The Ninth and Tenth Commandments

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
March 22, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

                                            The Ninth and Tenth Commandments

Scripture Reading:  Exodus 20:1-17 (excerpts)

Then God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol. … You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. … Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Today we complete our sermon series on the Ten Commandments. I’m covering two commandments today because when we had to cancel church because of snow on February 22, I lost one of the ten Sundays I had scheduled for this series. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and so it will be time to move from the Old Testament to the New. It will be time to move from the words of promise and covenant that we have found in these Ten Commandments to their realization and fulfillment in the new covenant. Next Sunday is time to celebrate the New Testament hope of Jesus, amen?

And now, to our series …

Today’s commandments—the ninth and tenth—are, in short, you shall not bear false witness and you shall not covet. But I’m going to turn these around and look at the tenth commandment before the ninth, because the tenth commandment is really where it all begins. “You shall not covet” is about our thought life—and we all know that everything we say and everything we do originates in what we think. This tenth commandment addresses that part of our being that has not yet reached expression. It is a thought, a feeling, an impulse, an idea, that we must decide what to do with. For the sake of illustration, let’s assume that we’re talking about a negative thought. Now, we may decide to speak it—which takes us to our ninth commandment: bearing false witness or, more literally according to the Hebrew, speaking falsely, dealing fraudulently. Or we may decide to act on it—which takes us back to our eighth commandment (stealing) or our seventh (adultery or other forms of unfaithfulness) or our sixth (murder of body or spirit). Or we may decide to uproot that thought and not give heed to it at all, choosing to honor God and be obedient to his commands. From heart, to mouth, to hands—or not. The choice is really ours.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” And Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, quoted the Proverb and took it the next step: “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

And that takes us back to the ninth commandment: “You shall not bear false witness.” I said a moment ago that this really means, according to the Hebrew, speaking falsely or dealing fraudulently. When Jesus listed the commandments to the rich young man, he said simply, “You shall not defraud.” But some (and I think we can blame the King James Version for this) interpret it as “you shall not lie,” and so they insist on indiscriminately telling every “truth,” regardless of how brutal, regardless of how it may affect the spirit of the hearer. But it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, isn’t it, and what does brutal truth-telling reveal about a heart?

You know that I’ve been using Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s book on the Ten Commandments as a resource for this sermon series. Dr. Laura has something to say about this. She writes, “Often, when a caller to my radio program wants to reveal a truth because, [the caller] protests, “Honesty is the best policy,” I challenge the caller with, “Oh yeah? All honesty is worth speaking. Okay, you’re ugly and you’re stupid and people hate you.” This is usually met with immediate, profound silence. [And then I ask them,] “Do you still think all honesty is best spoken?”

Sometimes, honesty kills. Sometimes, in light of compassion, goodness and sociability, we must “alter the truth” a bit. <<Look at Nathan.>> Honey, does this robe make me look fat? Well, of course it does. It must add 50 pounds. You can’t tell how big I am when I have this thing on! But you wouldn’t tell me that! Because you’re kind and compassionate. And using the truth in that way—to break my spirit—would be, in a sense, bearing false witness against me.

Dr. Laura says, “Lying is a very serious matter that can undermine our personal, marital, and social relationships. Telling the whole truth can sometimes do the same thing. We should assume that all forms of lying are forbidden, unless it is to save a life, foster justice, or demonstrate profound compassion and goodness.”

As Christians, we need to pay attention to how we use the truth. Is it to build up? Or is it to tear down? When we pray, “Change my heart, oh God.[1] Make it ever true. Change my heart, oh God. May I be like you,” do we remember that to be like God is to desire the very best for every single member of the human race? Every time we speak, we must ask ourselves, “Do my words bring life or destroy it?”

My pastor in Longmont used to begin every sermon by reciting Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” What a wonderfully humble way to make sure she didn’t get in the way of what God wanted to do in that moment. And I truly believe that is the longing of each one of our hearts—to be in the center of God’s will, doing, saying, thinking that which will bring glory to God.

And back to the big picture—the “moral of the whole story.” Bringing glory to God is why God gave us the Ten Commandments. When the people of Israel first received them, they lived among foreigners. They had just been delivered from slavery in Egypt and had made their way into the land God had promised to give them. But there were still inhabitants of that land, and those inhabitants worshiped other gods—foreign gods, mysterious gods who, because they were not God, did not speak to their followers. To the people of those lands, worshiping a god meant trying to guess what would please that god, and trying to do everything in such a time and manner as to not anger that god and have to suffer the consequences. It was a guessing game, and fraught with assumption and superstition.

And then along came the people of Israel—worshipers of Yahweh, Jehovah, the great I Am—and this God says, “I don’t want to keep you in suspense. I am going to enter into covenant with you by telling you what will please me. I am going to write it down for you, with my very finger, on tablets of stone, so you will never forget what it means to be in relationship with me.” This was such a game-changer! Such a radical, unheard-of thing for a God to do! And the awe and respect for this God of Israel spread throughout the surrounding nations, because this God actually spoke to his people! That is what I hope we will get, more than anything, from this series. God goes out of his way to communicate with us—to be in relationship with us! These commandments are not a burdensome set of rules and regulations laid upon us by a fear-mongering god; they are covenant, they are freedom; they are peace. And if we follow them, they help us live in peace—with God and with our fellow humans. I was telling a friend about this approach to the Ten Commandments, and she said, “I’ve never thought about them as making my life easier; I’ve always thought of them as being a legalistic set of rules that are impossible to live under. And because we can’t obey them, we still needed a savior, so God sent Jesus.” And she’s right, too. I think it’s both/and. After all, Jesus came to bring salvation, but he also said he didn’t come to abolish the law; he came to fulfill it. And as much as we cherish our “freedom in Christ,” we must remember that Jesus still wants us to honor God’s commands. Recall his words to his followers, in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. … Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The Ten Commandments are not obsolete, a thing of the past, for the Jews but not for us. They are the basis on which an ordered society—a godly society—lives, and they are a gift from God. Jesus affirmed that. So, let us, as Jesus said, do them and teach them, so that through our faith and obedience, we may bring glory to our faithful, loving God!

Amen.

[1] Eddie Espinosa. Maranatha Music Praise: Hymns and Choruses.