I hate rules.
I used to love them. I was a little goody-two-shoes when I was little, always looking for ways to get that little burst of happiness that came when I knew I was pleasing some authority figure.
But as I got older, the thought of someone telling me what I could do with my own time and my own body pissed me off more and more. I know what I’m doing. I can do what I want. I don’t need anyone encroaching on the way I like to do things.
I guess that’s why it’s hard to obey God’s rules. They literally say the opposite: “You don’t know what you’re doing. You can’t do what you want. The way you like to do things has to change.”
Take the Ten Commandments. In Deuteronomy 5, Moses restates the Ten Commandments to the Israelites as part of his sermon. He retells the story of how the Israelites received the Ten Commandments straight from the finger of God. He reminds them to follow them. “Be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left” (verse 32).
Do I have to?
Maybe it’s just me, but somewhere along the way I got the impression that the Ten Commandments were easy to obey. They’re like the beginner’s level of being a Christian. So I don’t think about them much.
But as I reread them in Deuteronomy 5, I was surprised by how many of the commandments directly conflict with things I genuinely like to do.
Like, for example, the third one. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” (verse 11). I’ve always been taught that this means, among other things, that you can’t say things like “oh my god”.
But I like saying that. It adds force to whatever emotion I’m trying to express, in a way “oh my gosh” doesn’t. And it feels a little silly to say “oh my god”, and then cover your mouth, and say “I mean, oh my gosh”. Is it really that serious?
Or take the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (verse 18). Let me very quickly say that I don’t enjoy committing adultery – not in the way everyone thinks of. I’m not after anyone’s husband or wife.
But another thing I’ve been taught is that adultery isn’t just the act of sexual intercourse with someone else’s spouse, it’s also any kind of sexual involvement with someone who isn’t your spouse.
So sex with your boyfriend, sex with your girlfriend, or even sexual fantasies about someone who you’re not married to – all of that falls under the seventh rule.
So again I say, I hate rules. I don’t like things that decrease my options, that take something that excites me and rips it away from me.
How do I change that?
Three words, eight letters
When’s the last time you did something you didn’t want to?
Maybe you stayed on the phone with someone for a couple of hours. Maybe you went to bed early. Maybe you bought somebody something with your hard-earned money.
I bet that every single time you did something you didn’t want to, it was because of love. Love for yourself or love for someone else.
And love is the foundation of the Ten Commandments. Not just because it takes love to follow them, but because it was love that gave them.
The first part of Deuteronomy 5 calls the Ten Commandments a “covenant”. I love that word. It’s not a “contract”, it’s a “covenant”, made by two people who care so much about each other that they want to get it down in writing how good they’re going to treat each other.
And in this covenant, you can already tell one Party is in love, not just because what He’s asking is for the other party’s benefit, but also because He promises so much goodness. He promises love and life and blessings and the unending miracle that is having the power of the only God in our lives (verses 16, 33).
So what do we, the other half of this covenant, have to offer in return?
Do we cling to our “freedom” and our “excitement” – and our loneliness and pain? Or do we accept the covenant in exchange for something greater, love?
“My rules are my heart.”
A Korean word I like is jinsim. It means “sincerity”. I like how it’s used in Korean sentences, when translated sounding like you’re saying that someone “gave their sincerity” or “showed their sincerity”. It makes me think of someone revealing themselves, their hearts.
Our heavenly Father showed His jinsim in His commandments.
You see it in verse 9, when He says He’s a “jealous God”. He wants our hearts to be His. He doesn’t want us to give ourselves to false gods or idols.
You see it in verse 29, when He cries out, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever”.
You see it throughout all of His commandments. When you look and listen closely, His heart is clear: “I just want them to have joy.” “I just want them to have peace.”
When we think of and believe God’s heart and His sincerity, His rules don’t seem like a drag. They don’t seem to take away our freedom or sap the excitement out of our lives.
They put something new, something beautiful in. They introduce a new kind of freedom, not based on our human, naive wants, but based on divine wisdom.
I want that. I want to follow His rules.
What do you think? What do you think of as you read the Ten Commandments? Comment below or share this with someone.
2 thoughts on “What it really means to be free (Deuteronomy 5)”
At the root of us viewing God’s commandments as rules that kill our joy is the misunderstanding of Who God is. I love the way you put it in the covenant part. It’s all out of love that God gives us these commandments, for our good and benefit, for real joy and purpose in life. He made us and He knows best what will work for us.
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Absolutely! The ten commandments are “the perfect law of liberty”. God’s ways will lead us into true freedom.
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