"What God Loves—and Hates"#86-43
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 23, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Exodus 20:5-6
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What if there were an app for that? It would be tempting, especially if you've just come from an argument with your significant other. But you know, we all know if you did it, if you used it, if you manipulated them like that, you would destroy the personal relationship. You would no longer be relating to them as a person. You'd be relating to them as an appliance.
I recently heard a message from a pastor named Tim Keller. The message was titled "Christ: The Final Word." If you wanted to hear it, you could search for it on the internet. In this message Pastor Keller makes this point that every personal relationship has finality.
And what that means is when you're dealing with a person, when you're relating to a person, there's some things about them that you cannot modify. Not that you would want to modify everything about them. There are some things that you like about them, but then there's those other things. Those annoying tendencies and habits. Maybe it's the way they chew their food, or they sing too loudly in the car. And then they have the nerve to confront you to tell you that you're wrong. They tell you, "No, you can't do that" or "Stop! That's not right!"
See, they have finality. And if you want to relate to them as a person, you need to accept the fact that they have personal values. They have things they love and things they hate. And you can't just come and change those things. And if you tried, they would no longer be a person to you. They would be an appliance.
That's because every personal relationship has finality. Here's the analogy. You've probably heard people say, maybe in a slightly offended tone, "How can anyone say that their religion is the only way?" People say things like that because they don't want finality when it comes to religion. They want something more like a religious buffet. They want their options open. And this makes perfect sense if you think and talk about religion as a list: a list of things to do and things not to do, things to believe and things not to believe. You know, if you've ever made a list, a to-do list or a list of rules, as soon as you make the list it's out of date and quickly becoming irrelevant. No list has finality.
So let's consider the list of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments On first glance, it's a list. "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 other gods before Me," which includes not making any images of the one true God. "You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God. Remember the sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and mother. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor. Do not covet your neighbor's house. Do not covet your neighbor's stuff or relationships or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Those are the holy Ten Commandments. And on first glance, it looks like a list. But underneath the list, more important than the list, is the love of the God who gave the list.
Sadly, when I hear people talk about the Ten Commandments, they more often than not focus on the list. For example: I was listening to the podcast This American Life. To my surprise, they devoted one whole episode, one hour long, to the Bible's Ten Commandments. Ira Glass, the host, he always has something interesting to say, and he opens the episode by giving other spin-off lists like the ten commandments of tractor safety or the ten commandments of cell phone etiquette.
And then he makes this interesting point. He said that the Bible's Ten Commandments are different because they deal with concerns that are more basic, more enduring, more important. (And I thought to myself, Ira, you are not far from the kingdom of God.)
And then as I listened to the episode, and they ran through the list of the Ten Commandments, I noticed a theme emerging. Each Commandment had a story to go with it. And all the stories related devoted people who were struggling, trying, and failing—trying and failing to live up to this list of impossible demands.
And it left me thinking, is this all the Ten Commandments are? An impersonal list of demands, impossible as they are irreplaceable. No. That's not all they are.
The most important thing to know about the Ten Commandments is not the list, but the love: the law of love underneath the list. The Ten Commandments are personal. They express the values of the God of Israel. The God that Jesus teaches us to call "Father." They express what He loves and what He hates.
What does God love? Above all, God the Father loves His Son Jesus. In the power of His Spirit, in the love of His Spirit, and by extension, by adoption, He loves His adopted sons and daughters. You, who trust in Jesus. God loves His children. Even more, God loves His whole creation, His whole household. And He is a zealous Father. And He wants to protect His house. That's what the Ten Commandments are all about. They are protection. Underneath the list is the love, and love protects the beloved. For example, if you take care of children and you're sending them outside into the snow or into the rain, what do you do? You give them layers to protect them from the elements. If you are in charge of soldiers, and you send them out into battle, what do you do? You outfit them with layers of armor, vehicle armor and body armor to protect them.
This is what the Ten Commandments are. They are protection for what God loves. What does God love? God loves your neighbor. God loves all that supports the well-being of your neighbor. God wants to protect all of this. God wants to protect his reputation. And He wants to protect her blessings and resources and his sexual purity and her marriage and his life. God wants to protect your neighbor. And not just your neighbors now, but future generations of neighbors.
And so He has created a whole Commandment around this lifelong union of one man and one woman: marriage. Because God knows that the most optimal place to raise up and generate and nurture new little neighbors is within a resilient, loving, stable marriage. God is so passionate and zealous to take care of these little neighbors that He has given a special Commandment, a special layer of armor around the two most honored neighbors that are given to every human being by their birthright, and ought to be given by experience: father and mother.
God is zealous to protect what He loves. What does God love? God loves you. And so He's given these first set of Commandments to protect what is most vital about you, most vital for your well-being.
First layer to protect your faith in Him. Second layer to protect your conversation with Him in prayer, your calling upon His Name. The third layer to protect your time that you set aside to listen to Him, to listen to His Word. God is devoted to protect what He loves.
On the flip side, God protects against what He hates. I know that sounds harsh, but hear me out. When the God of Israel brought the shock and awe campaign of plagues against the Egyptians who were enslaving His people, He told Moses that His wrath was directed not against their Egyptian neighbors, but against the false gods of Egypt.
See Exodus 12:12. You want to see this Father get angry? Show Him a false god. A false god is anything in God's creation that we elevate above God—anything that competes for our ultimate fear, love, and trust with empty promises that it cannot deliver. So God hates whatever lures you away from true life. God hates whatever entices us to greed, lies, and slander. Whatever misleads us into sexual immoralities and thefts and murders—God hates these things because He loves you and your neighbor.
So if we want to have a relationship with the God and Father of Jesus, we have to respect His finality. We have to respect the fact that He has values, that He has things that He loves and things that He hates, just like you would do in any other normal, healthy personal relationship. You respect the other person's finality.
Now let's look at this from another perspective. You say that I need to respect God's finality. But what about my finality? I'm a person, right? I'm not an appliance. So does God yield to my finality? Yes.
See, God knows that there are at least two things about you and me that we cannot change. First, we are broken. We are so full of sin and shame, and we don't have the power to get rid of it. We don't have the power to wash out the spot, as Lady Macbeth said.
The second thing that God knows about us is that He created us for a relationship with Him. And no matter how deeply we sink into sin, no matter how far we run away from Him, we will never stop needing Him. And so God the Father, He yields to this finality. He yields to these facts about us. And He sent His one and only Son to become a human being. And God the Son, Jesus, He yields to this finality for the sake of a relationship with you. He offered Himself up as a sacrifice for you on the cross. And God the Holy Spirit, for the sake of a relationship with you, He yields to this finality, and does for you and does for me what we cannot do for ourselves. He forgives our sins. He frees us from the power of sin. He enables us to fear, love, and trust in the Father above all things. He enables us to bear love's burden.
So we talked about what God's Commandments, what God's Law, protects. The Law protects what God loves, His children, His household. How does the Law protect? The Law protects like a curb, like a mirror, and like a map.
First, God's Law of love protects us like a curb. One winter I was driving, and I hit a patch of ice. I panic because the steering wheel is not doing what it is designed to do. I'm turning the steering wheel to the right, but the car keeps going wrong. And I see a concrete wall, an embankment. And it's all happening in slow motion. You've been there. I'm going to smash into this concrete embankment. Shards of glass will spray over me, and it's happening in three, two, one, bounce.
My car did this pinball move off the curb back into the middle of the road. And I said, "Praise the Lord" for the curb. God's Law is like a curb, and protects the household like a curb. Things seem out of control in this chaotic world, but God has written His Law on the heart of every human being to keep us from going off the rails, to protect us from running off the road and totaling it. God's Law protects like a curb.
Second, God's Law protects like a mirror. I was in seminary studying to be a pastor, and one of our professors had us memorize the words to a small book by Martin Luther, written about 500 years ago, called the Small Catechism. The Small Catechism is an explanation of the six core teachings of the Bible.
So I was learning the words. I was focusing on that section in the Ten Commandments, and specifically the Eighth Commandment, which tells me not to speak falsely against my neighbor but to speak well of him. And to explain everything in the kindest possible way.
Well, I was talking to some other students at the seminary. And there was this one faculty member that we loved to mock and make fun of. And so there I am, I'm mocking this man of God. I am tarnishing his reputation, and it hits me like a concrete embankment. Defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way. It was like looking in a mirror and seeing an angry, red, pus-filled zit on the tip of my pointy nose.
The Law protects like a mirror. How does a mirror protect? Think S-O-S. Shows our situation. Shows our sin.
Ira Glass got this much right. In our present situation, God's Commandments, God's Law are as impossible for us to fulfill as they are to forget. God's Law places the burden of love on our shoulders, and I am crushed by this burden. I cannot bear this burden. Before I looked in that mirror, I was secure, I was smug, I was self-righteous. But now that I've seen, I know that I am broken, I am desperate, and I am ready to hear the good news that God the Father yields to my finality. He accepts me. He accepts you. Through Jesus, He bears the burden of love.
And once I am secure in the Father's love, then I can look at the Ten Commandments. I can look at the law of love in an entirely new light. I can see it as a roadmap for life, as a mobile navigation app that tells me where to go and how to get there, what to aim at and what to avoid. And with this app, with this application constantly running in the background, God, the Holy Spirit, will lead us into true wisdom, into true life. No terms, no conditions, no Wi-Fi needed.
Would you pray with me?
Dear Father, thank You for writing Your law of love on the heart of every human being. By Your law of love, curb our self-centered behavior. Curb our self-destructive actions. By Your law of love, show us the desperation of our situation. Show us our sin. And guide all who are crushed by the Law's burden to hear the promise of forgiveness and new life by being crucified and resurrected with Jesus in Baptism. And lead us so that we would turn away from what You hate and turn toward what You love. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
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Reflections for June 23, 2019
Title: What God Loves-and Hates
Mark Eischer:.....Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks Mark. Once again I have joining me in the studio, Pastor Paul Schult from Redeemer Lutheran in the San Francisco Bay area, and Deaconess Dorothy Glenn, a deaconess here in the St. Louis area. And today we are talking about the Ten Commandments, but we're thinking of them not simply as a to-do list, but as what God loves and what God hates and Pastor Schult, you compare it with values. When you think of a close friend that you have, how have shared valued affected or contributed to that friendship?
Paul Schult: Typically, the more your values are shared between two people, the stronger the relationship becomes—and not that anybody's values are always completely matched perfectly. But values tend to be these underlying deeply held beliefs about things you love and things you hate, and what you have a strong preference for, because they're not just preferences, but they're deeply held beliefs that these things that you care so deeply about are good. As two people have those shared values, just naturally your relationship is going to grow stronger, and the more different your values are, the more challenging it's going to be for two people to get along.
Mike Zeigler: What is God trying to protect in the Ten Commandments?
Dorothy Glenn: I think that God in His Ten Commandments is trying to protect His people. When you have a relationship with a person and you share the same values, you are in a situation where you're surrounded by unconditional love, and in that love you can feel secure and confident to share your inmost thoughts, knowing that that person in response will be loving. And I think that's ultimately what God wants for His people: to be able for us to care for one another with the love that He gives us, but also to console and for us to provide brotherly and sisterly consolation to one another, continuing to uplift one another and guide each other, so that we may together look to the cross, not at each other.
Mike Zeigler: Pastor Schult, how would you answer this in regard to God? We've said that values, things that people love together, things that people are repelled from draws them closer to each other. How does this relate to what God is doing in the Ten Commandments?
Paul Schult: It's how God protects us. God has a deep passionate love for human beings, and His heart's desire our well-being.
Mike Zeigler Yeah, that word "jealous" that comes up in the Ten Commandments, "I am jealous God"—a passionate zealous God for His people.
Paul Schult: Yeah. He will not tolerate His people being hurt, and so He's doing everything He can, knowing that we have a free will and the ability to hurt each other, but His Commandments are His work to protect us. One of my favorite verses is in Proverbs, that says, "Above all else guard your heart, for it's the wellspring of life." And to me the Ten Commandments are a big part of that, of He's trying to protect your heart, doing these things. These things are life giving if you do them, and if you don't do them, they're damaging to the human soul, to the human spirit, to human life.
Mike Zeigler: Dorothy, so you've read pastor Schult's book, Getting To Know Jesus, and you had mentioned earlier that you found something very helpful towards the end of this section on the Ten Commandments. What was that that was helpful to you?
Dorothy Glenn: When we think about protecting ourselves, we think of hardening our hearts and keeping everyone at a distance, an arm's length away, but what we see here in the Ten Commandments is quite the opposite. In order for God to protect us, He is opening up those relationships and saying, "This is where we need to be with our people." He talks about, in the book, the Commandments, going over worshiping Him alone, uplifting His Name in our prayer and praise, spending time with people, the honoring and respecting of authority, holding human life sacred, practicing sexual purity and boundaries in marriage, because no one wants to be hurt, and then also that protecting other people and caring for others. These are all things that cause us to need to be open and not have people at an arm's length away, but actually have a relationship.
Mike Zeigler: It flips the understanding of Commandments as something that God is against, and this is what God is for.
Dorothy Glenn: He's fostering an environment in which we can thrive together in our relationships and be vulnerable which, in our vulnerability, creates the most intimate of relationships, without that fear that we are going to be hurt, because that's what keeps people at an arm's length away.
Paul Schult: I think that's what really is powerful is when you realize what's behind the Ten Commandments primarily is God's love. When you think of the word "command," people just primarily think of what God hates. That's not the dominant character of God is hate. His dominant character is love. That's what the Scriptures tell us, God is love; it's His nature. To me, that's what's so compelling about the Ten Commandments and why they're so often misunderstood, is that we just are drawn to the hate side, and what is He forbidding, and what is He commanding, and what is He making me do? We just view God as this very controlling, very harsh, legalistic kind of God. I often say I think the Ten Commandments are one of the most misunderstood things in Christianity.
Dorothy Glenn: Yeah, we don't see how He's opening up our lives to have the most amazing relationships possible.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Evening and Morning" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)