What do you value? (Part 2)
Welcome to Part 2 “What does God value?”
If you missed Part 1, click here.
First, time for a check-up. How many of the Ten Commandments can you list from memory?
Second, how many of the commandments, by chance, match up with what you would call your personal values?
The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20 of the Bible’s Old Testament. They are repeated in Deuteronomy 5. They are a bit of a preamble to the rest of the law that God first gave to Israel through Moses about 2000 B.C.
One way to look at the Ten Commandments is as a set of God’s value statements. They are a succinct and memorable set of statements that reveal to us something about what God values. Value statements are written to protect what one considers most valuable. In Exodus 34:28, Moses even refers to the commandments as “the ten words.” In other words, they're not just do’s & don’ts. They are words intended to preserve other valuable things like a community, the family and even the individual.
You may not adhere to the Commandments for a variety of reasons. You may even disagree that God ought to be the standard by which we calibrate our personal values. But we need to at least appreciate that the Ten Commandments are a succinct articulation of what the God of the Bible values.
The first words of the Ten Commandments go like this: “God spoke all these words”. The Bible’s perspective is that God, and not people, determine the non-negotiables of what people should value. Perhaps you agree the God of the Bible is the rightful standard. Maybe you know someone who disagrees. I think between these two perspectives, it is important to ask: Do you think a basic moral standard of human behavior is needed? (I'll refer you back to a pertinent quotation by W.H. Auden that Timothy Keller offers as a reference to this question. See Part 1 for this quotation if you missed it).
The next words read like this: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Before the values are articulated to Israel, we read about God’s desire for Israel--and man--to be free.
Imagine a friend was saddled with debt due to some injury. Many of us have experienced enormous medical bills through little fault of our own. Surprisingly, your friend’s boss voluntarily is made aware of your friend’s debt. Shockingly, your friend’s boss willingly frees them from their burden by paying the debt. Many of us have not likely experienced this. Nevertheless, would that act of generosity surprise you? Would it seem wrong somehow if your friend went on to fear and dread their boss?
More naturally, such an act of generosity could produce a response of gratitude and joy. Your friend may still heed their boss’s instructions, but the relationship would now have a foundation built more on thankfulness and appreciation. They now work for someone who cares not merely for what they do but has displayed an interest in both their well-being and their freedom.
The point is that God set Israel free first. Then He gave them a set of values that would enable that freedom to endure. It would also ground their relationship in gratitude and trust.
One way to look at the freedom God gives is this. He enables you to: Know what you value; articulate what you value; translate those values into reliable and consistent action; take responsibility for the consequences of your values. There is great freedom in the ability to live that way. We’ll never control the world through our values, but our values determine our ability to respond. Values produce response-ability. And so, when God speaks, He is giving a standard that all people can follow as well as freeing people from wondering what is right, what is wrong and what is opinion.
God wants people to be good. Notice how all the commands protect the family, protect society and, rather than asking for people to give God stuff, command people to treat others decently.
God wants people to be free so they can make meaningful decisions and accept the consequences. Free to do that and do that again.
While Christians are not justified before God by keeping the Ten Commandments, the commandments remain words and statements about who God is, what God values and how free people can stay free from evil.
God wants people to be free. God also wants people to be good to one another.
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