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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Three Fundamentals for the Ten Commandments
Text:LD 34 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 16:1,2                                                                               

Ps 138:1  [after the Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – 1 John 4:7 - 5:5

Ps 19:3 ,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 34, Part 1 (Q&A 92-93)

Hy 11:1,2,3,9

Ps 119:22,23,24

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters, the law of God is very familiar to us. We hear the commandments every Sunday. Each year again they’re explained to us in the Catechism. And in our mind we can even picture what the law looked like when it was first given. We picture the two stone tablets carried down by Moses from Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments—words which were engraved with God’s own finger.

Because it says that there were two tablets, many Story Bibles portray the Ten Words as neatly divided in two parts. On the one tablet in Moses’ hand are the commandments #1-5. And on the other, in his other hand, commandments #6-10.

That might be the picture in our minds, but it’s probably not correct. Instead of being divided over two stones, it’s more likely that the entire law was written twice: once on the first tablet, and then once on the second. It was probably two copies of the same Ten Commandments that Moses carried.

Why? Because this law was a covenant agreement, an official relationship with two participants. In the law were the basic obligations that Israel owed to God. And in the law was God’s basic promise to his people: “I’ll show love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Just like today when you make a written agreement with someone, you both get a copy. So there was probably one copy of the law for Israel, and another for God.

Having said all that, the Catechism is right to teach that God’s covenant law can be divided in two parts (Q&A 93). Christ himself spoke of the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it: “Love God. And love your neighbor.” These two “loves” are reflected in the law, for they’re about living in relation with God, and about the duties that we owe the people around us. The law has to do with every dimension of life, and the law helps us set our priorities in a God-pleasing order. Today let’s consider,

Three Fundamentals for the Ten Commandments:

  1. the love from our God
  2. the love for our God
  3. the love for our neighbour


1) the love from our God: We begin not with God’s requirement that we love him, or God’s requirement that we love our neighbor. But we begin with the introduction to the law, the part which is sometimes called the “prologue.” This is how the Ten Commandments open, not with a commandment, but a statement: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” This is what God has done for his covenant people.

It’s just a one-liner, so to appreciate it we’ll sketch the situation in which the law was first given. Because of a famine and the remarkable events of Joseph’s life, centuries before the patriarchs had ended up in the land of Egypt. For a long time, the people of Israel had it good there, prospering and multiplying.

But eventually a Pharaoh arose who was intimidated by their great numbers. He also saw in Israel an available workforce, so the people were enslaved for hard labour. Subjected, beaten, and overworked, the Israelites groaned under their cruel masters. And Pharaoh’s hatred for Israel was even stronger than his desire for cheap labour, so he tried to kill their baby boys.

Yet God was gracious. He heard the cries of his people, and He sent them a deliverer. Through Moses, God urged Pharaoh to let his people go and travel to the Promised Land. But Pharaoh’s heart was hard, even as God sent overwhelming plagues upon the land. Finally Pharaoh relented—yet just momentarily.

With the hapless Israelites on their way, Pharaoh and his army gave chase. Yet God again shielded his people. With a pillar of cloud and the Angel of the LORD, God prevented the Egyptians from attacking. He then rolled back the waters of the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through, while He caused the Egyptian army to be drowned.

And even after that miracle of salvation at the sea, God wasn’t done with saving. He gave his people fresh water in the desert. He provided bread from heaven when their food ran out. He lent his protection when enemies came raiding. He had endless mercy when they complained, and much patience when they wandered.

Thus when the people arrived at Mt. Sinai, they’d experienced in powerful ways the intense, protecting, saving, and forgiving love of God. They knew just how true and gracious were those words that begin the law, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…” God was reminding them, “I’m your God, and I’ve done everything for you. I’ve carried you on eagle’s wings. I came to seek and save the lost. I’m your God, and I won’t ever forsake you.”

This prologue gives us the proper angle on the entire law. These are the commandments spoken by the One who redeemed his people in his grace, faithfully and lovingly and mightily. So it’s a law that answers the basic question: What should God’s people do now? How can we respond to this salvation except with a devoted life? It gives a positive pattern for thanksgiving.

As we’re busy again with the commandments in this section of the Catechism, it’ll be good for us to recall often how the law begins. The law begins with the great and gracious things that God has done. In New Testament terms, we’d say that the law begins with the gospel.

We need reminding of this, because it’s natural for us to focus on what we have to do as God’s children. We don’t like to admit it, but we’re all “closet legalists,” crypto-Pharisees. We like rules and prohibitions and commands. We’d like it if the Christian life could be reduced to a tidy list of regulations to keep, some do’s and don’ts. “Read your Bible. Go to church. Don’t get drunk and swear. Don’t listen to bad music or watch bad movies. Pay church and school. Work hard at your job.” If you do all that, you’re doing OK. You can feel pretty good about your faith.

But we must put away the pride of our works, and reject the legalism of checking boxes. God says we can have a faith that knows the joy of being loved by someone, loved undeservedly, loved steadfastly, apart from anything we’ve done. And this saving love of God forms the motivation and inspiration for every commandment that God has ever given to his believers. It’s how the second part of the Catechism (our deliverance by God) is unbreakably tied to the third part (our thankfulness to God).

It’s in the New Testament too, like when John urges us to lead a life of love. In his first letter he often returns to the foundation of Christian love, its incentive, its power. Listen: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God” (1 John 4:7). Love belongs to the very essence of who He is. Love is what He does.

Remembering this can prevent us from thinking of God in an impersonal way, a way that is disconnected from real life. We like to say that God is really big and immensely powerful, but then we can also imagine him as kind of mysterious—as if God is kind of like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, hidden behind a curtain, pulling levers and making people scared.

It’s true that God is invisible. “No one has seen God at any time,” John tells us in 4:12. And it’s also true that his ways are higher than our ways. He lives in unapproachable light, while we often prefer the darkness. Yet our God isn’t shrouded in mystery, but He tells us all about who He is. This is how He proclaimed his Name to Moses: “I am the LORD…the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exod 34:6-7).

Underline one important truth in that beautiful description. The LORD “abounds in love,” He says, and He “maintains his love to thousands.” John speaks of the same thing when he writes in 4:8, “God is love.” This means that God’s dealings with us are always marked by this one thing: love. He makes himself known to us especially by his loving deeds. If we ask who God is, Scripture never answers in the abstract, but Scripture always tells us what God does.

Who then, is God? God is love. “And here’s an illustration of this,” says John in 4:9, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.” In Christ, God reveals the fullness of his mercy and compassion. In Christ, God shows us his life-changing love. For Jesus the Son of God came to earth and took the lowest place, and then died on a cross so we might be forgiven all our sin. That’s love—when Jesus lay down his life for his friends.

The real meaning of love is found at the cross! God is love—He always has been—but his love is best displayed in the work of Christ. That gives a new prologue for the law: “I am the LORD your God, who sent my one and only Son into the world to deliver you from captivity to sin.” Then John’s words are perfectly reasonable, balancing exhortation with motivation: “Let us love one another, for love is of God.” Because of God’s love, we start to love.


2) the love for our God: Though our nation seems to grow more wicked all the time, the opinion polls say that a majority of people still believe in God. But love for God, or belief in God, are really easy things to claim.

That’s what false teachers in John’s time were doing too. They were professing to know God. They claimed to have an inner experience of God’s nearness—and that was enough. No need to carry their relationship with God beyond the point of feeling. Actually, it’s the same way of believing in God that many people take today: they claim to be spiritual, but it has little effect on their life.

But John puts it simply, “This is the love of God: that we keep his commandments” (5:3). Affirmations and confessions of love for God are only genuine when they’re backed up with obedience to God’s commands.

Isn’t that like any love? If you have a husband or a wife, a boyfriend or girlfriend, and if you say you love them, then you need to show your love. You could send them cards and texts and other messages, filled with hearts and kisses. But all the words and emoticons in the world won’t convince someone, not if you don’t put that “I love you” into practice, not if you don’t show it tangibly. So for God: He seeks deeds not words.

Even so, I wonder how often we tell God that we love him? How often do you confess a love and adoration for God? “I love you, Lord.” Maybe you find it hard to tell someone close to you that you love him or her—just coming out and saying it. When you try, the words get stuck in your throat. And it seems it can be just as hard to say it to our God.

Yet it’s something we shouldn’t be afraid to do. We have fine examples in the Psalms. Think of David’s confession in Psalm 18:1, “I love you, O LORD, my strength.” Or what the Psalmist announces in Psalm 116:1, “I love the LORD, for he heard my voice.” God desires that we tell of our love for him. He’s lifted up by our praise, honoured by our affection.    

And even when we say it, we also need to think about how we show it. What’s different about your life, if you’ve confessed your faith in God? What has changed in your working or spending or reading or listening, if you say that you love and worship the Lord? Do you show a love for God in the pattern of your thoughts? Does your love for God show through the words that come from your mouth? Do we demonstrate love for God in what we do with our hands?

Earlier we saw how there’s nothing abstract about the statement, “God is love.” For God proves his love with merciful actions and gracious deeds. He showed it to Israel at the Red Sea. He showed it to sinners at the cross. He shows his love to us every day. And just as God’s love for us is very active, real and concrete, so ours must be for him.

So “this is the love of God: that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). If we love God, we’ll obey him in all things. We’ll obey his command to put away the idols in our life. We’ll obey his command to stop with the worry, and to strengthen the trust. If we love God, we’ll obey his command to pray without ceasing. It’s not legalism, it’s love.

And love for God means we strive to obey all the commandments, even when it’s hard. Because we love God our Saviour, we’ll honour our Mom and Dad, even with all their many flaws shortcomings. Out of love for God, we’ll show kindness to our neighbor, even the one whom we’re pretty sure is a lesbian. For the sake of loving God, we’ll strive to keep our bodies pure, we’ll share our money with others, and we’ll tell the truth.

We obey God, and not because we’re afraid of what He’ll do if we don’t. John says that “there is no fear in love” (4:18). The relationship we’re allowed to enjoy with God isn’t like the one between a severe master and his slave, a brutal boss and an employee who’s worried about getting fired. Such a relationship is filled with fear, because when the behavior strays even for a moment from what is expected, the hammer falls—the punishment threatens.

Instead, what we have with God is like the good relations enjoyed by a father with his son. Like John says in 3:1, “What manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” We’re children of the Father: safe, secure in his love. The kind of relationship we have means He’s not going to reject us the instant we fail. He’s not going to blow up as soon as we step out of line. The Father’s love is a steadfast love.

Now, the boys and girls know that every household has rules, about cleaning up, and table manners, and the use of technology. Rules can feel like a burden, but they don’t have to. Because honouring the rules is a way to show love to our parents. So also if we’re going to live under the Father’s roof, we’re called to be faithful. When people see the children, they should see the Father. By the reflection of our lives, other people should see what’s important to the Father. They should be able to see his character as the God who is love.

And our heavenly Father knows that obedience is even good for us, his children. He’s given us his commandments in love for us, so that our lives won’t bend inwards and downwards in selfishness. As his children, we’re blessed to know our priorities: love for him, and love for our neighbour.


3) the love for our neighbor: Imagine there’s a person who says he has a great love for God. He’s always into God’s Word, and knows the confessions better than most. He attends the services twice, and gives generously to ministry. He loves to speak about doctrine, and he prays quite a bit. He sings in church enthusiastically, and he always has Christian music playing. Of a person like this, I think it’d be said, “He must love the Lord!” And it’s true that these things can be part of a genuine love for God.

But what if that same person doesn’t like other people? He always has a reason to complain about other church members, wishes that they were as holy as he was. He carries around quite a few grudges against other people, and is rude to his unbelieving neighbours. OK, so he doesn’t love his neighbour, but he really loves God. Is that all right? Isn’t love for God more important anyway?

It’s not. John puts it pointedly, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God, whom he has not seen?” (4:20). No, if you really love the invisible God—if you worship him and depend on him—then you need to love the very visible person who is sitting in the next pew, or living in the house next door, or working in the same office. Love for God and love for our neighbor are two parts of that single commandment of love.

It’s because of everything God has done for us that we must be willing to treat others with love. As John says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:11). For the person who has been saved by God, being a recipient of kindness means becoming a giver of kindness.

Just think how many of the neighbour-commandments in Scripture are based on how God has first treated us: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Forgive, as God in Christ forgave you. Love your enemies, for God sends rain on the just and the unjust.” The Father sets the pattern, and if we’re really his children, we have to follow. Those who love their neighbour show that they’ve come to know something of the character of God.

When a person refuses to love other people, what does that say? If you can’t be patient with them, or you won’t forgive, or you’re not willing to share your material blessings, this hints at something deeply concerning. These failings suggest that a person still doesn’t know the truest love, the greatest patience and forgiveness—that of God. The unwillingness to love suggests that a person still doesn’t know the love of God in Christ—they don’t know it, in the sense that they haven’t received it by faith.

You might say that because they haven’t really accepted the second part of the Catechism, they’re finding the third part impossible. Remember the one true power and motive for our obedience: “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

The Catechism puts it well, that the second part of the Ten Commandments are the duties we owe our neighbor (Q&A 93). We owe it to our neighbor, we owe it to our brother and sister in the faith, to love them. No question, that’s challenging. As John says, our brother is someone we can see. It’s one thing to send money to an African orphan whom you’ve never met. But what about the people in your own church? They’re not always so agreeable as that silent orphan. Love is always harder for these visible ones.

But the God who saved us in Christ calls us to carry out our duty. Find a way to help others when they’re not well. Remember to pray for someone by name when they’re facing trouble. Make a point to visit them in their loneliness. Be willing to share with them when they’re in need. Take the time to speak an uplifting word to them. These are the duties we owe.

We finish with these words from John: “If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us” (4:12). This is one of those texts which sounds like it’s saying too much, like John is stepping over the line. John says that when we show God’s love in our lives, God’s love reaches perfection. Does God’s love really need perfecting? What could ever be lacking in the love of God, shown on the cross?

But John is saying that when we show love today, God’s love finds its purpose. It’s doing what it was designed to do! For this is God’s desire for the amazing love that He showed to you  in Christ: He wants his love to be passed on, to flow from you toward others, to be multiplied and then shared. This is the atmosphere in which God’s love will thrive, when our homes and our churches and every place are filled with a genuine love for other people.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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