By Shawn McMullen
How can a collection of laws written thousands of years ago continue to wield such influence in the world? Here are three reasons.
In the Old Testament God communicated to Israel primarily through spokesmen (the prophets) and miraculous events. In the New Testament age, “he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2) through the writings of inspired authors. But in the case of the Ten Commandments, God himself wrote his will for his children on tablets of stone. “When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Even after Moses destroyed the original tablets in anger when he came down from the mountain and witnessed Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord, God personally inscribed the laws on a second set of tablets (see 34:1).
No other set of laws can claim such an origin—conceived in the heart of God and transcribed by the finger of God.
Succinct Yet Significant
While many laws and regulations sprang from them, the Ten Commandments provide a compact yet comprehensive set of guidelines for living in ways that please the Lord. Simple enough for a child to memorize (I earned points for reciting them year after year at church camp), the Ten Commandments are so profound that entire books, commentaries, and sermon series have been devoted to their understanding and application.
Delivered in the days of the Exodus, the Ten Commandments continue to provide a foundation for Christian character. Jesus attested to this himself: “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” (Matthew 5:17). Although we no longer live under law in this age of grace, the Ten Commandments contain timeless principles that guide the lives of all who follow Christ.
Specifically, the law (beginning with the Ten Commandments) is fulfilled in those who love God and others. The apostle Paul wrote, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
We might say that, according to Paul, love is both the root and the fruit of the law. For ancient Israel, the Ten Commandments provided a simple guide for living that embodied the love of God for his children and their love for others in the Hebrew nation. For the church, the Ten Commandments contain timeless principles that affirm God’s love for us and teach us how to love all people.