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Labor of Love 2: Deuteronomy 5:16-21

Last week we walked through five of the ten commandments found in Deuteronomy 5, and there were no surprises. That is, we are more than used to the list. But we probably have grown used to what is the distinctive mark of the commands handed down by God: six of the ten commandments concern our treatment of others. One might think that ten commandments handed down by God and tied concretely to obedience to God would give more exclusive attention to God. But the commands do not fill up the other six spots with corners of prayer and song and confession. God fills up the six spots with parents and neighbors. There is no escape from the only conclusion we can make about these commandments: Our obedience to God is linked to a compassionate, just relationship with people.

In fact, as we read these commandments from Deuteronomy 5:16-21, let’s add the operative word here, “human,” when it is missing.

  • Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
  • You shall not murder (another human).
  • You shall not commit adultery (with or against another human).
  • You shall not steal (from another human).
  • You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

While we speak constantly about the personal relationship we can all enjoy with God, a sense that God has time for an individual, we must also remind ourselves that God is as interested in my neighbor as He is interested in me. He is as interested in your neighbor’s life, even your enemy’s life, as He is interested in your life.

Consider these Scriptures that follow the tablets from the mountain:

Deuteronomy 23:4: If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him, If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Psalm 82:3-4 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Isaiah 1:17: Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Matthew 5:23-24: Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Luke 10:30-37: In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…”

All of this is to show the WHAT of the ten commandments and obedience to God. Loved or unloved, welcomed or feared, family and neighbors are on the table in God’s call to an obedient life.

But WHY? Why not take from others? If I could, I offer two ideas.

First, disobedience to these commandments is to alter someone’s identity. *A story was reported this week that instituted “total identity theft.” Benita Cardona-Gonzalez, an illegal immigrant in Topeka, KS, pled guilty to forged documents in a plea agreement. Her crime is breathtaking. She used the name of a Houston, TX teacher to create a new persona: driver’s license, employment SSN, food stamps, and medical care for her kids. She not only claimed the teacher’s identity but contested the identity with the Social Security Administration (and won). She was issued a new card and the real woman was denied.

Consider that as concept in these commands. These sins are especially harmful because they actually take something from someone else. They are committed at someone else’s expense. On the concrete side, dishonoring parents, murder, adultery, theft, and lying literally change a person’s life. But even in the case of merely coveting or daydreaming of being with someone not your spouse, something is taken or at least changed. These sins, even limited to mind and daydreams, change these people in our eyes. When you consider murder, you have reduced someone to the level of refuse and unforgiveable; when you steal you see someone as wealthier than you, maybe unjustly, and believe they don’t need things like you do; when you daydream about an adulterous affair you see someone as an ideal or maybe even an idol or a prize. (**National Championship game: the announcer’s ogling of Miss Alabama reduced her to a quarterback’s prize. While she gained thousands in Twitter followers in a few hours, she lost ground in the goal of being taken seriously as a human being.) Finally, when you covet what others own you see them as competition to your own sense of peace. It is not merely that these commandments call us to leave people’s stuff alone. The commandments call us to respect what these humans have done and, often, what God has done in their lives.

And one more WHY? The prohibition against taking from your brother or sister is the invitation to accept your own life. It is the invitation to put aside all the questions you have about someone else’s story and accept your own story as a life lived under God’s care. Instead of expending energy and attention and jealousy on someone else’s life and people and stuff, we are called to pay attention to being ourselves under Christ. Expend energy being you, not them. Pay attention to what you’ve been given, not what they bought. Pay attention to the ones you are to love, not the ones they are to love.

There may be no more insightful statement about life than this nugget from Ecclesiastes 5:19: Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. Centuries later, Paul will write this to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6: Godliness with contentment is great gain. These commands are more than a call to leave people alone. They are also commands to pay attention to yourself, to know and appreciate the unique ways God provides for you and cares for you.

We are not called to live our eyeballs on one another’s stuff. We are called to live with our eyes on Christ our Savior. The writer of Hebrews says it this way in 13:5: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”




    Bulletin Insert

    Labor of Love 2 Deuteronomy 5:16-21

    One might think that ten commandments handed down by God and tied concretely to obedience to God would give more exclusive attention to God…

    There is no escape from the only conclusion we can make about these commandments: Our obedience to God is linked to a compassionate, just relationship with ___________.

    Deuteronomy 5:16-21:

    • Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
    • You shall not murder.
    • You shall not commit adultery.
    • You shall not steal.
    • You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
    • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

    Deuteronomy 23:4: If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him, If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

    Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

    Isaiah 1:17: Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

    Luke 10:30-37: In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…”

    All of this is to show the WHAT of obedience to God.

    Loved or unloved, welcomed or feared, family and neighbors are on the table in God’s call to an obedient life.

    But WHY?

    First, disobedience to these commandments is to alter someone’s ____________.

    *A story was reported this week: “total identity theft.”

    These sins are especially harmful because they actually take something from someone else. They are committed at someone else’s expense. Even in the case of merely coveting or daydreaming of being with someone, something is taken or at least changed.

    **National Championship game: a quarterback’s prize?

    It is not merely that these commandments call us to leave people’s stuff alone. The commandments call us to respect what these humans have done and, often, what God has done in their lives.

    Second, the prohibition against taking from your brother or sister is the invitation to _________ your own life.

    Expend energy being you, not them.

    Pay attention to what you’ve been given, not what they bought.

    Pay attention to the ones you are to love, not the ones they love.

    Ecclesiastes 5:19: Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.




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