Josh McDowell tells of a young man named Greg. Greg lived next door from a family who had an in-ground swimming pool in their back yard. He had never gone swimming in their pool. He barely knew the people, and a high wooden fence enclosed the pool. One dark evening when Greg knew his neighbors were away, he and his girlfriend snuck behind the house, scaled the fence, and entered the pool area to go for a swim. Greg threw off his shoes, climbed the ladder and, while his girlfriend was still taking her shoes and socks off, he leapt off the end of the diving board. Greg heard his girlfriend scream just before he lost consciousness. The pool held only a few feet of water. In the dark Greg apparently didn’t notice this. His dive ended with a shallow splat of water and a sickening crunch of bones. Greg’s late-night dive paralyzed him from the neck down for the rest of his life. Greg ignored the fence that his neighbors had erected around the pool. He probably assumed it was there only to keep him and his girlfriend from having fun. In reality it was meant for his protection, and his disregard of that boundary cost him dearly. Similarly, God’s laws are given to protect us. When we ignore His moral boundaries the cost can be just as devastating.
So the nature of the Ten Commandments is not harsh or unloving. I think that the Ten Commandments would be best compared to a love letter…..a tender, heartfelt message written in stone by the finger of God. To coin Ron Mehl’s phrase…they are ten(der) commandments because that’s what God is like. He is tender and loving. That’s His nature. In fact, this set of laws is one of the most powerful expressions of God’s love in all of Scripture.
Even the context of the Ten Commandments shows this truth. Listen to the things God said immediately prior to the giving of His law. Exodus 19:3-6 says, “And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” In essence God told Moses, “Before you give the people these commands…before anything else, will you please remind them that I bore them on eagles wings? Remind them that I cared for them in their Egyptian bondage—as a mother eagle cares for her offspring. Remind them that I heard their cries and freed them from slavery…make sure they remember that when the Egyptian army attacked, I parted the Red Sea I made a way when there was no way. Make sure you remind them of My loving care Moses.” So these ten laws sprang from the tender love of God for His people.
By the way, this is one of the few times in the Bible that we see God writing anything! And He wrote these laws on STONE instead of papyrus because He knew that as fallen, forgetful beings we need things written and preserved. And we do! We need God’s law. We need it written down. (He wrote it on our hearts).
Without a holy standard we try to define what is true and right on our own and that can be a very dangerous thing. It like the story from Chi Chi Rodriguez, the 8 time PGA tour winner who would tell stories of growing up in Puerto Rico. He was driving down the street with a friend, going a lot faster than he should have been.
A light changed from yellow to red up ahead of him and he zoomed right through it….didn’t even slow down. His friend almost had a coronary. He looked over at Chi Chi and sputtered, “Chi Chi, what in the world are you doing? You went right through a red light! Don’t you stop for red lights?” “My brother taught me to drive,” Chi Chi replied, “and he doesn’t stop for red lights. So I don’t stop at red lights.” And sure enough, a little farther down the road the pro golfer approached another intersection and blasted right through the red light. His friend was a nervous wreck by then and said, “C’mon, man! You’re gonna get us killed. What in the world are you thinking of?” Chi Chi repeated, “My brother taught me to drive, and he doesn’t stop for red lights. So I don’t stop at red lights.” Driving a little farther, they came to an intersection with a green light. This time Chi Chi put on his brakes and stopped, nervously looking both ways. “Why are you stopping now?” his friend asked. “This is a green light.” Chi Chi replied, “My brother might be coming!” As Chi Chi inferred….today’s society can be a very dangerous one in which to live…for it is one in which more and more people ignore God’s standards and decide on their own what is right.
The Ten Commandments are Divided into two Sections
- How we relate to God. (Commandments 1-4)
- How we Relate to Others (Commandments 5-10)
The first four laws guide us in the way we relate to God…the way we revere, respect, and love Him. Glance at Exodus 20:1-17 and you’ll see what I mean: LAW #1 – God and God alone is God. LAW #2 – It is wrong to worship anything material as God. LAW #3 – God’s day is to be cherished and honored. LAW #4 – God’s name is not to be used recklessly.
And then the second section…the last six commandments….deal with how we are to treat each other…how we are to love, and respect each other. LAW #5 – Father and mother are to be honored. LAW #6 – Human life is sacred. LAW #7 – Sexual purity and fidelity is demanded. LAW #8 – The rights of property are to be observed. LAW #9 – False and slanderous speaking about others is condemned. LAW #10 – The desire to possess that which is not ours is branded as wrong.
Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments when he was asked what was the greatest commandment.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matt 22:37-39
So Jesus taught that our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellow man are intertwined. We can’t love and respect God properly if we don’t love and respect each other and we can’t love and respect each other properly if we don’t also love and respect God. Without the horizontal aspect of a proper relationship with our fellow man, our faith would become a selfish impractical thing in which we are concerned with our own soul and our own vision of God and nothing more. And without the vertical principle of loving God we wouldn’t value each other enough we wouldn’t see ourselves as special creations of God. people would be looked at as things and not as persons. The Ten Commandments then teach us that we need both a proper horizontal relationship with each other and a proper vertical relationship with God. The next time you see the intersecting beams of calvary’s cross let it remind you of this truth: We need to practice both LOVE FOR GOD and LOVE FOR OUR FELLOW MAN.
The Purpose of the Ten Commandments are to lead us to Jesus.
Christianity did not come into the world without roots and foundations. Remember in Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “I am not come to destroy the law — but to FULFILL it.” In other words Jesus came to show the law’s true purpose. And the law that Jesus came to fulfill began with these ten basic principles for life.
“So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24
In the Greek-speaking world of Paul’s day, there was a type of household servant called the paidagogos or guardian. This person was in charge of the child’s moral welfare; it was his duty to oversee the child’s character development. One of a guardian’s responsibilities was to take the child to school each day. He was not the child’s teacher, but he was responsible to see that the child was, in fact, under the teacher’s care. And in this New Testament text, Paul borrows this picture from his culture and says in effect, that the law has the same function. It is our “tutor” our “paidagogos.” So, the commandments in the Bible are designed not only to say, “Do this,” and “Don’t do that,” but to lead us to the person of Christ Himself. For as we attempt to obey God’s law we see both God’s holy perfection and our sin.
The law sheds a powerful light on our sinful state and leads us to realize how far we fall short. Like a paidagogos the law leads us to “school” where we see our need for Christ.
In the next posts we will look specifically at each commandment.