The Relational Shape of the Ten Commandments

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

Exodus 20:12

Before I reflect upon the substance of the fifth commandment, I want to note a directional change in the Ten Commandments. The first four have to do, quite specifically, with Israel’s relationship with God, and by extension, our relationship with God. We’re to honor God alone, to avoid idols, not to misuse God’s name, and to remember the Sabbath. Yet the fourth commandment, with its reference to children, servants, and foreigners, begins a directional shift as it moves our attention from focusing on God to considering how we can honor God by acting rightly toward others.

If I had never known the Ten Commandments before I began to think carefully about them, I might have anticipated that all ten imperatives would have been directed towards God. The fifth commandment, for example, might have dealt with the tabernacle, sacrifices, or the priesthood. As we move through Exodus, we’ll see that the Lord does indeed instruct Israel quite specifically on such matters. Yet, they don’t make God’s top ten.

The fact that the final six commandments have to do with human relationships underscores a vital truth about God and his expectations for us. God cares as much about how we relate to each other as how we relate to him. Our vertical relationship with God, though it comes first in the order of the commandments, is not the main course requirement, with the horizontal, human relationships being some kind of extra credit. No, for God, how we relate to him has everything to do with how we relate to others, and vice versa. To put it differently, we honor God not only in our worship, but equally in our work in this world.

The surprising relational shape of the Ten Commandments, in which honoring God is essentially connected to honoring other people, was echoed by Jesus when he was asked which commandment was the most important (Matt. 22:34-40). He answered by citing the command in Deuteronomy 6:5 to love God with all that we are. But then Jesus added that we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves. Thus, love for God and love for neighbor go inseparably hand-in-hand. We love God, to a great extent, by loving others. And love for God, if it is genuine, necessarily flows into love for others.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: In your life, how are honoring and loving God connecting with honoring and loving other people? Do you think of caring for others as an act of worship for God? Why or why not?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, the shape of the Ten Commandments reminds me that I am to honor you, not only in how I relate directly to you through worship, prayer, and obedience, but also in how I relate to others. You are just as concerned about my relationships with other people as you are with my relationship with you.

Help me, Lord, to see my whole life as one giant act of worship. Yes, there will be times when I’m focused primarily on you, as in my daily devotions or weekly worship at church. But you will be honored, not only in my prayers and songs, but equally in my care for others. Amen.