<<divine rules or instructions>>
“Teach them to your children” – Deuteronomy 4:9
instructions for us! If we believe there is a God who has made us and if He has spoken, then it makes sense to listen and do what He says about how we should run our lives. These are His rules and are the standard by which everyone will be judged (and shown to be sinners). The nature of God has never changed, nor has the basic character and need of humanity, so His commands still have significance and relevance – for all time, people and cultures.
Most of the Bible’s commands, laws, or orders are recorded in the OT. God gave them to His chosen people, indicating how they were to live – meeting the needs of each person in a responsible and loving way. Not all are binding today, for Jesus put an end to the OT law, yet the principles are not irrelevant for those who live by these Godly rules will be honoured while those who break them will not be (Jer 31:31-34; Mt 5:17-19; Rom 7:1-7, 10:4; Gal 3:23-25; Eph 2:15; Col 2:14; 2 Tim 3:16; Heb 10:9,10). As Christians, we are now under the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). This is summed up as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind and strength…and love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and prophets [that is, the OT] relate to these two commandments” (Mk 12:30,31).
By loving God, we will not be worshipping false gods or bowing to idols. To love God means we believe in Jesus, keep His commandments and love others, for true love fulfils the law (Jn 13:34, 14:15; Rom 13:10; 1 Jn 3:23). Loving our neighbour is outworked by living honourably, respecting them as fellow human beings made in God’s image and only relating to them as we would like them to relate to us (Mt 7:12). These two positive commands encompass all the various aspects of the OT commandments, and are important guidelines for living. By obeying them, we will be fulfilling all that Christ requires of us.
God’s commandments are given for our good
benefit (1 Jn 5:3). They don’t forbid good clean fun but warn against unwise actions which will destroy relationships and worthwhile goals.
The OT commands can be classified into three groups:
1/. Moral laws such as the Ten Commandments are still valid for us today and require strict obedience, not as a means to obtain salvation but rather to please God and benefit society as they reveal the consistent nature and will of God (Ex 20:1-17).
2/. Civil laws were given for living during the 40 years the Israelites were in the desert. Although they related particularly to the culture of the day, the principles behind these rules should still guide our conduct even in today’s very different society as they encourage love for God and others (eg. Ex 21:12-36).
3/. Ceremonial laws related specifically to Israel’s worship of God (such as Lev 1:1-13). They pointed towards Jesus and (obviously) after His death and resurrection were no longer necessary but the principles for loving and worshipping God still apply.
The Ten commandments
These moral principles still apply to us today as they perfectly express who God is and how He wants us to live. They are the foundation on which Western civilisation is based, although their authority is being seriously eroded today.
The first four commands are God related, the other six are directed to our relationship with our fellow humans They were verbally dictated to Moses and later the finger of God inscribed them on tablets of stone which were placed in the sacred chest inside the tabernacle, then later the temple (Ex 19:9; 20:1,2; 34:1,28).
The actual commands are found in Exodus 20:1-17 and are repeated, either exactly or in principle in the NT:
1/. “You shall have no other gods before [besides] me”. This highlights the exclusiveness of God who is to be first in our lives. Other things can subtly become gods: money, material possessions, position, pleasure, knowledge, people, sport or work and we forget the real, true God by “worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). Because of what He has done for us, He wants undivided allegiance – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength” (Deut 6:5). The experience of past deliverance, “I brought you out of slavery,” calls for wholehearted devotion and obedience. We must enthrone Him as the only and supreme ruler in our lives. Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Mt 4:10).
2/. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of…” as an idol is something physical that is worshipped. Idolatry consists not only of the worship of false gods, but also of the worship of the true God by images. An image is a created object and we are to worship the creator only. God exceeds anything we could ever imagine so any visual portrayal of Him would be so limited as to misrepresent Him. We are not to put emphasis on what is seen but on the unseen realm, “worshipping God in spirit and truth” and we are to keep ourselves from idols (Jn 4:23,24; 1Jn 5:21).
3/. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who misuses His name”. Reverence for God includes not using His name in jest or profanity. We recognize (name) Him as God, Christ and Jesus in our worship. He is holy and so is His name (Mt 6:9). It must not to be associated with evil by being used in a frivolous, empty, insincere or blasphemous way when things go wrong or by invoking it in binding agreements (Mt 5:34; 1 Tim 6:1).
4/. “Remember the Sabbath [or Sunday] day by keeping it holy”. This provides a regular time of rest from work in order to worship God, for spiritual renewal and to reflect on our relationship with Him. Effective and God-honouring labour is impossible without adequate rest as, over time, the body is worn down and functions below its capability, for “The Sabbath was made for man not the Sabbath for man” (Mk 2:27; Lk 23:56).
5/. “Honour [respect] your father and mother…” who gave you physical life. We honour God when we honour our parents, not only doing what they tell us to do but also caring for them, especially in their latter days (Mk 7:10-12; Eph 6:1,2). This command teaches respect for authority, builds strong families and spreads out to other relationships we form in life. This is the first commandment with a promise – that there will be a pay back if we fulfill our part.
6/. “You shall not murder” relates to the malicious taking of human life. Life is sacred, it must be valued and protected, for every human bears God’s image (Gen 1:26,27). From the moment of conception, even an embryo contains this identity, so we are to value it from the beginning. The Israelites were a warring people, but whether in attack or defence they were following a directive of God, not a personal vendetta. This command doesn’t forbid governments from entering into war for self-preservation or to maintain justice when all other methods have failed, but it does forbid personal homicide in revenge or anger. The NT extends its scope saying that if we have intense anger in our hearts we are also murderers and in danger of judgment (Mt 5:22; 1 Jn 3:15).
7/. “You shall not commit adultery”. Not only does this forbid intercourse with a person other than one’s spouse but it also applies to any other immoral acts. Jesus said if an action is wrong so is the inner desire when it is role-played in the mind (Mt 5:27,28). The Bible urges us to take control of our thoughts, “Flee sexual immorality and keep yourself pure” (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 6:18; 2 Cor 10:4,5).
8/. “You shall not steal”. This relates to goods. No one is to take what belongs to another, taking advantage of their weakness or ignorance. We are to respect the possessions of others. God wants us to be givers and not takers, it being “more blessed to give than receive” (Act 20:35). We are [not] to do to others what we [don’t] want done to us (Lk 6:31). Instead Jesus said if your shirt is taken, give your coat too – this is going the second mile (Mt 5:40,41).
9/. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour”. This relates to another’s reputation, so protect and do not defame their character. False testimony can take many forms – lying, exaggeration, omitting details, misleading silence, twisting the facts, criticism and gossip. These are all means of putting another person in a bad light by distorting the truth or deceiving people. Such a prohibition also enforces the good by requiring we speak truthfully and well of others remembering we will give account for every careless word we have spoken (Mt 12:36; Eph 4:15,25).
10/. “You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbour”. This relates to possessions. Coveting is a strong envying or jealous desire for what others have. This command stands apart from the others in that it does not relate to outward conduct but to the attitudes and desires of the heart. God holds us responsible not just for our actions but also our thoughts that, if carried out, would be sinful. The Bible instructs us to be content with what we have and in faith ask God to supply our needs, not wants (Phil 4:19; 1 Tim 6:6). Jesus said life doesn’t consist in the abundance of things we have (Lk 12:15).
Failing to meet God’s expectations
Of itself ‘the Law’ can’t save us but only condemns. Nor does it produce renewed life, however it provides a valuable guide for our daily living, by intensifying human awareness of sin, and thus points us to Christ who can release us (Rom 3:19,20, 5:13, 7:7,12,13, 8:3; Gal 2:15,16, 3:21,24; Eph 2:8,9).
Christians aspire to live a life pleasing to God by endeavouring to meet His standards of behaviour, yet when we fail this offends Him and hurts others, thus we constantly need God’s mercy and grace, as we humbly ask for His forgiveness. When your conscience and the Holy Spirit convict you of breaking His commands, even if just in your thoughts, don’t let guilt drive you from God but to Him. With repentance confess the sin to Christ, and claim the blood of Jesus to cleanse, then ask the Holy Spirit to help you refrain from sinning in the future as you also exercise self-control (1 Jn 1:9).
Which ones do I particularly struggle to keep?
disobey these principles for life we will inevitably suffer the consequences of our actions, just as the law of gravity operates when we jump from a high place. Instead of experiencing God’s blessing we will suffer the curse of our own sinful nature which culminates in self-destruction (Deut 5:29, 28:15-68). This is why we should live a ‘considered life’ and think through the probable outcome of the choices available, knowing we must give account to God for all we do (Prov 4:26; Rom 14:12).
These divine laws teach practical righteousness, how we should relate to God and one another, and serve as the basis of trust in society, restraining evil and elevating the quality of life in society as opposed to secular society’s diminishing standards. They are a catalyst for love, blessing and prosperity as they were not given to diminish our pleasure, but rather to increase our joy and security, keeping us from things that will ultimately harm us as we live inside the boundaries of God’s freedom.
Breaking any command of God is a violation of love – either for Him or someone else – by putting one’s own self before the other party.