The Bible is a collection of 66 books: 39 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament. It includes narrative, poetry, prophecy, and wisdom, with a good measure of ‘rules for life’ mixed in.
Now, most Christians understand that the Old Testament is not to be discarded altogether just because we live in New Testament times. The former 39 books set up the latter 27 — at least, in theory.
Practically speaking, however, we like to read the stories of ‘old’, but try to live our lives as though they are based on the ‘new’ alone. To us, the New Testament is a total upgrade on the Old — especially when it comes to those ‘rules’.
We like to read the stories of ‘old’, but try to live our lives as though they are based on the ‘new’ alone
Well, Jesus had a few things to say about that. Near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus said:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
So yes, the Law does matter. The first five books — and the commandments in them — are relevant to us too (except the ceremonial laws, of course — but that’s a discussion for another day).
In Mark 12, we see Jesus in a debate with some of the Jewish leaders. One of the scribes noticed that Jesus was doing a pretty good job. So, he tried to stick it to Him with a hard question (Mark 12:28):
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He [Jesus] answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus obliged him and answered: “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”
Even though the scribe only asked for one commandment, Jesus went further: “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
This New Testament passage is of tremendous importance as we seek to understand the relevance of the Old Testament, especially the 10 commandments. Why? Because these two Old Testament verses summarise all 10. Jesus is affirming the significance of the commandments, but also essentially boiling it down to just two:
“Decalogue” is a Hebrew word which means, ‘10 words’ (deca — 10, and logos/loge — words).
In the weeks to come, we will look at each commandment in detail. But before we do that, it’s important for us to also understand why we should keep the commandments. Here are four reasons:
1. They help us know and worship Yahweh.
Studying and keeping the commandments serve a greater purpose: they help us have a better idea of who God is — and how He desires that we live a holy life before Him. This also helps us to worship Him rightly.
Keeping the commandments serve a greater purpose: they help us have a better idea of who God is
2. They keep us from sinning.
Many of us look at the commandments as strict rules from a rigid God, ultimately limiting our freedom. But that is not true. If we truly understood what these commandments were, we would see what they do.
The commandments don’t strip us from freedom; rather, they give us freedom from sin. When we don’t keep the commandments, we sin. That is not freedom; that’s bondage — though it may seem otherwise to the world.
Every time we sin, we are taking a step away from God. But God, here, steps in and shows us what true freedom is: a life free from sin. One of the ways we achieve that on earth is by keeping the commandments.
3. They are for our good.
All of these commandments are good and for our good. Just think about a world where everyone kept these commandments. That world wouldn’t need cops. We wouldn’t be worried about someone breaking into our homes. Courts would be empty; the justice system would be pointless.
But we know that is not the reality. And in the sinful world we live in, these commandments are for our good.
4. They help us witness the one true God.
This is perhaps the most important reason. In a world filled with so much injustice and immorality, keeping the commandments helps us witness the one true God to the world.
When our lives speak/preach a completely different message to what the world teaches, there will be questions asked of us: why we do what we do. These questions can then help us talk about God and His heart for mankind.
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