Monday, June 29, 2009

This week's sermon: Living in Unity

When we first started looking at the Ten Commandments, we talked about this being a pivotal point in the history of this people. Once they were only the children of Abraham, now they are the children of God. This is where God forms his covenant not with a single individual, but with an entire group of people. God speaks to all of them out of the cloud and they all hear his voice. He gives them these Ten Commandments so that if they follow them they will become a great nation, enter the Promised Land, become prosperous and live good lives. We also have talked about Jesus summing up the law and prophets with two commands: Love God, Love others.

We have seen how the commandments are given to put the people into right relationship with God, their family, and with those in the community. From this point forward, it is not every man for himself; it is a community of people moving forward together, the people of God with a purpose to show forth his Glory to the nations. But they can only fulfill their purpose if they follow God’s commands.

The five final commandments are listed all together. There is no commentary in between. They are simply meant to improve life in the community and honor God, period. There is no reasoning given, just commands. And we can see why. If these people are going to move forward together, they can’t have division over things like theft, false witness, envy, murder, and adultery. These are all such preventable things that we have laws in our court system for three out of five of them. That means that even the secular world expects people to be able to control themselves when it comes to perjury, theft, and murder. Those are no-brainers. They disrupt community. They make society unstable, and therefore are illegal. It stands to reason then, that God, who knows all things, and created all things, would understand that in any society, these are relationship breakers. Add to that envy and adultery and you cover most of the basis for conflict in our culture and society.

The nation of Israel was about to face a tremendously difficult future of crossing wasteland, entering and conquering the Promised Land; and they would need to do these things together. A character on a popular television show is constantly saying, “Live together, die alone.” For the newly named children of God, that statement could not be more true. Imagine standing up to fight a common enemy beside the man who just had an affair with your wife. How about the person who falsely accused you in court? What about the person who murdered your children, or stole your most prized possessions? And how are you going to be a trustworthy partner in battle and in nation-building if you hate your neighbor for having what you lust after; whether it be his wife, his cattle, his servants, etc? In order to accomplish the tasks before them, they would have to unite as a community, and not let these things stand in their way.

So, what does that have to do with us, you might ask? We are not national Israel; we aren’t trudging through the wilderness facing battles left and right. In the physical sense that is true. But spiritually, we are a community. We are a people, the people of God. We have been joined together as a family with God as our father. We draw support from each other, encouraging each other to continue to press on in spiritual growth. We may not face physical enemies, but we face a spiritual enemy who would like nothing more than to bring division and strife to the people of God. And the things that would divide us have not changed in the 3,500 years of history since Moses shepherded the people out of Egypt.

These last five commandments are really a result of allowing self-centeredness to reign in our lives:
"I want what you have, so I will take it."
"I want something (satisfaction, pride, revenge, power) so much I will do anything, even kill you or lie against you in court to get it."
"I want to fulfill my own desires to the point that I will break faith and covenant and have an affair."
"I want what you have and I will hate you because you have it, and I don't."
All of this is about self. None of those statements come from a heart with any concern about the needs, welfare, or interests of another. I know of churches that have been torn apart because two people in the church had an affair. I know of churches where the secretary or treasurer embezzled money from the church and it almost closed their doors. We are foolish if we think these final five are not a problem in the Church, they are. The temptation is still there. Wherever people are struggling with placing the interests of others above their own, you will find these transgressions.

If the world does not see us as set apart, a people who interact differently than they do, why would they want what we have? If there is theft, murder, adultery, envy and false witness among us, why would people outside the church believe they could trust those inside the church? And if those things were going on, how could we trust one another? Yes, there is forgiveness, yes, there is restoration, but trust is something difficult to rebuild once it has been lost. It is difficult at best to work together as a community of faith, the family of God, without the ability to trust one another. Our enemy knows that divided, we stand less of a chance to fulfill our purpose to glorify God and spread the gospel message.

We have talked about being standing stones: having lives that testify and witness to the power of God at work in our lives. If we are truly seeking to follow him, we will find a spiritual growth in our lives that produces in us love for God, and love for our fellow man. It does not come from ourselves, it comes from the Holy Spirit at work within us. While following the Ten Commandments is not the way to achieve that love for God and neighbor, they are a good measure for how well we are doing at surrendering our lives to the Lordship of Christ. Are you loving God with all that you have and all that you are? Are you loving your neighbor as yourself, looking after their interests as though they were your own? Or are you allowing self and selfishness to come between you and a right relationship with God and those around you? Go deeper in seeking Christ and laying down self. Ask God to open your eyes to the needs of those around you. Only then can we get at the root of the problem and move forward together in unity.

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