By the Rev. Lee
Third Sunday in Lent
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, March 15, 1998
Exodus 20:1-17 The
Then God spoke all
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you
shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for
yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above,
or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am
a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the
third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast
love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make
wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not
acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath
day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But
the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any
work--you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your
livestock, or the foreigner living in your towns. For in six days the Lord
made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested the
seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and
your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your
God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear
false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet
your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male
or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your
Matthew 5:17-22, 27,
28, 43-48 Fulfilling the Law
Do not think that I
have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish
but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not one letter, not one stroke, will pass from the Law until all is
accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these
commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in
the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be
called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your
righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never
enter the kingdom of heaven.
You have heard that it
was said to those of ancient times, "You shall not murder"; and
"whoever murders shall be liable to judgment." But I say to you
that if you are angry with your brother, you will be liable to judgment. .
You have heard that it
was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that
anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with
her in his heart. . . .
You have heard that it
was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy."
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun
to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on
the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you
have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only
your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the
Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is
True Christian Religion
#289 Deeper Meanings in the Ten Commandments
The literal meaning of
the Ten Commandments contains general instructions on doctrine and life;
but their spiritual and heavenly senses contain universal instructions.
(from the section heading)
In their spiritual and
heavenly meanings, the Ten Commandments contain in a universal pattern all
the commandments relating to how we believe and how we live, and therefore
they embrace everything relating to faith and kindness. This is true
because every single detail of the Bible's literal meaning conceals two
inner meanings, one called "spiritual" and one called
"heavenly." These meanings contain divine truth in its own light
and divine goodness in its own warmth.
Since the Bible is like
this, both overall and in each detail, each of the Ten Commandments can
also be explained on these three levels of meaning: the material, the
spiritual, and the heavenly.
You have heard that
it was said to those of ancient times, "You shall not murder";
and "whoever murders shall be liable to judgment." But I say to
you that if you are angry with your brother, you will be liable to
judgment. (Matthew 5:21)
After last week's
service, with its sermon on "Taking Inventory," one of you said
to me, "You mentioned having a shelf list of the books when you do
shelf reading in a library, and when people take inventory in a store,
they have an inventory list. My question is, when you take spiritual
inventory, where's the list?" This week's sermon is one answer to
I say one
answer, because there are as many different spiritual inventory
lists as there are material inventory lists. Hardware stores have
one list, stationery stores have another, grocery stores another, and so
on. Similarly, there are many different religions on our earth, each with
a different "list" of laws for its faithful to live by. Each of
these "spiritual inventory lists" is specially suited to the
people for whom God gave that particular religion.
However, there are
some universals. Our earth has adopted a few universal standards, such as
the twenty-four hour clock and our global system of time zones. Gold has
value nearly everywhere, in a sort of de facto "gold standard."
There are also certain behaviors that are illegal everywhere, such as
theft and murder. These cultural universals reflect the fact that there
are spiritual universals behind all the diversity of religion on
In Christianity, those
universal standards are expressed in our sacred book: the Bible. In one
sense the entire Bible is our spiritual inventory list. But that is
too much to cover in a single sermon! On the other end of the size scale,
we have a very compact list in the two Great Commandments given by the
"You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your
mind." This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is
like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." All the
Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments. (Matthew
This gives us the
general categories, but it would be nice to have more than two items on
the list! Fortunately, we have a very nice ten item list that will do very
well for our spiritual inventory list. That list, of course, is the Ten
Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the divine standard for our
lives--a standard that we can always look to when we wish to take our
personal spiritual inventory.
Most of us know what is
in the Ten Commandments, and we do try to live according to their
standard. In our religion and our culture, the Ten Commandments are the
primary statement of the universals that run like a golden thread through
all religions. We can hardly help internalizing them and measuring our
lives against them.
What we may not
know is the spiritual meaning of these commandments. To fill out
our spiritual inventory list, I would like to take you on a quick survey
of the Ten Commandments, and some of the deeper meanings we can find in
them as we seek to follow the divine standard on a more and more inward
level, and in a more and more universal way.
I will draw on the
chapter in Swedenborg's True Christian Religion on the Ten
Commandments, and also on the extracts from Apocalypse Explained
which have been published in the book, The Spiritual Life, the Word of
God. In explaining the Ten Commandments, Swedenborg used the Lutheran
(and Catholic) way of numbering the commandments, which puts what we would
consider the first two commandments together into one, and divides the
last into two. But since the last "two" go together, Swedenborg
joined them back into one.
1: You shall have no
other gods before me; you shall not make an idol
On the literal level,
this means we are not to worship other gods besides the Lord. Our culture
has left polytheism and idol worship far behind, so we don't have much
trouble with this. But as we go deeper, we find that this commandment is
not only about literally worshiping the Lord alone. In order to
follow this commandment, we must put the Lord at the center of our
lives--above material and financial needs; above personal desires and
ambitions; above even the love of family, and friends, neighbors and
co-workers. All of these can become idols and false gods if we put them
before the Lord. And at the deepest, heavenly level of meaning, this
all-important first commandment urges us as Christians to see the Lord God
Jesus Christ as the infinite and eternal source of everything. Until we
have accepted and have experienced the living reality of that
universal, divinely human love and wisdom at the core of all being, we
still have work to do on this commandment.
2: You shall not make
wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God
On the literal level,
this means respecting God by not using any of God's names in a
disrespectful way. If you're going to cuss, at least use something else
besides the Lord's name! But also, if you seal some sort of oath or
promise with the Lord's name, don't break your promise! Of course,
breaking promises isn't a good idea in any case.
Looking deeper, we find
that this commandment refers to respecting everything that the Lord's name
stands for: everything the Lord teaches us in the Bible. Keeping this
commandment spiritually means respecting the Lord by following all of the
Lord's commandments, both within ourselves (in our hearts and minds) and
in our outward actions. That could keep us busy for a while!
3: Remember the Sabbath
day to keep it holy
To follow this
commandment on a literal level, we need to set aside regular time in our
lives to refocus ourselves on the Lord and on living in a spiritual way.
The simplest way to do this is to come to church each Sunday. This method
does not work for everyone; but everyone can set aside a certain time each
week, and even each day, to think and learn about the Lord, and to pray
for the Lord's help in becoming a better person.
commandment refers to going through the six days of inner labor in
struggling to reform ourselves according to the Lord's teachings. Through
this inner labor, we can arrive at the Sabbath day of spiritual rest that
we experience when we put ourselves in the flow of the Lord's love and
wisdom, and live at peace with ourselves and with each other.
4: Honor your father
and your mother
As we are growing up,
we need to respect our earthly father and mother by listening to what they
tell us, in order to avoid getting ourselves into a lot of needless
trouble and pain. As adults, we need to respect our leaders; and even if
we sometimes cannot respect the people who are in leadership roles, we
must respect the role or position itself, and abide by the laws that our
leaders represent. Looking deeper, we know that our true father is the
Lord, who created us all and watches over us like a parent. Our true
mother is the church, which raises us spiritually and tends to our deeper
needs. And at the highest level, the Lord encompasses both father and
mother. This commandment tells us that we are to respect both our mother
and our father in God--meaning we are to respect the Lord's love and
wisdom, and to consider them the highest standards that we are to live by.
The commandments so far
have focused on the first Great Commandment: that we are to love the Lord
our God above all else. These commandments are written on the first table
of the Ten Commandments, with the commandment to honor our father and
mother providing a bridge to the second. The second table covers the other
Great Commandment: that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. For most
of these commandments, the literal meaning is so clear that we can move
right into the spiritual meaning.
5: You shall not commit
The Lord himself points
us to the spiritual meaning of this commandment when he says, "You
have heard that it was said . . . 'You shall not murder,' . . .
but I say to you that if you are angry with your brother, you will be
liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:21, 22). Physical murder comes from
anger and hatred in our hearts and minds. To follow this commandment, we
must not only avoid hurting others, but must reject the self-centered
thoughts and motives that prompt us to such things. And in particular,
Swedenborg tells us that we must avoid "murdering" someone
spiritually by attacking and destroying their faith. I believe that an
extension of this is that we should not destroy other people's faith in
themselves by insulting them and tearing down their self-esteem. At the
deepest level, we must not murder the Lord within ourselves by rejecting
the Lord from our hearts and minds.
6: You shall not commit
As the Lord points out,
this commandment speaks not only of literal adultery and promiscuity, but
also of having obscene and lustful desires. Even in our society, there are
many people who have kept this commandment literally; yet I suspect there
is not a single person in this room who has never indulged in "inner
adultery." At an even deeper level, we commit adultery when we abuse
the Lord's teachings and the Lord's love for our own purposes. For
example, if we get people to trust us by acting religious, and then abuse
their trust, we have adulterated the goodness of Christianity.
7: You shall not steal
Spiritual stealing is
similar to spiritual murdering. It involves stealing other people's faith
and beliefs from them. If we think we are right and they are
wrong, and we set about trying to show "them" that they are
wrong, we are probably acting as spiritual thieves. But the deepest level
of stealing happens entirely within ourselves: if we claim for ourselves
what is really God's, we are stealing from the Lord. To avoid breaking
this commandment, we must recognize that everything good and true in us
comes from the Lord, and not from ourselves.
8: You shall not bear
false witness against your neighbor
We bear false witness
spiritually when we intentionally persuade other people of things that we
know are wrong--especially spiritual things that we know are
wrong--in order to serve our own purposes. For example, if we have some
personal vice that we enjoy and indulge in, we may encourage others in the
same bad habit so that we will have company and support. In doing this, we
are bearing false witness to what we know within ourselves to be the
truth: that we ourselves should break this bad habit. And of course, if we
ever think or speak false things against the Lord and the Bible, we are
spiritually bearing false witness.
9 and 10: You shall not
This commandment puts
its spiritual meaning right on the literal level--and it applies to all
the rest of the commandments. It teaches us that we are not even to want
within ourselves any of the things that the Lord tells us are wrong. We
may sometimes pride ourselves in our outward keeping of the commandments;
this commandment brings us back to the reality that it is only when we
have kept the commandments fully in our minds and hearts that we
have truly obeyed Lord's commandments fully.
Of course, none of us
ever reaches the complete perfection that a full obedience to the Ten
Commandments on all levels would mean. There are always more items on our
spiritual inventory list that we need to work on. The Lord does not allow
us to rest on our laurels, but always calls us forward in our quest for
The divine standard
that the Lord puts in front of us is simple: "Be perfect, therefore,
as your heavenly father is perfect." This standard has enough to keep
us busy taking our spiritual inventory to all eternity. Amen.
With Special Thanks to Susan!
Music: On a Distant Shore
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer