Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – The Ten Commandments for Today (3 & 4)

I want to affirm, again, where I began this series on the 10 Commandments, by restating my assumption concerning the commandments.   We are not sinful because we fail to keep the 10 commandments, the 10 commandments are there to protect us from our sinfulness.

Foundational to a modern interpretation, and, dare I say a New Testament informed interpretation, of the 10 commandments is that we cannot save ourselves by obedience to the law, therefore it is not our task to fulfil them in order to be right with God.  They prove to us, show us, that we are dependent upon God for our salvation.

In my last entry I began by suggesting that the first five of the 10 commandments are concerned with God and the second five are concerned with humans.  The first two commandments I regard as commandments which speak about our need to allow God, the Father of our Jesus Christ, to be above all other gods in our life.

Now I want to look at the third and fourth commandments and I want to explore them as a means of reminding us that we need to let God be God.

The Australian Anglican Prayer Book (1995) summarises these two commandments as:

3.  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

4.  Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  Six days shall you labour and do all you have to do, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.

The third commandment:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

The complete text from Exodus 20 reads:

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

It is unfortunate that we continue to use, in our recitation of the commandments, the old King James language of ‘vain’ use of the Lord’s name, for it leaves us wondering what the commandment really means.  The newer language of ‘wrongful’ and ‘misuse’ are a little more helpful.

Ultimately, I think, this not simply calling out the Lord’s name when we have hit our thumb with the hammer – for a Christian this could actually be argued as prayer – in the same way as a child, when something goes wrong, they would call out for mum or dad.  If there is no relationship with God, then it may as well be a swear word.

But the commandment means more than that here.  It is concerned with getting our own way using the name of God.  It is a bit like Christians going to a retailer or service provider displaying a Christian fish sticker in the hope that they will get a discount.  It is like someone using your name in order to gain some advantage over someone else.  In this case, however, it is using God’s name for our benefit.  How many wars have been started in God’s name that were really concerned with issues relating to oil or possession of land?  Basically, then, it is expressing some control over God, attempts to manipulate God.  It is making God in our image and likeness.

It is a continuation of the idolatry of the second commandment.  And the worst and subversive idolatry is not the images we might have in the Church, it is the image of God we have on our hearts and minds.

It is the motivation behind how we use God’s name that is the telling factor.  That people will choose to leave the Church and surrender their belief in God because something goes wrong in their lives is an expression that they choose to believe in God because of the safety they will get out of God.

The greatest idolatry of our age is evident in the picking and choosing what we want to believe from all sorts of sources because they suit what we want, and making that to be our god.

The warning of third commandment is that we need to be careful about our motives and intentions for why we are here and for what we do.  We need to allow God to be God and not attempt to make God do what we want him to do.

The fourth commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  Six days shall you labour and do all you have to do, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.

The complete text of Exodus 20 reads:

8 Remember (Dt 5:12 = observe) the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns (Dt 5:14 + so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you). 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

However, in Deuteronomy (5:15), verse 11 of Exodus 20 is replaced by:

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. [1]

There are two things at work here, driven by the priestly writer of Exodus and the history writer of Deuteronomy.

The Deuteronomist is reminding the people of Israel that they were once slaves and, therefore, they should also be mindful that their slaves deserve to have time to rest.

My day off is my Sabbath.  This is my day, where I do not have to be everyone else’s servant, doing the will of others, but the day in which I do the things I want and need to do for me to recuperate.

One of the arguments that was made by one of the bishops of our church against the John Howard’s (a previous Prime Minister of Australia) Industrial Relations Laws was that it was in danger of allowing people not to have the freedom of having at least one day off.  We are reminded, and God acknowledges, that we need at least one day off a week for our rest.

But there is something else in the account of the 10 Commandments from the writer of the Exodus.  He is not thinking about the slaves, although he mentions them.  Rather he hearkens back to the creation story of Genesis.

In the Genesis 1 account of creation, the last thing that God made, on the sixth day, was humankind.  Although he said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply,” (Gen 1:28) the very next thing God did, on the seventh day, was to rest.  Before humanity was fruitful, humanity rested with God.

This gives us a proper understanding of work.  It is God’s intention that we should work, this is what be fruitful means, it is not just about having lots of babies.  Work is not the result of the fall.  Sweat and hard labour in work are the result of our sinfulness, but work is a holy act.  But, here’s the thing, rest comes before work.

We should not be surprised at this, although we are, because it is a common theme in the ministry of Jesus.  As we begin Lent (the season of preparation for the celebration of Easter), we read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  Jesus had just been baptised and had this massive experience of God: the heavens were torn apart, a Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, and the voice of God was heard, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’  Following this, Jesus did not immediately go off and begin his ministry.  Rather, he went out for 40 days to be alone with God.  He rested and then worked.

Somehow, we have this back to front.  We speak of the Sabbath as our rest after our work.  I don’t know whether this is a symptom of a protestant work ethic, but we work and then we are entitled to rest.

I can hear it in myself, now, ‘God I have been really busy, look what I have done?’ And God’s response, ‘But who told you to do that?’  Resting after work leaves us in great danger of being busy but not necessarily busy with the things that God wants us to do.

To rest, to abide, is to nurture our relationship with God.  It is the stuff of studying our bibles and prayer.  It is getting to know God and growing into God’s will.  If we work before we rest then we are effectively deciding on God’s behalf what work needs to be done, we are not allowing God to be God.

This is why I find it helpful to pray in the morning.  If I attempt to pray at the end of a busy day, I find myself saying, ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come….zzzzzz.’  Better to rest and then work.

We need to grow in our prayerfulness and become a people of prayer.  The fact is work comes out of rest, for if ministry is not influenced and driven by our relationship with God, it is not ministry at all.  The fourth commandment, along with the third, is a commandment to protect us from our sinfulness, remind us to let God be God, and not what we want him to be.


[1] The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1996, c1989. Thomas Nelson: Nashville

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