The Second Table of the Law

Audio: Lenten Midweek III

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, worker?” Are you a pastor or a hearer? A governor or a citizen? The Law is the same, but the way it gets done in each of our lives is different. In each of the Commandments is a gift that God gives, around which He sets the commandments as walls to guard those gifts. The gifts of parents, life itself, marriage, property, and reputation are gifts that we do not give ourselves. They are from God alone, and therefore, we do not have the right to take them from someone else, to whom God has given them. To despise and disobey parents is to despise and disobey God. We cannot give life, so to take it away immediately by murder, or more slowly by refusing to help those in need, is to despise the God who creates life. Marriage is the very first gift, after life, given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, and so it is the entire basis for the family and for human society and community. We cannot damage marriage—our own or others’—without, in small or large ways, damaging the family and human society as a whole. God gives property in different ways in different times or places, but we may not steal or covet what God has given to others, without distrusting the God who gives all things to us. Reputation is a gift that is easy to lose but hard to protect, and when we gossip about other people, when we do not put the best construction on what others say and do, we are damaging the reputations that God has given, to others as well as to you.

Within the walls of each of these commandments are the gifts that God gives to each one of us, and your love for your neighbor is summarized by each one of these commandments. We love our spouses by acting chastely toward them, and we love other people by acting chastely toward their spouses or future spouses. If God has not given that person to you as husband or wife, don’t pretend or act like He has. We love our children by raising them in the fear and instruction of the Lord, and we love our parents and other authorities by honoring and obeying them, according to the positions of authority into which God has put each of them. We love our neighbors by protecting their lives according to our vocations: feeding and taking care of children if we are parents; protecting and defending, if we are police or military; giving to care for the physical needs of people when we have the opportunity. We love our neighbors by protecting their reputations and property, and helping them keep what God has given to them.

Only you know the ways God has given you to love your neighbors according to these commandments. You alone know, as father or mother to those children; son or daughter to those parents; husband or wife to that spouse; worker in that job; pastor or hearer in this congregation—you know what you have been given to do because there are people who need things from you. To do those specific actions for specific people in specific situations is the definition of love. And it is a wondrous thing to consider how God has set everything up, so that He provides for all people by means of other people. From husband and wife, to family, to congregations, to local communities, to people in our state and country, to people in the world, God uses each of us as unique masks to serve particular people. And that love will never end: it may change as we change jobs, or as we get married and begin a family, or as our children get married and move out, or as we come into contact with people who need what God has given to us, but the fact that we are to love those people never ends. Love carries with it demands from people that we can never finish or complete. That, in itself, would be enough for despair as we consider our places in life, our vocations, according to these commandments. We have not only failed in our love for others, but we can never complete the responsibilities given to us. Just as our love for our neighbor looks different depending on our vocations, so also our confessions of sin look different according to our vocations. That’s why we are here, tonight and each week: we confess our sins according to our vocations as we examine ourselves in light of God’s Law, and then Jesus gives us individually His universal love. Because only our Lord has ever finished His vocation and brought love to completion. That completed love, which we see on the cross and which comes to us in Word, Baptism, and Supper because He is risen from the dead: that love—His love—is the only source of freedom. Only slaves bound to Christ by the chains of His blood can know the joy and freedom of serving their neighbors freely in love. If we are not free in Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves, then it can only be an intolerable, never-ending, despair-inducing burden. But as we dwell in Christ by faith, His life-giving Word and His Body and Blood refresh us and restore us to dwell in love toward our neighbors.

This is the constant cycle of the Christian life: Jesus gathers us around Himself, speaks to us and feeds us, and then we are sent out in love toward one another. Apart from Christ, these commandments are simply God keeping order in a fallen world. But in Christ, our good works, done in the Lord, are not vain, empty things; they are God Himself at work. Because you are baptized into Christ, you are a people holy to the Lord, and that makes your works for the sake of your neighbor holy works. In to Christ, out to our neighbor, the sacred motion of the Church of God, for our sake and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for the sake of the whole world, all of which is God’s.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/23/16

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