Ten Words to Live By: Love Your Neighbors

Jesus said the entire legal code is boiled down to these two principles: Love God; love others. If we intentionally sought to live our lives based on fleshing out the law of love, everything else would fall into place. You and I the rest of humanity were created in God’s image. And how we treat other people reflects how we feel about God. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have audio for this sermon at this time. But you can read it after the jump:

As we recognize Memorial Day this weekend, it is impossible to do so without realizing that we continue to live in a world full of strife. Our nation is still involved in military action in Iraq. And there’s discussion of increasing our military’s presence in Afghanistan. Although many of us have friends and relatives involved in those conflicts, it can still feel like the threats they face are more than a world away from us.

The threats hit a little bit closer to home this week when news broke about a foiled terror plot in New York City. It has been a sobering reminder that there are people that want to kill us. They would like nothing more than to see death and destruction.

We live in a world full of people that look out for themselves and will go to extreme measures to put themselves before anyone else. Many in this world live by this motto: Do unto others before they do unto you.

But what would life be like if we lived by a different motto? What would it be like if we put into practice the spirit of the 10 Words given to the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai several thousand years ago?

We’re back to looking into the 10 Commandments this week. You might remember as we began digging into what have traditionally been known as ‘The 10 Words,’ the children of Israel weren’t really a nation until they received God’s Law from Him on Mt. Sinai. Up until this point, they were just a really big family that was enslaved by the Egyptians. There was no need for them to have their own set of laws because they wouldn’t be able to enforce them anyway. But all of that changed when God delivered them from their captors and they began their journey towards the Promised Land with the Lord as their leader. God made them into a nation. His chosen nation. And as a nation, they needed laws to govern them. As a nation, they needed rules to maintain order and to establish them as unique among the other nations. These rules and laws they were given were not a condition of their relationship with God. They were confirmation of it. And the same is true for us. We cannot do anything to make God love us more. Following God’s rules and laws – including the 10 Commandments – is not a condition of our relationship with Him. It won’t make God love you more. But it is the result of our relationship with Him. It’s confirmation of that relationship.

As you look through the 10 Commandments, you see that it’s essentially divided into two sections. The Commandments begin with talking about how we should honor God with our lives. Follow God and God alone. Don’t look back on the life that He delivered you from. Don’t do things in God’s name, claiming to have His blessing, when He did nothing of the kind. And find your rest in Him.

And then there’s this shift in the subject of the law. It begins in the Fifth Commandment, which serves kind of like a hinge. Honoring your father and your mother is important in a society that intends to have the Lord as its leader because it’s through the parents that children first discover God and His nature. Because a child’s first impressions about God are generally given by the child’s relationship with his or her parents, it is important to honor parents’ efforts to plant the seeds of faith in our lives.

And the rest of the 10 Commandments, Numbers 6-10, deal with how we live with other people. And this is where we’re picking up the Ten Words to Live By this morning. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to Exodus chapter 20. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Exodus 20 is found on page 63 in those red Bibles. Remember, Exodus is the second book of the Bible and it’s about…well…it’s about the children of Israel exiting from Egypt. You probably already know these Commandments, but they’re worth repeating again.

Read Exodus 20:13-16

If you were to ask a typical person on the street to list the 10 Commandments, 9 times out of 10, they are probably going to begin by naming these. They’re the basic building blocks of almost any society. If everyone would follow just these four Commandments, there would hardly be any need for any other laws, right? Life would be a whole lot easier if all of our citizens would just follow these four laws.

God’s laws and rules and regulations didn’t stop at the 10 Commandments. The book of Leviticus is dedicated to all of the rules and regulations that stem from the 10 Commandments. They outline the consequences of breaking the law and how law-breakers could potentially be restored back into the community of faith. And then, in case the children of Israel didn’t get it the first time they heard it, the book of Deuteronomy, which literally means ‘Second Law,’ does just that – gives a retelling of God’s laws for a second time.

These Commandments: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, and don’t lie about your neighbor establish the basic rules that should govern our own lives. Jesus summed up these laws into one basic statement. And it’s found in the gospel of Mark.

If you still have your Bibles open, please turn with me to Mark chapter 12. Although many think the gospel of Mark was the first gospel to have been written, it comes second in our order of books. It’s found in the New Testament, between the gospels of Matthew and Luke. If you’re using the red Bibles, Mark 12 is found on page 881.

The teachers of the Law liked to debate. And sometimes those debates would get heated. One of their favorite subjects of debate was about which principle of the legal code was the most important. Mark doesn’t say here that these legal experts were trying to trip up Jesus this time, but they were known for trying to do so. It appears that this scribe was really, truly, interested in finding an answer to the question. So he asked Jesus or his perspective. Here’s how Jesus responded:

Read Mark 12:28-31

Jesus said the entire legal code is boiled down to these two principles: Love God; love others. If we intentionally sought to live our lives based on fleshing out the law of love, everything else would fall into place. You and I the rest of humanity were created in God’s image. And how we treat other people reflects how we feel about God.

Because loving God means loving other people. As we have been discussing in our Wednesday evening study through the book of James, it isn’t enough to merely say you believe in God or even that you love God. Our faith must be put into action. Because as we draw closer to God, we allow Him to shape us more into His image. And God loves His creation – especially people. So we show our love and affection to God not only by praying to Him and lifting Him up together on Sunday mornings; but we also show our love and affection to God by loving our neighbor.

So you might be sitting there, looking at this list and thinking, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone” (check). “I’ve been a faithful husband” or “I’ve been a faithful wife.” “I haven’t committed adultery.” (check) “I haven’t stolen anything…well, not that I can remember, anyway.” (check) “I haven’t lied about anyone…well…(pause)…well…not recently, anyway.” (check). Looks like I’ve got this whole ‘loving your neighbor’ thing in the bag.

It’s not exactly that simple. You may have followed the letter of the Law, but might not have been following the spirit of God’s Law. Jesus reminds us that obeying the Law has just as much to do with your heart as what you do with your hands has to do with the Law.

Yes, loving your neighbor means you don’t physically take someone’s life. But loving your neighbor also means that you don’t murder them with your words. You remember the childhood phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me”? Well, that’s wrong. Our words can harm others. Careless words or words spoken out of anger can pierce the soul, essentially murdering your neighbor. Loving your neighbor means even think about causing harm to someone else: whether it’s by your words or by your hand. You shall not murder means that our words and our actions need to be full of life and encouraging others – even when that neighbor has tried to harm you with his words.

Loving your neighbor means you don’t commit the physical act of adultery. But loving your neighbor means you won’t even contemplate going down that road. Adultery begins in the heart and then it follows in the act. Loving your neighbor means you won’t even dwell on such thoughts. It also means when you’re surfing the Internet and see an ad for a web site or if you’re in the bookstore and see a provocative magazine cover, you don’t even allow your mind to linger. Because what happens with your eyes and in your heart is as important as what happens with your body. Loving your neighbor means you celebrate and encourage thriving, life-giving marriages. It means we work to strengthen our neighbors’ marriages. Loving your neighbor means your heart breaks when you hear about another instance of infidelity or of a broken marriage. We cannot sit back with some type of air of superiority and even unintentionally judge the marriages of those around us. We need to love our neighbors in their marriages.

Loving your neighbor means you respect their property. Commandment number 8 is closely related to Commandment number 10 and we’re going to look at number 10 much more closely next week. We cannot base our identity and sense of self-worth on the things we own. For the most part, people steal because they’re not satisfied with the things they already have. We need to remember that our value comes from God, not from the accumulation of stuff. And we need to show our neighbors that they are valuable people – not because of the things they own but because they are made in the image of God and loved by Him. And we cannot use other people as a means to gain wealth. That robs them of their identity as well. Loving your neighbor means you treat your neighbor as the child of God he or she was created to be. And that might even mean putting others’ needs ahead of your own.

 And that also means we protect our neighbor’s reputation. The ninth commandment tells us that we cannot allow our words to cause someone else an unjustified injury. Like we mentioned earlier, words matter. The tongue is a relatively small organ in your body, but it has the ability to do a great deal of damage to the people around us if we’re not careful. And what comes out of our mouths pours out of what’s in our hearts. Loving our neighbors means we build up and encourage them; not tear them down with rumors, lies, and half-truths. The words we use are like fire. They can have the power to bring life or to destroy, depending on how they’re used. Loving our neighbor means bringing honor and affirmation, not destruction. 

Imagine a world where people put their neighbors’ interests ahead of their own. Imagine a world where words and actions were full of life and healing and joy. Imagine a world where people mean what they say and say what they mean. Imagine a world where marriages are strong and God-honoring, pointing others to the mysterious relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Imagine a world where people find their value and self-worth and identity in Christ, not in the possessions they have or the kind of popularity or power they possess. Imagine a world based not on doing unto others before they do unto you, but where the church shows her love for God by loving her neighbors.

Imagine a world…

Now go live it.

Of course, loving your neighbor begins with loving God – with choosing to acknowledge that He is, in fact, Lord over everything…including your own life. If you have never made that confession before…if you have never chosen to give up whatever you may consider as your rights to rule your own life and allow Him to take you wherever He may lead, then you’re invited to do so this morning. God wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to be your friend. But He’s not going to force Himself upon you. You have to allow Him into your life. And that happens when you choose to leave your selfish, sinful self behind and put on Christ and allow Him to make you into a new creation. That’s why we celebrate baptism – because it is a tangible, physical experience of the death and burial of the old self with Christ, rising up anew as a new creation in Him. If you have never chosen to be obedient to Him in baptism, then you’re invited to do so today.

Also, if you are already a believer and have been looking for a church home and have decided that Cowan Christian Church is the place where you believe God has led you to put down your roots, then you’re invited to come forward and place your membership with us today.

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