Why the Ten Commandments Matter in 2015

© 2015 Ginger Hertenstein
February 1, 2015
Why the Ten Commandments Matter in 2015, Sage Advice from James
James 2:8-13, 4:11-12
Read also Leviticus 19:1-18. Check out the service at www.fpcd.org.
How much do you think people know about Christianity? A few years ago Jay Leno periodically
went on the streets of Burbank and interviewed people about their Bible knowledge. Take a look.
VIDEO: “Leno Bible”
Are you surprised at how little people know about the first family, the birth of Jesus, the number
of apostles, and so on?
What do people typically say about Christians?
A study done in 2008 by LifeWay Research reported that “A full 72 percent of the people
interviewed said they think the church ‘is full of hypocrites.’ At the same time, however, 71
percent of the respondents said they believe Jesus ‘makes a positive difference in a person’s life’
and 78 percent said they would ‘be willing to listen’ to someone who wanted to share what they
believed about Christianity.”1
At the same time, this study reports that “many unchurched adults don't have a biblical
understanding about God and Jesus.” They believe things like “all gods are the same,” or your
opinion drives the character of your god. Have you ever heard people say, in response to hearing
about what God is like, “My God wouldn’t do that, or my god is not like that.” That statement
indicates a belief that to stick to God’s character as defined in the Bible is to be intolerant. That
is, rather than God defining himself as found in the Bible, the definition of God is driven by a
person’s opinion.
During the time James lived, circumstances were largely like this. The Jews were a minority
religion with these strange laws and a very different God. Other cultures had a plethora of gods.
These gods were defined by people. But Jesus had come with a very specific view of God. He
stated that he knew God intimately and Jesus freely described what he was like and what God
was not like.
This is really a gift to us that the Bible tells us what God is like. It is a gift of truth. We may not
understand all of what God is like but we know what God expects, and while there is mystery
about God, we can be securely happy because God is good, and we can grow into his goodness
The new Christian faith was exploding on the scene. Many people were responding, and while
many had the Jewish foundation of the Old Testament, others had no background at all. James
writes these words in this context. Perhaps it is not that different from our context. READ James
2:8-13 and James 4:11-12
Audrey Barrick, “How Do Unchurched Americans View Christianity?” in The Christian Post, January 9,
2008, http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-do-unchurched-americans-view-christianity-30793/, accessed
January 21, 2015.
© 2015 Ginger Hertenstein
February 1, 2015
Why the Ten Commandments Matter in 2015, Sage Advice from James
James 2:8-13, 4:11-12
James might as well have been writing in response to the LifeWay survey. He is saying, “This
God is very well defined. He’s the one whose law says, “Love you neighbor as yourself.”
Not all gods are concerned about this. There are other religions and other gods.
James says the law of God, which is summarized by “love your neighbor as yourself” is so
important that each command calls for obedience. The law reflects so much of who God is that
loving God and loving neighbor are synonymous. We might state God’s words this way: “Love
me, love my law, love your neighbors, who are as special to me as you are.”
James’s audience struggled with obeying all the laws. They were selective. They gave some
people—wealthy people—preferential treatment and ignored others.
Do we do the same? Do we show favoritism to people with power, or wealth, or a particular race,
or popularity?
CS Lewis, a famous man whom people loved because he was never prideful, wrote a marvelous
essay about this subject called “The Inner Ring.”
Lewis said that in all realms of life, some people are “in” and some are “out.” You discover this
sometime early on in school. It is prevalent he says in every room; on the job, in college, in the
courts, in the hospital, in the church. All of us at some point desire to be “in” and greatly fear the
rejection of being left outside the Ring.
That’s what James was describing. Lewis calls it a perennial problem. It does not seem to be
breaking a commandment, but it is. It causes Christians to judge others to make themselves
better than someone else.
It’s kind of this “one-up-man-ship.” Have you ever experienced that?
So to make me feel better about my own failure to obey the commandments, it’s very easy to
look at someone else and say, “He doesn’t keep the law.”
Those judgmental Christians. (Of course we don’t have the corner on judgment!)
Once when I was a child I did something that made me feel guilty. So I went to my mother and
told her my brother had done it. I believe I did this more than once. But eventually she always
found out the truth; and it came back to haunt me.
Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you
will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7:1-2).
When Christians are hypocritical, it harms the reputation of Jesus Christ.
A young woman goes to the store to return something. She’s wearing a shirt which says “The
King’s Daughter,” First Community Church Women’s Retreat. She hands the clerk a pair of
pants and says she needs to return them because they shrank. The receipt is over 30 days old. The
© 2015 Ginger Hertenstein
February 1, 2015
Why the Ten Commandments Matter in 2015, Sage Advice from James
James 2:8-13, 4:11-12
clerk was one of those sticklers who acts like she owns the store. She says, “It’s been more than
30 days. You cannot return them.” The woman is upset. She insists. She won’t take no for an
answer. She raises her voice and demands her money back. She’s going to exert all her power to
win this fight. She calls for the manager and complains about the clerk’s rudeness. The manager
backs the clerk. Afterwards, the clerk smirks, saying, “Ha, I told you.” The clerk wears a yellow
bracelet that says “Smile, God loves you.”
Jesus said, “And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own?
How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’
when you can't see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own
eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye” (Mt 7:3-5).
James advises, “If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing the law. If you
judge the law, you judge God. Your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to
you.” That agrees with Jesus who said:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed
down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be
the measure you get back” (Lk 6:37-38).
James advises instead of judging, apply mercy.
Scott McConnell with LifeWay Research said, “These outsiders are making a clear comment that
churches are not getting through on the two greatest commandments,” to love God and love your
neighbor.” Perhaps it is not as hard to succeed as we think. Maybe it is not the big things, like
adultery and murder, but the little things, like how we conduct ourselves with a store clerk, or
hurtful gossip with our friend about another person.
As you go forth today, remember why the Ten Commandments matter in 2015. People who
don’t know God don’t go to church and know very little about the Bible. But they are willing to
have a conversation with you. When you follow the law as best you can, when you have mercy
and do not judge their failures but speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law, you
are loving your neighbor, and that powerfully points them to God.
Out of your love for God are you willing to follow James’s advice?