The Last Five Commandments

Sarah came upon her friend Vert sitting on a park bench staring at his watch and counting off the seconds. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm seeing how long I can go without breaking any of the ten commandments."
"Oh, yeah. John holds the record right now, but I'm gonna take that title clean away from him!"
"Don't forget number ten."
Vert knitted his brow. "One, two, three..."

The last five commandments all have a common theme. They're about trying to get along with your neighbor. They are also embodied in Jesus' second commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. The third commonality is that all of these crimes destroy life.

I'd like to take a look at these commandments one by one...

6: Thou Shalt Not Murder

It's obvious how this one destroys life. Physically. Of course, we know that the soul is immortal. You can't actually destroy a person. So why is it wrong to kill? When a person is killed prematurely, one of two things happens. If they have not entrusted Christ as their savior, they are condemned to Hell. If they have, then what is taken from them is a lifetime of valuable service to the Master. More importantly, it leaves behind others who have now suffered a great loss. And if those others were depending on that individual for support, what will become of them? Now we could go into a lengthy philosophical discussion on when it is okay to kill and when it is not. We're not going to do that here. What is important is that we value the lives of our neighbors. Never in the bible is life taken lightly. Even in the sacrificial system it wasn't. There was a reason the passover lamb had to be raised as though it were part of the family. The sacrificial system was meant to impress upon people that sin results in death. It was meant to hurt.

7: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery

There are very few pains greater than the pain one feels when betrayed by a lover. Turn on any soap opera, tune in to any country station, go read the police report in the paper. They'll all confirm this. But consider this... Adultery is much more than how we define it today, as sexual intercourse by a married person with someone who is not their spouse. Take for example fornication- sex between two people who are not married. In our culture, this act is actually celebrated. Now often, those who are practicing this do get married and go on to have healthy, happy lives. Most often, they do not. They wander off to find another partner. The most obvious consequence is the spread of disease. After that is children who may never know their true father. These children may turn out all right, but whether they do or not, they have been seriously cheated out of something every child should have. But even more subtle is the erosion of the spirit. When you have sex with someone and leave them, you're saying "I don't love you enough to make a commitment to you." You're also accepting that this is true of the other person. You're conditioning yourself and others to accept a cheap parody of love instead of the real thing, completely devaluing all involved.

The way to truly obey this commandment: Choose your mate carefully and stick with them and only them until the day they die. And don't JUST stick with them, but truly love them. Prove to them daily that you truly desire the best for them regardless of the cost to yourself.

8: Thou Shalt Not Steal

Scripture is full of admonitions not to get too attached to our material possessions. Yet there is nothing truly wrong with having them. When used properly, possessions do improve the quality of life.

When we steal, we take away a small element of someone else's life. Even if it's just sneaking a quarter from your Mom's purse, that quarter belonged to your mother and it was her decision how to use it. By stealing, you've now taken away a little piece of her life, however insignificant.

There are many ways to steal. Armed robbery, picking pockets, burglary... But have you ever thought that there are ways to steal without breaking the law? Eminent domain is one way. Causing a business rival to go under by doing something they can't compete with is another. One of God's biggest concern throughout the ages has been social justice. If we are to obey the spirit of this commandment, we must not only avoid taking what does not belong to us, but care for those who cannot care for themselves.

9: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor

In the time of Exodus, there was no police force. There was no CSI. There was no such thing as fingerprinting, DNA profiling or forensic evidence. The strongest evidence in any case was an eyewitness. Bearing false witness could easily send an innocent man to his death, or worse. Purgery was a form of murder from which there was no hope for justice. This commandment isn't so much about lying as it is about perverting justice. How often do we see this done in our society? Frivolous lawsuits abound in America. Three quarters of them are by people in prison. medical malpractice suits run rampant. They're the reason you can't see a doctor without spending a small fortune. Doctors themselves are going broke paying for malpractice insurance. How often do you hear of a man being punished for attacking a thief while the thief gets off scott free? It's sad that a lawyer's worth is measured not by whether he has helped uncover the truth, but by whether he wins. The guilt or innocence of the defendant matters little. How do we obey the spirit of this commandment? Do what John the baptist said. Seek what is due you and no more.

10: Thou Shalt Not Covet...

I understand that the catholics reguard this commandment so highly that they combined commandments one and two and counted #10 twice.

Covetting is defined as wanting something that one cannot have legitimately. For instance, let's say I want my neighbor's stereo. I could go out and get my own, but I want HIS.

Coveteousness is the source of all evil. Murder, theft, adultry, lying... it all comes about as a result of wanting what we cannot have. Covetting is the one sin in the commandments that destroys life from inside. Even if I never steal, never kil, never lie, if I allow myself to get wrapped around the axles wanting something I can't have, it is only going to make me miserable.

I'll use myself as an example. All of you know, I presume, that I would like to be an otter. Out there in the real world, I mean. I used to get so preoccupied in wanting a different body that I would go into deep depressions. I considered some crazy things, up to and including suicide. I couldn't actually steal some otter's body, but that wasn't the point. I was hurting myself by wanting to the exclusion of enjoying what I have. Now, I have learned to live with what I have. I still would like to be an otter, but I don't allow that desire to consume me.

It's true that God wants you to be happy... in the long term, anyway. Many people use this as an excuse for grabbing what you want. That's not within God's will. To obey the spirit of this commandment, we must learn to be happy with what we have.

Let's sum up what we learned by running the last five commandments through Jesus' admonision to love your neighbor as yourself.

6: Value your neigbor's life like your own.
7: Do the best you can for your mate, regardless of the cost to yourself.
8: Care for those less fortunate than yourselves.
9: Do not pervert justice. Seek nothing for yourself but what is due you.
10: Be content with your situation.

The person who lives like this sounds like a pretty awesome neighbor, doesn't he? My chalenge to you this week is to be this neighbor. Be the kind of person who lives uprightly and reflect the goodness of God to the world around you.

Pastor Oren Otter
May 13, 2006

Today's reading: Exodus 20:13-17

13 "You shall not murder.
14 "You shall not commit adultery.
15 "You shall not steal.
16 "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."