In the previous post we looked at ways in which we American Christians have broken the first four of the Ten Commandments that we claim to live by. Granted, we don’t exactly live under the Jewish Torah and Covenant. But Jesus actually holds us to a higher standard, not a lower one. He summarized all the Law and the Prophets into these Two Commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. The first four of the Ten Commandments regard the first and greatest command. The last six guide our relationships with others. Love God. Love others.
But how good of a job have we done with even those two commands? Not very well when the words non-Christians use to describe us include judgmental, arrogant, too political, hateful, homophobic, hypocritical, and so on. Jesus said people will know we are his disciples by our love. Not by our slogans or open letters or bumper stickers or political affiliation.
If we want to make a difference, if we want to make a change, then we have to get back to the basics. We have to relearn what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have to be real and honest about the ways we’ve gotten it wrong. And we have to repent – not just saying “I’m sorry,” but truly changing our actions and attitudes.
5. Honor your father and mother.
This is huge in a couple different ways. First, think about how youth-focused our society is. Think about all the animosity between the generations there is online and in the world at large. We have not done a good job of honoring our parents, our ancestors, and those who have gone before us. We view the elderly as a drain on society and the economy. More people are living longer than ever (under normal circumstances), but we are not tapping into the wealth of wisdom and lived experiences they offer.
But the older generations aren’t off the hook. Have our parents’ and grandparents’ always acted honorable? Have they made decisions that have damaged the respect the younger generations have for them? As a youth minister, I have a great desire to see the generations come together, encourage each other, and develop lasting relationships. But what I see is an older generation that looks down on the youth in society because they don’t understand them, and a younger generation that has contempt for their elders based on the decisions of the past and the attitudes that linger into the present.
What are we in the church doing to correct this? Little to nothing in my experience.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that mothers are included in this command. It wasn’t just the father who is to be honored. The mother is to be given her due, too. All throughout the Bible we see little hints at how God is trying to subvert the patriarchy and male dominance. Special honor is to be given to women as well as men, mothers as well as fathers. This was radical in Moses’ day, and it’s STILL radical today. The church must do a better job of honoring the legacy of the women who have pioneered the way before us and those women who keep our churches running. Give them a voice. Tap into their wisdom and leadership.
God in heaven, we pray your forgiveness for our foolish and hurtful attitudes towards those in other generations. We fail to show each other honor and respect. We see families falling apart because of this, and we are worse off as a society because we refuse to listen to each other. Help us to reach out to those who differ in age. Help us to show honor to whom honor is due without making up excuses or looking on them with contempt. And help us in the church to show the world what it looks like to pursue equality among people of different ages and genders.
6. You shall not murder.
Don’t kill people. Got it. Next!
Not so fast….
Using the whole, “It’s not like I’ve ever killed anyone,” line to justify other bad behavior is a super low bar to cross. There have been books and books written on this command as it relates to things like war and capital punishment – both of which I believe Christians should be firmly against – but that’s a discussion for another time.
You may not have killed anyone, but have you hated them? Have you been so angry that you wished them dead? Or made a mockery of their very existence and identity? There is murder in our hearts when we believe our political views are worth starting fights and riots. There is murder in our hearts when we degrade and curse our brother or sister. There is murder in our hearts when we applaud the death of our enemies. Don’t believe me? Go back and read the Sermon on the Mount.
A helpful exercise to get to the heart of these commands is to reword them. What is the positive insistence behind the prohibition? You shall not murder. = You shall preserve and honor life.
Does being “pro-life” mean that we’re only against abortion? Or are we against the death penalty, war, police brutality, and systemic racism, too? If we’re not pro-life from the womb to the tomb, then we are failing to live by the heart of the sixth command.
Creator of life, we repent of the times when we have not honored and cherished life like we should. We repent of rejoicing at the death of our enemies. We are sorry for harboring hatred, anger, bitterness, and grudges towards others. We have considered some lives expendable and have not held to a consistent pro-life ethic across all of human experience. May we seek to preserve and honor all life and to dismantle any systems or attitudes that would bring about death and destruction of those you love.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
Written in the positive, I believe this would say, “Honor and preserve your marriage covenants. Stay faithful and loyal to your spouse.”
It’s difficult to talk about what a “Biblical marriage” is because there are so many different examples of customs and cultures. Is polygamy “Biblical?” From one perspective, yes. But is it sanctioned by God? Not necessarily. The interesting thing to me is that one can still be guilty of adultery even with multiple wives – like King David.
But what I really want us to think about is Christ’s standard for marriage. When the disciples heard Jesus equate divorce and remarriage to adultery, they made the understandable leap that it would be better not to marry. Marriage is HARD. But so is divorce. We are seeing right now in our society a drastic drop in the marriage rate as more young adults put off marriage until later or write it off completely.
Add to that the rampant use and abuse of pornography, is it any wonder why our committed relationships are under fire? The sad reality is that rates of divorce, adultery, and pornography use are not much different inside the church than outside. Can we really claim to support “traditional” or “Biblical” marriage when we don’t actually value the marriage covenant like we should? The world sees that and scoffs. We should be showing the world what it means to honor our marriage covenants and the beauty that comes from a marriage that reflects the oneness of loving community of the Godhead.
Father, we are sorry for not upholding our marriage covenants. We repent for viewing marriage as a temporary thing that can be broken apart based on our feelings. I pray that those struggling with porn addictions are able to get the help they need to overcome it. I pray for those in struggling marriages to get the help and counseling they need. May we fight against the temptations of adultery and lust. May we fight to preserve and honor our covenants to one another for the sake of your glory.
8. You shall not steal.
I think the best way to sum of the spirit of this command is from Paul’s letter to Ephesus: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28).
It’s frightening to me that the people of Israel were accused of stealing from God by withholding their tithes or by not being generous to the poor and needy. Stealing isn’t just taking something that doesn’t belong to you. It can also be not giving what you have to help others and honor God. According to the studies I’ve seen, the average churchgoer gives only 2% of their income to the church. Are we stealing from God by not giving him that which is already his? How much more good could be done in the world if all Christians gave closer to 10%? Some estimate that the church could completely eradicate global poverty and hunger if we all gave at that level.
Giving is and act of faith. It shows that we trust God to do more with our money than we could do on our own. When we withhold our giving, it’s the same as stealing. We are operating out of a scarcity mindset, believing there isn’t enough money or resources to go around. Jesus made it clear that he wants his followers to live out of an abundance mindset. With Christ, there is always more than enough to go around.
God, forgive us for hoarding our wealth and resources rather than sharing them with those in need. May we give freely of that which you have freely given us. We repent of our greed and our stinginess. May you bless us with a Spirit of generosity in this new year.
9. You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.
Once again, Paul does the work of reframing this command in Ephesians 4: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”
I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but there has been an alarming rise in the number of conspiracy theories gaining traction around the internet. It’s particularly upsetting to see Christians believing and spreading falsehoods about people and institutions. I’ve heard it said, “It’s easier to fool a man than to convince him that he’s been fooled.” Why is that? Because of our cognitive biases.
Once we believe a lie, it’s difficult to then believe the truth and admit that we were wrong. Conspiracy theories are meant to enrage. They give us a sense of social connection and identity. And most of the time they start by “just asking questions” and “doing your own research.” But that’s no different than the serpent whispering to Eve, “Did God really say…?”
Anti-vaxxers spread the lie that scientists and doctors are acting maliciously to harm the general public. Flat-earthers spread the lie that every single person working at NASA and other government agencies are purposefully deceiving the public because…reasons. Q-Anon conspiracy theorists are spreading the increasingly dangerous lie about the “deep state” covering up a child sex trafficking ring. These conspiracies and more are a direct violation of the ninth command. They are not based in truth, and they are spreading false testimony about people. These lies have real world consequences as we’ve seen time and time again over the past several years.
It’s sad to see many Christians caught up in these conspiracies when the Christ we follow told us that we will know the Truth, and the Truth will set us free. Jesus is the Truth. I see many Christians, however, take the stance of Pilate when he asked, “What is truth?”
Father, may we be a people who live in the truth and reality of who you are. We repent for spreading lies, rumors, gossip, and conspiracies. May the words we say and type be based in truth. When everything in the world is so uncertain, may we cling to the Truth of Christ. We are sorry for the damage we may have done to our neighbors by spreading false testimony against them. Forgive us, for sometimes we literally don’t know what we’re doing. May we seek to always find and share the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
10. You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor.
We know what it means to be jealous or envious. But we don’t really use the word “covet” a lot. [side note: stop saying things like, “I covet your prayers.” That’s not what the word means.] I appreciate this definition from dictionary.com: to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.
Christians, we have been guilty of coveting political power above all else for the last several decades. We want the power and authority to pass laws and make policy no matter the cost. For far too long the ends have justified the means. We have developed an unholy alliance with the State. We have trampled on the rights of minorities, the poor, and those on the fringes of society in order to get what we want. This has to stop.
Jesus never coveted the throne of Herod or Caesar. His throne was a cross. His way was the way of self-denial. He told us that the greatest among us would be the servant of all. Even he did not come to be served but to serve. Paul tells us to look out for the interests of others and to honor one another above ourselves. To opposite of covetousness is contentment. “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” Paul says. He also told the church in Philippi that he knew how to be content no matter the situation because of the strength he found in Christ.
To be content with what we have does not mean we accept and preserve the status quo. This world definitely has things that need to be changed and improved. Our task as God’s people is not to get our own lives in order so that we can go to heaven when we die. Our task is to be part of the work of God to bring the Kingdom of Heaven here. But we don’t do that by coveting power and authority in the government, doing whatever is necessary and making moral compromises so we can install conservative judges. Jesus made it very clear that his followers don’t “lord” authority over others “like the Gentiles do.” We work to make our families, our communities, and our nations a little more like heaven every day from the ground up, not from the top down. It starts by being content with what we have so that we can be more generous to others.
Father, forgive our foolish ways that have been plagued by envy, jealousy, and covetousness. Help us to find contentment in what we have through the strength Christ gives us. Help us to live into the life of self-denial, taking up our crosses to follow Jesus. May we let go of the need to wield power and authority. May we give up the desire to lord over others. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, for that will be enough for us.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
I’ve heard some Hebrew scholars discuss how that could also be understood as “love your neighbor as your equal.” Jesus made it clear to it’s not just about loving those who are just like you. When we try to define who our neighbor is, like the lawyer in Luke 10, we are implying that there are some people who aren’t our neighbor. Jesus said to be a neighbor. He also said to love our enemies, because sometimes they are our neighbors, too.
This command to love your neighbor sums up the last six of the Ten Commandments. I like what Paul says in Romans 13:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.Romans 13:8-10
Christians, if the world is going to know that we are his disciples, we must take seriously Christ’s call to love one another as he has loved us. He laid down his life for us, surrendering his rights and privileges on our behalf even while we were still his enemies. He calls us to do the same.
We’ve made a mess of things over the last several years. It’s time to admit that we’ve been wrong. We’ve made bad decisions. We have sullied the name and reputation of God among the nations. We must repent and get serious about following the commands of God. May we all live lives worthy of the calling that we have received. May we live such good lives among the people that though they accuse us of doing wrong they may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.