I was driving on Friday and I saw a bumper sticker that said, It’s the Ten Commandments, not Ten Suggestions. It was on the back of a blue Mustang that I had been behind for over ten miles on US 23. We were both going 70 MPH, which is okay except of course it is 65 MPH on that stretch of US 23. This guy seemed pretty sure there was no wriggle room on the commandments, but common traffic laws, those obviously felt like suggestions to him. If we are honest, don’t we all treat commandments and laws as suggestions?
Everyone has an inner moral code that informs them on what is right and what is wrong. For me, 70 MPH in a 65 MPH is right, 75 MPH in a 65 MPH is wrong. This was obviously not the same decision others driving on 23 to Toledo on Friday had made. I was passed like I was standing still by quite a few cars. Internally,we decide what is right and wrong, regardless even of the law. When I came back from Toledo on Friday I sat in a long line of cars on 270 that backed up to Main Street waiting patiently to turn onto 70 East. Car after car cut in front of me, taking advantage of the safe distance I was keeping between me and the next car. I was morally outraged by these drivers who were doing something perfectly legal, but thoroughly obnoxious.
Think about it, laws really don’t influence as much as our own inner sense of right and wrong. There are very few decisions that I make based on the legality of my actions. Our federal, state, and municipal legal code is huge. There is no way anyone but lawyers or police officers have read all of those laws and very few of us bones up them before leaving the house in the morning. We might get passionate about a law we feel is unjust, like some in the state are right now about our marijuana laws, but my guess is that most of those advocates are already breaking our marijuana laws. We approach the laws in scripture similarly. There are actually 622 laws in scripture, not just ten. I confess to not even knowing half of them, let alone all of them. In a Gallup poll taken about ten years ago of Christians, less than 20% could even name all of the Ten Commandments, while 98% could identify Larry, Curly and Moe as members of the Three Stooges.
If we hardly know them, how much impact could they be having on our lives? And if we do know them, and we are honest with ourselves than we are probably aware that we are treating them more like suggestions than commandments. Number three, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Since the primary understanding of this is worship, how many people in here never ever fail to come to church? Honor your Father and Mother. It doesn’t say honor your Father and Mother as long as they aren’t annoying you or making unreasonable demands on you. You shall not bear false witness. Honey, does this dress make me look fat? You shall not covet. Covet is a word that means desire. Isn’t our entire capitalist free market economy built on you and I desiring what each other has, and thus wanting to buy one for ourselves? You know when I got my first big, flat screen TV ten years ago? After I visited a number of you people in your homes and realized all of you already had one.
On an online blog about the ten commandments, someone wrote that Christians don’t have to pay attention to the ten commandments any longer, because Jesus replaced them with two, Love God and Love your neighbor. Jesus did not replace the ten commandments. Nor did he try simplify them from ten to two, because ten seemed like more than humanity could handle. I believe Jesus was summing up the moral code that he hoped his followers would use when deciding on how to behave in public. Before we do anything, ask ourselves two simple questions, is this action showing love for God? Is this action showing love for my neighbor?
Jesus’ two commandments ask of us the same thing as the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments, Loving only one God, Not using God’s name in vain, and remembering the Sabbath, are all ways we show love for God. Are they the only ways? No. These are not limits on how much we can love God, just direction for us as we live life in love with God. The next seven are all ways for us to show love for our neighbor. Are they the only way? No, but they are pretty foundational, and a good place to begin.
Whether you are talking about the ten commandments or Jesus’ two, both force us to make our top priority anyone other than ourselves. The point of the ten commandments is not to make your life better. One could make a case that if I were a bachelor and my neighbor’s wife was really, really, nice, my life would be better if I stole her from him, breaking either the seventh or tenth commandment. His life would get worse, but my life would get better. If we were writing a book about the ten commandments we wouldn’t call it Your Best Life Now!, but rather Your Neighbor’s Best Life Now! The point of these ten, and all laws really in religious and civil life, is to lead us to live together better.
Sometimes, living together better, as God hopes we will, is even more important than following a law. There are times when the best answer to your wife’s question, does this dress make me look fat, might be one that breaks the eighth commandment. Jesus was constantly breaking the laws around the sabbath in his day in order to heal or feed his followers. Christians put on a uniform and protect their neighbors as police officers and soldiers and daily risk breaking the fifth commandment, thou shalt not kill.
There are other times when people slavishly follow the ten commandments, but fail to show love for their neighbor or for God. There was a mean old cuss at a church I served. He had displayed prominently in his home the ten commandments, I suppose as a testament to how seriously he took these as commands not suggestions. When he died, as a way of keeping the first commandment, to have no other God, he gave all his money to the church, well over a million dollars. His generous gift left his surviving wife nearly destitute and she had to move in with her son to live out her days. I am not sure he broke any commandment, but yet something about this action seemed like he had missed the point that Jesus was making about love.
Two laws, ten laws, 622 laws, countless municipal codes, honestly, if we all followed Jesus’ foundation for living life, we would need no laws. If my priorities were always you and God and your priorities were always me and God, then neither of us would need laws to protect us or guide us in our decisions. When we think about a lawless state, dangerous places in the Middle East or Africa come to mind. Actually, God is preparing a lawless state for each of us to live, heaven. Because in heaven God’s glory and presence will always be front and center, and what God loves will become our only priority. Amen