Applying the 10 Commandments to modern Christians

You shall not murder

This law is applicable to modern Christians because it was well established before the 10 commandments (Gen 4:10-11, 9:6) and is continued into the New Testament (Matt 5:21-26, Romans 13:9).

This is a law against the willful taking of life, and perhaps also against negligence or carelessness resulting in death. For the modern Christian, this is a law against disregarding God’s design for living in a peaceful society (Romans 12:18).This is a law against rejecting the rule of the creator God by claiming authority over life that only God rightly has.

But perhaps most significantly, it is a law against an attitude of the heart that does not love others (See Matt 5:21-26). That is, if ‘you shall not murder’ is the negative command, the New Testament clearly makes the positive version of the same command to be ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Romans 13:9). For modern Christians, the law to not murder is trumped and fulfilled in Jesus’ teaching to love others (Matt 7:12).

You shall not steal

This is a law against taking what is not yours. This law has a horizontal aspect of not taking from other people, but also a vertical aspect of not taking for yoursself things that God hasn’t given you. That is, it is a sin of rebelling against the rule of God and not trusting in his provision.

For a modern Christian, it is not always easy to identify when something is stealing. For example, accessing another persons information or creative work on the internet, or cleverly structuring your finances to reduce your amount of income tax payable. The legal system is not necessarily a clear guide either as it struggles to keep pace with technological change.

Paul argues in Romans 13:9 that this command is summed up in the one rule of loving your neighbour as ourself. That is, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10, and see Jesus comments in Matt 7:12). It is not enough then for us just not take from others, but we are to love others in actively pursuing their best interests (1 Thess 5:15).

So perhaps a good guide to inform how well we are keeping this command is not to ask the question “is this stealing?” but instead to ask “Am I acting in a way that seeks the best interests of the other party” – whether that be in regards to property, your investment of time, or your resources etc.

To seek the best interests of others always is also a way to guide your heart against failing to trust in God’s provision, as it takes your focus away from your own perceived needs and directs you to act in response to others needs first.

Interpreting parables and Luke 15

Parables are brief metaphorical narratives that have two levels of meaning (1). My guidelines for interpreting parables from the synoptic gospels are:

  1. Understand the parable as a simple story designed to be easily understood by a 1st Century audience (‘1st level’ of meaning)
  2. Look for anything in the simple story that might be unusual or challenging for this original audience. This may be a clue to the ‘2nd meaning’.
  3. Look at the context of the parable for hints as to how to understand. For example, is any explanation given? Is the parable in response to a question? How did the original audience respond?
  4. Consider the main characters of the story. Is there something to be learnt from each character? Is there a ‘master’ character that might consolidate what you learn from each subordinate character?
  5. Develop an understanding of the main point of the parable
  6. Check how this understanding fits within and supports the overall message of the Gospel
  7. Think about ways to apply this understanding of the parable to yourself

Applied to parables in Luke 15:

  1. Everybody understands the experience of losing something of value, whether it’s property, resources or people.
  2. The sheep and the coin appear to be modest loses. The response of the man and the woman in finding what was lost appears to be excessive. The behaviour of the father in the Lost Son story is highly unusual according to the customs of that day. The father appears to be excessively gracious, compassionate and forgiving to the Lost Son.
  3. Jesus tells the parables to address the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling about Jesus’ association with ‘sinners’. To be lost is to be a sinner in need of repentance. Jesus implies from the first two parables that his listeners should be joining with the angels of God in heaven and rejoicing over sinners who repent (15:7,10).
  4. The man, woman and father all appear to represent God. We learn that God cares for those who are lost, seeks the lost, and is compassionate and forgiving when the lost are found. The Lost son is another main character who presents a lesson on repentance. The older brother character represents the point of view of the Pharisees and scribes who do not share God’s joy at the repentance of sinners
  5. God loves to welcome repentant sinners into his family. I think Jesus is presenting himself as being the agency of God in seeking and saving the lost.
  6. Jesus repeatedly taught that his mission was focused on seeking and saving the lost (Luke 4:18-21, 5:32, 19:10). Jesus also taught the importance of repentance (Luke 3:3, 15:7).
  7. I don’t want to be like the Pharisees who took no joy from repentant sinners. I am a repentant sinner myself. I should take more joy in God’s calling of me to repentance, as well as much joy from others who repent and turn to God. My ministry should be more closely reflective of Jesus’ ministry with an increased focus on those who are lost rather that just on those who are already found. Will I be a follower of Jesus with the attitude of the older brother, or will I adopt the attitude of the outrageous radical loving Father?

References:
1. Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, 299–309.
2. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 2014.
3. David A. deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 337–342.
4. Garwood P. Anderson, ‘Parables’, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 650–663.

Exodus 3

Main point
God continues to fulfill his covenant promises to the people of Israel by revealing his redemptive plans, extending his self revelation, and graciously commissioning Moses as his emissary and prophet.

Main purpose
Know that God is the unparalleled and unbounded, faithful, gracious, almighty savior of his chosen people; and so we can confidently trust and obey.

Supporting argument

Fulfill his covenant promises –
God reveals himself to Moses as the God of the patriarchs (6) and instructs Moses to introduce him to the elders of Israel and the king of Egypt as the God of the patriarchs (15) and the God of the Hebrews (18). The words of God in Genesis 15 have come to pass – Abraham’s descendants have been enslaved for 400 years and God now needs to act to fulfill his promises of rescue (Gen 15:14) and in so doing, continue the process of fulfilling his promises to Abraham of people, blessing and land (Gen 12:3).

Revealing his redemptive plans –
God uses this promised redemptive act to extend the covenant promises established with the patriarchs. God promises to reveal not only his power to rescue (8), but also his compassion (7) and the comfort of his presence (12). God promises to not only bring his people up to the promised land, but to a “land flowing with milk and honey” (8), which is a picture of comfort and prosperity. God promises to not only powerfully rescue his people (20) but to cause the Egyptians to let them plunder them also (21-22).

Extending his self revelation –
In revealing his name to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’, God is revealing more of his nature and character. Of his nature, his name expresses the idea of being un-qualifiable, un-defineable, un-bounded by concepts that can be expressed in words – to say that God is anything is to bound his nature, and so the most fitting expression is just to say that ‘He is’ (‘He is’ is the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘Yahweh). Of God’s nature also, this self revelation declares his identity for all time and in being unbounded in nature, suggests that he is God for all people as well (15). Of his character, his name implies his presence with his people. i.e. ‘I am with you’ (Sailhammer, 246)

Graciously commissioning Moses –
After 40 years of shepherding in obscurity, God calls and commissions Moses to bring his people out of Egypt under God’s mighty hand (20). Whilst Moses is the lead human character in this story, Moses in his inadequacy and questioning appears to be a foil for revealing more of God. God graciously engages with Moses in conversation and answers Moses’ concerns. As we consider the character and experience of Moses, it is possible to learn something of how God chooses to work through human agents – we see God teaching Moses patience during his 40 years of shepherding; we see Moses learning humility and fear before a Holy God (6), we see the importance of a honest personal relationship with God prior to public ministry, and also see the primary importance of the presence and power of God in enabling humans to be his effective agents for his purposes. However the story is not ultimately about Moses (or us), but about God. As Hill argues, “The basic theological purpose of the book (of Exodus) is divine self-disclosure. God has not only remembered his covenant promises to the Hebrew patriarchs, but also has now revealed himself to Israel as Yahweh”.

References

Hill, Andrew E. A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
Fretheim, Terence E. Exodus. (Louisville: John Knox, 1991).
Motyer, J. Alec. The Message of Exodus. (Leicester: IVP, 2005).
Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch as Narrative. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).

Mark 2:18-22

This pericope, occurring within the middle of a pattern of five conflict stories, summaries the main idea at the heart of the emerging conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities – Jesus’ ministry is not another alternative solution for realising the hopes of the Jewish faith. Jesus’ ministry marks the beginning of a new means of relating to God that replaces and fulfills all that has gone before. Whilst the major strands of the Jewish faith (from the hyper-religiousness of the Pharisees to the guerilla warfare of the Zealots) focused on the external realities of the people of God relating to politics, geography, national identity and so forth, Jesus’ ministry focuses on the internal problem of sin; the problem is within rather than without.

Fasting, a typical sign of external religion, was a common practice within Judaism. Fasting can generally be understood as a means of seeking to attain grace under the Old Covenant. However under the ministry of Jesus we attain grace by receiving and believing in Him (John 1:12, 16-18). Jesus uses the picture of a wedding feast with himself as the bridegroom to capture the contrast between the administration under the old and new covenants.

(Verse 20 appears to be a separate idea, perhaps a later addition to the narrative, and an early allusion in Mark’s gospel to the passion of Jesus with fasting used as a literal expression of mourning).

The twin illustrations in vv21-22 express the idea that although the ministry of Jesus may appear similar (new cloth on old cloth, new wine in old wine skins), it is in fact compatible within the paradigm of the Old Covenant.

The original audience for this Gospel were Christians undergoing persecution by the Roman authorities for their faith. The story of Jesus’ conflict with the authorities along with the imagery of the abundant wedding feast with Jesus would have served as a message of great comfort to them in their time of need (1 Peter 4:13).

References

  • Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd ed. (Nottingham: Apollos, 2009)
  • James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary:The Gospel According to Mark (Eerdmans, 2002), 87–93.
  • David Garland, Mark (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 102–106.
  • William Lane, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 107–113.
  • Robert Guelich, Mark 1:1–8:26 (Dallas: Word, 1989), 106–117.

Genesis 15

Main point
God is a gracious promise-making and promise-keeping God. His people are the undeserving recipients of his promised blessings.

Main purpose
Know that God is faithful and therefore respond in belief and obedience.

Supporting arguments
In chapter 14 we read about Abram’s military success, some hints at him bringing a blessing to the nations, and his demonstration of fidelity to God (and his priest). However chapter 15 opens with Abram in a pitiful and timid state, crying out to God for confirmation of his promised offspring (12:3, 7, 13:15).

Amidst the fear, the doubts, and the questioning from Abram, the overall impression from this chapter is that there is nothing particularly meritorious about Abram but for his believing the LORD in verse 6. It is to this undeserving recipient that God promises a very great reward (v1) in the form of innumerable offspring (v5) and an expansive and complete inheritance of land (v18-21) (The 10 people groups indicating a complete and whole number).

A plain reading of the chronology of the chapter suggests that God told Abram to look into the daytime sky to count the stars. If this was the case, then this adds another element to the belief of Abram; believe that God will provide innumerable offspring (as many stars in the sky), and, believe that God will do this despite an absence of any evidence (as the stars cannot be seen during the day).

Verse 6 functions as the fulcrum of the chapter, sitting between the promises of offspring and land, and making plain that Abram’s belief results in a right standing before God (credited as righteousness), which is the foundation upon which the covenant with Abram is established. It should be noted that Abram’s right standing then leads to expression and confirmation in his right living (Genesis 18:19, James 2:20-24), and ultimately serves as the platform for God’s blessing to the nations through the obedience of the nation of Israel. Note also that Abram was not the first to be credited righteousness through faith (Hebrews 11:7), but is recognised as being the model (or father) for all who believe in God, and ultimately in Christ, through faith (Romans 4:11-12, Gal 3:29).

A covenant ceremony of some kind, similar to that described in vv12-21, would have been a common practice of the ancient near East to bind parties to a long-term partnership. The precise meaning of each of the elements in the narrative is hard to determine due to a lack of direct corollary in either the Pentateuch or other writings from the same time period. However the one clear aspect of this covenant agreement is that it is God alone who binds himself to the covenant (Abram is in a deep sleep!), and in so doing, God binds himself to be responsible for delivering on all the promises of the covenant, ultimately fulfilled in the sacrificial death of the Son of God.

As it is God who initiates the covenant with Abram, God who binds himself to the terms of the covenant, and God alone who is able to fulfill the impossible promises of the covenant, it is the LORD God alone who should be believed and obeyed. How striking then are the sinful actions of Abram at the start of the very next chapter in believing the unsatisfied self-reliant urgings of his wife Sarai.

References

  • Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15 (Waco: Word, 1987), 322–335.
  • John H. Walton, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 420–423.
  • Kenneth A. Mathews, The New American Commentary (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005)
  • Paul R Williamson, Abraham, Israel, and the Nations : The Patriarchal Promise and Its Covenantal Development in Genesis (Sheffield : Sheffield Academic Press,  2000), 260-267.
  • John E Hartley, Genesis (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series) (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), 240-253