Summary: A New look at the Ten Commandments for a postmodern age
Sermon on Fundamental Principles
Exodus 20 : 1 – 17
As we explore the wanderings in the desert after the Exodus in our series, we arrive today at what is considered very important in this experience. The Israelites have now become an established nation and they needed the law. No society can function without a set of rules but notice that this was not just any society. God himself provided the law because they were God’s people. Deuteronomy 4 : 1 makes clear the purpose of the law and gave the following reasons: (1) The law provides life (2) It allows for the realization of the dream of reaching the promise land. Thus, the law is a roadmap for a peaceful society and for a life-sustaining relationship. No society can survive in anarchy and no society can realize its potential when there is no rule of law. The English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes, in reflecting on the conditions of humans in this world commented that life is brutish and short and so in order for us to have a peaceful and fruitful society, it is necessary for us to give up some personal freedom and come to an agreement to live together with a set of rules so we can prosper. He noted that the conditions of human are that of everyone at war with everyone else. We all want different things, but sometimes what you want is different from what I want and in the process conflict develop. Because resources in our world are limited and human desires and needs are insatiable, the late Paul Tillich said, conflicts arise as we all fight over whatever is found. Conflict arises, over money because money is in short supply. We fight over land, food and all that are not enough to go around. For the Isrealites to build a good society, laws were needed and so Jehovah God himself provided the law.
Let me give you a few short facts about what we have come to call the Ten Commadments. The word Commandment was not found until the King James translation of the Bible in 1603. For the first time, that translation known as the Authorized Version used the word the Ten Commandments and other translations have followed suit. Earlier versions in Hebrew called them ten matters, some used ten sayings and others ten terms. Our Lord referenced the passage and added love as a part of it (Matt. 19 : 16 - 19). St Paul also in Rom. 13: 8 – 10 mentioned just five and following our Lord’s example inserted love. The human relation part in the commandment, according to Paul will be unnecessary in the presence of neighborly love.
I will not subject you to the long history and theological disputes on this ancient passage. My focus this morning is to see how this ancient rule, written thousands of years ago applies to our postmodern life. You see, some have a tendency to think that the word is for those who are not “sophisticated” but I come here to tell you that despite our assumed sophistication and scientific knowledge, the word of God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. In a letter that St Paul wrote to the young evangelist, Timothy, he reminded the young man that the word of God was written for our instruction and righteous living (2 Tim 3 : 16).
Return with me to our passage and let us explore how that word speaks to us today in our postmodern world. I will follow the modern interpretation and will not engage in the controversy whether it is indeed ten, twelve, thirteen or fourteen laws. I will not engage in the debate whether it was really laws since the commandments do not recommend punishments for violations. I will follow St. Paul’s recommendations not to engage in frivolous debates in instructing adherents of the gospel since such debate is capable of ruin and ungodliness (2Tim. 2 – 14 – 16) . There is a place and time for such debates in academic papers but not in church. Let us then examine the commandments:
The Commandments contain what may be called fundamental principles for nations and individuals:
1. True religion
2. Do not take innocent lives (Murder)
3. Do not damage relationships and family bonds (Parental respect)
4. Respect commerce and avoid misrepresentation (false witness)
5. Respect for personal property (theft and covetousness)
One can write a book on each of these principles but let us examine our obligation and the importance of each of these principles and you will see that the commandments are not articles of faith of a bygone period but apply to us today in our postmodern period.
The world is sometimes confused on what to follow and what faith really is. There was a time that humans thought science will provide the answers to human problems until WWI brought the realization that science is part of the human problem. We have seen the destructive effect of science and the scientific enterprise and have come to know that science do not have all the answers. Genetic engineering can now put in the palms of our hands who dies and who lives. WE now have smart bombs that seek out heat and kill and we have managed to increase the temperature of our planet such that the intensity of storms is getting stronger by the year. Our Lord gave us the solution to true religion. It is not an invention of a new ideology or deciding if lower taxes is the Christian thing to do, it is loving each other (Matt. 19 : 16 – 19). There have been many false religions in our time. Rather than seek to bring people together to each other and to God, some religions have sought to destroy lives and sow discord. When a religion seeks to teach humans who to fear and who to destroy, we have failed to be the people of God. Jesus specifically mentioned love as a guiding principle of those who follow him. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13 : 35). You cannot discriminate and be racist and call yourself a Christian. In our postmodern world, religion has been the source of conflict, rather than the source of unity. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called Sundays, the most segregated days of the week in America. Thou Shalt have no other God before me speaks of the need to acknowledge that we worship the same God and walk under the shadow of a single cross.