This is Part 5 of a study series on the 10 Commandments (aka, the Decalogue). So far, we’ve covered an introduction to all the commandments, and looked in-depth at the first seven of them.
We now wrap up the series with a look at the last three commandments, which further reveal how we ought to relate to our neighbour.
8. Do not steal (Exodus 20:15)
You shall not steal.
When we come across this commandment, our instinct is to assume it’s for all the robbers and thieves out there. We think it has very little to do with us. Hold that thought.
Here’s how the Heidelberg Catechism explains this commandment: God forbids not only outright theft and robbery, punishable by law. But in God’s sight, theft also includes all scheming and swindling in order to get our neighbour’s goods for ourselves, whether by force or means that appear legitimate, such as inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume; fraudulent merchandising; counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God.
To put it simply:
- God forbids outright theft and robbery — of personal property, persons (Exodus 21:16) etc.
- God forbids charging excessive interest (Exodus 22:25).
- God forbids cheating the government.
- God forbids plagiarism and piracy — i.e., stealing music, movies, software, etc.
- God forbids all greed — stealing with the eyes of your heart — and pointless squandering of His gifts.
- Have a generous heart. One of the ways to overcome greed is with generosity. Nothing we have is ours; it all comes from God. So, whatever God gives us, share it. In doing this, our focus will shift from the things we have and the things others have. Rather, we will learn to have thankful and content hearts.
- Be stewards of what you have. Another way to avoid stealing is by being good stewards of what we have with us right now. We want more when we forget that God has blessed us with much already.
- Set your minds on things that are above. Finally, have an eternal perspective at all times. Build your life on the things that really matter. We are so caught up trying to find fulfillment in earthly things that it leaves us with unsatisfied hearts.
We want more when we forget that God has blessed us with much already
9. True witness (Exodus 20:16)
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Heads up: this commandment is not just about lying. The language used here is specific: it puts us in the context of a courtroom.
In Old Testament times, when someone was accused of something, they would be brought before the leader of the land — could be a king, a judge, or a priest. Keep in mind that they did not have CCTV cameras or any such technology for proof or validation back in the day. All they had were witnesses. Their words played a crucial role in the judge’s verdict. And this is the context in which God lays out this commandment.
However, the ninth commandment deals with all kinds of falsehood. Lying about our neighbours is one of the worst ways to hurt them. All lies end in pain — they hurt deeply.
- It prohibits giving false testimony against anyone.
- It prohibits twisting one’s words.
- It prohibits gossip or slander i.e., the deliberate passing on of information that is false.
- It prohibits condemning anyone rashly, without enough evidence.
Because Yahweh is a true God. Kevin DeYoung puts it like this: “What makes God God and not human? There are many answers but one we can think of right now is the fact that He never lies. Jesus says in (John 14:6), ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ Truth is the nature of God Himself.”
Furthermore, Proverbs 6:16-19 is clear that God cannot stand anyone who lies:
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
- Speak the truth at all times. Even if you think it will hurt you or the end result won’t be favourable to you, resolve to say the truth. We speak truth because our God speaks truth — and we are to represent Him at all times. If our words are not trustworthy, how will people believe us when we want to give them the gospel — the words of life?
- When tempted to gossip, ask yourself: Is it necessary to pass this information along? What am I going to gain as a result of telling this third party about this?
We speak truth because our God speaks truth — and we are to represent Him at all times
10. Be content (Exodus 20:17)
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
There is nothing wrong in looking at what our neighbour has and thanking God for it. The issue, however, is that most of us don’t do that. We look and start coveting in our hearts. We skip thanking God for His blessings on our neighbour, and we stop thanking God for what we have.
The Bible says that our problem is not that we desire things, but that we desire the wrong things or desire good things in the wrong way. There are multiple reasons why we struggle with covetousness:
- Ultimate satisfaction: We covet when we think that having what someone else does will ultimately satisfy us and make us happy. When we covet, we’re not saying, “It’d be great to have his or her house.” Rather, we’re saying, “I want his or her house.”
- Discontentment: Kevin DeYoung puts it like this: “We covet when our desire leads to, or is an expression of discontentment.” The root of many of our struggles lies in the fact that we are not content. Biblical contentment is not just saying, “I am happy with what I have”, but “I am happy because I have God.” Real contentment is found in the Giver, not in the things He gives.
- Failure to love: Coveting is a failure to love our neighbour as ourselves. When we covet, we are only thinking about ourselves and what we think is good for us.
- Idolatry: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Covetousness basically says, “I cannot live without that person, property, possession etc.”
- Be content. “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). In Philippians 4, too, the Apostle Paul talks about being content. One of the things we can learn from that passage is this: contentment does not come naturally to any of us. It is easier for us to be discontent than to be content. But Paul shows some of the ways we can be content:
- Be thankful at all times. A content heart always thanks God, regardless of whatever we have or do not have.
- Continued trust in God. A discontent heart will be quick to complain. But Paul teaches us that it is better to wait. God sees the needs of our lives and in His time — the right time — He will provide. Be careful not to sin. When our hearts are discontent, we won’t feel like waiting on God — and we go ahead and sin against Him instead. But a content heart waits and relies on God’s providence, always knowing that He is at work.
- Questions to consider (from Kevin deYoung):
- Whom do you love?
- What are you chasing?
- What do you think about the most during the day?
- What is that one thing you need the most in order to make you really happy in life?