jesus Christ, don’t be fooled, they do not have peace of mind. If you got behind the facade, if you got beneath that veneer, you would find a person who has difficulty in their thoughts. In fact, the scripture talks about one, who by the Law, could never receive a perfected conscience. So you may think, “Man, they’ve really got it together. They don’t need what I’ve got.” Don’t be fooled. They need Jesus Christ. Because even though they are, seemingly, the standard of morality, they do not have a clear, perfected conscience that only comes from knowing Christ.
With that said, now, as foundation, let’s take a look at Exodus, chapter 20. And we will cover the first commandment in the remainder of our time. The first commandment is, well, let’s begin with verse 1 of chapter 20, and we’ll work our way there. “Then God spoke all these words, saying,” - and here is what I want to give you, the presupposition of faith, in that first verse. I’m going to give you several points. The first is, “Then God spoke all these words”. And when I read that, and studied the way He would introduce His revelation, it reminded me of another passage we studied months ago, and that is Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1. Everything in Genesis, the first three chapters, are so hard to swallow by the liberal or the critic or the scoffer because they have never come to grips with the very first verse, “In the beginning God”. It is in the basis of faith in that God that I can believe that He created all of the things that He said He created. And you take that same thought to Exodus, chapter 20. It is on the basis of the fact that God spoke these commands and I believe that God gave these commands as revelation, then, on that basis, I can now believe. It IS wrong to kill. It IS wrong to steal. It IS wrong to covet. But that is built on faith in God. So, at the very beginning, we are speaking to the believer, the one who has acknowledged faith in God, that can ever hope to apply the principles in this chapter.
The second thing is the preeminence of God. Look at verse 2, He says, “I am the Lord your God” - “I am Yahweh, Elohim. I am preeminent.” He says, “I am the One” - “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.” You see how that is built upon the truth? Not only that we believe God exists but, that He is our Yahweh, He is preeminent in our lives, He is our Elohim, He is the master of our life.
There are many false conceptions of God and I’m speaking to the believer. Conceptions that make it impossible to apply revelation from God because we view God in a wrong fashion. In fact, I think He is beginning the Commandments by trying to straighten out the perception of the people as to who He is. I’ve given you, in your notes, something very practical. And I want to take time to give you five false conceptions of who God is. You may discover, in your own thinking, your own heart, one or more of these conceptions. Let me give them to you.
The first, we can call, an eager bellhop. I do not mean to be sarcastic but I think that that sums up an attitude that many people have toward God. This is the individual who carries your baggage. This person never argues with you because you are the person in charge, not Him. And all He could ever hope for, perhaps, is a smile and a pat on the back and maybe a tip. But you have Him around because he conveniently helps. The mistake is, ladies and gentlemen, in forgetting that this is a sovereign God. We should never fool ourselves into assuming that whatever we think is right, He thinks is right. In fact, Joshua, one time, was about to go into battle. And, you remember, in Joshua, chapter 5, verse 14, the angel of the Lord appeared, which is a pre-incarnate form of Jesus Christ. And He appears with a sword drawn, and Joshua says this, “Who’s side are you on, theirs or ours?” And the answer is incredible. The angel of the Lord said, “Neither. I command the host of heaven.” You see, that’s something that we need to straighten out in our thinking. It is not that He is on our side. It is that we are on His side and we claim allegiance to Him. He is the sovereign God. The point is, of that passage, not who’s side the Lord is on but who’s side we are on. We don’t demean His sovereignty. He is not a bellhop. He doesn’t carry our baggage. He is a master. He is a sovereign, powerful God.
I think another one is, a stern teacher, a school teacher. This is the kind of individual you remember. You had one or two of them that determined to ruin your life. I had one of those in junior high school. She was my science teacher. She was brilliant. And she made that known to everyone. And if you ever asked a question that seemed less than intelligent, she quickly put you in your place. And I was prone to ask questions that were less than intelligent. So after the first week, I determined never to ask another question. And to this day, I hate that atom chart. Some of you had teachers like that. We view God, perhaps, as a stern teacher, some killjoy who makes life miserable because He always wants to teach us lessons that are way to difficult. And if I ever ask a question, He makes me seem ridiculously foolish. Coming to church to worship Him is an obligation. It’s a drudgery. Perhaps you’ve watched, on public television, “Lake Woebegone Days.” That individual, Garrison Keeler(?), I think is how you pronounce his name, but he nick-named the church he went to, because it was a drudgery, it was a difficulty, God was someone less than enjoyable, he nick-named his church, “Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.” Jesus Christ said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden,” - “and I will make life difficult for you.” No. He said, “and I will give you rest.” The person who views God as that stern school teacher is someone who does not understand the compassion of God. And mind you, men and women, our perception of who God is affects our lives, affects the way we think and act.
Let me give you another one. Let’s call this one the impersonal scientist. This is the individual, somewhat like the other one, who has vast knowledge, who is very intelligent and intellectual but not emotional. This is the individual who seems far removed from the events of our lives. He is a thinker. He is brilliant. But he could never know how to communicate to me. And I really think that for an individual, like this man I quoted in the beginning who says that these things never relate, that is perhaps his perception of God. Some far removed, brilliant person who does not know how to communicate with mankind and doesn’t really know how to straighten things out. We also forget what is said of our God in Hebrews, chapter 4, that we have a High Priest who can sympathize with all of our difficulties because He was touched in every point like we are.
Let me give you another one. We’ll call this one, a doting grandfather. Picture in your mind, for those of you who are grandparents, you can easily do this, although you may not admit it, an individual who loves the grandchildren so much that just about anything goes, so long as they acknowledge your love, just to sit on your lap. We were in Atlanta, not long ago, and Nanny, as the kids call my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful grandparent, was in the living room. We had just gotten in, I think the kids were alone with her all day, and Candace was in her lap. And I was walking through the living room and I heard Nanny say to Candace to get down and go do something. I heard this pause and, you know, pauses are very loud things. And then I heard this, “NNNNo.” And I stopped and turned around and, about the time I turned around, I saw Nanny kind of look at her and then they broke into laughter and they hugged and Nanny said, “Isn’t she so cute! She’s got a mind of her own.” I wanted to send Nanny to her room. This is the view of God that He will just pat us on the head and let us do whatever we want. He’s just so happy we say He is our God and we’re in the family. This individual finds it very difficult to apply the Ten Commandments because he figures that God will let him off. God is not grandpa and He hears and sees everything.
I was reading, last week, of a gentleman, a grandfather who lived with his family. And he was losing his hearing and the family, sort of, ignored him. And he would sit over in his rocker and rock away unable to really hear what was going on. Finally, one day, he decided it was time to fix that. And he went down and he bought a couple of hearing aids and he could hear wonderfully. He came back, a couple of weeks later, to just get a check-up and the doctor said, “How is it going?” And he said, “Wonderful! I can hear everything.” The doctor said, “Your family must be so happy.” He said, “I haven’t told my family yet. I’ve just been sitting around listening.” And he said, “I’ve changed my will two times already.” No, that’s not God. Cute, but not Him. He is God.
The last one that I would give you is, God is, kind of, a “Mr. Fix-it.” He’s there whenever you get into a jam. He’s not there the rest of the time. He’s the kind of person you often hear people talking about; how they got into a difficulty and they prayed and something wonderful happened. But you wonder, “Where is God the rest of the time?” He’s, sort of, like a rabbit’s foot that you carry around. You can call His name if you need something. If you need a job, if you need something to work out, all of that, then you go running to God and He’ll fix everything. It is that view of Him that distorts our perspective. In fact, the Israelites had that problem. In I Samuel, chapter 4, they were having to battle the Philistines and they were having difficulty. So what did they do? They ran back and they got the ark. And they said, “If we can just bring this ark, which is the representation of God’s power and holiness into battle with us, we’ll win. No problem.” And God allowed them to lose. He is not a lucky charm. He is not a God that comes along and you can use Him whenever you want to, to make everything just perfect. He’s not a “Mr. Fix-it.” He is a sovereign God.
You can see how believing different perceptions of God changes the way we view revelation from God, can’t you? So God, in Exodus, chapter 20, says, “I want you to understand who I am. I am Yahweh. I am Elohim. I am powerful. I am in sovereign control and you are my people. You belong to Me.” And on the basis of the preeminence of His character, He graciously reminds them of His provision. He says, “In case you’ve forgotten the power of Elohim, remember,” verse 2b, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” - “Did you forget? I make a claim on you because I am the One who brought you out of Egypt. I parted the waters. I brought the plagues. I gave you liberty. I have a right to be your God.” Ladies and gentlemen, all those of you who have named Jesus Christ as your Savior, He has all rights in your life. He brought you out of the house of the slaves. He has forgiven. He has redeemed you. You now belong to Him. He has provided so much. Don’t forget.
And then, I think, the command could be summarized this way, and that is the prominence of God. Let’s look at verse 3 again, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Isn’t that a logical conclusion of everything we’ve said? In light of who He is, His preeminence, and His provision, in light of all that, and the presupposition of faith in Him as God, doesn’t it make sense that He would say, “Now, I am to be the only One.” He would take Israel out of a polytheistic world; that is, many gods; and He would make them monotheistic; that is, one God. He says, “I am the true God so don’t have any others trailing along. I’m it.” And Luther, of course, applied this to contemporary man by saying, “That is a God to whom you cherish and you yield your life. That is who your God is.” God says, “I want you cherishing Me. I alone hold the right to that position.” He says, “I don’t want any” - “other gods before Me.” The words “before Me,” “al panyim,” could be translated “in My face.” “I don’t want any gods in my face.” And He’ll go on in the next Commandments, that we’ll look at, and explain that in detail. He’s it. He alone is sovereign.
Let’s wrap it up with two thoughts. First of all, the Ten Commandments are universal, absolute truths. They are not changeable. They do not fluctuate between cultures. These are absolute because God is the God of the universe. He is the creator of all men. And, because of that, He has not only given us written revelation but, the writers of scripture say, He has written the Law on our hearts. And that is, in Romans, chapter 1, a perfect illustration of that person who does not know Jesus Christ but who knows the Law. You go to some remote tribe, in some distant country, and you get into that tribe and you observe, as missionaries have shared with us, and you will find that they know it is wrong to steal, it is wrong to commit adultery. And with that comes certain penalties. They don’t have this. It is a universal, absolute truth that is not only here but it is on the hearts of men and women. No one in America could ever claim that it is right to lie because they know in their hearts it is wrong. In fact, because of that, our sin nature produces in us a tendency to what? To lie. Did you teach your child how to lie? Where did he pick it up? Did you teach them to steal? Where do they grab that one from? There is a Law and, with that, is the opposition to that Law within every human being. These are universal, absolute truths. And, as this individual said, “Commandments are out because nobody likes to be commanded.” That is very true. The absolutes are being thrown out. No one likes, “Yes,” and “No.” We want all of it gray. Whatever makes YOU happy. Whatever YOU think you ought to do. The authority is gone because this book is, in effect, gone from their lives.
Note this as well, number two, the first commandment, as I’ve mentioned, is the foundation for the other nine. That is, my perspective of who God is, my acknowledgment to God as the sovereign God in my life, that then produces the foundation for me now not to steal, not to kill, not to covet, not to commit adultery. Why all of those things? How is it that I will never commit those, if possible? Why? Because I have yielded to the first commandment, which is the foundation that God is sovereign God in my life.
Let me ask you a question? Do you have a problem with honesty? Do you have a problem with coveting? Do you have difficulty with stealing? Do you know where we go to find the foundation for a solution? In acknowledging that God is to be the sovereign God in your life. By yielding to Him, I now have the basis whereby I can live honestly, I can live contentedly. This is the foundation for the other nine. The question is, is God prominent, is He preeminent? The false conceptions, are they present in my life? Is He a bellhop, a teacher, a scientist, a grandfather, a fix-it? Or is He, as He declares to the Israelite, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” - “Therefore” - “You shall have no other gods” - “in My face. I alone rule in your life.” Is He prominent? Is He preeminent? That’s the question of command number one. Let’s pray.