The Ten Commandments & The Great Commandment

Theologians have commonly divided up the ten commandments into two parts (or “tables”). The first part consists of the first four commandments (i.e. Exodus 20:3-11), while the second part consists of the last six commandments (i.e. Exodus 20:12-17).

The first four commandments deal with our relationship to God, while the last six commandments deal with our relationship with our neighbor. The Westminster Larger Catechism says that “the first four commandments [contain] our duty to God, and the other six our duty to man” (Q.98).

This distinction is also clearly implied in Matthew’s Gospel, where someone asks Jesus the question, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36, KJV). Jesus answered:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, KJV)

Notice that Jesus basically includes two (2) commandments there: Love God and love your neighbor. When he says, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” he is essentially saying that in some way those two commandments can be considered the summary of the entire Old Testament.

Not surprisingly, those two commandments are also a summary of the two parts of the ten commandments as well. In other words, the first four commandments show you what it means to love God, while the last six commandments show you what it means to love your neighbor.

And so if you truly love God, you will not have any other gods before him (Exodus 20:3). If you love God, you will not worship him through images or idols (Exodus 20:4-6). If you love God you will not take his name in vain (Exodus 20:7). And, finally, if you love God you will remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8-11).

That is what true love for God looks like.

Likewise, if you truly love your neighbor as yourself, you will honor your father and your mother (the first authority figures in your life – Exodus 20:12). If you love your neighbor as yourself, you will not commit murder against him or her (Exodus 20:13), commit adultery against him or her (Exodus 20:14), steal from him or her (Exodus 20:15), bear false witness against him or her (Exodus 20:16), or even covet anything that belongs to him or her (Exodus 20:17).

That is what true love for your neighbor looks like.

In future posts I hope to spend some time examining each of the ten commandments, in order. May the Lord Jesus be pleased to use these studies to help you and I learn more about what it means to truly love Him and love our neighbor as ourselves.

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