The Ten: Why These Commands Matter

“And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-3)

Why are the Ten Commandments so important to Christians? After all, they are the first part of the Law of Moses, and Jesus fulfilled that Law. Believers in Jesus are saved by grace, not by keeping the “ten words” of God to the Israelites.

theten_350But wait! Think about this for a minute. Is the New Testament “Christian” God different from the God of Israel? Not at all. God is God, and he does not change. More: Nine of the big ten in Exodus 20 are completely restated and reinforced by the inspired writers of the New Testament.

Maybe most importantly: God came before his chosen people and gave them these ten commands as the introduction to everything else he would tell them to do. These ten rules for living tells us an enormous amount about what our God is like, what he values, what he wants from us.

Number 1: He wants to be your only god. (More tomorrow.)

Think: What value do you place on the Ten Commandments? Can you put too much emphasis on them? Can you put too little?

Pray: Thank God for giving these ten words to his people Israel and for revealing them to you. Ask him to help you to never put any kind of god – or anything else – in his place in your life.

Do: Read through Exodus 20:1-21 to get ready to think about the Ten Commandments this week.

The Ten: American Idols?

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

The first two commandments tell us a lot about the ancient world and about God. During that era, it was normal for families, towns, and nations to pledge allegiance to a whole playlist of gods. In return for your worship (ceremonies, sacrifices, rituals), the hope was that those gods would pay you back with good crops, military victories, and lots of babies – and keep bad things from happening to you.

theten_350God’s commands told the Israelites that he wanted to be their one and only. He wanted them to turn to just one source for supernatural protection and blessing: Him. Period. That’s it. No other gods. No man-made idols. He wanted all their hopes and fears focused on him.

Too easy? No “house gods” in your joint? Wait: Paul later described something else as idol worship – greed. (See Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5.) Greed could be defined as “making a goal out of getting more than you need.” These commands just got a lot harder.

Think: Do we really believe God is the only source of everything we need and want? Do we put more effort into worshipping him or serving jobs and relationships we think will “pay off” in more predictable ways?

Pray: Ask God to help you to notice if you’ve made an idol out of anything in your life. Ask him to help you not to be greedy and to turn to him for help with everything you need, want, and fear.

Do: Make a quick list: What, specifically, are the contestants and fans of reality shows like “American Idol” in danger of worshipping if they don’t set all of their hopes on God?

The Ten: His Name Matters

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7)

Before our son was born, my wife and I talked about all the different names we could give to him. Some of them were funny. Some were unusual. Some were traditional. We settled on Samuel, and now we can’t imagine him with any other name. His name and his identity are connected. He is Sam. Sam he is.

theten_350God takes his own name very seriously. Throughout Scripture, he makes a very big deal about it. He is connected to his name, especially Yaweh, in a sense that goes beyond the connection we have to our own names. It is his identity, his reputation, and it carries his power.

So this command is a warning: If you disrespect God’s name, you disrespect him. How would you do that? You could borrow its power for lying (“I swear by God’s name I didn’t cheat on the test!”) or – in the ancient world, especially – for certain ungodly spells or rituals.

But the most common way to misuse his name now is to use it as if it doesn’t matter, at all, by cussing with it, joking with it, or “damning” people or things with it (even if you don’t really mean it). The third commandment tells us that God takes that personally.

Think: Have you noticed yourself or other Christians using God’s or Jesus’ name disrespectfully? Why do you think so many of us seem to be okay with that?

Pray: Ask God to help you to never use his name inappropriately or disrespectfully.

Do: Notice how many times you hear people use God’s or Jesus’ names for swearing in the next few days.

The Ten: A Day Off

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

Of the Ten Commandments, this one about the Sabbath is the only one, more or less, not explicitly restated in some way for New Testament Christians. If it were, the church would not have moved its primary day of group worship to Sunday and none of us would do any work on Saturdays.

theten_350Does that mean the commandment doesn’t matter? Of course not. Each of God’s Top Ten in Exodus 20 were important to him and, therefore, important for Israel. God cares about the Sabbath. In fact, Jesus said that the Sabbath was created for us. It is a gift. Like all of the commands, God meant this one for Israel’s good.

The word Sabbath means “rest,” and we all need rest. God chose to rest after his work of creation. In that creation, he designed us to function best with a day of rest each week, as well. We’re not meant to go 24/7 without a break. We’re built to follow his pattern of 6 + 1 – and for that one to involve focused worship of the Creator.

Ever since Jesus showed up, people have been debating about what, exactly, are the rules of the Sabbath. But our Christian freedom from the law of Moses doesn’t mean we have to give up the benefits of the Sabbath command in some form or another. We can still enjoy a day off each week for God’s glory and our own good.

Think: Do you or your family intentionally find a way to enjoy a day of rest each week? If not, what would it take for you to do so? What would it cost you? How would it benefit you and/or God?

Pray: Ask God to help you know how you should practice keeping a “day of rest and worship” each week.

Do: Ask some of the Christians you know and respect if, how, and why they practice a day of “Sabbath rest” each week.

The Ten: Honor the ‘Rents

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

For some reason, nearly everyone I’ve ever met went through a season (short or long or endless) of thinking this command from God is on the “optional” list. I know I spent a semester or two feeling that way. It’s not optional, of course. In fact, it gets repeated word for word in Ephesians 6:1-3. God takes “honor your parents” extremely seriously.

theten_350One problem is we don’t really know what “honor” means. We understand when we’re obeying and disobeying – and we know that’s wrong, even when we choose to do it, anyway. But honor means to treat someone as if they are worthy of respect. It means, in a way, to act as if they outrank you.

But what if they don’t deserve respect? What if, in fact, they deserve exactly the opposite of respect because they haven’t been good to you or others? Yeah, God doesn’t mention that. He doesn’t give us any way out of the command. He just says, “Honor them,” meaning, “Be respectful, kind, gracious, forgiving, honest, and decent to them.”

It’s a hard thing to do sometimes. But God wants us to trust him enough to do the hard things he tells us to do even when we don’t get why, even when it costs us something, even when it hurts. Honoring them is one way we honor him.

Think: On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being hardest), how hard is it for you to honor your parents lately? What makes it hard? Why does it matter that we do it anyway?

Pray: Ask God to help you to trust him enough to honor your parents.

Do: Ask a parent or two what this command means to them. Then ask how they think they did at honoring their own parents. Be ready for an interesting conversation.

The Ten: The Big Ones

“You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:13-16)

Can you believe that’s four whole verses up there? Commandments numbers six through nine are so simple and straightforward. And they’re probably the easiest to keep, right? I mean, you don’t usually just have a bad day and kill someone. Or sleep with someone’s spouse. Or steal a car. Or lie in court about your neighbor.

theten_350Nope. Those are the biggies, the ones that most good Israelites could put on their list of “bad things I’ve never done.”

Then Jesus showed up and took an eraser to their lists. He said those biggies start as real sin in the secret places of the heart. To tune your mind to lust, he said, is heart adultery. To hate a person, John wrote, is to be a murderer. We’ve all learned how to steal a digital thing or two from the anonymous privacy of our computers. And lying in court is only a public version of lying to our parents.

None of us is really innocent, even of all the biggies. Part of the point of the Law was to convince us all that we can’t keep that Law, that we are not good enough on our own for God. We needed Jesus to keep them all for us. And we thank God he did, then died to pay for all the ones we broke.

Think: Do you have a list of sins you are proud not to have committed? Is there any real honor in having broken some of God’s Law and not other parts of it?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to kill, hate, lust, commit adultery, steal (anything ever), or lie (for any reason). Thank him that Jesus died for all your sins and that you’ve been forgiven for them through faith and by his grace.

Do: Read Galatians 3 to hear what Paul has to say about the difference between living by faith in Christ and living under the Law of Moses.

The Ten: Don’t Crave Your Neighbor’s Stuff

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)

The final commandment in The Ten is this: Don’t covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. The dictionary tells me that covet means to “wish, long, or crave” for something that belongs to someone else – in an envying or jealous way.

theten_350I wonder if this is the hardest command of them all. Watch some pre-schoolers playing, and you’ll see coveting in action almost immediately. It doesn’t matter how cool the toy I have is – it’s that you have something I don’t and you seem to be enjoying it. And even if I get it away from you, I’ll be happy only until you pick up something else and make it look fun.

God hates our coveting, though, because we are essentially saying this when we covet what someone else has: “God, the good gifts you have given to me are lame! You have not provided for me adequately. I refuse to be content until I have the same thing, relationship, car, parents, or iPhone that she has.”

Here’s the best advice I’ve heard about coveting: Use gratitude to train yourself to like what you have, and use love to train yourself to be happy for what other’s have.

Think: Are you most likely to covet the things of people you like or people you don’t? Why? In your own words, how is indulging our tendency to covet insulting to the God who provides for us?

Pray: Ask God to help you to like – and to say thanks for – what you have. Ask him to help you to be truly happy for people who have good things that you don’t.

Do: Without looking at anything, try to list all ten commandments in order. Peek once to refresh your memory, then try again (if needed).