Study 8. The Commandments

[ Q6. What are the ten commandments?

The Bible gives us many "signposts" for a life that is honouring to God. The "signposts" that Jesus gave tended to be perfect ideals that could only be aimed at. The Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew, chapters 5 to 7, is the best example of Jesus' moral teachings. The sermon certainly reminds us that God's moral perfection is something we can only at best aim at, but never do.

The best known set of moral "signposts" is the Ten Commandments, Deuteronomy 5. These commandments, given to Moses for the guidance of God's people around 1500BC, are simple guidelines for simple people. Although the commandments are very old and were given to people whose way of life differed greatly from our own, they remain just as true for us today as for then.

The first four commandments deal with our duty toward God, and the last six with our duty toward neighbour.


1. Have no other Gods. This command teaches belief in God, and him only. It tells us to put God first in our life. The ancient people of Israel were constantly tempted to put their trust in pagan gods. We don't face this kind of temptation, but there are many things in life which claim our total allegiance. For example: money, possessions, sex, employment, enjoyment.....


2. The command on "images" calls us to worship God in the right way, Matthew 6:33. The word "worship" means adoration. For example, when the disciples of Jesus met him after his resurrection, they knelt before him. That is, they adored him. We worship God when we go to church and meet together with other friends of Jesus. Jesus promised that when two or three meet together in his name he will be present with them. So, when Christians gather together, we worship Jesus their risen Lord. We do this when we share together in the Lord's Supper and in our praise, thanksgiving, confession, prayer and the hearing of God's word (listening to the Bible read and explained). It is possible to worship God in the wrong way - through wrong teaching, or wrong forms of worship. We must be careful of anything which seeks to simulate, represent or replace the real Jesus. Services with lots of rituals, or services that depend on emotion, modern music, bands, singing groups.... can easily take our attention away from the real Jesus. Our God reveals himself to us as the "still small voice", and he asks us to quietly listen to him.


3. This command forbids what we call irreverence. A person's name represents the person. To use that name in a disrespectful way is to be disrespectful to the person. So, we must not use God's name flippantly, in lying or swearing. We must try not to use God's name, or anything to which he has put his name, lightly or irreverently. Never crack jokes about Jesus which put him down. Jesus has a sense of humour and can laugh at himself, at us and with us, but jokes which hurt are not funny. Don't use bad language which includes his name - God this, Jesus that, Christ...... We all use bad language sooner or later, just try to leave Jesus out of it. It's not the way we should refer to our best friend.


4. The Sabbath day is Saturday and is still the special day of the week for Jews. In the early church the special day moved from Saturday to Sunday. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday and so it soon became our special day. The point of the special day is "rest". As God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day, so we are to rest from our work and remember, with thanksgiving, that God is the source of all we possess. The meaning of life is not found in work, nor all that we can possess through our work. It is found in a relationship with the living God.


5. The fifth command tells how we should act toward our parents, guardians, or others to whom we owe respect. We are to do what our parents ask us to do while we live under their care. Even when parents ask us to do things we feel are not right, we should still submit to their authority. When we leave home to marry, or live independent lives, we are then free of their authority. Yet, even then we are to care for our parents, particularly when they are old and weak. Read Ephesians 6:1-4.


6. Murder is caused by hatred which is the result of anger and jealousy, emotions which often arise from simple things such as hurt pride. Read Ephesians 4:31. The chances are that none of us will ever commit murder, but we will hate. So, God asks us to try to accept others, particularly those who are different or who have trod on our toes.


7. Adultery is sexual intercourse with someone other than a marriage partner. God's intention is that we make love with only one person in our lives. God designed us for what is called a monogamous relationship. The Bible is very strong on this issue because sexual intercourse images the intimacy of our friendship ("union") with God himself. So, God asks that whoever we make love to we marry and whoever we marry remains the only person we make love to.


8. Theft of other people's property, time (the boss' time), honour.... Corruption in business is now a widespread problem in our society where a "dog eat dog" mentality has replaced the notion of service. Beware of the power of greed, for the line "greed is good" is actually a lie.


9. Honesty. God asks us to be truthful. Not exaggerating, nor acting a lie, nor talking unkindly or untruthfully about others. In a world out of control, it is sometimes impossible tell the truth. Sometimes it is not in a person's best interest to hear the truth. All we can do is to try and be as honest as possible.


10. To covet is to allow ourselves to be controlled by a desire which is clearly against God, or against another person's best interest. There is nothing wrong with feeling a bit of envy for another person's new car, but there is something wrong if our desire for their car is only restrained by the knowledge they would kill us if we touched it. To covet is to be controlled by desire. In the New Testament it is called "idolatry", for such a strong desire should be directed to God only.

Q7. What do you learn from these commandments?

I learn two things, my duty towards God, and my duty towards my neighbour.


At our baptism, our parents and godparents promised on our behalf to "keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in them all the days of our life". This was the third promise made on our behalf and is again something we take upon ourselves at Confirmation.

When a person renounces evil (repents) and believes in Jesus, they become a friend of God for eternity. There is nothing more we can do to get God to love us more. Being his friend for eternity is something he gives us for the asking; it is not something we earn. In fact, staying his friend for ever and ever is also something for the asking rather than the doing. Many people believe that if we do wrong things God gives us up, but the truth is, God will never leave anyone who wants his friendship. He is a forgiving God who is willing to put up with all our weaknesses and failings. Isn't that a wonderful truth?

None-the-less, a person who claims Jesus as their friend will want to live in a way that is honouring to God. They will never perfectly live a good life, but they will certainly give it a go. In fact, it is probably true to say that a person who doesn't care about how God wants them to live, is probably no friend of Jesus. They may be kidding everybody else about their faith in Jesus, they may even be kidding themselves, but they can't kid God.

So, what do we learn from the commandments? They certainly remind us that, except for Jesus, we could never face God, for we are always breaking his commands. Yet, they also remind us of the many practical ways of living a considerate life toward God and our fellow human beings.

Q8. What is your duty towards God?

My duty towards God is to put my trust in him, to respect and love him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength; to offer him my praise, thanks and prayers; to honour his holy name and word, and to serve God truly all the days of my life.


We can summarize this answer as follows:

Give Jesus the first place in our life;

Approach God through Jesus in trust, prayer and listening to his word;

Honour the name of the Lord Jesus;

In all that we do, consider how Jesus would have us do it.

Q9. What is your duty towards your neighbour?

My duty is to love my neighbour as myself, and do to others what I would wish them to do to me; to honour my parents and others in positions of responsibility, showing respect and courtesy to all; to hurt no one by word or deed; to bear no ill-will nor hatred in my heart; to keep my body pure, and be true and fair in all I say and do; not to desire things that belong to others, but to work honestly and do my duty as God guides me.


The Catechism starts out with Jesus' rule toward others - "do to others as you would have them do to you." This is often called The Golden Rule. Then follows a list of practical rules for life:

Honour parents;

Respect those who serve our Nation in public life (e.g. police);

Consider carefully the words of those who teach us the Bible;

Be courteous to all;

Hurt no person physically, socially or psychologically;

Don't let hate fester in our heart;

Don't "do drugs" (moderation with legal ones);

Keep our body for our life-long lover;

Strive to be trustworthy and reliable ("let your yes be yes and your no be no");

Don't take what doesn't belong to us;

Control our tongue from bending the truth or gossiping;

Be satisfied with what we can rightly get out of life without getting bitter over the "good luck" of others. (Happiness comes from realistic expectations).

Memory Work

Learn the Lord's Prayer.

Study the answer to the question "What do you ask of God in this prayer?


O Lord, the strength of all who put their trust in you. I can do nothing good without you. Help me to live in a way that is honouring to you, in the things I do, say and think, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.