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A Labor of Love

A Labor of Love Deuteronomy

*Last words before leaving the locker room…

In Deuteronomy we have a lengthy last word for the second generation of Israel out of Egypt. They are the generation to enter the Promised Land. They will do the gritty work of fighting and settling and surviving among peoples and nations who did not share their sense of God’s favor. Deuteronomy is a final word, then, before a lengthy season of struggle. It is a message of consequence. And it is a message about the consequences of obeying God’s commands or disobeying God’s commands.

Faith in Christ in our day still calls for obedience to God. But it is a coin with two sides. Specifically, we know that God is not mocked and we reap what we sow. To sow sin is to reap destruction. To sow to please the Spirit is to reap eternal life (Gal. 6:7-8). So we are offered a life of sowing obedience to God among one another. And since we have to start somewhere with this life of obedience, I thought we would turn to the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5.

Deuteronomy 5:1-6 is our preamble to the commandments, five of which we’ll look at today. Please read along with me in your Bible.

Note that Moses calls them, not their forefathers who received the first tablets, to the table with the command to be obedient. This covenant is with them, and so they must see it this way. But in verse 6 we have to pause and learn something about the commands and obedience: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Before the What of obedience is the Who of obedience. The days would come when any and every person would ask, “Who is it that said this? Who is it that asks this of us? Who is it that defines these behaviors as laws? Who is it that asks me to follow Him exclusively, to refrain from idols, to change my language, to observe a Sabbath, to honor my father and mother?” The answer is in verse 6: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of slavery. This is the Who of any and all commands and the reason why they and we are called to follow. God is the faithful one who moved to save us, whether to a generation of slaves in Egypt or to a generation of Americans receiving Christ for forgiveness of sins. Obedience to any command is an obedience to God first. And because the commands of God call for modification of behaviors, reshaping priorities, facing peer pressure, dealing with isolation, denying ourselves, and taking up our cross, we had better know for Whom all of this is done. All that we do, we do for the one who saved us.

If we could, let’s look at the first five commands.

Deut. 5:7…the first command is that we have no other gods before God. In truth, God has always reminded us that there actually is no other God but Him. In the ancient world, the appeal was to nature, to myths and legends, and to powers that lurked among them. In our day we hardly succumb to idols, but we face many, many promises of power and liberation. Not only is there no other true God, but we’re to live as if there is no other. There is to be no competition between God and whatever other powers might be available—whether we see power in nature or nations or personalities or the stock market. Our trust is to be in God’s power.

Deut. 5:8…the second command issues from God’s jealousy. It is not that idols are real, but the love of idols was a love of other religions. In their day and time, the idol was the obvious break in faith. No idols were to be made or worshiped. Nor were people to bow to them or worship them. The religions of Canaan did not save the people from Egypt, God did. We’re not a people of images or idols, of course, but we do know something about the power of images and the things we can hold and manipulate. It’s interesting to note that the gospels gave no attention to Jesus’ appearance. Good thing. We know what would have happened if they did. We would have venerated his traits and not him. We would have reduced Jesus to some physical element we could have touched and reproduced and made our own. As far as God is concerned, no image of God is a step forward not back.

Deut. 5:11…the command here has to do with the misuse of God’s name. Remember that the ancient world believed there was power in a name, and a time came when pious Jews took God’s name so seriously that they stopped writing the vowels over the word for God. In time, no one would actually know how to say God’s name as it was originally recorded (Yahweh is a guess on vowels.) But this command is more than that. It is a command against God’s name for promises that are not kept. It is a command against using God’s name lightly for blessings and curses. And we usually render this, take the Lord’s name in vain, it means to empty God’s name of its value. It makes God an empty word.

Deut. 5:12…the Sabbath was a day of rest waiting for Israel at the end of six days of labor. As we know, it was modeled on the example of God in resting at the end of Creation. Everyone got to rest on a Sabbath, not just the bosses. Even the livestock got a break. But the interesting note here in verse 15 is the call to rest because once they were slaves. Their forefathers knew the weight of labor without rest, and God rooted them again in that story and His liberation.

Finally, Deut. 5:16…I added this commandment to our list today because it is a relationship tied to God. Remember that in the ancient world no one had to tell a child to honor an adult. It was a given. Children were literally property of fathers. This command is addressed to adult males. It is for them to consider their parents and grandparents, specifically as people aging and vulnerable. It calls for compassion and respect to the aged.

To simplify the details of the commandments, think of it this way. In having no other gods, God is calling for belief and the offering of your mind; in forbidding idols, God is asking for your eyes; in not misusing His name, God is asking us to consider language as we serve Him; in the Sabbath God calls for our time; and with parents He points to our hearts and asks that we exercise mercy.

God is doing more than calling for certain behaviors. God is doing much more than giving a minimum list that will keep Him happy. God is inviting you and I to walk with Him and trust Him through concrete faithfulness. This faith equals this action. That is the heart of the ten commandments and all commandments.

But following out of love is the great challenge.

*Police incident, man tasered, on ground. A time came when a man was cooperative in body but resistant in heart. This is not the will of God, the hope of God, the plan of God. Faith is not a long, slow dance where we keep God at arm’s length and offer the minimum. It is God’s will that we see our mind, our eyes, our words, our time, and our flesh and blood as a means of embracing God. Concrete, practical. When someone asks, “How are you following Christ?” we have an answer. I think this. I see this. I say this. I give time to this. And I love them.

This labor of love is not empty. God meets you in these commands. Are you willing to trust Him today with your life, concretely displayed?

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