Loving People Well

The other day, I watched the movie “Mommie Dearest” on TV. This movie claims to be an accurate account of the actress Joan Crawford. If the movie is accurate, Joan did not love well. She was completely self absorbed; everything orbited around her and her career. For reasons unknown she adopted a little girl named Christina. Christina could do nothing right. In one of many intense scenes, after Crawford was dropped by a movie studio, she comes unglued because Christina hung her dresses on metal hangers. She drove home her displeasure over this by beating Christina with one of the metal hangers. Because Joan Crawford did not love well, her family community suffered. This is always the result of loving poorly. It is not just that the person is reduced to living a shallow and dysfunctional life, it is the whole community that is stained or bruised. I feel saddened when I hear about a church that is spewing hateful diatribe all over the place. But I also feel bruised. My Christian community suffers when a church or group of Christians fail to love well. People begin to associate Christianity with hatred, and we develop another bruise.

The first four commandments were about loving God well. The next six (Exodus 20:12-17) are about loving well the people you are in a covenant relationship with. Just as the first commandment was the foundation for loving God well, the fifth command is the foundation for loving people well. Giving weight to or honoring your parents is a key component to a healthy community. It is the foundation for treating others with respect. If a child does not respect their mother and father, they are not likely to respect any authority figure. And respect for parents is not something you discard when you put on your big boy pants. As a matter of fact honoring parents tends to become more important as we grow into adulthood. It seems to settle into our awareness. An honoring community is a better community; a community that honors the life-givers. On the other hand, a dishonoring society breeds dysfunctional chaos. Attached to this commandment is the promise of prolonged days in the land of promise. Some believe this is about the community as a whole and not about the individual. I disagree. The penalty for rebelling against parental authority was death by stoning (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9). And that is the opposite of prolonging one’s days. And it is about the community as a whole.

The next three commandments are rattled off like gun shots. In Hebrew they consists of two words. No killing. And the word “kill” has generated a lot of discussion. The word is used only 40 times in the Old Testament and it is used for all manner of killing, even accidental killing. But it seems to refer to killing that takes place within covenant community. Executions deal with those who have been found guilty and placed outside of community. Most of the wars were fought with non-covenant people. At it its heart, however, this command is about respecting life and can be traced back to the Noah covenant (Genesis 9:6). The community tends to fall apart when its people are killing each other. No adultery. In the Ancient Near East adultery was considered “the great sin”. It is a break of trust and it not only tears at families it tears at community. No stealing. Stealing also disrupts the community. You cannot love well people you kill, entangle in selfish relationships, or steal from. Nor can you love well people whom you lie about in court or really under any circumstance.

Some find it odd that the tenth commandment does not involve an action and so they assume one. Surely it is not mere coveting that is being forbidden here. It must also be the taking. But that would be stealing or adultery and we already have commandments against those little activities. There is nothing in the text that implies an action. The tenth commandment is a summary of all the commandments. Murder is often the result of wanting what you do not have. Waltzing with other gods is about not being content with Yahweh; coveting the gods your neighbors have. It all starts on the inside. It all begins with not rejoicing with what God has given you. The tenth commandment wraps up the whole shebang. If you refuse to allow coveting to enter your heart you will love well.

You are in a covenant relationship with others; whether that be church, family, city, or country. If you do not love well, the community is torn apart. Mistrust breeds with every theft. Fear erupts with every murder. Anger boils with every lie. The heart is torn with every infidelity. God is your shepherd. Stay in his pasture and play well with your fellow sheep. It is about community. Not you! Praise Yahweh. Walter