10 Commandments – Rules or Relationship?

Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words:

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

‘You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

‘You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 ‘Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

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 neighbour.

17 ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.’

Here they are again – those well known ten commandments.  Everyone seems to know most of them.  They are everywhere in our culture – even if our culture has dismissed Christianity, it has let these rules for living remain.  I can see why. They just seem to be part of being human; part of how we want the world to be good; how the world can be a good place, or at least a better place.

But is that all they are – ‘rules? Are they God telling us all how to ‘be good’ and to avoid ‘being bad’?

I don’t think so. These rules are way more than rules on how to be good and how to avoid being bad. They are rules for another thing all together. They are all about a relationship.

From all of the Bible you can see that these rules are not mere rules to be kept but are more about a relationship to be enjoyed.

The first three give that way:

  • Love God with all you have and are.
  • Use his name well.
  • Rest with God.

But, we still seem to mainly believe that these rules are just rules without a relationship purpose. That is where the problem comes in.

If God is holy and just and has our life in his hands, and he gives us rules, then we can respond one of two ways.  Be good or be very bad.

We hear these commandments and get to work by keeping them as best as we can, hoping that if we be good enough for long enough, we will gain the reward of God’s blessing in life – safety, wellbeing, wisdom, avoidance of too much harm, a long and prosperous life, and of course, make it through ‘the pearly gates’ …

We hear these rules and we throw them out, call them old fashioned or irrelevant, and do whatever one want to do.

Funny though. We seem to end up doing these rules anyway! These commandments are actually very helpful. We seem to know this inside ourselves. No one likes getting their possessions stolen. No one likes someone else moving in on their friends or their marriage partner. No one likes being the victim of violent words and actions.

Whether we are being very good or being very bad, in both cases we are missing God’s heart in these commandments. We want the life that keeping the second seven can give but not the relationship with God that he offers in the first three. The first three are centred on a relationship with God, the second seven are on how you live in that relationship.

For example:

  • We are happy to not kill people, or steal, not be unfaithful in relationships, not greedily try and take stuff or people from others and be nice to mum and dad and others in charge. Doing those things leads to less trouble anyway. They make sense to Christian and non-Christian people alike.

But then there are those first three, and particularly the first one.

  • Love God with all you are and do.
  • Guard, protect, and use his holy name well.
  • Rest with him regularly.

These first three are about living in a relationship with God that he begins and wants for you. Loving him, speaking of him and to him and resting with him requires faith; faith that God is actually a person, and a person who desires a living relationship with people; with you.

All of a sudden, the ‘rules for living’ get personal and they are not really about rules. They are actually all about relationship – ways to live in this beautiful relationship.

Our relationship with the Lord is like a relationship with any person who loves you and you love back. You live in their ways not to live in their ways but to live with them because they love you and you love them back.

This is what the Lord did for his people. He had freed his people. He then gave them his heart for them in these rules so they could live in his presence, his peace and the promise of land, name, status and blessing to the world.

Sure, God shows he obviously wants human beings to look after each other, but he wants each human more. God desires a new relationship with a person before he desires that they live in this way.

The only reason for keeping the last seven is to enjoy the first three. The only reason to keep the rules is not to keep the rules but to enjoy the relationship.

If you were to write out these commandments on a page the list would have a heading. It would be the first commandment.

‘Love the Lord with all you are and have’. Under that would be all the rest.

So, these commandments are all about love more than only law.

Practically, this is how they work. When you break any of these commandments, you actually break two. If you break one you always break this first one because these commandments are all about a relationship, not about being good or bad to earn a reward. They are centred on and are given to people so that we live new, not good or bad.

For example:

  • If you steal something, you are not loving the Lord with all you have and are because you are not trusting him for your wellbeing.
  • If you are unfaithful to your partner, you are not trusting that he or she is enough or you because God is enough for all of life and all relationships.
  • If you harm someone for whatever reason, you are not trusting that God loves you forgives you and calls you to practice the art of forgiveness and reconciliation, as he has practices with you in the giving of his Son for you.

Speaking of whom, Jesus affirms all these commandments and really summarised them all into two. Love God and love people.

So where are you at the moment with the Lord? What are you making of the relationship he has made with you in your baptism? Are you trying really hard to keep these commandments to gain a reward from God or are you seeking to live in a relationship with God in Jesus?

You might be like a lot of people – church going or church avoiding. You are trying to be good. You hope that if you are good enough for long enough you will earn God’s blessing for now and make it to God’s heaven eventually.

You may have given up on that response because you have figured out that you just cannot do it for that long and that well. You could never be good enough. You may have thrown the rules out and gone your own way.

In both cases, you are wanting what God can give, and not God himself. In both cases Christianity is basically a moral code with Jesus as your guide or guru or example, but not your Saviour. You don’t need a Saviour. You are your own saviour.

The reason for keeping the rules without any reference or experience of the relationship with God is to hold God over a barrel so that he has to bless you because you have been so good! When things go wrong you get very angry with God because he has not rewarded you for all your effort.

That was what Jesus was up against all the time. He comes along and says that neither keeping the rules nor throwing them out is what God actually desires. God desires you more than your effort to keep these rules. Living in a relationship of forgiveness, acceptance, love, hope and peace with the Lord. That is God’s intention for us.

It is Lent. Easter is coming. Jesus proves God’s heart’s desire for you. He signs this new covenant of love in his own blood for all time.

Jesus turns over those old tables of trying to earn God’s favour or ignore God’s favour and make your own.

He has set up his own table where there is bread and wine, his body and blood, life, healing and forgiveness that gets us beyond keeping rules or rejecting rules to a relationship that transforms you by the joy of sheer grace – this underserved love and acceptance of our God.

Whether we are being very good or being very bad, in both cases we are missing God’s heart in these commandments. We want the life that keeping the second seven can give but not the relationship with God that he offers in the first three. The first three are centred on a relationship with God, the second seven are on how you live in that relationship.

Now the rules are so much more than rules! They keep us with our God and with each other and give hope to a conflicted world.

These commandments are gift in three ways;

They act as a roadside curb. They are boundaries from a loving parent – they keep us on the track, avoiding more pain and hurt by wondering off the track.

They act as a pointer – a constant sign leading us back to where our life truly is – Jesus of the cross and the empty tomb.

They act as a loving mirror – truth-telling words that help us truly know ourselves and receive the great reward – forgiveness of our wayward and hurtful ways.

We are loved by a God who loves enough to give us boundaries, direction, shape, heart and purpose so we thrive in his gracious care.