The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20)
The vital connection between salvation and obedience is brought out clearly in the giving of the Ten Commandments. Before speaking to His people about what they must do if they are to live as an obedient people, God reminds them of what He has done for them: ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of slavery in Egypt’ (v. 2). We must never forget how much the Lord has done for us. If we lose sight of His love, grace and mercy, so wonderfully revealed to us in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, our ‘obedience’ will be nothing but legalism. Real obedience comes from real salvation. It comes from the God of our salvation.
The Ten Commandments are not ten different, unconnected laws. Together, they make up one single, undivided Law – the Law of God. The Ten Commandments are not a collection of Moses’ ideas. They are not simply a set of moral principles imposed by Moses on the Jewish people of his day. Together, the Ten Commandments present us with one, single, undivided revelation of the character of the God of perfect holiness. As we read of the pattern of holy living, set out in the Ten Commandments, we catch a glimpse of the holiness of the God who has given us His Law.
The Ten Commandments are frequently misunderstood. Some people think they can choose the commandments they like and ignore the ones they don’t like. They tend to prefer the commandments they think they can use to condemn other people. They are not so keen on the commandments which highlight more directly their own disobedience to God.
We are not at liberty to treat the Ten Commandments in this way. We must hear the one, single, undivided Law of God with honesty and humility of heart. We must allow God’s Law to show us our guilt. We must allow God’s Law to point us to Jesus, our only Saviour. In the Ten Commandments, every one of us is condemned, over and over again, as a guilty law-breaker. The Law of God does not provide any way for guilt to be removed. It is only through faith in the Saviour that our guilt is removed. We are not saved by works of the law. We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Those who are saved by grace through faith are saved for good works. We are not saved by our own good works. We are, however, called to show the genuineness of our faith in Christ by living a life of good works. We are not put right with God through the law. We do, however, turn to the Law of God to guide us in our life of obedient faith. The Law of God gives shape, form and content to our obedience. The life of obedience is not motivated by an attempt to put ourselves right with God. Rather, it is a life whish arises out of a sense of gratitude to God for all that He has done for us in Christ.
As we look at the shape given to our obedience by the Law of God, we must note that our obedience is to be grounded in love – ‘loving Him who first loved me.
‘Love to God will admit no other god.
Love resents everything that debases its object by representing it by an image.
Love to God will never dishonour His Name.
Love to God will reverence His day.
Love to parents makes one honour them.
Hate, not love, is a murderer.
Lust, not love, commits adultery.
Love will give, but never steal.
Love will not slander or lie.
Love’s eye is not covetous.’
(1) No other gods
This is the foundational commandment. If we were obedient to this first commandment, obedience to the other commandments would naturally follow. It is because we disobey God’s first commandment that we break the other commandments also. This commandment is not merely about ‘believing’ in God. It is about giving our full allegiance to Him alone. It is about letting God be God. Do not make a ‘god’ of pleasure Do not make a ‘god’ of money. Pleasure is a false god. Money is a false god. Jesus said, ‘You cannot serve God and money’. This is more than a commandment. It’s a statement of fact. Christ gave His all for us. He calls us to give our all to Him.
(2) No graven images
There are two important principles here – right thinking about God and true worship of God. The Word and Sacraments belong together. A sacramentalism which has no real interest in learning is of no value. We need to receive teaching from God’s Word if our worship is to be God-centred and God-honouring.
(3) No taking God’s Name in vain
The problem with religious people is this - familiarity breeds contempt. We must beware of overfamiliarity. We must not take God for granted. Overfamiliarity lies at the root of the blasphemous use of God’s Name. The devil’s plan is to make the Name of Jesus Christ mean absolutely nothing. The devil is glad when he hears the Name of Jesus Christ being used, over and over again, as an idle word. He takes delight in hearing the Name of Christ being used as a senseless and sinful expression of anger. Those who love the Lord must not speak words which bring dishonour to our Saviour’s Name. We must speak words which declare the wonder of His saving grace.
(4) Remembering to keep the Lord’s Day holy
We do not bring glory when we worship now and again. This is not concerned only with Communion Sundays. It is not concerned only with occasional worship – once a month, fortnightly. It is concerned with every Lord’s Day. When we gather in the Lord’s House for worship, the Lord speaks to us concerning our priorities. He asks us where we have been since the last time we worshipped Him in His House. What about last Sunday? What about the Sunday before? He invites us to make a new beginning with Him. He invites us to be serious about worshipping Him.
(5) Honour your father and your mother
The responsibility begins with the parents. They are to be the kind of parents whom their children will be glad to honour. Children are unlikely to honour parents who send them to Sunday School while never attending Church themselves. If we expect our children to honour us, we must set a good example for them to follow. If we expect them to honour the Lord, we must give them a godly lead.
(6) You shall not kill
You may not have harmed anyone physically. What about character assassination? What about secret anger? What about the spiteful jeer? What about the unrestrained outburst of violent, abusive speech?
(7) No adultery
Plain speaking about such matters is not popular. God is not silent about such matters. He is not indifferent about them. Marital infidelity has drastic effects. Often, whole families are lost to the Church because of marital infidelity. Our society is strengthened when the marriage bond is held in honour. Are you guilty of adultery in thought? Confess your sin to the Lord. He will forgive.
(8) No stealing
Perhaps, you say, ‘I’m not a thief.’ What about time-wasting? Are we good stewards of our time? What about our responsibility of Christian giving? Are we robbing God in this matter?
(9) No lying
‘A lie has no legs.’ It requires other lies to support it. Tell one lie and you are forced to tell others to back it up. Don’t say, ‘I don’t tell lies.’ What about passing judgment on others when you know next to nothing about them? What about false rumour, exaggeration, misrepresentation, and gossip? We are not to twist the meaning to make ourselves look good and other people look bad. We are to people of truth. In our commitment, we must remember love. We are to look for the best in other people. Remember; ‘It is easy to splash mud but it is better to help a man to keep his coat clean’. In our use of the tongue, we must remember this: ‘A sharp tongue is the only tool that grows sharper with constant use.’ We must take care how we speak. We must never forget this: Once a word has been spoken, it can never be taken back again.
(10) No coveting
If you have the desire to sin but there is no opportunity, give thanks to God. If you have the opportunity to sin but there is no desire, give thanks to God. God help us when the desire and the opportunity are both present at the same time.
Our thinking needs to be right – ‘Sow a thought. Reap an action. Sow an action. Reap a habit. Sow a character. Reap a destiny.’
Don’t covet this world’s riches. So many make the mistake of conforming to the world’s standards rather than maintaining the Lord’s standards. Many do not give to the Lord, as they know they should, because they’re too fond of the things of the world. We must choose – worldliness or godliness?