Commentary on Exodus 20:12-16
The third week’s text for this four-week series on the Ten Commandments is Exodus 20:12-16 — which includes most of the second table of the law, those laws that govern our relationships with each other.
Preaching text: Exodus 20:12-16; accompanying text: Matthew 22:34-40
The second table: Turned toward the neighbor
As mentioned above, the Ten Commandments show us how a liberated people who have been freed by Jesus Christ from the powers of sin, the world, and self live a new life. Many modern people conceive of freedom as an end in and of itself. And many modern people also regard freedom as unimpeded access to any choice, as unlimited choice, as always keeping one’s options open. If you ask the stereotypically modern person, “What is freedom for?” you will likely get a blank stare. And if you ask a modern person, “What is it that free people may not ever do?” you will likely earn a shake of the head, roll of the eyes, and a scoff.
But the commandments are what divinely bestowed freedom looks like. Freedom is not when the powerful take whatever they want, but when we respect the property of others and we do our best to help them maintain it and retain it. Freedom is not when the strong dominate the weak, but when the bodies and lives of all — from the unborn, to the impoverished, to the handicapped, to the vulnerable, to the elderly — are protected and their rights are respected. Freedom is not the endless satisfaction of every sexual impulse, but the commitment of two people to each other. Christian freedom knows that within the bounds of a loving and committed marriage, there is more freedom to be experienced than there is in the lifestyle that does not commit to family.
As it was also mentioned above, the point of these laws are not to make the sinner’s soul into a self-help project, but rather to turn one neighbor towards there other. The point of the law is not self-improvement, but neighbor-improvement. Note that Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is the second greatest commandment. Jesus was quoting Leviticus 19:18b.
The purpose of the law is not “your best life now,” but rather “your neighbor’s best life now.” Because we are stuck in this fallen condition called sin, and because we are going to remain stuck in this condition until God unweaves all the fibers of creation and then reknits them in the new creation, God says to us, “For as long as you’re here in this condition, love your neighbor.”
We respond, “OK, God, we’re down with love. But, how do I love my neighbor?”
God says, “OK, let me be a little more explicit here. Make sure everyone gets one day off each week, take care of the elderly, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t have sex with someone else’s spouse, don’t hurt your neighbor with your words, don’t desire your neighbor’s stuff. That’s how you love your neighbor.”
Because the law isn’t about you. It’s about your neighbor. And God loves your neighbor so much that God gives you the law. And God loves you so much, that God gives your neighbor the exact same law.
In other words, in the second table of the Decalogue we find good news. Good news for free people. Good news for those we need help from a neighbor.