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The Ten Commandments, as revealed by God,
codified by Moses, and ratified and magnified by Christ, are the perfect expression of
God's law. They are the foundation of all biblical teaching, showing man how to express
love toward God and fellowman, and are consequently the focal point of Christian life.
When God initially spoke to the Israelites from Sinai, He
gave them the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). It is true that the full covenant made with
Israel at Sinai also contained other rules, regulations and commands (Ex. 20-24). Yet the
only code spoken directly to the people, rather than through Moses, and written on the
tables of stone placed in the ark of the covenant was the code of the Ten Commandments.
The vital importance of these ten major precepts to our culture has been recognized even
by historians who see no uniqueness in the Old Testament as a religious document.
Jesus Christ specifically listed five of the Ten Commandments (fifth,
sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth commandments) when He told the young rich man, "If
thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments " (Matthew 19:17). He also pointed
out that the Ten Commandments have two basic objectives (Matthew 19:16-22;
Mark 10:17-22; Luke
18:18-23): (1) the first four show how one is to love, worship and honor God, and (2) the
six give the basis for how to love other human beings. Indeed, Jesus summarized the two
basic objectives of the Ten Commandments when He answered the Pharisee's question:
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said
unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and
with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto
it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law
and the prophets" (Matthew 22:36-40).
James wrote that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one
point has become guilty of all of it" (James 2:10). What "law" was James so
strongly upholding in this context? He makes this plain in the next verse by discussing
two of the Ten Commandments (the sixth and seventh commandments).
John wrote profoundly about God's commandments in his
first epistle: "And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His
commandments" (1 John
2:3), for anyone "that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a
liar, and the truth is not in Him" (v. 4). Moreover, "whatever we ask, we
receive of Him, because we keep His commandments" (1 John. 3:22).
Ultimately, the whole object is the love of God, which is the essence
of God's being: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His
commandments are not burdensome" (1 John. 5:3). The entirety of the lawin both
its major and minor pointshas the object of teaching us what godly love is. Yet even
though each part is a section of the whole, unique stress has always been placed on the
specific ten points first enumerated as such at Mount Sinai. One can see an obvious reason
The problems of our modern legal system are well-known.
Some laws are so badly worded that the individual citizen is hard put to
know exactly what the legislators had in mind in
framing them and how he is to adhere to those laws. On the other hand, each
individual is continually beset on all sides by a welter of picayune
regulations which seem to irritate more than help. How is one to come to
grips with the situation without having to become a professional lawyer, as
it were? The Ten Commandments, by contrast, are a paradigm for the modern legislator. The Ten Commandments
provide a few convenient categories by which all laws can be summarized and organized.
To illustrate the importance of the Ten Commandments as the basic
summarizing principles of God's mind, the following section gives a precis of each and
shows how it serves as a major category of rubric under which many important but more
detailed commands can be systematized.
First Commandment: Worshipping No Gods But the True God. Many
regulations of the Old and New Testaments relate to worshipping and honoring only the one
God. In today's society there are few who follow blatant polytheism. And though historians
acknowledge Israel as the cradle of monotheism, most educated Romans and Greeks also
thought in terms of a basic monotheism by the time of Jesus. Yet polytheism easily exists
in a more subtle form in every age and society. Human nature naturally places the self
rather than God at the center of the personal universe. Man by nature first worships
himself. Even the initial impulse to worship a superior beinga godor even the
true Godis often a selfish one, since such worship is undertaken in order to stave
off disaster (by sacrifice or other propitiatory means), or to ask a favor, or to obtain
salvation. Worship of God for its own sake is completely possible only by means of the
Second Commandment: No Manufactured Images of God. Human
beings naturally like to deal with physical objects. Worshipping an invisible God and
recognizing that He is more real than even the physical world does not come easily.
Therefore, man seeks physical "aids" in worshipping God rather than coming to
grips with the true reality of the transcendent, invisible God inaccessible to the five
senses. Pagan worshippers seldom regarded their idol as the actual deity itself. On the
contrary, the idol was merely a representative of the invisible god in heaven. The idol
served as an aid to worship just as the icons and statues still used in various
religions, do today. Since the use of images in reality only serves to impede true
understanding of the spiritual and invisible Creator God, it wasand
Third Commandment: Not Taking God's Name in Vain. Respect
the world over is to a considerable extent demonstrated by the manner in which one refers
to the object of respect. One does not address the chairman of the board frivolously or
familiarly. To make use of God's name lightlywhether as an interjection in
day-to-day conversation, or as a witness to an event which really doesnt concern Him
(swearing and taking oaths), or in a context which does not show respect or
honorshows an unacceptable attitude toward God Himself. We all eventually have to
come to see God as the center of the universe and of all reality. That required insight is
impossible without the utmost respect and honor toward God. How one uses His name is an
outward indicator of how one really feels towards Him.
The third commandment has a deeper meaning as wellwe are not to
do anything that could hold God's name up to scorn. As Christiansand as God's
Churchwhat we do, what we teach and how we teach it directly reflects upon God. We
should take this responsibility seriously.
Fourth Commandment: Sabbaths for Rest and Worship. The
Sabbath command is very much a pivotal one, serving both as a means of honoring and
worshipping God and of aiding man. First of all, the Sabbath is a memorial of Creation
pointing to God as the Creator. Secondly, the human body requires rest for efficient
bodily function and a proper mental outlook. Therefore, God commanded man to rest a full
day once a week plus setting aside certain other days for annual times of rest and
rejoicing. Man by nature needs periodic holidays. Had God not given some to Israel, they
would have invented their own. Moreover, God not only gave weekly and annual days of rest,
but He required that slavesand even beasts of burdenbe allowed to enjoy rest
on these days. This was a demonstration of love for one's fellow man as well as kindness
Thirdly, while periodical physical rest is sufficient to meet physical
needs, the Sabbath and annual holy days serve a spiritual function as well. Indeed, this
is their primary purpose. They provide the opportunity for study and for meeting to
receive instruction in the ways of God. They provided the opportunity for worship and
intellectual and spiritual pursuits which may not be possible during the day-to-day task
of making a living. Again, any day of the week would suffice for this as well as for
physical rest. The spiritual aspect lies in the fact that (1) it is a time God has
chosen, a fact significant in itself since one shows respect to God by worshipping when,
and as He says, rather than as the individual chooses; and that (2) the choice of the
seventh day also points back to Creation and, as a consequence, to the Creator. Further,
both the weekly and annual Sabbaths serve to point out God's overall plan to man. This is
all part of the process of acquiring Gods mind, which is perfect love. (An
expression of the fourth commandment to include the annual festivals is indicated by some
of the scriptures which utilize the plural form of the Hebrew word shabbat.)
Fifth Commandment: Honor of Parents. The parents are the
first authority in a child's life. They are also the first source and the first object of
his love. By respecting and honoring his parents the child learns respect for constituted
authority in general, and eventually learns respect for the ultimate authority, God. In
the same way, he learns love from the love of his parents. As he returns that love, he
begins to see how love must also be directed toward a broader circle, and eventually
toward the Source of all things. Familial love is the basis of a stable family unit, which
in turn is the basis of a stable society. Loving one's parents is thus crucial in a
positive environment in which love is learned and expressed, and God thereby worshipped.
It is also a necessary step in learning to love God.
Sixth Commandment: Respect for Another's Life. Any orderly
society has certain restrictions on the taking of human life. Absolute prohibition against
taking human life does not exist in human society, but the basic principle is, at least,
recognized. A number of Old Testament laws governing warfare and the execution of
criminals relate to a physical nation rather than to a spiritual church. Life could be
taken under certain circumstances. However, Jesus showed that even hating was wrong, since
hating preceded murder and murder never embodied love. Even Old Testament laws clearly
taught that lack of care for the safety of another was only one step removed from
deliberate murder. A number of laws regulated potential or actual cases of manslaughter.
If a man accidentally killed another, the law protected him by allowing a place for him to
flee to. That is, it prevented another life from being taken in revenge for the accident.
On the other hand, the one guilty of manslaughter had to suffer a temporary exile, which
demonstrated the seriousness of the incident, showing that he might perhaps have prevented
a death had he been more careful. In other cases, the guilt of the careless individual was
more clearly defined, as for example, in not building a guard rail on his roof or not
keeping a belligerent farm animal safely locked up. Clearly, more than just premeditated
murder is being regulated and punished.
Seventh Commandment: The Marriage Institution. Adultery
is probably the most blatant offense against another person's marital partner. Forcible
adultery (rape) or consenting adultery both violate an intimate bond between husband and
wife, even if the wronged partner is not aware of it. Consenting adultery strikes at the
very bedrock of society, the marriage family unit, shattering the most intimate human
bond. Rape constitutes a violation of another person's body, mental and physical health,
and right to make personal decisions. Rape could never be considered an act of love.
Other unlawful sexual practices (e.g. homosexuality, bestiality) are
illegal, both because they degrade the human mind and body, and because they are a
substitution of the God-ordained marital bond. Sexual relations with near of kin are
potentially hazardous to unborn offspring. Premarital sexual relations are potentially
adulterous since the partners in such relations may eventually marry someone else.
Similarly, to live together sexually before marriage is to give a distorted view of the
purpose of marriage and perhaps to take away an important physical incentive for marriage
in the first place. All of these have consequences for one's ability to love others.
Finally, since marriage is also a picturein miniatureof
God's plan, a wrong approach towards marriage can cause one to overlook the important
spiritual truths about the ultimate and eternal Family of God which can be learned from a
Eighth Commandment: Respect for the Property of Others. Love
for another requires respect for his empirical self, which includes his family and his
physical possessions. While the greatest possession one has is life, and the next greatest
is one's marital partner and family, personal property may be an important necessity for
continued existence. To take another's property in a poor society, may sentence him to
malnutrition and a slow death. In a more affluent society, it may produce mental and
emotional consequences. Consequently, we must learn to respect the rights and needs of
Ninth Commandment: Honesty in Dealing with Others. This
commandment is phrased in a legal manner because one of the most obvious ways to defraud
another is to testify falsely against him in court. This could cause loss of property,
freedom, or even life. Yet, complete honesty and aboveboard dealing is also envisioned.
One has, in a sense, witnessed falsely when he uses a scale which has been tampered with.
Misrepresentation to get ahead means that a more deserving person is passed over. Lying to
boost one's ego, thereby deflating someone elses, is also blatant disregard for
another. Such self-centered dealings to the exclusion of others are unconscionable and the
antithesis of lovea violation of the ninth commandment.
Tenth Commandment: The Beginning of True Love is in the
Mind. The specific phrasing of this command proscribes desiring what is not lawful for
an individual to have: another person's property or mate or position or whatever. In a
sense, this gets at the heart of the four previous commands. One does not kill unless he
desires something another person has or can give him (such as property, a better position,
an improved reputation, the elimination of a threat or problem, etc.). Even revenge can
usually be traced back to envy, a form of covetousness. One does not commit adultery or
other sexual sins unless he has first desired what he was not entitled to, what he was not
allowed to have. One does not steal or gain through dishonesty without first taking
possession of the forbidden object in one's mind. If a person can control his nature at
this point, many of the other temptations shall take care of themselves. Indeed, the tenth
commandment is Spirit in form and contentit is concerned with the unlawful
desire in the mind as well as the specific act. In this sense, it points to and
foreshadows the future teachings of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3,5:
"Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each
esteem other better than themselves.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in
This publication is intended to be
used as a personal study tool. Please know it is not wise to take any man's word
for anything, so prove all things for yourself from the pages of your own Bible.
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