The Ten Commandments: Keys in a Law of Love
What is love? Most people think of love as a strong emotional feeling toward another person. And to an extent that's true. However, the "love" most often spoken of in the Bible is an outgoing concern for others as demonstrated by our actions (1 John 3:18). And being demonstrated by our actions, it is far greater and more meaningful than mere feelings.
Scripture tells us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16), and His laws, particularly as summarized in the Ten Commandments, show us the actions that demonstrate love toward others—first toward God (as expressed in the first four of the Ten Commandments), and then toward our fellow man (as expressed in the last six).
Jesus Christ, asked to name the greatest commandment, responded: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).
Jesus here quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. These two commands summarize both the Ten Commandments and the entire law of God, as all God's other instructions flow from these two greatest commands. Let's briefly see how the Ten Commandments show the actions that demonstrate our love to our Creator and our fellow man.
Commandments that show us how to love God
The First Commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3), tells us that we should love, honor and respect our Creator and heavenly Father so that He alone is the supreme authority in our lives. He alone is God, and we should allow nothing to prevent us from serving and obeying Him. As our Creator and Sustainer, He has given us everything, and wants us to acknowledge Him as the source of all good things and instruction in right living.
The Second Commandment, forbidding worship of idols (verses 4-6), tells us that in our worship we must not reduce God to a likeness of a physical object. To make any representation of Him distorts and limits our perception of what He is really like, and so distorts and damages our relationship with Him. God is far greater than anything we can see or imagine, and idolatry limits Him in our minds.
The Third Commandment, to not take His name in vain (verse 7), focuses on showing respect to our Creator. The quality of our relationship with God depends on the love and regard we have for Him. We are expected to always honor who and what He is, and never disrespect Him in word or action.
The Fourth Commandment, to remember His Sabbath day and keep it holy (verses 8-11), is a key to a right and close relationship with God. By keeping His Sabbath, we are reminded every week that He is our Creator and the source of all good things. The Sabbath day is also a foretaste of His coming Kingdom, when all of humankind will at last have the opportunity to learn His way of life and experience a personal relationship with Him. The Sabbath day is a rest from our normal work, a commanded assembly, a time to meet with others of like mind and to learn more about God's way of life through His ministry.
Commandments that show us how to love our fellow human beings
The Fifth Commandment, to honor our father and mother (verse 12), sets the tone for the last six. It addresses the importance of our learning to treat fellow human beings with respect and honor. Learning to obey this commandment helps children establish a lifetime pattern of respecting proper rules, traditions, principles and laws. Honoring others should be a normal, natural habit learned during youth, leading to strong families and, in turn, to a strong, stable society.
The Sixth Commandment, forbidding murder (verse 13), tells us that life is a precious gift to be valued and respected. Jesus Christ amplified the meaning of "murder" to include bitter animosity, contempt or hateful hostility toward others (Matthew 5:21-22). God wants us to go far beyond avoiding murder. He wants us to be builders, not destroyers, of good relationships.
The Seventh Commandment, to not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14), is designed to protect one of God's greatest gifts to humanity—the loving marital relationship. It is the foundation of strong families, which are the building blocks of society. Obeying this command helps prevent the pain and suffering that comes on individuals and societies through broken relationships, broken homes, sexually transmitted diseases, poverty and many other ills, while strengthening one of God's greatest blessings to humanity.
The Eighth Commandment, forbidding stealing (verse 15), shows that we need to respect and appreciate the rights and needs of others. God grants us many physical blessings, but they should never be our primary pursuit in life. The battle against selfishness begins in the heart, and we should put giving and serving others ahead of accumulating and lavishing possessions on ourselves.
The Ninth Commandment, forbidding false witness (verse 16), helps us realize that God expects truth to permeate every facet of our lives. Respectful, loving relationships with others are impossible without truth and honesty being the foundation of our interactions. God wants us, as His children, to commit ourselves to truth and reflect it in everything we do.
The Tenth Commandment, telling us not to covet (verse 17), is aimed at the heart and mind of every human being. As with each of the previous nine commandments, it is directed toward our relationships. It specifically deals with respecting the property, possessions and spousal relationships of others and with the covetous thoughts that can potentially hurt ourselves and our neighbors. It seeks to quell the desires that tempt us and lead us astray. Rather than being focused on our own wants, God wants concern for others to be the motivation for our desires.
A law that teaches God's way of love
Each of the Ten Commandments reveals the attitudes and actions that show us how to love God and our neighbor. This is why the apostle John tells us that "whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him" and "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" (1 John 2:5; 5:2).
The Ten Commandments truly sum up God's law of love. (To better understand how they teach us to truly love God and our fellow man, be sure to request or download your free copy of our booklet The Ten Commandments.)
Those who argue that the Ten Commandments are somehow abolished or done away have to answer a crucial question: Why would God abolish a law that defines for us how to love Him and our fellow human beings?
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