We study the Ten Commandments for the same reason that we go to school—to learn the truth. The Bible teaches that the law was a schoolmaster, intended to bring people to faith in Christ (Galatians 3:24-25). And just like people who graduate from school do not go to classes or take tests anymore, so we are not under the law anymore. After graduating from school, we take the knowledge we learned into the real world in the same way that God’s Commandments still reveal right and wrong even though we are not under the law. When I graduate from school, two plus two still equals four. When Jesus is my Lord and I am saved by faith, the Ten Commandments are still essential truths in understanding what pleases and angers God.
Following is a condensed version of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:
- Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Honor thy father and thy mother.
- Thou shalt not kill.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
- Thou shalt not covet.
Commandment One: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
Isaiah 43:10 says, “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor will there be one after Me.”
Someone once asked Michelangelo why he worked so hard on his masterpiece sculpture, David. He replied: "Young man, there is an angel inside this rock, and I am setting him free." People are often like Michelangelo, trying to chisel away at the rock of life in order to release a god formed how they want it to look. The sin of worshipping other gods is a serious one. In fact, the Bible says that God is a jealous God. He is exactly who the Bible says He is.
In what ways can we be worshipping other gods?
Whenever we put a higher value on anything other than the God who is the subject of the Bible, we are breaking the first commandment. Some obvious examples of worshipping other gods are false religions like Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, and alternate spiritual practices such as witchcraft, palm reading and scientology. There are literally thousands of false gods and religions in the world that people look to instead of God. In America we have freedom of religion but that does not make it ok with God—He is jealous for our love and devotion.
Another way that people worship false gods is more subtle but still a violation of the first commandment. Sometimes people put things before God such as video games, sports, work, money, children, relationships, family, friends, school, etc. All of these things can become more important than our relationship with the Lord if we are not careful.
What can we do to ensure that we do not break the first commandment?
First, trust in Jesus, who is God Himself, and understand that we cannot know the Father aside from Him. “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” Matt 11:27
Second, read the Bible and know the things that God says concerning Himself, and what He expects of us. Cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have long preyed upon people who believe in God, but have never really learned the importance of knowing God through His Word. Remember the Ten Commandments are about relationship with God and each other. We can never truly have a relationship with God if we never get to know Him.
Commandment Two: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
Although it seems strange today, people have, throughout history made statues, drawings, engravings and idols to worship. From the gods of ancient Egypt to modern India, and from new age crystals to Eskimo totem poles, human societies have crafted likenesses of angels, demons, people, animals and strange creatures from their own imaginations out of wood, stone, gold, clay and any other handy substance in order to worship them, hoping to get some spiritual favor or power. God strictly prohibits this!
It might seem silly that God should become upset at this but when people focus their faith on something other than the invisible God of all creation through His Word, their faith becomes perverted. The book of Romans warns about this, saying: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things." Romans 1:22-23 (NKJV)
Also, we do not focus our vision on earthen manmade idols because it is God who is forming His image our hearts: “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). The only thing we should gaze upon is the image of Jesus Christ revealed through the Word of God, not some physical likeness from a human being’s imagination. As Jesus said, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21).
Commandment Three: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
God is holy and He is powerful. Using His name sloppily makes Him seem common, small and powerless. The Bible tells us to turn away from people who use God’s name in vain: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NKJV). These people have a vain form of godliness— they take the Lord’s name in vain but their intentions are evil!
As Christians, we use the Lord’s name and acknowledge His presence respectfully. He is the Mighty King—the Creator and Master of all that is. His power is infinite, His sacrifice was perfect, His love is eternal and His life is immortal. Jesus said: “you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment.” Mark 12:30 (NKJV) We use His name respectfully because of who He is.
A person does not pull a fire alarm foolishly, call the police haphazardly, shoot a gun carelessly or call an ambulance if they merely sneeze. Likewise, we do not invoke God’s name in vain. God wants us to respect His name. He wants us to think of Him as special, holy and powerful and to use his name in a respectful way. Jesus said that we can experience great power through the proper use of God’s name: "Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” (Mark 11:22-24).
Commandment Four: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
As one of His Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is extremely important to God. He has given it to His people as a gift and for thousands of years observant Jews have gathered to worship God each week like clockwork. The early Christians moved their day of observation to the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, to memorialize Jesus resurrection from the dead, but continued the ancient tradition.
Unfortunately, though, Sunday church has lost much of its influence in our post-modern culture. Many good Christians have been fooled to think of the Sabbath as optional. But remember, the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), and the truth we learn, even though we have graduated from school, is still the knowledge we conduct our lives by. Keeping the Sabbath holy stands side by side with “thou shall not murder” and “though shall not commit adultery” in importance to God.
Many present day Christians diminish the testimony of thousands of years of unbroken observance of the Lord’s Day claiming that we are not under the law. This is unfortunate and reveals our culture’s rebellious heart rather than a compliant spirit. Robert J. Morgan says in his book, “Stories, Illustrations and Quotes”, “Our great grandparents called it the Holy Sabbath. Our grandparents called it the Lord’s Day. Our parents called it Sunday. And we call it the weekend.”
Like the waves of the sea, each Sunday for two thousand years, the Christian nation around the world has flowed from inside their homes into their churches. From mud huts in Africa to cathedrals in New York to underground house churches in China—what a glorious thought! Each Sunday, praises ring out to Heaven as congregations gather around the world, like a giant dazzling tsunami wave circling the Earth with the rising sun. “I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people” (Psalms 35:18). This is the great testimony of our faith!
Listen to the early church father, Justin Martyr, on the Sabbath: “And on the day called Sunday, all who lived in cities or in the country gathered together in one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read… Sunday is the day on which we hold common assembly, because it is the first day of the week on which the Lord made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.”
Commandment Five: “Honor thy father and thy mother.”
This is a commandment written to children. Children are commanded by God to honor, respect and obey their own parents. There is no negotiation in this. No ifs, ands or buts. It does not say that children should honor their parents, ‘if’ their parents give them what they want. In fact, it is understood that training children will include lessons and teaching that will be uncomfortable to receive. Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)
Regrettably, godless influences have, in recent times, reversed the commandment of God and put guilt on parents to treat their children as equals, considering training in obedience to be harsh and unreasonable. Some teach that rigorous training hurts children and inhibits their individual development, but this is false. Disobedient children are like unbroken horses—wild spirits without self control. Consider the following:
- If you refuse to obey your parents who you can see, you will never be able to obey God who you cannot see.
- Success in life depends on learning to obey legitimate human authority, which is what this commandment lovingly teaches through parents. Whether home, school, church, university, work, military or government; human society depends on successfully functioning within structures of authority. Even Jesus became successful as he honored his earthly parents: Then He went down with them (Mary and Joseph) and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them… And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. Luke 2:51-52
- The promise of long life comes with obedience to this commandment. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12). Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." Ephesians 6:1-3 Although we are to honor our parents throughout our lives, obedience to this commandment begins when we are children.
Commandment Six: “Thou shalt not kill.”
The word ‘kill’ really refers to the crime of murder. It is the unjustified taking of a person’s life. Consider the following:
- The Bible records the first sin after the Fall of Adam was the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (Genesis 4:1-8).
- Jesus says of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44)
- Not all killing is murder. Jesus praised the Roman army officer (Matthew 8:5-11) for his great faith without comment on his occupation but accused the Pharisees of trying to kill Him (John 8:37 & 40). Also, another Roman army officer, Cornelius, was commended as a devout man who feared God with his whole household, and became the first Gentile to receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10)
- Murder originates in the heart, and as Christians, we are not only responsible to control our actions but our attitudes and words as well. Jesus said, "You have heard that the law of Moses says, `Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22 NLT) This shows that hateful, angry, unkind, resentful, rebellious, covetous, jealous and prideful thoughts and words are the seeds of murder. Therefore we must be very aware of our thoughts, attitudes and words.
- When Moses was born, the devil moved on Pharaoh’s heart to murder babies. When Jesus was born, the devil moved on Herod’s heart to murder babies. In our abortion-on-demand society, millions of innocent babies are murdered each year: Who is the devil trying to kill now? Perhaps the end-time army of God!
- Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15).
Commandment Seven: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Adultery is the sin of being unfaithful to one’s spouse, and like all sin, it originates in the heart. Jesus said, “But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28 (NLT) Consider the following:
- Normally righteous, King David fell prey to the sin of adultery when he stopped doing the strenuous work God called him to. “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). We must stay busy doing our work for God.
- David was in his own home when he fell. He was not looking for trouble. Perhaps a little weary, he had just gotten up from a nap—but his defenses were down. “Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king's house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.” (2 Samuel 11:2) Today people have to be just as careful as we look out at the world through our TV sets and computers. If David had his eyes lifted up in prayer to God, he wouldn’t have been tempted. “Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things” (Isaiah 40:26)
- Committing adultery releases disease into the mind of the sinner. “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul.” Proverbs 6:32
- A husband and wife are two persons, joined into a single life by God Himself and never intended to be separated. Jesus said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 'and the two shall become one flesh'; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. "Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." Mark 10:7-9
Commandment Eight: “Thou shalt not steal.”
To steal is to take (the property of another) without right or permission.
- The very first sin ever committed was the sin of stealing fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3).
- Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, was a thief, stealing money from the money box (John 12:6).
- Wicked Queen Jezebel stole a vineyard for her husband, Ahab, by having the rightful owner murdered (1 Kings 21).
- In fact, stealing is the devil’s very nature. Jesus said, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Some common stealing today includes: Burglarizing homes, identity theft, illegal downloading, stealing from cars, not paying taxes, cheating on homework, defaulting on debts, stealing from employers, shoplifting and robbing from God by not tithing.
Fewer and fewer communities today are safe for residents to leave their homes without locking the doors. However, in former days, when Christian influence was much stronger in America, it was commonplace that people never locked their homes or cars. Stealing was very rare in many communities even among the poor. Now, though, it is normal to need elaborate security systems and even so, some homes are broken into multiple times. If we love and obey God, we respect the property of others and trust God to meet our needs. We would never steal because our God is not poor and He has promised to care for us. “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Commandment Nine “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
“a poor man is better than a liar” (Proverbs 19:22).
Truth is like an evenly woven fabric. There is a wholeness and integrity to the fabric of our inner life as we live in truth and each time a person lies, misleads or bears false witness a tear occurs to that fabric. Truth begets integrity and lies beget corruption. A liar therefore is worse than a poor man because his soul is tattered and torn, which is far worse than wearing old clothing. The commandment against bearing false witness is critical for a number of reasons:
- In the court room, witnesses must promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is universally understood that without the truth, there is no hope for justice. Bad guys win and good guys lose when people lie.
- Nobody trusts a liar. Today with many untrustworthy politicians, selfish special interests, deceptive sales techniques, different religions, scientists using contradicting statistics and differing opinions about pretty much everything, it is vital for God’s people to be absolutely committed to honesty. We cannot have true community in the presence of public lies.
- The devil is the father if lies: Jesus said, “When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
- Our relationships cannot be healthy when we create a false reality, distorted with lies, exaggerations, mistrusts, and half-truths. At some point most people will wake up and realize that if an acquaintance will lie to other people, he/she will just as quickly lie to me. Lies destroy confidence, security, trust and love.
- Most importantly, our ability to trust God is connected to the truth. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Our confidence in Jesus is directly related to our ability to trust that He is telling the truth.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all" (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Ventures in Common Sense, 6)
Commandment Ten “Thou shalt not covet.”
The full Commandment says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's" (Exodus 20:17)
To covet means "to fix the desire upon” or to “lust after.” Therefore, the Commandment here is speaking to misguided, selfish and unrestrained human desire. We cannot do better here than let the Scripture inform our hearts to God’s intention:
- “I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, "Do not covet." But sin took advantage of this law and aroused all kinds of forbidden desires within me!” (Romans 7:7-8, NLT). We must guard our hearts from the forbidden desires of covetousness.
- “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10) Love produces contentment in our hearts so that we can be happy for our neighbor when they have nice things.
- “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness (covetousness), and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:6-10) As Christians we must look for our contentment in God. Elements of the material world will never deeply satisfy our souls. Someone will always have more than us so we must train our hearts to be content with the fruit of our labors and God’s blessing.
- “And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. "And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' "So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.’ And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry." ‘“But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21)
In conclusion: As a family, it is vital that we wear God’s Commandments on our minds and hearts as the clothing of our souls. We define our lives by His Commandments and depend on His grace through Jesus to forgive us when we fail to keep the standard perfectly. We understand that the laws not only speak to our actions but to our souls and we commit our hearts to the Lord.
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5-10)