[Note: I must give some credit to the Remonstrants of the Synod of Dort for the five points discussed in this sermon, and also to Ray Sutton, whose book That You May Propser examines the five points of ethics, oaths, representation, grace, and succession by using the incorrect Calvinist model. Nonetheless, it is worthy for its recognition of the five-point structure of biblical covenants, and is therefore worthy of comment.]
What does the ten commandments tell us about the nature of God’s covenants with mankind? How do the two halves of the Ten Commandments relate to each other? These are questions that you have perhaps never thought about before, but the answers are important, and I would like to examine them today. It is often mistakenly thought that the Ten Commandments are divided unequally into two parts of four and six commandments, and this misunderstanding has obscured the parallelism of the two halves of the Ten Commandments. Today I would like to examine this parallel structure of the Ten Commandments and examine what it teachers us about God’s workings with mankind.
The Two Great Commandments
One of the most powerful parallels we find about the Ten Commandments comes in Matthew 22:34-40, where Jesus Christ talks about the two great commandments. Matthew 22:34-40 reads: “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Let us notice a few insights that this passage gives. For one, this passage evenly divides the Ten Commandments into two categories, those commandments that show honor and love to God as being the supreme Creator who demands our total loyalty, and those commandments that show love and respect to our neighbors as our brethren and equals. Not only are the commandments divided into these two categories, but so are all the Hebrew scriptures. What this means is that the laws of God are part of two families: those laws that point to God’s supremacy over all aspects of our lives, and those laws that point us to treat other people with the love and respect that we demand for ourselves. What follows next is how to divide these two categories.
The Five Point Covenant Model
This is most easily done when we see that the Ten Commandments are really two five-part covenants, one dealing with the relationship of God and man and the other dealing with the relationship of mankind with other people. Here are the five points. First, without the call of God and the working of God’s Holy Spirit, no one is able to follow God’s will. Second, our election or condemnation at Judgment Day is conditional on the belief or treachery of mankind. Third, the atonement of mankind is limited for the person of faith. In other words, faith is required to receive the forgiveness of sins. Fourth, God’s grace is resistible, and God does not force anyone into salvation. Fifth, believers are able to resist sin but can fall from grace. Passing along a heritage of faith to others is a process that requires us to maintain our faith and renew it periodically.
We might phrase this model another way. The first concern is ethics—who is the authority for our beliefs and what is our standard of behavior. The second question is one of oaths, the covenant vows we make with God and with other people. The third question is representation and hierarchy—what limitations do we have on using the name and reputation of God or in respecting the property and dignity of others? The fourth question is one of transcendence and grace—looking at our standard of showing God’s grace to other people. And the fifth question is one of succession—how do our blessings carry on after us to succeeding generations. As we will see, each of these five questions is closely tied up to two of the Ten Commandments, in a way that we have not often thought about. So, let us connect these five concerns to the Ten Commandments in the remainder of this message.
Ethics: The First And Sixth Commandments
Let us turn now to Exodus 20 and read the first and sixth commandments. The first commandment is found in Exodus 20:1-3. Exodus 20:1-3 reads: “And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” The sixth commandment is found in verse 13. Exodus 20:13 reads: “You shall not murder.” What is the connection between murder and the exclusive authority of God over our lives? What ethical questions connect murder and exclusive loyalty to God.
There are many places in the Bible that talk about both murder as well as God’s jealousy, but there is one passage that very clearly connects the two concepts, so let us look at this passage, in Genesis 9:5-7. Genesis 9:5-7 is part of a covenant given by God to Noah and his sons, and it reads: “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply in it.”
There are several implications to this passage. For example, the killing that is required to bring the wicked to justice, whether it is in war or capital punishment, is not murder. God requires governments to put murderous people and animals to death. Why? Because an attack on the life of an innocent human being is to attack the authority of God over the world. In addition, being fruitful and multiplying (that is, spreading life throughout the world) is a sign of acceptance of God’s authority and of His desire for many godly offspring. Murder prevents mankind from being fruitful and multiplying by destroying godly family lineages, just as Cain did to Abel. So, murder attacks the legitimacy of God’s authority by implying that God cannot and will not protect His people from harm. In addition, those who honor and respect God will seek abundant lives and families to obey God’s command to be fruitful and multiply.
Oath: The Second And Seventh Commandments
Let us now return to Exodus 20 again and read the second and seventh commandments. We find the second commandment in Exodus 20:4-6. Exodus 20:4-6 reads: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Let us now drop down to verse fourteen and read the seventh commandment. Exodus 20:14 reads: “You shall not commit adultery.”
So, what is the connection between idolatry and adultery? Or, to put it another way, what is the connection between baptism or circumcision and marriage? When an Israelite (or a foreigner) was circumcised under the Old Covenant or when a believer is baptized as a Christian, they are making an oath to obey and serve only God. God warns us here that He is jealous and does not tolerate treachery or disloyalty. And when we marry, we give an oath of loyalty with God as our witness that we will be loyal and faithful to our husband or wife so long as our spouse lives. Worshiping graven images is treachery to God by rejecting our exclusive covenantal relationship with God by serving other gods. Likewise, committing adultery (or other sexual sins) is a betrayal of the exclusive relationship we are supposed to have with a husband or wife. The husband or wife of our youth is supposed to be the only person who has ever or will ever be with us as long as we are both alive. It is only after their death, or the death of the marriage, that we are free to marry someone else. Let us note as well that there is an asymmetry when it comes to punishment and grace. Those who are unfaithful to God are punished to the third and fourth generation, but those who are faithful to God are blessed to the thousandth generation—for all time. God’s mercy and grace extends far beyond His wrath.
Let us look at both the connection between our election as God’s people and marriage as well as the connection between worshiping idols and adultery, because God compares both to each other. First, let us look at the relationship between our election and marriage. We find this connection in Revelation 19:6-9, the passage of the marriage supper of Jesus Christ with the Church of God. Revelation 19:6-9 reads: “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” Those who are called and chosen by God, and who receive His Spirit within them, and who obey His commandments ultimately will share in the marriage between Jesus Christ and the Israel of God described here in Revelation 19.
We also see in scripture a very clear connection between adultery and unfaithfulness to God. Let us turn to Hosea 1:2. Hosea 1:2 reads: “When the Lord became to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” Here Hosea’s unfaithful wife Gomer served as a symbol of the unfaithfulness of Israel toward God. Let us drop down to Hosea 2:4-5 to look at Israel’s treachery some more. Hosea 2:4-5 reads: “I will not have mercy on her children, for they are the children of harlotry. For their mother has played the harlot; she who conceived them has behaved shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.” Here the alliances of Israel with pagan nations and Israel’s religious unfaithfulness are compared with an unfaithful wife who has various lovers who give her money and food and drink. And how was Israel unfaithful? We find out in Hosea 2:13. Hosea 2:13 reads: “”I will punish her for the days of the Baals for which she burned incense. She decked herself with earrings and jewelry and went after her lovers; but me she forgot,” says the Lord.” Here we see that the idolatry of Israel in worshiping the Baals and Asherahs was a spiritual form of adultery, and that God treated Israel as an unfaithful wife for her whoredom and treachery.
Representation: The Third And Eighth Commandments
Let us now return to Exodus 20 and read the third and eighth commandments. We find the Third Commandment in Exodus 20:7. Exodus 20:7 reads: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” We find the Eighth Commandment in verse fifteen. Exodus 20:15 reads: “You shall not steal.” So, what is the connection between theft and taking God’s name in vain? And what does this have to do with representation? This is worth a brief explanation.
To see an example of what the Bible refers to as taking God’s name in vain, let us look at Matthew 5:33-37 and get some idea of what is meant. Matthew 5:33-37 reads: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” What does this mean in the context of taking God’s name in vain? There are at least two possible issues here. For one, people reduce the suspicion others have about their dishonesty or unreliability by swearing on something that is considered by both parties to be important. In the past, in the United States, witnesses in court were often asked to swear or affirm on a Bible to show their integrity. But someone without integrity can swear to God without any sincerity in their oaths, gaining the benefit of being thought of as someone with character without the reality of it. This is taking God’s name in vain—pretending to be godly, taking upon one’s self the identity of God’s people as Christians without being people of godly moral character themselves. This is something all of us can be guilty of whenever we seek the benefits of a good reputation without deserving it based on our behavior and try to steal God’s reputation or authority for ourselves.
So, what does theft have to do with this same problem? Let’s look at the book of James, chapter five and verses one through five. James 5:1-5 reads as follows: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.” Here we see the connection between theft and taking God’s name in vain. Much of the theft that goes on in this world is the exploitation of the poor by the wealthy and powerful. Such theft is an attack on God’s reputation as a defender of the poor, the widows, and the fatherless. Exploitation by the wealthy and powerful attacks God’s reputation as a just God and requires His judgment on those who take advantage of others. Given this promise of condemnation, we ought not to exploit others ourselves in our own dealings, because God takes his reputation seriously.
Grace: The Fourth And Ninth Commandments
Let us return to Exodus 20 to look at the fourth and ninth commandments and see how they connect with God’s grace to us. We read about the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:8-11. Exodus 20:8-11 reads: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Now, let us drop down to verse sixteen to read the Ninth Commandment. Exodus 20:16 reads: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
What does the Sabbath have to do with grace? A lot, actually. The creation was due to God’s grace and His plan to create mankind in His own image. The Sabbath is a gift of rest every week as well as throughout the year, letting ourselves, our servants, our employees, our animals, and our land rest from our labors. The Sabbath year frees us from debt, and the Jubilee year gives us a second chance to own our ancestral land and be free of the mistakes of the past. All of these are aspects of God’s grace. We see this connection between the Sabbath and freedom in many parts of the Bible, as I discussed during my recent five-part sermon on the subject, but let us turn to one place to remind us, Deuteronomy 5:15. Deuteronomy 5:15 reminds us of the connection between the Sabbath day and freedom from slavery and oppression. It reads: “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Here we clearly see the connection between freedom and the Sabbath—just as God has freed us from sin and slavery, so we are to show the same grace and give the same freedom and forgiveness to others.
What is the relationship between truth and grace? Paul draws the connection in Titus 1:1-4. Let us turn there. Titus 1:1-4 reads: “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgement of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior; to Titus, a true son in our common faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.” Here we see Paul closely connecting truth and grace. But why? There are only two ways for us to know about the world around us. Either we can directly experience it ourselves or we must trust the accounts and stories of others. The fact that God cannot lie means that we can trust His word. When someone is honest and truthful, we do not have to bear the burden of suspicion in dealing with them, but we can trust them and believe them and what they say. When we can believe someone else, we can know far beyond what we can experience ourselves. This sincerity and truth is a grace that God gives us and that we are commanded to give to others as well.
Succession: The Fifth And Tenth Commandments
Finally, let us return to Exodus 20 and see what the fifth and tenth commandments have to say about the succession of God’s blessings from generation to generation. Let us first look at Exodus 20:12 to read the Fifth Commandment. Exodus 20:12 reads: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Now let us drop down to verse seventeen. Exodus 20:17 reads: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
There are two important questions that we must answer in looking at these two commandments. For one, what makes honoring your father and mother a commandment that has to deal with God rather than fellow man? Second, what do honoring our parents and avoiding coveting have to do with succession? Let us answer these questions in order. The Bible clearly, in several passages, refers to God as the Father of humanity. Let us look at one of these passages, in Malachi 1:6-8, which both shows God as father and connects human and spiritual authority together. Malachi 1:6-8 reads: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? Says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ You offer defiled food on My altar, but say ‘In what way have we defiled you?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he accept you favorably?” Says the Lord of hosts.”
Here we see that the commandment to honor fathers and mothers points to the honor and reverence we have to God. We learn how to respect God by the honor we have for human authorities, for our parents, our teachers, our employers, and our rulers. Here in Thailand, we celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day on the birthdays of the King and Queen of Thailand, a sign that these rulers view themselves as the father and mother over the whole Thai nation. All human authorities are accountable to God’s laws and are subject to God’s authority, but at the same time we learn to respect God in heaven by respecting authorities on earth, and so honoring our father and mother (and other authorities) teaches us how to respect God. In addition, there are promises of succession here—our days will be long in the land if we honor our parents, because we will be setting a good example of honor for others to follow by showing us honor and respect. By showing honor and respect to those who are godly servant leaders, we show ourselves capable of handling authority in a self-sacrificial way, for no one appoints those who curse and revile leaders into positions of authority, but rather those who show proper honor and respect to godly leaders.
So, what does coveting have to do with succession? Let us look briefly at a couple of passages from the book of James. First, James 1:13-15 shows us how coveting is the source of all sin and death. James 1:13-15 reads: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Here we see that the origin of sin lies in covetousness, in our greed for power and position, in our lack of contentment with what God has given to us, and in our lust and envy for what God has not given us to enjoy. We see some of the more tragic consequences of this covetousness in James 4:1-3. James 4:1-3 reads: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” Here James comments that the source of our wars and conflicts with others is because of our lusting and covetousness.
And how is that lust and evil desire and greed and covetousness threats to succession? Let us give two examples. Here in Thailand there is a frequent problem with military coups. Why is this? Because generals in the army lust after the power of government and cannot let the people vote in an orderly succession of offices. Because leaders of the military covet the power of government but do not trust the people to vote ‘the right way,’ they take power for themselves and murder and oppress the common people. The same is true in the Church of God. Because ministers covet offices for themselves and cannot accept the loss of power and authority or accept others whom they consider rivals to be given those offices of authority within God’s Church, they covet and war for power and position, dividing the brethren and threatening the passing of God’s truths to the world and from one generation to another all because they cannot accept to be in an organization if they are not in charge. The fruits of covetousness are warfare whether we look at nations, our churches, our families, or any other institution. The story is the same wherever we look. Covetousness threatens succession, while contentment allows truth to be passed on, and for God to set people in authority as He sees fit, whether through elections or dynasties or whatever way He wishes.
Let us conclude our message today by telling why it is important that God uses this five point covenant model in the Ten Commandments and what it means for us today. The five points of God’s covenant model are: ethics, oath, representation, grace, and succession. These same points apply to our relationship with God and with other people. First, God is our authority, and we must respect Him alone as our God and Creator. Because we respect God we then honor all human beings, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, as the children of God, created in His image and likeness. Second, our commitment to God and to others is sealed in oaths. At baptism we make a personal spiritual covenant with God. In marriage, we make a personal covenant with a husband or wife to be loyal and faithful to that person as long as we both live. Third, being the people of God requires that we be representatives of God’s way. If we claim the name of Christian for ourselves, we must live according to God’s ways, and we must be just and fair in our dealings with other people as well, so that God’s reputation does not suffer because of our actions. Fourth, God’s grace allows us the rest of the Sabbath, forgiveness for our sins, and the chance to start again. But God forgives us as we forgive our debtors, so we are to show grace and forgiveness to other people as well, and to be sincere and honest in our dealings. Finally, God’s relationship with us is not only designed for our lives, but for godly families and nations and institutions that are to last generation after generation. This requires that we respect godly authorities so that we learn how to show proper honor to God. Additionally, it requires that we be content with what God has given us so that God can place us where He wishes us, without our selfish ambition and greed and lust getting in the way of God’s will. The fact that all of these aspects are part of God’s dealings with us and our dealings with each other shows the importance of all of God’s laws in teaching us how to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, and how to love others as ourselves.