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Introduction to Summer Series:
In the Preface to his Large Catechism, Luther writes that there is “a minimum of knowledge that every Christian should have.” The ‘minimum knowledge’ includes the 10 Commandments, Apostles Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Lord’s Supper. Luther writes, “Whoever lacks this knowledge cannot be counted among Christians nor be admitted to the sacraments.” He compares someone who calls himself a Christian but doesn’t know ‘the minimum,’ to someone who calls himself a craftsman but doesn’t know the rules and techniques of his craft; a carpenter who doesn’t know what a hammer or saw are or how to use them?
The proper place for instruction in the ‘minimums’ is in the home – your home. Luther wrote his Small Catechism to help the head of the house instruct his family in the ‘minimums’ of the Christian faith.
Whoever the head of YOUR family in these matters might be, we would like to use the summer Sundays for instruction in the 10 Commandments here, with the intent that you would continue the discussion in your own family during the week – even if that’s just you. The insert in the bulletin each Sunday is to help you bring what we do here into your home during the week.
Luther writes, “It is the duty of every family head to examine his children and household members at least once a week to see what they have learned of the Catechism.” So, as the head of the family in this house, I’m going to ask you to memorize the particular ‘Commandment of the week’ and the explanation from Luther’s Small Catechism and recite it from memory on the following Sunday.
Luther says that if a household member will not do this, they should not be given supper. This does not apply to the Lord’s Supper. But I will leave it up to your own conscience as to whether or not you deserve to eat the goodies served during Fellowship after worship.
The 10 Commandments
We begin our study of the 10 Commandments with the Preamble. “And God spoke all these words saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’” (Ex.20:1-2).
This ‘preamble’ is as important as the Commandments themselves.
Just look at where God begins. He begins with Himself. “I am the Lord your God.” Before He gives us His law, He gives us Himself. He gives us Himself and declares that “I am YOUR God,” BEFORE we have done a thing. The 10 Commandments are NOT a conditional contract such that, ‘IF’ we keep these 10 rules THEN “I will be the Lord your God.” His first word here is His unconditional pledge by which He gives you Himself APART FROM THE LAW.
And then right away, He lays out His credentials for being your God. “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” He knows how to be your God. He’s the ‘master craftsman’ who knows how to use the tools of His trade – almighty, all-knowing, all-wise, all-love. Any god who calls himself a ‘god’ but doesn’t know how to use these tools of the trade, has no right to call himself ‘a god,’ let alone, ‘YOUR god.’
You’ve got keep this ‘Preamble’ firmly in mind before you get to know the 10 Commandments. It applies to all 10 and we should read it before each and every one, not just the first. And so we’re going to include this preamble in each Commandment that we study together.
The 1st Commandment
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no gods before me.”
If the Christian Church is the ‘family of God,’ then here is the “head of the family,” God the Father, giving instruction to His family members for how they are to live in His house. Every family has its ‘house rules,’ and God the Father is no different.
“You shall…” and “you shall not…” The children are not permitted to behave any way they choose. They’re not to act like spoiled brats. There is a definite order and structure for living. He has “brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” He has redeemed you by the precious blood of His only-begotten Son to be ‘like this’ and ‘not like that.’
And like a loving father, you can bet that there will be disciplinary measures applied if you ignore or rebel against the rules that He has laid down.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.” Let me begin by telling you what this does not mean. This DOES NOT mean that it’s okay to have other gods as long as the Lord is first in line. “Before Me,” means “no other god BESIDES Me.”
What DOES this mean? “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” (Let’s practice the assignment for this week. Without looking, what is the 1st Commandment, “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” What does this mean? “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.”)
In his Large Catechism, Luther famously spells out what it means to have a god. “A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart… That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is really your god.”
In other words, the heart of the matter is the heart. “We are to FEAR, LOVE AND TRUST in God above all things.” All three of those verbs are actions that come from the heart. As we will see, the explanation of all 10 Commandments begins with the common refrain, “We are to fear and love God…” The distinguishing characteristic of the 1st Commandment compared to the other nine is TRUST. “We are to fear, love and TRUST in God above all things.’
‘TRUST’ is just another word for ‘FAITH.’ We put the trust of our heart in what we believe is true, right and able to save us. If you TRUST that God’s Word is true and right, then you will ENTRUST your heart to it. Why would anyone ENTRUST their life to anything that they don’t BELIEVE is true or right or able to do what it says. “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is really your god.”
So the question is, what about the LORD YOUR GOD? Do you trust Him above all other gods? And they only way to TRUST God is to trust His Word above all other words. Do you believe that it is true and right and able to do what it says, which is deliver you and save you?
Don’t answer! It’s too easy to answer that question with our lips. With our lips, we say “I believe in God.” But do we really? I would suggest to you that we really only know that to which our heart entrusts itself to, in the living out of our daily life.
How have you acted and reacted in times of trouble – health troubles, friend troubles, relationship troubles, marriage troubles, money troubles, job troubles. Did you worry? If you trust in God for all good and in every trouble, why did you worry? Did you question why God would allow such a thing to happen to you if He really loves you? Did you put more trust in ‘other words’ than in God’s 10 words? Did you trust that THE LORD YOUR GOD would deliver you and wait patiently for Him to accomplish His purpose through this trouble? Did you question whether God really exists?
With our mouth we say, “I believe in God the Father almighty.” But it’s our response in times of trouble that tell us whether or not we really ‘fear, love and trust in God above all things.’
Think about Jesus. When He was in trouble how did He react? In His deepest and darkest hour, even hanging from the cross, look at where His heart is – “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” He trusts in God despite all the voices that shout out for Him to despise God. His actions reveal His heart. His heart trusts perfectly in God.
It’s the same when good things come our way. How do we react when something positive happens to us? Something or someone that lifts our heart and we experience joy, contentment, peace, friendship, companionship, love? Do we look to God for all good? Do we see the hand of God working good in our life through this person, this event, this ‘coincidence’? And do we give thanks to God for His loving care for us through these earthly means? Or did it never cross our mind that God was behind this ‘lucky break’? Or that it was God who sent this person to add something good and wonderful to our life? Or did you worship the ‘luck,’ or the person?
The heart of the matter is the heart. And this is how we tell what ‘we look to for all good and find refuge in when in need, to what our heart clings to and entrusts itself to.’
To entrust your heart to the one, true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is to believe that God is GOOD – the Highest Good. And if God is the Highest GOOD, then His Word is GOOD – the Highest Good, then His 10 Commandments are Highest GOOD, for they are His Words.
To ignore or break the 10 Commandments must then mean that we believe that they are not good, or not the Highest good. And since they are God’s Words, that means that we believe that God is not really GOOD, or at least not the Highest Good.
You should know that in the Scriptures, ‘disobedience’ of God’s Word, is never called ‘failure.’ It’s only ever referred to as ‘despising’ God. The judgment is really not about the fact that we broke the commandments. It’s about the fact that by ignoring them or breaking them, we despise God whose Commandments they are.
If you think that God is being a bit too demanding with these 10 Commandments, then you should also be aware that whatever it is that you ‘entrust your heart to,’ and treat as your god, it will also have its commandments and rules that you must live by. It too will demand to define you and structure your life and make you its possession.
If money and fortune is your god, you better believe it will have its demands that you must meet. If success or acceptance is the gods that you entrust your heart to, know that they will demand a great deal from you. If you entrust your heart to your own righteousness and holiness to save you, that will be your god and it will make unbearable demands on you.
The question that you must ask is whether or not these other gods can save you? Even if they wanted to, could they? Could they “bring you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”? Could they forgive you all of your sins before the LORD YOUR GOD for not trusting… for despising Him? Could they raise you from the dead, holy and righteous before God?
There is only one God who can, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the only God who loves you and has given Himself for you. As we very carefully said in the beginning, and as we will continue to say, we are not saved by keeping the 1st Commandment, or the other 9. In His perfect love for us, THE LORD YOUR GOD has kept them all perfectly FOR US, through Jesus Christ, His only Son. And Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to work on our heart, and turn us from our trust in false gods to ‘fear, love and trust in God alone.’