THE GREAT COMMANDMENT

 

It is a worthwhile endeavor to turn, from time to time, to Exodus 20:1-17 and review there the Ten Commandments. While it represents law, and many Christians would claim that Jesus rendered the law to be obsolete, that is too simplistic a verdict. A love thing is involved. Jesus also said in John 14:15 “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” The New Testament proclaims the law to no longer be valid primarily because through the indwelling Holy Spirit promised by Jesus, the law is now written on Christians’ hearts. But sometimes the cares of daily living turn our hearts far from God. Here are the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20, and we’d all do well to keep them in mind:

“And God spoke all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, who have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make to yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, thou, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger that is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

The essential character of these commandments is the exercise of love. Love is selfless and desires the glory of God and the best for others. This basic feature is encapsulated in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and will all your might.”

This commandment, which the Jews have honored under the name Shema, and which many Jews recite as a daily prayer, is echoed with the same force by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-38:

“Then one of them, who was a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

“Jesus said unto him, You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.”

Most Christians, when referring to this passage, tend to see it only in association with the next verse, which reads:

“And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

While this next verse is very important and says much about how Christians should behave in the world, the constant pattern of quoting it whenever the earlier verse is mentioned tends to diminish the emphasis that should be placed on the fact that our love toward God is to be our greatest commandment, as is the Shema to the Isralites. Both of these verses should be kept in mind often, but sometimes they should be considered separately for the sake of emphasis.

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