Preaching all ten commandments in one sermon poses a daunting task. But it is doable and can prove very helpful to our congregations. Our people need to understand God’s law as their friend, not adversary. So, we might take a cue from the chicken who decided to lay her egg on a busy highway. She decided to move quickly and to lay it on the line.
Clearly, Exodus 20 is the climax of the Pentateuchal story. It is preceded by fifteen chapters describing Israel’s deliverance from Egypt along with three chapters relating the journey to Sinai. The meeting at the mountain was God’s goal for deliverance. The exodus from Egypt was not merely a rescue operation. It was a relief and development plan. Then chapter 19 provides of dramatic build up to the presentation of Law with spectacular visual and sound effects that would rival any Spielberg movie. Genesis provides prologue to the entire exodus experience and the rest of the Pentateuch is epilogue.
Why are the Ten Commandments so central? Didn’t Jesus do away with Law? Aren’t Christians under grace, not law?
Yes and no. Actually, Jesus said he came to fulfill Law, not do away with it (Matt 5:17). Fulfill means to bring something to its intended purpose. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:33-46 illustrates how badly the religious leaders of his time missed this point. Jesus compared them to community murderers rather than community builders. They reverenced Law, but not for the right reasons. They did not seek its fulfilment, because they did not understand its intended purpose. They missed the point that the purpose of Law is to build healthy relationships.
Unfortunately, many of our people hold the same view as the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Paul even encountered early Christians who could not shake this understanding of Law. To those “mutilators of the flesh” he presented his flawless, law-keeping credentials and then said, “I consider them garbage” (Phil 3:1-8). Instead, Paul sought the chief end of all Law, to “gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil 3:8-9).
Jesus helps us know how to preach the Ten Commandments in one sermon. He did it in a few sentences. In Matthew 22:37-39 he summarized the entire Law in two statements: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The first encapsulates what God was trying to communicate in the first four of the Ten Commandments. The second statement recapped the heart of the final six commandments.
As Jesus clarifies, laws of the Old Testament are simply rules for relationships with God and with people. They help us know how to treat one another and God. We are to love God above all else and others as much as we love ourselves.
I have loved my wife for over fifty years now. Along the way I discovered a few secrets to making this relationship better. For example, she prefers that I have no other women before her. Actually, I like it that she has no other guys before me. That helps our relationship a lot. My wife also prefers that I do not focus on her picture (or some other artefact that reminds me of her) and ignore her. She likes a personal relationship with me, one in which we talk to one another. She also likes it that I choose not to trivialize her by using her name as a curse word or in some other disrespectful way. (There are a lot of other words to use when I get upset.) She also appreciates a date each week. She likes it when I set aside time on a regular basis (maybe even a whole day) just to work on our relationship, to talk and to get to know each other better. Finally, it is important to her that I treat other people well. She is pleased when I honor my parents and treat the neighbors well. All of these are ways I can tangibly express my love for her.
Of course, these “secrets” to a great relationship with my wife are simply the Ten Commandments applied to that relationship. Each item listed in these commandments helps us know how to love God and love others better. They are simply guidelines for great relationships. I think that may be something God’s people need to hear this week.