If we continue to search for the perfect work, worship, and organization of the local body in a set of rules, we will never find it. In fact, the very search itself will destroy our spirituality.
In Part I the unique manner in which the ten commandments were given, and their intimate connection with God's nature, were examined. For this reason, the old covenant gives direction and meaning to the new covenant. It is because this has been misunderstood that we have been so misguided in our study of the New Testament. It is as if we are studying the entire New Testament as a proof-text out of context.
A covenant is usually an agreement made between two parties. The covenant delivered by God at Mt. Sinai, however, had the force of law. God spoke the ten commandments, and not one of them was open to negotiation. It was not only that God had the power to punish disobedience. No, more than that, God's requirements were simply a reflection of His perfect righteousness. God could no more change the demands of His law than He could change His own holy nature.
It is significant that God first redeemed the Israelites from slavery, and then gave his covenant of law to them. True worship, heart-felt obedience can only come as a response to God's demonstrated love. Thus it was, that God delivered the ten commandments in the context of the Exodus event: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery:"
It is amazing how orderly, compact, and yet, all-encompassing the ten commandments are. What a contrast these demands must have seemed to the Israelites, who had become accustomed to the superstitious and idolatrous worship of the Egyptians. The commandments begin with our duty toward God, and address the deepest thoughts of our hearts. (1) We are to glorify God as the one living God. (2) Our worship of God must be spiritual, for God is Spirit. Idol worship is totally condemned, for God is so much greater than any human mind can imagine. Nor does God need to be manipulated, appeased, or flattered as the pagans believe; He loves us and is totally devoted to our service. (3) Furthermore, the thoughts of our heart must be reflected in our speech. Since God cannot be seen, nor His glory expressed by any graven image, He had made His divine nature known through His name (Ex. 3:13-15). We must not misuse God's name, but rather hold it in reverence. (4) We must honor God with our actions, by remembering the Sabbath. For Israel, this meant ceasing from their labors, in order to be refreshed in body and spirit. Their rest was not just to be a passive one, but a time devoted to their God. Thus Jesus, living under this law, committed no sin when He healed the sick on the Sabbath. Likewise, the temple priests, who were busy in God's service on the Sabbath, were keeping the spirit and intent of this law (Matt. 12).
The Sabbath day observance was the foundation for Israel's calendar. The Sabbath, as 'a shadow of good things to come,' taught God's eternal truth in symbolic picture form; the rest of the Jewish festivals echoed this same teaching. Therefore, it would be a serious mistake to simply dismiss the Sabbath law (or any of the Decalogue) as done away in Jesus. Jesus abolished the old covenant (and all the Law of Moses) by fulfilling the true intent and spirit of the ten commandments. Jesus personified the will of God as it had been revealed in the ten commandments. Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath in his own person and work, and He took away the power of the law to hold us under sin. Because Jesus kept the old covenant perfectly, He was able to present himself as the perfect sacrifice for Israel's sins. Jesus died, not only for those who had been blessed with the revelation of God's eternal will in the Ten Commandments, but for all those who would come to know God through his sacrifice.
The reason Israel was to rest on the Sabbath is because God, after completing his work of creation, rested on the Sabbath. So then, this commandment is founded on something that happened at the beginning of the world, a long time before the Law of Moses with its shadows was ever given. In fact, Adam shared in God's first blessed rest after the creation. It was only after Adam had sinned that he was cursed with hard labor. With the fourth commandment, Israel was reminded of that first rest, and given a foretaste of the blessed eternal rest still to come (Heb. 4).
Israel had only the shadow, and they showed their trust and devotion to God by keeping the Sabbath and other holy days as directed. We are blessed with the substance, which is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Sabbath rest. As Christians we must rest on his completed work of grace (trust in his forgiveness), if we are to glorify the Father with our lives. We do not work, but rather God works in us, "for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10).
Israel was told to "Remember the Sabbath." Our Lord Jesus gave us a simple memorial, saying: "Do this in remembrance of me" (I Cor. 11:26). The early Christians met on the first day of the week to share in the bread and fruit of the vine. For after Jesus had completed his work, He also rested on the Sabbath, and then was resurrected on the first day of the week to begin his new work of creation. We meet together to partake of the Lord's Supper, and in so doing, encourage one another to love and good works. Thus, resting in Jesus, we devote our lives to God's service, looking for the day of Christ's return, and our eternal rest in heaven. In so doing, we fulfill the intent and spirit of the Sabbath law. (5) We must honor our parents as God's earthly representatives. As children we respond to the loving care of our parents with trust and obedience. If we refuse to honor them and obey them, will we respond any different to the love of our heavenly Father? On the other side of the coin, the responsibility of parents is correspondingly great, not to provoke their children to wrath, but to bring them up in the admonition and nurture of the Lord.
In commandments 4 and 5 we find our duty to God intertwined with our duty to our neighbor. Thus, on the Sabbath day, the rich of Israel were not to deprive their dependents, or the poor, of their holy rest. Would it be too much to say, that as Christians, we must not deny the grace of God to those who are weak and poor in faith? Likewise, with the commandment to honor our parents, we have the basis for all social relationships. It is at the knee of our parents that we learn respect for others, and for the authority of our bosses at work, the police, and the government.
The commandments now progress to deal exclusively with our duty toward our neighbor. (6) We are to do no harm to our neighbor in respect to his person (or life). (7) We must not destroy the happiness of our neighbor's marriage or family life. (8) We must not take any of our neighbor's property from him. (9) We must guard not only our actions, but also our speech. We must not harm our neighbor's good name by false accusations. (10) Finally, we must love our neighbor with the deepest thoughts of our heart, not begrudging him any of the blessings that God has given him.
The ten commandments recognize that love of God is the motivation for all obedience. This is clearly implied in the second commandment, where 'those that hate God' are con-trasted with 'those that love Him and keep his commands.' Of course, the converse is also true; that hatred of God is what causes evil hearts bent on disobedience.
We have a hard time understanding the jealous nature of the Lord revealed in the second commandment. We tend to think of jealousy only in its negative sense, but there is a positive sense as well. It is appropriate for a husband or wife to be jealous if their partner flirts with another. They have a special relationship and commitment to one another. Israel was called to be God's people, and they were not to worship or serve other so-called gods. The same is true of God's people today. The second portion of this passage is also difficult to understand. Some have thought that God would hold the sins of the fathers against their children and grandchildren even though the children had not sinned. The history of Israel contradicts this view, as, for example, even the children of those who sinned in the wilderness were allowed to enter the land of Canaan. The passage actually says "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." How sad it is that wicked parents tend to raise wicked children. God promised He would bring greater and greater punishments upon succeeding generations of evil people, but his love could not even contemplate such evil continuing for more than four generations. In contrast, God rejoices to show mercy on the thousands that love him and keep his commandments.
Moses sums up the essence of the covenant in Deut. 6:5 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." In Lev. 19:18 Moses sums up the basis of our duty to our neighbor. In view of God's great mercy and deliverance from Egypt, Moses says, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself."
The love spoken of in these passages is not merely external acts of worship, or soppy sentiment. Every aspect of our being must be involved, as we love God and our neighbor in thought, word, and deed.
Unfortunately, our Bible lessons so often take the teachings of the New Testament concerning faith and obedience and apply them cut-and-paste style to our favorite technicalities of rules and regulations. We take them out of their true context, and fail to recognize the nature of God and his true purpose in teaching us to trust in his care and wisdom, and to love our neighbor as ourself. The Old Testament teaches this and points to Jesus as its fulfillment. Part III will discuss the fact that love fulfills the law.