As Believers we know that we are supposed to obey God’s commands and take the Bible as his Word. Still, it can be difficult understanding how some of the Bible applies to us given how different our world is from the one in which the Bible was written. However, when we read the Bible, we see that even in Jesus’ time, some had that same problem. God in his wisdom, through the Bible, has provided answers whose relevance does not fade with time. Consider the question, which was posed to Jesus about which commandments we should follow.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:34-40
Jesus tells us the Law can be fulfilled in the two commandments he provided, which suggests that if we follow those two, we can fulfill all the others. Is that really true? The 10 Commandments brought down to the people by Moses are perhaps the most famous commandments from the Bible, and they are important enough that many believe them to be the inspiration for our current legal system. The 10 Commandments as listed in Exodus 20:2-17 are paraphrased below:
- You shall have no other gods before God.
- You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below for the purpose of worship.
- You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
- Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy meaning you can work on six days of every week, but one should be kept for rest just as God did.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not give false testimony against your fellow people.
- You shall not covet that which belongs to your fellow people.
What can we learn from comparing these two sets of commandments? Right away, we see that both are arranged similarly in that the first of Jesus’ commandments and the first four of the Mosaic Commandments define how we should relate to God. Jesus’ commandment is vague in a sense. It tells us only that we should love God, but what does it mean to love God, a being capable of creating the universe and everything in it from nothing? The first two Mosaic Commandments pertain to the practices in the past of worshipping false gods and objects fashioned into gods. From this we can infer that part of loving God with everything we have means acknowledging him as the Supreme Being and treating him as such. According to the 10 Commandments, loving God also means respecting his name and what it means to call on that name and him by extension. Lastly, we are to honor the Sabbath. We can look at this as a commemoration of God’s great work. He spent a week creating everything, and moved from creating to sustaining. He changed his activity. We might say he took time to relax and reflect on his creation. If we love God, the least we can do is dedicate a day every week to reflect on him and everything he’s done for us starting with the Creation and up to the present.
Jesus’ second commandment and the last six of the Mosaic Commandments relate to how we treat each other. Again, Jesus kept it general and directed us to love each other. The 10 give us an idea of what it means to love our fellow man. We are to respect our parents and forebears. They, through the process God created, brought our physical beings into this world. If nothing else, our parents deserve to be honored for that. How can we truly show the proper reverence to our Spiritual Father, who we can’t see, if we cannot do that for our physical parents who are down here with us? The 10 also tell us that loving each other means respecting everyone’s right to live. God gave us our lives. We have no right to unlawfully take those gifts. The next of the 10 relates to our spouses, those that we have professed our love for and commitment to in front of God. Loving that person means remaining faithful and true to them. The eighth and tenth Mosaic commandments both relate to respecting that which belongs to other people. We should not take from others nor should we obsess over or envy that which is not our own. Loving others means understanding that God has blessed others according to his will and their own efforts. We have no right to take those things from them, nor do we have the right to look at those things and feel like they should be ours. The Bible directs us not to be overly concerned with worldly treasures(Colossians 3:2), but these commandments direct us to respect that whatever worldly treasures a person has belongs to that person as long as God wills it. The ninth commandment has often been simplified to “You shall not lie.” While the Bible does tell us not to lie(Colossians 3:9), this commandment is more specific than that. It tells us that we should not accuse people of wrongdoing that we know they did not commit. Loving other people means knowing that their reputations are important, and such false accusations can greatly hurt those reputations and in turn those people. God knows all, but we humans do not. False accusations can lead to the downfall of others as it relates to placement in our society. Love does not destroy in that way.
It’s easy to see from this comparison that the two do in fact encapsulate the ten. It should also be obvious that despite the two being more succinctly stated than the ten, they are far more difficult to fulfill. While the ten provide a good foundation for proper behavior, they are limited in a way that the two are not. Loving God and the rest of humanity cannot be broken down to so simple a list. 1 Corinthians 13 gives a good assessment of what love is and what love will do. Verses 4-7 in particular are pertinent to this discussion:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love is more than a set of restrictions. Loving God with your whole being doesn’t just mean refraining from worshipping trinkets ahead of him. It means putting him above everything including family, work, and ourselves. Loving your fellow people as you love yourself doesn’t just mean refraining from killing or taking from them. If we love ourselves, then loving our fellow people means caring and doing for them to the same degree that we would do for ourselves. Yes, Jesus’ two commandments may be the simpler set, but he did not make things easier for us by simplifying the commandments. There is no checklist of rules that we can mark off to be sure we are obeying Jesus, and to be honest, for us alone, those two commandments are impossible to follow. We need God’s help. We have to pray for his guidance and rely on the Holy Spirit that resides within each of us. With God’s backing and Jesus’ teaching, two or ten won’t matter. We’ll be in-line with God’s will, and ultimately guiding us to that end is the only reason commandments exist in the first place.