10 Commandments

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Section 1: Opening Prayer 

God of the commandments, you gave the Israelites laws so that they might live in harmony with one another. Show us how to live in peace, so that all may know of your love. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Section 2: The Story

You have most likely heard the 10 commandments many times over your life. You may have even memorized them. This lesson will probably be review for most of you, but will also go a bit deeper on some things than you have before.  To get started, watch the following video with our friend Chuck…

Section 3: The Message

To understand them, we need to get a little background. The 10 Commandments were given just a short time after the Israelites had been freed from slavery. But you have to look at their story. As soon as they were freed, they started complaining about being in the wilderness. They began to question Moses and even God; why God would have brought them out there, why things weren’t just perfect and happy. They were fighting among themselves.

The real problem was that they weren’t really a nation. They were just a bunch of people. They had been just a small family group when they went to Egypt, just Joseph and his brothers. But now they were a huge multitude. Yet they hadn’t lived as God’s people. They had been living in a foreign land. They had been doing things the way Egyptians did them. But now, they were going to be God’s chosen people.

To think of the shift, ask yourself the question “What makes my family different than other families?” What does your family do that is special? What does your family do that is different? Do your parents have certain expectations of you that maybe other kids your age don’t have? Do your parents care what other kids do when you say “But so-and-so gets to do whatever they want…”? Probably not. You might even hear the answer “That’s how they do it in their house. But in our family, we do it this way….”

The commandments are God’s way of saying that life for Israel is different; that it comes with different expectations.

Read the two passages where the commandments are found in the Old Testament. The first is a recording of the event on Mount Sinai, the second in Deuteronomy is a retelling to the later generation who were going to enter the Promised Land.


You will notice that different lists of the commandments have a slightly different numbering. Chuck mentioned that in the video. There are two basic ways. One, used by the Roman Catholic church, Lutherans and Episcopalians, considers the part about “you shall not make a graven image” as part of the first commandment, and has two separate commandments at the end about coveting. Another numbering system, used by other Reformed and Baptist (and lots of non-denominational) churches, has the graven images commandment as a commandment all by itself and the two coveting commandments together. The differences aren’t all that important, but you need to be aware of them so you don’t get really confused when you come across a list that is slightly different than you remember from the catechism.

The commandments seem pretty simple. But they aren’t.   Now read them from Luther’s small catechism, along with his “What does this mean” explanations:

The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.

The Second Commandment
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.

The Third Commandment
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.

The Fourth Commandment
Honor your father and your mother.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.

The Fifth Commandment
You shall not murder.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.

The Sixth Commandment
You shall not commit adultery.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in word and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.

The Seventh Commandment
You shall not steal.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.

The Eighth Commandment
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

The Ninth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors out of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and service to them in keeping what is theirs.

The Tenth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
What is this? or What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force, or steal away from our neighbors their spouses, household workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and fulfill their responsibilities to our neighbors.

What then does God say about all these commandments?
God says the following: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
What is this? or What does this mean?
God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore we are to fear his wrath and not disobey these commandments. However, God promises grace and every good thing to all those who keep these commandments. Therefore we also are to love and trust him and gladly act according to his commands.

From Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2014 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #42902.

If you look, each of the commandments gets ‘expanded’ a bit.  Ones to notice that do this in a big way is number four. It goes from “father and mother” to include all people in authority. Number five goes beyond just “not making someone dead” to require us to instead help and support them. Number seven doesn’t stop with a simple “don’t take things that aren’t yours” and breaks it out to say don’t cheat people or take advantage of them, don’t overcharge them just because you can, but instead help them protect and improve what is theirs. And the 8th commandment, that ones a booger… it goes from “don’t lie” to requiring us to speak well of others, defend their reputations, and to talk about them in the most positive way possible. Anyone ever gossip or talk bad about someone? Even when they deserve it? Well this tells us that even if they deserve it, we need to do our best not to trash someone. Interpreting someones actions in the best possible light means put the best spin on it you can, to think of what is positive even when we don’t like someone.

It isn’t easy.

Ultimately, it isn’t possible.

That’s the tough part about the commandments. Yes they are there for a reason, like all rules. They are there to do a few things.

  1. Organize life… Let us know what is expected of us. Keep our priorities on God and caring for each other.
  2. Make community focused on God.
  3. Regulate behavior. Stop us from harming others and provide for safety and security.

But ultimately what they do is show us that we aren’t perfect.

Sure you can say you don’t murder people. But do you do harm to others? Sure you don’t steal, but do you help others as much as you could? Sure, if you aren’t straight up lying you might not have technically broken the commandment, but are you keeping the spirit of it when you talk about other people behind their backs?

What God’s law ultimately does is make us realize our failures, and ultimately shows us that we lack the ability to live as God wants us to by our own effort or ability. We cannot live the way God wants us to. So at the end of the day, we realize that we have to trust in God’s forgiveness rather than our own abilities to do good.

Section 4: Learn & Engage

– What are 3 things you learned?
– What is 1 question you still have?
– What part of the lesson did you most identify with?
– What part of the lesson was hardest for you?
– Where have you seen God this week?

Section 5: Closing Prayer

This prayer is from our hymnal, a prayer of confession for times when we know that we have broken God’s commandments and sinned.

Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. Here the penitent may confess sins that are known and that burden her/him. I repent of all my sins, known and unknown. I am truly sorry, and I pray for forgiveness. I firmly intend to amend my life, and to seek help in mending what is broken. I ask for strength to turn from sin and to serve you in newness of life. Amen.

Remember that God grants forgiveness even before we ask; that God’s grace is far more powerful than our ability to mess up; that God’s love for you is stronger than any disappointment you may have brought to God.  Your worth to God isn’t in how good you are. It is in how special God made you.