When I preach through the Ten Commandments, each sermon has four points, because each commandment does four things at once.
First, each of the Ten Commandments is revelation. Each one gives us an insight into the character of God. For example, what kind of amazing Person would say to us, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15)? Only a just and generous Person who can be fully trusted, who would never rob us or defraud us, who would never lie or cheat, who would never hold out on us wrongly, who is not out for himself, who feels no need but only overflowing kindness. This is Jesus.
Secondly, each of the Ten Commandments is confrontation. Each one gives us an insight into our own character. What kind of people need to be told, “You shall not steal”? People who will be unfair to one another without even realizing it. We need to be alerted to our own unjust and grasping impulses, which have such a hold on us. It’s hard but healing to realize this about ourselves, if we turn to Jesus for gracious forgiveness and a new heart, which he gives freely to law-breakers like us.
Thirdly, each of the Ten Commandments is instruction. Each one charts for us a new path to walk, by God’s grace. So “You shall not steal” guides us into the ways of generosity, fairness, honesty, moderation, frugality, timely payments, wholehearted efforts, sincere promises, and so forth. In this life, we can walk this path imperfectly but visibly — not in order to earn God’s approval, but because in Jesus we have freely received God’s approval.
Fourthly, each of the Ten Commandments is promise — because of the New Covenant. God promises in Christ that he will write his law on our hearts. He will move each commandment from the pages of the Bible down into the deepest levels of our personalities (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8, 10). Thanks to the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit, we who are in Christ will be so transformed in heaven above, all the way down into the core of our beings, that forever we will be joyously surging with the life-giving generosity of the eighth commandment. We will finally be like Jesus.
Here is just one way to preach the Ten Commandments within the larger framework of the gospel, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace.
The following is a letter my dad wrote several years before his death, which he left in his desk, where he knew we would find it:
“The time has come for my departure” (2 Timothy 4:6). It’s strange to write this when I’m feeling well and vigorous, but unless Christ returns first that departure time will come. When you read this, it will have happened.
I have had a great journey with Jesus Christ. From childhood I have known about God and revered Him. The name of Jesus has always been precious to me. I thank my dear parents for this heritage. Now, life on earth is over, and I go to meet the Lord face to face. I trust in Him as my sure Savior and rest in His grace at this momentous time of my death. I do not fear death. (I don’t like the pain, blood, and guts of it all!) Actually, I have been anticipating this new adventure and at the time you read this I will be with Christ in heaven. So it’s happened, and I’m now in God’s presence, probably shocked at all I’m seeing for the first time.
I am sorry for my sin and failures, which have been many, but I know Christ has forgiven them. ”There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Some of those sins have been against you, my dear family, and I am sorry. You probably know my sins better than I. Some you don’t know, I know all too well. But “where sin abounds grace does much more abound” (Romans 5:20).
My dear Anne has been my most treasured friend. If she is still living as you read this, I know you will treat her well. When she goes to heaven, God will give her blue ribbons and gold medals. What a great woman and wife! She has loved and stood loyally by me all our life together. And our last years have been our best. May God reward her for hard work, a forgiving spirit, relentless faith and enthusiastic acceptance of life as it came. She is a woman of God. We shall meet on the other side and sing a duet of praise to God. As you know, Psalm 34:3 has been our verse. We trust you’ve seen that we did magnify the Lord.
Each of you children and spouses have been the joy of my life, as have been the grandchildren. I include Melinda and John in this because they are family to us, too. I have never doubted your love for me, and you have been too kind. I will see you in heaven, and we’ll bless God together.
I urge you to remain true to your Savior. I have no doubt that you will. Love each other deeply in your marriages. Keep your family ties strong. Lay up treasure in heaven, because the stuff of earth is empty. Bank accounts, houses and furniture mean nothing to me now. Actually they never did. Beware of sin, and confess it as soon as you discover it in your life. And let the Spirit’s gift of joy color all your life. As you mature, remain a happy person in Christ. Get even sweeter as you get older. Sour old people are a pain.
In my death, be sure God is glorified. Jesus glorified the Father most in His death. John 17:1-5 tells us He faced impending death with that prayer for the Father to be glorified. So at my memorial service, glorify God. Have a holy party. I was saying to Anne recently that this world has become less attractive lately, and I feel a bit out of place. So it’s good to go “home” now. I’d like my burial made simple. Cremation is fine with me. Bury my remains in a simple container to wait for the resurrection of my new glorified body. If cremation upsets you, then don’t do it, of course. I want you to be comfortable with it all.
Hebrews 13:20-21: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
I love you all, and each one. I’ll see you sooner than you think!
“There is no inconsistency between believing that God has a special sovereign love before the foundation of the world that is efficacious and brings in all the Body of Christ and that there is too love for all men, and that no man knows to which of those loves he has been brought until he is converted. In other words, it is the love of God in Christ that is proclaimed. And theoretical problems about how is this consistent with that, and so on, are not really our concern. And ultimately, we don’t even know the answer to that. So, Robert Candlish (1806-1873), another Free Church divine, says, ‘We don’t preach a limited atonement or a universal atonement. We preach a saving Christ.’ And when people come to Christ, then they find they have been redeemed and his blood has been shed for them.”
Rev. Iain Murray, in a 9Marks interview with Dr. Mark Dever.
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5
“As Dwight Moody walked the streets of New York seeking funds for rebuilding the religious facilities of Chicago [after the great Chicago fire], he admitted, ‘My heart was not in the work of begging. I could not appeal. I was crying all the time that God would fill me with his Spirit.’ Moody was so burned out that nothing else really mattered. He said that ‘it did not seem as if there were any unction resting on my ministry.’ He had endured almost four months of intense spiritual agony. ‘God seemed to be just showing me myself. I found I was ambitious; I was not preaching for Christ; I was preaching for ambition. I found everything in my heart that ought not to be there. For four months a wrestling went on in me. I was a miserable man.’
But suddenly, ‘after four months the anointing came. It came upon me as I was walking in the streets of New York.’ The Holy Spirit came upon Moody in great force while he was walking down Wall Street. All of a sudden nothing was important except to be alone with the Lord. He went as fast as he could to the residence of a New York friend and asked for a room to pray in.
‘Ah, what a day! I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it, it is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand.'”
Lyle W. Dorsett, A Passion For Souls: The Life of D. L. Moody (Chicago, 1997), page 156.
“When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.'”
Martin Luther, writing to Jerome Weller, quoted in Theodore G. Tappert, editor, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (Philadelphia, 1955), pages 86-87.
“How many millions of sins in every one of the elect, every one of which is enough to condemn them all, hath this love overcome! What mountains of unbelief doth it remove! Look upon the conduct of any one saint, consider the frame of his heart, see the many stains and spots, the defilements and infirmities with which his life is contaminated, and tell me whether the love that bears with all this is not to be admired. And is it not the same towards thousands every day? What streams of grace, purging, pardoning, quickening, assisting, do flow from it every day! This is our Beloved.”
John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), 2:63.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable. 1 Peter 2:12
F. W. Beare comments, “The word [honorable] unites aesthetic with moral elements. It is used of goodness which commends itself to the beholder by its evident quality, goodness that manifests itself in beauty, in nobility, in attractive power.”
There is nothing mediocre about Christian conduct, because there is nothing mediocre about Christ. He is honorable, and he creates honorable, noble, beautiful people. There is a reason why the apostle Paul speaks of “the upward call of God in Christ” (Philippians 3:14). The gospel lifts us to practical nobility.
There are moments when we may feel like treating others shabbily. Our hearts can sink to low levels of ugly self-indulgence. That is why this verse deserves to be near us at all times. The call of Christ is so beautiful, it will cost us dearly and deeply.
Francis Schaeffer, in his famous address “Two Contents, Two Realities,” proposed that the two realities which must mark us are (1) true spirituality and (2) the beauty of human relationships. Those two realities always go together. Where there is true spirituality, there will also be relational beauty. Where that beauty is not obvious, true spirituality may be lacking.
How many people in our cities, if a poll were taken, would associate the word “church” with words like “honor,” “beauty,” “nobility”? But if we will honor Christ with honorable conduct, fewer people will be dismissive, and more people will say, “I don’t believe what those Christians believe. But I have to admit I am attracted.”