As a teenager in my hometown of Hope, Arkansas, I often heard my pastor say, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” Corporate leaders, political leaders, church leaders, and families are at their best when they are motivated by principles rather than public opinion.
What are some principles worth living by? Ask a roomful of people, and you could get a roomful of answers. But there already exists a code of principles established thousands of years ago and adhered to by millions of people from a variety of religious backgrounds. It has been widely accepted as a basis for appropriate behavior. Fortunately, no one has copyrighted the Ten Commandments.
Although an increasing number of attempts have been made to prohibit these principles from being displayed in recent years, they have survived through the ages. They are the foundation for most of our laws and commonly accepted codes of human behavior.
Law always reveals the character of the people who created it. Therefore, God’s law reveals the character of a God who delivered it. In the Ten Commandments, law is the imperative of love. The essence of the Ten Commandments is to depict what love looks like.
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The Ten Commandments are divided into two sections—the vertical laws deal with people’s relationship with God, and the horizontal laws deal with people’s relationship with others. Jesus would say the entire law could be summed up in two basic principles: to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). This essentially captures our responsibility to God and others.
Some people have attempted to portray the “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments as negative. Understood in the proper context, however, these commandments are positive affirmations of life-giving principles of a life done well.
Here is a look at the ten basic laws that appear in Exodus
1. You shall have no other gods before me. This is an affirmation that God can create a relationship with us that is strong enough to dismiss the need for further searching.
2. You shall not make for yourself an [idol]. The Creator God cannot be limited or confined to a tangible object that can be sold, lost, or destroyed. God is a person who cannot be contained in a physical trinket. We need to be glad he can’t!
3. You shall not misuse the name of the lord your God. This principle of “not using the Lord’s name in vain” affirms that God’s name should not be used carelessly. We must not treat God’s love with contempt.
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. True love sets apart special time for those who are loved. The principle behind a day of rest was not to have a day to forget God but a day to remember him.
5. Honor your father and your mother. Real love respects authority. We must learn to honor authority first in the home. If we don’t learn respect in our families, then we likely will never learn it at all.
6. You shall not murder. This commandment affirms the sacredness of human life. It reminds us that the goal of love is always to heal, not to hurt.
7. You shall not commit adultery. Adultery defrauds the love of another and destroys the self-esteem of the one being defrauded. Promises and vows are sacred, and this commandment affirms the validity and authority of such promises.
8. You shall not steal. True love has the desire to give instead of take.
9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. Gossip and falsehoods defy the character of God, who is always honest. Some seek to justify spreading rumors in the name of concern or even correction. But even when we speak well of others, we must remember that real love is always honest.
10. You shall not covet. Love delights in the possessions of others rather than desiring what others have.