When God Sets The Terms
Passage: Exodus 20:1–20:11
Community Group Questions: Exodus 20:1-6 "When God Sets the Terms"
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This week we come to the famous 10 commandments. This study guide will focus on the first three commandments, but take time as a group to read Exodus 20:1-17 aloud, and then work through the following questions:
- What is your background regarding the 10 commandments? Did you grow up in a faith tradition that saw the 10 commands as valuable or applicable? Would you say the 10 commandments have been a relevant part of your life in recent years? Why or why not?
- In verse 2 of our passage, God reminds Israel of the rescue he had just accomplished on their behalf, and then he gives them the 10 commandments. God is reminding them that they were saved by his sovereign grace, and therefore, these commands are given as a guide for living in right relationship with him. Putting this another way, Israel shouldn’t obey God in order to be saved, but rather, they should obey God because they’re already saved. How does this pattern inform us as Christians, as we seek to apply the 10 commandments to our lives? What role does obedience play in the lives of those who have been rescued by God’s free grace in Christ? (see John 14:15)
- Read verse 3, which states the first commandment. It might be more directly translated, “You shall have no other gods before my face.” God is prohibiting Israel from bringing any other so-called “gods” into his presence. Israel should not presume to share God’s worship and glory with other false gods. In other words, this commandment prohibits “spiritual polygamy.” It also teaches monotheism: the fact that there is only one true God. In your opinion, what “false gods” are we often tempted to worship and obey in our modern world? John Calvin said that our hearts are like “idol factories” – we take good things and make them into ultimate things, elevating them to the place of God in our life. If you were to look honestly at your life, are there any things that take God’s place from time to time? How can you make sure that God alone reigns supreme over your daily activities, thoughts, and experiences?
- Read verses 4-6, which state the second commandment. It prohibits the making of idols (“carved images” or “likenesses”). It prohibits Israel form making idols of other so-called gods, but it also prohibits Israel from trying to make the one true God into an idol by reducing him to the form of some creature made of wood or stone. Ancient idolatry was all about control: people would make an idol, say an incantation over it, and then assume that the idol gave immediate access to a certain god in the spirit world. The worshiper would feed the god (through animal sacrifice, wine, and grain offerings), and perform ritual activities before the idol shrine (including ritual prostitution) in order to please and coerce the gods into providing fertility, blessing, and abundance. Very similar to rubbing a lamp, and demanding that the genie give you your wish, ancient people believed that sacrificing to the gods was a “transaction” that resulted in getting what you wanted and needed. It was about controlling the chaotic world by controlling the gods through their idols. As you think about this background, why is God so serious about prohibiting Israel from making him into an image or idol? Do you think there are modern forms of idolatry that even Christian believers practice when we try to control God, reduce him, or interact with him in “transactional” ways? What does this look like, and how can we avoid it?
- Read verse 7, which states the third commandment. It might be translated more literally, “You shall not take up and carry the name of the Lord (Yahweh) in a way that treats it as nothing.” This commandment prohibited misusing, mistreating, or misrepresenting God’s name by maligning God’s name through swearing, or by making false promises in God’s name, or by associating with God’s name while living contrary to his character. In your opinion, how might Christians be tempted to misuse, mistreat, or misrepresent Gods’ name today? On the flip side, what does it look like when Christian believers honor and represent God’s name well with our lips and with our lives?
- At the end of the day, it is impossible to keep the 10 commandments in our own strength. How does the pardon of Jesus, and the power of Jesus, give us the perspective we need to interact with these commandments rightly?
Prayer recommendation: Take time to confess any sins related to these first three commandments. Ask God for his forgiveness and ask for the Holy Spirit’s power to keep God first in our lives, to avoid trying to control or manage God, and to speak truthfully about him, bringing honor to his name.