Sermon for February 25, 2018 - Levels of Meaning in the Bible - Part 1
The Ten Commandments seem fairly simple at first glance. Even the name, “Commandments”, seems to leave little to the imagination. These are the rules and you, as God’s people, will obey them. However, as with all scripture, God’s Truth exists on more than one level of understanding. From a historic framework, and from a scriptural and spiritual perspective, The Ten Commandments are far more than what they are when limiting them to a set of rules alone.
Historically speaking, one can understand, quite easily I suspect, why the laws of God were given, so forcefully, as commandments to his people. I will assume that you have a general understanding of the context in which the commandments were given. If you don’t, I encourage you to review the context of Exodus because it is vital to imagine what this time would have been like. This was not a time of peace, security, and civilization. This was a time survival, seeking, and insecurity.
To understand one level of meaning of the commandments, we can compare it to something more simple in our modern life. Just imagine a time when you and your family were relatively secure. There was no pressing threat to your lives and your day to day was fairly routine. In this context, you could explore ideas, experiment with new things you might like, and also allow your kids to play, ask questions, and even make mistakes. The stakes of wasting some time or making a few mistakes were not so important because you had at least some level of immediate security, even though not absolute or real from an existential point of view. However, for the sake of this illustration, you could take time, in this example, to understand some of the rules and ways of life without just obeying.
Now imagine waking up in the middle of the night to your house on fire. You develop a plan to save your family and you command your children to obey what you advise them to do. There isn’t time for questions, mistakes, or idle philosophizing. If one of your children stopped and asked why you chose one plan versus another, you would simply enforce the plan as you made it so that you could save their lives. It isn’t that you’re being mean, or that you don’t care about your child’s opinion, but that you are trying to save their lives first, and answer questions later. The parent’s commandments are guiding the family through a maze of potential death and they are to be obeyed first, and understood later.
So, the commandments were meant to save the lives, the spiritual lives most importantly, of God’s people in a time when their very physical, and spiritual, existence was being threatened. On this level, they are commandments and they are to be followed if you want to be with God and ‘survive’. It can be very easy to look back, from our modern perspective, and balk at simply obeying without understanding all the why’s and how’s etc. We often feel entitled to those intellectual luxuries because we have the time and physical security to ponder such things. But, again, put yourself in the burning house with your own family. The need for simple obedient action is clear- we can argue later. We can also understand this in the context of emergencies in our own individual, modern lives. You might be content to read the bible, say a nice prayer, ponder scripture, and go to bible study when things are good, or even bad but not THAT bad. However, when you are really in distress, when you’re losing all your common go to crutches that we all have in life, you look to God for answers and action. Period. You don’t hear the soldier in the fox hole crying out for an interpretation of verse so and so in the Book of Luke. He wants a way to safety and if given, he won’t ask questions. He’ll move faster than a man ever has once he’s shown the way out.
It is also important to highlight that this is before Christ. This is mankind being led by God before the Savior. God’s commandments were meant to lead his people back to him through a world on fire with sin that was not quenched by Jesus. This cannot be stated strongly enough. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually tries to lead people back to him and, without His saving Grace, the people continually fail, on one level or another. This is pointing to the absolute inability of man to reach God without his saving Grace. There is no person who has ever been able to find God, be one with God, based on his own merit and action.
There is another level of meaning to the commandments, however. It is a meaning which we arrive at when we consider the first example above, when our house is not on fire. It is a meaning in the context of Jesus Christ, who has smothered the fire of sin upon the world and given us a door to God’s Grace. Here, the commandments are not merely orders to obey, but a description of who we are as saved people, reunited with God through Grace. What this means is that, when one is saved, freed from sin through Christ, one no longer has to simply obey the commandments but one becomes the natural expression of the source of those commandments. This doesn’t mean that we can just go around killing and stealing because it doesn’t matter anymore. It means that, when we are truly freed, not just saved, through Christ, our nature is such that we naturally live what the commandments command.
Again, let’s use a more practical example to understand a seemingly lofty idea. Consider Christ’s teachings on the unifying and limitless truth of love which forms the basis of our existence. Love is a unifying force, Christ’s nature within all of us. Now, imagine that, being saved through the Grace of Christ, you were not only saved, but you experienced the realization of our oneness with each other, through Christ, in a real and abiding way in your everyday life. Don’t get caught up in how this might happen, but just imagine that you saw Christ in yourself, and in everyone else, in a profound and totally transformative way. Could you then kill another person? Could you steal from someone? Could you covet what they own? Would it even be possible? You wouldn’t have to obey these commandments any longer, and in fact, it would seem totally laughable to have such ideas as ‘commandments’. You would simply see these commandments as descriptions of your natural way of being. These are all things you do when you are no longer a fallen individual person but a saved soul living in the Grace of Christ.
This may seem totally unattainable, however, we all already exhibit this freedom in Christ in varying degrees. We see it in others, and ourselves, in everyday life. Perhaps we haven’t made it ‘all the way’ to realizing the Christ within, however, we must not ignore all the amazing ways Christ lives and acts in the world, through us and in us, simply because it isn’t perfect in our eyes all the time. This is, in fact, our true nature, given directly to us by God, as described by the commandments
You can apply this idea of different levels of meaning to both your understanding of the larger framework of the Bible, and to your daily life. Exploring the different levels of Truth God has provided to us allows us to persevere in our faith and ultimately be transformed by God’s Grace. Applying these levels of understanding to the Bible as a whole, using things like the differences in how people are led by God before Christ versus after Christ, can assist us in resolving apparent contradictions in scripture or personal difficulties in understanding differences in Biblical teaching. What may have seemed like contradictions before will suddenly seem like totally coherent truths simply expressed on different levels.
How do you use these ideas in your daily life? What is their practical application? When you’re in distress, when you’re at a loss and simply nothing makes sense, try to accept God’s word on the level of a command, a fail safe order from the divine. Surrender your need for understanding and self reliance and trust that God has given you his teachings, his very Son, to save you and bring you back to Him. Your house may be on fire, but you have the plan to make it through. Use His plan to get to safety first and then explore meaning later.
When you are feeling more secure, more connected to God, and actively faithful, take time to understand and experience the fullness of God’s word, and Christ’s saving Grace. Understand that you are already saved in Christ, even if you haven’t fully realized the Christ within on a moment to moment, day to day, way. Knowing that you are saved, live your life fully, let go of fear and anxiety, make some mistakes, and live the truth that you are created in the love of He who died for you. Christ has put out the fire in your house so that you can seek Him without the constant need for only obedient action.
You will naturally bounce between these two states. You’ll have days when your house is on fire and days when you feel like you live in the indestructible house Christ built for you- and many different feelings in between. Remember the tools God provided through His word and use them. God’s Truth exists not only in these meanings of the commandments but throughout the Bible, and in as many levels as are needed for each person’s spiritual well being.
God is constantly speaking to us if we can quiet ourselves and listen. He is in the Bible, in our relationships, in the smallest of moments we ignore all throughout each day. We explored just a couple perspectives, for just several verses in the Bible. Just this small amount could literally transform our lives. Imagine if you brought that awareness of God’s love for you into every aspect of your life.
In the next sermon, we’ll explore the Sermon on The Mount and delve deeper into the different levels of God’s Truth in scripture and how they apply to our lives. During the week, come back to this sermon, apply some of the ideas here and find your own unique level to find God. I promise you, He’ll be waiting.