Summary: When we see the Ten Commandments from the true Biblical perspective, we see them as gifts of grace. They came from God who first delivered Israel, and then gave the law to preserve that liberty He gave them. The origin of the law is God's love.
The editor of a newspaper was interviewing a man who
applied for the job of being a rewrite man. "Are you good at
condensing"? the editor asked. "Sure", was the snap reply.
"All right then, take this and cut it short", he said , as he
handed him a copy of the ten commandments. The applicant
was momentarily startled, but then he took his pencil, wrote
briefly, and handed it back. The editor looked at it and said,
"Your hired!" He had written one word--don't.
This story illustrates the popular misconception about the
ten commandments. They are seen as negative, and can be
summed up in the philosophy that says thou shalt not enjoy
life. Whatever you like, don't do it. Now it is true that 8 of
the 10 are negative, but as we shall see, this is for a very
practical reason. Jesus summed them up, not with a don't,
but with a twofold positive do. Do love God with all your
heart, and do love your neighbor as yourself. The first four
commandments deal with loving God, and the last six deal
with loving our neighbor.
But if these most famous laws in the world can be stated
positively, why were they given in a negative form
originally? Those who do not care to look for an answer just
dismiss them as being irrelevant for a positive thinking
world. They claim the negative nature of them leads to
excessive negativism. This is illustrated by the mother who
said "Go see what Johnny is doing and tell him to stop."
One little boy under this kind of atmosphere thought his
name was Johnny don't. There have been many Christians
who have measured their piety by the number of things they
don't do. The Pharisees were experts at this sort of thing
also, and they were able to compile a list of several thousand
things they did not do. It was a negative religion.
Too many negatives lead to a life of emptiness. The
absence of evil is a good thing, but when good is also absent,
one is not living a life pleasing to God. Jesus told of the man
who had all of the demons that possessed him driven out,
and all was swept clean. All the evil was gone, but no positive
good filled the vacuum, and the result was the evil returned
in greater power than it had before. Those who try to live on
negatives often take great falls into sin, for negatives are just
not a good foundation. The negative is only of value when it
is a means to a positive end.
A missionary in Africa was trying to explain the Ten
Commandments to an old native chief. "You tell me I'm not
to take my neighbors wife?" "That's right" said the
missionary. "Or his ivory or his oxen?" "Quite right!"
"And I must not ambush him on the trail and kill him?"
"Absolutely right" said the missionary. "But I cannot do
any of these things," said the savage, "I am too old. To be
old and to be Christian are the same thing." This illustrates
how weak a mere negative religion and morality would be.
Righteousness would be equivalent to inability. If negative
become ends in themselves, then one becomes more and
more Christian the less he is able to live, and death would
bring perfection. This is, of course, nonsense. Negatives
cannot be ends in themselves, but must be means to a
We fail when we lose the positive, for it is the positive that
gives authority to the negative commands. People demand
to see the positive value in having their freedom limited by
prohibitions. If you say don't, they want to know why, and
the why had better be positive if you expect people to respect
the authority of the negative. Robert Kahn, a Jewish Rabbi,
points out that the Declaration of Independence has this
great positive statement-"All men are created equal and are
endowed by their Creator with rights to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness." Then, in order to preserve these positive
values, a Bill of Rights was a appended to the
Constitution. When you read them you notice they are of a
negative character. The gist of each is-
Congress shall make no law
The right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed
No soldier shall be quartered
the right--to be secure shall not be violated
No person shall be held to answer.
No fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined
Excessive bail shall not be required
The enumeration of certain rights shall not be Construed
These are the eight negatives of the ten amendments called
the Bill of Rights. They are negative commandments for the
preservation of positive rights. We see from this, that when