Best of Daily Reflections:The Ten Commandments from a Different Perspective: How to Flourish in Life
“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
It is striking that eight out of ten of the Ten Commandments are phrased in the negative. Besides “Remember the Sabbath” and “Honor your parents,” the other commandments begin with “You must not.”
I have heard people criticize the Ten Commandments for being too negative. For the most part, these people have not been parents of young children. If you’ve ever been responsible for raising little ones, you know how necessary and loving it can be to insist upon the “You must nots.” A two-year-old child won’t be helped nearly as much by “Walk so as to preserve your life” as by “Don’t go in the street!” We all need limits and parameters in order to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
Nevertheless, we can see in the “negative” commandments a positive side, a guide to human flourishing. You could easily take the “You must nots” and rephrase them in a positive way:
“You must not have any god other than me” might become “Make God first and foremost in all of your life.”
“You must not make idols” could be “Let your relationship with the living God be shaped by his revelation and by an ongoing experience of who he really is.”
“You must not misuse the name of the Lord” might be rendered “Respect God in the way you speak of him.”
“You must not murder” could be “Respect the dignity of every human life.”
“You must not commit adultery” implies “Be faithful in your marriage.”
“You must not steal” suggests “Respect the rights of others.”
“You must not testify falsely” points to “Be truthful in all you say and do.”
“You must not covet” might be “Be satisfied with and grateful for all that God has given you.”
Many Christians understand that the Ten Commandments, though not the essence of our covenant relationship with God, guide us into right, God-honoring living. They help us to flourish as individuals and as the people of God. They also set us apart from the world so that people might see God’s character reflected in our lives.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How have the Ten Commandments guided you in your life? Which of these commandments do you need to take seriously at this stage of your life? What one (or ones) do you find most challenging and relevant?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for establishing clear parameters for my life. Help me to take these seriously, to honor you by following them.
Thank you also for what is implied in the “You must not” commandments. Though I need your boundaries for my life, I ask that you help me to live with a focus on how I can positively honor you in my behavior.
In particular, I ask you to help me to honor the intent of the ______ commandment. . . . [At this point, let me encourage you to speak openly with the Lord concerning where he has been challenging you through the Ten Commandments.]
Finally, though I take seriously your commandments, I give you thanks and praise that my relationship with you is not based on my obedience, but on your faithfulness and mercy. How grateful I am that I have been saved, not by works of the law, but by your grace received in faith. All praise be to you, gracious God! Amen.