Summary: Duties to God and to others, a summary of God's will for us.
The Ten Commandments…a Sermon Series…Pastor Bob Leroe, D.Min...Cliftondale Congregational Church
Introduction to the Ten Commandments
Matthew 5:17-20, “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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
~Definition: The Law of God is God’s absolute, unchanging, eternal standard regulating the conduct of all people.
A. The Purpose of the Law:
1. To define our boundaries
2. To inform us of the holy nature of the Law-Giver
3. To reveal God’s will for us
4. To point us to the One who perfectly kept the demands of the Law
5. To lead people to God (and His grace)
B. The Nature of the Law:
1. The Law is perfect
2. The Law is unalterable
3. The Law is holy
C. Understanding, Interpreting & Applying the Law:
1. The 10 Commandments demand internal and external obedience
2. Both main and lesser sins must be avoided
3. Negative commands imply positive responsibilities, just as each positive command indicates a negative restriction
4. Divided into 2 sections—Duties to God (1-4) & Duties to others (5-10)
5. We cannot keep God’s commandments by our own strength
“Heavenly Father, open our eyes that we may be shown wondrous things out of Your Law” (Psalm 119:18).
The First Commandment—Putting God First
A university professor handed out copies of the Ten Commandments to his students and then asked them to arrange them in order of importance. 90% of the students reversed the order, putting the commandments about how we should treat others first (1-4) and the commandments about how we are to relate to God (5-10) last.
The Jews understood the reason for the original arrangement. Our relationship with God provides the basis for living a life of character. The first 4 commandments are foundational; they provide the reason for treating others fairly. If we are in right relationship with God, we will treat others properly.
The first commandment starts by letting us know Who God is: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). God begins with His personal covenant Name, “I AM”, a Name that indicates His eternal, unchanging character. And by stating “I am” He is saying that all those other gods—are NOT.
This can be a dangerous teaching. When German Lutheran minister Martin Niemoller published his sermon on this very same commandment he was immediately arrested by the Nazis. They correctly saw this message as a threat to their tyranny.
The tragedy of our times is that people today put themselves first and want little to do with God—they don’t want to be under His authority, yet they get upset with God when life doesn’t go as expected. It would be fitting to repeat this statement of God’s deliverance before each individual commandment. After establishing Who He is and what He has faithfully done for His people, God announces His first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (verse 3).
Without God, laws become merely pragmatic reasons to comply with society’s arbitrary expectations. Compliance is simply to avoid negative consequences, punishment for wrong-doing. But the true test of character is what we might do if we could “get away with it”, if we could be certain there’d be no penalty. If we’ve put God first, if we’re living to please God, that desire keeps us from sin. We’re compelled to do the right thing, even if that goes against the current of society.
When I taught ethics at the Army’s Air Defense Artillery School, I asked students to give me reasons why they shouldn’t commit adultery. The answers I received included:
It’s against Army regulations, fear of sexually-transmitted diseases and pregnancy, it would damage one’s reputation and career, it would hurt the kids and destroy one’s marriage, and alimony. A few officers added the guilt they would feel and their religious convictions. My point is that once we put God first, we have a higher motive to govern all our behavior and a purpose behind every decision of life.
The key to holiness and character is putting God first. If God has preeminence, the supremacy in our lives, we will want to keep His rules because we love Him and are convinced that His way must be what’s best for us. Our relationship with God causes us to seek lives of purity—and not out of fear of hell, but out of gratitude for all God has done and is doing for us.
God chose and brought Israel out of a land filled with idolatry, a land of suffering and slavery. Before the Jewish nation had a chance to complain about these 10 rules, God reminded them of how He was looking after them. Israel had been a slave nation. Today people become enslaved to habits, substances, activities which take over and replace God. Those enslaved don’t see their bondage as self-abuse; they often see their addictive substance or activity as an attempt to gain predictable control over their lives. But for self-control we must let God control; we must put God first. Only then can we truly get our needs met in life. As God led the Jewish nation out of captivity, He can free us from the things that seem to control us.