The Ten Commandments are not to be viewed merely as a restrictive list of prohibitions but as active commands showing us how we can serve God and others. For example, the opposite of bearing false witness is a true testimony. Furthermore, God is committed to the truth, His word is truth and He sanctifies us by His truth (Deuteronomy 32:4; John 14:6; 17:7). The opposite of coveting is contentment and since we are created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7) we should seek to find fulfilment in Him.
No one other than the Lord Jesus has been able to keep the law perfectly (2 Corinthians 5:21) and His law is a tutor which points us to Him that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). Yeshua the Messiah did not come to do away with the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17-18). Hence our focus is firstly to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and secondly to love as neighbour as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39; cf. Romans 13:8-10; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).
Walvoord and Zuck helpfully state: “The Ten Commandments are an excellent summary of 10 divine rules for human conduct. They might be called rules of (1) religion, (2) worship, (3) reverence, (4) time, (5) authority, (6) life, (7) purity, (8) property, (9) tongue, and (10) contentment.”[i]
The first four of the Ten Commandments featured here concern loving and serving God and the remaining six concern loving and serving our neighbour and will follow in the next article. We would do well to remember that whilst we have a duty to love and serve our neighbours, our greatest and foremost command is to love, serve and obey God.
You shall have no other gods before me.
The Lord had delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians who worshipped numerous false gods. The plagues demonstrated the Lord’s sovereignty over the false deities they revered. For example darkness over the land showed that the Lord was greater than Ra the sun god. Today we exist in a world of spiritual consumerism and we need to think carefully about whom we choose to serve.
Whilst we should respect everyone since they are created in God’s image, this leaves no room for ecumenism or sharing God’s glory with any other god. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a jealous God. A continued problem throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament) was when the Israelites resorted to worshipping false gods. Worshipping the golden calf was a classic example. Some say they subscribe to a particular faith today, but when questioned further, they consider all faiths equally valid. In reality they are universalists and are opposing this commandment. The Scriptures are clear concerning the need to contend for the faith (Jude 3), not the faiths.
You shall have no idols…
We must be careful to not subconsciously think ‘not applicable in my case’ and move on. Consider the idolatry prevalent from the dawn of time and throughout the ages and in various cultures. Even Rachel took the household gods, put them in the camel’s saddle and sat on them (Genesis 31:34). How much more careful should we be? Many religions include idols and icons, not just those from the Far East, Asia, the continent of Africa, South America or far-flung Islands but also including Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox practices. We live in a multi-cultural society with carved idols to be found in people’s homes in the UK and worldwide. A friend who I played basketball with invited me to his home which was full of carved images worshipping false gods.
That which is most important to us can easily become an idol. I was taken aback when a school friend said that a certain athlete was ‘his idol’. Many things in our lives unwittingly become idols such as celebrities, artists, musicians, athletes, images of beauty, occupation (one successful business couple referred to their company as ‘their baby’ and for them it was an idol), status, television (Is the TV set the idol in your home which determines your schedule and draws all your attention? If it were removed would you have a meltdown?), internet, video games, food (Do you eat to live or eat to live?), lust, power and wealth. Some of those things mentioned have their place but they must serve you rather than them becoming your master. Since covetous is idolatry (Colossians 3:5) and is where idolatry begins we must be especially careful in that area and examine our heart and motivations.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
In addition to not blaspheming the name of the Lord we must be careful not to bring disrepute concerning the Lord’s character or deeds or irreverently misuse His name.[ii]We should be careful when making oaths. The marriage oath is a good example whereby we commit to being faithful with our spouse before God. We should therefore seek to glorify the lord in all that we say and do for the sake of His glory and His name. This helps us to value marriage as a biblical institution and to be accountable before God.
In a court of law, oaths are sworn often as a matter of procedure. We must be careful since irrespective of whether particular oaths are even appropriate this reminds us of God’s law guiding our law. Interestingly the Coronation Ceremony Oath includes the following: ‘I will to my power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy to be executed in all my judgements. I will to the utmost of my power maintain the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel. I will to the utmost of my power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law.’[iii]
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
The children of Israel knew what it was to be slaves and slaves never had a break from labour. Some have tried to live without a day of rest and the outcome is never conducive. The focus should not be on restricting what people do, but to enable rest, to serve and enjoy God and fellowship with others. This also helps to prevent making our occupation and the pursuit of monetary gain our idol.
Romans 14:5-12 shows us not to be judgemental towards others concerning one person esteeming one day above another but to observe it in honour of the Lord. There also remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God who have entered God’s rest as God did from His (Hebrews 4:8-9).
I remember one argument about buying a newspaper on certain days. It was printed on one day and then purchased the following day on ‘the Sabbath’. Was it okay that the work for that paper was carried out the previous day? The newspaper for the day after the Sabbath was printed on the Sabbath. In view of them working on the Sabbath should we purchase the paper at all? Believers in the Lord are neither under license, nor legalism but liberty and should avoid endless speculation over the above but focus on serving the Lord and remembering we will all have to give an account before Him (Romans 14:10-12).
Since we will give an account for what we do, it would be of great benefit to consider what we do and why we do it so that whatever we do in word or deed, we should seek to do it for the Lord’s glory (Colossians 3:17). When we meet on the weekends collectively to serve and worship the Lord this is an opportunity and a privilege. Since the second coming of Messiah approaches we should not neglect this, but fellowship all the more (Hebrews 10:24-25).
[i] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary An Exposition of the Scriptures by the Dallas Seminary Faculty Old Testament (Victor, 1989; USA), p139
[ii] John MacArthur The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 2005; Nashville), p114
[iii] The National Archives Coronation Oath https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/jubilee/gallery/queen-elizabeth-second-highlights/coronation-oath/#:~:text=I%20will%20to%20my%20power,Reformed%20Religion%20established%20by%20law.