11439208_sChristians in Malaysia should greet the following news report with some joy:

PUTRAJAYA: Fifty-five people, more than half of whom are Puspakom employees, have been held for corruption in a nationwide blitz Tuesday and yesterday.

It is believed that they were earning up to an additional RM1,000 each a day or RM55,000 a month “in takings” from vehicles allegedly sent to the vehicles inspection specialist or better known as Puspakom (the Computerised Vehicle Inspection Centre).

Twenty-seven of the lot are agents or runners who are in cahoots with the centre’s traffic wardens and vehicle examiners to carry out inspections on “problematic” vehicles without following standard operating procedures and approving tests on vehicles without actually sending them for inspection. (Mazwin Nik Anis, The Star Online, Thursday August 28, 2008.)

While we are sickened and saddened by this blatant case of corruption, we are particularly disturbed that as a result of the greed of some corrupt officials, unsafe vehicles are allowed on the roads, potential killers of their drivers and innocent alike. Here is a graphic example of the fact that ignoring God’s concern for ethics leads to death.

In his essay, “The Ten Commandments: Are They Still Valid?”, the late Dr. Klaus Bockmuehl points us to Deuteronomy 4:6 which reads:

Observe them (Ten Commandments) carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (TNIV)

Dr Bockmuehl goes on to say:

The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) is described as the special property and privilege of Israel, something which they will contribute to the family of nations. It is assessed as being specially wise and worthy of praise by all nations. This verse indicates that these commandments will be considered astonishingly judicious and sensible by every nation; everyone will reckon them to be a standard definition of good. (The Christian Way of Living, Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1994, 130)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer regards the Ten Commandments as the “Law of Life” and believes that “failure to observe the second table (commandments five to ten) destroys life” (Ethics, London: Fontana, 1964, 341).

The bible is clear that the Decalogue, and ethical principles that are based on the Decalogue, are not just for God’s people. They represent what is good for all people.

Therefore when Christians work towards the observance of ethical principles based on the Decalogue in the public square, we are not pushing for some narrow Christian agenda. We are trying to call people to observe a set of ethical principles that will help preserve and prosper the nation. When we speak up for these values, especially in secular pluralistic societies or in societies where other religions are dominant, we do not say that people should adopt these values because they are Christian. We say that a nation ought to observe these values because they are right and good, and good for the nation.

Imagine a society where people:

  • Observe a rhythm of working hard and rest
  • Value parents
  • Treasure life
  • Respect the sanctity of marriage
  • Do not take what does not belong to them
  • Tell the truth
  • Are not consumed by greed.

Then imagine a society where most if not all of the above are absent, a society where people:

  • Are either lazy or kill themselves from overwork
  • Disregard and ignore those who brought them life
  • Have no respect for life
  • Break marriage vows at will
  • Are always stealing and cheating
  • Have no respect for truth and integrity
  • Are always driven by greed.

It is hard to imagine a society surviving much less thriving when God’s ethical principles are ignored. We are not surprised that even those in the hard-nosed world of business acknowledge the strong correlation between clear moral principles and business success. Moral Intelligence (Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel, Upper Saddle River: Wharton School Publishing, 2005) is one of a growing number of books that emphasise this link.

When we call upon those outside the community of faith to practice principles based on the Decalogue, we point to them as universal principles of good and for good (Romans 2:14-15). We appeal for the observance of these moral principles because to violate them is to bring harm to ourselves, irrespective of whether we are believers or not. Bockmuehl quotes Luther who is said to have said:

He who breaks one of the commandments is like a man who bows too far out of a fourth floor window: He’ll fall down and surely break his neck, be he Turk, Jew, Gentile or Christian. (The Christian Way of Living, 133)

However, we are also realistic as to the degree that these ethical principles can be adopted and practised by a society where people reject the Lordship of God. People can only go so far in pursuing the second table of the Ten Commandments without the motivation that comes from observing the first table of the commandments.

Therefore Christians in Malaysia and elsewhere must never forget that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform lives and enable people to live out the Decalogue. And while we may be sympathetic to, and even supportive of, the calls for “reformasi” (reformation) that is the battle cry of the opposition coalition in Malaysia, we must also be clear that what Malaysia needs and indeed what a fallen humanity needs is the life-giving transformation that only God can bring about.

This then is the two fold task of God’s people. On one hand, because we are called to be salt and light in society, we continue to call our nations back to the life -giving moral principles represented by the Decalogue. At the same time we call people to a saving, transforming relationship with the God of the Decalogue through the gospel of Jesus Christ. May the Lord find us faithful in both these responsibilities.