Luther’s Small Catechism is divided up into Six Chief Parts, The Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar (also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Holy Eucharist among others). The next few posts will be discussing the first of these, The Ten Commandments.
Where Did the Ten Commandments Come From?
The Ten Commandments came from God Himself. They are His Laws and are not man made. They can be found in Holy Scripture in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 as well as Exodus 20:1-17. Here’s what they say from Deuteronomy:
“ ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “ ‘You shall have no other gods before me. “ ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “ ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. “ ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “ ‘You shall not murder. “ ‘And you shall not commit adultery. “ ‘And you shall not steal. “ ‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “ ‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’
The first thing that you may notice is that God did not number the Ten Commandments. The numbering of the commandments is man made, but not the laws themselves. As I go through the commandments, you may notice that the numbering I use is different than the way that you learned them. UPDATE–For more information on this, check out a brief explanation here.
What’s the Purpose of the Ten Commandments?
The Ten Commandments are the Law of God. They are to be kept completely and perfectly. That’s something that you and I simply have failed, and continue to fail to do. God’s Word says, “For there is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). We simply cannot keep these commandments perfectly and as a result we are condemned.
So the purpose of the Ten Commandments is not to make ourselves more worthy to God. We can’t possibly do it. They are not to be used as Ten Steps to a Successful Life. Again, we will fail, and success will end in disaster. They are not the guidelines for WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), for He has done all things perfectly, again, something we can’t do.
Are you beginning to see a trend? The Ten Commandments cannot save you. They will only condemn you. The Law of God is meant to kill, and it does a great job at it. The Law points at you and all your shortcomings and things that you have done wrong or failed to do right. It breaks you down so that you have no where to turn. It does this so that you do not rely on yourself for your salvation.
The purpose of the Ten commandments is to show you your sin. So as I go through the commandments, think about how you fail to keep these commandments. Not as a way to do better and earn your way to salvation, but in order to confess your sin. Then look to Jesus Christ, who has kept the Law perfectly for you. Look to His cross, where He suffered and died for your failures, paying the price that you deserve for your disobedience. In His resurrection, you have the assurance that His sacrifice on your behalf has been accepted by the Father. Through the faith that He gives, you have the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.