This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:
Throughout the year, I have been reflecting upon the Ten Commandments using portions of Luther’s Large Catechism and asking what does this commandment say to us today. Last month, we examined the 9th & 10th Commandments. This month, I want to end this series with some overall reflections about the commandments.
One of the major understanding that I have taken from looking at the commandments this year is that the focus is less on me and more on others. I wonder if many of us think about the commandments as telling us what we should and should not do. While this is true that they do direct our behaviors, it seems like these desired behaviors are more directed toward others.
This can be seen in Luther’s simplification of the commandments. He says that you can summarize the first three commandments in two words—LOVE GOD. And he goes on to say that you can summarize the last seven commandments in two words as well—LOVE NEIGHBOR. Notice his summations are centered in for whom we are directing our actions and behaviors. We remember the Sabbath not just for our own sake—but because when we do this we love and honor God. When we do not steal, it is not just a prohibition to not take what does not belong to us, but it is a way to protect, honor and love our neighbor.
In Luther’s Large Catechism, he writes again and again how seeking to fulfill the last seven commandments are a way to serve our neighbor.
Too often, I will hear people talk about obeying the commandments as a way to salvation. When asked about how is one saved, will answer ‘by following the Ten Commandments.’ This is completely wrong and promotes legalism. We are save through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Through grace and Jesus’ love we receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life—not by what we do, but what Jesus has already done for us.
Rather than a way of salvation, the commandments are to be seen as a way to live out our faith and live in response to the grace that is extended to us by Jesus. The commandments do not save us, but teach us that we are reconciled to God in order to love God and love our neighbor. In many ways, it echoes back to Jesus’ saying about the greatest commandment. When Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest, he responds, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ But he doesn’t just stop there. He continues and goes on to say, ‘And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22:36-40)
The Ten Commandments are to be seen as a way to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves—plain and simple.
The other thing that I think about with respect to the Ten Commandments is that they are meant to be lived out. Too often I will hear people talk about if we just would post the Ten Commandments in the school or in other public places the world would be different. I take issue with this logic. I am not convinced that simply putting them on a poster and hanging it somewhere will truly change the world. What will change the world is if rather than argue about putting them up somewhere, we would post them within our hearts. The world will change if more and more people seek to live out the commandments. Not judging others and condemning people we disagree with—but loving our neighbor even when we disagree with them.
I want to end with what Luther says about living the Ten Commandments in his conclusion of the commandments in his Large Catechism. Luther writes:
Each of us is to make them a matter of daily practice in all circumstances, in all activities and dealings, as if they were written everywhere we look, even wherever we go or wherever we stand. Thus, both for ourselves at home and abroad among our neighbors, we will find occasion enough to practice the Ten Commandments, and no one need search far for them. From all of this we see once again how highly these Ten Commandments are to be exalted and extolled above all orders, commands, and works that are taught and practiced apart from them. (Book of Concord, p. 431)