The religious leaders of Jesus’ time had come up with so many rules and regulations, many of them man-made, that they needed religious lawyers to interpret them all. Then each rabbi or teacher had his opinion of which were the most important. But when one of those lawyers asked Jesus for His opinion about which laws were the greatest, He basically said, I’ll do you one better, I’ll sum them all up for you!
Also, we are repeatedly warned, even in the New Testament, to avoid idolatry. In fact, we’re warned to flee from it. But giant statues aren’t the only kind of idols. Read about a brand of idolatry with which we may all struggle: idolatry of the heart.
Exodus 19 & 20
A Summary of God’s Law
All the Law & the Prophets
In Matthew 22.36 Jesus was asked, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” He answered, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” In other words, all the Old Testament laws and all that the prophets said can be summed up in this, “love God and love others.”
Notice He said the second is like the first. It all comes from the same heart attitude and we demonstrate the first to a large degree by doing the second.
If we truly love God, we won’t worship other things or use His name in vain and we will want to spend time worshiping Him.
If we love others, we won’t commit murder or respond to them in anger which Jesus called murder in the heart (Matt. 5:21-22). We won’t lie or steal from them. If we love our sister we won’t commit adultery with or even lust after her husband. We won’t covet what someone else has, instead we’ll rejoice in their blessings.
John said, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20-21).
We won’t do these things perfectly—that’s the point of the Gospel—we could never keep the law perfectly. But we can “fulfill the law” by what John MacArthur calls “gracious obedience.” In his book, How to Study the Bible, he says, “… if He sees a sincere and loving and humble willingness to obey; if He sees a positive response to His Word, even though there are times when we fail, then He counts us as obedient because that’s the spirit in our hearts. Even though our gracious obedience may be filled with defects, it’s the proper attitude that God is after.” This is God’s mercy and grace towards us and the heart of the Gospel message.
Today’s Other Readings:
Exodus 19 & 20
The Ten Commandments
In chapter 19 God displays His power and majesty so that the people will have no doubt that He is God and that Moses is His representative. The need for them to be outwardly clean was a visual representation of the inward cleanliness with which they were to approach a Holy God.
The first command is “Have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20.3). This, of course, was a prohibition against worshiping false gods of any kind. It was spoken to people in a culture where most nations believed in and worshiped many gods, polytheism.
The second was to “Make no images, no likenesses of anything in heaven or on earth” (Ex. 20.4). They were not to make an image of anything that was in heaven (angels, God Himself, or people who had gone to heaven) or on earth (man, woman, animals, or anything else). This command does not forbid artistic expression but forbids the use of these items as part of our worship.
Idols of the Heart
We must also guard against idols of the heart: things that are more important to us than God.
Ezekiel 14 says, “these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity” (v. 3).
“Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations. For anyone of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who separates himself from Me and sets up his idols in his heart and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, then comes to a prophet to inquire of him concerning Me, I the LORD will answer him by Myself. I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of My people. Then you shall know that I am the LORD'” (Ezek. 14:6-8).
Think about that phrase, “[he] puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity.” If you take something, even a good thing, and put it in front of your face, it’s hard to see anything else, including God. And when we stop looking to God and begin focusing on the thing that we want, it can quickly become an idol. It’s alright to pray for those things, but they cannot become the focus of our lives. God must always be enough!
Elyse Fitzpatrick has a great book on the subject of idols of the heart entitled Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone. You can read more about it at the bottom of this post.
Sins of the Fathers
One verse that frequently raises questions is Exodus 20:5:
… For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.
What does it mean “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations”? We must remember to read all Scripture in light of other Scripture. The Bible does not contradict itself, rather other passages can open our understanding.
One of the rules of good Bible study is to let the Bible interpret itself.
Moses said in Deuteronomy 24:16:
“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.”
So it’s clear from that passage that children are not punished for their parents’ sins. Ezekiel 18 reiterates that fact.
So what does it mean that the sins of the fathers are “visited” on the children? Though God doesn’t hold children accountable for their parents’ sins, children are greatly affected (“visited”) by their parents’ lifestyles. When we live a sinful or hypocritical lifestyle, our children often suffer the consequences (growing up in an abusive home or a baby being born to a crack-addicted or aids-infected mother). And while they are ultimately responsible for their own choices, children raised in an ungodly environment will often repeat the same behavior. I believe today we are seeing the effects of our lifestyles in the 60’s and 70’s and beyond. Sadly, even what we do in, so-called moderation, our children will often do in excess.
Remember the Sabbath
What about the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8)? The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are not required to keep this command as dictated under the Mosaic law (Col. 2:16; Acts 20:7; Rom. 14:5-6), but the principle of Sabbath rest should still be followed. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). We need times of rest and time set aside to focus on God.
While we are not under the Mosaic law, it doesn’t mean that we should take church attendance lightly, either. In fact, the writer of Hebrews said:
“not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
All Glory to Him
It’s so easy when life is going well and we are experiencing success, to take the credit for it ourselves, but in these verses, David gave all the glory to God.
Instruction in the Way of Life
Verse 23, “For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life.”
God’s Word and His correction are always for our good.
In the coming days, we’ll talk about the seriousness of promises, look at pride, religious pretenders, and the devastating effects of adultery.
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Today’s Featured Resources:
Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Do you feel discouraged, even defeated, in your battle against habitual sin? Are you dismayed or surprised by the situations that bring out your fear, anger, or distress? Elyse Fitzpatrick delves into the heart of the problem: deep down, we’re all idol-worshippers who put our loves, desires, and expectations in God’s placeand then suffer the consequences of our misplaced affections. Yet God loves his people and can use even our messy lives and struggles for his glory. Fitzpatrick shows us how to better search and know our hearts, long for our gracious Savior, and resist and crush our false gods. Includes questions for further thought. Revised edition.
How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur
The Bible is the Word of life. As such, studying the Bible is crucial to the life and growth of every believer. In this revised work, John MacArthur examines various Scripture passages in the Old and New Testament to answer both the “why” and the “how” questions of Bible study.
How to Study the Bible can be used alongside or apart from the audio series available from Grace to You in either a personal or group study.
- Corresponds with the audio message series available from Grace to You
- Features revised content and study questions
- For personal or group study use