MAY 10 2015

The Second Commandment


Our Scripture reading this morning is Exodus 20:4-6. 


[I. Introduction] We have recently seen all the blessings that accompany God’s law and how even the presence of God’s law in our homes will bring a blessing. Yes, I asserted that the physical presence of God’s law displayed prominently in our homes would bring a blessing. Some of you might think that it is superstitious to think or believe such a thing. It wasn’t superstitious for Obed-edom. We saw, from  2 Samuel 6, that just the physical presence of the ark of the covenant (the primary portion of which is the law of God) brought great blessing to him and his household. I am not a superstitious person. I used to purposely walk under ladders and laugh at black cats crossing my paths. Whenever the televangelists and other preachers make strange statements about what will happen or not happen if you do this or don’t do that, I pay no attention. But I do believe that the physical presence of God’s law will bring a blessing because it is seen in God’s word and the Lord honors his law so highly. Therefore, I continue to encourage you that, if you have not yet done so, to frame and display the ten commandments in your home. Put me to the test. Show me that no blessing came when you do this.


As good as it is to have the law of God upon our walls, God is after more than this. He is after having the law upon our hearts. When the law gets from our walls to our hearts even more blessings will follow. What are those blessings? We revealed those beforehand.


The greatest blessing that the law bestows is that it shows us what love is. People have all sorts of strange and distorted notions of what love is. But God’s law reveals what real love is. It is a document of love!


  • It reveals God’s love towards us.
  • It shows us what love for God looks like.
  • And, it teaches us how to demonstrate our love for one another.
  • We did not talk about this but, truth be told, the law even reveals how to love ourselves. The one who follows God’s law loves themselves in the best way, because God’s law is so good for us.


The greatest blessing that the law bestows is that it shows us what love is. 


Other blessings of the law are that it will cause us to:


  • Yield fruit in its season. That means seeing the fruit of our labor.
  • Our leaf will not wither. This means that we will be able to heal people’s broken lives.
  • We will prosper. This means that we will prosper in many different ways.


Because there are so many blessings associated with God’s law we should seek to understand it and live it. Our love for the Lord will bring about, spontaneously, a living out of His law. Although our love for the Lord will enable us to live for Him, we still need to understand what the law actually says. Therefore, we are considering the commandments and this morning we are looking at the second commandment.


Before we consider the meaning of this commandment it is good to address the Lord’s comment upon it. In verse 5 the Lord says that he is a jealous God. We looked at that last week because his jealousy explains the first commandment as well as the second. Then he goes on to say that he “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.” What does that mean? Does it mean that if a father is wicked or bad that his children, grandchildren, and great-grand children will be cursed?  No. It cannot mean that because in Ezekiel 18:20 we read:   The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.


Do these verses contradict themselves? At first blush it may seem that way. The other explanation though is in the meaning of the phrase “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon…”.  When we read Ezekiel 18 it becomes clear that it refers to a supernatural intervention upon those who obey God and, similarly, those who disobey God. Those who obey will live. That is, God’s hand will be upon them to protect them. Those who are unrighteous will die. God will remove his hand of protection.


God declares that this supernatural visitation does not pass from generation to generation in Ezekiel 18. Therefore, the promise of our passage this morning, Exodus 20:5-6, must be a natural visitation. In other words, all sin has a “domino” effect. Sin does not only affect the one who does the sin. It affects those around the perpetrator, especially family members who are most frequently exposed to the sin. Parents ought to ponder the affects of their own sins upon their children. Sinful habits are observed by children and they are influenced by them. They often take up the bad habits of their parents.


This is what the passage means. Therefore, we parents ought to take special care in seeking to live out God’s law and rid ourselves of hypocritical habits – for the sake of our children if for nothing else. And children, if you observe a weakness in your parents, do not just complain about it and then take it up in your own life. That is the way many people react to human failure, even though it is contradictory. They will at first complain about it, but then they will themselves begin to practice it.


I was not raised in a Christian family. But even as a child I knew the difference between right and wrong. Most children do. My mother was an alcoholic and I observed her irreverent behavior as a youngster. I found it so repugnant that I vowed that I would never behave in such a way. So, long before I became a Christian I distanced myself from all alcoholic beverages. So, children, when you see your parents sins (and you will) do not complain about them. Pray to your heavenly Father about them. Neither take them up. Never use the excuse that your parents did it so you will, too. Resolve to live free from that thing that you see as wrong.


[II.] Have you ever seen that there is a positive and a negative aspect to every command? Most have noted that in the ten commandments there are eight negative commands (“You shall not…”) and only two positive commands (You shall remember the Sabbath and you shall honor your father and mother.). One can draw some interesting conclusions from this fact.  But there is not as big of a difference between a positive command and a negative one as one might think. This is because whether a command is positive or negative it necessarily implies the opposite.


For example, the first commandment, You shall have no other God’s before Me, necessarily means that we should worship the true God. Of course, that command is found elsewhere in Scripture.


The seventh commandment, You shall not commit adultery, necessarily implies that we should love our husband or wife fully. Of course, that command is found elsewhere in Scripture.


[A.] The negative side is explicitly stated. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.


Does this mean that a person cannot make any carved image at all so that all statues are sinful. Does it mean we should never look at a statue? It also says that we should make “no likeness of anything in heaven above or in the earth beneath. So, that would exclude photographs, paintings, and movies. Should we refrain from not only making them but also viewing them?


This is not the intent of the command at all. We know this for two reasons. First, God Himself commanded that small statues of cherubim (those are angels) be placed upon the ark. Obviously, God is not going to give a command and then, nearly at the same time, give another command that directly contradicts it. Second, the context makes clear what is forbidden. It is not just making an image, but it is making it and bowing down to it. In other words, it is making an image for the purpose of worshipping.


The main idea behind this command is not to prevent worshipping false gods. That is covered by the first command. The main purpose of this command is to prevent  corruption in worshipping the true God. Alistair Begg has said, “The first commandment forbids the worship of any false god, and the second demands that we do not worship the true God in an unworthy manner.”


[1.] What is explicitly forbidden is the making of carved images to “help” us worship God. Verse 5 says that we are not to bow down to them. Yet, this is exactly what practitioners of Roman Catholicism do. Although my parents were not practicing Catholics they nevertheless required that my step-brother and I attend. As a six or seven year old I remember bowing down to statues and praying.


The population of the Philippines is predominantly Catholic. When I was courting Josie in the Philippines over twenty years ago I saw people kneeling, praying and kissing statues of Mary, Joseph, and Santo Nino (Baby Jesus). One of my trips there coincided with the Festival of Santa Nino in the second largest city in the Philippines, Cebu. One of Josie’s uncles, a priest, was presiding with others over the festivities. There was a procession through the streets with thousands of people attending and they were carrying a statue of Santa Nino, baby Jesus. People were falling down before it and no other word can describe their actions except worship. I was trying to be polite by my attendance but my spirit was provoked within me. I started becoming nauseas. I had to get up and leave. I returned when it was over. That festival was a clear example of disobedience to the second commandment. However, all praying or kneeling towards a statue is a violation of the commandment.


Why? It is because God cannot be expressed by any statue or any image. His greatness and His fullness not only cannot be captured by any image, but any image distorts who He is. Therefore, he wisely forbids it.


It is easy for evangelicals to take note of such actions and express disapproval because we may think that we are above that sort of thing. It is always easier to talk about the sins of others when we think we are far removed from them. When there are sins that affect us more closely we are apt to be more careful in our denunciations. Although this command explicitly mentions physical images it implies that any image of God that is not in accordance with His word would be against His will.  For example, what if a Catholic realized that it was sinful to pray and bow down to a statue simply by reading this commandment in his/her Bible? So, they stopped doing that. But then in their time of prayer they are imagining an image of Mary, Joseph, or Santo Nino. Would this then be acceptable? Of course not! The Lord is concerned about our hearts! The command gets to our hearts.


[2.] But we evangelicals can also distort who God is by our imaginations. A common imagining of who he is: All love and little or no accountability. God is so characterized by love, it is true, that the Bible says that “God is love.” But this does not mean that he does not possess other attributes such as holiness and justice. To imagine God as being only love is to create a mental image of Him that is false. It is a violation of the second commandment.


We must be careful to think of God in the ways that He has revealed Himself and not in accordance with the way we would like Him to be.


So, the commandment prohibits both physical images and mental images. Those are the negative aspects.


[B.] The positive aspect of the commandment is that we are to love the Lord our God and worship Him in the way he reveals. He shows steadfast love to those who love Him (vs 6). God is not only after not worshipping Him through images. He is after our hearts – hearts that love Him and worship Him rightly.


This commandment is at the heart of the greatest commandment. What is the greatest commandment? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”


We have already spoken about loving the Lord. It is, in a way, the key to everything. (If you missed last week’s message please read it and pray over it.) Presently, let us consider positively worshipping Him in the way He has directed.


In John chapter 4 Jesus is in a conversation with the woman at the well. She asks him the question about the right place to worship God. Is it in Jerusalem or Samaria? Jesus answers her.            God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)


The first edition of the Recovery Version translates this verse: “God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and reality.” The word from which “truth” is translated is alathea. A good Greek lexicon reveals that both “truth” and “reality” are meanings. I like that translation. More importantly, it is an accurate rendering. We will return to that word shortly.


[1.] We must worship Him in spirit. It is not enough to worship Him with our bodies. It is a good thing to get our bodies involved in our worship. Falling on our knees is a good thing. It expresses humility and service. Raising our hands is a good thing it expresses honor and praise. Dancing is good. It expresses joy. David danced before the Lord. We need more expressions of worship. We should also engage our lips and our minds. But it is not enough to worship God with our minds. We must worship Him with that innermost part of who we are. We must worship him with our human spirit. We must contact our spirit and engage it when we worship. Put away a worship that is just a formality.


[2.] We must also worship Him in reality. What does that mean?


  • It means that God does not desire a worship that is out of a sense of obligation only. If that is all that our worship is then it is not real.
  • It must be genuine and with our whole heart.
  • It means that we recognize that there is nothing more real than God and our worship to him, when genuine, is the greatest reality.


I said that the word from which reality, or truth, is translated is alathea. It carries the meaning of that which is real, of which we just spoke. But it also carries the meaning of truth: what is objectively true. Scripture is our source of what is true when it comes to God. Jesus said, “Thy word is truth.” Therefore, our worship must also be in accordance with Scripture.


[3.] When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well he first told her that he had living water. She did not understand what he was saying when he told her this. He then says that those who worship God must worship him in spirit and in reality. If she believed into Christ she would be able to contact God the Spirit with her spirit and that is to drink the living water…living and drinking the water is to render real worship to God.


When we worship God in spirit, we worship him in reality. We drink the living water.


[Conclusion] Yes, the second commandment forbids us to bow down to images. We must also guard our hearts so that we do not create ideas of God that are not true or incomplete. For this, we must come to be familiar with Scripture which reveals who God is.


But the commandment has a positive meaning. We must worship God in the proper way, the way that is best, the way he desires. That is to worship him with our human spirit. If we do that then we drink the living water and we worship him in reality.


Brothers and sisters, we can do that on Sunday morning. But not only on Sunday morning. Every morning. Every morning and throughout every day. Worship is not something that only happens on Sunday. Worship is all of life. If it hasn’t been, it can be.