11th April, 1999

  Are our rules better?
  Exodus 20

Cecil B. DeMille, American motion-picture producer-director used massive spectacular films to attracted vast audiences which made him a dominant figure in Hollywood for almost five decades. Among these were The Ten Commandments (1923) and The King of Kings (1927), which, it is estimated, was seen by 800,000,000 people. His second version of The Ten Commandments (1956) was his 70th and last film. Most of us can picture Charlton Heston as Moses, crossing the Red Sea and receiving the Ten Commandments.

At the same time as people today want to live without rules, our society is becoming more rule bound than at any time in history. Ask any businessman or woman of rules and regulations that tie up his or her business. Even sport has become the subject of multitudes of regulations. At the same time as we want freedom from regulations, young people want to know, exactly how far can they go on every issue. Businessmen push every new method of making money to the legal limit. People ask for clear rules and guidelines. For we know that unless we have clear rules for living, society suffers. We expect people to abide by the rules.

When people reject the rules, all hell breaks loose on earth. Adolf Hitler applied the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche in practical politics. Hitler applied the principles that rejected the Ten Commandments and the rules for living that flowed from them. Nietzsche had re-evaluated all values and gave Hitler new values: "Only the strong survive", "Nothing is true, everything is allowed", and "God is dead". Hitler then declared, "Those who are not racially pure are mere chaff." And "The great masses of the people will fall victim to a big lie rather than a small lie."

Without basic rules of decency and obedience, he used the forces of the state to bring a holocaust on nations, on Christians, Jews and gypsies. Basic beliefs determine social behaviour. Reject basic rules for behaviour and people become less than animals. Hitler, Mao Tse Dung, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic and every other despot illustrates as truth, that a society that does not live by the rules descends to being worse than animals.

Western Civilisation accepted the Jewish laws of living as first written by Moses. About 1420 BC, Moses succeeded in winning freedom for his nation and he led the Hebrew slaves and their livestock on a vast journey through the wilderness where he had spent forty years caring for his family and flocks. Moses brought them to Mt Sinai. There God spoke to him, as God had previously spoken to him from the burning bush. There God gave Moses His basic laws of living. The people heard Moses speak the Ten Words or Decalogue, to them. God had inscribed on two tablets of stone that Moses carried down the mountain. The stone tablets with the ten rules for living became the basis of Jewish life and faith, and subsequently of the Christian civilisation.

Some people want to discard them into the rubbish bin of history along with other interesting relics of mankind's evolution. But can you manage without some basic rules? It is a crucial question for the future of humanity. Some countries reject Christian rules for living including: "You shall not lie." They believe lying is moral and necessary. How can nations trust each other when they do not agree on the basic rules? How can two nations trust each other when one believes, "You shall not kill" and the other, "Kill if you need to." Trust and freedom demands obedience to common rules.

If people reject obedience to the rules then society becomes permissive. History shows that permissive societies become dictatorships. Of 127 nations in the world today, 97 are dictatorships. When a person breaks one of the basic rules, it is hard to trust them with the others. If a person commits adultery, they will also lie in covering up. If a person covets another person's goods then it is likely that they will also steal them. If a person commits murder, then they are not likely to honour their mother and father. Does anybody trust President Bill Clinton when he has publicly admitted to breaking many of the Ten Commandments with the rest?

For three thousand years, the Hebrew nation and Christian civilisation have claimed as workable the basic rules of living God gave Moses. Jesus took the Ten Commandments of Moses, reinterpreted them, and gave them even greater significance. Four of the rules Moses brought from God concerned our relationships with Him, and the other six have to do with our relationships with each other. These "ten words" were distinguished from the rest of the law of God in that they were audibly delivered to Moses by God himself and later written by God on stone. They are not numbered. The Roman Catholic and Lutheran communions make one commandment of what the Greek Orthodox and Protestants call the first two. Therefore, to keep the total number to ten, the tenth must be divided into two commandments by Roman Catholics and Lutherans, making the first sentence of the tenth commandment the ninth and the rest the tenth.

Their order is important. We are to put God first, get right with Him, and then we will be able to act properly towards our neighbours, family and fellow men. If our inner beliefs are right, then our outer behaviour will be correct. Social commitment comes from moral commitment. As Jesus put it: "The most important commandment is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second most important commandment is this: "Love your neighbour as you love yourself."" Mark 12:29-30. Here one can see the wonderful balance that is maintained in the Law. Duties to God and to other human beings are not separated. Here one can see the wonderful balance that is maintained in the Law. Duties to God and to other human beings are not separated.

Here you can see the wonderful balance maintained in the Law. Duties to God and to other human beings are not separated. To change the world for the better by changing the people in it is a great act of faith, but to change the world without changing the hearts of people is foolishness. Christians build a better world by building better people. The ten rules for living changed the Hebrew people. They were the only nation who worshipped one God with standards of conduct. They had ten rules for living that were going to weld them into a new people, a tough people that would settle a harsh land and lead them to becoming a new nation. They would be conquered by the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, the British and the Arabs. Their people would be scattered all over the world, but in every country they would stick together and survive planned attempts to eliminate them. For 3000 years the Jews have obeyed their rules, and have prospered.

The rules were simple. They applied to individuals and allowed for no exceptions. They told what the people will do if they became the Covenant people of God:

1. You will put God first.
2. You will worship no idol.
3. You will not swear.
4. You will keep a day of rest.
5. You will honour your parents.
6. You will not kill.
7. You will be faithful to your spouse.
8. You will not steal.
9. You will not lie.
10. You will not desire what is not yours.

Dr D. Elton Trueblood put them into a brief poem:

Above all else love God alone;
Bow down to neither wood nor stone.
God's name refuse to take in vain,
And Sabbath rest with care maintain.

Respect your parents all your days;
Hold sacred human life always.
Be loyal to your chosen mate,
Steal nothing neither small nor great.
Keep to the truth in word and deed,
And rid your mind of selfish greed.

Among these rules was a distinctive Jewish Sabbath. It was more than that Israel kept the Sabbath, it was the Sabbath which has kept Israel. Other days of rest, such as the Christian Sunday and the Islamic Friday, owe their origins to the Jewish Sabbath. These reasons why the Jewish Sabbath was changed to the Christian Sunday I have mentioned before and are in a document I have written which you can write for: "On Which Day Should We Worship?" The important issue is taking a day of rest to worship and remember God.

These rules for living have to be learnt, then put into practise until they become like second nature. They have to be learnt by every one of us, as none of us take to them naturally. In mathematics, a person with a brain like Albert Einstein does not have to repeat his mathematical tables every morning but he will still use them every time he starts work. In music, a composer with the genius of Mozart does not have to go over his scales, but the fact is, he will use all the notes in the scale that the most amateur pianist will use and not one more. In physics, a scientist need not check the orchard each day to see if apples still fall downwards, but the physicist will still use basic laws such as gravity in his work. So with all living. They who live the fullest life will do so heeding the basic rules for living. They have learnt them, live by them, observe them, and respect them. Keeping the rules will not make you a Jew or a Christian.

But being a Jew or a Christian means you will keep the rules. The nation cannot expect people to understand the rules until first they realise what it means to want to love and serve God. That is why our first task is to bring people to God, not to teach them the rules. If they love God, then they will want to keep each of His rules for their living.

The purpose of the law of God was to: (1) show mankind's awful sinfulness in his moral distance from God; (2) show mankind's need for a mediator if he ever was to approach God which task Israel promptly assigned to Moses; and (3) show mankind how to live abundantly by using God's moral law as his guide. However, the warning had to be sounded again and again, as Paul put it: "By observing the works of the law no one will be justified" Gal 2:16. It makes no difference whether the law is stated negatively or positively, for the moral law is always doublesided. It commands and prohibits, for every moral act is at the same time also a refraining from a contrary mode of action that should have been taken. When an evil is forbidden in one of the commandments, its opposite good must be understood as being encouraged. When a command is stated, all else is forbidden.

For example, John Calvin said that "Thou shalt not kill" is not fulfilled merely by abstaining from all injury or wish to kill; it means also that we are to aid our neighbor's life by all that is in our power. God forbids us to injure and hurt our brother, for he would have us hold his life to be dear and valuable to us. So when God forbids, He also at the same time demands a positive contribution to the life of our neighbour. To reject virtue is to choose vice. In the moral realm mere negatives do have the force of positives. The Ten Commandments are abiding laws for all people.

What makes the Ten Commandments unique is the character of the God who gave them. Without God, the Commandments lose their distinctiveness. Jesus inaugurated a new era in which the Law as understood by the Jews of His day would no longer be the guiding principle for the Kingdom of God.Luke16:16 Nevertheless, Jesus claimed not to have come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. Matt 5:17-20 Jesus moved the understanding of the Law from its external, legalistic meaning to its spiritual one. Moving from outward observance to inward intention is Jesus' concern. Matt. 5:21-28 He pushes the Law out to its ultimate meaning, thus filling it full. Jesus affirmed the heart and the spirit of the Law. He moved to a deeper level of meaning, to the spirit behind the Law which God had intended from the beginning. The commandments to love had been there all along; Jesus simply emphasized them in a way that would forever change how we should look at them.

The Apostle Paul recognised that the Law had been given for a good purpose; it was holy, just and good. The Law pointed out the sin of human beings. Rom. 7:7 Because of our sin, the Law became a curse. Gal. 3:10-13 Paul believed the Law was given for a good purpose, but it could not save a person. Gal. 3:11; Rom. 3:20 If we were to become children of God, it would be by means other than keeping the Law. Paul knows Christ freed us from the requirements of the Law by His death and resurrection.Rom 8:3,4. Therefore, Christ has become the end of the Law for Christians. Rom 10:4 Faith in Jesus saves us, not Law.Eph 2:8,9 Paul, like Jesus, saw the Law fulfilled in the command to love. Rom. 13:8; Gal. 5:13 Only the Spirit of God can enable us to meet the requirement to love which fulfils the Law. Gal 5:16; Rom. 8. God's rules for living are best observed when we give our lives in faith to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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