First Things First



First Things First
Sunday, October 6, 2019
Deuteronomy 4:1-40, 5:1-21, 6:4-9, Mark 12:28-31

The Lord said: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Deuteronomy 5:6

It never ceases to amaze me how much attention the Ten Commandments get in the media today, particularly from Christians who are determined to have them posted in every public space they can, as if the mere presence of these ancient laws will somehow inspire to world to repent of their sins and live good moral lives. It is ironic that many who make such arguments about the importance of the Ten Commandments are also the same people who resist the passage of laws on issues like gun control because “criminals don’t obey the laws anyway.” I’m not making any political arguments here. Rather, I simply want to draw our attention to the inconsistency when on one hand we claim “laws don’t work because the problem is in the hearts of the people” but on the other hand we demand laws to be posted which enforce our particular religious and moral code.

It is true that the Ten Commandments form the basis for many of our nation’s laws and indeed many law codes around the world. Restrictions against murder, adultery, stealing, false witness and coveting are valuable in any society as a means of keeping order and minimizing violence and harm toward one another.

The first few commandments, however, are not quite so broad. They are specific to those who have been set free from slavery by God. Look at the prologue in Deuteronomy 5:6 (or Exodus 20:1).

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Apart from this act of unmerited grace on God’s part, the laws which follow have no weight. We cannot expect those who have not entered into a covenant with God to obey such commands anymore than we as American citizens could be expected to obey a British law about driving on the left hand side of the road. It just doesn’t make sense in our context. For someone who does not know God and has not been set free from the slavery of sin, laws against idolatry, using God’s name in vain, or even keeping the Sabbath make no sense.

These first several commands are primarily about establishing our identity as God’s chosen people. We get into trouble with this language when we view our “chosen status” or our “salvation” as a mark of privilege that somehow makes us better than those who do not follow God or those who may not even know God. God’s choosing of Israel and of the church does not elevate us above the world or make us judges of the world, but rather God called out a particular people in order to bless all nations by demonstrating the joy, peace and freedom of living in the ways God has modeled for us, not only in the commandments, but through the earthly life of Christ.

The next time we get angry about the challenge to some public display of ancient laws on a plaque, perhaps we should first ask ourselves if these laws actually make a difference in our lives.

  • Do we live as people who God has set free from the house of slavery?

  • Do we put God ahead of everything and everyone else in our lives?

  • Have we bowed down to the idols or even created idols of our own… money, politics, success, comfort, security, maybe even the Bible itself as the words on the page become more important than the living God whom the words point us to?

  • Do we honor the Sabbath, recognizing that God is enough and that we do not depend on our own efforts to provide manna for our families 7 days a week?

Let’s keep first things first. God brought us out of slavery and we didn’t do a think to deserve it.

How then shall we live in response to such amazing grace?