Well today, I’m concluding, I’m wrapping up our whole series on the Ten Commandments, which we’ve been calling The Best Life Possible. And I don’t know about you, but I have learned a tremendous amount just by preparing the messages that I had a privilege of delivering. And also, from sitting under the teaching of my father, and Gary Smalley, and Jim Penner, as we all have together brought to you this series.
And today what we’re doing is I’m collapsing the last two, commandments nine and ten into one, and those are “thou shalt not bear false witness,” and “thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbors.” In other words, as we look at the Ten Commandments, as we believe we are supposed to do here at Crystal Cathedral, and also Jesus teaches us to do this through a positive lens, what is it that we’re supposed to do. Not only what are we not supposed to do, but what are we supposed to do to have the best life possible. And in this case, with these last two, it would be, be a good neighbor. Be a loving neighbor. That’s what you can do to help fulfill those last two commandments on “thou shalt not bear false witness,” and “thou shalt not covet anything that is they neighbors.” It’s about being a good, loving neighbor.
As I said a few weeks ago, in Matthew 5:22, Jesus said, “Words can kill.” And we have to take that and juxtapose that with this “thou shalt not bear false witness,” because words have power. Words can bring life or words can take life. We know that. And bearing false witness can kill reputations, self esteem and even the will to live in people. In fact, I’m a principal by trade, an administrator, that’s why I went and got my earned doctorate at UCI in educational administrative leadership because I care about our children, I care about our youth; I care about the generations to come. And whether or not we realize it, we have a societal plague right now, and it is serious, and I can’t preach on this “thou shalt not bear false witness” without talking about what this is.
Most of you grew up and many of you have faced bullying of some sort or another, where people have said things about you or to your face or behind your back, you were bullied.
Usually it comes from a low self esteem, the bully has the low self esteem and tries to raise up their self esteem by bringing down somebody else’ self esteem and attacking them. But this is a serious, serious world-wide plague.
And so what can we do about it? We can’t just ignore it. I don’t think that we as Christians and as a church can ignore the fact that this plague exists. And I personally cannot preach on not bearing false witness without mentioning it and raising your attention to it, and having you notice it and take it seriously because lives are being lost, reputations are being lost due to cyber bullying.
It’s gossip. Gossip is bearing false witness. And you know what? A lot of times, when we gossip and I will say we because I doubt that there’s a single person within the sound of my voice who hasn’t participated in gossip once or twice in their life. And gossip is frequently.. we think we we’re telling the truth when we gossip, don’t we. We don’t mean to, we aren’t intentionally trying to tell a false tale or lie about somebody, but a lot of times, when we talk about other people behind their back, which is what gossip is, we don’t know the whole story. And so people get hurt in the process.
For instance, there was a pastor who one day was at a home of one of his parishioners, and in front of the picture window of the house where he was, he was meeting with a woman from his congregation. And he gave her a hug in front of the window and just then, one of his other congregants happened to be walking on the sidewalk outside and happened to look in and she saw, horror of horrors, her pastor hugging another woman from the church. Well of course she went home and started calling and burned up the phone tree and said, ‘do you know what I just saw? I just saw Pastor Smith hugging Mrs. Jones. Whoa!’ You know?
Let me tell you, their reputations were sullied in the church and in the community, and everybody was talking about it. And people’s reputations were hurt and damaged because the truth of the matter was, that woman, that witness, and I will call her a false witness because she only saw a part of the picture. She saw what the frame of the window allowed her to see and only that. She saw a pastor hugging his parishioner. What she didn’t see outside of that frame down below was the hospital bed where the woman’s husband was lying on his last days, dying of cancer. And the fact that this pastor was there comforting a woman who was saying good bye for the last time, her final good bye to her husband. And it was a pastorly, comforting hug of comfort, nothing more. But the damage was done. And that’s the problem with gossip. That’s the problem with gossip, whether it’s done verbally or done on-line.
And it says.. that’s why I think the word, the law is really important, “thou shalt not bear false witness,” but again we want to look at this through the positive lens. So what does it mean to not bear false witness? Yes, we want to refrain from negative gossip, but what can we do? We need to look at this through the positive lens. How to not bear false witness, how not to covet your neighbor’s things is to be a good and loving neighbor. We can do that by living the law of loving, by spreading positive gossip. What if we did things like that? What if we posted positive gossip and spread positive gossip about people. That’s one way that we can give and be a loving, helpful neighbor.
I don’t know if you heard about the man who was waiting at the bus stop when all of a sudden he was mugged and left bleeding unconscious. Right there in a bus stop on a busy street and people walked past him and they didn’t stop to help him. In fact, one of the people who didn’t stop was a theology student. He was riding his bike and he was late for seminary, he had a big final coming up and he knew that his grade depended on him being there in time to pass his final. And as he saw the man lying there unconscious and bloody, he thought oh my goodness, but I can’t help him. Somebody else will. So he took his bike and he drove across the other side of the street and he prayed for him but rode on.
Also, there was a pastor who saw him lying there, and the pastor was in his car and saw that the light was getting ready to turn red. He saw the man, saw the light, he thought oh my goodness, I’ve got all these people at church waiting for me for a bible study tonight and I’m late for it. And he didn’t feel like he could stop, either. So he gunned the gas pedal and went through almost a red light, and he said I’ll make sure that we pray for him when we get to our bible study.
Meanwhile, an illegal immigrant saw the man lying there, and he crossed the street, dodging cars, almost being killed trying to get to the man to help him. And then he flagged down a policeman, risking being arrested and deported. This illegal immigrant was on his way to work so that his family could have a meal that night, but he gave up work for that day. He risked his life to help save the life of this man who was lying there.
Well I have to tell you, that’s not a true story. Aren’t you relieved to know that? But what it is, is I’ve just tried to do a modern day retelling of a story that Jesus taught about how to be a loving neighbor. In fact, this is the story.
On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
And he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But when he wanted to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
In reply, Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite.” (Levites were those who helped the priests.) “When he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan,” (in those days, in that context, a Samaritan was a second class citizen, a non Jew) “a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was, and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
“Which of these,” Jesus said, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Do you want to know how to be loving neighbor? Jesus has painted a portrait for all of us on how to be a loving neighbor. And then we have to say, but what about my enemies. Am I supposed to love my enemies, too? Sheila, I’ve got a feud going on with my neighbor over a fence. I’ve got a feud going on with my neighbor because of the dog barking. I’ve got a feud going on with a colleague because for whatever reason, they think I’m politic-ing against them, whatever, but what about our enemies? What about the people who have hurt us? Am I supposed to love them also? And Jesus said, “Yes, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” To be a loving neighbor means to love even your enemies and pray for them who persecute you.
You don’t have to go out there and make counter statements, you don’t have to do anything, Sheila, just keep loving people, just keep loving people, that’s all you need to do.
And there are times when I’ve thought, I don’t deserve this. How come someone said that to me? I haven’t done anything to deserve that. And the minute that thought crosses my mind, this is the model and the picture of Jesus that I immediately think of. I see my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ walking the Via Delarosa and He has that cross on His shoulder. And He is carrying the cross and people are beating Him, they are throwing things at Him, they are whipping Him, they are hurtling all kinds of evil insults against Him. And He just keeps taking one step after another, on His way to Calvary, knowing full well what lies ahead of Him, and He didn’t deserve it at all. And then, they put a crown of thorns on His head. They nailed nails through His hands and His feet. They hung Him and put swords in His side. He did nothing to deserve this. And what did He do? He hung there and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That’s the role model I follow to the best of my ability. I refuse to say anything and behave any other way, other than the way that I believe Jesus has taught me to do. I am here to follow my Lord.
You see as I conclude today, our message series on the Ten Commandments, I have to conclude with the cross, because you see the Ten Commandments are there to help us, they are there, they are the law that God has asked us to obey. And yet, as human beings, we can’t. We will fail. We will fall on our face. We will sin. But the good news is that God’s grace, because of Jesus Christ, because He picked up the cross, because He walked the Via Delarosa, because He was crucified, because He is risen from the dead, God’s grace erases all of our sin.
And so some of you, as you’ve listened to this message series, have said, but Sheila, what about me? I’ve committed adultery. What about me, Sheila, I’ve stolen. What about me, Sheila, what’s going to happen to me. I’ve told lies, I have borne false witness. What about me, Sheila? What about me? And the good news is that God’s grace erases that and God forgives you. That is His promise. And it’s because of the fact that we are saved. We can’t save ourselves by obeying the law. The scriptures are very clear on that, that it’s not by works, lest any man should boast. It is by grace alone, God’s grace alone that you are saved. So why do we follow the Ten Commandments? We follow them because we’re grateful to God for His son Jesus Christ who saves us. That’s why we follow them.
So people, the Ten Commandments, are they the way to the best life possible? Yes, but ultimately, the cross, the cross is the way, the way, to the best life possible.
Let us pray: Thank You Lord, thank You God our Heavenly Father, thank You for Your law, thank You for Your law that helps us, thank You for all it does for us, oh Lord. But most of all, we thank You for the grace of Your son Jesus Christ, the gift that You gave Him to us, to die for us so that we can be forgiven for every time we break Your law, and we’re unable to love You with all our heart, mind, soul and strength; all the times we’re not able to love our neighbors as our self. Thank You, Lord that You forgive us every day, always. You are the way, Jesus Christ. You are the only way to the best life possible. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.