The Ten Commandments are often viewed negatively as a series of ‘Thou shalt nots’. This view sees them as a control mechanism for our behaviour, a standard which marks a line between what we are tempted to do and our committing the act. But this misses their point. They are not primarily meant to control our behaviour or convict us of lawbreaking, which they certainly do as the New Testament makes clear. They are to state in a minimal way, what God’s expectations are of his people who he has redeemed. The phrase: “I am the LORD who brought you out of Egypt out of the land of slavery.” (Ex 20:2), is a way of saying: ‘I am the God who has redeemed you from slavery because I love you – now you belong exclusively to me. Therefore, this is how you are to act, so you reflect my values and priorities in life.’
Seen from this angle, the 10 Commandments are a guide on how to live according to God’s ways which will bring life, community cohesion and peace to those who accept the LORD as their God.
The first four commandments express how we are to demonstrate our love to God; the remaining six commandments show how we are to honour one another in love. We are to honour our parents, to honour human life by not committing murder, to honour marriage by not going outside of it to commit adultery; to honour private property by not stealing; to honour the truth by not slandering a person, which is to destroy their reputation by our gossip; to honour contentment and not covet your neighbour’s things or status or wealth.
What Christians overlook when they speak as if the 10 Commandments are irrelevant or say they are superseded by Christ’s law of love, is that they ignore the fact that virtually the entire New Testament teaching about our behaviour as God’s people is based on these commandments. Love is, as Paul highlighted, the fulfilment of the Law (Romans 13:8-10).