Divine Rights

Dear Church Family,

In our present sermon series in the Ten Commandments, we began with several introductory sermons from Exodus 18:13-20:2 in which we explored the immediate context and setting of God’s delivering the moral law to His people on Mount Sinai. Specifically, the immediate context of the Ten Commandments is the Lord’s miraculous s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery. Thus, we see that when the Lord first gave His law on Mount Sinai, it was not to say to His people, “Keep My law so that you may live.” Rather, the Lord was saying, “I have given you life, so then keep My law.” He rescued them by His grace, and then by that same grace gave them His law so that they would know how to please their Savior – how to express their gratitude, if you will.

The Foundation and Purpose of God’s Law

To better understand the context of the Ten Commandments, we look to the explicit foundation and purpose of the law that is given in the verses that bookend the Ten Commandments. First, in Exodus 20:2, we see the foundation of the law where God declares, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The foundation of God’s law is God’s love for His people, the love that motivated Him to rescue His people from slavery in Egypt.

Then, in Exodus 20:20, we see the purpose of God’s law. There Moses tells the people to not be afraid, “for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” Having been redeemed and delivered from slavery, the people of God need to have their allegiance, their affections, and their actions reoriented according to God’s covenant and His character, because they now belong to Him.

Ways to Think About God’s Law

In our most recent sermon on the third commandment this past Sunday, I mentioned several different and valid ways to think about the Ten Commandments. We have been drawing the connection between “law and love.” Learning about the love of God and how to love as He loved us, by looking at the law.

Then there’s “grace and gratitude.” Considering the law of God in this manner, we endeavor to keep God’s law as an expression of our gratitude for His saving grace. Also, we may look at the Ten Commandments as a summary of our “duty to God.” Some people don’t like to talk about the Law of God as a duty which we owe to Him, but nonetheless, Jesus speaks in these terms about the obedience of His people, “When you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:10).

The Law of God as a Means of Protecting Another Person’s Rights

So, we may view the law of God as an expression of love, as an expression of gratitude, and as an expression of one’s duty. And we may also view the Law of God as a means of protecting the rights of others. We don’t usually think in this way about the Ten Commandments, but it can be very helpful and practical. For example, when considering the sixth commandment – “You shall not murder” – we recognize that, by keeping the sixth commandment, we are actually protecting the rights of other human beings, the right to live. Or in the prohibition against stealing in the eighth commandment, we are protecting another person’s right to own property.

Considering the Ten Commandments as a means of protecting a person’s rights is also helpful because it reminds us of how the first several commandments have to do with protecting God’s rights. Most of us probably don’t typically think about God’s having certain rights, but He does. In fact, He has many more rights than we do. And, in the Ten Commandments, we find a summary of four specific rights that God demands for Himself.

In the first commandment – “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3) – God demands His right to be worshipped as the only true God. As our Creator and Redeemer, the Lord has the right to be worshipped and served above all others (Matthew 4:10).

In the second commandment which prohibits the worship making and worshiping of idols or graven images (Exodus 20:4-6), God demands His right to be worshipped the way He says that He ought to be worshipped. He has the right to be worshipped in the way that He has commanded us to worship Him (Deuteronomy 28:58; Matthew 15:8-9).

In the third commandment which prohibits taking the name of the LORD in vain (Exodus 20:7), God demands His right to have His name honored and used only has He sees fit. We can almost think about this in terms of God putting a trademark on His name. His name belongs to Him, and He does give license for people to use His name, but only in the way that He sees fit, lest His name be maligned, used inappropriately, or emptied of its meaning (Leviticus 24:10-16).

In the fourth commandment which commands us to remember and keep the Sabbath day holy (Exodus 20:8-11), God demands the right to order time. Specifically, God maintains the right for us to set apart one day in seven for worship and rest (Hebrews 4:9-11). To us, setting aside one day in seven for worship and rest may seem inefficient, a waste of time even.

Conclusion: The Lord’s Day as a Royal Waste of Time

This coming Sunday, we will consider the fourth commandment and the Lord’s right to order our time by setting apart one day in seven for worship and rest. With that in mind, let me conclude with a quote from Marva Dawn’s book, A Royal Waste of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. While the author is specifically addressing corporate worship, what she says about worship is equally applicable to how we ought to think about the fourth commandment and the Lord’s Day:

      “To worship the LORD is – in the world’s eyes – a waste of time. It is, indeed, a royal waste of time, but a waste nonetheless. By engaging in it, we don’t accomplish anything useful in our society’s terms.
      Worship ought not to be construed in a utilitarian way. Its purpose is not to gain numbers nor for our churches to be seen as successful. Rather, the entire reason for our worship is that God deserves it. Moreover, it isn’t even useful for earning points with God, for what we do in worship won’t change one whit how God feels about us. We will always still be helpless sinners caught in our endless inability to be what we should be or to make ourselves better – and God will always still be merciful, compassionate, and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and ready to forgive us as we come to him.
      Worship is a royal waste of time, but indeed it is royal, for it immerses us in the regal splendor of the King of the cosmos. The churches’ worship provides opportunities for us to enjoy God’s presence in corporate ways that take us out of time and into the eternal purposes of God’s kingdom. As a result, we shall be changed – but not because of anything we do. God, on whom we are centered and to whom we submit, will transform us by his Revelation of himself.
      To understand worship as a royal waste of time is good for us because that frees us to enter into the poverty of Christ. We worship a triune God who chose to rescue the world he created by means of the way of humility. God sent his Son into the world to empty himself in the obedience of a slave, humbling himself to suffer throughout his entire life and to die the worst of deaths on our behalf. He did not come to be ‘solving the world’s problems in any sense that the world could understand.’ Worship of such a God immerses us in such a way of life, empowered by a Spirit who does not equip us with means of power or control, accomplishment or success, but with the ability and humility to waste time in love of the neighbor.”

I look forward to royally wasting time with you this Lord’s Day as we gather to worship our Creator and our Redeemer!

The Lord be with you!
Pastor Peter M. Dietsch