Read Matthew 22:37-40, then Exodus 20:1-17. How does Jesus’ summary of the commandments help your understanding as you read each of the Ten Commandments?
The Ten Commandments read like a constitution. After a brief preamble that sets out the basis on which these statements are made—in this case, the fact of God’s deliverance of His people—the document lists the core principles on which the nation is founded. In this case, there were specific commands about how human beings could best live out their love for God and love for each other. It is little wonder that many nations with a Christian heritage have drawn the basis of their laws from these guiding principles.
While many of these statements are brief, we should not underestimate the breadth of their impact and the comprehensiveness of the Ten Commandments as the law of life. For example, the sixth commandment—”You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13, NIV)—summarizes and includes “all acts of injustice that tend to shorten life” as well as “a selfish neglect of caring for the needy or suffering”. – Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 308. Similarly, the prohibition against stealing (see Exod. 20:15) condemns “slave dealing, and forbids wars of conquest”. It “requires the payment of just debts or wages”, as well as prohibiting “every attempt to advantage oneself by the ignorance, weakness, or misfortune of another”. – Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 309.
We can easily tell ourselves that we are not bad people. For example, if we are not directly involved in murder or obvious stealing, it might seem we are doing OK. But when Jesus talked about the commandments, He made it clear that the commandments are not fulfilled simply by not doing a few specific acts. Rather, our thoughts, motivations, and even failure to do things we know we should can break the law of God (see Matt. 5:21-30).
So, imagine a society in which each of the Ten Commandments were taken seriously and lived out fully. It would be an active, vibrant society in which everyone enthusiastically acted on their love for God by loving and caring for each other.
Why do we tend to read the Ten Commandments “narrowly”, often ignoring the broader applications of these important principles to our lives? Why is the narrower reading easier to follow in practice?