“Take me to you, imprison me, for I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free, nor ever chaste except you ravish me.” ~John Donne
Some Guidelines for Reading the Ten Commandments
One of the helpful parts of the Larger Catechism is the way it lays out how we ought to read the Ten Commandments. Here is a modern English version: (http://epcoga.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/Files/1-Who-We-Are/B-About-The-EPC/LargerCatechismModernEnglishORIGINAL.pdf) Check out question 99. You can find Scripture references for each phrase.
So to get ready for our sermon series, let’s walk through each of the eight guidelines. Each one is helpful. Don’t be ashamed if you have to read through each statement more than once. I do too!
1. The law is perfect and binds the whole person to observe it completely and, according to its standard, to be completely righteous, and perfectly obey every one of its obligations forever. On the negative side, the law forbids even the slightest or partial commission of any sin.
One of the responses I’ve heard and want to give, when I hear the extent of my obligations to my Creator and Redeemer is this: I’m trying, isn’t that good enough?
Or we love to compare our obedience to someone who is sucking at the commandment worse than us.
Let the wisdom of James 2:10 do it’s humbling work on your heart. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
2. Since it is spiritual, the law involves our understanding, our will, our emotions and all the other faculties of the soul, as well as our words, actions, and self-expressions.
It’s tempting to make law keeping external only. “Hey, I haven’t killed anyone lately!” Jesus would disagree. You’ve gotten angry and called people names. That’s the seed of the “do not murder” commandment.
The law is legislating our behavior, our beliefs, and our hearts.
3. Different aspects of one and the same thing may be required or forbidden in several different commandments.
It’s been said that if you want to keep all 10 commandments – keep the first one perfectly. If you had no other gods before the LORD Jesus and loved Him as we ought, everything else would fall in line.
The commandments often cross categories. E.g. Don’t steal human beings. Kidnapping another human being is also opposed to the flourishing of the life of my neighbor. That particular sin covers 6th and 8th commandments)
4. When something is required, the opposite is forbidden, and where a specific sin is forbidden, its opposite is required. In the same way, when a requirement of the law adds a promise of some blessing for obeying it, that promise also includes a threat for disobeying it, and when a threat is added, an opposite promise is included.
This one is really important. I plan to use this principle repeatedly throughout our series.
Take the time to go through each of the 10 commandments and write down what the opposite command would be. E.g. Don’t steal includes a positive command: thou shall work to be generous. Don’t kill. Love and protect all human life.
5. What God forbids must never be done at any time or under any circumstances. What he commands always remains an obligation, although every particular obligation of the law does not apply in all circumstances or at all times.
Sometimes it’s helpful to state the obvious. We are always obligated to keep God’s commandments, but we there are situations where mercy applies and is necessary. (Matthew 12:7)
6. The prohibitions against specific sins and the commandments to observe specific obligations are typical and so cover not just those particular sins or obligations but all others of the same kind. They similarly include all the contributory causes, means, opportunities, and appearances related to these sins and obligations.
Immorality has corrupt family trees. Sins are related. So we have the commandment to not kill. Suppose someone comes and asks for a jacket for they are cold and don’t have one. There is no commandment that says I should give. But if I refuse to give and they get seriously ill or even worse, to death freeze in February, then I have contributed to the loss of life.
It’s similar to the argument that if you don’t have a fence around your pool and someone drowns while using your pool without your consent. Your neglect is connected to their loss of life, which is a type of the 6th commandment. It's a contributory cause and means of a loss of life.
7. Since the provisions of the law apply not only to us but to everyone else, we must try to help others keep those provisions, in the context of our own position in life and theirs.
This is interesting. We must help others keep God’s commandments. It’s a lack of love for our neighbor if we let them continue in some kind of sin. This one is really uncomfortable in our postmodern context where the push back is something like, “Don’t force your truth on me.”
Notice the qualifier. It depends on your position in life. My role as a pastor comes with the strictest obligation to make God’s laws clear to you. Parents have an obligation to teach their children. We have spheres of influence and authority. Use that wisely.
8. Similarly, we must support others in keeping what the law commands them to do or not to do and particularly by not joining them in doing what is forbidden to them.
Lastly, we have the principle that requires courage and commitment. It’s an act of love to live lawfully, according to God’s commands. But it’s also a lawful act, to not join in the sin party.
Augustine gives a famous example from his childhood. With a bunch of friends, he broke into a neighbor’s yard and stole some pears. He didn’t even like pears. They threw them away and didn’t eat them. The thrill was in the law-breaking, together.
Swim upstream against ungodliness in the culture and community and workplace.
How do you feel after that? Like you need a Savior? If so, you are reading them correctly!
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
There is therefore right now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 7:25-8:3)
Bible Project – Love the Lord your God
These are 6 beautiful visual meditations on Deuteronomy 6:4. I used them in our leadership training. They’d be great supplement to our studies on the Ten Commandments.
Sunday School – 9:00am – Join ruling elder John Van Voorhis as he leads “A Method for Prayer”
Worship 10:15am – Deuteronomy 5:6-7 - “Love the Lord your God – Have No Other Gods” – As we kick off with the 1st commandment this Sunday, we want to remember the gospel motivations for keeping the law. WE obey because we are grateful for grace. And we obey in order to represent God well in the world. The 1st commandment is calling us to believe that a fierce commitment and trust in the LORD Jesus Christ is good for our neighbors. We can only do that if we hear the grace given in the commandment.
See you Sunday!