Applied Theology: Applications 4 – Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 1

Steve —  March 19, 2021 — Leave a comment

Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 1

Having seen how our faith should be rooted in the biblical truths of the Apostles’ Creed, and our hope should be stirred up by the Lord’s Prayer, we’ll look now at how our love for God and others should be a demonstration of God’s will for us revealed in the Ten Commandments.

God gives us the Ten Commandments to lead us to Christ and show us how to be fully human by loving him and others with sincere hearts. But most people cannot even name the Ten Commandments.

In this fourth lesson, you’ll learn the superiority of love over faith and hope, and how the Ten Commandments demonstrate God’s will for your life and relationships in practical ways.

About the Applied Theology Project
In this new book and course by Drs. Frame and Childers, you’ll explore an ancient, Trinitarian approach to the study of theology and spirituality found in the great theological works of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. These thinkers have outlined for us a transformational way of doing theology that is eminently Scriptural and involves our whole being – not only our minds, but also our hearts and lives.


Our Love: The Ten Commandments, Part 1

By Steve Childers and John Frame

Having seen how our faith should be rooted in the biblical truths of the Apostles’ Creed, and our hope should be stirred up by the Lord’s Prayer, we’ll look now at how our love for God and others should be a demonstration of God’s will for us revealed in the Ten Commandments.

We’re following the example of Augustine’s summary of biblical Christianity in his Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, in which he writes, “Thus, from our confession of faith, briefly summarized in the Creed … there is born the good hope of the faithful, accompanied by a holy love.”

The Apostle Paul teaches that love is greater than faith and hope. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13) Augustine reflects this when he writes, “For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves.”

The superiority of love over faith and hope does not mean that love is separated from faith and hope. These three godly virtues are inseparable and are interrelated: 1) our confession of faith, rooted in the Apostles’ Creed, leads us to hope and love, 2) our hope, stirred up by the Lord’s Prayer, leads us to faith and love, and 3) our love springs from our faith and hope.

What does this godly virtue of love look like? The Scriptures tell us it looks like the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20:3-17)

     1. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (3)
     2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image …” (4-6)
     3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain …” (7)
     4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy …” (8-11)
     5. “Honor your father and your mother …” (12)
     6. “You shall not murder.” (13)
     7. “You shall not commit adultery.” (14)
     8. “You shall not steal.” (15)
     9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (16)
     10. “You shall not covet …” (17)

When someone asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?,” he responded by giving his famous Great Commandment, that is a concise summary of the Ten Commandments as loving God and loving others.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 22:37-39)

In this Great Commandment, Jesus is not replacing the Ten Commandments but explaining them the same way Moses did to Israel: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 10:12-13, 11:13, 22, 30:20, Lev 19:18)

Jesus’ interpretation of the Ten Commandments as descriptions of love helps us understand the negative wording, all the “You shall nots,” of the commands. For example, God’s first command not to have any other Gods before him means more than we should not worship idols, but that we should worship God only.

Likewise, the negative command not to murder means we are also to stand for the sanctity of human life. And the negative command not to commit adultery conveys the positive command to uphold sexual purity, just as the negative command not to lie also means we are to stand for truth.

Jesus presents the Ten Commandments as God’s revealed moral law in which God describes his will for all humanity at all times. So the Ten Commandments are not a crude list of legalistic rules for ancient Israel. Instead, they show us how to be fully human and honor God by knowing, loving, and serving him and others from sincere hearts. We’re never more human than when we align our will with God’s in these commands. Only then can we flourish according to God’s design as his image bearers.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also corrects common misunderstandings of the Ten Commandments by showing how they include a much deeper meaning. For example, Jesus teaches that God’s sixth commandment not to murder includes the sin of anger that is at the root of murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt 5:21-22).

Likewise, Jesus teaches that God’s seventh commandment not to commit adultery includes the sin of lust at its core (Matt 5:27-28). And God’s command to love our neighbors includes loving our enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5”43-44).

Jesus ends this part of the Sermon on the Mount with an unequivocal call for us to love God and others perfectly. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) However, because we’re all incapable of perfect love, it’s tempting to lessen Jesus’ demand for perfect love to a lesser, more achievable demand.

Some try to explain how the Greek word used here for perfect (τέλειοι) does not mean perfect but mature love. But Jesus just explained in detail what this perfect love looks like. It doesn’t merely restrain from killing people, it’s not even angry. It doesn’t merely restrain from adultery, it doesn’t even lust. This perfect love is not a grudging outward form of religious duty we muster up against our will. Rather it’s a free and cheerful willingness that springs from a sincere, heartfelt faith, hope, and love for God and others.

Who can obey all these commandments out of a perfect love for God and others?

The short and biblical answer is no one. In a legal sense, because of sin, the Bible teaches that no one can do all that God requires in the Ten Commandments. Therefore, no one can love God or others perfectly. This is why the Apostle Paul writes, “By the works of the Law no one will be justified” (Gal 2:16).

But sin results in more than the legal problem of our guilt before a holy and just God. Because of sin, we also have the moral problem of a corrupt heart. Augustine describes this tragic result of sin as our “disordered loves.” The reason we don’t love God and others more is because our loves are now placed on other things.

Instead of loving God and finding our ultimate joy in him, we succumb to an excessive, prideful love for ourselves, to a defective love for others in our envy, anger, and lust, and an inordinate love for things such as possessions, food, sex, and comfort. Therefore, the essence of godly virtue is properly ordered loves for God and others.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he divided them into two tablets that show us the proper order of our loves. On the first tablet, God lists the first four commands to show us that our love for him is to be above all else, beginning with having “no other gods before him.” Then, flowing from our highest love for God, the last six commands on the second tablet show us how to love others, ending with not coveting people and things.

But God’s commandments have no ability to deliver us from his just curse on us due to our disobedience. And God’s commands have no power to enable us to keep them according to God’s design. So why does God command us to love him and others perfectly when we’re already condemned for breaking them and we don’t have the ability to obey them?

The good news is that God graciously gives us the Ten Commandments as part of his cosmic redemption and restoration project to reorder our loves for him and others so we will flourish according to his original design.

In our next chapter, we’ll learn three important ways that God uses his commandments to advance his gospel of redemption and restoration in Christ.

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