New Sermon Series

The Ten Commandments – a life of freedom

Sermon preached at Kinellar Community Hall, Sunday 10th September 2017.

Introduction to the sermon series:

 

Today we begin a new series looking at the ten commandments. These ten commandments have had an incredible influence of the laws and values of Western Society. There is something we should not forget here. Even as church attendance falls to an all-time low, as congregations shrink and the place and influence of the Christian faith is forced to the fringes, we must not forget our incredible historical and cultural legacy. The Christian Faith has shaped modern day Britain in ways we cannot even begin to imagine. So whilst these are difficult and testing days, we must not forget that we have an incredible inheritance. We have an inheritance that goes back many centuries. This inheritance is deep spiritual truth. Deep spiritual truth that resonates with the being of God. And deep spiritual truth that resonates with the deepest needs of the human heart.

So whilst church and faith are today being pushed to the fringes, we need to have faith and confidence and patience. Faith in God. Faith in the God who revealed himself first to the Jewish people and then to the world in Jesus. We need confidence. Confidence in the truth of our faith. Confidence that our faith has rock solid intellectual foundations. And we need patience. Great patience. Patience that God will be working his purpose out in his way and his time. Patience that God will relight the spiritual fire in the way and time of his choosing. Going back to the ten commandments, it is my view that these ten laws are as valid today as they were first given.

Bible Readings

OT Reading (The Message)  Exodus 20

NT Reading Mark 12

Sermon

The ten commandments appear twice in the Old Testament, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. According to tradition they date somewhere between the 12th and 14th century BC, which puts them between 3,200 and 3,400 years old. Some modern OT scholars and archaeologists suggest a different date that is much earlier. In Hebrew the word used to describe the ten commandments can also be translated as "the ten words", "the ten sayings", or "the ten matters". In English they are known as the Decalogue or the more familiar phrase the ten commandments. In Jewish tradition then ten commandments were thought to have been inscribed on stone tablets by the very finger of God before being placed into the ark of the covenant. One final background point. These commandments form the basis of the OT law – they state very clearly God's universal and timeless standard of right and wrong. Over the next weeks I intend to look at each of the commandments in detail. But before I do there is one thing we need to be crystal clear about. The Christion faith is a religion of love and not a religion of law. Let me explain what I mean here.

The Christion faith is a religion of love and not a religion of laws. One of the most well-known sayings of Jesus appears in Mark 12: 31. ‘It reads ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. I’m afraid I cannot say it in the Doric. I’ll leave the Doric to those of your born and raised in the NE. That is a phrase we are all familiar with. We’ve all heard it before. It is the one of the foundational verses which help us discern the nature of authentic religion. Authentic religion is when we live what we believe. It is when God’s love touches our hearts and changes the way we live our lives. And it is a wonderful thing to see and experience. In my life I have been privilege to meet some very special people. Not people with money or status. But people with depth of character. People who have exuded warmth and love. It is as if they have an inner glow. There is something beautiful that radiates out from their hearts. We’re not all like that of course. The vast majority of us are a work in progress. We still have parts of our character and personality that are still in need of God’s shaping and healing. For example, I may be a minister of over 20 years’ experience, but I still do things without thinking. I still find myself having to apologise to people because I like to get on with things. I am not a naturally patient person. Sometimes my impatience gets the better of me. And I can also be very grumpy. I am not as bad as Victor Meldrew, but occasionally I can be grumpy and like to moan about things. In other words, I am just like most people. I am a work in progress. I will only become fully whole when I reach glory. But occasionally you meet very special people whose lives radiate God’s warmth and love. This is the mark of authentic religion. This is what faith is all about. God’s love being infused into our hearts and then radiating outwards.  What many people don’t know is that precisely the same statement appears in the OT. Leviticus 19:18 reads: Love your neighbour as yourself.

Unfortunately, by the time of the NT the faith of the OT had become distorted. The OT has some wonderful stuff, from the story of creation, the books of history, the wisdom literature, poems and psalms and prophets. But by the time we reach the NT this had become distorted and polluted. People had lost sight of what really mattered. Law had become more important than love. Nowhere is this more clearly revealed than in the attitude of the Pharisees. You could say they were the religious fundamentalists of the day. They spoke with confidence and authority. They had great influence and power. Yet Jesus had little if anything good to say about them. In fact, Jesus was critical and confrontational. He denounced them publicly for their hypocrisy, spiritual blindness, and evil ways.

A few years ago I was out hill walking with my BIL.. He bought a home made packed lunch whilst I grabbed a sandwich from a petrol station. We walked up the hill and at the top hunkered down behind a large boulder to shelter from the wind and rain, opened our rucksacks and took out our lunch. I opened my rather pathetic looking sandwich. It was dry and tasteless. The bread stuck to the roof of my mouth. Then he opened his lunch box. As he lifted the lid on his Tupperware there was a wonderful aroma of homemade bread. My sister in law  had been making bread the day before. And even on top of the hill, in spite of the wind and rain, you could not miss the wonderful homely smell of freshly baked bread. And there was I with a stale sandwich. This is difference between true faith and false religion. True faith has the aroma of grace. It is where love and compassion take precedence. It is where we understand and accept the imperfections of ourselves and the people around us. True faith is where God’s love and forgiveness is seen and felt, encountered and experience. In contrast, false religion has the outward appearance of religion, but is devoid of taste and texture. Rather than the aroma of grace, it is flavoured by a legalistic mentality and critical spirit. This was the problem with the Pharisees. Unfairly critical of others, judgemental, narrow minded and exclusive. They reflected a distorted and unbalance view of the OT.

An America Christian writer, Charles Swindol* (no relation to me) tells a rather curious story about a couple who went to be missionaries in another country and lived in a community with other missionary families. This particular family had a taste for peanut butter. After a few weeks in this new country they wrote home asking for peanut butter which was soon delivered and enjoyed by the family. Then something bizarre happened. Without knowing it, they had broken an unspoken rule. Within this group of missionaries, it was considered "spiritual" to deny yourself the pleasures of home including of all things peanut butter. They had broken this rule, and soon were ostracised by the other families. The new family then decided to only eat peanut butter in private, behind closed doors with the curtains drawn. But the other families were not let go or give up. Relationships broke down and the new family had to leave and return home.

This is the problem when we lose sight of God’s love. When law takes over from grace. When we see the faults of others and fail to recognise our own failings and shortcomings. A way of thinking takes hold. We see ourselves as superior and better than others. The worst part about this is we don’t see it coming. We get caught up in our self-understanding. And the joy and peace given to us by the Holy Spirit evaporates and a spirit of bitterness takes root. It is interesting that word Pharisee has in the English language come to mean a self-righteous person” and a virtual synonym for hypocrite. And I can tell you that even today the Pharisees are still with us. The church is still plagued and corrupted by those who fail to understand the meaning of grace. They fail to see that none of us are perfect, that we all fall short of God’s standards, that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy. All of us. Every single one of us is broken and imperfect. And we need to accept this. We need to accept it in ourselves and in others.

This takes me back to the Ten Commandments. These laws delivered first to Moses and the Jewish people tell us very clearly what God requires. We are to live lives marked by the highest possible levels of personal integrity. Wholeness and soundness of living is the mark of the people of God. I do hope and pray that as we journey through these commandments, we will discover a treasure trove of wisdom and insight. That we will learn and understand that these ancient words are relevant for today’s world.  There is a however, a massive ‘but’ here. But, we must not lose sight of a love that brings healing and forgiveness. A love that mends our deepest brokenness. A love that brings change and renewal from the inside out. A love that brings peace and hope. A love that takes us onward to glory.

 

*Source: Charles R. Swindoll, Grace Awakening (Thomas Nelson, 1990), pp. 85-86.

 

Rev Sean Swindells

Fintray Kinellar Keithhall Church of Scotland

 

 




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