Turn with me tonight please to Exodus 20.
The Ten Commandments are a collection of biblical laws contained in Exod 20:1–17 and Deut 5:6–21. The title originates from Exod 34:28 (cf. Deut 4:13; 10:4), where it is stated that Moses “wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” In the Hebrew and Greek texts, the “ten commandments” are, literally, the “ten words.” Although “ten” has achieved a firm place in the tradition as the distinctive characteristic of the collection, the terminology itself was apparently a secondary description of the collection. From the Greek deka logoi (“ten words”) derives the term “decalogue” as an equivalent designation for this set of biblical laws.
So, some refer to this list as the 10 commandments, 10 words, or decalogue.
1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. 12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. 13 Thou shalt not kill. 14 Thou shalt not commit adultery. 15 Thou shalt not steal. 16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. 17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
We understand that the commandments were given to moses for the children of Israel as a guide to show their need for the future Messiah. The law was never given to fulfill perfectly to try and merit a right standing with God.
Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
1. The Ten Commandments should be viewed as a gift from God.
So often we look at rules and guidelines as punishments, but the reality is that because God created and loves us and knows what’s best for us, he gives us moral and spiritual direction about how to live life in the best way.
John Yates said, “The Ten Commandments are a love gift to us from God. Of course this is true of all Scripture, but the heart and soul of God’s guidance is found in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are to be memorized, pondered, and committed to as a way of life.
The commandments are our treasure. We cherish them. They’re a great gift, a love gift from God. They guide us. They warn us. They protect us. When we keep them, we show others what God is like. When we fail to live them, we bring great harm to ourselves and we dishonor our Maker.
2. We are unable to fulfill the commandments on our own.
We have a problem keeping the Ten Commandments because man is born in bondage to sin and selfishness. And in the end we cannot help but break God’s holy law. But when we become a new creature by faith in Christ, we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit. We’re freed from having to sin, and we’re given the grace to keep God’s law. Keeping God’s commandments is not onerous but helps us live at peace with God, with ourselves, and with our neighbors.
John Bunyan said, “The danger doth not lie in the breaking of one or two of these ten only, but it doth lie even in the transgression of any one of them. As you know, if a king should give forth ten particular commands, to be obeyed by his subjects upon pain of death; now, if any man doth transgress against any one of these ten, he doth commit treason, as if he had broke them all, and lieth liable to have the sentence of the law as certainly passed on him, as if he had broken every particular of them. . . . These things are clear as touching the law of God, as it is a covenant of works: If a man do fulfill nine of the commandments, and yet breaketh but one, that being broken will as surely destroy him, and shut him out from the joys of heaven, as if he had actually transgressed against them all. . . . Though thou shouldst fulfill this covenant or law, even all of it, for a long time, ten, twenty, forty, fifty, or threescore years; yet if thou do chance to slip, and break one of them but once before thou die, thou art also gone and lost by that covenant. . . . As they that are under the covenant of grace shall surely be saved by it, so, even so, they that are under the covenants of works and the law, they shall surely be damned by it, if continuing therein.
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
3. Jesus clarified and deepened the understanding of the commandments.
The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, and Jesus summarized them as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The last six commandments address our relationship with our fellow man, and Jesus summarized them as: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39).
Jesus taught and clarified the deeper meaning of the Ten Commandments for us. As he explained the Ten Commandments in the Gospels, he raised the bar on our understanding of what God expects of us. For instance, in Matthew 5:21, Jesus explained the meaning of the commandment not to murder. He said that actually anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Christ came and disrupted the Jews external approach to the 10 Commandments. They thought that the rules involved action only, but Christ came and highlighted the issue of the heart.
What does God require in the commandments?
First, that we know God as the only true God.
Second, that we avoid all idolatry.
Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and reverence.
Fourth, that on the Sabbath day we spend time in worship of God.
Fifth, that we love and honor our father and our mother.
Sixth, that we do not hurt or hate our neighbor.
Seventh, that we live purely and faithfully.
Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else.
Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive.
Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone.
With a deeper understanding to the purpose of the commands and the proper application of their truth, we will view God’s guidance, not as overreach or oppressive but as an extension of His care for us.
May we be memorizing these truths, but also intentional in the application to our heart. May we submit internally to God’s authority and allow that submission to work its way to the surface.