10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Dear Friends in Christ, Rom. 13:10
I came across an interesting article that appeared in an issue of the American Family Association Journal. This article was entitled “The New Morality” and it was based upon a recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group, an organization that kind of keeps its finger on the pulse of the spiritual lives of Americans. Interestingly, this survey found that nearly 55% of adults discuss moral issues on a weekly basis, so that right away let us know that this is a subject that is very much on the minds of Americans these days. I guess we could call that the good news. The bad news is that the traditional morals and values that our country was founded upon and that it has held to for most of its existence are changing, and as you can probably guess, not for the better.
In this survey researchers asked 1003 adults about their participation in 8 activities over the course of the past week. Those activities included viewing pornography, using profanity in public, having an intimate sexual encounter with someone to whom you are not married, drinking to the point of being legally intoxicated, lying, doing something to get back at someone who had hurt you, gambling, and saying mean or untrue things about someone when they were not present. Not surprisingly, the most common of those behaviors was using profanity in public. Nearly 3 out of 10 people admitted to doing that. But what was surprising according to George Barna who directed this survey was what it revealed about those adults who are under the age of 25, the ones who represent the future of our nation. This group is known for the most part as the Millennials.
Well, what Barna found in this survey is that the Millennials are redefining what is right and what is wrong. In fact, they are more than twice as likely as all other adults to engage in the behaviors mentioned in this survey, but it gets worse. For example, 2/3 of the Millennials admitted to having used profanity in public compared with 27% of the other groups surveyed. The Millennials were also 9 times more likely than Baby Boomers to engage in sex outside of marriage. 37% of them had lied during the past week; 25% of them had gotten drunk; 29% of them had gambled; and 38% of them had had an intimate sexual encounter with someone to whom they were not married. And again, keep in mind that this had all happened during the week prior to the one they were interviewed.
George Barna concluded that the results show a major shift in American life. He said, “We are witnessing the development and acceptance of a new moral code in America.” He described it as a moral system that is based on convenience, feelings, and selfishness. And then he added these rather ominous sounding comments. He said: “The consistent deterioration of the Bible as the source of moral truth has led to a nation where people have become independent judges of right and wrong, basing their choices on feelings and circumstances. It is not likely that America will return to a more traditional moral code until the nation experiences significant pain from its moral choices.”
I’d like to believe that last statement, that once we experience significant pain from our moral choices we’ll get back to doing things God’s way, but the pessimist in me has grave doubts about that because the truth of the matter is that we already have experienced significant pain in our culture from poor moral choices with little or no change taking place. That’s why this morning I want to begin a brand new sermon series that I am entitling “The Fundamentals of Our Faith.” And what could possibly be more fundamental than the most basic laws that God has given us to follow. We know them as the 10 Commandments. Please note that name, my friends. They are the 10 Commandments, not the 10 Suggestions. And they have been given to us by God for one very good reason, and that is because he loves us. Now I realize that most people do not look upon the 10 Commandments as God’s laws of love, as I’ve called them in my sermon title for today. Instead they see them as restrictions. They see them as God’s way of depriving his children of fun, as his way of lording it over us.
If you’ve ever felt that way, I would encourage you to think of some of the rules that you’ve laid down in your household as a parent. For example, if you happened to see your little toddler get into your sewing basket or into a drawer and pull out a nice sharp shiny scissors, what did you do? You immediately took it away, right? And how did junior react? He may have cried or perhaps even thrown a good old-fashioned, throw yourself on the ground, kicking and screaming temper tantrums. He probably thought you were being mean to him, that you were depriving him of all that fun that he knew he could have with that scissors. But what was the real reason you took it away from him? You did it because you loved him and out of that love you were trying to protect him.
I remember when one of our daughters came home from school some years ago and told us about a party she was wanting to attend. Neither Marilyn nor I had a good feeling about this party. Having heard horror stories from other parents about these high school get-togethers, we envisioned the worst: freely flowing alcohol and who knows what else going on, so we told her she couldn’t go. Needless to say, she was not happy with that decision. But we did it not to be mean, not to let her know who’s boss. Rather we did it because we loved her and we were trying to protect her from a situation that we did not want her being exposed to at that stage of her life. And sure enough, our initial hunches paid off because we found out a few days later that that party had been raided by the police and many of those attending it had been carted off to the police station for underage drinking.
So God’s laws are an expression of his love for us. But you know what? Those same laws are also an expression of our love for him. Jesus once said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Now let me demonstrate to you how this works by giving you a very brief overview of the 10 Commandments. In the 1st Commandment God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” This commandment teaches that love is loyal. If I told my wife, “I love you, Sweetheart, but I also have these 2 or 3 other women whom I love just as much,” that’s not true love, is it? True love is loyal to the object of that love. So true love is loyal to God.
The 2nd Commandment is “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” This commandment teaches us that love is respectful. If you truly love the Lord, are you going to be heard taking his name in vain? Are you going to use it in off-color jokes or laugh when it is mocked or denigrated on TV? Of course not because to do so would be to show disrespect not only to the name, but also to the One that name represents, God himself.
The 3rd Commandment is “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” This commandment teaches us that love is worshipful. If you truly love the Lord, are you going to want to take the one day out of the week when you’re supposed to worship him and use it to sleep in or go to the mall or hit the golf course? Of course not! Instead you’re going to want to be in his house so that you can offer to him the praise and honor and worship that he so rightly and richly deserves and so that you can receive from him the loving blessings that he offers you there through his Word and Sacrament.
The 4th Commandment is “Honor your father and your mother.” This commandment teaches quite obviously that love is honoring. It shows respect and obedience to those whom God has placed over us in authority: parents, teachers, employers, police officers, and those in government. By honoring them, we are honoring the God whom they represent and thus showing our love for him.
The 5th Commandment is “You shall not murder.” This commandment teaches that love is humane. If you truly love the Lord, are you going to seek to harm a fellow human being in some way – physically, mentally, emotionally – or express hatred toward them? Of course not. Instead, the words of the Apostle Paul in Eph. 4:31-32 will become your guide. There he says: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
The 6th Commandment is “You shall not commit adultery.” This commandment teaches that love is pure. If you truly love the Lord, will you seek to defile members of the opposite sex by trying to get them to engage in sexual activity with you before you’re married, even though God forbids that in his Word? Or are you going to take the love that you have for your spouse and give it to another? Of course not. Rather the kind of love we’re talking about here is a committed love that shows its commitment to God by honoring your spouse and placing their needs and desires ahead of your own.
The 7th Commandment is “You shall not steal.” This commandment teaches that love is considerate. If you truly love the Lord, are you going to take what others have without their permission? Are you going to express dissatisfaction and a lack of trust in God’s providing care by pilfering from others items that he for whatever reason has chosen to not give you? Of course not!
The 8th Commandment is “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” This commandment teaches that love is truthful. If you truly love God, are you going to tell lies about other people and gossip about them, perhaps irreparably damaging their reputation? Or are you going to lie to them or withhold the truth from them as a way of gaining some sort of advantage over them? Doesn’t sound like a very loving thing to do at all, does it?
Then the 9th and 10th Commandments can be summed up as “You shall not covet.” These commandments teach that love is content. Again, if you truly love God, are you going to covet – earnestly desire – what other people have and become angry and upset or envious and jealous because they have it and you don’t? Of course not!
So as you can see, my friends, love is at the heart and core of all of God’s commandments. His love for us is so plainly evident in them and our love for him is reflected in our keeping of them. Like our text for today says: Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
But let us not forget what one of the primary functions of the Law is. And that is to serve as a mirror, which simply means that when we look at ourselves in the light of the 10 Commandments, as we’ve done rather quickly and briefly this morning, we can’t help but see how often we have fallen short of them. But please understand that that honest and sometimes painful use of the Law is necessary to prepare our hearts for the Savior that we need so much. You see, if we could keep the Law of God perfectly, then we would have no need for Jesus. We wouldn’t have needed his perfect life lived on our behalf. We wouldn’t have needed his sacrificial, sin-paying death that he died on the cross in our place. We wouldn’t have needed his death-defying and death-defeating resurrection that he accomplished on Easter morning because death would have no power over a sinless human being. But who among us here today would be so bold as to look into the mirror of God’s law and say, “Oh sure, I’ve kept all of those laws perfectly my entire life”? I’ve only run into one person in all my years of ministry who actually believed that about herself and I simply could not convince her otherwise. Sadly, she died a few weeks after I visited her and at that time I’m sure she found out that she wasn’t the perfect, sinless person she thought she was.
So we need the Law to see ourselves as God sees us. But we also need it to serve as a guide so that we know best how to please him and live our lives for him. So in this sermon series we’re going to be taking a much more detailed look at each of the 10 Commandments. And I’ve got to tell you, I am very excited about this because the 10 Commandments are something that are very relevant to us in this day and age. In fact, I am so excited about it that I’m giving this series a subtitle. And that subtitle is “Straight Talk for Crooked Lives.” And again, I’m doing this in the hopes that the new moral code that we heard about earlier in this sermon will never take the place in our lives of the old moral code that came to us straight from the loving and protecting heart of God himself. Amen.