Life Preservers: Ten Commandments for Life (A sermon series)

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Is God a Cosmic Hall Monitor, leering from heaven and ready to pounce as soon as we step out of line? I’m afraid some of the people with whom I serve seem to believe God just wants to spoil their fun. Moses delivered two tablets with important boundary markers for human behavior. These commandments help us honor God and experience community in healthy ways. The Life Preservers series takes a positive approach to the Ten Commandments, looking at the affirmation of life and promotion of wholeness inherent in God’s instructions.

I. God First

The preacher can take some time to discuss the two tablet theory at the beginning of the series: the first contained commandments concerning our relationship with God; the second taught principles leading to healthy community. We need to get right with God so we can live right with others.

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3 ESV). There is no higher priority than God. Anything or anyone placed above our relationship with God leads to sin and separation from God. This sermon explores some of the unhealthy ways we relate to God: God as fire insurance, religious ruler, part-time god, admired figure, and hanging judge. These are inadequate and lead to placing other priorities ahead of God, breaking the commandment. But, God wants to be first in our lives, offers a personal, loving, and daily relationship with him enabling us to experience the life of wholeness he desires for us.

II. Keep Your Metaphysics Straight

Aristotle called metaphysics the “first philosophy.” What constitutes reality upon which all other thinking about reality rests? Exodus 20:4-6 deals with idolatry, the sin of worshiping created things rather than the Creator. Idolatry means our metaphysics are messed up. We’re not thinking or living according to reality. God wants us to keep these things straight and order our lives accordingly.

Four common expressions of idolatry flourish today: materialism (the worship of stuff); individualism (the worship of self); hedonism (the worship of pleasure); and intellectualism (the worship of human thought). This message concludes with the exhortation to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

 III. Use God’s Name Well

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7 NRSV). If we should not make wrongful use, what does it mean to use God’s name well? The Ancient Near Eastern world placed a high value on a person’s name. Using someone’s name invokes his presence and purpose. Using God’s name for things other than serving his purposes is to misuse his name. Conversely, using his name according to his purpose glorifies God.

Four principles for using God’s name well are: Live your profession (as in profession of faith), keep your promises, serve God’s purpose, and offer God’s praise. Jesus’ name is also significant, as it means “Yahweh Saves.” God the Father reveals his rescue mission in the name of God the Son.

IV. Take a B.R.E.A.K.

One of the most neglected of the Ten Commandments is Exodus 20:8: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (ESV). We often think about the negative side (don’t do work) but there’s a positive practice of the Sabbath: the worship-oriented and re-creational purpose.

Take a B.R.E.A.K. “Be still. Relax. Enjoy God. Alter your worldview. Know peace. Be still is self-explanatory. Be still is about rest, God gives rest to his loved ones.” Relax means to experience the deeper sense of rest, mental and emotional rest, to decompress from anxieties about life and our many responsibilities. God has blessed us, so we want to enjoy him and his blessings and offer him praise. Altering our worldview implies the renewing of our minds so we can experience life, work, and rest from a godly point of view. To know peace is the result of this positive effort. God blesses with his peace as we let Christ control our thoughts.

V. Honor Your Parents

Already stated positively, this commandment is also the only one of the ten with a promise attached: “that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12b ESV).

Your parents know more than you think and the older you grow, the more you realize you’re parents weren’t nearly as dumb as you thought. God gives parents the responsibility of raising the next generation to keep the faith and carry out his mission.

VI. Preserve Life

Mother Theresa famously denounced the culture of death. Since that time, the culture of death has only grown stronger and we see it in the news every day. God’s greatest gift is the gift of life. As people who take seriously the Author of Life’s instructions we want to be champions for the cause of life.

Human life is precious and protected because it is God-breathed, it contains and expresses God’s image, and is cherished by God. We need to choose life.

VII. Revere Marriage

The biblical prohibition against adultery is rooted in the high value God places on marriage. Genesis 2:24 is the foundation of marriage: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (NRSV). The idea communicated in “leaves” is the formation of a new and distinct family, connected to and yet distinct from either family of origin. “Clings” means the new couple is supposed to stick together. “One flesh” reveals that the physical consummation of the marriage symbolizes the spiritual uniting as one mysterious reality of the husband and wife.

With all the attention surrounding same-sex marriage, this is a good opportunity to share the biblical vision of marriage. This sermon can also offers hope to singles and divorcees, realizing that not all are called to marriage. Others, having experienced pain and brokenness due to destructive relationships, can find healing in the relationship God offers.

VIII. Respect Other People’s Stuff

“Thou shalt not steal” implies the recognition of personal property. People use the gifts, talents, and strengths God gives to provide for the sustenance and care of their families. In so doing, they acquire and use personal property. Personal property should be respected. In some segments of society, “Mi casa es Tu casa” has morphed into “Tu casa es Mi casa.” Both individuals and governments do well to honor this commandment.

Because all we own ultimately belongs to God, we are actually stewards of God’s stuff. We need to manage personal property with open hearts and open hands, generously helping others and giving back to God for all of his goodness toward us.

IX. Tell the Truth

In addition to the prohibition against false witness is the admonishment in Proverbs 12:22: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (NRSV).  Not only is lying an abomination, it’s challenging to the memory because we have to think of several other lies to cover our first lie. The best policy is to be truthful.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The truth is not only an accurate statement, but is embodied in a person, the Son of God. The heart, being deceitful, gets us into trouble, so allow the truth of Jesus heal you and make you whole, leading to a whole and holy life.

X. Be Content

The series culminates with Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet…” (NRSV). To covet my neighbor’s possession or relationship is to reveal I am not content with my own. The antidote to covetousness is contentment.

Contentment is not complacency. We may be ambitious to accomplish much and reach our full potential. In order to become content we will need to stop playing the comparison game. We can cultivate gratitude. We can learn to be content in our identity as children of God. And, because of our contentment, we can convert self-centeredness to service for others. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6).

A Final Thought

Seeing the positive benefits of obedience to the Ten Commandments helps us understand God more as a loving Father than a Cosmic Hall Monitor. His instructions are given to promote life, the life he intends us to live, a life of abundance, peace, hope, and love. Putting faith in action through obedience preserves and promotes the life God wants us to experience.

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Dr. Chris Howlett serves as the Senior Pastor of Lebanon United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Ky. He and his wife, Roz, are the parents of Chloe, Josiah, and Lydia. Chris loves soccer, coaching goalkeepers at the high school level. He coaches clergy and laity to discover and utilize their God-given talents and strengths for ministry. Catch up with him at www.chrishowlett.me.

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