The love-shaped life: Jonathan’s sermon on Exodus 20:12-16

Abolish or fulfil

Jonathan’s sermon this morning was on five of the ten ‘commandments’, or ‘words’:

12 ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 ‘You shall not murder.

14 ‘You shall not commit adultery.

15 ‘You shall not steal.

16 ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour. (Exodus 20:12-16)

The message, put simply is ‘Just follow these commandments,’ Jonathan said. They are a call to live our lives in a certain way.

Stick to the text

There’s been a tendency to broaden these commandments into what Jonathan called ‘lofty moral sentiments’ – for example, ‘honour your father and mother’ becomes something like ‘we have a collective responsibility for the aged in our society – which is commendable, but not what the text says.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ time had developed the commandments into complicated structures of ethical requirements, which only the religious leaders could tell you how to adhere to. (There were an estimated 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions in the rabbinic writing.)

Some people have said that while the 10 commandments were useful for the tribe of Israel, they now seem too simple and undeveloped for modern society. Jonathan detects a widespread tendency in churches today to deny, contrary to the attitude of the early Christian church and the Reformers, and Jesus himself, that the 10 commandments apply to Christians today.

Jonathan continued by arguing that the commandments are still relevant, and by showing the intricate connection between love and these commandments (which are part of ‘the Law’)

Love results in the Law

In the introductory clause to the 10 commandments, God says ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ (Exodus 20:2) The tribe of Israel were God’s people. God had heard their distress, and rescued them from pain, suffering and bondage because He loved them.

And it is out of love that God gives them the Law (the commandments) because he yearns for them to live good and fruitful lives. In this God acts like the parents who give kids rules, not to limit and restrict them, but to keep them safe, to help them to prosper and mature.

Jonathan said ‘The 10 commandments flow out of the love of a heavenly Father whose sole desire is to see you flourish. And so it’s God’s love that produces the Law.

The Law describes Love

The commandments show what the lives of loving people look like.

Here Jonathan paused to criticise a line of thinking which he told us is very popular in churches today, but which he judges is wrong. Those who support this line of thought, argue that verses like John 13:34 – ‘a new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another’ are new Laws which nullify the old Law. (Jonathan also quoted Romans 13:8-10 and Matthew 22:38-19 as texts used to support the views he was criticising.)

The supporters of this view argue that all we need to do in any situation is what love requires – and it follows from this that these folk think that this ‘Law of love’ necessitates in certain situations that we break the Law of God. Someone has even suggested that out of love for us, God broke his own Law in order to save us.  ‘And,’ said Jonathan, ‘that is not only wrong…that is blasphemous.’

This viewpoint suggests that at times we must set aside the Law of God in order to respond with love to unique human situations. Jonathan argues, that on the contrary ‘there is no human situation that can justify breaking, or setting aside, or bluntly disobeying the Law of God.’

These 10 commandments, which flow from the love of God – describe what love looks like.  If you love God, you will do what pleases God, and what is pleasing to God is reflected in the 10 commandments.  They describe – in our relationship with God, our family and our neighbours – what a life of love looks like. God, through the commandments, urges us to be a loving people, a people known for the quality of our loving.

Love in action results in the Law fulfilled

Jonathan read Matthew 5:17-20:

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is very clear, said Jonathan, that entry into the kingdom of God depends on our conformity to the Law: that’s what ‘righteousness’ is – conformity to the Law.  Jesus has come, Jonathan said, to fulfil the Law, not to change it or annul it, but to reveal its full depth and significance.

And of course the problem is that salvation depends on conformity to the Law, and we are incapable of fulfilling its requirements.

It’s important to note, Jonathan told us, that the 10 commandments were given to the people of God who had been saved from the land of Egypt. Their salvation had already been accomplished.

The truth is that it is God’s work for us (in saving us and showing us divine love) enables God’s work in us. It is God’s work in us what helps us, in God’s strength, to conform to the Law of love, to live it out and fulfil it.

Our righteousness as Christians is not ‘the external, formal obedience of the Pharisees and Scribes’ said Jonathan. ‘It’s a deeper righteousness, a righteousness of the heart. It’s a far more radical righteousness.

Jesus calls us not just to outward righteousness, but to a righteousness of mind and motive. ‘Adultery’ according to Jesus in Matthew 5, includes looking at someone lustfully; ‘murder’ includes hating someone

God looks at the heart. And God promised (Jeremiah 31:33)  ‘I will put my Law within them, and I will write it on their heart.’  And God writes it on our hearts through the Holy Spirit: ‘I will put my Spirit in you, and cause your to walk in my statutes.’ (Ezekiel 36:27)

Jonathan quoted John Stott ‘We must not imagine, as some do today, that when we have the Spirit we can dispense with the Law for what the Spirit does in our hearts in precisely to write God’s Law there.’

The Spirit within the people of God enables us to conform to the Law, which is the perfect description of love. As the Spirit produces the fruit of love within us, so the Law is fulfilled. (Romans 6:9-10)

But, said Jonathan. This deeper righteousness is only possible in those who have been born again, experiencing new birth (John 3: 3,5) indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

‘The Spirit in us brings forth love and that love results in the honouring of our father and mother. That love results in the valuing of life. That love results in sexual purity. That love results in respecting other’s possessions, and that love results in honesty. In short, the Spirit in us brings forth love and that loves results in the Law fulfilled.’

 

 

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