Ten Commandments

Preaching and Worship Resources about Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments remain one of the most widely known passages in the Bible. They are often recognized not merely as a guide for adherents of the Judeo-Christian faith, but as articulating universal moral truths.

In Scripture

Exodus 20 They are found in two passages: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Their placement accounts for minor differences between the two accounts. In Exodus 20, the people of Israel are on their way from their deliverance in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. At Sinai, God has made a covenant with them to be their God and they his people. Moses then ascends the mountain, where he receives the commandments inscribed in stone. They begin, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." This important preface reveals that the commandments are not edicts from a far-off God, but rather the way in which God's covenant people live in the freedom God has provided.

Deuteronomy 5 repeats the commandments, but now Israel is preparing to enter the promised land. The only difference here is that in the fourth commandment — the Sabbath commandment — God emphasizes that everyone, especially the aliens and slaves, should have a Sabbath rest. "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day" (Deut. 5:15).

Points to Ponder

Freedom to Love The Ten Commandments divide into two sections or tables. The first four commandments deal with one's relationship and responsibilities to God; the fifth through tenth deal with relationship and responsibilities to one's neighbor. Jesus summarizes these two foci of the Ten Commandments as a command to love: "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37 - 40). With Jesus's summary in mind, we could say that the Ten Commandments offer us the freedom to love.

The Law and the Gospel One of the controversies in Christian theology is the relationship of law and gospel. This derives in part from Paul, who in some of his letters differentiates between living under the law and living under the gospel. The gospel delivers us from the law's condemnation; therefore it could be said we are free from the law. But, as Paul explains in Romans 8 and elsewhere, we are free from the law in the sense that in the grace of Christ we no longer establish our righteousness before God through the law. We have been set free from the "law of sin and death" and live in the freedom of the Spirit. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:2 - 4)

Three Uses of the Ten Commandments John Calvin taught that for Christians the Ten Commandments have three uses:

1. The law serves as a mirror that displays the righteousness of God but at the same time reflects our human sinfulness. Before God's law we stand condemned, so it serves to turn us to Christ for salvation.

2. Even though the law by itself cannot change human hearts, it can serve as a way to hold back evil "by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice" (Institutes, Book II:10).

3. For the Christian the Ten Commandments become the law of freedom. Since we are by Christ redeemed from their condemnation of our disobedience, the commandments guide us in our life of gratitude to God.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.