Ten Words to Live By

There’s not a lot to brag about when it comes to flying on Southwest Airlines. The planes are high mileage. There’s in flight service is basic. Forget about movies and in-flight radio. There’s no formality. The flight crew is super-casual. You typically fly into the older, less used airports. Southwest is all about no frills bargains. It’s the Wal-Mart of airlines.

But Southwest Airlines has a way of making me feel great about flying on their planes. After the plane lands, a flight attendant grabs the mike and after announcing all the gates for connecting flights she will say, “We hope you enjoyed your flight today. We know that you have choices when you travel and we thank you for choosing Southwest Airlines.” Southwest Airlines may not give me the greatest airline snacks, but they recognize that I have the power to choose and they respect that. They make me feel good for choosing them instead of Delta, American, or Continental. Southwest knows that I am a customer and they are so thankful and appreciative of me. And they had better appreciate me – or I may just fly Northwest!

Perhaps God could learn a lesson from Southwest Airlines. You see, God has always been in competition with other gods. In ancient times there were dozens of gods to choose from. Really neat gods and goddesses with cool names – they went on adventures and had magic powers.
Well, we’re supposedly enlightened now and grown up past such beliefs. But there are still choices. Today one can choose different types of spirituality. One doesn’t even have to have a god in order to be spiritual. So, God isn’t the only option. God might think about the choices that people have and try to respect that. Maybe he should do more to greet us when we come to worship him and then send us out with a word of thanks saying, “I hope you enjoyed your worship today. I know that you have choices when it comes to a Supreme Being and I thank you for choosing God.”

But God isn’t listening to Southwest or their marketing agents. No, God has the audacity to make the following statement: Exodus 20:2-3 “I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.”

How on earth can God make such a statement? People do have choices, right? So why does God have to be so absolute?

  1. God isn’t a retailer, he’s a relator. There’s a relationship here when God says: I AM the one who delivered you. The Israelites who first heard these words at the base of Mount Sinai, had been slaves for generations in Egypt. God had delivered them from slavery. No other god. No other power. God was the one who had saved them, fed them, nurtured them, and protected them.
    God is still delivering people from enslavement. People are enslaved to fear, worry, hatred, addiction, pride, poverty, loneliness, and despair. People are dehumanized and demeaned by oppressive powers of sin. But God is more powerful than the powers. What other God died for us and redeemed us? What other God made us into a people with purpose. What other God brings us hope? Before we ever thought about choosing God – He chose us!
  2. Because of that relationship, there are certain claims established. God is our God and we are his people. It’s like a marriage. You have a choice in who you marry, but once you marry that relationship is exclusive. So God is all-inclusively exclusive. God knows that there are choices. I suppose you can choose another god, but once you choose God, it’s exclusive. Anyone can come to God. God can deliver anyone. But once you enter into the relationship – it’s you and God. It’s us and God. The relationship is established.
  3. This is why the first word in the Ten Words is so important. You have to get the first one right or the others won’t follow. [Buttoning my shirt in the dark.] The other nine words don’t have the same effect when they are out of alignment without the first word. When that happens, and it often does, the “Ten Commandments” are like gems that have fallen off a chain. They may sparkle and shine on their own, but you cannot tell how the jeweler put them together as a whole.
    There are numerous books and articles from different perspectives that appeal for a return to the ethics of the Ten Commandments, but they stop short of returning to the God who spoke these ten words. Without that relationship, the other words lose their impact because they are no longer personal. You have to get this one right or the others won’t follow.

Ten words aren’t simply for anyone to anyone to follow. Living them out begins by accepting that God chose us. And so these ten words are for those who accept God’s invitation to enter into an exclusive relationship – the good news is that all are invited, but living out the ten words is the adventure that awaits those who dare to live in total dependence on God.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 23 September 2007

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