Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Keeping the Sixth Commandment

The Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue states “Thou shalt not kill.” Most people have understood this not to be purely pacifistic (as other parts of the Law, and the Old Testament itself, contradict this interpretation), but rather more like “You shall not murder,” which is definitely more distinct for our society (they would not have been confused).

So how can we keep the commandment not to murder? “Easy,” you might say, “Don’t kill anyone!” And that seems obvious enough. And it is true. However, that is not all there is. Why is it wrong to take a life impermissibly? Well, because, you are not permitted to do it! That is true but altogether unhelpful. Why is it that it is impermissible?

Jesus gives us a clue in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says if someone has hated his brother in his heart, he has violated the Sixth Commandment. This always struck me as austere. Is it really the same thing if I get unduly upset with my brother or if I stab him to death? This interpretation results in people saying things like, “If you hate your brother, you might as well go ahead and kill him!” This is wrong for two reasons. First, killing him would be an additional wrong, not the same instance of wrong, so at the very least there would be more sin in acting on the intention than merely the intention itself. Second, it genuinely seems worse to kill someone in action than in the mind. Note, I’m not saying it’s permissible.

But how then can we reconcile this? I think we reconcile our moral intuitions with the teaching of Jesus by understanding why the prohibition in the Sixth Commandment was made. Human beings are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 2:7). There is no higher being that could ever be other than God; to the extent we reflect him, then, we are in that sense priceless. Thus, to kill a fellow human unjustly is to disregard the image of God in him, and thus is an affront to God himself (after all, what is rejected in image is a rejection of the one behind the image [to burn something in effigy is nothing else but to wish harm upon the one being caricatured; so to despise the image of God is nothing else but to despise God himself]). If we agree that God is the most holy, and he alone is to be worshipped and not supplanted, then the image of God in all human beings must be respected.

But this means that you cannot hate in your heart your fellow man. Why? Because that too fails to recognize the image of God in man (or worse, explicitly despises it) and thus does violence to the sacredness of God. Thus, whenever you hate your brother in your heart, you are despising the One who created him. So we can see a positive command in the prohibition: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (sound familiar? This is linked to the First Commandment, and is called the greatest by Jesus!). Another implication: we are to respect all of our fellow human beings as created in the image of God, not just in word but in thought and deed. It can be expressed like this: Love your neighbor as yourself (sound familiar? Jesus taught this as the second-greatest commandment. Both of these can also be found in Deuteronomy 6). Thus, the Sixth Commandment is intricately involved with the issues of human life: worship toward God and love toward man.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Keeping the Fifth Commandment: Honor Your Parents

In continuing this series on the Ten Commandments, since I’ve already done one on the Fourth Commandment, I want to proceed on to the Fifth. This one is the one that children dread and parents love: honor your father and mother. (Disclaimer: This, and Ephesians 6:1, served as my parents’ all-time favorite verses!) Notice something right off the bat: the commandment is not addressed to “children.” Though it obviously goes without saying that anyone who is instructed to honor his parents is the child of his parents, the “children” part would have served to identify the demographic (as it does, for example, in Ephesians 6:1, coming as it does in the immediate sub-context of familial relationships). Thus, we can conclude age is not of primary import.

So what does this mean for us? Some have taken it to mean that one is to obey his parents regardless of his age. Thus, if a son in his early 30s wants to marry, but his parents order him not to, he is under biblical obligation to obey. This sounds nice (actually it doesn’t sound nice at all, but whatever), but the language doesn’t bear this argument out. “Honor” in Hebrew is not the same word as “obey,” nor does it necessarily contain the same idea (although it may). The word for “honor” is kabad, and in the particular stem in which it appears in Exodus 20 it means something like, “to make honorable, honor, glorify.”[1]

The principle of bringing honor may indicate obedience, as it does for children who are under the care or supervision of their parents. Think about it: is it really honorable for a child to disobey the instruction of his parents? Absolutely not! But it would (and should) go further than this. For, as Proverbs tells us, the wise one should heed his parents’ instruction (or wise instruction at all, for that matter). Thus, merely following the letter of our parents’ instruction is not always sufficient. So, for a child under his parents’ care, taking to heart their wisdom is honoring to them as well (and it would be dishonoring one’s parents to ignore or otherwise not profit from their wisdom).

So what about those of us who are no longer under our parents’ care or supervision? What about adults? Do we need to obey them? Not necessarily; we are no longer under their care, and are expected to be responsible for ourselves. However, we can still profit from their wisdom. Thus, if they give us wise instruction, it is honoring to them to live that out (even if we end up living it out better or worse than they did—it is an honor to try to live out their wisdom).

What if we have parents who are not wise, or even not “worthy” of honor? How can we honor them? First, we can treat them well. Second, we can choose to take care of them. I always joke with my mom that she can’t come live with me when she is old (that’s why I have brothers—live with them!), but the honest truth is that if putting your parents in a home is your primary objective when they become dependent, that’s not honoring them. And no, I’m not talking about people whose parents have severe or extenuating issues. I’m speaking to those who could take care of their parents (it’s not too serious or severe as to require a higher or professional level of care) but they don’t want to.

Before anyone gets upset, let me give the non-legalistic illustration/interpretation of this commandment. Jesus is answering the Pharisees legalistic interpretation of the Law in Matthew 15:4-6 when he says, “For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor thy father and mother,’ and ‘He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.’ But ye say, ‘Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, ‘It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me,’ And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free.’ Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”

What was the point? Jesus references the Fifth Commandment, but the Pharisees found a “loophole.” Israelites well knew that the honoring of parents in the fifth commandment included taking care of them financially and providentially in their old age. However, the Pharisees came up with an ingenious idea: we just tell our parents that what we would have given to them to take care of them we gave to the Temple instead, and that relieves the obligation (since giving to the Temple is good, and we cannot be expected to give what we do not have!). To make it explicit, this did not even entail actually giving one’s goods to the Temple: it was the idea of dedicating one’s whole self and possessions to the Temple in an idealistic sense, and thus they are “unavailable” to be used by one’s parents. What kind of a son or daughter would do that? One who does not honor their parents, that’s what kind!

We can see that God gave us parents to take care of us, so that when they are old and need care, we would care for them (in any way we can, financial, health, etc.). And hopefully, if we become parents, when we are old, our children will take care of us. Mom, you still need to live with Tim. ;)

[1] Thanks, blueletterbible.org

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Keeping the Second Commandment

In a previous post, we discussed the implications of the first commandment, and what it really means and how we can keep it. I’d like to continue that discussion with a brief comment or two on keeping the second commandment. What is the second commandment? Well, paraphrasing, in Exodus 20 it says that Israel was not to make any graven images, of anything in heaven or earth. Why? Is it because statues are inherently evil? No, not quite. A good number of translations translate the prohibition against idols. I think that captures the spirit of the commandment, but it doesn’t explain why it makes that interpretive decision.

I think there are two primary reasons for making this commandment, and when we see them, we will see how we can apply the commandment and keep it in our everyday lives in our contemporary context. The first reason is that cultures around them in the ANE were often consumed by idol worship; it permeated their very way of life. God is invisible, and whatever deities were postulated by these ANE cultures needed representation that could be seen and touched (if not actually heard). The carved idols out of wood and stone fit the bill perfectly. However, these idols were not the true God; they were false gods. So why is it that they could not carve an image of Yahweh, the true God? Because if they were to worship it, they would be worshipping a representation, and not the real thing.

The second reason stems from this: there is a legitimate representation of God. There is an exact representation of his being, and there is an image of the invisible God. His name is Jesus Christ. If the Old Testament involved the shadows or beginnings of revelation that culminated in the fulfilling of the Law in Jesus Christ, then it only makes sense for the OT believers to need to “leave room” for the tangible representation of God on the Earth, the man Christ Jesus, who is the Second Person of the Trinity. In short, we are not to have carved representations of God because there is a representation of God, Jesus Christ, and he is to be worshipped.

Thus, we can see the correlating positive command of the second commandment: we are to worship God in Christ Jesus, and accept Jesus as sent from the Father, doing the works of God as very God and very man, relying on the Holy Spirit in his incarnation, and always doing the will of the Father, perfectly fulfilling the Law and atoning for sin in our place. Keeping the second commandment needed to be framed, initially, as avoiding the constructing of idols. But just as a more mature person has more and more positive, as opposed to negative, instruction in his life, so too the people of God received more and more positive revelation; we know more on this side of the cross than we would have if we lived earlier than it. We must honor Jesus Christ, and remember that in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Video: A Discussion on TULIP

The following is a very brief video on TULIP, followed by the alternative of Molinism, for my Doctrines 2 students. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Keeping the First Commandment

In dealing with the applicability of the Old Testament Law to contemporary times, and in showing a possible application of the interpretation of the OT Law in viewing the Sabbath (the fourth commandment), I decided I wanted to talk very briefly about each of the other Ten Commandments as well. Some of them will have more obvious principles than others. While I don’t intend to mine out all of the possible applications that can be had, I do want to highlight a few for each one. Today, the first commandment will be discussed.

What is the first commandment? Exodus 20:2-3 says, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This very simple commandment is also very straightforward: the other cultures of the Ancient Near East (ANE) were very polytheistic, often adding gods where other conquering cultures moved in. God is telling the Hebrew people who had recently been freed from Egypt that in no uncertain terms were they to do that. That’s a pretty easy interpretation.

But what about application? As I said to a church yesterday, “It’s not like any of you are in danger of going home to your Buddhist shrines and worshipping idols or whatever.” And that is largely true of us in Western culture. We don’t tend to overtly worship idols. But what does this mean for us, then? Of what relevance is it? First, there is the obvious application of things or pursuits or even other people that can take the place of God, and become de facto gods in our lives. I am wanting to pursue a PhD. If I am not very careful, that idea of a PhD may be what drives what I do every day, instead of the worship of a very holy God. I must actively guard against that.

But there are other biblical texts that can show us the true reach of the first commandment. Next, we want to take note of texts that tell us to love God with every part of our being. Deuteronomy 6:5 implores Israel: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” while Matthew 22:37 implores followers of Christ: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” while Mark has the expanded meaning (showing the duality of meaning potentially in the Hebrew of Deuteronomy) in 12:30: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”[1] So it’s not enough to say merely that we’re not worshipping another god directly, or even replacing him with daily items. We must instead worship him with every facet of our being.

So how do we do that? The Bible is not silent on this either. Take the Pauline epistles, for just one brief example. 1 Corinthians 10:31, in a discussion on Christian liberty, Paul exhorts the church at Corinth thusly: “…Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” And again in Colossians 3:17, 23: “And whatever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him…And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” These verses form a kind of general principle in family relationships (the former verse) and employment relationships (the latter). We love God with every area of our being by loving God in everything that we do, every day. We don’t get an off-day for loving God. On the flip side, if we are doing all to God’s glory, and thus loving him with all of our being, then we will be fulfilling the spirit and intent of the first commandment: that the biblical God is the only one we will serve.

So how are you doing in this regard? Are you fulfilling the intent of the first commandment? Once we have understood what the commandment is truly about, it becomes apparent that it’s not merely a prohibition of something negative, but an exhortation to do something positive. What will you do now with the first commandment? Discuss below!

[1] This sense of “first” is the one of priority or importance, not necessarily first in a series. It refers directly to Deuteronomy 6, but I contend its importance is due to its logical extension of the first commandment of the Ten Commandments.