One day a lawyer came up to him and asked him, which of all the commandments is the greatest. Many people debated which of all the things God had commanded them to do was the most important. If you were only able to do one thing, which one was the one you should absolutely make sure you did. If you were going to rank the top ten from first to last, which one would be first? Which would be last? It was as hot of a topic as any we have today. When asked, which one would he pick? What would that say about him? Would the people like his answer? Whatever his answer, how can we use it against him.
Jesus paused for a minute and said the greatest one is “love God,” and the second, which is not really all that far behind, is “love everyone else.” In some ways, he did not pick any, in other ways he picked them all. All of the commandments can be summed up in these two commandments. Jesus says that it is important to first of all, love God and secondly to love others. If you are going to boil down what it is we are called to do as the people of God, as followers of the Christ, this is it.
Last week we went over the first four commandments, which Jesus summed up, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This week we begin look at latter six commandments, which are summed up in the, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” part.
Where the first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, making God first in our lives, not allowing anything to not only stand between us and God, but also not allowing anything to stand alongside of God, competing for our attention or coming to mean as much or more than God does to us. We are not to misappropriate the name of God, using it for our own gain, saying things are “from God” when they are in fact not. And not only does God want to be first and only in our life, but God wants to be in relationship with us and asks for us to take one day, not only for the rest we all need, but also to focus on that relationship; spend time with the people of God, in worship, in prayer and doing things that draw us close to God together. We explored both the individual and the communal aspects of these commandments.
This week, we will begin to look at the latter six commandments, the loving others part, which deals with our relationships with the people around us. We are not called to follow God alone. We are called to follow God together, because God does not simply call a person, but calls people and calls for us to be a people, God cares how we interact with one another. God created us to be relational creatures Not only did God create the desire we have to be in relationship with one another but we were created to live in community, to live together, to thrive on the relationships we build around us. We were meant to live together; we were created to make connections with one another. We are, at our core, relational beings.
I say that today we will begin to look at the latter six, because I am splitting these six into two sermons. Today I will cover the bulk of them, leaving one whole sermon for the final commandment. That’s right on whole week on not coveting, not desiring what is not yours; not wanting what you do not have. But that is next week, and this is this week.
God created us to be social beings; people who seek relationship with God and who are continually seeking relationship with one another. From the moment we come into this world we are in relationship with others. And there is one set of relationships which shapes us, forms us and nurtures us as we grow and become. These are the people in our family. The family is the primary social unit and it is in the family that we first begin to understand who we are, who we are becoming. The primary relationships, our first relationship are those which we form within our family.
When I was a child, I was taught that honoring your parents is about obeying them. Doing what you are told; you know, cleaning your room, making your bed, not talking back; following the rules your parents lay down for your health and wellbeing. But honoring is about so much more than simply obeying. Obeying is a part of the formational part of your relationship but the bulk of our lives is spent in a relationship with our parents where obeying is not really even a part of the fabric of the relationship. Honoring your parents is about so much more than merely obeying, it is about respect; it is about valuing these relationships. It is about nurturing them, doing the hard work it takes to keep them going; being the son or daughter you know you should be, working to be the son or daughter you want to be; being loving in all things, at all times and in all life’s seasons.
It is about treating the people in your family with respect, kindness and care at all stages of life. When we are young, this is primarily carried out through obedience, but as we get older and following the rules of our parent’s house no longer becomes an issue, honor takes on new life. It means continuing to value these relationships, listening to our parents’ point of view, respecting the place they come from even as our thoughts and opinions may vary from theirs. As life goes on, it means taking care of our parents, making the hard decisions that life brings and being the kind of person who respects their best interests as well as their wishes as they move toward the ends of their; always treating them with love and respect when it is hard or they become difficult. God calls for us to honor our parents so that we may live long, so that they may live long and so that when we do live long, we have modelled how we want to be treated those you will eventually be taking care of us, our children.
But not only are we to value the relationships we have with our parents, but we are also to value the relationship we have with our spouse. We do not do anything that would put the relationship with our spouse in jeopardy. We do not form relationships with people or do anything, for matter, that would pull us away from our spouse, nor do we ever seek to put ourselves in a position where our relationship with another person jeopardizes the relationship they have with their spouse. As the relational unit, which begins a new family and from which all other relationships in that family are rooted, we are to do what needs to be done to nurture, to build, to maintain and keep strong, the relationship we have with our spouse.
God speaks to us about our relationship with our parents and our relationship with our spouse; it might seem odd that the commandments do not cover the relationships between parents and their children or between children who are siblings. I think this is because God knows that children are not something that comes into every family. Some parents choose to not have children and others long for them but are unable to have them. And siblings are also not a given as a part of the family either. Not including these relationships in the commandments is an acknowledgement that these relationships may exist but are not necessarily a part of familial life. We are all children, we all have parents we need to honor. And although not everyone has a spouse of their own, not getting in the middle of someone else’s marital relationship is something we all need to avoid, whether we have a spouse or not. What makes it into the commandments are the relationships that apply to everyone.
The relationships parents have with their children and children have with one another even though they are not specifically mentioned, but it are implied, in that the reason we work hard to honor our parents and to adhere to our marital relationships because all the relationships within the family are valuable and should be protected, and nurtured. There is an assumption that all these relationships take precedence in our lives. God includes commandments about our marriage and about honoring our parents because God values families and the relationships we have within our families. Honoring the relationships we have with our parents leads into valuing all family relationships. We seek to live in good, nurturing, healthy relationships with everyone within our family.
Families are important to God.
So, for instance God would not side with a system, a law or a practice divides up families, separates loving parents from their children.
These next three commandments are pretty intuitive. Once you have these primary relationships, the relationships within the family, in order, the commandments move on to more general rules on how to deal with all people whether they are part of your family or not. Do not murder. Do steal. Do not bear false testimony. To put it simply we work to bring peace within our community, as well as within our family. We do not bring harm to one another. We do not take from each other and we do not malign those around us with our words.
Every person, no matter who they are, what they have done, or where they are from is valued by God, and we are to treat them as a person of value and this begins by not killing them. We all have the right to lives the life God is calling us to live and when we prematurely end another’s life, we are stopping God’s ability to work in their life, to use them for kingdom work. God is always seeking to work in a person’s life and if we end their life we are inhibiting the very work of God.
It is pretty intuitive that we do not murder but we also do not take what is not ours, we do not steal. Again this is pretty basic stuff. If it is not yours do not take is. It does not belong to you, it is not yours, do not take it. To take from one another sows distrust and distrust breaks down the bonds of relationships. It is important for us to live in good and healthy relationship with those around us, do not do things that break down those relationships, work to strengthen them, build trust with one another, do not take each other’s things.
Jesus would add that we should share. If you have more than enough, give the extra to those who are lacking. Don’t take what is not yours, is paired with do not keep what you do not need.
The final commandment is about not bearing false testimony. We do not lie about other people; about what they have done; about what they have said; about their motives. But is more than just lying. We do not seek with our words to degrade other human beings. Language matters, what we say about other people matters. They are also human, God created us all. God breathed God’s own breath into each of us giving us all life. We are all loved and valued by God. Not only are we to treat everyone as such, but our words, our language about others should always show that we not only realize they are valued by God, but shows that we value them as well.
We do not, with our words, turn others into less than. We do not use language that allows us or others to begin to see another human being as an object, as someone who does not at all times deserve to be loved, respected, and cared for. God loves each and every person created and we are to treat everyone we meet with the love God show and has for them.
We are to treat everyone, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, or are doing, no matter where they come from, with the love and respect God has shown to us. We are to value all other humans because God values them. God created us to be relational beings. God expects us to live in relationship with the other people on this planet, with the people all around us. We are to value those relationships, beginning with the relationship we have at home but with each relationship we have beyond the home, every relationship should be valued, and every human we encounter is loved by God and should be treated as such.