The best way to show our love for God is to love God’s children-all of them. We can be the instruments of God’s love, that God’s love can flow through us and out to others. Our calling as Christians is to love God and to love other people.
And when you stop and think about it, that’s what the Ten Commandments are all about. Here we discover a positive, emphatic, divine call for love and loyalty to God, and for love and loyalty to one another. Commandments six, eight, nine and 10 specifically call for love and devotion to other people. We are to respect their lives, their property, their names and reputations, and their good fortune. Let’s take a closer look at these four Commandments.
“You shall not murder.” Positively speaking, this means that human life is sacred, sacred because it is beloved of God. This Commandment was designed to protect the most precious possession we have-life.
Up near the Lake of the Ozarks, a reptile farm has an unusual exhibit. A long series of glass cages house some of the most dangerous or poisonous snakes and lizards from all over the world. Tourists pass along, looking at one after another of these deadly creatures, until they come to the final cage, which has a big sign with these words: “The Most Dangerous Animal in the World.” Many people are surprised to see that the only thing in the cage is a mirror. You look in-and see your own face.
The message is clear. Of all the creatures on the face of the earth, humans are the most deadly, the most dangerous; humanity can do the most damage. But human beings can also do the most good-and that’s what this sixth Commandment is about. When we read this commandment, “You shall not murder,” in light of the New Testament, we understand that the true spirit of this law means more than just abstaining from murder and hostility; it means promoting love and reconciliation. Look what Jesus did with this Commandment. He extended it: “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not murder’ … But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” Jesus calls on us to stop murder at its very source- anger, hatred, vengeance. Jesus knew that hate is a real enemy to be overcome. Hate blinds, distorts, and it actually kills long before the deadly blow falls.
I once heard about a man who set up Donatello’s statue of a boy. He wanted to put light on the statue for effect, so he placed some lights on the floor. But with the lights shining from below, the boy’s face looked horrid, grotesque, evil. The man tried every possible arrangement, to no avail. Then finally, he put the lights over the statue and let them shine down from above. The man stood back and looked, and he was amazed-the lights shining from above made the boy look beautiful, attractive, valuable-like an angel.
What a parable. When we look at other people in the light of earth, they may look grotesque, and we may think, “Well, what difference does it make how I treat them?” But when we look at other people in the light of God’s love, they look like angels, and we begin to see them as persons for whom Christ died.
What does this Commandment, “You shall not murder,” mean for us today? It means that we should always hold human life as sacred. It means we should love, respect, and value the lives of other people, for they too are God’s children; it means we should be loyal to others.
“You shall not steal.” Positively speaking, this means that we should steal nothing, neither small nor great. We should respect the rights and properties of others.
We need to always remember that people are to be loved, not used, and that things are to be used, not loved. This Eighth Commandment is tremendously relevant for us today because we live in a thing-centered world. Modern advertising, with all its enticements, can create a strong desire for more and more things. And this desire can make us do strange things.
All of us are like the little boy standing by the apple barrel in the country store. He kept looking at the apples, then looking away.
Finally the grocer went over and said, “Son, are you trying to steal an apple?” “No sir,” replied the little boy. “I’m trying real hard not to.” Then there are some of us who cannot see our own dishonesty. One day a wife said to her husband, “You won’t believe this, but our weekend guests stole four of our best towels.” “Well,” answered the husband, “some people are like that, can’t trust ‘em, just made that way. By the way, which ones did they get?” The wife said, “Those fluffy white ones with Hyatt Regency written on them.” This Eighth Commandment calls us to be honest in all our dealings. Respect the rights and properties of others. Don’t steal anything. Be loyal to others. “You shall not bear false witness.” Positively speaking, this means, “Be truthful. Report with truth your neighbor’s deed.” Do not gossip. Do not condemn. Do not deal in half-truths. Do not lie. Jesus warns us about this, and the apostle Paul lists sins of the “tongue” as one of the worst sins.
We have always heard that sticks and stones may break my bones, But words will never hurt me. There is only one thing wrong with that rhyme-it’s just not true. Words do hurt. Some of our worst hurts come from words. It can make all the difference if we will hold our judgment off for an event or a person until we have all the facts, the whole truth. All too often a hasty, faulty judgment, made on rumor or hearsay and passed cruelly on, has caused needless suspicion, suffering, heartache-even tragedy.
This ninth Commandment means be truthful. But more than that, be kind, honest, and fair. Be gracious. Speak the truth in love. Be loyal to others. Or as some say in New England, “If it doesn’t improve on the silence, just don’t say it.”
“You shall not covet.” Positively speaking, this means to get rid of selfish greed. It means don’t be envious, don’t be jealous, don’t be resentful of the good fortune of others.
The word covet means to desire, to crave, to long for or lust after something that belongs to another person. The Greek word for covet means “to grab, to grasp, to always want more.” It refers to selfish greed – the kind that can’t stand the thought of anyone else doing well. The covetous person wants all the gravy and all the glory.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the sin of the elder brother is covetousness. His brother has returned home safe and sound. The father is overjoyed to have the prodigal safely back in the family circle. He calls for a great Welcome Home party. The elder brother can’t stand it. He is jealous, resentful. He disowns his brother and questions his father-and he misses the party.
That’s what covetousness does to us. It cuts us off from people, and it cuts us off from God. In that story, the father is gracious, the elder brother is greedy; the father forgives, the elder brother fumes; the father rejoices, the elder brother resents. The point of the prodigal son parable is clear-God is loving toward us and wants us to act in loving ways. God is loyal to us and God wants us to be loyal to God and to one another.
Loyalty to God and loyalty to others. That’s what the Ten Commandments are all about.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.