The Ten Commandments

Sep 17, 2018

I been thinking a lot lately about the 10 Commandments and what they require of us. The impact of the Exodus story on my life continues now more than a year after I finished the book on Exodus.


I’ve come to two conclusions about the commandments. First, that, if we follow the first four faithfully, we would be unable to not follow the last 6, because we would not, could not want to offend God in any way.


And secondly, the Ten Commandments are not a system of good behavior that God imposes on us from above. They actually mirror to us what our deepest selves need to follow to live a purposeful, fulfilled, grateful life here in the midst of all the world’s influence and rules which appeal always to our baser nature. In other words, we were created to put God first, to thrive on treating ourselves and others well, to honor our parents, to not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet anything that a neighbor has—if we want to thrive. If we want to live in peace. If we really want to live fulfilling, loving lives, basically we need to treat our neighbors well, that is, all other people, people of different countries, of different races, of different economic and educational status. And this is not to be just an attitudinal change on the surface of our lives, but a deep change in our unconscious attitudes, too.


Notice that the Ten Commandments start with God and our relationship to Him. To love God with all of ourselves[1] means that we open ourselves up to His healing powers, that all that we are and have been becomes sanctified. This is nothing that we can do on our own. We must bring our whole selves to God and pledge our whole self to Him as Jesus taught,[2] so that He can do the transforming work on us. Then He helps us to attain the holiness that only He can provide. Keeping the Sabbath, not using His name in vain, not worshipping other gods, having no graven images—all follow our devotion to Him. As Thomas Merton wrote: “The things we really need come to us only as gifts, and in order to receive them as gifts we have to be open. In order to be open we have to renounce ourselves, in a sense we have to die to our image of ourselves, our autonomy, our fixation upon our self-willed identity.”[3]


From how we relate to God we go to how we treat our parents. We are to honor our mother and father, so that we can “live long in the land the Lord our God is giving you.” These are the people who birthed us, sacrificed for us, who taught us everything we needed to learn. To honor them means that we can love these very human beings, even if they didn’t exactly fill our own desires, even if they weren’t perfect.


“Land” is the word for the kingdom of God that is used in Exodus, just like God was giving the Israelites Canaan, a land in which they were to live richly. But “land” here means a state of mind rather than a physical place. It is a place, that is, a state of mind, where we are joined to all other people through the Holy Spirit, because we were all made in the image of God.[4]


And then the Ten Commandments turn to how we treat each other. We are not to murder or steal from or commit adultery or lie about or covet anything that belongs to a neighbor. The Ten Commandments are further detailed in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, but they all boil down to how we are to love God and how we are to treat everyone. And they express how we are to treat our neighbors and foreigners and everyone else.


We were created to live in families, extended families, tribes and in communities no matter how we find them. And we must be careful about how narrowly we interpret the communities we live in. God and Jesus do not say to love those you are comfortable with or only your own kind. We are to love everyone, that all men and women and children are made in the image of God, that all are worthy of God’s love and of our love, too. That is how God loves.


As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I maintain that if we follow the first 4 Commandments, if we truly love God with all of ourselves[5] as Jesus restated it, then we cannot mistreat our parents or our neighbors. We would not defy God by harming anyone. That we would be so engrossed in God, living in the mind of Christ and no longer under the world’s influence at all.


The 10 Commandments remind us about how we were designed to be—our best selves. If we love God, if we want to fulfill our purpose here on earth, then we will listen to God in everything. And He will show us how to live and to love. We were created in His image, designed to live in harmony with all other people. And we were given free will, so that, like Adam and Eve, we can step out of the kingdom of God anytime by following our own human instincts and desires. And then the Bible and God are always inviting us back into the kingdom where we, having repented, would live in harmony with God and everyone.


We choose to live a fulfilled life or not. We choose to love ourselves and others or not. Most of all we choose whether we will love God or not. We were given free will, so we do choose the results of our choices. If we don’t feel loved, if we don’t feel fulfilled, if we can’t find meaning in our lives, we have to look to the one person who is causing all this dis-ease—our own self!


If what we’re doing isn’t working, then we can always choose another way of doing and being in the world. It is up to us. “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you may years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”[6] So choose life, life fully, fulfill the entire promise of your life as you were created to live![7]



Questions to ponder over the week:  If I love God, where is the proof of that in my actions? Do I put God ahead of all else in my life? If not, what stands in my way of dedication myself totally to God. Am I willing to let God help me with these things/people?



Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are so devoted to God totally. May we dedicate ourselves to the 1st Four Commandments. May we love our parents. May we love everyone else.


Check out my new website: There will be a monthly or biweekly essay on the spiritual life plus information about various spiritual practices. The first essay is “To have the same mind as Christ.”


I am collecting conversion stories—How did it happen to you to give your life over to Christ? And what was that like? If you’d like to contribute yours, please click Message in the Comments, to add yours. I will not be using your name, only initials. I am not yet sure of what purpose I am collecting these for—my blog or another book, but I am always inspired like this for a purpose. Thank you so much in advance for joining in this project. Pat


An Invitation to All of Us to Pray for our nation: for mercy and compassion for all, for community values and a deep sense of caring for each other. For peace. For love to reign. For a return to the love of God. For us to have one nation under God” as our motto again.


[1] Jesus’ First Great Commandment

[2] Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28

[3] The Pocket Thomas Merton, edited by Robert Inchausti, Shambhala, Boulder, 2017, p. 13

[4] Genesis 1:27

[5] Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28

[6] Deuteronomy 30: 19-20

[7] Read Deuteronomy chapter 28 where God outlines the blessings that come to us from following the Commandments and the curses we choose when we turn from the Ten Commandments.

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