Beckett: Why Memorise the Ten Commandments?

Simply put, God’s Law is “His good and loving will for the lives and well-being of all people” (SC, Question 15). People often wonder what God’s will is for their lives. Many books have been written on finding God’s will for your life. Yet it is not so mysterious, for God has revealed His will for each of His human creatures in the Ten Commandments. Simply think through each Commandment and ponder what this means in your life. For example, “Do not commit adultery.” How might I not do this as a married person? As a single person? If you realise you’ve violated this Commandment recently, repent, then continue with the next Commandment. If you haven’t committed it recently, move on to the next one. Thinking through the Commandments is the purpose of the silence just before Confession at the beginning of the Divine Service.

I once heard another pastor put it that God has given us the Ten Commandments to protect His gifts to us. Thus, let us consider what these gifts are.

  1. God gives us the gift of Himself, and to protect this gift, He forbids the worship of other gods. He is a jealous God, though in the context of Exodus 20 this more closely means He’s zealous, that is, zealous for you. He wants you all to Himself.
  2. To protect the gift of His name He’s given us in His self-revelation and in Baptism, He forbids we misuse His name.
  3. To protect the gift of the Sabbath—that is, rest in Him—He forbids we despise it and so profane it by spending that day on something that takes us away from Him (e.g., sports, sleeping in after irresponsibly partying the night before, etc.).
  4. To protect the gift of our parents, He forbids we dishonour them (as well as other authorities).
  5. To protect the gift of life, He forbids murder.
  6. To protect the gift of sex within the confines of marriage, He forbids all forms of adultery.
  7. To protect our temporal possessions, He forbids theft.
  8. To protect our honour and reputation, He forbids lying about one another.
  9. To protect our home, He forbids coveting and the robbing of our inheritance.
  10. To protect our spouse and other familial belongings, He forbids the coveting and thievery of these as well.

We often think of the Ten Commandments as rules to follow. Sure, they are that, but it’s an inadequate definition because they’re not a standard any of us can keep and they’re not a measuring stick of how righteous we are. Rather, they function as a curb to protect the gifts God has given to us, both divine (1-3) and temporal (4-10). They also tell us how to love God (1-3) and our neighbour (4-10). Thus, we memorise them and daily reflect on them as a mirror to recognise where we have fallen short and run to Christ when we see we have failed in keeping a single iota, and therefore the entire Law. For although we do the Law for the sake of our neighbour, “we are no longer under a guardian,” but under Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:25-26).

The Commandments thus keep us humble, for when we think we’ve become such good Christians, the 1st Commandment quickly crushes our ego and reminds us we have not feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things; then the rest follow and we see how even farther we’ve fallen. Therefore, we run to the One who has kept and fulfilled every iota of the Law—our Lord Jesus Christ, who is full of grace (John 1:14).

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