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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Another Look at the Commandments

This post continues my meditations on the ten commandments. It seems to me that both scholars and Christians alike place too much emphasis on the legalistic aspects of the Law and fail to see the priority of grace in the Old Testament.

Central to understanding the Law is the relationship factor that God underscored in the giving of the Commandments (Exodus 20:1-2). This relationship is based upon Who God is ("I am the Lord your God") and what He has done for Israel ("...who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery") to make this relationship possible.

Earlier, I wondered if it would be worthwhile to read the first and second commandments as belonging to the "Loving God" part of the Greatest Commandments ("Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength," Mark 12:30) that Jesus introduced. I also tried to argue that commandments three and four probably belonged to "Loving yourself" part of the Greatest Commandments ("The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself."), while commandments #5 through #10 belong to the "Love your neighbor" part. My point is that relationship with God and others is predicated upon one's having an authentic relationship with oneself.

The third and fourth commandments, although on the surface, explicate further aspects of the "loving God" component, really were given for the "love yourself" part of the formula, for commandment number three is more about how we live our lives than the words we use, misuse or not use, and commandment number four is more about how we work and rest than on which day of the week we keep "holy".

In reflecting further, I would like to introduce another way of looking at the Commandments. This might make you happier if you do not agree with my "Love God, Love self and Love neighbor" formulation of the Commandments because the way I am going to suggest we view the Commandments is more in line with the "received view" of Christian orthordoxy.

When asked by the Pharisees which commandment is greatest, Jesus answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength and all your soul" (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-34).

Earlier, I referred to the explanation Dallas Willard gave in Renovation of the Heart that loving God with all our heart has to do with the will and loving him with all our mind involves our rational and emotional capacities. Loving Him with all our strength has to do with our actions, and behavior, and loving Him with all our soul has to do with the social and relational aspects of our life.

In fact, this model can be applied to the first four commandments. To love God with all our heart involves a commitment of the will to agree with God that He is indeed the Lord God Almighty who has done the great redemptive work to make it possible for us now to belong to Him. This is the foundation stone of our relationship with Him. God calls us into a relationship by commanding us to make a decision of the will to follow Him, making Him our God, and abandoning all other gods for Him. It is an expression of the heart - the will - as we say to God, "I will" and surrender ourselves to His Lordship. That is in essence the message of the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me".

The second commandment is the practical expression of what has gone on in our heart or will. It is the application of our volitional decision to our rational and emotional life. Once we have committed ourselves to follow God, we are then commanded to not replace Him with anything that usurps His place and priority in our lives. This is to love God with all our minds.

In my reflection on the third commandment, I suggested that it is a commandment that has more to do with how we live our lives rather than on whether or not we certain words leave our mouths. Although the Scriptures are very clear about the fact that words reflect our inner life, the Commandment has a wider scope than just the words. To live our lives in accordance to our calling (cf. Ephesians 4 & 5) is to live in such a way that God's name is honored. That is the impact of the emphasis on loving God with all our soul, which encompasses the social or relational aspects of our life.

Loving God with all our strength involves the actions and behaviorial aspects of our being. The fourth commandment, in emphasizing the importance for rest can be co-related to this aspect of the loving God command. In my meditation of the fourth commandment, I said that the implications of the commandment is more about the the need for rest and rejuvenation than about keeping one or the other day of the week different (holy) than the rest. It is about the philosophy of work, rest, activity and vocation which is the domain of loving God in all our strength.

However we view the Commandments in relation to the Greatest Commandments, the important point to note is that Law is given within the context of the priority of relationship. The Law was given to the people of God, not so that they can be keep the law religiously to achieve judiciary rightness with Him, but so that they are able to live in newhess life in right relationship with God, with self and with others.

In upcoming posts, I will explore each of the fifth through tenth commandments, to see how each of the commandments square with both Jesus' emphasis on Loving God and others, and the obvious underpinning foundational context of relationship.