COMMANDMENTS AS THE MEANS OF GRACE
Exodus 20, Psalm 19, Matthew 21:33-46
October 3, 1999 by Tad Mitsui
A boy went off the trail and got lost because he did not obey the first bush commandment, "Thou shalt not go into the woods alone." When he was found after two days and two nights, he was covered with thousands of mosquito bites, dehydrated, starving, and nearly delirious. He learned the price of disobeying the rules in a very hard way. He nearly lost his life.
Though rules and regulations exist for our own good, they have a bad name – "boring". Many people believe that it is more fun to break a law than to obey it. "Don”t get caught." is a slogan more people seem to believe in than those who obey the laws. The laws are normally the expression of God”s concern for us. But they don”t fully appreciate that the laws are intended for their safety and well-being. Ten Commandments were given to people, as the means for God to express his concern for people. But we don”t appreciate them as such. We think that the laws restrict our freedom and tie us down to a boring life. Therefore, many people think that the religion is a whole bunch of "Thou shalt not." So they think that religion is boring and takes fun out of life.
We must admit that, as soon as we see a rule, our first impulse is to break it. A story has it that one day a town council erected a sign with the inscription, "It is forbidden to throw stones at this sign." Guess what happened. Within a week, the sign became illegible because so many people threw stones at it. This story tells us about our ambivalent relation with the law. Nobody thinks that laws are bad. In fact, we will probably be very upset if people break the laws openly and get away with it. But why then do we cheat the laws – customs regulations, tax laws, and traffic laws, etc? I don”t think that there are many people who have never broken any of the Ten Commandments. Governments are worst offenders of the Ten Commandments. Paul described this problem in his letter to the Romans, "If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. If the law does not say "Thou shall not be envious.", I would not have known what envy is."
This is a unique problem for human beings. Animals can do only what nature tells them to do. They do not have freedom to choose, so they can only follow the laws of nature. They know no other way, so they do not need rules. Whereas humans are free. So we have options. We have knowledge of what is good for us. But we do have freedom to obey the law as well as to break it. God”s laws are the means of his grace. The knowledge of what is good for our well-being is revealed to us in a form of the commandments – the laws of God. So we have freedom to choose to live well, if we decide to follow the commandments. Freedom is a precious gift. It means that God respects us, and recognizes our dignity as independent individuals.
But we can choose to disobey the laws too. We can exercise our God given freedom by choosing what is not good for us. If we don”t have this option, we are not truly free. So the important question is; what is it that make us want to choose the God”s way, freely. What does it make what we only know in the head, into something we really want to do from our heart? What does it make the mere knowledge of what is good into heartfelt desires? What does it change the laws into the means of grace? The Bible says it is love that makes what is in the head into a matter of heart. Jesus said that love is the fulfilment of all the laws. Love makes the laws work. But without love, the law can be a temptation to break it, as Paul put it.
I can not name myself an excellent driver. But when I was young, I was worse. I was reckless. What changed me, at least into a more careful driver was the arrival of a child in my life. Though I am far from being an excellent driver even now, following the traffic laws began to have a whole different meaning with my child in the car. A concern for the safety of the child made me realize that the traffic laws were good things. And I began to hope that all drivers obey the law for the safety of my loved one. It is love that makes sense out of the laws. It is love that make you want to obey God”s commandments.
We are celebrating the Lord”s Supper today. It is a memorial of our Lord”s death. We remember that God who gave us the laws is the same God who forgave those who crucified Jesus on the cross. God commands and forgives, because he loves us. As we partake the symbolic meal to remember the love of God, let us also remember that it was the same God who loves us through the commandments. Remembering his love, let us appreciate the God”s way and give our best to live accordingly.