Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
Exodus 20:12-15 (NRSV)
The first three of the Ten Commandments focus on our relationship with God. The remaining seven have to do with our life in our families and our community.
Commandments Four through Seven have to do with our actions toward others as well as our heart toward others. There is an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.” This is why God gives us boundaries regarding our relations with others. The Commandments give us healthy boundaries for living in community.
Honoring our parents means that even though they may be flawed, we must at the very least acknowledge that they have given us birth and life. We are also commanded to respect their authority and the values that they have passed down to us. The Fourth Commandment is one of the few that carry a promise- God promises that we will retain our inheritance that He has given us if we honor our parents and respect those in authority as it is God Who has put them in authority over us. Should we rebel against authority and violate the law, we open ourselves up to the consequences that disobeying civil law can bring.
In Luther’s Large Catechism he expands upon honoring and obeying the temporal authorities in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment:
“The same also is to be said of obedience to civil government, which (as we have said) is all embraced in the estate of fatherhood and extends farthest of all relations. For here the father is not one of a single family, but of as many people as he has tenants, citizens, or subjects. For through them, as through our parents, God gives to us food, house and home, protection and security. Therefore since they bear such name and title with all honor as their highest dignity, it is our duty to honor them and to esteem them great as the dearest treasure and the most precious jewel upon earth.” – Luther’s Large Catechism (on the Fourth Commandment)
The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Commandments (Luther’s explanations of them in the Large Catechism can be found here) have to do with boundaries in our relationships with individuals.
The Fifth Commandment tells us to refrain from murder (the premeditated and purposeful taking of a human life) but it also means we are called to lift up those around us by offering help when we can. As Jesus followers we are called to be life-bringers and to shine His light in the world. Our words and actions should help bring life to the world rather than death and despair to others.
In matters of sexuality, which are addressed in the Sixth Commandment, we are commanded to keep our expressions of sexuality within the marriage bond. As evidenced in society and in the tabloids (as well as in our own personal lives) we see what becomes of people and of families when this boundary is broken. God puts a boundary around His good gifts of sexual expression- not because they are “dirty” or “wrong” or “bad,” but so this physical and spiritual connection is reserved for a husband and wife in a lifelong commitment to each other.
When that bond is broken, the fallout reaches far and wide- there is financial and emotional hardship for children who must grow up without the benefit of a father (or mother,) possible transmission of horrible (sometimes even fatal) diseases, unplanned pregnancies, lost friendships, and public scandals. While God assures us that there is nothing that can separate us from His love in Christ, (see Romans 8:38-39) the spiritual and emotional consequences of adultery are deep and lasting and difficult to overcome. God gives us this command for fidelity in marriage (and abstinence outside of marriage) for our own protection, because He knows how devastating overstepping this boundary can be for ourselves and our families and communities. He loves us and He wants to spare us this pain.
The Seventh Commandment appears to be as straightforward as can be, but there is a deeper message in this Commandment also. God tells us: “Don’t steal.” But how do we steal from others? Obviously violating civil laws against robbery constitute stealing, when we take tangible objects or property that belongs to others, but we steal in other ways too. We steal when we commit fraud against others, such as failing to give someone an honest wage for honest work- or when we accept wages for work we do not do. We steal when we fail to help someone when it is in our power to do so. We steal when we treat other people harshly without cause- we steal their peace and joy.
We know that there is both Law and Gospel throughout the Commandments, and all through Scripture. The Commandments are given to us because God loves us. God gives us boundaries for our own- and for others’- protection. In these Commandments God gives us the gift of respect for authority so that there is order in society, the ability to have and share life, the gift of intimacy and fidelity, and the confidence that we may retain what belongs to us.