Commandment 7 Do not commit adultery

“You shall not commit adultery.”

G.K. Chesterton said, “If men will not be governed by the Ten Commandments, they shall be governed by the ten thousand commandments.” The point is that in the brevity of these commandments, both in number and in the words used, God is acting toward us in mercy. He could have easily overwhelmed us with commands, exceptions, and rules upon rules (which is what the Pharisees did), but he did not do this. He gave us ten simple commands like this one: Don’t commit adultery. Its brevity is its mercy; its universality is its severity.

Scripture presents God’s ideal of sexual union between husband and wife as an exclusive relationship. Neither the man nor the woman may be sexually active with anyone else, for the marriage bed is to be honored and kept holy. While other societies allowed for married men (but not women) to sleep around with other people (who were themselves unmarried), the God of Israel nowhere makes such allowances. The people of God, both men and women, are prohibited from all manner of sexual license. Sex is the union of a man and his wife. Everything else is considered sin.

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“You shall not murder.”

Most of us are more familiar with the King James phrasing of this verse, “Thou shalt not kill.” Using the word “kill” instead of “murder,” however, can be a bit misleading, and cause us to misunderstand the meaning of this commandment. This verse prohibits the intentional, unjustifiable killing of a human being. The Hebrew term used here specifically refers to homicide, not to killing in general. Scripture does not prohibit all killing, whether of animals or even of humans. Many animal sacrifices are prescribed in the Mosaic Law, and several commands call for the death penalty if broken.

Taken in its broader Scriptural context, this commandment tells us that we cannot act as judge, jury, and executioner. While it does not prohibit the death penalty, neither does it necessarily encourage pacifism or vegetarianism. To put it bluntly, we can kill animals for food and even kill other humans, so long as that killing meets certain justifications. (Some examples would be the demands of justice, a just war, or self-defense.) Murder, however, is never justified.

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Honor your father and mother commandment 5

“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

It’s easy to think that this commandment applies only to children under the age of 18. Of course, small children, and even teenagers (especially teenagers!), should heed the command to “honor your father and mother.” This isn’t always easy, and the behavior of some parents makes it hard, or even impossible, for their children to honor them in any traditional sense. All of us have fallen parents, and every one of us who are parents falls significantly short of what God wants from us, and what we want from ourselves. But the commandment still stands. “Honor your father and mother,” God says, not because they, as individuals, are necessarily worthy of honor, but because the positions of father and mother are God-ordained. Even if our parents are scoundrels, the position of authority they possess in our lives deserves honor, though they themselves fall far short.

The commandment to honor your father and mother demonstrates that God values family. It is the one social structure he established explicitly in Scripture. “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,” God says in Genesis 2, in an echo of his command to “be fruitful and multiply.” A family begets a family. Father plus mother equals child. This is God’s fundamental design pattern for human society. It is built into our biology, psychology, and sociology. Humans thrive in the context of loving, committed, stable families.

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Keep the Sabbath Commandment 4

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

The commandment to keep the Sabbath is given to God’s people as an act of grace. He does not want his people to spend their entire lives working and toiling, wearing themselves out day after day without break. Can you imagine life without a weekend? It would be just one endless march of school and work. That sounds maddening. But that is not what God wants for us. He cares about our mental and physical health, and he knows that the arrangement of our time is vital to both.

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Commandment 3: Do not misuse the name of God

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

In one of the most profound moments in history, God revealed his name to Moses at the burning bush. “When people ask for your name, what shall I tell them,” a frightened Moses asked the voice in the fiery tree. The shockwaves of God’s response can still be felt today. “I am,” God replied. His name is I am. (The English transliteration of the Hebrew text is YHWH, or Yahweh with the vowels added.) The depths of God’s name cannot be plumbed by volumes of writings, so we must content ourselves to say that his name is a reflection of his character.

The New Testament expands our understanding of God by introducing us to God’s Son, whose name is Jesus. His name means “God saves,” and he saves everyone who calls out his name in faith. The first followers of Jesus have left us a testimony that his name is powerful and unique, and so we should treat the name of Jesus with the same respect that we should treat the name of YHWH. For Christians, then, this commandment applies to both the names YHWH and Jesus. We should not misuse either name.

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