In order to get a handle on the ten commandments it is helpful to look at the commandments through the eyes of Jesus.
28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
Jesus organizes the 10 commandments around what we call two tables of the law.
The first table is summarized as: Love the Lord your God. The second table is summarized as: Love your neighbor as yourself.
So we see, the purpose of the commandments is love. We don’t keep the commandments for our own benefit. We keep them as a way to love God and our neighbor. In order to understand this, we have to go back to the where the Ten Commandments come from.
I heard a good way to describe this is from Pastor David Lose. He uses the phrase, “19 comes before 20.”
First, Exodus 19.
19 Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. 2 After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai.
3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”
Here we see that everything begins our relationship with God. We are God’s sons and daughters. His people. God makes a covenant with us. Makes a promise. God is our Father. We are his people.
Author Mike Breen shows this using what he calls, A Covenant Triangle.
God is our Father. We receive our identity from him as his sons and daughters. This comes first. Only then does God make a claim on our behavior. Our obedience. This comes second.
The order is important. First, our identity comes from our relationship with God. Then God calls out our obedience to Him.
In other words, 19 comes before 20.
You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’
19, our relationship with God the Father.
And only then, do we get to the commandments. That’s 20, as in Exodus 20.
20 And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
And then he follows with the commandments..
So, 19 comes before 20.
Our obedience, following the laws of God, comes as a response to our relationship with God. Our identity.