The Ten Commandments (recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) formed the bedrock of morality for the ancient Israelites, and were also foundational to the development of modern Western civilization. In ten short rules are contained the standard of a righteous life before God.
1) I am the LORD your God…you shall have no other gods before me.
2) You shall not make for yourself a carved image…you shall not bow down to them or serve them…
3) You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…
4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…
5) Honour your father and your mother…
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…
Some of the religious elites of Jesus’ day, such as the Pharisees, and the rich young ruler who spoke to Jesus in Mark 10:19-20, felt that they kept the Ten Commandments without fail. At first glance, it’s not such an outrageous idea. The commandments seem pretty straightforward, and most societies, regardless of religious beliefs, have laws and social norms that more or less square with the final six.
Some may think that keeping these commandments is not so difficult, and that most members of society do a reasonably good job of it. When we consider the Ten Commandments in light of Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings on the subject, however, it is apparent that even the best among us fall far short of this moral standard. In fact, I would venture to claim that every human being who has ever lived – with the exception of Jesus Christ – has broken all ten commandments. This may strike you as absurd, but as we look closer at the spirit of these commandments, you will see what I mean.
Let us start with the First Commandment. At first glance it seems irrelevant to a modern Western mindset. Most of the debate in our society is about whether there is one God or no God. Isn’t this commandment obsolete, belonging to past ages of pagan polytheism and tribal deities? Not at all, once you realize that ‘god’ has a pretty broad range of meaning. It doesn’t have to be a deity as such; it can be something as mundane as your belly (Philippians 3:19). Anything or anyone that becomes a competitor with God for our worship, our prayer, our desire and our gratitude, is another god.
We may not have “idols of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 29:17), but we have houses of wood and stone and other possessions that draw our attention away from God. We may not have “idols of silver and gold” (Psalm 135:15), but we spend a lot of our time thinking about money. Then there are obsessions with sports, celebrities, soap operas, video games, and other pursuits that draw our energy and passion away from worshiping God. For some, science and technology have become their god.
John Stott, in his book Basic Christianity, wrote the following: “For us to keep this first commandment would be, as Jesus said, to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind; to make his will our guide and his glory our goal; to put him first in thought, word and deed; in business and leisure; in friendships and career; in the use of our money, time and talents; at work and at home. No man has ever kept this commandment except Jesus of Nazareth” (p. 82).
We will continue by looking at the Second Commandment in the next blog entry. It’s all pretty depressing so far, but I want to promise you that this series on the Ten Commandments will have a very happy ending!