It might be nice to think that we could all make our own individual rules and follow them and everything would work out just fine. But that is not the way we work. Societies where people make their own rules or where there are no rules to begin with are not successful.
This is what happened with Adam and Eve. They chose to make their own rules instead of following the one that was given them, and the consequences were fatal.
One thing that is emphasized in the Bible, is the importance of obeying and keeping the commands of God. To “obey” is translated from the Hebrew word “shama” which means to hear intelligently, to give attention and obedience. To “keep” is translated from the Hebrew word “shamar” which means to hedge about, guard and protect. Therefore, it is not only obedience but also valuing and protecting the commands of God.
The first thing that has to be done in order to be obedient is to hear – to know what it is that God says. To hear today, we have to read the words of God in the Bible, and delight and meditate on them in order to get to know God and the things He expects and how He responds to His creation. The next thing is to give those commands respect, to put them into practice and cherish them and pass them on to the next generation.
The ten commandments were given to God’s people after he had brought them out from slavery in Egypt. He brought them out of slavery to their fellowmen, and they became His servants instead. The difference was the end result. God speaks of raising them up to go upright. He wanted them to be a nation that would radiate His glory – His mercy, His goodness, His character. His laws, if obeyed, would have brought that happy result – they would have shone as a light to the nations around them. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.
Why were these commands so hard to keep? It seems that as creatures with free-will, we have a hard time bowing to authority. We prefer to be our own authority and decide what it is we will or will not do. It is clear, however, that we don’t get ourselves very far by doing this. The God who created us also knows us and what it is that can bring us happiness in the long term. If only we would listen…
The first command is to have no other gods.
Do I have other gods? What do I allow to direct me? Is it my money? my belly? self interest? Instead God would have us love Him (the one who created us and knows what would make us reach our full potential) with all our heart, soul and might so that we are willing to be directed by what He would have us do.
The second is to make no graven image.
Perhaps I think that this is not possible today – I do not worship idols! But perhaps I do carve out for myself an idol I think will save me when I store up money for my future, accumulate material possessions that I think I cannot do without, have confidence in my insurance policies… The Lord says, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing.” How much do I really trust Him?
If we cannot be faithful and trust Him, He is a jealous God, and He knows that our unfaithfulness will affect generations of His children!
The third is not to take His name in vain.
Often this is taken to mean that we should not speak His name in a disrespectful way, and this is no doubt true. However, when I say that I am a believer in God, I am in a sense taking on myself the name of God. I portray to my neighbours, my friends, and people I happen to meet, what God is by my actions and words. Being a believer should change me to be more like Him.
The fourth is to keep the Sabbath day holy.
One day each week was to be set aside for rest and rejoicing. It was a day to remember the Creator of all things. It was a day to remember that God had brought the people out of bondage in Egypt to the rest of the promised land. These are things that I need to take time to remember as well – that God is the Creator of all things and that he has brought me out of slavery to sin through His Son Jesus Christ. These days it can be so easy to be busy all the time – I need to keep some time especially for remembering and rejoicing in Him.
The fifth is to honour parents.
Submission to anyone is hard for all of us. We instinctively seem to want to do things our own way. Learning as a child to be obedient to one’s parents, to submit to their rebuke, instruction and correction, to desire their advice, direction and consent is valuable. Even today we can recognize the value of this and observe the results when it is not learned. And ultimately it helps me in my relationship with my Father in Heaven.
The sixth is not to kill.
I may say, that of course, I would never kill anyone. But it would seem that murder is seldom done by someone without any forethought. Murder in many cases begins with anger, hatred, racism, envy, deceit, revenge, and these often can take up room in our hearts. The challenge then is to not allow feelings and attitudes that could lead me to hurt or mistreat another human being even if is simply by my own apathy.
The seventh is to not commit adultery.
Often God spoke of Israel as an adultress because of the way they deserted their God for the gods of their neighbours. God is a God of faithfulness and therefore He values faithfulness highly. James tells us that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” There is then a need to be faithful in all my relationships, especially my relationship with Him.
The eighth is to not steal.
Stealing may be taking something by stealth from someone, but it may also be not helping the less fortunate when I am able to – taking something for myself that is meant to be shared.
The ninth is to not tell lies about your neighbour.
James has many things to say about the tongue and all the damage that it can do. It is so easy to let words slip out that I never meant to say. But as the saying goes today: “Garbage in, garbage out” or as Jesus said ” …out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Matthew 12:34). I need to fill my heart with the right things.
The tenth is to not covet.
The opposite of this is to be thankful for what I have. So often I can only see the half empty. It is possible that I will never be satisfied if I don’t learn the lesson to be content with what I have. I need to learn to be like Paul: “… for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). Instead of a law that was simply carried out to the letter in a self-righteous way, Jesus came to show how the law is something that must be written in our hearts, so that we keep the spirit of the law – the real meaning – instead of just the word.