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Sermon illustrations

The Ten Commandments

The Grievous Sin

In 1988, I (Randy) moved with my wife and two sons (ages two and eight weeks) from Texas to Sulawesi, an island north of Australia and south of the Philippines. We served as missionaries to a cluster of islands in eastern Indonesia until returning in 1996…While in Indonesia, I taught in a small, indigenous Bible college and worked with churches scattered from Borneo to Papua.

One day, I was sitting in a hut with a group of church elders from a remote island village off the coast of Borneo. They asked my opinion about a thorny church issue. A young couple had relocated to their village many years before because they had committed a grievous sin in their home village. For as long as they had resided here, they had lived exemplary lives of godliness and had attended church faith fully. Now, a decade later, they wanted to join the church.

“Should we let them?” asked the obviously troubled elders. Attempting to avoid the question, I replied, “Well, what grievous sin did they commit?”

The elders were reluctant to air the village’s dirty laundry before a guest, but finally one of them replied, “They married on the run.”

In America, we call that eloping.

“That’s it?” I blurted out. “What was the sin?”

Quite shocked, they stared at this young (and foolish) missionary and asked, “Have you never read Paul?”

I certainly thought I had. My Ph.D. was in Paul. They reminded me that Paul told believers to obey their parents (Eph 6:1). They were willing to admit that everyone makes mistakes. We don’t always obey.

But surely one should obey in what is likely the most important decision of his or her life: choosing a spouse. I suddenly found myself wondering if I had, in fact, ever really read Paul. My “American Paul” clearly did not expect his command to include adult children deciding whom to marry. Moreover, it was clear that my reading (or misreading?) had implications for how I counseled church leaders committed to faithful and obedient discipleship.

Taken from Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Copyright (c) 2012 by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The First Commandment and the Importance of Priorities 

The pastor J. Ellsworth Kalas begins his discussion of the first Commandment by discussing priorities, which of course, is at the heart of the first commandment:

The biggest issue in life is priorities.

You don’t have to be religious to know that. We all acknowledge it every day, dozens of times a day. It is the essence of life for us list-makers; we draw up the list of the things we plan to do, then start numbering them in order of priority. Those whose budget is stretched to the limits stack up their bills according to the priority rule, “Which creditor will be most heartless?” For some it gets no more existential than a box of chocolates: Do I eat the creams first. Or the caramels?

Most of us manage our priorities reasonably well at these levels. Interestingly enough, we also do pretty well at the frightening extremities of life.

If our house catches fire, for instance, we’ll probably decide quickly and incisively about what to carry out and what to leave behind. But life itself is a more complicated call. Renowned preacher and author George Buttrick came one day upon a farmer who had just retrieved a lost sheep. When Buttrick asked how sheep wander away, the farmer answered, ‘They just nibble themselves lost,” They go, he explained, from one tuft of grass to another, until at last they’ve lost their way. And that, of course, is what happens with life. Unless we purposely establish a structure of priorities, we will nibble away at each inconsequential tuft of decision until life is gone, and we have little idea of what has happened to it.

J. Ellsworth Kalas, The Ten Commandments From the Backside, Abingdon Press, 2013.

Mark Twain & The Ruthless Businessman

A businessman known for his ruthlessness, arrogance, and religiosity told Mark Twain that before he died he intended to visit the Holy Land, climb Mount Sinai, and read the Ten Commandments aloud. ‘I have a better idea,’ Twain replied. ‘Just stay here in Boston and keep them!’  We’d rather cogitate on what we don’t know, than act on what we know we need to do. 

Source Unknown

A Poignant, if not “Stinging,” Parable on the Importance of Honoring your Parents

The fifth commandment does not by any means deny that honored assumption, but it does turn it around for another viewing. It reminds children that when they care for their parents—“honor” them is a wonderfully inclusive word—they are really caring for themselves.

The Brothers Grimm put that truth in a rather stinging fairy tale. Once there was a little old man, of trembling hands and feeble eyes, whose uncertain table habits became increasingly offensive to the daughter-in-law with whom he lived, until one day she objected vigorously to her husband, the old man’s son.

She and her husband took the fumbling old man to a corner of the kitchen, set him on a stool, and gave him his food in an earthenware bowl. Now he was no longer troubling them by his dribbled food; now the tablecloth was no longer soiled by his trembling behavior.

One day, in his trembling, he dropped the bowl and broke it. Now the daughter-in-law ceased even her moderate civility. ‘If you are a pig,” she said, “you must eat from a trough.” And they made a little wooden trough, and he ate from it.

The pride of their lives was their own four-year-old son. One evening they noticed the boy playing with blocks of wood in the serious fashion which children so often invest in their play—

When the father asked what he was doing, the boy said with an engaging smile, “I’m making a trough to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big.”

For a while the man and woman just looked at each other, not saying anything. Then they cried; and then they went to the corner and led the little old man back to his place at the table. They gave him a comfortable chair, and put his food on a plate. And never again were they really, deeply troubled by the food he spilled or by the dishes he occasionally broke. They had learned that, in honoring a parent, they possessed their own futur

J. Ellsworth Kalas, The Ten Commandments From the Backside, Abingdon Press, 2013.

Revealing Our Basic Behavior Pattern

Our cars are parables of their owners. We too are wonderfully made, complex physically and even more so psychologically and spiritually. For us, too, there is a maker’s handbook—namely, God’s summary of the way to live that we find in the Ten Commandments. Whether as persons we grow and blossom or shrink and wither, whether in character we become more like God or more like the devil, depends directly on whether we seek to live by what is in the Commandments or not.

The rest of the Bible could be called God’s repair manual, since it spells out the gospel of grace that restores sin-damaged human nature. But it is the Commandments that crystallize the basic behavior pattern that brings satisfaction and contentment, and it is precisely for this way of living that God’s grace rescues and refits us.

J.I.Packer, Keeping the Ten Commandments, Crossway.

How The Ten Commandments Help Us Turn to Christ

Suppose someone says: “I try to take the Ten Commandments seriously and live by them, and they swamp me! Every day I fail somewhere. What am I to do?” The answer is: now that you know your own weakness and sin-fulness, turn to God, and to his Son Jesus Christ for pardon and power. Christ will bring you into a new kind of life, in which your heart’s deepest desire will be to go God’s way, and obedience will be burdensome no longer. 

That folk who take the law as their rule might find Christ the Savior as their Ruler is something to pray and work for. God’s love gave us the law just as his love gave us the gospel, and as there is no spiritual life for us save through the gospel, which points us to Jesus Christ the Savior, so there is no spiritual health for us save as we seek in Christ’s strength to keep the law and practice the love of God and neighbor for which it calls. 

Suppose people generally began to say, “By God’s help I will live by the Ten Commandments every day from now on. I will set myself to honor God and obey him. I will take note of all that he says. I will be in church for worship each week. I will not commit adultery or indulge myself in lust or stir up lust in others. I will not steal, nor leave the path of total honesty. I will not lie or cheat. I will not envy or covet.” Community life would be transformed, and massive national problems would dissolve overnight. It is something more to pray and work for.

J.I.Packer, Keeping the Ten Commandments, Crossway.

See also illustrations on The Law, The Old Testament