I can remember years ago when the Leatherman multi-tool was introduced. It was the Swiss Army knife for DIY’ers. Everything you could think of was included in this pair of very useful set of pliers. I’m pretty sure you could find a set that included a kitchen sink. The Leatherman was the ultimate tool for every wannabe MacGyver – you know the 80’s TV hero who could build a nuclear reactor out of a stick of bubble gum, duct tape, a couple of paper clips and some dish soap. Soon after they came out my wife and I bought one of the smaller versions to give as Christmas presents for all the men in our families. Well, all but one. Me. I was pretty jealous of my own gift. It was at that moment I once again ran into God’s Leatherman, the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments have multiple uses. They are a curb, a mirror, and a guide. We sometimes refer to this three-fold nature as the three uses of the Law. What happens is the Holy Spirit makes use of the Laws to accomplish three things – to curb our behavior, to show us our sins, and to teach the believer God’s will. In the case of my jealousy regarding the Leatherman tools, I ran into the mirror. I didn’t break it but it sure broke me. So, what does this mean for us in forming our Worldview?
Have you ever seen the bumpers they put in the bowling alleys when kids are bowling? Years ago it was a length of hollow tubing that they put out when requested. Now they have high tech risers that can be raised and lowered. Either way they serve one purpose, they keep the ball rolling down the lane so that you aren’t always missing everything. The Ten Commandments do the same sort of thing. They keep us bouncing down the lane so that life isn’t complete chaos. If you think things are bad now, imagine if the Law wasn’t throwing the brakes on our behavior. As much as the bumpers keep most bowling balls rolling down the lane there are those that land over the bumper. The same thing happens with the Law which is where the next use comes in.
Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of all?
It’s not Snow White. She may be fairer than the evil queen, but she is still is ugly as sin in this mirror. The Law as mirror is much like the painting in the book The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It shows us who we truly are. In the book, Dorian Gray is a fantastically handsome man who commissions a special painting of himself. The painting is bewitched so that he will always remain handsome while the painting takes on the scars of his evil. So that when Gray finally looks at the painting, he dies upon seeing how ugly he truly is. The Law as mirror does the same thing to us. It kills us by showing us who we truly are in excruciatingly accurate detail.
The Law also teaches us. It tells us what the God pleasing course of action is. Often we overlook this use because the answer isn’t flashy and sometimes it’s painful. But none the less, the Law is the epitome of God’s will for what we are to do. And so, it should be the first place we turn when considering any action or thought.
In regards to all these uses Luther’s Small Catechism is extremely helpful. Luther did a great deal of the leg work needed to fully understand the impact of each of the Ten Commandments. Essentially, Luther summarized the Sermon on the Mount in order to write the explanations for each of these commandments. He also drew from other Biblical passages, but the Sermon on the Mount already is a commentary on the Ten Commandments and so makes a great source to summarize. But at the same time there are explanations to the commandments in the Epistles (letters) and in the Old Testament and Luther does include those sources. And not only that they were written to make it easy for us to memorize. All in all, it makes the Small Catechism a great go to source for a quick overview of the commandments and their implications. Thus making them most excellent for daily use.
Forming our thoughts
As we immerse ourselves into the commandments on a daily basis they begin to form our thoughts. What happens is now that which is written our hearts is given a voice. That voice in turn speaks up as we taken the world around us.
Now, do not mistake this idea with the Hollywood advice of “follow your heart.” Hollywood’s advice is some wishy washy mush that could just well turn out to be indigestion. Whereas the Ten Commandments are an unchanging constant. They are not subject to the whims of the moment or the tyranny of pragmatism. They are an unwavering line that speak the truth in all times and places. As part of the CrossRoad Life Recovery program, we talk about the Ten Commandments and their role in our life. One, of the things we mention in the First Step materials is that the Ten Commandments provide an objective measure by which we can test and figure out a life situation. When people build a house what do they use to measure the lumber? Do they use their individual hands? Or do they use a tape measure? They use a tape measure because it is a constant size whereas each person’s hand is a different size. If they used their hands the house would be an unmitigated disaster. This is the difference between following your heart and the Ten Commandments forming your thoughts. Our hearts are different, worse they are not to be trusted because of the old heart who loves sin that keeps hanging around, and so following our hearts would be total anarchy. While on the other hand we have the Ten Commandments which are the same no matter who is involved.
As the Ten Commandments are forming our thoughts they will also keep us honest. The Ten Commandments let us know when we messed up. I have told this story before, there was this one guy who really wanted to do better at helping other people. So, he started watching for moments that he could be a help to someone. One day a situation straight out of romantic comedy occurred as he was walking into the grocery store a lady was coming out carrying her bags. One of the bags ripped sending canned good all over the parking lot. He helped her retrieve her things. And as he was walking away he thought “I sure hope someone saw me help her.” He tried to do right by one of the commandments and broke another. He realized what happened and admitted to his breaking the commandment. But, this illustrates what I am referring to in the commandments keeping us honest.
Guiding our actions
When something becomes ingrained in our thinking it affects our actions. For example, I had been bringing up the issue of speeding in context of the Fourth Commandment as governmental authority rests in this commandment. Speeding is a sin as it flaunts what our God given authorities have said. Now here I am, a guy with a semi controlled lead foot saying this. After a few times of bringing it up I realized, “I need to listen to my own sermon.” So, I made it a goal to drive the speed limit. Thoughts affected my actions. As Christians, this is what we want the Ten Commandments to do for us. We want them to affect our actions because these are things God wants us to do. In dealing with our old self, and his foolish love of sin and death it will take a great deal of training and a great deal of killing with the Gospel. Using my example of not speeding. I am not perfect in my attempts. There are still places where speeding is an overwhelming temptation. So, I am still in need of confessing my sin and being forgiven. I am not sure I will ever outgrow it in this area either. But at the same time, I as a Christian need to strive to do that speed limit because it is the law made by our God given authorities, but also my neighbor needs me to be safe on the road. So, even as I confess and I am set free in Jesus’ forgiveness, I am practicing the art of having a light touch on the gas pedal. Why? Because those Ten Commandments are in the back of my head saying this is the right thing to do and guiding my actions.
The Ten Commandments play an important role in the Christian’s life. They are well worth the effort to ingrain into your thought. Read them and the meanings every day (it helps us understand their full scope). Pray that God instructs you through His word of Law. And admit your failure to follow His Law. Just do not stop there. We need what comes next or we will drive ourselves into despair. What comes next is the Good News that kills the sinner and raise to life the Child of God.