The Truth About Truth

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

The Truth About Truth

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:76-78)
(watch our video)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

One of the marks of our era is the lack of
confidence that there really is a thing called truth.

Many go so far as to treat concern about the truth as an annoying distraction. Of course what they refuse to admit to themselves is that all the while they deny truth, they are assuming certain things to be true. Current trends even in the churches avoid saying that anything is always true for everybody all the time.

Our period of history is often called the age of Post-Modernism. Modernism in the early 20th century attempted to explain away anything supernatural. It assumed that everything perceived as spiritual had either a natural scientific explanation, or was just the result of our psychological needs. To the Modernist, the Bible was a good book, but just a good book of myths and morality lessons. They said it was spliced together by deluded men and religious manipulators.

Modernism fails to fit the way we really are. It continues in many of the “main-line” denominations. However, as creatures of God we know by instinct that there is a real supernatural dimension to our lives.

In the latter part of the 20th Century and today in the 21st Century, unbelief favors another way to attack God’s truth. Truth is no longer considered to be important. The Post-modernist is more concerned about our feelings and doing what it assumes to be good. We don’t mean to imply that those are bad things. The real problem that what is thought of as good in the eyes of one group of people might be horribly rude, insensitive, and oppressive to another group. Without knowing what is true, our own feelings become the test for what is correct, and what should be believed about what God’s word says concerning morality, attitudes, and behavior. Propositional truth becomes at best a mere secondary curiosity.

In this Post-Modern era, truth is seen as whatever seems best for each situation. Post-Moderns reject the idea that lies and truth are black or white issues. They see truth as coming in many shades of gray.

The result is a world without absolute moral standards. What the Bible forbids as immoral might be recommended as the best thing in certain situations. Law becomes flexible, and should be always changing. It becomes based upon currently popular trends, rather than upon principles built into the world by its Creator. Feeling personally comfortable inwardly, and what we personally thinks should make others feel comfortable, become the tests of what should be done and believed. This is the main-stream belief expressed in popular music, movies, TV shows, and novels.

This movement is effecting the churches today too. It separates practice from belief. It does what feels right without concern for what God says is really good and right. They talk about living in love, but hate it when someone picks up a Bible and tries to define what God says love really is. They would rather have a dialog about things, than admit that somethings are not true. They want to re-think worship, not wanting to be tied down to patterns that emerge from the Bible They prefer patterns that emerge from our culture, rather then those that emerge from the study of Scripture. The idea that God calls some of his children to study and to teach the Bible authoritatively is being replaced by a denial of the ordained Eldership as described in Scripture.

This “emerging church” idea, emerges from a faulty concept of truth. Those embracing this paradigm truly believe that they are becoming more relevant by just being caring about others. They tend to bristle with contempt if someone questions whether God sees what they are doing as really caring for the people’s actual spiritual needs.

Satan’s false kingdom hates God’s message. It sees it as the enemy. Today, the only real heresy, the one thing the post-modernists cannot tolerate, is the belief that there is actual truth that should be accepted and honored always.

The fact is, there are things that are true,
and other things that are not.

In Question 76 the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “Which is the ninth commandment?” It answers by quoting Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

The next two questions help explain what this Commandment covers.

Question 77. What is required in the ninth commandment?
Answer. The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness-bearing.
Question 78. What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?
Answer. The ninth commandment. forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.

This commandment is based upon a fundamental respect for truth. Truth is precious because it is the way things really are in the mind of God. What our Creator knows as true is what really is true, regardless of who else knows it or believes it. He defines what is true.

This is what makes lies so wrong, and truth so sacred and important. Dr. Charles Hodge once said: “Truth is at all times sacred, because it is one of the essential attributes of God. Truth is … the very substratum of Deity.” Titus 1:2 so simply tells us, “God … cannot lie”. Lies are contrary to his nature.

When you tell a lie, give false testimony, or promote things that are false, even little things, you obscure the way things are as God knows them, and you fail in your created duty to show the Creator’s nature at work in your heart.

The problem is that in our fallen estate we have lost our ability to love truth. It is only through Jesus Christ that our spiritual blindness can be taken away. He changes the hearts of his people, and enables them to see and to appreciate what God says. We should hunger to learn and to promote the truth of the way things are, even when it is not comfortable for us.

As we mature in Christ we should promote truth all the more. We want to be honest about things in our lives, and to be careful not to spread untruths about others.

Lies defy what God knows to be true.

There is a cosmic battle that has been going on since the moment of the first rebellion. Satan is the enemy of truth. In John 8:44 Jesus said, “… he is a liar, and the father of lies.” Evil wants to obscure God’s truth in every way possible. It attracts and enlists its followers with false promises, false testimony about God — lies. Those who stand against God are characterized by their love for lies.

When you lie, you align yourself with the enemy of your Creator. God is offended, and you fail to point your life toward the God of Truth. People’s lives and reputations are also damaged very seriously by lies and rumors.

    Bending the truth, just a little can seem to be a convenient way to excuse doing what God forbids:

  • People lie to avoid commitments or phone calls
  • Children might lie to their parents about what they’ve done, or where they’ve been
  • Workers sometimes lie to their bosses, or bosses to their workers
  • Businessmen lie to their clients. Advertisers lie to sell their products
  • Students sometimes lie about their homework
  • Some teachers bend the truth to shape the views and attitudes of their students
  • Some lie to avoid paying their taxes

It is very easy to make up stories that blame others, rather than to shoulder our own responsibilities. Often people rush to judgment about others rather than to take the time to find out what really happened and why.

There is no lie or dismissal of truth so minor that it does not offend our Heavenly Father. To misrepresent the truth is to rebel against God. Truth is important, and lies are morally wrong because God says so. God’s truth is the bedrock of morality and of all civility. Jesus Christ calls all of his children to be promoters of truth.

Specifically this commandment forbids bearing false witness against your neighbor. If you do, you sin grievously. That happens anytime you say something untrue about someone, or make a false promise.

One of the obvious ways this commandment is broken is in a court of law. False testimony and lies can get an innocent person convicted of a crime he did not commit, or it may set a guilty person free from paying for his crimes. It obstructs justice and defies the way God tells us to deal with criminals. God’s law for Israel was very harsh toward a perjurer who would give false testimony in court. We can see from this, just how offensive deception must be to God.

The larger principle summarized in the 9th commandment is that truth must always be upheld. Zechariah 8:16-17 says, “These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; And do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate, Says the LORD.”

When writing to the Ephesian church Paul used that verse from Zechariah. In Ephesians 4:25 he wrote, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.”

Bearing false witness is not just something done in a court of law. Sometimes false witness comes in the form of gossip. When people say things against others without evidence or in the form of gossip they take part in a vicious, inhumane sin. It attacks this 9th commandment and the God whose morality it represents. Many lives, families, churches, and communities have been painfully destroyed by a few words spoken by idle busybodies or prideful fools.

We should never listen to or spread rumors and innuendos about someone. In the eyes of God, a person’s reputation is important. Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold.” When you steal sliver or gold from someone it is obviously wrong. When you gossip, you steal his good name. The Bible says this is even more grievous.

Gossip shows a reckless disregard for the other person’s reputation. It can do a lot of damage to someone’s life. Proverbs 16:27 says, “An ungodly man digs up evil, And it is on his lips like a burning fire.” Rumors can destroy a person, his family, his church, or business.

Misunderstandings, assumptions, and outright lies can spread like wildfire. James 3:5 warns, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!”

Dangerous gossip might not be about someone you know personally. Celebrities and well known political figures are often the target for gossip. Tabloids, opinion columns, blogs, and interview shows should be more responsible. Just because something is in print, on TV, radio, or the internet does not make it reliable.

Confirm that things are true before you repeat them. Never forward those juicy e-mails without doing some checking. Go to or other similar fact-checking websites to research what is said in those e-mail reports. Usually you can find an analysis of the stories currently being circulated.

Gossip, true or untrue, is a symptom of a heart that is not right with God. It can be used to blackmail or to intimidate opponents. Sadly it is used commonly in political campaigns, in personal relationships, and in business.

The best cure for gossip is silence. Never speak of, or become audience to, private and unsubstantiated matters. When the loose tongue is controlled, the gossip dies. Proverbs 26:20, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.”

You also break this commandment when you make a vow you do not intend to keep. Before you vow faithfulness in marriage, church membership, take on some office of trust, or sign a business deal, be sure you really mean all you vow to be and to do. Do not repeat creeds in church if you do not believe they are true.

By living with a low view of truth, by telling even little convenient lies, you show disregard for its sacredness before God, and you contribute to the darkness of the world. In such a world neighbors are not trusted, courts become bodies of misjudgment, leaders become those who are the most skilled in manipulation and deceit.

Thankfully God restrains sin to a degree even in the unsaved, otherwise there would be no trust or hope in our world at all. He tells us he does this for the sake of his people, and for the honor or his own name.

Our responsibility is to know and to show God’s truth.

In God’s eternal plan, Jesus Christ came into our world as its only Savior. He paid the penalty for the sins that separate his people from him. He re-enables his people to know and to love what is true. As those redeemed and taught by his word, we have an awesome responsibility. We are obligated to champion all that God reveals as true. We do it for his glory.

Jesus said the truth shall set you free. The truth of God’s redemptive promises show how we are set free from the deceptions of our fallen hearts through the work of the Savior. By telling the truth of the gospel to those you know and meet, you promote that freedom. By respecting truth and avoiding unseemly gossip, you can preserve reputations. By living obediently to the true ways God reveals in his word, you help people, maybe yourself, get back on the right track in life

Failing to tell the truth has its consequences. Lies promise things they can never deliver. By bending the truth now and then, people imagine they can get moments of peace, security, and satisfaction. This deception is tragic when what they are told does not take place. They become discouraged by distortions of what God has actually told us in his word. In contrast, the consequences of truth carry the promise of blessing from our unfailing God.

In a world where truth is seen as relative and uncertain we have a great message. When gossip covers our newspapers, fills our TV and radio programs, saturates the internet, fuels conversations over coffee or meals, spreads like wildfire through gullibly passed on stories, and drives a dirty and distasteful form of politics, believers will stand out if they handle truth responsibly.

One of the great attributes of the God who made and saves us is promoted when we are champions of truth. God promises rich blessings to those who love his word of truth, and who show the evidence of hearts changed by grace through our Savior Jesus Christ.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

God’s Economic Solutions

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

God’s Economic Solutions

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 73-75)
(watch our video)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

God made everything to work a certain way in his world.

When the basic principles set up at creation are not followed the consequences effect our lives. Each of the Ten Commandments illustrates a primary moral principle. The 8th Commandment is about the proper ownership and management of our possessions. The Westminster Shorter Catechism introduces this Commandment in question 73.

It asks, “Which is the eighth commandment?”
The answer is a quotation of Exodus 20:15 which says, “You shall not steal.”

The Catechism expands upon that Commandment in questions 74-75.

Question 74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
Answer. The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.

Question 75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
Answer. The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbor’s wealth or outward estate.

In the most simple terms economics comes down to the fact that God is the Lord over all things. We are responsible to properly manage what he gives us, and to respect what he gives to others to manage.

Today’s economic problems are very complex. What our Creator says about how we should manage our things is not being followed. Solutions that ignore God’s moral principles make the problems worse.

The first principle of Biblical Economics is
that everything belongs first and foremost to God.

God owns all things because he made everything that exists, including all of us. Psalm 89:11 is just one of the passages that makes this very clear. It says, “The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all its fullness, You have founded them.”

In the New Testament, Colossians 1:16 repeats this important first principle. “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. He made everything for his own special purpose.

The second principle is that we humans were
created to be managers of God’s things.

Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that we were created to rule over his world and to have dominion over it. We are held responsible for how we manage it all for God’s glory. We are to use what he gives us to provide for our daily needs, to advance God’s Kingdom, and to show his compassion by how we care for others who have legitimate needs.

This transforms all our work into Kingdom Work. If you raise crops, pour sidewalks, sell furniture, teach children, or repair diseased hearts, it is all to be done to fulfill this mandate we were given in Eden.

We are here primarily to live for, and to work for God’s honor and glory. Any comforts we have beyond our basic needs are pure undeserved blessings. Coveting beyond what God is pleased to give us is the driving force behind the sin referred to in this commandment.

If God owns all things, then our ownership, though very real, is a secondary ownership. What we have are things we were given to mange for our King in Heaven.

Things become ours to manage primarily by earning them. By our labor, God assigns us as secondary owners of some of the things that are his. Genesis 1:26 tells us to subdue all things in God’s creation by our labor. What we make or earn becomes ours to use wisely for his glory.

This is what makes stealing so wicked. It violates God’s assignment of things to individuals. It is open rebellion against God himself.

There are right ways for ownership to be
transferred from one person to another.

What we grow, make, or do can be traded, sold, inherited, or given to other people. Payment for products or services changes the ownership of things. 1 Timothy 5:18 says that “the laborer is worthy of his wages.”

What you earn can be used to buy other things you need or want. At that point they become yours to manage responsibly. What you sell is not your responsibility any more. It becomes the property of the buyer to use for himself, but the obligation remains that all property is always to be used for God’s glory.

At death, your ownership can be transferred to your loved ones or friends as an inheritance. The ones chosen by the owner when he is alive become the legitimate and responsible managers of these entrustments from God.

You can also transfer ownership by giving things as gifts. What you give is not yours any more. It belongs to the one to whom you give it.

Sometimes you get compensations for your things if someone steals or damages them. The restitutions they pay become yours in the eyes of God.

When you bring your tithes and offerings to the church, they belong to God’s Kingdom. From the beginning, even indicated in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis, this basic economic principle was evident, even though few details were recorded of daily life in that period of history. 10% of all you earn by your labor belongs to God. That part of your earnings is to support the preservation of God’s word and ways, to provide for corporate worship, and to offer counsel, help, and comfort for God’s people.

If you keep back your tithe, to use it for your own use or investments, it is stealing from God. In Malachi 3:8 God uses exactly that language. There he says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.”

That was one of the big sins in the time of Haggai.

It was an important issue in the New Testament to provide for the survival of the church, and for the early spread of the gospel. While the additional tithes connected with the Levitical system no longer bind us, the basic creation principle was never abrogated in God’s word.

The Reformers, and all those who let the Bible set their priorities, have always recognized the biblical mandate of tithing for Christ’s church in our era.

Taxes are another way we legitimately transfer to others what God gives us. Romans 13 reminds us that God raises up legitimate governments. Their duty as ministers of God is to provide for national defense, and civil justice. When Jesus taught that what is Caesar’s belongs to Caesar, he was referring to taxes.

There can be wrong uses for taxes and unbiblical ways to tax people. However, what you are asked to give to your government becomes theirs to manage for God’s glory. If the government does not use it that way, they are held responsible, not you. Certainly neither Paul nor Jesus were approving of all the tactics and budgets in use by the Roman Empire of their day.

We need to be responsible citizens to make sure we elect fiscally responsible leaders who use our taxes for biblical reasons, and who will tax us fairly and rightly. Many things are wrongly taxed in our modern society. The fact remains however, that what is given to a government becomes their responsibility before God.

Stealing is when someone violates these legitimate transfers of ownership.

The most obvious violations of this moral principle are robbery and theft. What is taken this way does not rightly transfer ownership. It is a crime that deserves punishment. The Bible requires that what is taken because of theft must be paid back. The offender is obligated by moral law to make full restitution for the damage he causes.

Not all theft is done by armed criminals. Not long ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that employee dishonesty costs American businesses over $50 billion every year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that 75% of all employees steal at least once. Half of those steal repeatedly. It reported that one out of every three businesses fail directly because of employee theft. It is a violation of God’s 8th Commandment.

Deceit is another form of theft. False advertising, keeping the money when you get back too much change from the store, or hiding flaws in what you sell, are all forms of financial deceit. It is stealing.

Lazy workers are stealing by avoiding what they are supposed to do for their wages. A lazy person tries to get paid for not working, or for not doing his share. He is happy to let others do the work, then collect the benefits for himself. This is a direct abdication of the creation mandate from God to labor for your provisions.

Some in the early church in Thessalonica were content to let others support them. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Paul said that violated the traditions taught by the Apostles. In verse 10 the Apostle said, “… we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” In the next verse he said these were leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, and acting like busybodies.

Compassion should make us want to help the truly needy, and those out of work. However, if we support laziness and dependency, we encourage ungodliness. It is not love to help an individual avoid responsibility. The poor should be helped to find legitimate work. It is wrong just to give able people money, housing, and health benefits while others do all the work.

Sloth, and Laziness are repeatedly condemned in the Book of Proverbs. Laziness also violates the 4th commandment. It says there that six days out of every seven are to be spent in labor to provide for our basic needs.

One sure way to destroy our country, church, or family is to let some able people just sit around expecting others to support them as if they are entitled to not have to work.

Withholding what you owe others is also a form of theft. Once you owe something, part of what you earn belongs to the person to whom you owe payment. To avoid paying off debts or obligations violates this 8th Commandment.

Socialism violates this commandment because it confuses God’s law of ownership. What you earn is yours to manage. It does not belong first to the state. When governments try to re-distribute wealth they sin grievously against God.

The responsibilities God gives to businesses, homes, and churches should not be taken over by governments. The abuse of taxes and undue regulations weaken a society, destroy incentive, wreck hopes of a sound economy, and forfeit God’s material blessing.

Gambling can also be a form of violating this commandment. In the eyes of God, the only legitimate transfer of ownership of money and the things it buys is by commerce, inheritance, gifts, restitutions, tithes, and taxes.

Games you play at a fair, or with friends are not gambling if you are paying to play the game. The money spent is a form of commerce or recreation. It is not to get wealth without earning it. The motive and amount spent is very important. Prayerful and honest judgment of you intentions should be guided by the principles of biblical economics, not by greed, coveteousness, or laziness.

This does not forbid taking legitimate risks in making business or financial investments. The Bible sees investments as part of commerce. It is a way of providing for labor and the launch of new products and services. It is legitimate to invest capitol in businesses hoping to make a fair profit.

When gambling becomes an irresponsible risk of what God has entrusted to you, or is done with hopes of getting wealth without work, it is neither wise nor morally good. It is wrong.

In the year 539 BC Israel’s horrible years of
captivity in the heathen empire of Babylon ended.

Some were still alive then to remember the devastating invasion about 47 years earlier. Many of their friends and loved ones were brutally killed. The rest were rounded up and taken away as slaves. All they had worked for, all their memories were left behind or stolen by soldiers. As they left the city of Jerusalem, all they built, owned, and their place of worship, were totally destroyed.

The children born to the Jews in Babylon were told about the past when when their nation was still free. They grew up in a pagan culture, spoke another language, and served cruel masters.

After 47 years, God answered their prayers and moved the heart of King Cyrus to set them free. They came back to a city in ruins. In gratitude to God they started rebuilding the Temple to restore obedient worship in their lives.

After a few years, with only the foundation of the Temple completed, the people became distracted by their own comforts and prosperity. They turned their attention to fixing up their homes with fine paneling and decorations. They had stopped bringing the whole tithe to the Elders for the work of God. The center of worship was neglected, and their duty to God became a remote interest.

In about 520 BC the Lord told the prophet Haggai to warn the people. In Haggai 1:4-5 he said, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins? Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’ ”

In verse 6 the Prophet described the futility of their foolish greed. He said, “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.”

They were not satisfied with all the nice material things they were laboring so hard to get. They kept wanting more, so they kept God’s portion for themselves. That just made it worse. They had plenty to eat and drink, but they wanted more. They were busy earning money, but it was not enough to buy happiness, it was as if their money bags had holes in them. They were violating the principles of economics built into God’s world.

It is God who blesses, not the things in themselves. When people believe they can have more by ignoring God’s ways, true blessings are often withheld from them.

Economics is a study of the principles that guide us in how to manage material things. God’s economics is very different than what develops in a society not centered in Christ. In the time of Haggai, God’s economics was turned up-side-down.

When you understand and obey this commandment,
there should be a true joy in your labors.

This biblical work ethic, and God’s principles of ownership, ensure economic stability. The moral principle again comes down to our place as creatures made in God’s image. We are here to show that our Creator owns all things, therfore all we have is first of all his. God does not deserve just what we do not need or can live comfortably without. All we have should be managed responsibly for his glory.

We need to respect the ownership God gives to others of all they have. We should never take what is not rightly ours. We should be responsible in paying what we owe and in doing the work expected of us.

We need to appreciate our responsibility in using all God provides for us. We should never buy things frivolously or to provide for improper activities. We should not let his kingdom go silent by keeping his tithe for ourselves.

A while ago I received some of those mass e-mailings that get circulated around the web. One was about how imbalanced our economic priorities are as individuals. It challenged us to consider what we budget monthly for entertainment, eating out, and hobbies, then compare it with how much we regularly commit to the work of our church. Such an inventory of our budgets can be an eye-opening and sobering exercise.

God gives you all you have. The tithe of it is his. With it you show the ownership of your King.

The gospel hope we have in Christ is
the way to restore God’s economics in your life.

Jesus came to rebuild your relationship with God. Sin and guilt separate you from your Creator, and produce materialistic attitudes. That is what makes people want to get things in wrong ways. That is what keeps them from being satisfied with their possessions and labor. Jesus suffered and died in your place to remove the barrier of sin and the burden of its guilt.

We need to appreciate the blessing of being a part of displaying God’s dominion in this world. The empty drudgery of our daily work is transformed into rewarding service for the King. The things God lets us own and earn become more valuable and satisfying to us.

Many today think that the happiest person is the one who has a lot, but does not have to work. That is the opposite of the teaching of God’s word. When you are restored through Christ to being able to see the Sovereign God at work in all things, your work becomes a daily engagement in the grand scheme of all creation.

We were made to enjoy the work God gives us to do, and to responsibly manage all he gives us to own. That is how God created us to live.

What ever God gives you to do today is a joy when you do it as service to your King. All that you earn, make, grow, and produce is truly satisfying only when you display the restored image of God in your life by managing it all well for his glory.

It is an awesome blessing to be able to show our love for our Sovereign and Loving Savior by how we acknowledge him as Lord of all we have and of all he gives to others.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Valuing Humans

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Valuing Humans

by Bob Burridge ©2011
watch the video
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:67-69)

Human life is a very special part of God’s creation.

Many inhabitants of our world have what we call physical life. They have a unique DNA structure, process foods for energy, respond to things around them, and reproduce their own kind. In that sense grass, bacteria, armadillos, and mold are all alive. It is only us humans who are here to display God’s moral nature. We have an immortal soul.

We were created in God’s image as it tells us in Genesis 1:26-27. We were put here to represent our Creator in his world, and to oversee his creation while doing his work. We need to respect that special purpose for which every one of us was made.

To those who dare to live in God’s world as if it did not belong to him, we are all just animals advanced by evolution, competing to survive, and working to get all we can for ourselves. They are horribly wrong. God did create us, and he made us in his image, even those forever separated from him and hating him. Therefore, every human life is to be respected and highly valued.

When people dislike something their hatred is often taken out on things that represent it. When people hate a nation they burn its flag. When they hate a leader they desecrate an effigy of him. Since evil sets out to disgrace God, an attack on human life made in his image is exactly what we should expect. Violence, hatred, bigotry, and cruelty have stained all of human history. We each need to be sure that we rid ourselves of the sin of disrespect for the life of others who though fallen are created in our Creator’s image.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches about the Sixth Commandment in questions 66-69.

Question 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
Answer. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Question 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
Answer. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

Question 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
Answer. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

The 6th Commandment is found in Exodus 20:13

“You shall not murder.”

The old King James Version has caused some confusion and misuse of this Commandment. By translating it as forbidding killing, the verse has been used by those against things ranging from war and capitol punishment, to eating meat.

There are nine Hebrew words commonly used in the Old Testament for killing. Four of those words are mainly used for the killing of animals for food or as a sacrifice. They are like our words “to hunt”, “to slaughter “or “to butcher”. Those words are not used in this commandment.

God has never forbidden hunting, or killing animals for food and clothing. In fact the Bible actually commands these things. God made clothing out of the skins of animals for Adam and Eve. The diet God mandated for the Jews specifically included beef, and lamb. Jesus sent his disciples out to get a lamb for the Passover meal and sacrifice. Those who use this commandment to teach moral vegetarianism, or to oppose hunting, contribute to the modern confusion about the value of human life.

There are also four very general Hebrew words for killing. They’re like our words “to kill, put to death, execute, and massacre.” These words have a very broad meaning. Their use in the Bible ranges from killing in war, to the destroying of crops.

None of these words are used in the 6th commandment. God does not forbid executing criminals, or killing when necessary in defense of family or country, or killing a roach in our house, or a troublesome weed in our garden if they are bringing in disease or destroying our crops. People who picket executions, meat markets, or clothing manufacturers with signs saying, “Thou shalt not kill” horribly distort the meaning of this word of God.

The Hebrew word God used in this commandment is ratsakh (רצח). Unlike the other 8 words, it has a very specialized and limited meaning. It always means the unjust killing of another human being.

It is used 43 times in the Old Testament. A look at each of the 43 uses shows that it is always used narrowly. It it is very much like our English word “murder”.

The most accurate translation of this Commandment is, “You shall not murder.”

The moral foundation for this commandment
is rooted in the way God made us.

This goes back to creation itself. We were made to represent God in his world. We are to be a display of his communicable attributes, and to show his dominion over creation by managing it for our Lord. We were made in his image to carry out the duties assigned at creation on behalf of the Creator.

This creation principle is why such a high value is placed upon human life. This is the reason the Bible gives for imposing the death penalty for murderers in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”

Since all are made in God’s image, human life is never to be treated with disrespect. To take a life unjustly so horribly violates this basic ethic, that execution for certain crimes is mandated. However, even in the execution of convicted murderers by the state, or in war defending our families and neighbors against enemies, the taking of a human life should be done with dignity, respecting the tragedy of the life that needs to be terminated.

Some look at this very superficially. They assume that as long as they don’t commit premeditated homicide they have obeyed all God commands us concerning our attitude toward human life. They forget that God’s moral principles are not limited to the statements of the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are summaries of Creation Principles that apply always to all people in all ages.

This commandment forbids more than
just intentional unjustified homicide.

It is not only addressing those who illegally murder someone. Jesus explained that the moral principle includes hatred and disrespect for human life. In his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:P21-22 Jesus showed that this commandment implies more than just avoiding murder.

First, He pointed them back to this summary of God’s moral principle in the 6th Commandment. He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

Jesus was correcting abuses in this section of his sermon. He wasn’t taking issue with the 6th Commandment. This creation principle is as old as man being made in God’s image. His concern was the spin the Rabbis added to the law of God.

The legalists perverted the law into a way of salvation. To make it possible for the elite to claim they were righteous, they added to the law of God. They added noble sounding technicalities. By applying the law very narrowly they ruled out the moral principle behind it. The law was reduced to just a set of punishments for certain outward acts.

They allowed disrespect for the image of God in man as long as no one was actually murdered. They were arrogant, rude, bigoted, and judgmental. Jesus was correcting their wrong use of God’s law to justify personal vengeance and hatred. He explained that the principle here goes beyond their narrow use of the Commandment. This is why in verse 22 he said, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”

Without going into the details, there are distinctions made here correcting the rabbinical errors. The Rabbis allowed their own anger, vengeance and hatred to go unjudged. They missed the central issue of God’s creation law.

It is not only actual murderers that offend God. Even personal anger deserves judgment. Calling someone “raca” (which means “empty head”) deserves condemnation by the Sanhedrin. Calling someone a “fool” makes a person guilty of sin and worthy of hell fire. What offends the Creator is the sin of the heart against the image of God in man, not just actual homicide.

In his first epistle the Apostle John gives this same interpretation of the law. 1 John 3:15 says, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, … ”

God’s word points to the sins of the heart, not just the things that show outwardly. 1 Samuel 16:7 “… the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God’s law is not just a set of penalties for certain limited actions. God looks at the state of the soul. It is wrong to hate, or to be cruel and disrespectful toward people. They are creatures that bear the Creator’s image.

When we come to know Christ truly, to love him for the unearned grace by which he loved us, the virtues that honor God will grow in us, and he will bless our lives.

To battle hatred, our first weapon is the gospel that changes hearts. Once we come to Christ, the law of God shows us how to express our gratitude to him, and how to please him in both worship, and in the way we treat our neighbors.

On the practical side, we should apply the
commandment in many areas of life.

While God permits taking a human life in self-defense, and in the execution of a convicted murderer by the state, it does not allow killing for convenience or out of personal vengeance. Without debate, there should be no murder. The unjust taking of a life intentionally is obviously evil and ca not be excused.

By definition, this crime would also include the sin of abortion. From the moment of human conception, life is precious and should be protected. Even in the case of medical threats, every attempt should be made to save the life of both mother and child. Abortion for convenience, for quality of life, or for the mental rest of the mother are all clearly forbidden, not by church rules or policies, but by God’s own law.

Equally tragic is the sin of suicide, either by the person himself, or by those assisting him. There is no justification morally for ending a life to stop physical or mental anguish. As tragic as these sufferings are, there are better ways to deal with them than killing.

As Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount, hatred and personal vengeance are the heart sins this commandment addresses. These are the moral principles behind it. They show a disrespect for the image of God in all humans. All the violations of this commandment elevate the feelings of a created human over the moral principles revealed to us by our Creator.

Far from leaving us with just negatives,
God’s word points us to what is right and good.

God has always commanded us to appreciate life and to love others. Jesus quoted from the law of Moses in Leviticus 19:18 when he said, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

In other words, our love is not just to be shown to those who appreciate us and who are kind to us. It is to be shown toward even those we might want to be vengeful toward, and people who might provoke us to hold a grudge against them. Instead of personal vengeance or bearing grudges, God’s people need to learn to love such people.

As Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

This is the high standard God has always expected of his people. It’s not the distortion of the law some corrupted Pharisees promoted, that we should love only our clearly defined neighbors, those who are like us. They allowed and defended hating those who are different, those who are against us. That is not what Moses said. It is not what Jesus said. This attempt to justify personal hatred and prejudice is morally wrong.

We are called upon to respect the image of God stamped upon all humans, good and troublesome. It does not mean we should excuse violators of God’s laws for society. Loving them does not excuse their sins, or free them from punishments if they commit crimes.

Our duty is to show the love of Christ in how we leave penalties to those authorized to give it. Let God deal with eternal debts for those not redeemed by Christ, and let the civil authorities deal with civil crimes here on earth.

Do not let the evil of others become an excuse for abandoning what God says is right. Do not let their sin poison your own life with attitudes God forbids. Proverbs 20:22 says, “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil’; Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.”

Your attitudes and actions should show the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

God tells us what should be in our hearts to crowd out the sinful attitudes. We are required to love our neighbors, even to show love toward those who oppose us.

This is the moral foundation
upon which your life should be built.

You confuse and abuse this 6th Commandment if you fail to appreciate the value of human life, and of God’s moral nature revealed in the creation of humans. It is not just about committing actual homicide. You break this moral principle and offend God by your attitude toward others. It is not a light thing to show hatred, vengeance and anger.

From God’s first words to us in the earliest pages of Scripture, to the words of Jesus himself, such things offend the heart of God, the one who loves you, and has redeemed you. God calls you to love others. This means you should be patient, kind and gentle with self-control.

The promise to believers is that our Savior is there for us as we call upon him in faith. The trust he puts in our hearts is there to be used.

This is serious. It is important. Not one day more should go by where anger or hatred creeps into your heart. When it is discovered there, we are called upon to repent of it immediately,and to count upon the strength God promises us to enable us to overcome our hatreds

No one who trust in the Savior should doubt the power of the Living Christ in him to battle these sins. The Bible says in 1 John 4:8, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Those who know God as his redeemed children have the full potential in them to love. That is what makes God’s children different.

Pray that this love will show its presence in your heart, even in situations where the fallen world cannot imagine you being able to love. We need to show respect for all human life. Not based upon how a person lives his life, nor for the value that life has for us or for society. We are to treat all humans as special because they of the image of God in which they was created. We must respect the image because of the value its Creator.

Your life has this value too. Not for how talented you are, or how rich you are, or how good looking you are. You are made in God’s image and put here to display his wonder, grace, and glory. Make that your primary focus in all you do, and God will bless your life, even when the hard struggles come along.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

The Worship of an Invisible God

The Worship of an Invisible God

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q: 49-52)
or watch the video
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Have you ever tried to put together one of those thousand piece jig-saw puzzles without first seeing the picture of what it is supposed to look like when finished? Some of them are so detailed that even when you have seen the picture on the cover it is not easy to find the piece you want.

Sometimes you honestly believe the piece you are looking for cannot possibly be there. Then when you finally find it, and it fits in, you have one of those “Ahhhh” moments. You see that you missed it because you were expecting it to look different than it really was.

Many times I have tried to talk people through setting things up on their computers over the phone. They do not know what they were looking for, and what to do with things when they find them. Some did not know what the ALT key was for, and had no idea what CTRL meant.

While trying to talk them through the steps, they were trying to do things that made no sense to them. As long as they did exactly what they were told, and asked before they did something they were unsure of, we usually got the job done with few problems.

God’s world is vastly more complex and further beyond our full understanding than jig-saw puzzles or home computers. God has lovingly told us what we need to know as we rely upon his grace, and to try learn to do what is right. However, we do not have the whole picture yet in this life. We have to be very careful not to let our own theories and values keep us from seeing what God is telling us in his word.

Our assignment is to fulfill what we were created to be and redeemed to be. Our primary responsibility is to show the glory of our Creator in our lives. To be effective, the Holy Spirit works on Redeemed hearts by means of God’s word.

We need to listen carefully to what God says, and to follow his instructions exactly. We do not have the full picture yet, and we do not completely understand it all in this life. We need to care about the principles God tells us to live by.

The second of the Ten Commandments cautions us about how we worship God.

The 49th question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism points to the Second of the Ten Commandments. The answer quotes from Exodus 20:4-6.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image — any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

The word translated “graven image” or “carved image” is the Hebrew word pesel (פסל). It was used to describe any image we make of something. It primarily applies to things carved or chizzled, but it was not limited to that in the way it was used.

The expression “any likeness” expands upon what God is forbidding so there will be no mistake about what he means to include. The word “likeness” is the Hebrew word temunah (תמונה). It is the common word used even today in modern Israel for “picture”. Most imagine that this is another of those “easy commandments”. Since we do not have stone, gold, or wooden idols as part of our culture today, they assume this commandment is outdated and mostly irrelevant to them.

However, there is an important and eternal moral principle summarized here: We need to honor God in ways that are pleasing to him. Questions 50-52 of the Shorter Catechism clarify this main point.

Question 50. What is required in the second commandment?
Answer. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his Word.
Question 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
Answer. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.
Question 52. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
Answer. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God’s sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.

Jesus said that God is Spirit, therefore he must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. The original word for spirit both in Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek is the same word used for breath or wind. It is something you cannot physically see, but it is clearly evidenced and felt.

God is only honored when we worship him as the invisible, but all present Creator. How this should be done is beyond what we can figure out on our own, so we need to worship him only in ways he prescribes for us. That is why it is unwise to speculate or to add inventive ideas to worship.

The Bible tells us what elements belong in our worship as a Christian church.

  • There should be prayer offered on behalf of the congregation
  • the reading and teaching of God’s word in the Scriptures
  • the celebrating of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper
  • the reciting of confessions of our Christian faith together as a congregation
  • worshipful music sung to God’s glory
  • the collecting of God’s tithes and our offerings
  • the pronouncing of benedictions by the minister
  • occasionally vows such as those taken for membership and ordination

All these have to be governed by God’s directions in his word, not by our own imaginations.

    There are clear examples in the Bible where some ignored God’s rules for worship.

  • Nadab & Abihu used fire in worship in ways God did not command. They were struck dead by God for what they did.
  • Uzzah touched the Ark of God in a way not prescribed. He died on the spot. King Uzziah was stricken with leprosy for intruding into the priest’s job of lighting the incense.
  • King Saul lost God’s blessing upon his kingship for impatiently offering God’s sacrifice when he should have waited for the Priest to arrive to do it.
  • 3,000 were struck dead for worshiping Jehovah by making a Golden Calf at Sinai.

In the Middle Ages the Golden Calf mentality was brought into the church. They brought in rituals and ceremonies from the era of the ancient temple. They added incense, incantations, fancy priestly garments, altars and idols into worship. There were statues, paintings and embroidered pictures of Jesus. Later, pictures of Mary and of the Saints were brought in for veneration as well.

Of course they said they were not bowing to these images to worship them. They were just visual aids in worship. However, that’s what Israel said when they made the golden calf at Sinai.

In more recent times, some openly reject the Second Commandment. Those in the extreme say that it was only intended for Israel and does not apply anymore. That goes directly against the teaching of Jesus. In Matthew 5:17-18 he said that he did not come to end the law, but to bring it to fulfillment. He said in verse 18, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

As sure as heaven and earth still stand today, all of God’s moral principles continue as always. While Jesus fulfilled the law as our representative, and met the penalties of the law in our place, the moral principles which are the stamp of the Creator upon his creation continue as long as there is a heaven and an earth.

Others have defined the commandment so that not all images of God are forbidden. The desire to rightly understand what is forbidden and what is not, challenges us to examine the Scriptures carefully and without assumptions about what we expect to find there.

The Reformer John Calvin once wrote, “the first business of an interpreter is to let his author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say.”

God provided us with all the physical things we need
for learning about him, and for worship:

Creation itself declares his glory day and night. He made humans to be the image-bearers of his moral nature. He furnished the ancient Tabernacle and Temple with things to prefigure the coming work of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus ordained the elements of the Lord’s Supper to represent him in worship.

None of these are man’s designs. God gave them to us, and we are to use them exactly as he instructed. We dare not add to them, or modify them thinking we have the full picture of all they represent.

The Larger Catechism summarizes the Bible’s teaching in question 109. There it forbids, “… the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature: Whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; …”

God did not tell us to make statues or pictures to help us in worship. Not only does that undermine God’s spirit nature, it also distorts the truth about who God is. Besides, it is always foolishly speculative to try to draw, carve, or in any way depict something we have never seen.

Pictures of Jesus have been a source of controversy among sincere believers in him as Savior and God. These pictures of his human nature necessarily add ideas to God’s word, since God did not preserve what he looks like. Statues, mosaics and drawings were common when the Bible was written, but God chose not to give us an image of the human form of Jesus.

If you asked the average person if they knew what Jesus looked like, they would likely say, “yes”. Either they would describe him looking like the actor’s portrayal in one of the recent movies, or as the gentle-faced, light skinned man with long flowing blond hair shown in many older paintings.

These images only depict what someone thinks Jesus looked like. But how can we guess at what a perfectly sinless human’s facial expressions would be when he suffered? or was challenged by unbelief? when he expressed his perfect love and compassion to redeemed sinners? Did he usually have a serious look? a far off pensive stare? a constant smile? or was there always a deep look of pity in his eyes? Was he energetic when he spoke, or was he generally soft spoken?

Actors and film directors who dare to think they’re able to portray him have to add their guesses about what this perfect man was like. To do that, they need to go far beyond the information given to us in Scripture.

The danger is that these images linger in our minds, and shape our impression of perfection. We should resist the temptation to depict him in ways he has not prescribed. That would be a violation of this moral principle laid out for us in the Second Commandment. It would be cause for celebration in the kingdom of evil.

The Bible is our only source of information about Jesus. Beyond that we would be adding dangerous speculations that imply things we cannot yet know.

Of course we know that Jesus had a real human body, but we do not know what it looked like. When those who honor the Second Commandment make up Sunday School material, they keep drawings like that abstracted. They avoid showing his facial features or expressions. They draw a simple form of a man doing the things the Bible says he did. When we make T-shirts and posters with the face of what we think Jesus looked like, we do as the middle ages church did – we bring the Golden Calf mentality into the church.

The sin of the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai
illustrates the danger of making images of God.

This first great national sin of Israel took place right after God’s law was given on Mount Sinai. It was not a civil crime like treason, a wave of thefts, or massive murders. It was a sin against the proper worship of God. 3,000 were executed by God showing the seriousness of this moral principle.

How we worship is not seen as a very serious moral issue by most people. Obviously God took it very seriously.

It is amazing that so many churches today take great pride in being innovative in worship. They advertise that they introduce new things and explore new ground.

The story of what happened at the foot of Mount Sinai shows how dangerous this is. Moses was called back up into the Mountain to receive more information from God. Before he went, Exodus 24:3 tells us about Israel’s promised obedience to God. “So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the LORD has said we will do.’ ”

After Moses went back up into the mountain for 40 days, the people grew impatient and came to Aaron with a strange request. In Exodus 32:1 they said, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; …”

They probably did not actually mean that Aaron should make up an actual new god or set of gods. They wanted him to make a representation of God, one they could see and touch. That is the way life was back in pagan Egypt.

So the people brought the gold from their jewelry to use in making this idol. Exodus 32:4 tells us what Aaron did with these offerings, “And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ”

It was probably a wooden calf covered with the gold he had melted down. They did not see it as Apis, one of the Egyptian deities. They didn’t imagine they had created a new god altogether. Here and in verse 5 Aaron clearly identified it as Jehovah, the God of Moses.

So why did they make it in the form of a calf? God himself had chosen the calf, the young bulls, to represent him in the sacrifices. The sacrifices represented the future Messiah who would die in their place. They were not intending to replace Jehovah, only to represent him in a familiar form.

So Aaron built an altar in honor of the completed calf and in verse 5 he said, “tomorrow is a feast to Jehovah.” It was not called a feast to a new god, or a god they remembered from back in Egypt. It was a feast to Jehovah. The next day they brought their offerings to sacrifice to their new image.

While Moses was up in the Mountain receiving instructions about proper worship, Israel was down below with their creative innovations violating its most basic principle.

When Moses came down to them carrying the tablets of the law, he saw the disgraceful festival. That day 3,000 were executed for their part in this horrible rebellion.

That is how serious proper worship is to God. Satan must have been very pleased that God’s people tried to reduce God from his pure spirit nature, into a physical form.

That same fallen corruption still lurks in human hearts today. The things he tells us to do in worship are corrupted and replaced.

In our era after the Cross of Jesus, animals are no longer sacrificed to represent the coming Messiah. So people make images of the Messiah himself to satisfy that longing for a physical object to worship. Ancient Israel could say, “The Messiah was represented in real physical calves, so why not make an image of one to help us think of him?” Today some say, “The Messiah had a real physical human body, so why not make an image of that to help us think of him?”

It is not just a minor matter of differences of opinion. It appears to be a violation of the Second Commandment which some dismiss as an old worn out rule.

The usual arguments claim that they do not worship through the pictures they make of Jesus. But that is troubling in another way. Do they believe they are looking at a picture of Jesus Christ, their God and Savior, but it does not stir any worshipful response in them? none at all? There’s no sense of awe? no desire to praise him as they look upon what they think is him? When Jesus is brought to mind it should stir us to worship. There’s the danger.

Another excuse is that children need to see images to learn about God and Jesus. That is obviously not God’s opinion, and he is the one who made the children. In Deuteronomy 6:6-9 God tells us to teach our children by presenting God’s word to them. They had art back then: statues, carvings, and drawings, but God’s method was to speak of him – in the home, everywhere we go, all day long.

This commandment specifically mentions the danger to the children.

Exodus 20:5-6, “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

We damage our children by bringing them up with images of an imagined Jesus,or by implying to them by our attitudes and practices that how we worship God is something we can modify on our own. It is a danger that distorts the child’s view of God, and of his rules for worship.

When it says that God is Jealous, it does not mean it in the envious sense. It means that God is protective of his honor and glory. He is concerned to the utmost that his purpose in creation would be fulfilled. He made all things to portray his nature and truth so that it brings him glory. Distortions of his nature and truth go against the whole purpose of creation.

Some are troubled by the mention here of the punishing of children for the sins of their fathers. However, that is because the consequences of sin are usually misunderstood.

Children raised in wickedness are generally trained in the evil ways of those who raise them. Most of them will follow in those ways for a long time, maybe the rest of their lives. It may take many generations for children to shake off wrong traditions handed down in families. That is the other side of Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”

This brings us to the blessing side of keeping this commandment. God shows great mercy to the obedient. This includes the merciful blessings attached to proper obedient worship. They who obey, along with their children, will be enriched by the good attitudes and habits they see and become accustomed to in the home. Paul reminded Timothy how blessed he was growing up in a Godly home (2 Timothy 1:5).

This all seems very odd in our modern world.

Today images of the Second Person of the Trinity are common and promoted. Even those who love the Bible alone as their source of truth about God, go beyond what God directly prescribes for worship. They speculate about things God has not made known. They provide unauthorized visible aids to worship and inspiration.

To know God as spirit requires a renewed soul informed by God’s word. Aside from that work of grace, the human heart is blind and seeks other things. Without the change that comes by resting in the Christ of Scripture, worship will be distorted.

Long ago St. Augustine was challenged by a pagan man who proudly showed him his idol. The man said, “here is my god, where is yours?” Augustine answered this way, “I cannot show you my God. Not because there is no God to show, but because you have no eyes to see him.”

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Rather than pictures, God gave us the thousand words — actually a lot more words than that. In the Bible we have a whole library about him, and his wonderful works.

God has communicated into our physical world all we need to know about him. That is what ought to guide us as we think of him, and approach him in prayer and worship.

The principle summarized in this Commandment is eternal.

There could never be a time when it is acceptable to make unauthorized visible images of God. He is always Spirit, and Jesus himself directed us to worship him in spirit and in truth. It was not a rule only for Old Israel in the time of Moses.

His word is our only faithful guide about how we should think of God and worship him. It is the picture that shows us how the pieces of the puzzle should fit together.
When we follow God’s prescriptions carefully, adding nothing, subtracting nothing, and loving all of it — it is recognized as the valuable treasure it truly is. Our God will be honored only in the way he said he should be. If that is our guide for faith and practice, we along with our children will be blessed for many generations to come.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Faithful to the One True God

Faithful to the One True God

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:45-48)
[watch the watch the video]
by Bob Burridge ©2011

The first of the Ten Commandments is found in Exodus 20:3. It says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” It seems like an easy place to begin this list of moral principles. Most people believe this is not a very hard rule to live by.

In most cultures in our world today people are quite content to have just one god. We are not like the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians who had temples to different god’s throughout their cities. Having multiple gods is not very popular in our western world in the 21st Century.

However, this commandment is not about having just one god. It is about the exclusive worshiping, honoring, and obeying the One Creator of the universe. That makes it more of a challenge.

The commandment sums up a basic moral principle embedded in Creation itself. Nothing should rule our lives, or become the center of our attention other than, or along with, the Creator who made us and everything else. He ought to be the center of our marriages, home life, work, social relationships, governments, and the focus of our formal times of worship.

It is easy to let our interest in entertainment, sports, money, business, romance, popularity, or power trick us into putting them above or equal with God as the focus of our lives.

Westminster Shorter Catechism,
Question 45. Which is the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Very literally, the words and word order of this commandment in Hebrew is: “Not – you shall have to yourself – gods – other – unto my face.” (לֹֽ֣א יִהְיֶֽה־לְךָ֛֩ אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים עַל־פָּנָֽ֗יַ׃)

The commandment uses the general word for God.

The Hebrew word for “God” used by Moses in this commandment is Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים). It was used to make reference to all the pagan gods, as well as the True God who made us.

The New Testament uses the common Greek word for God (Theos, Ɵεος ). It also is used broadly, not only for the True God, but also for other interests that take his place. In Philippians 3:19 it describes those who have other things as “gods” in their lives. It says of them, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things.”

The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint translation of this first commandment, the translation of the Old Testament used in the time of Jesus.

The word “gods” here means all those considered to have supernatural powers, and those things treated as most important in our lives. It includes anything that motivates us the most.

The word “other” shows that what is being forbidden stands in contrast with Jehovah, the one making these demands of his people. No other being, thing, or idea should be what primarily motivates you.

Westminster Shorter Catechism,
Question 46. What is required in the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God, to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.
Question 47. What is forbidden in the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying the true God, as God, and our God; and the giving that worship and glory to any other which is due to him alone.
Question 48. What are we specially taught by these words, “before me,” in the first commandment?
Answer. These words. “before me,” in the first commandment, teach us that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God.

The foundation for this moral principle
is the eternal character of God.

He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He designed you to promote his glory during your life here on earth. By his Sovereign Providence he rules over everything that happens. As a creature made in his image you have a special obligation to be God-centered.

At Athens Paul explained how God’s creation and care for us both obligate us to him.
Acts 17:25 “… He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”
Acts 17:28 “for in Him we live and move and have our being …”

It is the great deception of our fallen world that above all else we should live to have easier lives here on earth. Ever since Eden we tend to be self-centered, or at least human-centered in our thinking.

Our lives get wrapped up in getting things to make our lives easier and to feel successful. However, the ease we tend to look for, is to avoid work, and to do things for our own pleasure. The feeling of success is often measured by the standards of a materialistic world. But we were not created to be human-centered. We were put here to be God-centered.

Our labor is not primarily to get provisions and pleasures. It is above all else to be done for the sake of God’s honor, and for the promotion of his Kingship. It is toward that end that we work to get our daily provisions. That is the way God made things to be.

Work is not something we should dream of avoiding. It is something we do to be part of how God’s world is designed to operate. We grow foods, raise livestock, make and fix things, teach and give counsel, worship, raise children, help those who have special needs, and maintain civil order.

In everything we do, from fixing plumbing to repairing brain injuries, we are here to do it to show the wonder of God who made and rules over everything. Therefore we should strive for excellence in what we do. We should provide the best products and best services for our bosses, customers, and fellow-workers.

Though our work always involves someone else: managers, business owners, or customers, we should not just have pleasing them in mind. Primarily, we should do our very best for the honor of our God.

The economic system in the time of the New Testament included an employment system. If you did not make or grow things to sell, or provide a service yourself, you would come under a contract to work for someone else. As someone bonded over to them for pay, you had a responsibility to the one paying you.

Ephesians 6:5-7 says, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men,”

At creation we were made to be overseers of God’s creation, to manage it as representatives the Creator. Our work and what we earn by doing it should not become gods to us. Our labor should never become the main focus of our lives. We need to keep God’s glory at the center of the work we do.

Our marriages and families are for God’s glory. These relationships are not here for our physical pleasures, romance, or social success. God created us as male and female, and ordained marriage as part of the display of his glory. Families are designed to show the relationship of our Faithful Savior with his people. Our home life has that divine purpose.

In our homes and families we should show God’s love, mercy, patience, forgiveness, and so on. We should pass these values and virtues on to our children by faithfully training them. We should equip them to declare, defend, and perpetuate the Covenant our Savior made with us by his Grace.

Ephesians 5 explains this important purpose in our home lives. Notice how every relationship is designed to display something about God in his world. There in verses 22-25 it says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,”

The family should show the relationship of our Faithful and Loving Savior with us as his people. Verses 30-32 of Ephesians 5 says, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

The family, as crucially important as it is, should never become as important as what it was made to represent of our Creator. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

If our families become an equal motivator with God in our lives, we break this first commandment. With distorted values like that, we teach our children that our home and success in this world can justify wrong choices. To satisfy family or romantic desires they might attend a church for the wrong reasons. They might look for jobs where they compromise God’s ways to get a better house or car. The best lesson we can teach our children, the best example we can be to our spouses, is to help them put God’s ways first. Only then can a family or marriage be truly blessed.

Our governments are to teach about God’s watchful care for us. God rules to keep order in his universe as his plan is painted on the time line of history. Our civil leaders are not here primarily to give us freedom and security. Those duties are means to the greater end.

In our communities God ordained that we should have human governments to reflect his care. Our leaders and those who work for them are here for that purpose. They are to protect us against crime, fraud, and vandalism. They are to defend us against foreign aggressors who want to take what is ours, or to keep us from being free to openly obey God in our lives. They are also to punish those who break the law so that the principle of justice is upheld. This is one of God’s attributes. It should all be done not for mere peace and prosperity, but for the glory of the One True God.

In Romans 13:1-5 Paul reminds us of the authority God gives to those in our civil governments, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”

This means that we should not just obey civil laws to avoid punishment. We should do it out of respect for what God set up governments to represent. We obey as if we were obeying God himself, because rightful governments are his servants. They are here to enforce God’s civil rights and wrongs.

As citizens we should obey them, pray for them, stay well informed, and vote responsibly. We should do it all with God’s glory in mind as we support the way he set things up to be. If our laws violate God’s principles for whatever seems good to us, we have made our laws into an idol that violates this First Commandment.

Our social interactions are not just so we have friends to do fun things with our free time. They are to provide opportunities for us to encourage one another in living as a community centered on God’s glory and preeminence.

Ephesians 2:19 shows how our friendships and fellowship demonstrate God’s Kingdom. When we help our friends we advance God’s plan to show how he unites us as his household. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”

Chapter 5 of Ephesians shows how we are to reflect God’s love by showing love for one another. Verses 1-2 say, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

Our friendships are not just for our own benefit or even just for that of our friends. They are supposed to be ways of demonstrating God’s care for us. It is another of the ways we honor the one true God. If we compromise any of God’s ways to make or to improve human friendships, we make those relationships rise to the level of God in our lives, and we violate this first principle of God’s Moral Law.

Our churches are gatherings of redeemed believers to serve Christ and to care for one another. They are not simply to provide social opportunities, or religious entertainment. If worship or the life of the church fails to be what God ordained it to be, then it replaces the purpose for which God ordained it. It becomes a cult, a false god in our lives. It violates this First Commandment.

It was the very religious who most persecuted Jesus during his life. Their religion was guided by wrong teachings, and by what was popular, not by what God said it should be.

A God-Centered attitude is exactly what this commandment is about. Each of these obligations is a necessary part of human life ever since God created us, but we are all obligated to honor the Creator in these relationships above everything else that might motivate us. All creatures owe their lives to the one who created them, and to him alone.

Aside from creation, there is another reason
to honor the One True God alone.

He not only created us, as believes in Christ he redeemed us by his Covenant of Grace. God deserves to be the main motive in your life, because he gave you new life in Christ.

Since your life comes from him, your life is his. It is not really just yours. The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”

Its answer is, “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”

Nothings else redeems you, and deserves your unrestrained devotion. To take your time, resources and abilities, and to use them in ways that keep you from worship, tithing, obeying and loving, is theft of what God entrusted to you as a stewardship. It would violate this first moral principle.

This is not just a negative commandment.

Failing to honor the true God in the way he deserves also reduces him to the level of everything else. It elevates the rest of your world to the same level as the way you treat God. If God is just one part of your life, you are not obeying the main point of this first Commandment. God must be actively honored, worshiped and loved.

When apathy sets in you miss out on what gives meaning and real joy to everything else. Your work, family, friends, country, and church become truly satisfying only when they center on honoring your Creator and Redeemer in them. You should strive to find ways of promoting God’s unique glory in every responsibility and opportunity in your life.

The emptiness people often feel in their lives is because the center is all wrong. If your personal peace, prosperity or pleasures are what motivate you, you have displaced God to at best a secondary role.

The more you become aware of his constant presence and infinite power surrounding you, and remember the amazing grace that rescued you, the more everything else takes on a beauty beyond your expectations. Even discouragements and disappointments cannot derail you or depress you when you see God’s loving and wise plan at work in every part of your life.

Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6, the words of God’s law, when he said in Matthew 22:37-38, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

That is the key, the thing that arranges everything else into it’s right place in your life. Psalm 16:11 makes this promise, ” … In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)