The 10 Commandments

Easter Every Sunday

Ten Commandments WatsonHave you ever asked yourself why Christian churches gather for worship on Sundays, rather than on Saturdays? After all, doesn’t the 4th commandment itself specifically state that it is the “seventh day” (Exodus 20:10) that is the Sabbath, rather than the first day of the week (i.e. Sunday)?

So why Sunday? The Westminster Shorter Catechism addresses that very question:

“Q.59. Which day of the seven has God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath?  A.From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.”

Notice that the turning point is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, which took place on a Sunday, “the first day of the week” (Matthew 28:1). The resurrection was such a momentous event that it ushered in a change in the very day of the week that we are to observe as the day of holy rest and worship.

In his book, The Ten Commandments, the great Puritan writer Thomas Watson writes,

“The reason why God instituted the old Sabbath was to be a memorial of the creation; but he has now brought the first day of the week in its room [i.e. in its place] in memory of a more glorious work than creation, which is redemption. Great was the work of creation, but greater was the work of redemption.” (p.96)

And so the Christian church started to gather for worship on Sundays, in celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. This change took root very early on in the church’s history. Acts 20:7 tells us that it was on “the first day of the week” that the church in Troas gathered together for the breaking of bread (i.e. the Lord’s Supper) and to listen to the Apostle Paul’s preaching.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, when the Apostle Paul was instructing the church in the city of Corinth about their offering for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem, he instructs them to set it aside and gather it up “on the first day of every week” (i.e. Sunday). In other words, that was already the day of the week when the church regularly gathered for worship.

Lastly, in Revelation 1:10 the Apostle John mentions that he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” when he received what he passed down to us in that book. Since the time of the Apostles, Sunday has come to be known as “the Lord’s day” and the Christian Sabbath. And so while the particular day of the week changed, but the principle involved in the 4th commandment still abides and applies to us today.

Easter Sunday is the day in the church calendar when we commonly celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But you really could say that every time we gather for worship on Sunday (the Lord’s day), we are celebrating and commemorating Christ’s resurrection. And so every Sunday is, in a sense, Easter Sunday.

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

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The Nine Commandments?

Chantry SabbathThe ten commandments in general are strangely neglected among many professing Christians in our day. Many cannot even so much as name all ten of them (whether in order or not). This is a sad state of affairs, and reflects poorly upon both the teaching ministries of our churches, as well the personal Bible reading habits of many believers.

Having said that, one of the ten commandments in particular suffers perhaps more neglect than all the rest – the fourth commandment. It says,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11, ESV)

It would seem that many in our day have, in fact, forgotten to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” In fact, in some circles you would practically think that we now have only nine (9) commandments instead of ten.

Many would actually say that the fourth commandment simply no longer applies today because it has not been repeated in the New Testament. Charles Ryrie, for example, states that “the New Testament only includes nine of the ten” (Systematic Theology, p.350).

But is that really the case? Is the New Testament actually silent on this particular commandment? No. In his book, Call the Sabbath a DelightWalter Chantry writes,

“If anyone says that the New testament does not teach the fourth commandment, perhaps he should read the Gospels before he pretends to speak for the whole Testament.” (p.52-53)

In fact, the Lord Jesus Christ himself spoke about it a number of times in the Gospels, even referring to himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8, ESV). And not only does he not say anything about abrogating or setting aside the Sabbath commandment, but he went so far as to teach people the right view of the Sabbath, including the truth that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, ESV).

And so God’s command for us to observe a day of holy rest (not inactivity) and worship still applies today. God’s moral law has not changed. And this should not be a surprise to anyone, for as the wording of the commandment itself even tells us, it is based upon God’s work in the very beginning, at creation itself! (In other words, the Sabbath commandment did not begin with the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20, but rather all the way back in the 1st chapter of the book of Genesis!)

For the explicit reason given for remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy is as follows: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11, ESV).

The Sabbath, then, is a creation ordinance. And it is for our good. God “blessed” that day and “made it holy.” That has not changed. As Hebrews 4:9 says, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (ESV).

The Third Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonOur study through the ten commandments now brings us to the third commandment, which simply says:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)

What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain? Many people assume that this commandment is primarily about cussing or swearing. The Bible certainly does tell us not to use foul language. For example, in Ephesians 5:4 the Apostle Paul says,

“Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (ESV)

But the third commandment deals particularly with the “name of the LORD.” And so while this commandment certainly forbids some kinds of cussing (i.e. the kind that explicitly uses God’s name in it), foul language in general is not the primary concern here.

In his book, The Ten Commandments, Thomas Watson points out no less than twelve (12) different ways that we take the Lord’s name in vain, including such things as speaking irreverently of God’s name; professing God’s name while not living in a way that is consistent with that profession of faith; using God’s name in idle conversation; worshiping Him “with our lips, but not with our hearts” (p.85); hypocrisy; not praying in faith; profaning or abusing God’s Word; swearing by God’s name; and many other things.

Why is the name of the Lord so important? Have you ever thought about that? In the Lord’s prayer we are taught to pray that the name of our Father in heaven might be “hallowed” (Matthew 6:9). In other words, the very first request in the Lord’s prayer is that God’s name might be revered and treated as holy. (And yet how many of us actually pray that way and give such a high priority to the glory of God’s name in our prayers?)

A person’s name represents the person, doesn’t it. We commonly speak of knowing someone by name or being on a “first name basis” with someone. Conversely we sometimes speak of ‘dragging someone’s name through the mud,’ which, of course, means speaking ill of someone.

Well, in a similar way, God makes himself known by His name, and so to take his name in vain is to in some way show disrespect or dishonor toward his name (or toward anything by which he makes himself known). That is why the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that this commandments forbids “all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God makes himself known” (Q.55).

This commandment, then, is ultimately about showing due reverence for God.

And how serious a matter is this? Notice the reason given in the commandment itself – “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” The Shorter Catechism goes on to explain the significance of those words:

Q. 56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is a sin, and is wickedness in God’s sight. It is no small thing to show disrespect to God or to his holy name. It is a sin that is worthy of hell.

Thankfully there is “a name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, ESV), even the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 10:43 tells us that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (ESV). No wonder the name of the Lord is so precious to believers in Christ!

The Second Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonOur study through the ten commandments now brings us to the second commandment, which says,

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6, ESV)

The first thing that you might notice is that this commandment is much longer and more detailed than the first commandment, which simply says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The very length of this commandment should get your attention.

The simplest way to summarize this commandment is to say that in it God forbids the sin of idolatryBut what is idolatry? In its most literal sense it is the use of images in worship. In the commandment above the Lord forbids us from the making of images, bowing down to them, and serving them. But it also includes worshiping God in any way that he himself has not ordained. That is the basic meaning of this commandment.

The old Puritan writer, Thomas Watson (1620-1686), put it this way:

“In the first commandment worshiping a false god is forbidden; in this, worshiping the true God in a false manner [is forbidden].” (The Ten Commandments, p.59)

That is a helpful way to understand the relationship between the first and second commandments. The first forbids the worship of false gods; the second forbids false worship, even of the one true God.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism points out that in this commandment the Lord gives us not only a prohibition against a particular form of sin (i.e. the making and serving of images of anything in all of creation), but also gives us several reasons why we should be careful to obey it:

Q. 52. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God’s sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.

The first reason why we should be careful to obey this commandment is because God is sovereign over us – He is the Lord. In other words, we should not commit idolatry because God alone is God. In v.5 he calls himself “the LORD your God.” He alone is worthy of worship and obedience.

The second reason is because of God’s redemption and ownership of his people. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have even more reason to refrain from any form of idolatry. If he is “your God” (v.5), then you simply have no business committing idolatry.

The third reason given here is God’s own zeal for His worship – that the Lord “is a jealous God” (v.5) who will judge the “iniquity” of those who commit idolatry. And what motive does the Lord assign to those who would practice idolatry? Hatred of God. Think about that. Idolatry is essentially an expression of hatred toward God. No wonder God warns of judgment against those who practice it!

If you truly love God you will keep his commandments (v.6), especially his commandments regarding his worship! We are not left to worship the Lord according to our own imagination or preferences. The second commandment shows that God is jealous (or zealous) that he alone be worshiped, and that he be worshiped according to his revealed will in Scripture alone.

 

The First Commandment

Ten Commandments WatsonIn previous posts I dealt with some preliminary concerns about the ten commandments as a whole – things which are helpful for us to understand before going into detail about the individual commandments themselves. (More could certainly be said in that regard.)

But now I would like to spend some time going through each of the ten commandments, one at a time, and in order. That brings us to the first commandment, which simply says,

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3, ESV)

Notice that the very first commandment (indeed, the first four commandments!) deals with our relationship with God. It should be instructive for us that this is where the ten commandments begin. In his book, The Ten Commandments, Thomas Watson writes,

“This may well lead the van, and be set in the front of all the commandments, because it is the foundation of all true religion. The sum of this commandment is, that we should sanctify God in our hearts, and give him a precedence above all created beings.” (p.49)

If you were to rank the commandments in the order of their importance, how far up (or down) the list would you rank this one? Perhaps the commandment against murder (6th commandment – Exodus 20:13) comes to mind first, or maybe the commandment against adultery (7th commandment – Exodus 20:14)?

Murder or adultery might strike you as “bigger” sins, so to speak. But what about breaking the first commandment? Does it strike you as a particularly heinous sin and offense? It should. The Lord clearly places this commandment first in order to show us its importance. You could say that breaking the first commandment is just as bad as, if not worse than, murder. That is a pretty startling thought, isn’t it?

That this commandment comes first also shows us that true morality or ethics starts with one’s relationship with God. Doing what is right starts with doing what is right with regard to God himself.

What does it mean to have other gods before God? It means to trust, love, worship, and serve anything else in the place of God – to give something else other than God your first allegiance.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks of what is forbidden in the first commandment:

“Q.47. What is forbidden in the first commandment? A. The first commandment forbids the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying, the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.”

How many millions of souls break this first commandment simply by denying God and so failing to worship Him as God! And how many millions more do so by worshiping and serving other (false) gods! Indeed, in the book of Romans the Apostle Paul tells us that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven” against such sins (Romans 1:18).

This can be done in a literal way through false religion, or worshiping false gods. In Isaiah 44:6 God says, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (ESV). If God is the only true god, than to worship anyone or anything else is to have another god (even if a false one) before him. And Isaiah 42:8 likewise says, I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (ESV).

Having other gods before him can also be done in seemingly non-religious ways as well. In Matthew 6:24 the Lord Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (ESV).

Money can be a false god if it takes top priority in your life. In fact, serving money may be the most common form of false religion or idolatry in the history of humanity.

The first commandment teaches us that it is our duty to know the one true God and Creator, and to acknowledge him as such by trusting, loving, worshiping, and serving him above all else.

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.

The Ten Commandments and the New Testament

Moses LawOne of the questions that needs to be addressed in any study of the Ten Commandments is that of their proper relation to the New Testament Scriptures.

Many in the church in our day seem to be under the mistaken impression that the coming of Christ has somehow rendered the law of God null and void, or at least in some way irrelevant or unnecessary.

But if you take the time to examine the teachings of Jesus and His apostles, you will find that the uniform testimony of the New Testament is such that the ten commandments have a continuing authority and relevance. They are every bit as binding and important today as they have ever been. They are still God’s standard for holiness, and they are still the summary of God’s moral will, telling us how He would have His redeemed people to live.

First, let’s start with the teachings of the Lord Jesus himself. What did Jesus have to say about the law of God in general, and the Ten Commandments in particular? In what is probably His best known (or at least most famous) sermon – the “sermon on the mount” (found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7), Jesus actually had quite a bit to say about the law of God and the Ten Commandments.

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus states, “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” (ESV). When He speaks of “the Law or the Prophets” there, that is a shorthand way of referring to the entire Old Testament. So Jesus tells us right from the beginning that He had not come to do away with the Old Testament, including the Law. Rather, the reason that He came was in order to “fulfill” them.

In a sense everything that was written in the Old Testament was in some way prophetic of Christ, both his sufferings and the glory that was to follow. (See Luke 24:25-27.) And so in both His person and in His actions He fulfilled those prophecies to the letter. His atoning death for His people fulfilled the entire Old Testament sacrificial system, including the Temple, the priesthood, and even the very sacrifices themselves. All of those things were meant to point forward to the person and work of Jesus. (See Hebrews chapters 9-10.) That is why those things are no longer needed – they have served their purpose, and were never intended to be seen as an end in and of themselves.

What about the ten commandments? Did the Lord Jesus set them aside? Certainly not. Not only did He clearly tell us that He did not come to “abolish” the law (Matthew 5:17), but He also said that “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (v.18, ESV)! He even went on to say that “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v.19-20, ESV).

If you read the rest of Matthew chapter 5 in particular, you will find that the bulk of that chapter actually consists of extended teaching regarding at least two of the ten commandments themselves, including those prohibiting murder (v.21-26) and adultery (v.27-30). So, in summary, Jesus himself not only perfectly obeyed the ten commandments, but He also clearly taught obedience to them as well.

The Lord Jesus expects his ministers to teach others to obey His commandments (Matthew 28:19). To be sure, no one is justified in the sight of God by their obedience to His commandments, but rather we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone in order that we might obey His commandments from the heart. We are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:9), but we are saved for them (Ephesians 2:10).

What about the apostles themselves? What did they have to say about the law of God in general, and the Ten Commandments in particular? Let us look in particular at what the apostle Paul had to say about the law and the ten commandments.

In the book of Romans, for example, the Apostle Paul uses one form or another of the Greek word for “law” (nomos) no less than 73 times. Clearly he had a lot to say about the law of God, even in a book that is primarily about the gospel (Romans 1:16).

There he says that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12, ESV). He even says that the law is “spiritual” (7:14) and “good” (7:16). Clearly Paul had a very high view of the law of God (as he did of all of Scripture), even after coming to faith in Christ for salvation.

What about the Ten Commandments in particular? In Romans 7:7 he says, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (ESV). In other words, God’s righteous commandment revealed Paul’s sin to him, and so also revealed to him his need for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Elsewhere, in Ephesians 6:1, Paul gives a command, saying, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (ESV) And on what does he base this command? How does he prove that “this is right” (v.1) for them to do so? He quotes the 5th commandment. He reminds us that the law of God says, “Honor your father and mother” (v.2), which is a direct quotation from Exodus 20:12.

That alone should give pause to those in the church who would say that the law of God (especially the Ten Commandments) no longer applies to believers today. Nothing could be further from the truth! The ten commandments are still the summary of the moral will of God for His people. They are still a reflection of God’s own holiness and perfections. He cannot change, and so that does not change either!

But Paul doesn’t stop there, does he? He reminds us that “this is the first commandment with a promise” (v.2), and then actually quotes and interprets the promise that God Himself annexed to the 5th commandment, saying, “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (v.3, Exodus 20:12). So the commandment, of course, still applies, and not only that, but God’s promise of blessing and reward still applies as well!

How about the Apostle John? He has much to say about keeping God’s commandments. In fact, he equates love for God with keeping His commandments. In 1 John 5:3 he writes,

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (ESV)

Love and law are not contrary to each other – quite the opposite! If we love God, we will love His law as well, like David did (Psalm 119:97), and make it our aim in life to willingly keep His commandments, rather than seeing them as “burdensome.”

God has certainly not changed (and indeed cannot!), nor has his moral will for the lives of his redeemed people. The ten commandments are still the summary of the moral will of God; they are still of great use to the believer in Christ; and God still promises blessing to His children for obeying His commandments. Of these things let us be sure that the New Testament Scriptures are abundantly clear.