The 10 Commandments
I think I’ve told you all before the apocryphal story about how Luther wrote his Small Catechism.
It is said that he did so as a response to his young son Hans, who continued asked the question “What is this?” From Luther’s wrestling with passing on the Faith to his son, he created a resource,
simple, compact, and packed-full of the faith of the Lutheran Reformation.
Any idiot can write thousands of pages of systematic theology using technical words borrowed from Aristotelian Philosophy or Platonic thought, but to teach the faith in 6 pages or so in such a way even a child can begin to grasp what you mean—that’s a real theologian.
Yes, this little document is filled full of the faith, and can serve us our whole life long.
In fact, Luther was so sure of his Catechism, that he encouraged extended families to read through it devotionally, daily.
In addition, he insisted that four times a year churches ought to review it together for the entire day.
Well, upon reviewing our last 60 years, there doesn’t appear to be a history of us doing such a thing.
In fact, the sad truth is most Lutherans have not examined the Small Catechism since either their confirmation or that of their youngest child. It’s a shame, most everything you need to know about the faith is right there.
Yes, things quickly get more complex, our initial answers turn into bigger questions—but it’s all there!
So, for the next 6 weeks in my preaching, in our Bible Studies, and in our private devotional practices, we’ll be focused on Luther’s Small Catechism, starting today with Luther’s Explanation of the 10 Commandments.
Luther interprets the 10 commandments in light of Jesus’ framing of the greatest commandment
—Love God, Love Neighbor.
Each command begins with an exploration of how the command stops us from committing idolatry—the worship of a false god.
Then, it goes on and expands on how the command helps us to love our neighbor, by expanding the Thou Shall Not, and adding to it with a Thou Shall!
You shall have no other gods before me.
It all stands or falls here. All the shall and shall nots,
all our actions,
are measured by the simple question “How are they a response to God’s freely given gift of life to us?” How ought the creature respond to the creator?
“No other gods” may seem like a relic of an ancient time
—unless you take the time to reflect upon those things which you have made into idols.
Unless you ask the questions:
“What do I fear?
What do I respect above all things?
When the stuff hits the fan, when I’m pressed between a rock and a hard place, where do I turn?”
Your answers to these questions, if the answer is not God… the answer is your idols!
So, always cling to the faith that has been given to you
—God has freed you to live life unafraid, trusting in Him, who loves you deeply.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
There is a grave danger in simply speaking the name of God
—whenever a finite creature speaks of the infinite
—there is the danger of Idolatry,
of naming something created as creator.
We might cloak a lie in God’s name. Hide our own sin under a cloud of piety.
Yes, a dangerous thing to speak God’s name, for it might be done wrongly, and used in a way that dishonor’s God, attributing to God things that are not of God.
To honor God’s name, we ought to call upon God in all times of need, and pray to God, and praise God with our lips and in our lives.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy
Sabbath is about rest, liberation, and holiness.
Sabbath ought to be a time good… for nothing. A time free from the rest of the week, a time marked off for rest.
Sabbath is also about liberation—part of living into God’s holy time is spending time in acts of kindness and justice.
Sabbath, finally, is holy in and of itself. Sabbath drags us into the reality of God through worship together, where we can cherish the promises of God.
Sabbath forces us to come face to face with those things that keep us from rest, service of neighbor, and worship—these things we abandon Sabbath for are all idols, exposed by God’s holy time.
Honor your father and your mother
It’s a very practical command—especially coming from Luther the Father. It is also one that once again attacks those idols that we put our fear, love, and trust in.
It is from our parents and all those who raise us, that we learn what is dangerous and what is safe. It is from them that we establish, or don’t establish, a sense of love and trust.
We’re little sponges as kids, and those things we sop up are our lifeblood for the rest of our lives—our basic fears, loves, and ability to trust, are established in childhood.
Even as we pray that everyone honor authority figures, especially parents, we pray all the more than authority figures honor their awesome duties to all who are entrusted to them.
You shall not kill
What would you kill for? That quite clearly is an idol, something for which you would be willing to main the image of God.
Instead of killing, we should spend our days giving life to our neighbor—this, per Luther, is a full time job—doing the opposite of killing, being life giving—is a lifelong task.
You shall not commit adultery
There are many relationships we have in life—our relationship with our spouse hopefully will be one of the deepest.
Marriage is a place where trust is formed, or broken. If we cannot trust our spouse, who can we trust?
Such a break can deform so many of our relationships, even our relationship with God.
This is why we ought to honor those who struggle to love one another and trust one another with their whole lives.
Why we ought to support trust and trustworthiness in relationships.
Why we ought to build-up our neighbor’s marriages.
You shall not steal
Luther was a little scary on this point—he states that if every thief were hung no human would be left on earth.
Theft is not just knocking over a bank, it’s gaining other people’s things by nefarious means.
Tipping the scale when weighing a product,
selling inferior products or price gouging.
Not giving 100% at work,
not paying people enough to live on.
Buying things that cause the suffering of others.
Before you know it, we are all truly at the gallows and faced with the fact that theft is ultimately
trusting, fearing, or loving things,
instead of loving people and loving God.
We ought to protect the integrity of all our neighbor has, and work to better their livelihood.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
Any claim we make against another person we should be willing to defend in the court of law, with the danger of libel and perjury pointed against us.
Talking bad about a person is like pushing toothpaste out of a tube, easy enough to do, almost impossible to undo.
I pray we may train our tongue to talk well of our neighbor, and defend them from all defamation, that we might interpret all they do in the best possible light.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house or household
We might be able to squint at the first eight commandments and pretend that we’ve never broken a single one, but these last two push the breaking of commandments into our very hearts and imaginations.
-Have you coveted any of those things you did not steal?
-Have you wished someone dead who you did not kill?
-Have you lusted after someone’s spouse, but never acted on that impulse?
-Have you thought of dishonoring your parents, but kept quiet about it?
-Has a breach of the law crossed your mind or filled your heart with perverse hope?
If so, there you go you covetous person you!
You will be sent home today with a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism, as well as devotional related to Luther’s explanation of the 10 commandments written by a Lutheran pastor in Georgia.
I pray that they will help you to discern,
in the particularities and peculiarities of your own life,
those things, which separate you from God and neighbor,
and help you to discover ways of repairing those breaches.
God has freed you to live life unafraid, trusting in him who loves you, Jesus Christ our Lord.