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God's Top Ten List

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. 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 take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy...Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet...anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:1-17 ESV)

The God of the Bible is a God of both holiness and love. He is a God of both justice and mercy. When the human beings He created in His image fell into sin, He acted again and again to provide for us and protect us from its ravages. One of God's major acts in history to win His people back to Himself was to give us His law and call us to obedience to His highest standards. To reveal His holiness and love to the world, God called His people to be people of obedience to the Law.

The first four of God's Top Ten List are vertical in nature.

You shall have no other gods before me

You shall not make any carved images (idols) or worship them

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (swear falsely)

Remember the Sabbath (day of rest and worship) and keep it holy

These four commands have to do with our relationship with God, and call us to love Him above all else. From God's point of view, trusting in and worshiping idols (any god who is not the true, living God) is spiritual adultery. It is unfaithfulness at the deepest level. First of all, we are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul and with all our strength.

The second six of God's Top Ten List are horizontal in nature.

Honor your father and mother

You shall not murder

You shall not commit adultery

You shall not steal

You shall not bear false witness (lie)

You shall not covet (desire with envy) what belongs to your neighbor

These six commandments have to do with our relationships with other people, and call us to treat others with respect. The apostle John tells us "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:20 ESV) Secondly, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Essentially, when Jesus identified the Great Commandment which summarize the law and the prophets, He covered these ten commands and all the others God had given. Love God and love your neighbor. In doing this, we will fulfill the ten commandments.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus was very clear that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

“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. 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)

Jesus goes on in the rest of Matthew, chapter 5, and gives several examples of how He and His unconditional, agape love fulfill the Law. He repeatedly says, "You have heard it said...but I say to you..." You have heard it said is followed by one of the laws of God. But I say to you is followed by what love does to keep not only the letter of the law but the spirit of it. Here is one example:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)

I believe this is the crux of the meaning of the Ten Commandments for believers in Jesus Christ, who are not under the law, but under grace (see Romans 6:14). We are not freed from the law, we are freed to keep the law. When we love God and love people in and with and through His love moving in our hearts, we will naturally keep His commandments to love Him and love others. The commandments still stand, but seen through the lens of God's love, they are not a burden. In God's love, we can keep His commandments with a willing heart and not with clenched teeth.

I don't treat my wife and children and grandchildren and friends kindly and respectfully because I am afraid God will punish me if I don't. I treat them well because I love them deeply. In loving them well, I not only keep the letter of God's commandments, but I also keep the spirit of them, too. The times when my heart begins to say to God, "You can't tell me what to do," are times when I am not loving Him well, and have slipped into fear and judgment and legalism. The times when my heart says "God, I love you and I love my neighbor, so I will be faithful and respectful to you and to them," are times when I am living in the center of the Gospel of both holiness and love.

And that is when I love God well and honor Him with my living. I don't ditch the ten commandments out of rebelliousness, I agree with them and keep them out of love. And that makes all the difference.


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