Tag Archives: Law & Commandments

I worship what I want

“‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’” (Deuteronomy 5:21 ESV).

Coveting is a deep-seated longing to possess something that is not yours.  Purity of heart is in focus here because to covet your neighbor’s wife is to lust after her – to want her instead of whom you are in a covenant relationship with (see here).  Likewise to desire what your neighbor has as better than what you have is the first step towards breaking the 8th commandment of not stealing (here).

God is after the heart (Matthew 5:21-30) and always has been!  When we covet something else, we bring it in to our hearts and tell ourselves, “if only I had this then life would be worth living, I would be happy, fulfilled, significant or worthwhile.”  This comes back to the first commandment of not having any other gods before the one true God.  Coveting leads to idolatry which leads to all sorts of behavioral problems because what is in our heart is what drives our thoughts, motivations, emotions and actions; we are defiled not because of what we put into us, but because of what comes out of us (Mark 7:20-23).  Whatever is on the throne of our heart is what we worship.


Lying perverts justice

‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 5:20 ESV)

What seems to be in view here is to intentionally lie in a legal setting so as to meaningfully cause your neighbor harm.  Lying perverts justice and is not an accurate reflector of who God is and how He operates, which is one of our primary callings as His image bearers.  When we lie, we are saying to all of creation, “this is what God is like.”  We have such a proclivity towards using our words in destructive and hurtful ways.  Even “small, white lies,” can cause harm.

The call here is to live a truthful life.  We need help with this because we are so driven by the approval of others that we frequently “bend” the truth in order to present ourselves in a more favorable light.  We need to rest in the truth that we are accepted by God because of the perfectly lived life of Christ so we no longer need to be driven by the opinions of others.  It’s simple, but certainly not easy!

Don’t steal, be content

“And you shall not steal.” (Deuteronomy 5:19 ESV)

Implicit to this commandment is the right for people to own their own property, thus fueling a strong work ethic.  This commandment often times reveals the depravity of our hearts as we become discontent with what God has given us.  Discontentment leads to coveting, complaining, stealing and victimizing.  Every man should be content with the lot God has given him, but not lazily living there.  We should be industrious in all of our endeavors, knowing that Adam & Eve were given a work to do prior to the fall and we have the same mission today – though it is in a thorn laden creation that wars against us.  Stealing what does not belong to you is an attack on your neighbor and his rights and disrupts a healthy rhythm of society.  Stealing reveals that we are not content with what God has given us.

Lust filled hearts are not free hearts

“‘you shall not commit adultery.” (Deuteronomy 5:18, Exodus 20:14 ESV)

One can fulfill the external requirement of this commandment (and probably feel self righteous about it), but can utterly fail the internal, heart requirement of it – lust.  Though this commandment was about a man having sexual relations with a woman who is married to someone else, the broader context and teaching of the bible makes it clear that sexual purity (external & an internal purity of the heart) is what God is calling us to.  We should never long for & desire (lust after) anyone that we are not in a covenantal relationship with.  This gets to the heart and trusting God with the marriage that He has placed you in.  What fuels your fantasies?  Jesus unpacks the original intent of this commandment in Matthew 5:27-30 and the drastic measures He calls us to in killing it in our lives.  Staying free from the external act of adultery, but burning with lust within is not freedom of heart.


““Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’”
Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land
“Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness.”
(Deuteronomy 9:4-7 ESV)

The people are called to go into an intimidating land and conquer it – a land that is populated with those who are greater & mightier with fortified cities.  This is why they didn’t go into the land the first time – the spies (except Joshua & Caleb) said that the people were too mighty for Israel to over throw (Numbers 13:28-14:10).  The Israelites are reminded that these people were indeed mighty and their cities were fortified, but their God was mightier!

God then issues a warning to the people: “Do not say in your heart, ‘it is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land” (verse 4, also 8:17).  They would have viewed their military victories as God rewarding them for their righteousness; God completely obliterates that thinking.  God reminds them that they were the recipients of His grace – unearned, undeserved, unmerited.  They were not receiving the land because they followed or obeyed well enough, trusted deeply enough or were more spiritually attuned.  No!  They were being given the land because of God’s righteousness, glory and grace (see verses 5-7).

We are not much different than the Israelites.  We tend to believe that the good things in our lives are the result of our obedience, intelligence or hard work.  We think that God is our cosmic genie who is obligated to reward us; He owes us.  Nothing could be further from the truth that the bible paints for us.  The goodness in our lives is not because we are awesome & obedient; the goodness in our lives is because God is gracious – we deserve nothing, but wrath because of our (ongoing) rebellion.  All good things are a gift as Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “what do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”  We are owed nothing, not even breath – everything is a gift from on high, it is not because you unlocked the secret spiritual code, executed better than others, worked harder, were wiser or did something on your own to deserve the good that you have.  God’s grace is the reason that you have any good things.

It seems like we are hard wired to take credit for the good in our lives and forget the grace of God.  So how do keep the right perspective that it is God who benevolently gives us good because He is gracious, not because we are deserving?  The answer is to REMEMBER.  Deuteronomy 8:18 tells us to “remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” and 9:7 tells us to “remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness.”  The people were called to remember their moral failures and disobedience in the wilderness to crush their self righteous pride.

You are called to remember that God delivered you, led you, provided for you, loved you – even in your rebellion.  You were dead in your trespasses, but God, being rich in mercy, made you alive (Ephesians 2:4–5).  You did not do anything to deserve it, you didn’t earn it, it is only by His benevolent grace that He made your heart alive to spiritual things.

Remembering involves deliberate, dependent discipline.  There is indeed action on our part.  Our role is to get ourselves in proximity to the waterfall of God’s grace and beg Him to ignite our hearts.  The Spirit ignites the kindling that we gather around us.  So let us work at gathering kindling and get ourselves in close proximity to the Almighty and beg Him to ignite our souls.

Moses the Mediator

“And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’” (Deuteronomy 5:24–27 ESV)

In verse 27, the people request a mediator because they feared the glory of the Lord; their reverence & fear is appropriate because man does not get to speak with the Almighty and live, unless He is merciful.  The glory was too great for their souls to bear, this is reminiscent of Isaiah’s experience in the temple when he was struck with fear at the presence of the Lord (Isaiah 6:1-7).  Most people lack this awe of the Almighty today.  The people feared the voice of the Lord so greatly that that were content to have Moses listen to God and relay the message.  It is ironic that they were so moved with fear of the living God then they quickly left Him and complained against Him as if He were like the impotent idols of Egypt.

God deems their assessment as true and right (v28), but the Sovereign, who is out side of time, laments:  “Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29 ESV).  He knows the open rebellion that His people (and all people) will continue to walk in and the cost to buy back this rebellious lot.

God obliges the people and gives Moses His laws.  The purpose of the law was to reflect His perfection, to restrain sinful behavior in the community, to reveal our sinful hearts and to point us to the perfect Fulfiller of the law.  “You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”  God calls them to obey and He will protect & prosper them.  Ultimately, we know, the people could not obey.  Thankfully, Someone has obeyed on our behalf.  (Deuteronomy 5:33 ESV).

Moses is a picture of the perfect Mediator (Hebrews 9:15 & 12:24) that was to come – One who would stand between us and a holy & perfect God to resolve the conflict the existed due to our openly rebellious hearts.  We are not worthy, but He set His saving affections upon us anyway.  This Mediator not just intercedes on your behalf, but He also gives you His perfect obedience to law so you can stop strivingThe proclamation of the cross is “it is finished.”

Angry hearts aren’t free hearts

‘You shall not murder.” (Deuteronomy 5:17 ESV).

This is the immoral, careless killing of another (murder), but also includes the death of another because of negligence or carelessness (manslaughter).  This verb is never used when describing killing in war so apparently there is a distinction.  The bible prohibits murder because we are image bearers (Genesis 1:26–27; 9:6); we have special status as being reflectors of God’s glory in a unique way.  So murder is, in a way, an attack on God.

The polar opposite of murder (fueled by hate) is love as highlighted in Leviticus 19:17-18:  ““You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

Loving our neighbor is repeated in the New Testament by Jesus, Paul & James:

  • Matthew 22:37–40:  “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.””
  • Romans 13:9:  “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
  • Galatians 5:14:  “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”
  • James 2:8:  “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.”

Jesus’ teaching on this in the Sermon on the Mount gets to the real heart of the problem:  anger.  ““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21–24 ESV).  If you are angry, then your heart is not free.  Jesus knows that if He gets our hearts under control then our actions will follow.  He is restoring His image within us so that we actually are becoming more human (as God designed us to be).  We can’t kill anger any more than we can produce love on our own – we need outside assistance!  Let us place ourselves in proximity to God’s grace by our spiritual disciplines and let us plead with Him to change our hearts, motivations & affections.

The intent behind the law

Commandments 6-8 (murder, adultery & theft) are about living in a fair, just and covenantal community.  “The sixth through eighth commandments present general prohibitions not to murder (5:13), commit adultery (5:14), or steal (5:15). In doing so, they set minimum standards for Israel to be a just society and indicate the context in which the people will be called further to be holy and to love the Lord with their all their heart, soul, and might (Deut. 6:4–9), and their neighbors with goodwill and generosity (Lev. 19:18). Thus, while the prohibition against stealing is a basic principle of justice in Israel’s national life, the people are called to do more than refrain from taking another person’s possessions. They are to embody the Lord’s love for them by loving the stranger and sojourner as themselves (Lev. 19:33–34). When Jesus refers to the law in the Sermon on the Mount (“you have heard that it was said,” Matt. 5:21ff.), he is correcting not the intended purpose of the OT law but the mistaken presumption that these laws (or their interpretation) were meant to be exhaustive of what it meant to live as a child of the kingdom of heaven. (E.g., as Jesus made clear, simply refraining from murder does not fulfill the law when a person disdains his brother as a fool; or simply refraining from adultery does not fulfill the law when a man lusts after a woman; see Matt. 5:21–24, 27–28; and note on Matt. 5:21–48.).”  From the ESV Study Bible.

Relational Idols

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 2:28–3:3 ESV)

“No human being was ever meant to be the source of personal joy and contentment for someone else. Your spouse, your friends, and your children cannot be the sources of your identity. When you seek to define who you are through those relationships, you are asking another sinner to be your personal messiah, to give you the inward rest of soul that only God can give. Only when I have sought my identity in the proper place (in my relationship with God) am I able to put you in the proper place as well. When I relate to you knowing that I am God’s child and the recipient of his grace, I am able to serve and love you.

However, if I am seeking to get identity from you, I will watch you too closely. I will become acutely aware of your weaknesses and failures. I will become overly critical, frustrated, and angry. I will be angry not because you are a sinner, but because you have failed to deliver the one thing I seek from you: identity.

When I remember that Christ has given me everything I need to be the person he has designed me to be, I am free to serve and love you. When I know who I am, I am free to be humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, and loving as we navigate the inevitable messiness of relationships.”

Why doesn’t God just make your relationships better overnight? We often think that if God really cared for us, he would make our relationships easier. In reality, a difficult relationship is a mark of his love and care.

We would prefer that God would just change the relationship, but he won’t be content until the relationship changes us too. This is how God created relationships to function.
What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help God alone can provide. Weak and needy people finding their hope in Christ’s grace are what mark a mature relationship.

The most dangerous aspect of your relationships is not your weakness, but your delusions of strength. Self-reliance is almost always a component of a bad relationship.
While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep and intimate community, God says that it is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found.

Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, February 14, p 45 & January 16, p 16.  From Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Copyright © 2012 by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Used by permission of New Growth Press.

Sabbath: Remember, Reflect, Rely, Rhythm Rest

“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12–15 ESV).

This command applied to everyone that lived within their borders – family, foreigners, servants and animals included.  The reason for the Sabbath was multifaceted, we’ll explore a few of them in this post.

REMEMBER.  Remembering is not passive, but active – they were called to REMEMBER that they were slaves in Egypt and the LORD brought them out from their oppressor with His mighty hand.  As Christians, God has brought us out of the oppressive domain of darkness and delivered us into His kingdom.  He has freed us, we need to actively work on remembering this not only with our heads, but in our hearts.  You were powerless & dead, but God, being rich in mercy, called you out of the darkness and brought you into His kingdom of light.
REFLECT.  All of their lives were to reflect that they were a people in relationship with the living Creator who is not far from any of us.  Jesus has set up His kingdom in the hearts of those whom He has delivered from the domain of darkness.  The rule & reign of Christ in our hearts causes us to be increasing reflectors of His glory.
RELY.  The people were called to stop one day every week and rely upon the provision of their covenant keeping God.  In a subsistence lifestyle, this is very hard to do; it required sacrifice and trust in God, not just in themselves.  Though we may not live a subsistence lifestyle like the Israelites did over 3000 years ago, we are still recipients of God’s bountiful provision to us; all things are a gift from His hand.
RHYTHM.  The Sabbath pointed back to creation and Eden and created a rhythm for the people – work six days – rest, remember & reflect for one.  God modeled this by working six days and resting on one.  There is a rhythm to life that is God wrought.
REST.  This is much more than just physical rest.  This is the restoration of the ultimate rest found in the the garden of Eden; Jesus invites everyone who is weary & heavy laden to find rest for their weary souls (Matthew 11:28-30) in relationship with Him as He reconciles all things to Himself.  We know that the Exodus generation failed to enter God’s rest (Hebrews 3:7-19), but this rest is available to those of us who acknowledge that we need the rest that God is offering (Hebrews 4:1-13).

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath (Mark 2:27).  It is a gift for us to enjoy, not to make ultimate or legalistic.  Life constantly pushes back on us in all areas as our souls long for peace, rest & deepest satisfaction that is not found under the sun.  The sabbath is certainly about physical rest in the here and now, but is ultimately pointing us to an eternal seventh days rest that offers total soul satiation:  a kingdom that is already being establish.  Are you experiencing this rest are are you still striving to make life work on your own?