The Ten Commandments are God’s law and they were first delivered together as a group for the Israelites, barely three months after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt.
In fact, God’s law was made plain right from the beginning of time. A thorough reading of Genesis will reveal references in one way or another to each one of them and the book of Job (who lived many years before Moses) makes reference to the sins of taking God’s name in vain (Job 1:5) and lying and coveting (Job 31:5-6 and 9-11).
At first glance, the Ten Commandments may appear to be an arbitrary list of dos and don’ts but even a cursory study reveals them to be a stunning blueprint of how to live a life pleasing to God and in harmony with our fellow men and women.
Some Christians question whether or not the Ten Commandments are relevant for us today.
The first argument is based on the fact that Christ fulfilled the law and so effectively it has become surplus to requirements. It’s certainly true that Christ fulfilled the law but it’s also true that He, Himself, made it very clear that He didn’t abolish it. Furthermore, He made in plain that how we teach and observe the commandments will have a bearing on our status in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore 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.’ (Matthew 5:17-19 ESV)
Christ fulfilled the law by paying the penalty on our behalf. He didn’t abolish the Ten Commandments, but rather, He taught their deeper, spiritual meaning and application.
Another argument for disregarding the Ten Commandments arises as a result of misunderstanding the full meaning of the Apostle Paul’s statement, ‘For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.’ (Romans 6:14)
Does this imply that we’re no longer obliged to obey God’s law? Hardly! And Paul makes this very clear when he declares immediately afterwards, ‘What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!’ (Romans 6:15)
If we imply that the Ten Commandments no longer apply under the New Covenant, does that mean that it’s okay to kill, lie and steal? Of course not!
The Bible tells us, ‘Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For He who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.’ (James 2:10)
We simply can’t pick and choose which parts of God’s law we want to observe.
The Ten Commandments can be separated into two distinct categories. The first four commandments have a vertical component in that they address our relationship with God.
The second category, commandments 5-10, has a horizontal element in that they address our relationship with our fellow man.
‘And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)
In Mark’s Gospel, Christ further qualified these two laws as being the most important. The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:29-31)
It’s clearly evident then that we’re to obey both the spirit and the letter of the law. The purpose of this study is to examine each of these commandments and to learn how they apply to our daily lives.
(Note: The Ten Commandments are enumerated in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Leviticus 19 also provides more information.)