THE GOSPEL FULFILLS THE LAW, Part 5

We have been studying the Ten Commandments and how they relate to the teachings of the New Testament.  The Decalogue, also known as the Ten Commandments or the Law of Moses, was given by God to Israel.  Although not binding on Gentiles, through our relationship with Jesus Christ we are free to obey the righteous demands of the Law.  1 Timothy 1:8 says—

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.

1.  Keep the Sabbath, Deuteronomy 5:12—15; Hebrews 6:6—11

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.  (Deut. 5:2)

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.  (Heb. 4:11)

In the ancient world, a “day of rest” was rare; it was common for people to work all day, every day.  Very often a person’s survival depended on it!   Here was another Law that set the Jews apart from every other people on earth.  Just as circumcision was a mark of the covenant, so was stopping work for one day a week; it was a testimony to all the nations that surrounded Israel that they were set apart and different.

So important was this Law that not only was the human population to cease their labors, every living creature in Israel was to stop and rest.  Obviously, the purpose of this admonition was not just spiritual in nature; it was to stand as a visible witness to the world that Israel was different and it was probably very healthy to take a break and not work themselves and their animals to death.

In the book of Hebrews, the command to cease from physical work is fulfilled in a completely different way.  In the letter to the Hebrews, the author takes great pains to explain the sometimes complicated relationship between the old and new covenants and how the Law guided people toward a greater, deeper spiritual truth.  The greatest spiritual truth is faith.  The ancient Jews obeyed the letter of the Law in hopes of pleasing God and gaining entrance into heaven.  But now, as Hebrews points out, the Jews, who were using the Law improperly, could now use it properly.  The old Sabbath “day of rest” has been replaced by a new Sabbath in Christ Jesus; this new Sabbath is actually a Sabbath of rest from “spiritual works.”  God’s work has been completed in Christ, and all people need to do is simply trust in what God has done.  Faith brings the benefits of the finished work of Christ into a person’s life.

2.  Honor your parents, Deut. 5:16; Matt. 15:3—6

Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.  (Deut. 5:16)

And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?  (Matt. 15:3)

With commandment number five, the emphasis changes from man’s duties to God to his relationship with other people, namely, with parents.  In Hebrew culture, the role of a parent went beyond just caretaking and raising children.  Parents were key in passing on the national religion to the next generation.  There were no books or schools, so religious, moral, and ethical instruction flowed from the parents.

The word “honor” is a weighty word in any language.  It means to “hold in high esteem,” “to respect,” “to treat fairly, with integrity.”  So, to honor parents meant much, much more than merely obeying them.  To honor them implies to love them, to regard them highly, to show a constant spirit of respect and consideration to them.

The Old Testament did not tolerate children of any age dishonoring their parents.  All selfish obedience, obedience under duress or terror did not count.

In Matthew 15, Jesus is once again in conflict with the religious leaders of His day.  This time, the Pharisees and the Scribes traveled some 100 miles to pester Jesus.  These religious types wanted to know why Jesus’ disciples broke the traditions of the elders.  The “elders” were the great teachers of the past and present and their “traditions” generally had nothing to do with the Law of Moses.  The tradition the disciples broke was not washing their hands before eating.  This refers to “ceremonial washing,” not that they ate with dirty hands (Mark 7:2—4 gives a more complete explanation of this custom).

To rebuff them, Jesus charges that they themselves were breaking the Law of Moses with their human traditions.  Specifically, they were breaking the fifth commandment.  How were they breaking this Law from God?  In truly despicable fashion, the Pharisees had figured out a clever way to circumvent the burden of honoring their parents and they taught children how to do it.  They taught that a son who was obligated to care for his parents could declare that the money needed to support them was already set aside as an offering—a gift to God.  In doing so, the son was now freed from looking after his parents.

No wonder Jesus called these religious phonies “hypocrites.”  They put human opinions and ideas ahead of God’s Word in order to justify their sin.

3.  Honor life, Deut. 5:17; Matt. 5:21—22

You shall not murder.  (Deut. 5:17)

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  (Matt. 5:22)

Death was all around the Israelites; pagan nations lived in filth and squalor and practiced all kinds of perverse human torture and sacrifice.  But the Jews, once again, were to be different from the nations all around them; life was to be treated with dignity, respect, and was to be preserved.  One pithy sentence was enough for the people; taking life by murder was strictly forbidden.

In the New Testament, Jesus had a habit of looking not at the Ten Commandments as a list of rules, but discerning the very core of the human heart and how that core related to the Commandments.  To Him, it was the spirit behind the words that was important, not merely the words themselves.

As far as Jesus was concerned, the act of murder begins, not with the act itself, but in the heart, long before a person is physically hurt.  So Jesus did not annul the sixth commandment, He gave it a higher interpretation.  If a person is harbors anger in his heart, the germ of murder is there.

It is so important to make sure that you have no anger or bitterness in your heart that even before going to worship, you must be reconciled to your brother.   How important is this teaching?  Jesus begins it with the phrase, “But I tell you.”  In the Greek, this is a very emphatic statement; the pronoun is included in the verb form.  What this means is that either Jesus had the biggest ego in the world, or that He was exactly who He claimed to be, the Son of God, and that He is speaking with God’s authority.

4.  Honor marriage, Deut. 5:18; Matt. 5:27—30

You shall not commit adultery.  (Deut. 5:18)

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:28)

Sexual purity in marriage was extremely rare in the days of the ancient Hebrews.  Because Israel was to be a separate and distinct nation from all nations around them, their society and culture had to be distinctly different.  A society’s sexual boundaries are always a good indicator of that society’s overall sense of morality and ethics.  The broader the sexual boundary, the broader the moral and ethical boundaries become until any kind of perverse behavior and lifestyle is accepted.  Israel, called to be set apart and distinctly different, was called to exalt the marriage relationship in a way that demonstrated not only their commitment to it, but also their commitment to the Law of God.

Jesus, when quoting this commandment, gave it a deeper and higher interpretation.  He taught that in the sight of God a wrong intention is as sinful as a wrong deed, and God alone sees both.  The “wrong intention” here is a man who looks lustfully at a woman.  This does not describe “seeing” a woman, it describes a man looking intently at a woman in order to lust after her.   Just “seeing” an woman is  innocent, what Jesus is describing here is anything but innocent.  Naturally, it goes without saying that what applies to men also applies to women.

Jesus’ teaching here on adultery points to a greater teaching.  Externally observing the commandments was never enough.  Paying lip service to the teaching of Jesus is not enough; it is what is in your heart that counts.

5.  Do not steal, Deut. 5:19; Eph. 4:28

You shall not steal.  (Deut. 5:19)

Those who have 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.  (Eph. 4:28)

The issue of personal property was as important to the ancient Hebrews as it is to modern Americans.  The roots of  our laws can be traced to the Ten Commandments and especially to this one, from which our personal property rights emerged.  The concept of respecting other people’s right to own things is to acknowledge that another’s property is sacred.

While living in Egypt, the Jews lived communally; Israelites were often competing with each other for scant resources like food, water and shelter.  However, in the Promised Land, there would be an abundance of everything, therefore, there would need to be a prohibition against taking other people’s belongings.

Over in the New Testament, the emphasis moves ever so gently from not taking another’s possessions to working for one’s own.  The apostle Paul, in dealing with this commandment, stresses the importance of hard work.  In his example, Paul references “those who have been stealing,” meaning those who stole before their conversion.  For the new man in Christ, this has to stop immediately; rather than pilfer from others, a Christian should not be afraid to work even to the point of exhaustion.   One who works hard will not only provide for himself, but he can see to it that others needs can be met.

6.  Be truthful, Deut. 5:20; Eph. 4:25

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.  (Deut. 5:20)

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  (Eph. 4:25)

In the context of the Mosaic Law, this commandment involved the legal system.  Back then as today, it was common to gain advantage over another in the courts by lying.  Of course, there were no such things as fingerprint evidence or DNA testing, so in a secular court of law, personal testimony was all there was.   The importance of being totally honest could not be overstated.  God is a God of justice and He wanted His children to practice that justice among each other.

In Ephesians, it is no accident that when Paul talks about the new life in Christ, the first thing that should be “put off” is falsehood.  The hallmark of a Christian should be honesty in every area of life.  The Law of Moses emphasized a legal honesty, but for the Christian, the admonition is to remove all forms of falsehood (literally “the lying” or “the lie”) from their lives.

In contrast to the courts of Israel, in the Christian community honesty is essential because of relationships with others.  Christ’s relationship with us is based on truth—He is the Truth, after all—and therefore our relationship with others must also be based on the same foundation; the truth.  In the Church, things are supposed to be different than in the world.  In the world, there is cold, hard competition; people do things and say things to gain any advantage over another person.  Not so in the Church; we are called to a higher way of living; a transparent way of living.   The reference to “the body” shows that fellow Christians are view.  We are all part of one family, and if you cannot be honest with your brothers and sisters, how can you be honest with anyone?

7.  Do not covet, Deut. 5:21; James 4:1—3

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.  (Deut. 5:21)

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  (Jas. 4:1—3)

The tenth and final commandment is a long one after several shorter ones.  The first nine generally deal with our external relationships; with God, then with other people in our lives.  Here, though, is an internal command that takes place in the mind.   In fact, the tenth commandment sounds a lot like things Jesus would teach.  Sin begins in the mind.  If the Israelites were to obey the other commandments, it would all start with the last one.  Our thoughts are not hidden from Him, and He wants His people to govern their thoughts and motivations.

Many centuries later, James, the brother of Jesus, confronted an ongoing problem within the Christian community by using language that sounded very similar to the tenth commandment, showing that despite their antiquity, they were all still very important.  The Church has all the more reason to follow the spirit of the Ten Commandments given the personal nature of our relationship with the Son of God.

Coveting, sinning in our minds, causes not only a rift to develop between members of Christ’s Body, it causes a breach between us and God.  And what goes on in our minds is on display for all to see in how we live and how we treat one another.  Proverbs 23:7—

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.  (KJV)

A person’s thoughts, motives, and actions are so closely connected, they cannot be separated.  If the Church of Jesus Christ failed to recognized this, internal strife, greed, and jealousy would destroy it.

Conclusion

The Ten Commandments, if obeyed properly by all who claim to belong to the family of God, will result in the kind of life God blesses.  The Ten Commandments are a package deal; they cannot be separated or treated as if one is more important than another.

The light that Jesus brought into the world at His first coming had it’s dawning in the revelation of the Ten Commandments; a revelation of the Heart and Mind of God.  Jesus, the Son of God and the Word of God is the complete revelation of God’s Heart and Mind to lost humanity.

Let’s live the kind of life God wants us to live so that we, like Jesus, may be a light to lead others to Him.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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