Lesson 7 — Exodus 20:1-17
When a tropical storm crashed through our town, trees were down and traffic lights were out. Street intersections were a nightmare. Most people did not know how to negotiate an intersection. Instead of stopping and moving one by one in a counter-clockwise direction, drivers would look for a break in the traffic and ten cars would go through the intersection. It was chaos, and there were more than a few accidents.
Human beings do not function well without laws. Good laws are a gift to humanity. Fair trials, public education, safe work environments, property ownership and sewer systems are just a few of the benefits that come from laws. From the biblical perspective, the law, or the torah, is a gift of a way of life. It is “God’s way of guiding us toward attitudes and actions that help create the realm of God here on earth” (Janice Catron, “An Abiding Hope,” page 63).
God’s laws start in a place that we do not. The Ten Commandments start with our relationship with God. Our relationship with God starts with God’s rescue and care. Exodus 19:4-5 says, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.”
If we were blessed to have good parents, we learned as children that we were loved and protected. We also learned how to grow into responsible adults. There was a quiet, unassuming gentleman in our congregation. He loved his family and attended Sunday school and church most every week. He was a respected businessman, building a large company over the years. In planning his memorial service, the pastors learned that he had generously helped many, many people along the way.
John’s son, Jack, started working for his father’s firm after college. If Jack messed up, his dad was calm and reasonable and would simply ask, “Well, what did you learn from this?” John taught his son to be a responsible, capable, loving adult who could head the family business. God’s relationship with us is based on God’s love for us and God helping us to be responsible, caring people who can work in God’s family business.
The family business of God’s people is to live a life rooted in the love of God; respect for one another; and care for the poor, the disenfranchised and the resident alien. “The commandments are not guidelines for humanity in general. They are a countercultural way of life for those who know who they are and whose they are. Their function is not to keep American culture running smoothly, but rather to produce a people who are, in our daily lives, a sign, a signal, a witness that God has not left the world to its own devices” (Hauerwas and Willimon, “The Truth about God,” page 19).
To read and reflect upon the Ten Commandments is first to realize that we break a great many of them. We do not center our lives in God as our first priority. We would rather do things our way than to trust and yield to God. We make lots of idols out of wealth, status, sports teams, competitiveness and knowledge to name a few. We do not keep the Sabbath holy — set apart for worship and rest. We lie. We covet.
The commandments are impossible to keep without the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit and a community of faith focused on following God in our daily lives. Weekly worship, daily prayer, Bible reading and service with the poor keep us focused God’s will and God’s grace. Being a part of a small-group Bible study that focuses on a loving commitment to God transforms us over time into more joyful Christians. Community is absolutely necessary.
To use an illustration from ordinary life, we can easily lie to ourselves that our diet won’t lead to a heart attack or diabetes. However, if we join a gym or a group weight loss program where we receive encouragement, knowledge and accountability, we are more likely to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Similarly, we are more able to adopt and continue a spiritually healthy lifestyle when we are part of a group focused on God’s love and God’s will.
God wants to bring physical, emotional and spiritual healing to human beings. God wants the outcast included, the abused healed and the poor lifted up. Upheld by the love of God, we are to be a witness to the world that God has not abandoned us.
Editor’s note: The theme of Horizons magazine’s 2013-2014 Bible study lessons is “An Abiding Hope: The Presence of God in Exodus and Deuteronomy.” This article is part of a Presbyterian Outlook series on that theme. Horizons magazine is a publication of Presbyterian Women.
ROSALIND BANBURY is associate pastor for adult ministries, First Church, Richmond, Va.