10 Commandments

Exodus 20:1-17

Then God spoke all these words:

  1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
  3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
  5. Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

What seems to get people’s attention in the 10 Commandments are the words shall and not.

People give a response like, “don’t tell me what I can and can’t do! Don’t try and tell me how to live my life.  All this shall and shall not makes your religion so restrictive, negative and out of date! Do the commandments apply today, anyway?”

If we changed the name from the 10 Commandments to the 10 recommendations I think most people would say that they sound like a good idea and that if we all followed them the world would be a better place.

But then some people respond by pointing out that they are commandments after all and that they come from God himself and that if God gives a commandment it’s not an option. They are not a set of weak recommendations and they are not mere suggestions or requests - they are commandments! Of course we are all expected to keep them.  All 10.

In fact, didn’t Jesus say so?  Didn’t he make it plain for Christians that they still apply to us?

Jesus himself said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt.5:17 NIV).

Jesus thought the Law and the Prophets were so important that he certainly did not want them abolished.  He came to fulfill them and you don’t fulfill something by destroying it. To fulfill the commandments means to do, to perform, to obey them; to meet or satisfy their requirements.

He said, "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smaller letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called less than nothing in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.5:18-19 NIV).

Those words of Jesus give us a serious implied warning. Don’t edit, don’t re-write, don’t leave out and don’t ignore God’s Law. Just keep the commandments.

So, how was it that the Pharisees claimed that Jesus broke the law, and especially that he failed to keep the commandment to keep the sabbath?

One Sabbath day Jesus was teaching in the synagogue and healed a man with a shrivelled hand. This infuriated the religious teachers, who claimed that in healing this man Jesus had done work on the sabbath and broken the 4th Commandment.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’ (Luke 6:9)

Before this, Jesus was going through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick some ears of corn, rub them in their hands and eat the grain. Some of the Pharisees saw this as doing work on the sabbath and asked, ‘Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ (Luke 6:1-2)

Many centuries ago God gave Moses the 10 commandments and Moses reiterated them in his writings.  One thing the Pharisees were good at was devising explanations how to keep these commandments.  They were, after all, lawyers! They ended up with literally hundreds of rules and regulations and interpretations and traditions designed to cover every situation and the people were expected to know and follow them down to the last detail.

On another occasion Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, telling him to get up, pick up his mat and walk.  The Jewish leaders then reprimanded the man for carrying his mat on the sabbath, sadly avoiding any pleasure in the fact the man was now healed.  Ironically, there was no law against carrying a man on his mat, just against carrying a mat alone.

Jesus showed the Pharisees that their rules had ended up backing them into a corner and created more problems than they solved.

Even today in a strictly Jewish building such as a hotel or hospital you might find the elevators stop automatically at every floor on the Sabbath. This means you do not press the button to choose the floor you want. 

These kinds of rules makes me think of the man who had been reminded many times to put the cap on the toothpaste tube after he used it. This was a rule for the household. He decided to mend his ways and capped the toothpaste each morning.  A few days later his wife asked him, “why have you stopped brushing your teeth?”

But these regulations were not the law that God had given. They were a collection of onerous man made burdens and traditions. They had taken it upon themselves to add to what God had given Moses and what Moses had passed on to the people. Sometimes people ignorantly point to some of these rulings to dismiss the whole of the Old Testament.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.

How do you manage to keep this Commandment? 

What if I told you what the rules are about all sorts of things like shopping, driving the car, doing the washing. What you can and cannot do on the sabbath.  For Jews and Seventh Day Adventists the Sabbath must be the last day of the week and for them that’s Saturday. 

However, I’m not going to tell you how you must keep the Sabbath; I could easily end up behaving like a Pharisee if I did that.  You will have to work it out yourself with God. 

There are three things we can learn here.

One: Jesus expects us to live the way he lived and this includes lives lived in accordance with his teaching, including the commandments.

Two: Avoid the mistake of developing a pharisaical system of rules and regulations.

Three: You will have to think about it and pray about it and you will have to ask God to help you to know what he wants you to do.

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” (Matthew 23:1-3)

The scribes and Pharisees had set themselves above Moses with their interpretations and extensions to the law God had given and while doing so they weren’t even keeping Moses’ laws themselves.  Jesus told his disciples to follow the law God gave Moses but not the way the lawyers did it or, rather, failed to do it. No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites. They were proclaiming the law, supposedly teaching the law but were failing to keep it!

You will also have to work out how to keep #9 about bearing false witness and #10 about coveting what other people have.  

And #1 and #2 are commandments which are simply ignored and broken by most people not just daily but continuously. How do you keep these? Are they a difficulty for you?  Once again, pray and work out before God how you are supposed to keep these commandments. 

Note that reading the Bible is very important here, too, so you can learn to think like Jesus about this.

Remember the encounter with the rich young ruler who claimed to keep all the commandments, at least 4 to 10 but could not give up his riches to follow Jesus.  Commandments 1 and 2 were too hard for him so he failed to receive the gift of eternal life and left Jesus sorrowfully.

Remember, too, in Luke 10:25-29 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

 ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’

He answered, ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’

‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’

This man knew the commandments and he knew the summary version. Jesus then told the parable of the Good Samaritan to show us that you can’t make excuses, exceptions or re-interpretations, rationalisations in order to avoid meeting Jesus’ high standards.

According to Jesus us Christians are expected to keep the law and not only are we expected to keep the law but then Jesus sets a much higher standard than the Pharisees could ever have imagined.

In Matthew 5:21-22,27-28 Jesus said…

‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment… ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Have you kept and do you keep Commandment 6. Have you never committed murder? Not even by being angry with someone? 

And do you keep and have always kept Commandment 7 or have you committed adultery by having been lustful?

So, when you look at Jesus’ teaching, his standards are so much higher than those of anyone else and when you apply his principles to all the commandments you have to come to the conclusion that none of us keeps them, none of us reaches Jesus’ standards, none of us does what we are supposed to do.

I went to teach in high school in Canberra which the Principal saw the school as his last appointment before retiring and he wanted to try having a permissive school, one in which there were no rules. The result was interesting because it kind of worked. Somehow, although there were no rules people intrinsically seemed to know what the rules were and when one was broken students knew they had done the wrong thing even though there was no rule to convict them on.

Paul wrote about this in Romans 2:15. He pointed out to the Jews that they had the law but the gentiles, the non-Jews, do not have the law but they do by nature things required by the law: They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

The reality is that God expects every single person in the world to keep all of Jesus’ teaching, including the Commandments whether they are written on stone, written in the Bible or written on our hearts and they know they should do so yet they rationalise and justify themselves rather than submit to Jesus’ rule in their lives. 

Whether we recognise it or not God has built into the human psyche a recognition that there are morals, standards, forms of behaviour that we should keep.

We don’t need proscribed laws telling us, or us telling others what God want us to do or not to do because it’s built into human nature and as a result we have no excuse when it comes to us answering before Jesus our judge and Saviour.

There are some things we don’t need to make rules and laws about, although somehow we feel we should.  We just know that Galatians 5:19-23 is right. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. … those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The contrast is this: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 

That’s right, isn’t it? There is no law against those things!

We are all in the same position as the rich young ruler.  No one achieves eternal life by living a good life, by being good Christians, by keeping the golden rule, by trying our best because our best is simply never good enough.

That’s why prior to Jesus the Jews had to meet detailed and complex rules requiring them to make sacrifices to atone for their sins.

And that’s why Jesus came preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near”.  Repentance is the first step on the road to eternal life.  That’s why we include an opportunity for repentance and confession in our services.

But we never leave it at that! We also need to know what Jesus did about our failures, our sin.

As he said, he came to fulfill the law.  He did that in his lifetime by living without failing on any count.  He fulfilled the requirements of the law in every way.  He kept the law.

One of the requirements of the law was a sacrifice for sin and he fulfilled that requirement, too.  He was the sacrifice. He was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross fulfilled every sacrifice that had been made before his time. All those sacrifices over all those generations suddenly and completely took effect, were fulfilled, the day Jesus was crucified.

He was the only sinless, faultless sacrifice who could carry the guilt and power of our sin in his death on the cross. God so loved you and me that he gave his only begotten son so that because we believe in him we have eternal life.

We keep the commandments, Jesus’ teaching, because he wants us to but when we fail to do so perfectly we repent, confess and are forgiven because Jesus has paid the penalty of our failure.

We keep the commandments, we keep Jesus’ teaching because he wants us to but we know that in that attempt we are not good enough to receive eternal life. There is only one way to do that, which is to place our faith in Jesus our Saviour and Lord.

The law and the commandments have done and still so their job. (Galatians 3:24)  the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

(Ephesians 2:8-10) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


1570 Modified: 04-03-2024
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