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Sixth, that we do not hurt, or hate, or be hostile to our neighbor, but be patient and peaceful, pursuing even our enemies with love. Seventh, that we abstain from sexual immorality and live purely and faithfully, whether in marriage or in single life, avoiding all impure actions, looks, words, thoughts, or desires, and whatever might lead to them. Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else, nor withhold any good from someone we might benefit.
Sixth, that we do not hurt or hate our neighbor. Seventh, that we live purely and faithfully. Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else.
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Man cannot even keep the Ten Commandments. And yet he talks glibly about keeping the Sermon on the Mount, and of imitating Christ. . . . And if a man cannot keep the Ten Commandments, as they understand them, what hope have they of keeping the Ten Commandments as they have been interpreted by the Lord Jesus Christ? That was the whole trouble with the Pharisees, who so hated him and who finally crucified him. They thought they were keeping the Ten Commandments and the moral law. Our Lord convinced them and convicted them of the fact that they were not doing so. They claimed that they had never committed murder. Wait a minute, said our Lord. Have you ever said to your brother, “Thou fool”? If you have, you are guilty of murder. Murder does not only mean actually, physically, killing a man, it means that bitterness and hatred in your heart. . . . And he taught the same, you remember, with regard to adultery. They claimed that they were guiltless. But wait a minute, says our Lord, you say you have never committed adultery? “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). He is guilty; he has coveted, he has desired. You see, as our Lord comes to interpret the law, he shows that an evil desire is as damnable as a deed. A thought and an imagination are as reprehensible in the sight of God as the act committed.
Christians are obligated to obey the Ten Commandments, because what we find in the Ten Commandments are the laws of God. What we find in Jesus’s interpretation in the Sermon on the Mount is that the standards of the law are much higher than we had assumed. It’s not just not committing adultery and not murdering and not stealing. Jesus says, in interpreting the sixth commandment, that if you harbor bitterness, if you’re unable to forgive someone, if you call a person raca (that is, to consider him a nonperson), then you’ve murdered that person in your heart. He also says that if you lust in your heart, you’re breaking the seventh commandment and committing adultery. And you are being greedy if you’re materialistic and you’re not radically generous. So Jesus raises the bar of the commandments to the highest level.
Martin Luther wrote that you cannot break the rest of the commandments without first breaking the first one. That is, if you break the commandments, you are looking at other things as your ultimate value and your god rather than God himself.
Luther also said that when there is a negative prohibition in the Ten Commandments, a positive implication is assumed. Therefore, when it says that you ought not to murder, it also means that you ought to radically love others, even neighbors and enemies. And when it says you ought not to commit adultery, the assumption is that you’re supposed to be faithful to your wife or to your husband and to recognize sexuality as a beautiful gift from God. And therefore if you’re in a marriage relationship, you ought to recognize that it is a covenantal commitment between a man and a woman. When it says that you ought not to steal, the understanding is that you ought to be radically generous.
These are the responsibilities that Christians have in responding to the Ten Commandments. But the problem is that we’re unable to obey them perfectly. So how are we going to resolve that tension?
Jesus Christ is the second Adam, the true Israel, the individual divine corporate head and representative who has come to fulfill the obligations of the law perfectly in himself. His obedience and righteousness now gets imputed into our lives, thereby giving us the ability to obey the obligations and the demands of the law. Even when we don’t obey them perfectly, we know that we are not going to be crushed by the law, and we will have confidence as we seek to obey the law of God because we know that Jesus Christ has fulfilled those requirements perfectly for us. Therefore, we can live without fear of rejection from God for our disobedience or lack of perfect obedience. But we know that Jesus Christ has accomplished all these things, fulfilling the requirements of the law perfectly for us.
Faithful Shepherd of Our Souls, you created us to live in love and fellowship on the earth, but we fail in that again and again. May your love rule every relationship so that we walk in purity, putting away lust, covetousness, and greed, for your name’s sake. Amen.