Earlier this year I was struck by how uncivil our society has become. I can’t remember if it was a personal encounter with someone or something I saw on the news or read on social media. But I do remember thinking: Why can’t we just be civil to each other, what can’t we just be nice?

It seems that a lack of civility has permeated our culture. It is no longer enough to disagree with someone, today it seems we need to villainize them. If they have a different opinion than us, then they are a bad person.

And without wanting to sound old, I do remember a time when people seemed to respect one another, even if it was only surface-deep.

Children respected their parents, students respected their teachers and for the most part citizens respected their leaders. Maybe it was a fear of the consequences if we didn’t show that respect, but regardless of the why, we seemed to live in a more civil society.

Politicians could disagree with the policies of others without making personal attacks. Christians could disagree over doctrine or theology without questioning the other person’s salvation or love for Jesus.

I love the example of John Wesley and George Whitefield. Wesley and Whitefield had been close friends at Oxford. But eventually, Whitefield and Wesley diverged theologically, not just a little bit, but a lot. The two men were very influential in the revivals that took place across the UK and the US during their ministry. But as they say in Australia, they were as different as chalk and cheese. Whitfield was an ardent Calvinist and Wesley was just as ardent Arminian.

And they were never shy about speaking about their differences and defending their views.

When Whitfield was in his latter years, he requested that Wesley would speak at his funeral. Wesley preached at three memorial services held for Whitfield in London. Wesley spoke lovingly and respectfully of Whitfield and said, “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature with regard to which even the most sincere children of God…are and have been divided for many ages. In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’”

Have we lost the ability to agree to disagree?

Once upon a time, it seemed that people could even disagree over social and cultural issues without attacking one another. They could share a friendship without necessarily sharing the same views or opinions.

Today society often speaks about the need for tolerance. But somehow that only seems to cut one way. I want you to be tolerant of my views, but I shouldn’t have to be tolerant of your views.

Seventy-five years ago, Winston Churchill said, “Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”

Often, you will hear the church accused of being intolerant because of some of our beliefs, but the world has taken that intolerance to a whole new level. If you don’t toe the new cultural line, then you are demonized.

And while we hear more and more about the need to be tolerant, I do think Inigo Montoya (In-EE-goh Mon-TOY-uh) nailed it when he said, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

And I asked myself, when did we stop being civil?

Collins English Dictionary defines Civility as: 1. politeness 2. a civil, or polite, act or utterance

And that is close, but The Institute for Civility on their home page, writes: “Civility is about more than just politeness, although politeness is a necessary first step.
It is about disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, understanding biases and personal preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same.”

Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, the founders of the Institute for Civility state, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs, and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.”

In a letter to his brother Charles, John Wesley wrote, “If you agree with me, well: if not, we can, as Mr. Whitefield used to say, agree to disagree.”

And again, I wonder, when did we stop being civil?

And as I pondered that question I wondered if it happened when we lost our common morality. As fewer people attended church, we began to lose touch with the basic tenets of the things that seemed to hold society together.

I was probably 7 when I first heard about them, the next time they came to my attention, I was 15. The first time was in a religious ed class in grade 2, it was at the Canadian Armed Forces School in Germany. The next time was in grade 10 global history.

I’m talking of course about the Ten Commandments.

They used to be posted in classrooms and courtrooms, they used to be required reading growing up, and they even provided the basis for one of the most remembered films of all time.

And they aren’t just a “Christian” thing.

On the website, AboutIslam.net we read, “These commandments are among the core teachings of Judaism and Christianity that are taught to children at an early age, and all of them are included within the teachings of Islam. . . As such, these commandments can be the basis of interfaith dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. They are the “common word” for which we can all come together in agreement.”

Charles Kalish, the director for science at the Society for Research in Child Development, a secular organization, writes, “Research shows that, during periods of serious moral choice, adults tend to reflect back on Sunday school-type concepts, this is when instruction in moral codes like the Ten Commandments becomes important: ‘Now I have the resources to help me think through this,’” he says. “They help you articulate a justification for moral behaviour.”

But that’s the used to bes. What about today, June 23, 2024? What relevance do the Ten Commandments have for today?

Today we’d be hard-pressed to find people who could even claim to know the Ten Commandments. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, well that’s three!

And if people stop to consider the Ten Commandments at all they certainly don’t consider following them. Why? For a couple of reasons. Some people consider them as simply old and irrelevant.

Kind of like getting too many pictures on your phone and you need to get rid of the old pictures, so you dump them in the cloud. And so some our your photos are in google, and some are in your amazon prime account, and others are in icloud.

You know they are there, but you never really look at them. In the same way, we’ve relegated the Ten Commandments into the cloud storage of our lives. They might have some sentimental value but just aren’t relevant for today.

Other people think that the Ten Commandments aren’t all that useful for Christians because we aren’t under the law but under grace. And some others don’t particularly like the Ten Commandments for a very obvious reason, they enjoy breaking them.

And breaking them doesn’t take any special talent, you don’t have to be a dirty rotten sinner. Consider the words of Isadora Duncan “We may not all break the Ten Commandments, but we are certainly all capable of it. Within us lurks the breaker of all laws, ready to spring out at the first real opportunity.”

So maybe it’s a good time to take a new look at the old commandments.

The first question is why? Why did God give us the Ten Commandments? The simple answer is: Sin.

Humanity had been created by God as a perfect being with an incredible gift and that gift was free will.

God created animals to act by instinct. In every sense of the way they were pre-programmed to “do their thing”. They don’t do it so much because they choose to do it they do it because they have to do it.

But when God created humanity, we are told that He breathed life into them. What was it that he breathed into them? It was his image, his likeness. This gave them personality and with it came “Free Choice”. God could have made humanity marionettes with invisible strings, coming down from heaven and dancing to every word and whim of God. But that isn’t what God had in mind for his ultimate creation.

God didn’t want the artificial and shallow devotion that would come from a robotic creation. He knew that he would lose the allegiance of many who would opt for the easy way in order to have a few who would choice to follow him.

He wanted a relationship that would lift people higher than any animal could reach. So, God allowed humans to have a choice and Adam and Eve chose disobedience over obedience and traded freedom for slavery, beauty for ashes, life for death. And their choice has influenced mankind ever since.

And so, God needed a way that would stop the downward pull of sin’s whirlpool. A way to reverse the downward slide of self-respect. He had to have a way of not only forgiving the sin that had been committed but also a way of protecting his children.

And in the Old Testament, God instituted a set of laws to live by.

Now, it doesn’t take long reading the Old Testament to realize that some of those laws are pertinent for us, but others don’t seem to apply to us. And some of the laws seem a little unreasonable.

So, first of all There are Changeable Laws, Until Jesus came God relied on a system of laws to maintain civil order, ensure proper ceremonial procedures, promote good health practices, and foster good morality. The laws governing the first three categories would be applied to meet a temporary need that existed at the time.

For example, today in Nova Scotia we have a law that permits you to turn right on a red light after you stop.

That law wouldn’t have been necessary 100 years ago before there were red lights and may be not be necessary in a hundred years if there are no longer any red lights.

And so, we look at Old Testament laws like Deuteronomy 14:6–8 “You may eat any animal that has completely split hooves and chews the cud, but if the animal doesn’t have both, it may not be eaten. So you may not eat the camel, the hare, or the hyrax. They chew the cud but do not have split hooves, so they are ceremonially unclean for you. And you may not eat the pig. It has split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses.

Why would God establish a law concerning something like that? For the protection of his people is why. In an era when refrigeration wasn’t, and when it was very difficult cooking over open fires to make sure that meat was well done, the possibility of trichinosis from eating pork was very much a reality.

I don’t know about cooking camels, but it was only in 1911 that George McCoy and Charles Chapin first described the infectious disease tularemia, a disease that humans can contract from mammals such as rabbits and I presume rock badgers.

Those laws then were laid down for a specific time and aren’t necessarily relevant in this era of modern cooking and refrigeration.

Deuteronomy 22:8 “When you build a new house, you must build a railing around the edge of its flat roof. That way you will not be considered guilty of murder if someone falls from the roof.

Now, Angela and I have built two new homes, and a railing around the roof wasn’t a priority. Why was it 3000 years ago?

Because people back then had small homes with little rooms, a typical room might be 6 foot by 10 foot, and so they used the flat roofs of their homes as an extension living area, a rec room so to speak. The law concerning the parapet was there so that homeowners would take responsibility for the safety of the guests who used their roofs. It was a temporary or changeable law.

And then there were ceremonial laws, laws that regarded temple worship and how sacrifices were offered. The garments that priests wore, and how the worship of the Israelites needed to be different than the pagan societies they were surrounded by.

And because of the gift of grace and the sacrifice that Jesus made, those laws have become moot for us.

And There are Unchangeable Laws, they are as essential to our contentment and fulfillment today as they were then. These unchangeable laws should be looked at the same way that we look at the laws of nature. For example, the law of gravity, you don’t say “The law of gravity was fine when Newton first wrote about it in 1687 but this is the 21st century so it just doesn’t apply anymore.”

Don’t matter what you think, if you jump off a building not only will you be breaking the law of gravity, but there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll break yourself as well. It’s the same way when we break the moral law, we also break ourselves.

These moral laws as summed up in the Ten Commandments cannot be open to individual interpretations and application.

You can’t stand back and say,

“Well, I’ll accept this one and that one, but these three nah they are irrelevant to my life.”

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times wrote, “Sometime over the past generation, we became less likely to object to something because it is immoral and more likely to object to something because it is unhealthy or unsafe. So smoking is now a worse evil than six of the Ten Commandments, and the word sinful is most commonly associated with chocolate.”

Chocolate might make you fat, and smoking might contribute to lung cancer, but ignoring the Ten Commandments will have eternal ramifications.

And so, we begin with God laying down why these laws should be important to the Israelites and ultimately to us. You are probably familiar with the story: Moses has led the Israelites out of the Slavery of Egypt and after 60 days of wandering in the desert, they came upon Mt. Sinai. It was there that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.

The first thing that I want you to note this morning is the rationale for why God gave the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:2 I am the Lord your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves.

1) I am the Lord the very first reason is that they weren’t given by Moses, they weren’t man-made or man-written, they were God-given.

2) Your God Not only were they given by God, they were given by your God, a personal God who is interested in your best interest which is displayed by the next thought

3) Who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves. This is a God who is not some aloof impersonal deity but instead is a god who is there for his people. Whether that entails delivering them from the slavery of Egypt or delivering them from the slavery of sin.

Wilbur Williams was a professor of Biblical Literature and Archaeology at Indiana Wesleyan University and over thirty years of teaching he asked literally thousands of students to rearrange the Ten Commandments, putting what to them seemed to be the most important laws first. He said that 90% of the time the commandments were placed in a particular order

Here they are as we know them,

1) Do not worship any god except me.

2) Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth

3) Do not misuse my name

4) Remember that the Sabbath Day belongs to me

5) Respect your father and your mother

6) Do not murder.

7) Be faithful in marriage.

8) Do not steal.

9) Do not tell lies about others.

10) Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.

Now here is the order that 90 % of the respondents put them in

1) Do not murder.—6

2) Do not steal.—8

3) Do not tell lies about others.—9

4) Be faithful in marriage.—7

5) Respect your father and your mother—5

6) Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.—10

7) Do not make idols—2

8) Do not worship any god except me.—1

9) Do not misuse my name—4

10) Remember the Sabbath Day—3

In almost every case Williams says that Murder is considered the number one sin to avoid. It’s interesting to note that time and time again people feel that the most important commandments are those which involve our relationship with other people and the least important involve our relationship with God.

Christ took a little bit of a different view than Dr. Williams’ students when he was asked what the most important commandment was, do you remember his reply in Matthew 22:37 Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

And so the Ten Commandments begin with Exodus 20:3 “You must not have any other god but me.

And what God is saying is, “If you want to be the happiest, the best adjusted, most successful person that you can possibly be, you must keep me alone at the top of your affection.”

You see in many cases it’s not that we have a problem keeping God #1, it’s the things that we allow to occupy the #2 spot and how easily they can move into that number one spot. It’s not that God is afraid of the competition, it’s that he knows that nothing else can be trusted with that spot.

How many people have you known who have allowed family to occupy that top spot, only to have their spouse divorce them or their kids rebel against them? Or the person whose number one spot is occupied by their career and their job, everything is sacrificed for that god, only to arrive at work one day and find that they had been downsized or right-sized or whatever they call it these days.

This commandment is first in order to establish the foundation that devotion to God is the heart out of which all the other laws grow, and if this principle (that God is supreme in our life) is mastered first then any struggle you might have to obey the other nine is already half won.

Life is not worth living when you don’t have a god worth serving.

The truth of the matter is this, every one of you, along with every person in the HRM and the world worships a god of some kind.

You might not call it a god, but when something occupies the highest place in your life, it is in effect your god.

The ancient people all had their gods: they recognized them as gods, they called them by their names, they worshipped them.

Some of them were, Athena, the goddess of wisdom: Bacchus, the god of wine: Baal, the god of nature and procreation; Serapis the bull, the god of productivity, Mammon, the god of money; Venus, Aphrodite, and Diana, the goddesses of sex; Aton the sun, the god of life and a plethora of other gods.

Today we use different names for these “powers.” We don’t venerate Athena we simply worship knowledge.

We don’t name Bacchus; we just worship alcohol. We don’t talk about Serapis, it’s just fertility. Mammon’s name doesn’t come up, we simply worship money.

Aton isn’t mentioned instead we worship the sun on the beach.

Venus, Aphrodite, and Diana aren’t very common names, we just refer to it as sex. The name of the god is not important to God, what we are worshipping is.

You see we worship what we are inferior to. Do you ever think about that? Worshippers must always worship something above them.

For me to worship is to admit my inferiority to that which I worship, and to the superiority of that which I worship.

We don’t worship down. We must worship up. And there is only one up. Listen to what the Bible says in Psalm 8:4–5 what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?  Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour.

Above us is only God. Beneath us is everything else. For us then, worship is due to none other than God. Not an angel, not a government, not a heavenly body, not the rain, not fire, not another person, certainly not an animal, or money, or sex, or fame, or popularity. Only God alone. So where are you at?

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