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Justice for All
By Stefan Höschele
Having grown up in an Adventist family, I have always wondered how some people can claim that the Ten Commandments are “no longer valid.”
No longer valid? What would be the advantage of stealing, having other gods, destroying marriages, making idols, working seven days a week, or giving false testimony? Perhaps I am oversimplifying things a bit, but honestly, I don’t see the point of those who claim that as Christians we are no longer under the law, and that the Decalogue should no longer be the point of reference for our actions.
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not a legalist. We cannot earn anything before God by merely following the words written in Exodus 20. And I hate it when some folk think they are the only and final interpreters of how to implement certain biblical stipulations today.
But when you challenge me about the legitimacy and authority of the norms written on the two stone tablets, I will relax. There is simply no good argument against such basic obligations of believers in the Creator. In fact, they are so basic that it’s reasonable to view them as mere minimum requirements when taken at face value. After all, the rich young man could assert, “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20). And Jesus did not answer, “Let’s analyze this a bit. Actually you’re wrong.”
For my great-great-grandmother this was the reason to become one of the first Adventists in her region. She reflected a long time on the text that says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). When she realized that the Decalogue is a bare minimum standard of justice to abide by, her decision became crystal clear.
In the country in which I live, law is very important. Don’t ever try to bribe an official to circumvent it; you would be in real trouble! The law is valid for everyone. The reason is quite simple: justice is only justice when it’s justice for all. Not everybody likes the many state laws we have to follow, but when serious conflicts arise, it’s good to know that powerful principles protect human dignity and stipulate citizens’ obligations.
God’s commandments, likewise, apply to all people. If fairness were fairness only for some, what kind of justice would that be? Thus the Sabbath command, the centerpiece of the Decalogue, demands that not only Israelites but also foreigners and even animals are to be exempt from work on the seventh day (Ex. 20:10).
This doesn’t mean that everything is well in this world just because the basic principles of the moral code of Exodus 20 are followed. Most societies are far from offering equal opportunities for all citizens. But how would they look like without standards derived from God’s law? Both as members of communities and as Christians, we need a sense of minimum requirements that prevent the worst injustices.
The situation we currently experience in Western Europe illustrates this. In my country alone, about 1 million refugees arrived in 2015. Most of these families mourn the death of family members or friends. Many of them face persecution or threats in their home countries just because they belong to the wrong sect, political party, or family.
What is a fair way of receiving these refugees who come to us with the hope of being treated impartially? What is the Christian attitude we should demonstrate? How can the principle of Sabbath justice be applied in this humanitarian catastrophe? It’s good to remember that the Ten Commandments were given to people who migrated from one country to another. What’s more, Jesus Himself was a refugee in Egypt, and in His famous judgment speeches He said, “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Matt. 25:35).
Jesus truly demonstrated that keeping God’s commandments in the right spirit is much more than simply refraining from murder, theft, or adultery. Instead of stealing, Christians rejoice in voluntary simplicity. Instead of coveting, they share, even with those who differ in faith, such as the many Muslim refugees who now arrive in Europe. And rather than killing, Christians give their lives, even for enemies.
Loving your neighbor isn’t always easy, and you can’t choose all your neighbors. But a minimum standard is valid always and for everyone. Some here in Germany forget this; they want to return to a time several generations ago when there were no foreigners in the country. They fill social networks with hate speech and burn asylum centers. They demand that migrants be shot at the border, all in the name of “protecting the Christian Occident.”
Christ’s logic is the opposite. He translated the prohibitions that are to safeguard society into sacrifice. Do not misuse God’s name: not even for defending your ideas about what a nation should look like. Prefer to be cursed for following Jesus. Do not work on the Sabbath: give one day of rest to everybody, and work six days a week for the kingdom of God to become visible. Do not bear false testimony: speak blessings and words of hope to all, especially those whose lives are in ruins.
Law and love: we need both. One because there is a standard below which no one must fall, the other because Christ showed us the true intention of God’s commandments.
Christ’s logic is the opposite.
He translated the prohibitions that are to safeguard society into sacrifice.
The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Savior. Salvation is all of grace and not of works, and its fruit is obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow human beings. The obedience of faith demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness. (Ex. 20:1-17; Deut. 28:1-14; Ps. 19:7-14; 40:7, 8; Matt. 5:17-20; 22:36-40; John 14:15; 15:7-10; Rom. 8:3, 4; Eph. 2:8-10; Heb. 8:8-10; 1 John 2:3; 5:3; Rev. 12:17; 14:12.)
Stefan Höschele, Ph.D., a former missionary to Algeria and Tanzania, teaches systematic theology and mission studies at Theologische Hochschule Friedensau, Germany.