This is the twenty-fourth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Just released: A Book of Prayers for Kids by Mel Lawrenz (a perfect Easter gift for the kids you know and love).
The first part of the Ten Commandments describe what a right relationship with God looks like, and the second set of commandments describe the way to live rightly with other people.
The fifth commandment is a call to honor our fathers and our mothers. For some reason we sometimes only think of this as small children obeying what their parents tell them to do, but we should also see in this commandment a mandate that grown up children properly and respectfully take care of their aging parents. There was, after all, no welfare system to take care of needy people at that time. The family was the basic structure for stability and support. The word “honor” comes from the Hebrew word for glory, which has the sense of weightiness. To honor people is to intentionally regard their God-given worth—no matter what condition they are in. For young children, that means obedience; for grownups, care. Left to our sinful nature, we would give regard to others only as they are useful to us or to society. But honor, respect, and dignity flows from God’s having created each of us in his image. We have a moral obligation, in other words, to respect and look after others—especially those in our own families.
The sixth commandment forbids murder. There are several different Hebrew words meaning “to kill.” The one used in the sixth commandment points to intentional and violent killing, which is why most English translations use the word “murder.” To justifiably defend oneself is not murder, whereas breaking into someone’s house and killing them, or reacting in rage to someone you hate, is. Obviously, there is a lot of killing in the Old Testament. Some is warfare, some is animal sacrifice, and some is capital punishment. The question for us, as we seek to live the Bible, is how the prohibition of murder applies to us today. We are not like the Hebrews who went into the Promised Land and conquered it. We don’t exercise capital punishment as tribes, but rather live in nations with laws. Our worship includes no animal sacrifice. There are honest debates among believers regarding the ethics of things like capital punishment today. And there always must be deep spiritual searching regarding the difference between war that is justified and what kind is not.
The seventh commandment prohibits adultery, which is sexual violation of the marriage covenant. The commandment is negative, but the principle is positive. Sexual union is the physical bond matching the covenant bond of a marriage. This is essential for the building of stable societies. Given the many storms of life, we need marriages that are strongly formed and faithfully lived-out. This is also an expression of right relationship with God, which is why adultery is a sin against people, but also against God. King David, after sinning with Bathsheba, speaks to God out of his brokenness in Psalm 51, saying, among other things, “against you… have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4). When married people stray whenever they want they are weakening all of their relationships, and weakening the fabric of society. We need to be faithful in many different ways: marriage is one of the foundations.
The eighth commandment says we must not steal. The verb has the sense secrecy to it. Our understanding of theft is naturally based on our understanding of ownership, which varies from one society to the next. Socialism minimizes personal ownership, capitalism maximizes it. The biblical perspective is unique. First, God is the owner of all things, because he is the creator of all things. So when we violate our bodies or those of others, we are taking something away that belongs to God. No parent can say, “I’ll beat my kid whenever I want to,” because the child does not belong to the parent as a possession. On the other hand, Scripture does teach that God gives us resources and objects and property as a stewardship, and so it is possible for someone else to steal from us. The sin of theft is wrong not just because the victim is hurt, but because God’s order of all things is violated.
The ninth commandment tells us not to lie, or, literally, “you shall not respond against your neighbor falsely.” It is wrong to lie at any time, but the specific idea of this commandment is that we are not to speak in such a way that we misrepresent or distort the truth about others. Sadly, we witness this on a daily basis. There are a multitude of reasons why people lie or misrepresent other people, including personal gain, carelessness, or outright malice. Lying about others creates deep injury, and it absolutely fouls the character of the person who misrepresents others.
Finally, the tenth commandment draws a line one step back from stealing. Coveting is a deep-set attitude in which we long to have something that does not belong to us. This is not merely the simple ache of wanting something, but the sour spirit of obsession about what other people have and we do not. Jealousy is a corrupt state of the heart. Because it is internal, it may be secret, but it likely affects our actions and relationships.
[to be continued]
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.