Sun, Jun 08, 2008
Exodus 20:3-17 by Joe Guglielmo
Series: Sunday Service
EXODUS 20:3-17

            Please turn in your Bibles this morning to Exodus chapter 20 as we look at THE MORAL LAW? You see, today people feel that there are no moral absolutes or each society determines what is right and what is wrong for them. There are even Christians who buy into this lie!  This report is from George Barna and it does go back a few years, back to 2001, but listen to what he is saying. We are told:

(Ventura, CA) Americans remain concerned about the moral condition of the nation. However, a new survey by the Barna Research Group (Ventura, CA) suggests that a major share of the struggle pertains to the basis on which people make moral choices. The result is a patchwork of attitudes and values that enable people to feel emotionally comfortable with their choices but causes them to struggle with the consequences of their moral behavior.

Three-quarters of adults (74%) say they are concerned about the moral condition of the nation. That point of view was only slightly more pronounced among people who associate with the Christian faith than among those who affiliate with other faiths or who have no faith involvement.

When asked the basis on which they form their moral choices, nearly half of all adults (44%) cited their desire to do whatever will bring them the most pleasing or satisfying results. Roughly one-sixth of the adult public (17%) bases its moral decisions on what they believe will make other people happy or minimize interpersonal conflict. The same percentage (17%) credits the values they were taught by their family as the dominant influence on their moral considerations. About one out of four adults (24%) lean primarily upon religious principles and teaching or Bible content when making moral decisions.

While many religious leaders propose that the Bible should be the basis of people's morality, the survey showed that only four out of every ten born again adults relies upon the Bible or church teachings as their primary source of moral guidance. The percentage who identify the Bible or religious teaching as their dominant moral influence is noticeably lower among Catholics (16%) and attenders of mainline Protestant churches (25%).

- George Barna, Practical Outcomes Replace Biblical Principles As The Moral Standard, September 10, 2001

            Now that should be alarming to us, that only 25% of Protestant Church attendees look to the Bible as their dominant moral influence. That means the world is now influencing them, television, Oprah, movies, their own feelings rather than the Word of God and that is very dangerous. No wonder there is no difference in the moral behavior of Christians from non-Christians, how we conduct our affairs because our morals are coming from the world!

Now, before we get to our text this morning in Exodus chapter 20, let me share with you how the world views those that look at the Bible for moral direction. It is a little long but I think it is important you hear what they are thinking. We are told:

I had a conversation recently with a few Christian ministers and learned something new. I do not know if my understanding is correct, but I think I have a new insight that I want to put out here and ask for feedback, because it seems to be important.

The problem that I have struggled with for a long time is to understand why folks on the "Christian right" have so adamantly and consistently fought against abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research, but are mostly silent on capital punishment, atrocities of war, and various governmental injustices. It just didn't make sense to me. After all, if they are against abortion because it is the killing of another human being, why aren't they equally against the invasion of Iraq or capital punishment, as both involve the intentional killing of human beings?

My error here was in thinking that those in the "Christian right" have a similar worldview as mine. My arguments seem clear and reasonable from my worldview. However, my worldview is a particular view and is based primarily on some version or other of postmodern thinking. I do not claim to offer absolute truth or absolute values. I believe that we stand within cultural, familial and personal stories that shape our understandings of the world, and that the world itself cannot be known absent those stories. There are times that I have my doubts about this understanding as I delve more into spiritual realms. I am starting to believe that it may be possible to have a knowing about "what is" from outside of those stories or overlays, and that such a knowing may be a spiritual experience.

However, even in such an instance, I do not believe that it is possible to take such insights and turn them into absolute truths for others, and somehow insist that they would apply to other humans.

My new insight is that those on the "Christian right" do not share a postmodern worldview. This of course should have been obvious to me all along. It is not as if they have hidden this fact. However, one's worldview tends to be invisible to oneself, and I am no exception. Even while knowing that another has different worldview, I tended to present my arguments as if they shared some of my worldview.

Now here is where I am on shaky ground because I am really only guessing, and I would very much love some feedback as to whether I am getting this right. Here goes: From the "Christian right" point of view, there are absolute truths and there is "right and wrong" that applies to all circumstances regardless of cultural or situational differences. This is true because these absolutes come from God, not human beings, and they cannot be changed.

This tenant is not simply one of many beliefs; it is the ground of their worldview. It permeates all perceptions and understandings. What this means is that all experience must somehow or other adhere to this worldview. Human experience that does not seem to fit this worldview becomes basically invisible.

Once I understand this underlying story, then the answer to my earlier question becomes obvious. It is possible to say that abortion is always morally wrong. It is possible to say that stem cell research is always morally wrong. It is possible to say that sex outside of marriage is always wrong so of course homosexuality is always wrong. Homosexual marriage must be opposed because it would challenge that in a fundamental way.

The commandment "Thou shall not kill" notwithstanding, it is much more difficult to say that it is always morally wrong to kill another human being. What about self defense? What about war? What about the state needing to punish wrongdoers? These involve adults dealing with other adults and one must get into some account of innocence and guilt, some assessment and judgment of the particularities of the situation. This is uncomfortable ground for those with a worldview that attests to absolute moral values. One must search for the absolutes in the world. One finds abortion. It is easier to say that abortion is always wrong because one cannot argue that the being inside the mother has done anything wrong. Everyone must admit that this being is innocent. And of course most of those making this argument are men who will never have the experience of being pregnant.

Sexuality will of course be an uncomfortable issue to deal with from within the "moral absolutes" worldview. Where can one find absolutes in this arena where there is so much variety of expression, so many cultural differences and understandings, so many powerful energies and emotions? One way is to confine it to the sacred bond of marriage and try to hold on to this as an absolute. Any sexual expression outside of this sacred bond becomes immoral. Let's not talk too much about what may be allowed within that sacred bond as that too is uncomfortable. Let's stick with what can be declared absolute. None outside of marriage. None. Declared by God. This is one absolute we can declare and hold onto.

Homosexuality by its very nature challenges this absolute in a fundamental way. If we consult with Christians who are gay, they tell us that their same sex attractions are natural and fundamental to who they are. So what does one do? In order to hold onto the absolutes, one must either call them liars, or that they have been brainwashed, or one must create some very convoluted arguments such as God is testing them to see if they can remain celibate all their lives.

From my worldview this exercise seems odd and cruel. However, from the "absolutes" worldview, to accept these contradictions is impossible without challenging the very fabric of their understanding of the world.

What I think is happening in this ever complex world, is that those areas where absolutes can be proclaimed are becoming narrower and narrower. In fact, they seem to be confined to areas of personal sexuality. In those areas where absolutes can still be proclaimed, one must focus ever more strongly. One must take a stand somewhere. The sacredness of the marriage bond is under attack. When I argue for the importance of a woman being abused to be able to end the marriage, the "Christian right" may admit to this but must see it as a bit rare and not to be focused on too much as it threatens the last vestige of a dying world view. To protect the world view is paramount and supersedes all else.

Rather than seeing the world as ever more complex, those from an "absolute" worldview can argue that the problem is postmodern philosophy itself. Our children are not told what is right and what is wrong. There is too much focus on diversity and gray areas. We should get back to the basics. If they are allowed to think for themselves they will have no morality. If I argue the possibility of morality from a postmodern perspective, this argument makes no sense. I must be fooling myself. Morality itself is defined from an absolute worldview, and is claimed as belonging to that worldview. My statement becomes a contradiction, a trick, a foolishness.

Now that I think that I understand these differences better, what to do with it? I do not know for sure. I suspect that this will help me to catch myself when I am making an argument that I think is so clever and obvious, but will not be, cannot be, seen as useful by someone who is coming from an "absolute morality" world view. So perhaps I will refrain from making such an argument, and instead find some common ground. We both applaud those who hold onto to their moral compass in the face of adversity. We both delight in the baby's cooing. We both enjoy the changing of the seasons and the beauty of this amazing world we share. We both stand in awe at an elderly couple who have held onto their love of each other through thick and thin. We both cry when we hear of those who have died in war. We both know something of the suffering of human beings. We both can learn to not take ourselves so seriously. We both can learn to laugh at ourselves. We both can learn to love when it is difficult to love. Perhaps we can even learn to love each other. [4564]

- Posted by Wally Nut, found at Godfather Tree

            And then there is this response to what Wally wrote that is even more disturbing to me. Paul said:

            Wow...this is really quite amazing. When you refer to the "Christian Right", you must be referring to the 'moral majority'. My first question is 'Why waste your time and energy on these people?' First of all, they are not 'Christians', because they exclude people. Secondly, they are not 'moral', because morality, whatever it's origin, has to do with ethical decision making.

Whether it is 'normative' or 'descriptive', and it does not involve making decisions to harm one another, but rather to look after the well being of one another. You can torture yourself, or others regarding the 'abortion' issue, but the fact of the matter is that a zygote is not a human being by any definition of the word. It is in fact a symbiotic relationship, that involves both potential and actual 'being' (at least in the Aristotelian sense) between a mother and her developing potential child. Whatever happens in that relationship is strictly up to her in a moral, caring and nurturing society. It is her body, her will, and her relationship with any deity that may exist (or not) as to what and how anything happens during this symbiosis. That you point out the contradiction between so-called 'right to life' folks advocating the 'death penalty' for criminals at the same time, is testament to their irrational and inconsistent way of thinking. No belief system should or can ascribe to this logical inconsistency. The Christian morality is based on a very simple set of principles...Love others as you love yourself; do no harm; be charitable and fair; and judge not others.

I've gone way over my limit as a response here, but the simple answer to your very thoughtful inquiry is that you can do nothing about the colossal ignorance of some people, and the only thing more astonishing than that is their stubborn-ness. There simply cannot be any moral 'absolutes', because even if one believes in a supreme deity, then one has to believe in 'free-will'...and it is this free-will to make choices that negates any kind of 'absolute' morality.

It's like arguing that something can be both true and false at the same time. If one does not believe in a supreme deity, then one is absolutely free, and therefore absolutely responsible for the choices one makes. In either case, moral absolutes are impossible. They are not just becoming 'narrower', we are beginning to understand that they never existed.

I guess tolerance only goes so far! Folks, I believe this moral law that God is giving to the children of Israel is the foundation of any society and thus, it is important for us to know and apply to our lives. The reality is, apart from this moral law you will have anarchy as everyone does what is right in their own eyes!  With that as our background, let’s begin reading in Exodus chapter 20, starting in verse 3 and see what the Lord has for us as we look at THE MORAL LAW?

EXODUS 20:3-17

            As I have said, God was establishing the framework for the nation so that it would be healthy, so that it would prosper, so that it would be a blessing and-so-on. Thus, for any nation their focus needs to be on the true and living God. And thus, God gives the first four commandments that focus on man’s relationship with God, what God requires in this relationship!  It all begins here with the vertical axis or a God-ward focus!

            When the nation of Israel set up camp in the wilderness, the tabernacle was in the middle and the children of Israel camped around it, facing towards it.  Thus, every morning they awoke and they would see the Shekinah glory or the presence of God in the form of a cloud. And every time they went to bed they would see the Shekinah glory or the presence of God in the form of fire.  And throughout the day their focus was upon God as they saw His glory!

            Years ago our communities were set up like this.  The church would be in the center of town and the town was then built around the church. Thus, the church was the focal point of the community; God was the focal point of the community!  Today we have lost that perspective and people don’t come to a community because of the church but because of what the community can offer them!

            We need to get refocused and that is what these first four commandments are all about. First of all we are not to have any other gods before us but we are to worship the true and living God alone! We are not to make any graven images that we bow down to worship God by!  We are not to take the name of the Lord in vain for He is holy and His name represents all that He is.  And we are to keep the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, set apart to spend with the Lord and for us today, we should have one day a week at least that we spend with the Lord as a body of believers, in corporate worship!

            Is this important? You bet it is! You see, if you don’t have your relationship with the Lord right, that vertical axis, then you will not have your horizontal axis right or your relationship with your fellow man will be off, it is that simple! If your refuse to surrender to the Lord then you will not surrender to your fellow man either!

I know, some feel that they don’t need God’s help in regards to their relationships – great, how are you doing so far? How is your relationship with your spouse? How is your relationship with your children? How are things going at work? Are you honoring your father and your mother? Have you committed murder in your heart towards someone?  Have you had an adulterous relationship in your mind with someone? Have you stolen anything? Do you speak falsely about another?  Do you covet?

Now if you can say that you have no problems with these things, you are doing good 100% of the time, you have no problems with your fellow man, then you can leave because this message is not for you! Not only that, but you can tell God to move over and make room for you!  You see, even as Christians we struggle with these things because we struggle with submission to the Holy Spirit, what the Lord is showing us in various situations!

Now, let’s look at these for a minute, the last six commandments that were written on the second tablet of stone and they deal with man’s relationship with his fellow man. And folks, the reason God has to even tell us not to do them is because our heart is evil and apart from God we will gravitate towards them. It is God who shows us what the moral law is and then gives us the power to obey them!

The first one here is to honor your father and your mother.  This may seem silly to you but God is very serious about this. So much so that if a child does not honor his parents they were to be put to death. Now, obviously we are not talking about a little child but a young adult, a young man. And the reason is simple. If there is no respect in the home then there will be no respect to those that are outside the home, they will be out of control! Thus, you train up a child when he is young!

My son was telling my wife about our grandson, Liam and how he was not listening to Tony. Imagine that, a young child not listening! Anyway, Liam was putting the pull ring of his toy Woody in his mouth and Tony told him the if he did it again, then Woody would be thrown in the garbage. Well, he did it again and Tony pretended to throw Woody in the garbage, and Liam was upset. Tony saw him on the ground with his Buzz Light-year doll and he told Buzz, “Buzz, I lost Woody!”  Keep in mind he is only 2½ years old! You see, he knew what he did was wrong and the consequences for his actions, he is learning to respect his parents. If you don’t train up a child you will be in trouble when he gets older and our society is seeing the consequences today of not training them up!

Next the Lord tells us we are not to murder anyone – premeditated murder.  He is not talking about punishment for a capital crime. An unborn child that is aborted on purpose, that is premeditated murder and you can read of that in Exodus chapter 21. Going to war, defending yourself, that is not murder, again, you can read about it in Exodus 21. If you don’t have respect for parents, neither will you have respect for life!

The Lord then speaks of adultery and if there is no respect for parents then there will be no respect for the sanctity of marriage! And because we have lost the fear of God, look at the laws of immorality that are passed today. The big one we are seeing is same-sex marriage. Folks, God brought Adam and Eve together and not Adam and Steve!  And if you don’t think this is such a big deal, look at what was manifested in Sodom and Gomorrah before it was destroyed – HOMOSEXUALITY! Look at what destroyed the Roman Empire, it was not the enemy from without but from within – IMMORALITY, HOMOSEXUALITY!  And we see sexual sin as no sin at all today in the minds of many!

Again, if you do not respect your parents then you will not have a respect for the things of others; you will steal them and justify your actions! “It is only a pen from work, they have lots of them anyway! They won’t miss it!” “It is only a ½ an hour early that I am leaving, they owe me this time anyway!” And the list goes on-and-on and we are good at justifying what we are stealing, our sin!

If you don’t respect your parents then chances are you won’t respect a person’s reputation, the feelings of others but you will say whatever you want, be it true or not!

And lastly, if you do not respect your parents, you will not respect their values and you will desire to have that which others have, you will covet their houses, their wife, their servants, their ox or Ford Bronco or anything that they have you will want!  You will never be satisfied!

Again, some will argue that the moral law of God is really the words of man and we don’t need to follow them, we can do whatever we want. I like what ABC Nightline’s Ted Koppel said one night:

“We have actually convinced ourselves that slogans will save us. ‘Shoot up if you must, but use a clean needle.’ or, ‘Enjoy sex whenever and with whomever you wish, but protect yourself.’

“No! The answer is no! Not because it isn’t cool or smart or because you might wind up in jail or dying in the AIDS ward, but because it’s wrong!

“What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions, but the Ten Commandments!”

Bits & Pieces, April 30, 1992

            You see, God has given these moral laws, these Ten Commandments to us not because He hates us but because He loves us and wants what is best for our lives, for our families, for our society, for our nation.  Following the moral law of God is good; there are great blessings in obeying them!

            Now, some Christians may argue that we are not under the Law but under Grace and thus, this does not apply to us! Really, that means we can dishonor our parents, we can murder, we can commit adultery, we can steal, we can bear false witness, we can covet, we don’t need to honor God, love Him and-so-on?  Of course not and truly, when we think this through, it is so obvious, we are to obey the Law, it is good!  I like the way Warren Wiersbe put it in his commentary. He wrote:

The law was never given as a way of salvation for either Jews or Gentiles, because "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal 2:16). Salvation is not a reward for good works but the gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 4:5; Eph 2:8-9). The Law reveals God's righteousness and demands righteousness, but it can't give righteousness (Gal 2:21): only Jesus Christ can do that (2 Cor 5:21). The law is a mirror that reveals where you're dirty, but you don't wash your face in the mirror (James 1:22-25). Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7,9; Heb 10:22).

God doesn't give His Spirit to us because we obey the law (Gal 3:2) but because we trust Christ (4:1-7), nor does He give us our inheritance through the law (3:18). The one thing the dead sinner needs is life (Eph 2:1-3), but the law can't give life (Gal 3:21).

Then what's the purpose of the law? It's God's way of showing us our sins and stripping us of our self-righteousness so that we cry out for the mercy and grace of God. God gives His Holy Spirit to all who believe on His Son, and the Spirit enables us to obey God's will and therefore fulfill the righteousness of the law (Rom 8:1-3).

- From The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament © 2001-2004 by Warren W. Wiersbe

            But, again, the Law still applies in our lives today, not for salvation, but for obedience and blessings, it is what is best for our lives! How do I know for sure that the Law is to be applied to our lives today? Listen to what we are told in Matthew 22:34-40, But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’

            In these verses Jesus is speaking of the moral law. I love this, and here is why. If our vertical axis with God is right, if we love God supremely, then our horizontal axis with man will be in line also. That is what we have been talking about this morning! And do you see the picture that emerges from this? It is a cross - all that God has said through the prophets and the law hang on the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary! We can’t do this apart from being saved and looking to Him to be the strength of our life! Again, this is not for salvation, but for obedience and blessings.

            I like the way one Evangelist put it in regards to the Law. He wrote:

Evangelist Fred Brown used three images to describe the purpose of the law. First he likened it to a dentist’s little mirror, which he sticks into the patient’s mouth. With the mirror he can detect any cavities. But he doesn’t drill with it or use it to pull teeth. It can show him the decayed area or other abnormality, but it can’t provide the solution.

Brown then drew another analogy. He said that the law is also like a flashlight. If suddenly at night the lights go out, you use it to guide you down the darkened basement stairs to the electrical box. When you point it toward the fuses, it helps you see the one that is burned out. But after you’ve removed the bad fuse, you don’t try to insert the flashlight in its place. You put in a new fuse to restore the electricity.

In his third image, Brown likened the law to a plumb line. When a builder wants to check his work, he uses a weighted string to see if it’s true to the vertical. But if he finds that he has made a mistake, he doesn’t use the plumb line to correct it. He gets out his hammer and saw. The law points out the problem of sin; it doesn’t provide a solution.

- Source Unknown

            You see, the Law shows us our sin, it shows us the darkness in our hearts, it is the plumb line of perfection and shows how off we are. Thus, it points us to Jesus, the only one who can cleanse us from all our sins and bring us to the Father! Jesus is the solution!   Yes, the Law is perfect, the Law is good, we are not and thus, we need Jesus to not only save us, but to sanctify us and to bring us to glory, but apart from Him we are not only lost in our sins, but we will in no way be able to treat our fellow man as we should!

            It is only God who can change our sinful hearts as Paul tells us in Hebrews 10:14-18,For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.  You see, it has been completed in Christ!

            It is only God who can give us the love we need to obey Him and to care for others. Paul said in Romans 5:1-5, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  It is His love that is poured into our lives and overflows and touches the lives of others, but it begins with God and our relationship with Him and then flows outwardly towards others!

            Also, in Galatians 5:22-26 Paul tells us, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

            I do understand that some feel that we are making a big deal out of nothing. We really don’t need the moral law of God. Well, if you feel that way, then think about this and see if you would agree that we don’t need the moral law. We are told:

            Pranksters in Shawnee, Oklahoma, took at stop sign away from a highway intersection and left it half a mile up the road. Chuckling as they drove off, they soon heard the results of their practical joke on the radio.

            The Reverend Clifford L. Head, still in his thirties was driving his station wagon, filled with the four other members of his family, past the intersection, when another car zoomed out of the warning-less side road, directly into the front of the station wagon. Pastor Head was killed instantly. His wife had both arms and legs broken. She and the children and the other driver all had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency aid.

                - Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, 1423

            You see, apart from the Law there is no warning of the danger that is out there, so we need the Law and we need to follow it. Will it offend people? You bet it will!  Will it offend you? I’m sure it will if you are living in sin! Let me show you how powerful the moral law of God is. We are told:

            The editor of a small weekly newspaper in a town in the West was hard to put to it one week for a copy to fill his columns. So he had his compositor set up the Ten Commandments, and ran them without making any editorial comment. Three days after the paper was published he received a letter saying:

            “Please cancel my subscription. You’re getting too personal.”

- Pastor’s Manual

            For our lives, for our families, for our communities, for our state, for our nation, we need to return to the moral law of God, not for salvation but for obedience, for blessings, for our good!  We need to surrender our lives to Jesus so He can be Lord and Savior of our lives. Let me close this morning with these words from David in Psalm 19:7-14 as he tells us, The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, And I shall be innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.  May we obey the Words of the Lord! You see, THERE ARE MORAL ABSOLUTES WITH GOD – OBEY THE MORAL LAW!