Thou Shalt Not Call Someone Empty-Headed

We spent the last couple of weeks walking through the first four commandments, discovering together the holiness of God and our own shortfalls as we strive to relate to God in holiness. The last six commands shift their attention slightly. The first four regard our relationship with God and the last six regard our relationship with other people. As we read through this section of the Ten Commandments, we must keep one question in our minds: Am I relating to others in a way that honors God?

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There are a couple of preliminary realizations that we need to make before diving in to this part of the Law (the part dealing with our human relationships). These realizations come from the first chapter in Genesis. First, all people are created to be God’s image. Second, all people are given the purpose of filling the earth with God’s image. Third, all people are given the purpose of cultivating the earth for God’s glory. All of these commands, then, are a reflection of God’s design. As we relate to other people, we will either reflect God’s design or live in rebellion against God. The way that we choose to relate to people reflects the health of our relationship with our Father in Heaven. This being stated, let us delve into the six horizontal commandments.

Exodus 20:12-17 HCSB

Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Do not murder.

Do not commit adultery.

Do not steal.

Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The heart of the matter

There was a point during Jesus’ earthly ministry when the Pharisees came to Him. In an effort to trap Him, they asked Him which commandment given in the Law was the greatest (Matthew 22:34-40). Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then, He stated that there was a second greatest commandment that was like the first. He then quotes from Leviticus 19:17-18, which states “You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh” (HCSB).

If we read the Ten Commandments in light of what Jesus said concerning the whole of the law, there are three things that we discover.

    1. The first four commandments can be categorized under the greatest commandment, which is to love God. If we love God, He will be our all in all and our identity will be found in Him. This will at least be something that we strive for. If we love God, we will not make idols for ourselves. If we love God we will not use or bear His name in an unholy manner. If we love God, we will rest in Him and pursue holiness often. We’ve learned that even when we do not act in love toward God, He still loves us and pours His grace upon us.
    2. The following six commandments can be categorized under the second greatest command: to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are not to harbor hatred or take revenge against members of our community.
    3. The second greatest command, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is like the first command. The six commandments we are looking to currently are like the four that we have looked at previously. The horizontal commandments are like the vertical commandments. The relationship that we strive to have with others, then, is somehow like the relationship we have with God. Jesus’ claim is that the entirety of the Law hangs on these two commands. If we, then, harbor hatred, bear grudges, or seek revenge against anyone or any group of people, we cannot love God well. The more we love God, the less we will harbor hatred, bear grudges, or seek revenge against anyone or any group of people.

The heart of these commandments drives us to ask one question as we look into the mirror of the Law: Have we loved God, and have we loved others?

What Jesus taught

When Jesus taught regarding specific commandments, He did not teach the commandments at face value. He, instead, saw the outward command as fruit that stemmed from an inward root. He recognized the sins of the heart that led to the outward manifestation of that sin.

For instance, here in the Ten Commandments we receive the command not to murder. Murder is an outward manifestation of an inward sin. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus states that everyone who is angry (οργιζω) with their brothers will be subject to the same judgment. Jesus follows this by saying that anyone who calls his brother an empty-headed person (ρακα) or a fool will be in danger of the fires of Hell. Jesus saw the heart condition (thinking little of others and being angry with others) as being just as punishable under the Law as is the outward act (murder).

In the Ten Commandments, we also see the command not to commit adultery. Jesus, again, warns against sin taking root in the heart before it ever manifests outwardly. In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus stated that those who even look lustfully at others have committed adultery in their hearts. The word that Jesus uses for “lust,” here (επιθυμεσαι), literally means “to have a desire for” or to “seek things forbidden.” If we look at someone with the desire to have them, we have committed adultery in our hearts.

So, we see that Jesus not only taught that certain outward actions were wrong. He read the Law as a mirror to reveal the heart condition of people and He pointed out this heart condition. Ultimately, people sin against one another and against God because they are love-lacking. Outward sin always begins in the heart.

Looking in the mirror

In our current time together, I just want to do something simple. I want to follow the example that Jesus gave and walk through these commands and see what our heart condition looks like in light of these commands. I want to read these horizontal commands as the mirror that they were intended to be.

    1. Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
      1. Showing honor to our mothers and fathers is an outward action. When we do not show this honor, we reveal something about our hearts. If we do not honor our parents, basic selfishness and pride is revealed.
    2. Do not murder.
      1. Jesus answered this on for us. If we are angry with someone else, seen someone else as empty-headed, foolish, or without sense; then we have committed murder in our hearts.
    3. Do not commit adultery.
      1. Jesus also answered this one. If we desire to have someone, we have committed adultery in our hearts. This has some profound implications regarding dating relationships in our day. It seems, biblically, that we should pursue godly friendships and simply trust God to guide us or direct us to the correct person. I know this was true with me. It was not until I gave up on women that God placed the perfect one in my life.
    4. Do not steal.
      1. If we do not believe that God will take care of us and provide everything we need according to His plan, then we have stolen in our hearts.
    5. Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.
      1. If, in our hearts, we are thinking about how we can win an argument or thinking about reasons to think negatively about a person, we have sinned in our hearts.
      2. When this commandment is expounded upon in Exodus 23, we see that showing favoritism or disfavor when making judgment calls regarding people is a violation of the Law. When, in our hearts, we fail to first seek understanding before making a judgment call of any kind, we sin against God.
    6. Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
      1. When we believe in our hearts that God is not good and when we commit idolatry, we covet in our hearts. God has a different place for everyone on this earth, and we cannot fulfill the role that God has for someone else. If we believe that we could do things better or that we would be happier in someone else’s shoes, then we covet from our hearts.

As we look into this mirror, we might realize some areas where we fall short. This is good. It is the purpose of the Law to serve as a witness against us and to expose our sin against God. Christ is the only person who kept these commandments perfectly. In fact, He is the fulfillment of this Law. When we place our faith in Him, we receive forgiveness. For those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we are no longer under the condemnation of the Law, but are partakers in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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