This is a piece I wrote for Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, CO in 2008. It’s probably time for a rewrite. In the meantime, hopefully this little meditation will remind us all that the Ten Commandments still exist.
If we remember anything from our catechism, we remember the three functions of the law. “A curb to keep society in order, a mirror to show us our sin, and a guide for Christian service to our neighbor.” But what does it mean that the law is a curb for society?
We know well the second function, the law brings us to despair of our own goodness and pride. We know fairly well the third function, that the law shows us the contours of our vocation and directs our love for God and neighbor. But what about the first use? What does it mean that the law is a curb for society?
I used to understand the first use of the law very vaguely: that because the outlines of the law are ingrained in our consciences there is a shadow of the Ten Commandments in the legal structure of each civilized society. But there is more, much more, to be said. The law (and especially the second table regarding our love for our neighbor) has many specific things to say about government. Especially in a nation where the citizens are given a role in governance (for example, voting), it would be good for us to consider the Ten Commandments and the things they teach us about government.
The Ten Commandments Protects God’s Gifts
We remember, first of all, that the Ten Commandments are given to protect God’s gifts. He created all things good. The Lord want for us good things. We see in the commandments both the gifts that God gives as well as His desire to protect them.
The Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother”, protects God’s gift of family and authority.
The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder”, protects God’s gift of life.
The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery”, protects the Lord’s gift of marriage and family.
The Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal”, protects our possessions, or as we call them in our constitution, private property.
The Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”, protects our reputation and our good name.
Understanding the gifts that God gives gives clarity to the role of government: law and the rule of law serves to protect the gifts of God. And, those serving in government love their neighbor by protecting these same gifts and making and enforcing laws that do the same.
What follows, then, is a discussion of the fourth through eighth commandments, of the gifts they protect, of the appropriate laws that protect them, and the practical conclusion that effect how we vote in the upcoming political cycle.
Remember that the Christian is called by God to love their neighbor. This is true when we vote as well. Our we vote, not to serve ourselves, but to love our neighbor.
The Fourth Commandment, Family and Government
The fourth commandment is the source of all human government. Before there was the state, and even before there was the church, there was the family: Adam and Eve. It is from the family, then, that authority comes.
In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther says, “For all authority flows and is propagated from the authority of parents.” (I.141) In this way we understand the commandment to honor our father and mother to include all the authorities in creation, including the government. On the other hand, this commandment all puts government in it’s proper place: serving and protecting families.
The Fifth Commandment and the Lord’s Gift of Life
The fifth commandment sets government to protect the Lord’s gift of life.
I often hear people talking about quality of life. The Bible knows of no such thing. The Lord has not given to mankind the authority to judge if life is worth living. Life is life, no matter how good or bad it is. Let me be clear, discussions about the quality of life are idolatrous, it assumes that life is here for us to take, measure, judge and even end.
The fruits of the quality of life idol are abortion and euthanasia. Regarding euthanasia, someone has made the decision that a persons life is not worth living. Lord save us from such dangerous arrogance. The Lord’s command says, “Do not commit murder.” Regarding abortion, the mother (or a person who has great influence over the mother, like the boyfriend or parents) have made the judgment that having a baby would wreck the mother’s quality of life. Lord, have mercy.
In the United States an estimated 3,700 babies are murdered in the womb each day. 1,370,000 times each year a child is sacrificed on the altar of convenience. This is “legal.” It should not be. The government is given to protect life.
(I know that this is a difficult and often emotional discussion. There are many women who have had abortions and are daily crushed by their guilt. The Lord has His church to give out the forgiveness of sins and to cover this guilt with His forgiving blood. The Lord’s mercy is found in the church, not the state. The state is given to protect life.
This is also the place were capital punishment and war should be discussed. The Lord has given the state the sword to protect, for example, His gift of life. In extreme cases, the state has the authority to kill in order to protect life [war and capital punishment], much like a doctor amputates a foot with gangrene to save the rest of the body. But this is slightly off the topic.)
The right to life is the most fundamental human right. Our blatant disregard for human life will mark this as one of the darkest ages of human history. The blood of millions of babies will certainly reach the ears of our heavenly Father. The Lord’s church continues to pray for an end to this mindless slaughter, and to use every opportunity she is given to help save the lives of babies in the womb. Voting is one of those opportunities to love our neighbor, especially our unborn neighbors.
The Sixth Commandment, Marriage and Family
The sixth commandment protects the Lord’s gift of family and marriage, and regulates human sexuality. This is where discussions regarding the laws of divorce, adultery and homosexuality belong.
Among other things, marriage is a legally binding contract with the state. In every wedding I’ve preformed I was there with the bride and groom and witnesses to sign the marriage license. While it is God who joins husband and wife on to another (Matthew 19:4), He uses the state to do this. So the state, the government, has a vested interest in marriages. Our own state laws have provision for supporting and protecting marriages, but these are often ignored and disregarded.
In fact, most people today would understand any laws regarding human sexuality to be old fashioned and unnecessary. “What I do in the bedroom is my own business.” Our sinful human flesh, in rebellion to God, wants to chase after its lusts in anyway it wants. But this often results in sorrow, end even in death.
In the Scripture we notice a pattern between the breaking of the sixth commandment that is followed by a breaking of the fifth. Remember the history of David and Bathsheba? First David commits adultery with Bathsheba who was married to another man. Then, when Bathsheba turns up pregnant, David tries to cover up his sin by calling Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband) back from battle. When Uriah, out of faithfulness to David and his fellow soldiers, refuses to go home, David sends him back to battle with his own death warrant. (2 Samuel 11) So murder follows adultery. This is often seen today with abortion. 75% of the women who have abortions are not married.
So we see that there is a public interest in strengthening and supporting the Lord’s gift of marriage. But what we see from our government is the exact opposite. In fact, the very fact of marriage is being challenged at its core.
Marriage is a gift of God, established and created by God. Government is set to protect marriage, not control or define it, but this is exactly what we see happening. Moved by pressure from homosexual lobbyists, many states are “re-defining” marriage to include the union of a man to a man, or a woman to a woman. Where this “re-defining” will end, who knows. We are in a strange time when polygamy is illegal, but “open marriages” are not. A man can live with as many women as he wants, unless he calls these women his wives. Strange.
But marriage cannot be redefined. The role of government is to protect marriage, not redefine or reshape or change it. We we go to the ballot, then, we have the opportunity to cast our vote out of love for our neighbor to protect the Lord’s gift of marriage and family.
The Seventh Commandment and the Gift of Possessions
There are a few very disturbing trends in American politics, not least of which is the delusion that these gifts (or rights, if you will) come from government. In the next few months we will not be able to escape political rhetoric. Listen for candidates promising to “give” things to the people, as if there is something that belongs to the state and in then given to the people. No. There are things that the Lord has given to individuals, to families, and the state has the vocation of protecting these gifts.
This is true of the Lord’s gifts of possessions, what our founding documents call private property. When the Lord commands, “You shall not steal,” He is giving us the gift of private property, the right to put our name on something. This means that the Ten Commandments protect us from socialism. Socialism is the political philosophy that possessions belong to the state and are distributed by the state, and the Lord’s Word “You shall not steal” stands against this philosophy and any other involuntary system of redistribution of wealth.
The Eighth Commandment and the Gift of Reputation
There is justice in our legal system’s assumption of innocence until proven guilty. Our good name and good reputation is a gift of God, and in some way the government has a role to protect this. We have these protections in our courts and judicial system.
In the up coming election there are many offices to be filled, and we have the opportunity to elect honorable people in law enforcement. As we petition the Lord in the prayer of the church that those in government would “punish wickedness and reward righteousness.” With the Eighth Commandment in mind, we pay attention to the judges and law enforcement.
Voting and the Vocation of Citizen
In Biblical times, as well as in the Reformation, there were the rulers and the ruled. You were one or another. In modern America it is not so simple. Our government is a system of self rule. Each citizen is the ruled and the ruler. Our voting is the clearest example of exercising this authority. So Christians, as citizens of the United States, have the very important responsibility of voting. So vote.
The Commandments protect the Lord’s gifts. That is obvious by now. Governments if given by God to protect these gifts in numerous way. But you might ask, “Pastor, what is the most important of these gifts? What if one candidate is a pro-life socialist and the other is a pro-choice capitalist?” For the Church this is a simple question. The most important issue is life. This is the most fundamental gift of creation, and it is especially the weak and defenseless that the state ought to protect. Babies at risk in the womb are the neighbors most at risk, the neighbors that most need our prayer and love and service.
In everything the Christian family and the Christian church does in the world, we are always asking how we might serve and love the neighbors that the Lord has given us. Having an election is no different. We go to the ballot box with the Ten Commandments in mind. We vote to love and serve our neighbor and protect the gifts that the Lord has given them. This November we will have the opportunity to do just this.
May the Lord hear our prayers for good and faithful rulers, and grant such to us and all the people of the world. And may we continue to serve our neighbors as we rejoice in the gifts that the Lord gives.
Your’s in Christ,
Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller