Recently, I had the privilege of filling in for Rockport Baptist Church's youth director, teaching a lesson at the weekly youth meeting.
During my time with this energetic collection of bright students, I gave a brief synopsis of the Ten Commandments or, if you want to sound smart, the "Decalogue."
I then encouraged the adolescents to try to articulate the commandments in their own language, and to find contemporary analogies and examples. This was particularly amusing when the teens discussed the Fifth Commandment, which exhorts children to honor their parents, though perhaps the parents might not have been as amused as we were.
I was dramatically reminded of the value of examining the purpose and application of this core moral code in its relationship to contemporary ethics.
It is beneficial for every generation to review this imperative text in relation to one's ethics and view of God. Throughout the course of historical Christianity the Ten Commandments have played a key role in understanding the narrative of the Triune God's redemptive plan, which spans the pages of the Old and New Testaments.
Frequently, the concept of the Old Testament law gets a bad rap. This aversion is in part because we often misunderstand the Old Testament law in light of the larger story and purposes of God. Confusion also stems from failing to distinguish the two different types of law that exist within the Old Testament.
The first is the ceremonial law; this was applied to the state of ancient Israel and primarily served to guide the worship and political structure of this tribal group. Ceremonial law was only for a certain time and place and was not to be applied universally.
The second type of law is the moral law, those decrees that reflect God's requirements for all of humankind. The Ten Commandments as found in Exodus 20 are the basic summary of this moral law. Jesus in the New Testament reaffirms all of the Ten Commandments. He also summarized them as an exhortation to love God and love one's neighbor.
The Ten Commandments profoundly reflect the wisdom and love of God. If the Ten Commandments were followed by all humanity, the world would be a radically different and far better place.
Imagine if we did not lie, covet, murder (or maintain hateful thoughts which Jesus equates with murder) — or if we actually loved our neighbors as ourselves! If all humans followed the wisdom of the Ten Commandments most of those things that cause us great heartache, travail and angst would vanish.
The problem is that we simply do not follow the 10 clear commandments of God. This has been the continual predicament of humanity from the ancient Israelites to present-day communities of Cape Ann. Granted it is not fashionable to admit that we sin and miss the mark of God's goodness.
Much of our culture believes that, in our enlightened progress, we have moved past a need for God, divine revelation and absolute truth, presuming that we are in control of our own lives and the absolute arbiters of truth. The great irony is that while we are often confidant in our own "goodness" or worthiness, we are still quick to point out the sins and manifold flaws of everyone else based on our own presuppositions of truth.
The New Testament reaffirms the validity of the Ten Commandments and also addresses the perennial problem of human depravity. The all too evident inability of humanity to uphold the moral law of God must draw us to recognize our need for God and his transformative forgiveness.
The central message of the New Testament is that God has made this provision available today through faith in Jesus Christ. Today, we can place our hope and trust in the righteousness of Christ or in our own delusional feelings of self-righteousness. The New Testament clarifies the moral law of God. The Ten Commandments lived and taught by Jesus still serve to point us to our need for God.
As with the youth group, it is important for our community to freshly consider the ethics of the Ten Commandments and their purpose within the narrative of God's redemptive plan centered in Jesus Christ.
It is well to remember that they are not the Ten Suggestions, but essential guides for a life of justice and honor.
Matt Wigton is the pastor of Rockport Baptist Church. He can be emailed at MattWigton@FirstBaptistRockport.Org.