From the beginning of 2014, our small groups are looking at the 10 Commandments. We’ll be asking questions such as, why they are still relevant today? How do we live them out in our increasingly secular society? What do they teach us about the character of God and about our need of the saviour, Jesus? We will be reading passages from the New Testament alongside Exodus to explore these and other questions. The study notes for each session will be posted below as the term progresses …
The 10 Commandments
Session 1 – Introduction
When was the last time you looked at the Ten Commandments? How many of them can you remember?
For many hundreds of years the Ten Commandments formed an integral part of our nation’s religious heritage. Generations of children learnt them both at school and in church. So, for example, any child confirmed according to the old Book of Common Prayer was expected to be able to recite and explain them, alongside the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. The Ten Commandments were prominently displayed in churches and in public buildings, as teaching people were expected to know. And there was the assumption – if not actually based in fact – that our own civil and criminal law rested upon these words that the Lord first gave Moses at the top of Sinai.
However, like so much of religious heritage, knowledge of the Ten Commandments is disappearing fast. We can of course blame wider society and its increasing rejection of established Christian teaching and morality. Certainly there’s no doubt that any command which begins “You shall not” is seriously out of step with today’s culture where, according to at least one advertising slogan, “If it feels good, do it”. Even the idea of just reading and studying the Ten Commandments has a seriously old-fashioned feel.
But even in the church itself I believe there is a great deal of confusion as to whether the Ten Commandments are really relevant to us, and if so, how. After all, the Ten Commandments are in the Old Testament, not the New. They are part of the law. The law is all about God’s commands to His people and if the Old Testament teaches us anything, it’s that we can’t keep God’s commands perfectly. So, the argument goes, that’s why Jesus came – to pay the price for our failure to keep God’s law and to establish a new relationship with His people, based on love and grace, not law and punishment.
That is a very common point of view but one, I believe, that fundamentally misunderstands the reason why the law was given. That’s why in these series of studies I aim to show how the Ten Commandments still apply to us, and my purpose is to link what we find in the Old Testament with what we find in the New. So you will find alongside every Old Testament verse a New Testament passage seeking to expand the commandment in question, with the aim of showing not just the difference but also the continuity between these two main sections of the Bible.
But before we dive in at command number one, let’s just step back for a moment and consider why the Ten Commandments were given and why they also matter to us.
Read Exodus 19:1-8
- What had life been like for the Israelites in Egypt?
- How did the Lord rescue the Israelites from the land of Egypt?
- Why did the Lord rescue the Israelites from the land of Egypt?
- In what ways does the Lord’s rescue mission in the book of Exodus act as a picture of what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf?
- Look carefully at verses 1-2. At what point in the story of the Exodus does the Lord give the law to the Israelites?
Now turn to 1 Peter 2:4-12
- What connections can you see between this passage and the one we have just read from Exodus?
- The Israelites were called to maintain their distinct identity from the nations around them. How did the law enable them to do that? How does the law help us live “as aliens and strangers in the world”?
- Does this mean then that we as Christians should obey every command in the law?
- Can you answer in your own words why the Ten Commandments matter to us nowadays?
Session 2 – “You shall have no other gods before me”
In today’s Western world we are very used to the idea that there is only one God. Our religious and cultural heritage is shaped very much by Christian tradition and it is unusual to find people from this background who believe in a vast number of different gods. What we don’t perhaps appreciate as much as we should is that such an understanding of God is extremely different from that found in many other cultures across the world, and in other historical times. For example, Hinduism today contains a whole variety of gods, and different traditions within Hinduism will in turn worship a different selection of these gods. Or going back to the time of Ancient Israel, you soon begin to see when you read the Old Testament that there were a whole variety of local gods, each connected with a different tribe or a different place of worship.
We might find this idea of worshipping different gods strange. But perhaps before we dismiss this command as not perhaps really applying to us, we ought to ask ourselves the very simple question – who or what is a god? And, following on from that, is it possible even for people who are not religious nonetheless to have gods they worship? Maybe you’d like to spend some time discussing the “gods” people worship today.
With that in mind, let’s turn to Exodus 20:1-3
Look at verse 1. Where did the idea of the Ten Commandments come from? What does this tell us about the God revealed in the Scriptures?
Look at verse 2. What is the name by which God calls Himself? Why is this such a special name?
How had God proved to the Israelites that He was the one true God? How has God proved to us that He is the one true God?
So if all this is true about God, why is it that we are tempted to worship other gods?
Now let’s turn to a New Testament passage where the apostles Paul and Barnabas encountered a town where many different gods were being worshipped:
Read Acts 14:8-18
What was the reaction to the crowd when they saw the healing? Why do you think they reacted like that?
Why did the people think that the gods required sacrifice?
Look at verse 15. How do Paul and Barnabas try and explain the nature of the one true God?
Are there lessons we can learn from this passage about how to communicate with people who know nothing of God? What evidence can we use to show there is one true God who is the maker of all things?
Spend some time reflecting on this command, being open and honest about what place God really has in your life.
Session 3 – “You shall not make for yourself an idol”
Last week as we looked at the first commandment we saw the reason why the Lord our God should be our only god. He is God who is the great “I am”, who exists throughout time and history, unchanging and sovereign. Yet He is also a personal God who delights to reveal Himself in ways we can understand. And He proves who He is by acts of deliverance. For the Israelites who first heard these commandments the Exodus demonstrated God’s salvation. For us who live under the New Covenant we only have to look at the cross to see confirmation of all that God is.
Yet despite all this we still have a tendency to make for ourselves idols. Otherwise, why else would God give to us this second commandment? The Lord who made us knows our hearts, and we need to recognise idolatry for the great sin that it is and also understand just why it provokes such a strong reaction in the Lord.
So without any further ado please turn to Exodus 20:4-6
Read verse 4. In Old Testament times an idol was a physical representation of something created. We don’t tend to make idols that sit on a shelf at home – so how does this command apply to us?
So why do we make idols for ourselves? And why does this become spiritually dangerous?
Read verse 5. Why does the Lord equate worshipping idols with hating Him? How do we make sense of this idea that the Lord is a “jealous God”?
It is one of the basic principles of the law that “fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers” (Deut 24:16) so what do we make of the Lord punishing children for the sins of fathers (There is no “the” in the Hebrew)? You might like to think about why the Lord mentions here specifically third and fourth generations, and the fact the Israelites lives in extended family units.
Read verse 6. I guess we have far less problems with this verse. But what does this verse tell us about God’s love and our response?
Let’s finish by reflecting on Psalm 115:3-8:
3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
4 But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men.
5 They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see;
6 they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell;
7 they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
8 Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.
If it’s true you are what you worship, what does this say about us??
Session 4 – “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God”
In many culture names are an important statement about someone’s identity. That was certainly true in the world of the Bible. For example, the name Jesus means “God saves”, or John “God is gracious”. When we looked at the story of the Exodus we heard how the name Moses reflected the incident when he was drawn out of the water by the Pharaoh’s daughter.
That is no less true of the name revealed by God. As we saw when we looked at the incident of the burning bush, the name “Yahweh” or in some English translations, “Jehovah” means simply “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be”. It’s an important statement that this God is the one true God, who exists as a constant throughout time, who is independent of our worship, and who is in control of all things. All this and much more is reflected in the English rendition of the name as “Lord”.
It’s important to understand this as we come to the third command. We’ve looked at why we should have no other gods and why we should not make for ourselves idols. But even when we profess the name of the Lord, it is still possible to go astray as this command makes clear.
So let’s read Exodus 20:7
What does it mean in practice to misuse the name of the Lord your God?
Let’s look at four possible areas.
The first and the most obvious area is the whole area of cursing. What is the first thing that comes out of your mouth when something bad happens? If it is true, as Jesus teaches, that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34), then perhaps this is a reminder how much we need the work of the Holy Spirit to change and reform us.
Of course the other real issue we face is that for most people the name of the Lord is used as a swearword without any real thought to what they are saying. So…
How should we react when God’s name it is used in this way in conversation? On television? In films? Share any practical experience in this area.
The second area, and the one that Jesus develops, is the whole area of oath-taking. Take a moment at this point to read Matthew 5:33-37.
What does Jesus mean when he says, Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’? Why is it true that: anything beyond this comes from the evil one?
Thirdly, there is the question of prayer. In John 14:14 Jesus promises: You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. What does this promise mean? How can we misuse the name of the Lord in prayer?
This leads on to the fourth area of obedience. Take a moment to read Matthew 7:15-23. What is the mark of a false prophet? How it possible to prophesy and drive out demons in Jesus’ name and still be an evildoer?
So how can we avoid misusing the name of our Lord? We need to keep coming back to what the Lord has done for us, and the difference His saving work has made in our lives. Let’s finish by listening and reflecting on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 …
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders
10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Session 5: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
When was the last time you had a complete day off? How did you spend it?
Tonight we are coming to what is possibly the most contentious of all the Ten Commandments. Christians have long debated how and when the Sabbath should be observed, and for many, the answer to that question depends to a certain extent on the culture in which they find themselves. For example, in an Islamic state, Christians will meet together on a Friday and children will go out to Friday School. In the West, believers often find themselves forced to work on a Sunday and so at least in theory will aim for a day off on another day. However even that ideal is becoming more and more difficult to sustain, as increasingly our society moves towards what is sometimes called the 24/7/ culture where shops, businesses, even health services move towards being open every hour of every day. Long gone is the notion that every Sunday the nation would stop, all the shops would shut and the family would go to church.
But why do we need a day of rest anyway? That’s the question we’re going to re-examine tonight.
So let’s turn to Exodus 20:8-11
Look at verse 8. We’ve come across the idea of holiness several times as we’ve looked at the first three commandments. In light of all we’ve learnt so far, what would you say it means to keep the Sabbath day “holy”?
Look at verses 9-11. What reason does God give for observing the Sabbath? How do we understand the idea of God resting on the seventh day? After all, we believe God has been working ever since the world was created!
Before we move on, we should also notice that this is the one commandment that is significantly different when repeated in the book of Deuteronomy. Turn onwards, therefore, to Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
What reason does the Lord give for keeping the Sabbath holy here? How do we explain the difference between the commandment in Exodus and the one here in Deuteronomy?
So far we have seen pretty compelling reasons for keeping the Sabbath. However it is striking this is the one commandment never repeated in the New Testament. Indeed Jesus’ attitude to the Sabbath caused quite a stir, as we shall see when read Matthew 12:1-14.
Looking particularly at verses 2 and 10, how did the Pharisees interpret keeping the Sabbath?
Jesus answers His accusers by referring to Scripture and tradition. Even the great King David ate consecrated bread – bread that was set aside as holy – when He was on the run and desperately hungry. Even the priests worked on the Sabbath day – even though that day was set aside as holy. He wants the Pharisees (and us!) to understand mercy is at the heart of Sabbath celebration, not religious ritual. And then He concludes with the key principle in verse 8, talking about Himself: For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.
What did Jesus mean when He said this? How do His words help us understand the Sabbath today?
So with all this in mind, why have Christians met together to worship on a Sunday?
We’ve covered a lot of ground so far this evening so to sum up. Christians believe God wove a pattern of work and rest into creation so one day in seven is the norm. On that day we should particularly focus on God’s grace and mercy. That is why we should gather together in worship as the people God has called to serve and follow Him. But the day we choose to do this is less important than our recognition of Jesus as Lord. All other things being equal, we should worship on the first day of the week as this is the day Jesus proved He is Lord by rising from the dead. However a very practical question to finish: how do we provide opportunities for worship and fellowship for those who cannot come together on a Sunday? As we think about our mission and outreach, this is an increasingly important question… over to you!
Session 6: “Honour your father and your mother”
What does it mean to honour someone? How do you show honour in our society today?
In some cultures there is a highly developed system of honour. Respect and care for your elders is part of the fabric of everyday life. You might well use a completely different form of language to talk to them, and there may well be all kinds of expectations placed upon you as the dutiful son or daughter. To break these expectations would only bring shame to yourself and to your family.
But in Western culture the values of the older generation are often seen as, if not old-fashioned or irrelevant, then certainly less than cool. We celebrate the achievements of the young and applaud their fresh thinking and radical new ideas. The idea of honouring those older than yourself is definitely out of step with the times.
Then there’s the whole question of how we view our own parents. Quite understandably, this is quite a difficult command for people whose father or mother were absent, or abusive, or simply not very caring. To say that we might miss out on living a long life because we fail to honour them seems harsh, to say the least.
So how do we begin to make sense of this commandment today? Well, before we go any further it’s important that as with any other verse of Scripture we place it in its proper context. Let’s therefore stop and read Exodus 20:12 …
In many ways this verse stands right at the centre of the Ten Commandments. Commandments 1-4 are about our relationship with God. Commandments 6-10 are about our relationship with our fellow human beings. But how are children going to learn about these commandments and understand what they mean? The answer comes here in this verse. The family should be the place where children are not only told about loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself, but also where they see this teaching put into practice.
So this verse isn’t just placing an obligation on children to honour their parents. It’s also placing an obligation on parents to teach their children and to set a positive example of faith and trust in the Lord.
For those of us who are parents or indeed grandparents, this then raises a big question: how, then, do we set this kind of example? And how can our teaching be effective in a culture where children are exposed to so many different influences?
This command teaches us to “honour your father and your mother”. As we’ve seen, it’s a command that requires some unpacking, and it places obligations on both parents and children. But it doesn’t end there. For it goes on and gives an explicit reason why you should honour your father and mother: so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
1. What do we make of this promise? How is honouring your father and mother linked to a long life in the land? (To see how this command now applies to the family and to the church, see also Ephesians 6:1-4)
The whole relationship between parents and children is an extremely complex one. And if we want any further proof of that, we only have to look at Jesus’ relationship with his own family:
2. Read Luke 2:41-52. What do we learn here about the way Joseph and Mary brought up Jesus? How do we explain Jesus’ unauthorised visit to the temple?
3. Read Mark 3:20-21, 31-35. Why does Jesus apparently refuse to go out to His family? What do His words about the family mean for the life of the church?
4. Read John 19:25-27. Why did Jesus entrust Mary to John’s care and John to Mary’s?
There’s no doubt that this commandment causes us to reflect deeply both on our relationships within the family and also with the church. Let’s spend some time therefore in prayer for those we know and love, and ask the Lord to show us how to put this command into practice.
Session 7 – “You shall not murder”
The words we use are important. It’s one reason why some people spend their lives pouring over the original text of the Bible, to make as clear as possible what God is and isn’t saying through his word. If you like, they are rather like mechanics who spend their lives fixing engines. Most of the time, most of us sitting inside our cars don’t need to know what’s going on under the bonnet. But when the need arises, we can take our cars to the garages and they help explain what’s going on.
Many people will be familiar with the sixth commandment from the version found in the King James Bible: “Thou shalt not kill”. If you look really carefully however, at the original Hebrew and its Greek equivalent, then you discover the command should be translated more exactly as “You shall not murder”. The word here translated “murder” always refers to an act of violence one individual commits against another.
So what is in view here are relationships among the people of God. This command does not directly address, for example, the question of just warfare, or certain medical techniques that are practised nowadays. We might want to quote this commandment to illustrate the sanctity of life, but we would need to draw in other pieces of Scripture to explain our position.
And, sadly,it is no accident that this commandment comes after the one about honouring your father and mother. After all, despite the impression TV dramas sometimes give, most violent acts are committed within families. As the curate would have said when he pronounced the happy couple man and wife, “You are now standing next to the person who statistically is most likely to kill you” – except that he was banned from saying this by his then vicar!
Families are the places where jealousy, resentment, hatred are most likely to build. Indeed the first reported case of murder in the Bible involves two brothers – Cain and Abel – and there clearly wasn’t a lot of love lost between them. So while it is very easy to look at a simple command like this and treat it as some kind of theoretical moral problem, actually it has a very real and practical relevance.
After all, let’s look how Jesus interpreted this command. Turn with me to Matthew 5:21-26 and see what we can learn from His teaching.
Jesus’ focus is not on defining exactly when this command does or does not apply. It’s on looking at the attitude behind the command.
1. So is Jesus saying all anger is wrong? How do we know when anger is justified? (Look at Mark 3:5 for an example of when Jesus became angry and think about the reason why)
Jesus clearly has in view not just judgement by a human court but also by God Himself. We know this because he tells us that, anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (verse 22). Yet at the same time, Jesus called others fools on more than one occasion.
2. So how do we make sense of Jesus’ teaching? How do we understand such severe punishment?
3. Be honest. If you were about to receive Holy Communion, standing in line like anyone else and you suddenly remembered you’d upset someone, what would you do? Why does Jesus suggest an immediate reaction is necessary?
4. Jesus teaches us that the antidote to anger is settling matters quickly with your adversary. But what do we do if our adversary is unwilling to settle matters and will not accept our attempts at reconciliation?
Anger is one of the attitudes that lies behind this sixth commandment. But it is not the only one. See how James, the brother of Jesus, applies this commandment to the situation in his local church as we turn to James 4:1-4.
Unless all kinds of unspeakable crimes were taking place each Sunday, James cannot mean the folk he was addressing were literally murdering one another (verse 2). Rather, it seems James is using the language of murder figuratively just as Jesus did in the passage we read from Matthew’s gospel.
5. So what sort of attitude did church members have towards each other, and why was this attitude so destructive?
6. What according to James is the antidote to jealousy?
So, have you committed murder recently? I hope not, but this doesn’t mean we can’t apply this commandment to ourselves. There are times when all of us have been angry without good cause, or jealous. It would therefore be good to examine the desires of our hearts, and ask the Lord to transform us through the grace and mercy of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Session 8: “You shall not commit adultery”
You pick up a DVD you’re thinking of buying and you notice on the case it says, “contains sex scenes, nudity and violence”. How do you respond?
Last week we saw how important it was to understand the language of the Bible. This week as we come to the seventh commandment it’s worth thinking for a few minutes about the culture of the Bible. Because what the Bible says about adultery and divorce often confuses and upsets people, and part of this reaction may stem from a failure to understand the difference between the culture of the time back then, and our culture today. Not that this gives us any reason to ignore the commandment as no longer relevant for us!
In the world of the Bible, and for many hundreds of years afterwards, the family was the basic building block of society. The family was the environment in which children were born and educated. Most people worked within the family unit, and most property was allocated to individual families. Anything that broke up or disturbed the family had moral, economic and legal consequences.
That’s one reason why the law prescribed the death penalty for anyone who had a fling with another man’s wife. We are told plainly that both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death (Lev 20:10). Harsh maybe, but the law recognised that while they might have thought it was just a harmless fling, it would have devastating consequences for both the children and the wife who had been abandoned.
And what about divorce? Well, there was no system back them for lengthy proceedings and court petitions. In fact the law simply states that a man can send away his wife if he finds something indecent about her (Deuteronomy 24:1). What that “something indecent” might be is never fully explained, and in Jesus’ day there were great debates among the teachers of the law as to whether a man could divorce his wife for something as trivial as a burnt dinner, or whether it referred to something more serious. What divorce did mean is that the wife would be left without any means of economic support. She would often be forced to remarry, and could easily be taken advantage of in that situation.
Clearly even just talking about the Bible’s teaching on marriage, adultery and divorce can be very difficult for many people. Perhaps before we even go on and look at the whole difficult issues of adultery and divorce, we need to ask a prior question: should we hold on to the Bible’s high view of marriage today? And if so, how do we do so when others seem to take such a different view? (It would be helpful in looking at this question to consider Genesis 2:19-24, Mark 10:3-12 and Ephesians 5:28-33)
Your understanding of marriage will affect how you view the concept of adultery. When was the last time you heard someone talk about adultery? Why is it that the word appears to have dropped out of the English language?
As we saw last week, Jesus’ concern when it came to interpreting the commands was not so much to focus on the outward action and whether or not it broke the rules, but the attitude of the heart behind the action. So turn with me to Matthew 5:27-32 and let’s see what he has to say on the whole question of adultery and divorce.
- When Jesus talks about gouging it our eye or cutting off our right hand, what is he actually expecting us to do? Why does he use such graphic language and talk about the whole body going to hell?
- Look at verse 32 carefully. Why does marital unfaithfulness, at least in God’s eyes, spell the end of a marriage? (Look at how Paul answers this question in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.)
- From all that we said earlier, why would divorcing your wife in Bible times cause her to become an adulteress? Does Jesus’ teaching have any relevance at all today?
Clearly there’s a lot in Jesus’ teaching which is extremely challenging. Maybe the best way to end this session is to pray for our marriages and relationships, and for the strengthening of marriages among our family and friends. After all, it’s one thing to know Jesus’ teaching. It’s quite another to live it out. That’s why we need the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us obey what He says and to apply it appropriately to our situations today.
Session 9: You shall not steal
From the time of Adam and Eve, people have taken things which haven’t been theirs. In every community, whether a home or a workplace or a religious order, there is a tendency for things to go missing. If we’re really honest, I guess we can all think of times when we have ended up with things which aren’t ours.
Maybe we decided we weren’t really stealing, we were just “borrowing”. Yes, we shouldn’t have taken it, but we were going to give it back later. It’s just we haven’t got round to it yet.
Or maybe we decided it was only something small, so it didn’t matter. After all, petty theft is a lesser crime than outright larceny, and this isn’t even theft. Who cares if the odd packet of pens goes missing, or we end up keeping the change?
Or maybe we decided that the person or company who owned it wasn’t really missing it, because they had more than enough already. Many a crime in the workplace starts when an employee decides it was time she was properly rewarded for their labour, and here she was struggling to get by, while everyone else seemed to be raking in the money.
Or maybe we decided this was simply an easier way of getting what you wanted. After all, as a child you quite happily lifted a bag of sweets when you ran out of pocket money. You wanted sweets, and there they were in front of you. So what’s the big deal?
The thing is, when we steal, we are thinking more of our own interest than our neighbours. If you have been the victim of theft, you will know it can have devastating consequences. The knowledge that someone has invaded your space and helped themselves can be deeply disturbing. Stealing goes right against the principle of loving your neighbour as yourself. Yet it is an activity that we find all too easy to justify.
So what is the antidote? Let’s turn to a couple of passages in the New Testament to find some answers…
It would seem that a rather more subtle form of stealing was going on in Thessalonica. There were Christians who were content to live off the charity and goodwill of others, and indeed Jesus commands us to give to the one who asks you (Matthew 5:42). But where do we draw the line between helping others and not allowing ourselves to be exploited?
1. Look at verses 7-9. What was the example that Paul set for the church at Thessalonica to follow? Do you think this is this a sort of model that people want to follow today?
2. Paul set this rule for the church at Thessalonica – verse 10. If a man will not work, he shall not eat. How does this rule apply today? Should the church concentrate on helping the poor or preaching the gospel?
This does not mean that people who profess Christ are themselves immune from temptation. Turn to Paul’s next letter in the Bible, 1 Timothy 6:3-10
3.What is the connection between being a false teacher and being greedy for financial gain?
4.How do we learn the secret of godliness with contentment?
5.Why is the love of money the root of all kinds of evil?
It may be appropriate at this point to finish by reading Matthew 6:25-33. And as you do so, pray that you will keep on focusing on all that your Heavenly Father has given you, and find in Him true contentment with all you have.
Session 10 – “You shall not give false testimony”
Gossip is big business. For almost as long as newspapers have been published, there have been gossip columnists. As interest in gossip developed, so gossip magazines started to be published, and gossip began to be seen as a marketable commodity. Then the Internet was invented, and new forms of social media started to take off. The line between legitimate information and mere gossip has as a result become ever more blurred. Can we even trust what appears on our screens in front of us? What is and is not a reliable source is fast becoming a major and important subject of debate.
Of course gossip can go too far. Sometimes what is said or written can be shown to be slanderous or libellous, and this usually results in a long and expensive legal trial. It might be that the ninth commandment was originally framed for a court of law, and referred precisely to what people said under oath. But as we have seen, when it came to interpreting the commandments, Jesus did not restrict their application to only a public or legal sense. If we are going to talk about false testimony, we need to look at our own hearts and the words we say in private.
So probably the best way to start thinking about false testimony is to look at the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs is full of pithy, practical applications about the way we speak and act, designed to help us think how best we can love God and love our neighbour as ourselves in the nitty-gritty of each day. Let’s then turn forward to Proverbs 26:18-28 …
Look at verses 18-19. Why can practical jokes end up have such devastating consequences?
Look at verses 20-22. Why is gossip so destructive? Why do we find it so attractive?
Verses 23-26 suggest there is so often a gap between what we really think about other people and what we actually say about them. Yet verse 26 suggests that one day the wickedness of the malicious man will be exposed, and indeed Jesus tells us in Luke 12:3 that: What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. So how do we mind the gap between what we say about someone and what we really think about them?
Read verse 27. How can our false testimony rebound back on ourselves? How do we make amends for careless words we have spoken?
For many young people in particular, the harm inflicted by social media is real and destructive. As verse 28 says: A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. How do we help those who have been the victims of false testimony?
It might be worth finishing this session by looking at the events surrounding Jesus’ trial. Look at Matthew 26:57-75
Why did the Sanhedrin (the ruling council) allow the evidence of false witnesses? After all, they knew the ninth commandment!
How does Jesus respond when confronted by evidence He cannot deny? What lessons can we learn from Him?
Meanwhile down in the courtyard there is Peter. What prevents him from acknowledging the truth about Jesus? How does Jesus’ subsequent acceptance of Peter give us hope?
Session 11 – “You shall not covet”
What is the most memorable ad you have ever seen? Did it manage to persuade you to buy what it was promoting?
Right at the very beginning we saw how the commandments were given three months after the Israelites were delivered from the land of Egypt. The Lord did not set His people free on condition that they obeyed His commands; rather He set them free and then gave them the law to show how they should live in response to His deliverance. So the law was never given in order to help us earn our salvation before God, although theoretically if you could obey every command perfectly, you would become right before God. Rather the law was given to help us live out our lives as the people of God.
But as we have seen, obeying the law is not just simply a matter of ticking the right boxes. We probably have never murdered anyone; yet we all know what it is like to have hatred in our hearts, and that too goes against the sixth commandment, according to Jesus (Matthew 5:21-26). We have probably never made for ourselves an idol; yet what are the goals and ambitions that really drive us?
If we are serious about obeying the law, then we need to be honest about the desires of our heart, which is where the tenth commandment comes in. Let’s take a moment to read carefully Exodus 20:17.
If you were asked to explain what “coveting” is, how would you reply? What sorts of things do we covet today? Is coveting even seen as sinful nowadays?
What however is the problem if we give somebody a command not to do something? Look carefully at Paul’s particular difficulties with this command in Romans 7:7-13. How did the law that was meant to show Paul how to live instead lead him towards spiritual death?
So how do we change the desires of our hearts, so that we actually want what is good and true? What do we say to people who, for example, read books or even attend church to improve themselves?
Explain in your own words how faith in Jesus can change you on the inside. Can you give a testimony of the difference Jesus has made in your life?
Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. What does Paul mean when he says: you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God?
So why had the Corinthians apparently forgotten what Jesus had done for them? Can we learn lessons for our own lives?
We have covered a lot of ground in these sessions on the Ten Commandments. Take some time to read through them all slowly and prayerfully. What is the one thing you need to do as a result of what you have learnt?