Summary: Many today take little account of the ten commandments. We do well to be reminded of them, and be aware of our failure and need of a Saviour
Some years ago the ‘Times’ carried an article by Charles Bremner under the heading ‘Sense and Sensitivity’ In it Bremner observed:
The Politically Correct culture….chimes with the way the country (the USA) is fleeing from risk and moral judgment into the realm of ‘victim logy’ Every guest on a talk show is a ‘survivor’ of some kind, blaming everything from alcoholism to bankruptcy on malignant parents or low self-esteem.
And of course, it is not just the politically correct, nor just the populace of the USA who like to evade moral responsibility. A sign of the times is the neglect of the Ten Commandments: even ten years ago a ‘Harris’ poll showed only 25 percent of ‘top people’ could remember half of them- and I doubt if that has improved over the intervening years.
But the Ten Commandments come as a salutary reminder that they are just that: commandments of God- a God whose word stands for ever. However much we may forget them; however much we may try to pass the blame, the Commandments remain, and I would like to spend a few minutes looking at them. Not in detail, one-by-one, but at the underlying principles.
The Commandments fall into two groups.
We begin in the first four with God. Just like the Beatitudes, just like the Bible itself. ‘In the beginning God’. Therefore, we begin with God, reminding us of just his primacy.
You shall have no other gods before me.
God is our Creator, and on that basis alone God has the right of first place. Every breath we draw, we draw only because God allows us to, our tenure of life is very insecure. Yet we presume to be our own god, our own rule-maker, arbiter and judge.
Human society thinks it can get along very well without God, and for many the word ‘God’ is merely an expletive- and this of course is just to break another commandment. Let us understand that human society everywhere is in rebellion against God. Many will express belief in ‘a god’; many will turn to God in prayer in times of crisis and emergency: the wonder is that God will answer such prayer toward himself. But that God should in any way proscribe what we do and have a say in the conduct of our lives- well that’s something very different!
The fourth of the God-ward commands forges a bridge between our responsibility toward God and toward the society in which we live. His primary interest may be in each individual and toward forming a personal relationship, but God is concerned with our society and that that society honour him. And that society should most clearly honour him by keeping the Sabbath Day holy. Now, of course, the ‘Sabbath’ is not the Jewish Sabbath. But the principle of setting one day aside to be special still stands. It is the day which should be ‘holy’. It is to remember God‘s special place as Creator. The Christian society should keep one day aside to remember the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and equally our deliverance from sin. This is the ‘religious’ case for ‘keeping Sunday special’ There are other potent factors: there is the clear human need for a day of rest; a day for the family to focus on life’s true meaning. It was the atheistic Soviet state under Stalin that first tried to abolish Sunday, and it didn’t work! It is a measure of the godlessness of today’s culture that Sunday is fast becoming ‘just another day’.
Then come the six commandments regulating our outward conduct.
There are the four ‘thou shalt not’s with which so may people associate the commandments as though God were some kind of cosmic spoilsport! There’s the story of a vicar who suspected one of his parishioners of having an adulterous affair, so he preached a sermon on the Ten Commandments. He waxed eloquent we he came to the forbidden adultery. When he came to the one on false witness he remembered where he’d left his cycle!
The first is a positive command to ‘honour your father and mother’. Today, in the spirit of the quote I began with. We tend to load all the blame on them for all our failures, shortcomings and sufferings. God is concerned with the family and promises longevity to those who honour the family ties. Family break-up is another measure of today’s godlessness, and one wonders whether this has anything to of with the rising tide of stress-related deaths, that family commitments count for so little. The last command, ‘You shall not covet’ I’m coming back to.
First I want to recall the absolute and all-embracing nature of the Commandments.
God expects, as is his right, absolute obedience. 1 John 3:4 says sin is lawlessness and indeed when we break any one of these commands we commit a sin Let us remember that Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, put a much sharper edge on the commandments: to be angry without cause was to be guilty of murder: to lust after a woman was to commit adultery. The Bible also tells us that when we break one commandment we are guilty of breaking the lot. The Commandments hen show us two things