Summary: Optional but important intro to a series on The Ten Commandments. Christians should live according to the commandments because, a) God gave them, b) They help us fulfill our role in his plan for salvation, and c) They are a guide to freedom.
WHY THE TEN COMANDMENTS? Exodus 19:1-6, 20:1-2
A TV personality had as a guest on his show a congressman, who was advocating for display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. When asked why the commandments should be put on display, the congressman answered, “Well, the Ten Commandments is not a bad thing for people to understand and to respect. Where better place could you have something like that than in a judicial building?” Then the congressman was asked, “What are the Ten Commandments,” and he struggled to come up with 3 of them! Maybe a better place for the commandments would be on his desk! (Note to preacher: This was on The Colbert Report, and the guest was Congressman Westmoreland. The clip is probably available online.)
We might laugh at the congressman, but his predicament reflects how the Ten Commandments are viewed in today’s culture. Many people think the Ten Commandments are a good thing to have around, but they don’t take them very seriously in their own lives. Others think they are outdated or irrelevant in today’s world.
As we begin a detailed study of the Ten Commandments, we want to think about this question:
WHY SHOULD WE LIVE ACCORDING TO THE TEN COMMANDMENTS?
1. GOD GAVE THE TEN COMMANDMENTS!
The commandments do not begin with “Thou shalt not…” They begin like this: Read Exodus 20:1-2.
“GOD spoke all these words…” These are not anonymous words posted by one of your “friends” on social media—something like “Ten Rules for a Better Life,” or “Ten Ways to Make the World a Better Place.” These are the words of “the Lord your God.” These are the words of the only wise God, who created the universe, gave life to humanity, and knows how life works. These of the words of Yahweh (Jehovah), who took on Pharaoh and the gods of the Egyptians in the ten plagues, and by his “mighty hand” (8X in chapters 3-14) delivered his people from bondage. He is the holy and righteous God, who will judge all people.
If we don’t begin with God, the Ten Commandments are only ten suggestions, or ten rules we might want to follow. Whatever.
God wanted his people to take his words seriously, so he gave Moses a message to pass on to them. He told them who he was, he defined their relationship to him, and he was clear about his expectations. Read Exodus 19:4-8.
The people were pretty confident in their ability to obey God’s commands! Yet God knew they weren’t really taking him seriously, so he put on an awesome display of his power and holiness. Read Exodus 19:16-25.
Why did God put on a sound and light show, designed to evoke shock and awe? The answer is immediately after the list of commandments: Read Exodus 20:18-20. God wanted the people to “fear” him.
What does it mean to “fear” God? Does God want us to be afraid of him, cower in abject dread of what he might do to us, or even hide from him? No, that is not what Moses meant. In fact, he said, “Do not be afraid…the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” If we are afraid of God, it is because we don’t understand that he is for us, not against us—or it is because we are rebelling against him.
Fear of God can be a good thing, because it can keep us from sinning. Without a healthy fear of God, people are inclined to say, “I know God says _____________, but I am going to do what I want to do. God will just have to understand.” No, YOU have to understand the awesome holiness of God! Fear of God might keep you from making a big mistake! You don’t lie, commit adultery, or fudge on your tax returns, not because you don’t want to, but because the thought of disobeying God is horrifying. That is healthy fear!
When we don’t fear God, we might be driven by other fears or pressures. A young person might fear rejection or loneliness, and join in sinful activities to fit in. A businessman might be driven by fear of failure, and commit dishonest acts to get ahead. Someone might be afraid to speak out, in the face of destructive lies or abusive behavior.
G.K Chesterton said, “We fear men so much, because we fear God so little.” When our greatest fear is to go against the commands of God, the pressures we face will fade in comparison. Jesus said it more graphically: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:4-5)