Do Not Murder

The next commandment in our series seems a fairly straightforward one – do not murder. You can find it here in Exodus 20.

“You are not to commit murder.

Exodus 20:13 (ISV)

With a command like this, there may not seem all that much to say about it. Do not go around murdering people. Simple.

I am guessing that most people reading this have never broken this command, and are not likely to do so. But as we have seen with some of the other commandments, there is more here than meets the eye.

To murder

Murder is a very specific word. We may know this commandment from other Bible translations as “Thou shalt not kill,” but “kill” does not quite align with what it says. To kill is a much broader definition than to murder. You might be responsible, for example, for killing someone in an accident, but that is not murder. Neither are good of course, but they are distinct.

It may seem like I am splitting hairs here, but such distinctions are important. For instance, in times of war, is it a breach of this commandment to fight and kill the enemy? Soldiers at war are not committing murder as we might understand it in everyday life. The people of Israel, who these commands were given to, battled many enemies and killed them in war.

I am not trying to persuade you to become a pacifist, or to give soldiers a free pass to kill indiscriminately. My point is just to make you think that this simple commandment is more than meets the eye.

As Jesus often did, He challenges us to think more deeply about these words.

“You have heard that it was told those who lived long ago, ‘You are not to commit murder,’ and, ‘Whoever murders will be subject to punishment.’ 22 But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to punishment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raka!’ will be subject to the Council. And whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.

Matthew 5:21-22 (ISV)

Jesus takes this relatively straightforward command, and turns it inward. Very few of us are guilty of murder, and yet none of us are innocent of becoming angry at our brother, neighbour or friend. At first glance, we can dismiss the commandment as having nothing to do with us, and yet Jesus points out that the physical action of killing someone is no different than the internal sin of hating them.

The murder itself is an outward sign of hatred within. While we may have the strength or wits to control our physical actions, we look just as guilty on the inside.

Anger is one of the strongest emotions. I picture it like you see in the movies; a gas explosion in a mine or similar, with fire flooding a narrow tunnel and bursting forth into the air. We feel it start deep inside us but it erupts out of us in word or deed. We may be able to control it to a point, or bury it deep down, but it will come out in one way or another.

This commandment, like so many of the others, cannot be fulfilled by us just because we want or decide to. I might choose not to murder someone, but it is not so easy to just decide not to be angry or to stop hating someone who has deeply wounded me.

For many hearing Jesus’ words for the first time, they reacted in disbelief, “We can’t possibly do that!” And you might be feeling the same. You were fine with not murdering, but now, being asked not to withhold anger or hatred, that’s too much!

That’s the point though. It is too much. The Law was not given to be fulfilled, but to show us how far short we fall. The teachers of the Law, the religious people of the day, thought they were good because they kept the Law. Had they listened to Christ, they would have seen that they were hypocrites who broke the Law time after time.

The truth is we need Jesus. He lived a perfect life and fulfilled every aspect of the Law for us. If we allow Him to be our substitute, then we take up a position of righteousness given to us through Him.

The Law was given to show us we need a Saviour! And that Saviour’s Name is Jesus Christ.

Are you a murderer reading this? Are you hiding anger in your heart towards someone? Both things break this commandment.

But good news! You can be forgiven and set free right now by placing your life in Christ’s hands. Ask Jesus to be your Lord and Saviour, and ask the Father to forgive you – not because of your perfect performance, but because of Christ’s!

If you are guilty of anger or hatred towards someone, then can you make a step towards resolution today? Can you call them? Write to them? Even just pray for them? It may be a big step but you can take it with God’s help. Anger and hatred in our hearts eat us from the inside out, and do no harm to the one we hate. Do yourself a favour, and ask the Father to help you start to let it go today.

Honour Your Parents

We resume our series on the Ten Commandments today, and as the title suggests, we are thinking about the command to honour our father and mother. I feel I should point out that in the UK, we spell “honour” with a “u” so apologies to anyone who doesn’t!

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

Exodus 20:12 (ISV)

When thinking about the Ten Commandments, one thing we must ask ourselves is “Why these commands?” Not committing murder makes sense, as does the command to worship only God alone. But what about the others?

There are many ways we could answer that, but for now let’s at least assume that God was very intentional about the ones He chose to give to the people of Israel. If God thought them important enough to be included in the “top ten” then we should take them seriously indeed!

Dishonouring ones parents may not seem equivalent to murder or theft, but it is clearly important to God. Part of the reason, I believe, is because God sees His people as a family and our earthly families should model our spiritual one. If we are not willing to honour our earthly parents, then how could we be willing to honour our Heavenly Father?

What does it mean to honour one’s parents? In this case, to “honour,” means to “respect,” or “revere.” Essentially God wants us to treat our parents well. They brought us into the world, raised us and so, in return, we ought to treat them with proper respect and kindness.

If our parents are elderly, then they may need care and support, and it is our responsibility to provide that. Now that may not mean we provide that care ourselves in person, but it may mean organising support in various ways.

Paul offers some instruction for children, and quotes this very commandment. His advice, of course, is likely aimed at non-adult children in this case.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. 2 “Honor your father and mother…” (This is a very important commandment with a promise.) 3 “…so that it may go well for you, and that you may have a long life on the earth.”

Ephesians 6:1-2 (ISV)

At least one way then, to honour our parents, is to obey them. While we are young enough to live under their authority, we should do what they ask of us.

Paul points out in Ephesians that this commandment comes complete with a promise attached. Those who do this, will live long in the land. Are we to take it that if we do honour our mothers and fathers that God will bless us with a long life? The words speak for themselves. I read recently that Japan has one of the highest life expectancy in the world. In that culture, parents are very much revered so perhaps that’s why.

What about bad parents?

A natural objection might be, “My parents did not treat me right, so why should I treat them with any respect or honour?” That may be true, and perhaps your parents were even abusive or neglectful. The commandment does not specify “good” fathers or “responsible” mothers, only the ones that we have.

I am not suggesting you just ignore abuse or neglect, and go and try to have a wonderful relationship with your parents. Such parents are still to be honoured but of course that may look very different in cases without such a difficult past.

The key is to do the best you can, even if they don’t deserve it.

Spiritual Parents

For those reading this who are without earthly parents, for whatever reason, how might you go about fulfilling this commandment?

Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I can be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20 I do not have anyone else like him who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. 21 For all the others look after their own interests, not after those of Jesus the Messiah.[a] 22 But you know his proven worth—how like a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.

Philippians 2:19-22 (ISV)

Not all of our parents are earthly, and some in fact are spiritual.

Paul considered Timothy to be a “son in the faith” or “spiritual son,” and I do not think it a stretch to believe Timothy felt that Paul was a father to him as well.

We can fulfil this commandment by honouring our spiritual fathers and mothers also. Those who have taught us or encouraged us, those who have raised us in our faith, and those who loved and cared for us as part of the family of believers – all are spiritual parents.

If you think back over your journey of faith with Jesus, I imagine there will be those who have made a real mark in encouraging you in some way. These people should be celebrated and honoured. If they are still a part of your life now, then reach out to them today and tell them what they mean to you.

Honouring our parents, whether earthly or spiritual, is not always easy, but it pleases God. How can you fulfil this commandment today?

The Holy Sabbath

Returning to the Ten Commandments, today we consider keeping the Sabbath.  Here’s the command from Exodus, and then we’ll explore what it is about.

“Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. 9 You have six days in which to do your work, 10 but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. 11 In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11 (GNT)

The Sabbath day occurs at the end of the Jewish week. It is celebrated from sunset on Friday evening through to sunset on the Saturday evening. As described above, it is intended to be a day of rest and dedicated to the Lord.

What does it mean to “observe” the Sabbath? And how do we keep it holy?

For the people of Israel hearing this for the first time, they would have literally ceased from all work on the Saturday. This did not just mean not doing their usual form of work, but any type of work at all.

In modern day Israel where the Sabbath is still recognised, Jewish people will not attend their places of work or even do household work of any kind. There are many things which constitute work, and you will see some lifts (UK) or elevators (for the rest) which stop at each floor of a building so that buttons do not have to be pressed. Such button pushing could be considered work to some.

I suppose there are varying degrees of observing the Sabbath, but the point is that people took this command very seriously – as we all should. So how does it apply to Christians today? Should we strictly observe the day as well?

The principle is one of rest. We should rest regularly. In the Law given to the people of Israel, there are laws for people, animals and even the land to “rest” and it is an ongoing principle. We all need proper rest.

At the end of Mark chapter 2, Jesus encounters the teachers of the Law and has a debate with them about the Sabbath. The teachers had caught the disciples picking and eating ears of grain as they walked along. The teachers had accused them of “working” on the Sabbath.

Jesus argued that King David had done something similar when he was in need, and eating the special bread reserved for the priests. His argument is simply that the needs of people outweighed the commands of the Law.

And Jesus concluded, “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings; they were not made for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28 (GNT)

Jesus is essentially saying that the command to observe the Sabbath day was a gift to humanity, not a restrictive law.

For us then, the point is that we enjoy the rest God has given to us. We rest regularly to regenerate our bodies, but also our minds and spirits. The working week may be hard on the body of course, but it can be stressful on the minds and emotions too.

So, we as Christians, should (rather than must) observe the Sabbath by taking a day’s worth of rest each week. But must we do so on a Saturday? Or can we do so on a Sunday? Or must it be a full day at all?

In Romans 14, Paul points out that some will observe special days and some will not. A Jewish Christian convert may still feel they need or want to observe the Sabbath rest. A Gentile (non-Jewish) Christian will have no tradition of keeping the Sabbath anyway so may have no inclination to do so now. As long as they both rest.

Some people think that a certain day is more important than other days, while others think that all days are the same. We each should firmly make up our own minds. 6 Those who think highly of a certain day do so in honor of the Lord; those who will eat anything do so in honor of the Lord, because they give thanks to God for the food. Those who refuse to eat certain things do so in honor of the Lord, and they give thanks to God. 7 We do not live for ourselves only, and we do not die for ourselves only.

Romans 14:5-7 (GNT)

So we are free to observe the Sabbath on a Saturday or a Sunday, as we wish, or in other ways. For you, it may not be possible to dedicate an entire day once a week for many reasons. The point is that we need to take time to rest and recover. You can do that over the course of a week in chunks, half-days or whole days. The choice is yours!

We have discussed observing the Sabbath, but what about keeping it holy?

Something is holy when it is set apart for God. Imagine a special set of fine china or crockery. Perhaps you have a special set at home you reserve for celebrations such as Christmas. You might say that this tableware is “set apart” for special purposes. In a similar way, we are to “set aside” special times or days of the week and dedicate them to God.

We might do that in any number of ways. Primarily though, we are talking about focusing the time on Jesus. You might do that through times of prayer and worship, through reading and studying the Bible or by listening to sound Bible teaching or meditating on Scripture.

The commandment to observe the Sabbath day is intended for you. Use it to enjoy God’s creation but more importantly the Creator Himself. Give yourself time to recover, recharge the batteries and be ready to serve Jesus again.

How will you observe the Sabbath this week? Feel free to share your ideas and comments below.

No Other God

We continue our series on the Ten Commandments which I started last week. Strangely enough, I started by talking about stealing in my post – It’s Not Really Stealing. I then gave a bit of an overview of the Ten Commandments in my post – The Ten Commandments. You don’t have to have read these before today’s post but please do go back and catch up if you can.

We find the first and most important of the commandments in Exodus chapter 20, verse 3 stated below.

God spoke, and these were his words: 2 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.

3 “Worship no god but me.

Exodus 20:1-3 (GNT)

The Ten Commandments were given to the people of Israel as they left the nation of Egypt, which worshipped all manner of gods. Similarly, they were heading for the Promised Land via the wilderness, and the people they would later evict or destroy would have their own gods to worship. This commandment therefore was to ensure that God’s chosen people worshipped the One True God and none other.

We may be tempted to think that it therefore does not apply to us all that much. But I think that’s wrong, and in fact, this commandment is as relevant now as it ever was.

Thinking specifically about the UK, it was perhaps only two or three generations ago that the vast majority of people still went to church. These days, church attendance is in the minority. So if anyone now has a question of a spiritual nature, church might not be the first place they go to answer it.

Many people view all organised religions as one and the same. Some even suggest that they all worship the same “god” but do it in different ways.

The reason, I believe, that Christianity stands out is that in no other religion that I am aware of, did God come down as a Man and surrender to death for us all. Other religions have principle leaders or founders, but only Jesus became our substitute and took on the punishment we deserve. Other religions ask for obedience, whereas Christianity asks for surrender to the One who has obeyed it all.

So, when we read that we should have no other gods before God Himself, then it is still very much pertinent to us.

Jesus Himself claimed that He was the one and only way to God.

Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.

John 14:6 (GNT)

Many people claim that there are multiple ways to God. Different religions offer different paths, but all lead to God. Jesus disputes this emphatically.

Some claim they have no need of God at all. They think that life is just fine the way it is, and God plays no part in it. Yet the Bible teaches that God is Sovereign, and that He is in control of all things. Life without God is akin to what we call hell and not the life we live now.

To worship no other gods before God Almighty is to imply that we should be worshipping Him fully. Worship can be hard to define, but to worship God is to put Him not just front and centre, but for Him to be the only thing that matters.

What is the most important thing in your life? Is God the be all and end all for you? If not, then what can you change to make Him so?

We sometimes confuse worship with singing or music. We sometimes think of worship as a church service. More than either of these things though is living a life of worship. We worship God, or should do, with our every breath. As we work, rest or play our focus should be on the God who made the heavens and the Earth.

There is only one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Worship Him this day and always!

The Ten Commandments

Yesterday I wrote about one of the proverbs, and it was ultimately a post about stealing. You can read it here – It’s Not Really Stealing… I referred to one of the Ten Commandments which clearly tells us we should not steal. It got me thinking about the Commandments as a whole and so perhaps this will turn into a miniseries!

When I was young, I remember discussing the Ten Commandments at school. I imagine most children today are not taught or shown such things. That’s certainly true in the UK. We take the Bible out of schools, don’t teach children God’s ways and then wonder why we struggle with morality in society!

Some may think that the Bible is not relevant today. Even more so, we may think the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with modern life. Yet I hope what I said yesterday about stealing reminded us all how relevant these things are.

Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments into two main categories. we could put it simply like this: love God, and love people.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

This is a wonderful summary. Our whole lives as Christians should be focused on loving our Heavenly Father and on loving the people in our lives. That is no easy or small task!

So what exactly are the Ten Commandments? Many of us might struggle to name all ten! Here they are:

God spoke, and these were his words: 2 “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.

3 “Worship no god but me.

4 “Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. 5 Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. 6 But I show my love to thousands of generations[a] of those who love me and obey my laws.

7 “Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the Lord your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name.

8 “Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. 9 You have six days in which to do your work, 10 but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. 11 In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.

12 “Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.

13 “Do not commit murder.

14 “Do not commit adultery.

15 “Do not steal.

16 “Do not accuse anyone falsely.

17 “Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.”

Exodus 20:1-17 (GNT)

Some may see these as rather old fashioned to our ears. Some will wonder what relevance the Sabbath rest has to us Christians in the 21st Century. Have any of us ever had any issues desiring our neighbour’s animals? Probably not. 

Yet when we dig a little deepr, we start to see that these Commandments reveal certain problems we may have hiding in our hearts. We might describe this “problem” in different ways, but it is essentially the problem of sin. 

We can examine the Commandments in turn and see how they fit in to modern life. I imagine if we all chose to live by them, even for a short time, we would be amazed at the changed state of the world. 

For now though, let’s look at the effect of the Law. Paul goes to some length to describe the purpose of the Law in his letters in the New Testament. I don’t propose to look at those now, but instead point you to an event described in the Gospels involving Jesus. 

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman who had been caught committing adultery, and they made her stand before them all. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?” 6 They said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse him. But he bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7 As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” 8 Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. 10 He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she answered.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.”

John 8:3-11 (GNT)

The teachers of the Law brought this woman to Jesus to try to trap Him. If He let her go, then He was breaking the Law – that is, one of the Ten Commandments. If He condemned her, then He showed the crowds He was no different from them. 

Whenever the teachers thought they had Jesus trapped, He always showed them up. This is no different. 

Instead of answering them straightaway, He stoops down and begins to write on the ground. Many have asked, “What did He write?” For me, this is part of the authenticity of John’s Gospel. Were this account fictional, you would never leave out such a detail! 

In our minds, we imagine the ground where Jesus was writing like a sandy beach. He scratched out whatever He wrote for all to see. The ground by the temple, where Jesus was, is actually quite rocky. So, in a sense, we see the finger of God writing in stone… a clear allusion to the Ten Commandments of Moses. 

It is my opinion that Jesus was in fact writing the Ten Commandments. As the teachers began to see and comprehend what He was writing, they began to realise their own guilt and shame. Jesus told them that whoever was without sin should throw the first stone. As they read the words of the Ten Commandments on the ground, they realised they too had broken them and deserved the same punishment as this woman. 

It is noticeable that they left, oldest to youngest, perhaps because the older we get, the more we realise how sinful we are. 

The Ten Commandments teach us our need for a Saviour. We have fallen short in many ways, and sin has corrupted our entire lives. 

Only the saving work of Jesus Christ at the cross can remedy that. Amen.

It’s Not Really Stealing…

The Lord hates people who use dishonest scales. He is happy with honest weights.

Proverbs 11:1 (GNT)

Some people accuse the Bible of no longer being relevant to life in the 21st Century. I totally disagree with this! Never more has the Bible been more relevant than right now.

As I sat down to write this morning, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to talk about. Usually when this happens, I start to read the Proverbs as they are so rich with life lessons and wisdom. I did not have to read for long today before I felt this verse was important to discuss.

I am working from home at the moment due to the COVID-19 virus. While our office is technically open, nearly all employees are able to log in from home and do their daily work from there.

I thank God for my employer who has been extremely supportive during this time. They have been more than understanding about how we do our work while balancing caring responsibilities.

We all had a chuckle the other day as a colleague’s young child burst into the room where he was conducted a teleconference and shouted, “Daddy, I’ve done a poo!” before he could trigger the mute button!

So what does any of this have to do with this verse from Proverbs? I can’t recall the last time I saw a set of balance scales, let alone used one. I certainly have never used one in my working life…

In context, this verse is about being honest. If you imagine people selling goods by weight in a market, then you will start to get an idea of what this is about. A customer would ask for a pound of whatever product they were buying. The seller would use their balance to weigh it out. You would have the product on one side, and the weight on the other. When they balanced, you knew you had the right amount.

The problem with this system was that dishonest sellers would use weights which weren’t quite true. They may be marked as a pound weight, but actually be slightly less. The result was that the customer was cheated and did not get what they paid for.

This happened to me once. I bought a bulk pack of coffee beans. I ordered one kilogram, but when it arrived I weighed it. The package only contained around 900g of coffee, and so was 10% short. When I complained, I was told the weighing machine they used had a certain tolerance or error margin. Some customers may get less than a kilo, while others slightly more.

Perhaps this was true. Perhaps I was just an unfortunate customer who got slightly less, while someone else a little more. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt – but isn’t it funny how it so rarely works out in our favour?

Again, you might be thinking what does this have to do with anything?

The point of the proverb is that we are to be honest in our dealings. If we are selling something for a particular weight, then it should actually weigh that much. It is about integrity.

For someone like me who works in an office role, I rarely interact with customers nor do I sell a particular product. But the principles can still be applied.

If I am paid to start work at 9am, but don’t arrive until 9.10 then I am using an unjust balance – that is, I’m stealing that 10 minutes. Is it really stealing? Actually, I think it is and unless we work those extra ten minutes at the other end of the day or take a shorter lunch break, we are taking something we have not earned.

This is very much pertinent to our current situation. For me, working at home with four children running around can be very challenging. As I say, my employer has been very understanding and is allowing us time to sort out domestic issues. I should not take advantage of this however.

God wants us to be people of excellence. He wants us to be a good example to the world. Even if the rest of the world thinks it is fine to steal a few minutes here and there, we live to a higher standard. We are not satisfied to live below par just because no one is looking, because we know God is always looking.

Some say the Ten Commandments are old fashioned or even irrelevant. Not so.

Do not steal.

Exodus 20:15 (GNT)

This is a pretty straightforward commandment.

God has not changed His mind.

While we may not enter a store, pick something up and leave without paying for it, we sometimes fall a little short. If an online shop makes an error and sends you two items instead of one, and you’ve only paid for one, then you do not have the right to keep it without checking with the store. Offer to pay for it or return it, and many stores may just tell you to keep it. This has happened to me more than once.

Do not steal. It sounds simple, but can be applied in many ways in our lives. God has convicted me while writing this, and I hope it encourages you to come up higher and reach for excellence in all you do.