A Voter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments

The Curb of the Law:
A Voter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments.

via NewVotersGuide – Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO.

If we remember anything from our catechism, we remember the three functions of the law. “A curb to keep society in order, a mirror to show us our sin, and a guide for Christian service to our neighbor.” But what does it mean that the law is a curb for society?

We know well the second function, the law brings us to despair of our own goodness and pride. We know fairly well the third function, that the law shows us the contours of our vocation and directs our love for God and neighbor. But what about the first use? What does it mean that the law is a curb for society?

I used to understand the first use of the law very vaguely: that because the outlines of the law are ingrained in our consciences there is a shadow of the Ten Commandments in the legal structure of each civilized society. But there is more, much more, to be said. The law (and especially the second table regarding our love for our neighbor) has many specific things to say about government. Especially in a nation where the citizens are given a role in governance (for example, voting), it would be good for us to consider the Ten Commandments and the things they teach us about government.

The Ten Commandments Protects God’s Gifts
We remember, first of all, that the Ten Commandments are given to protect God’s gifts. He created all things good. The Lord want for us good things. We see in the commandments both the gifts that God gives as well as His desire to protect them.

  • The Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother”, protects God’s gift of family and authority.
  • The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder”, protects God’s gift of life.
  • The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery”, protects the Lord’s gift of marriage and family.
  • The Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal”, protects our possessions, or as we call them in our constitution, private property.
  • The Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”, protects our reputation and our good name.

Understanding the gifts that God gives gives clarity to the role of government: law and the rule of law serves to protect the gifts of God. And, those serving in government love their neighbor by protecting these same gifts and making and enforcing laws that do the same.

What follows, then, is a discussion of the fourth through eighth commandments, of the gifts they protect, of the appropriate laws that protect them, and the practical conclusion that effect how we vote in the upcoming political cycle.

Remember that the Christian is called by God to love their neighbor. This is true when we vote as well. Our we vote, not to serve ourselves, but to love our neighbor.

The Fourth Commandment, Family and Government
The fourth commandment is the source of all human government. Before there was the state, and even before there was the church, there was the family: Adam and Eve. It is from the family, then, that authority comes.

In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther says, “For all authority flows and is propagated from the authority of parents.” (I.141) In this way we understand the commandment to honor our father and mother to include all the authorities in creation, including the government. On the other hand, this commandment all puts government in it’s proper place: serving and protecting families.

The Fifth Commandment and the Lord’s Gift of Life
The fifth commandment sets government to protect the Lord’s gift of life.

I often hear people talking about quality of life. The Bible knows of no such thing. The Lord has not given to mankind the authority to judge if life is worth living. Life is life, no matter how good or bad it is. Let me be clear, discussions about the quality of life are idolatrous, it assumes that life is here for us to take, measure, judge and even end.

The fruits of the quality of life idol are abortion and euthanasia. Regarding euthanasia, someone has made the decision that a persons life is not worth living. Lord save us from such dangerous arrogance. The Lord’s command says, “Do not commit murder.” Regarding abortion, the mother (or a person who has great influence over the mother, like the boyfriend or parents) have made the judgment that having a baby would wreck the mother’s quality of life. Lord, have mercy.

In the United States an estimated 3,700 babies are murdered in the womb each day. 1,370,000 times each year a child is sacrificed on the altar of convenience. This is “legal.” It should not be. The government is given to protect life.

(I know that this is a difficult and often emotional discussion. There are many women who have had abortions and are daily crushed by their guilt. The Lord has His church to give out the forgiveness of sins and to cover this guilt with His forgiving blood. The Lord’s mercy is found in the church, not the state. The state is given to protect life.

This is also the place were capital punishment and war should be discussed. The Lord has given the state the sword to protect, for example, His gift of life. In extreme cases, the state has the authority to kill in order to protect life [war and capital punishment], much like a doctor amputates a foot with gangrene to save the rest of the body. But this is slightly off the topic.)

The right to life is the most fundamental human right. Our blatant disregard for human life will mark this as one of the darkest ages of human history. The blood of millions of babies will certainly reach the ears of our heavenly Father. The Lord’s church continues to pray for an end to this mindless slaughter, and to use every opportunity she is given to help save the lives of babies in the womb. Voting is one of those opportunities to love our neighbor, especially our unborn neighbors.

The Sixth Commandment, Marriage and Family
The sixth commandment protects the Lord’s gift of family and marriage, and regulates human sexuality. This is where discussions regarding the laws of divorce, adultery and homosexuality belong.

Among other things, marriage is a legally binding contract with the state. In every wedding I’ve preformed I was there with the bride and groom and witnesses to sign the marriage license. While it is God who joins husband and wife on to another (Matthew 19:4), He uses the state to do this. So the state, the government, has a vested interest in marriages. Our own state laws have provision for supporting and protecting marriages, but these are often ignored and disregarded.

In fact, most people today would understand any laws regarding human sexuality to be old fashioned and unnecessary. “What I do in the bedroom is my own business.” Our sinful human flesh, in rebellion to God, wants to chase after its lusts in anyway it wants. But this often results in sorrow, end even in death.

In the Scripture we notice a pattern between the breaking of the sixth commandment that is followed by a breaking of the fifth. Remember the history of David and Bathsheba? First David commits adultery with Bathsheba who was married to another man. Then, when Bathsheba turns up pregnant, David tries to cover up his sin by calling Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) back from battle. When Uriah, out of faithfulness to David and his fellow soldiers, refuses to go home, David sends him back to battle with his own death warrant. (2 Samuel 11) So murder follows adultery. This is often seen today with abortion. 75% of the women who have abortions are not married.

So we see that there is a public interest in strengthening and supporting the Lord’s gift of marriage. But what we see from our government is the exact opposite. In fact, the very fact of marriage is being challenged at its core.

Marriage is a gift of God, established and created by God. Government is set to protect marriage, not control or define it, but this is exactly what we see happening. Moved by pressure from homosexual lobbyists, many states are “re-defining” marriage to include the union of a man to a man, or a woman to a woman. Where this “re-defining” will end, who knows. We are in a strange time when polygamy is illegal, but “open marriages” are not. A man can live with as many women as he wants, unless he calls these women his wives. Strange.

But marriage cannot be redefined. The role of government is to protect marriage, not redefine or reshape or change it. We we go to the ballot, then, we have the opportunity to cast our vote out of love for our neighbor to protect the Lord’s gift of marriage and family.

…To be continued. Next month we will discuss the role of the 7th and 8th commandments, and make some conclusions about the up-coming election.

Part II
Part I of this article addressed the role of the law in society and made a few comments about the fourth, fifth and sixth commandments. In this article we will consider the Seventh and Eighth Commandments and conclude with a discussion of the voting Christian.

Government is a gift from God to protect His gifts of creation, and those gifts are outlined in the Ten Commandments: the gifts of life (Fifth Commandment), family (Sixth Commandment), property (Seventh Commandment) and reputation (Eighth Commandment).

The Seventh Commandment and the Gift of Possessions
There are a few very disturbing trends in American politics, not least of which is the delusion that these gifts (or rights, if you will) come from government. In the next few months we will not be able to escape political rhetoric. Listen for candidates promising to “give” things to the people, as if there is something that belongs to the state and in then given to the people. No. There are things that the Lord has given to individuals, to families, and the state has the vocation of protecting these gifts.

This is true of the Lord’s gifts of possessions, what our founding documents call private property. When the Lord commands, “You shall not steal,” He is giving us the gift of private property, the right to put our name on something. This means that the Ten Commandments protect us from socialism. Socialism is the political philosophy that possessions belong to the state and are distributed by the state, and the Lord’s Word “You shall not steal” stands against this philosophy and any other involuntary system of redistribution of wealth.

The Eighth Commandment and the Gift of Reputation
There is justice in our legal system’s assumption of innocence until proven guilty. Our good name and good reputation is a gift of God, and in some way the government has a role to protect this. We have these protections in our courts and judicial system.

In the up coming election there are many offices to be filled, and we have the opportunity to elect honorable people in law enforcement. As we petition the Lord in the prayer of the church that those in government would “punish wickedness and reward righteousness.” With the Eighth Commandment in mind, we pay attention to the judges and law enforcement.

Voting and the Vocation of Citizen
In Biblical times, as well as in the Reformation, there were the rulers and the ruled. You were one or another. In modern America it is not so simple. Our government is a system of self rule. Each citizen is the ruled and the ruler. Our voting is the clearest example of exercising this authority. So Christians, as citizens of the United States, have the very important responsibility of voting. So vote.

The Commandments protect the Lord’s gifts. That is obvious by now. Governments if given by God to protect these gifts in numerous way. But you might ask, “Pastor, what is the most important of these gifts? What if one candidate is a pro-life socialist and the other is a pro-choice capitalist?” For the Church this is a simple question. The most important issue is life. This is the most fundamental gift of creation, and it is especially the weak and defenseless that the state ought to protect. Babies at risk in the womb are the neighbors most at risk, the neighbors that most need our prayer and love and service.

In everything the Christian family and the Christian church does in the world, we are always asking how we might serve and love the neighbors that the Lord has given us. Having an election is no different. We go to the ballot box with the Ten Commandments in mind. We vote to love and serve our neighbor and protect the gifts that the Lord has given them. This November we will have the opportunity to do just this.

May the Lord hear our prayers for good and faithful rulers, and grant such to us and all the people of the world. And may we continue to serve our neighbors as we rejoice in the gifts that the Lord gives.

Your’s in Christ,
Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller

The Sunday of Brotherly Love ’12 – Matthew 5:20-26

15. July 2012
The Sunday of Brotherly Love
Exodus 20:1-17; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 5:20-26

You are tempted to believe that your many violations of God’s holy law are excusable because they were mostly harmless. Sin is not just between you and God. Sin affects your neighbor. There are those that sin and those that are sinned against. There is no excuse to sin, not in mind, by the tongue, or in deed. Sin corrupts you and corrupts your neighbor.

The Fifth Commandment is no exception. No one here is a murderer in deed, at least that I know of. Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone of us holds some deep-seated anger, resentment, or hatred. Jesus says: I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. From Jesus’ perspective, we’re all murderers.

That doesn’t stop us from trying to get off the hook. We’re pretty good at excusing ourselves with every kind of rationalization. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can hold a grudge without sin. We think that secret hatred won’t affect anyone else. We tell ourselves that we were right and thus there’s no cause for repentance.

Perhaps you only were angry in your mind and thus think it affected no one. Perhaps this anger resulted in only a flippant word, a casual dig against the neighbor, or a bit of unpleasantness that could be glossed over later, smoothed out, or paid off. Surely, you never took the sword and sought to slay your neighbor, to murder him, right?

No, all have sinned, all have murdered. You sin because your flesh is sinner, just as natural in this fallen world as the eating and excreting. It is what your corrupted and wicked flesh does and has no choice but to do. You are captive to this flesh, utterly unable to overcome its every evil desire, intent, and action.

Holy Scripture refers to the life of the sinner as  self-made slavery. Life in this Egypt of our making ain’t bad? Bondage to Pharaoh has its perks. At least we sit by our fleshpots, engorging ourselves on the meat of idolatry, adultery, and greed; at least we are comfortable and secure in ourselves, right?

God’s Holy Word tells another story. He tells us how this life of the flesh, bound to sin and Satan, hurtling towards death, is not good. He tells how our flesh is truly captive to sin, to death, and to the evil one. Slaves do as slaves are told. There is no overcoming this bondage. The chains are too heavy, the shackles too tight. The evil taskmaster is to strong.

Not only that, our perverse flesh enjoys bondage. We actually like living in sin. We’re so twisted that we like hating, degrading, and enraging our neighbor. We like how it makes us feel. We like murdering their flesh by ignoring their physical need. We like how it makes us feel and in a warped way, how it ruins our neighbor.

Some part of us still knows such sin is wrong. Yet, our flesh is especially good at dealing with this problem. We’re all Pharisees at heart. We say to Jesus, “All these commands I have kept from my youth.” I have not murdered. I’ve never taken the sword. I’ve never killed unjustly. So, your internal scribe and Pharisee says to Jesus. Nothing to confess here, move along. Off the hook, no problems. Fifth Commandment, check!

Jesus says: Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribe and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The scribes and Pharisees are legalists. They have understood God’s holy Law in such a way that they think they have kept it. Their strict legal code is perfectly attainable, even by sinners. In other words, they understand the Law so that they keep it.

Pharisees and scribes like Egypt. They like bondage in sin. They delight in their wickedness. But as it is said: “Scratch a legalist and underneath you’ll find an antinomian.” Scratch the lover of the Law and underneath you’ll find they really hate it. It is true: Pharisees and scribes hate the Law while putting on pretense of keeping it. They can’t stand the truth and so have relaxed the Law so as to keep up appearances. In reality, they love themselves more than God. Their standard is better than God’s standard. They love the life of sin and will not allow the Law to ruin their unholy and profane party.

How is your keeping of the Law of God going? Have you kept it perfectly or relaxed it to think you have?Let’s examine ourselves according to the Fifth Commandment, LSB p. 321.

The Fifth Commandment. You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

So, how have you done? Surely, you have not murdered. Have you hurt or harmed your neighbor? The Pharisee (legalist) in you is probably saying “no.” Have you helped and supported your neighbor? Have you provided for the sick, the needy, the homeless in our community and world?

“Scratch the legalist and underneath you’ll find an antinomian.” You love the Law only until it convicts you of hating your neighbor. Make no mistake, you have not loved your neighbor as you ought. You love your own flesh and hate him. Worst yet, you are hopeless to overcome this hatred. No amount of me exhorting your flesh to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, or shelter the homeless is going to do a lick of good.

Your flesh will either relax the Law to keep it or hate the Law and ignore it. The truth is we’re all murderers. It begins with anger in the heart, that secret place where we let our hatred stew. Eventually it always comes to a boil and our anger spews forth its sickening signs. We’re skilled to do so while keeping up appearances, with smiling facade, all the while with knife prepped to stab the neighbor in the back. Our tongues lash out and we insult each other. While we may never take up the sword, it is true that such deep-seating anger and hatred, when allowed to fester, grows and can bring about ruin of life even amongst Christians.

There’s no hope for you within you. You need is a Divine smack-down. That’s what the holy Law does to the sinner, when it is preached and taught. It doesn’t just level the playing field, it obliterates it. There’s no playing the Law gamble. The odds are never in your favor. Pharisees and scribes alike will fail at the righteousness game. All are equally bound to trespasses and doomed to failure. All are in Egypt with no hope and no future apart from corruption, the grave, and eternal fires.

Horrible news, to be true, if that was the final word. Why does God destroy your false righteousness, your legalism, your hated of the Law, your hypocrisy? Why does He put the sinner to death? The Law is given to show you your sin and curb you from doing it. If you want it to be a list of moral precepts for the flesh to keep, you’re no better than the Pharisee or Scribe. The Law is the bright mirror that brings the inbred sin to light. By its threats, we fear judgment. This is good and God’s Holy Will. Why? Because it prepares us for the Gospel.

Knowing that we are murderers to the core is good and even loving. This knowledge is rightly given to us by our God to rebuke us and discipline us. This knowledge condemns the sinner to judgment, council, and the hell of fire. In other words, because we’re all murderers, we’re all dead according to the flesh. We’re dead in our trespasses. Dead people don’t keep the Law, not one jot or tittle.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? … We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For the one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:3ff)

Baptism is the daily drowning of the sinner in waters made holy by the Word. Baptism is the death of the sinner and the new life of the Christian. While the Holy Law crucifies the sinner, placing its just penalty for sin upon Jesus Christ. Our sin was granted to our Savior when we were baptized into Him. So also, our dead body, enslaved to sin and devil, was buried with Christ. Why? In order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life. 

The slavery is over. The self-justification is brought to end. All hatred, anger, and murder is crucified, died, and buried with Christ by your baptism. Baptism lifts the condemnation for our Fifth Commandment breaking and places it upon the perfect one, from whom no murderous thought, word, or deed was ever conceived. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Through daily contrition and repentance, the baptized saint of God has all anger, malice, and murder drowned to death. By the forgiveness of sins that is in Christ Jesus, baptized believers rise to new life again, a life dead to sin and alive to God. This is not your own doing. It is a gift of God, received in faith, and lived out in the life of the church.

This is why you ought to examine yourselves according to the Ten Commandments before the Divine Service. You will come to know by the Law schoolmaster the bondage of your flesh and your need for forgiveness. Then, as we prepare for worship through Confession and Absolution, the old flesh is crucified and by the Holy Absolution in the stead and by the command of Christ, the new man rises forth with love of God and love for neighbor.

If you there remember that your brother has something against you, that is, you have sinned against them, first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift, that is, offer your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the liturgy of the Word and Holy Sacrament. So also, if you have been sinned against, forgive the fellow brother in Christ, both in your heart and also with your tongue and in deed. Even if he will not hear or admit his fault, your forgiveness will be like burning coals upon his head.

We don’t need to relax the Commandments to think we have kept them. Nor should the new man in the Christian hate the Law of God because it is so severe. We now love the Law because it crucifies in us all evil passions and prepares us to receive the blessed Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. This is the love of God, to discipline and heal.

Love includes correction, sometimes in righteous anger such as with parents or government, and always with forgiveness. We forgive because He first forgave us at the cross, crucifying our flesh’s desires, and granted new life in Him. We love because Christ first loved us and gave His life as a ransom for many. We live because He lives. Create in us clean hearts, O God, hearts that forgive as we have been forgiven.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana