The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary set of rules. They are a direct reflection of the character of God.
Paul says “All have sinned and fall short. Fall short of what? You might expect the apostle to say, ‘all have sinned and fall short of the law of God.’ But that is not what it says.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
The Ten Commandments reflect the glory of God. God says to those He has redeemed, ‘You are my people, and I am calling you to a life that reflects what I am like.’
A Reflection of God’s Character
Why should you not commit adultery?’ Because God is faithful.
Why should you not steal? Because God can be trusted.
Why should you not lie? Because God is always true to His Word.
Why should you not covet? God is at peace and content in Himself.
When God said, “You shall have no other gods before me,” it was because He is the only true and living God.
When God commanded that we rest on one day of the week, it is because He rested from His work on the seventh day.
God speaks to His own people in the commandments, telling us “You are My people. You are called to a life that reflects who I am. And this is what a life modeled on who I am looks like.”
David said in the Psalms “Oh how I love your law!” (Psalm 119:97). We might expect him to say that he would fear the law or honor the law, but why would he say that he loves the law? David loved the law because he loved the Lord. And the law of God reflects the glory of God. It is a mirror of who He is.
An Exposition of Love
Consider the difference between a kidnapper and a lover. A kidnapper says, “you are mine” on the basis of power. A lover says “you are mine” on the basis of affection.
Some people have the idea that the Ten Commandments are the talk of an authoritarian deity who, like a kidnapper, is intent on imposing his will on others. But Moses and the Israelites knew better. They had experienced the grace of God in their extraordinary escape from slavery. So, they did not hear God’s commands as the imposition of an authoritarian deity. They heard the commandments as the words of a lover who has given everything to win the affection of the one He loves. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).
The Ten Commandments are an exposition of love. God is love (1 John 4:8), and the commandments tell us what a life of love looks like.
Our Lord Jesus was asked on one occasion, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36). Instead of picking one of the commandments and giving it priority over the rest, Jesus wrapped all of the commandments together and said,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)
The Beatles sang “All you need is love… love is all you need.” But how do we know what love is? What does a life of love look like? What does it mean to love God? And what does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?
The Ten Commandments give the answer.
The first four commandments tell you what it looks like to love God (Exodus 20:3-11). If you really love God, you will have no other gods before Him. You won’t make an image—you will love Him as He is, not as you would like or imagine Him to be. If you love God, you will hallow His name, and never use it in vain. You give Him time: time to worship; time to serve; time to remember that a vast eternity lies ahead of you and that you must use the time you have to prepare.
The last six commandments tell you what it means to love your neighbor as yourself (Exodus 20:12-17). It has to start at home with the first people God puts in your life, so honor your father and mother. Loving your neighbor means that you revere all life as a gift of God to be protected and preserved in every way possible. It means that you are faithful to your spouse. It means you can be trusted not to take advantage of the weakness and vulnerability of others. It means that you are true to your word, and that your word is true. And loving your neighbor means that you rejoice in what God has given to others rather than coveting what He gave to others for yourself.
The Relevance of the Commandments
The Ten Commandments are a mirror reflecting the glory of God. They are an exposition of His love. As redeemed people who bear His name in the world, God calls us to live lives of love that reflect who He is. And what that looks like is spelled out in the Ten Commandments.
This article is adapted from the sermon “Law” on the Ten Commandments. For a more detailed look at the Ten Commandments, check out Pastor Colin’s book The Ten Greatest Struggles of Your Life: Finding Freedom in God’s Commands.