I remember the first time I came across John Frame’s massive book, The Doctrine of the Christian Life. At the heart of it is an exposition of the application of the Ten Commandments today. At the time, I thought this was an odd choice, since that’s from the Old Testament. However, I’ve since realized that there is a long history of teaching Christian ethics as application of the Ten Commandments; I’ve also thought a more accessible starting point would be helpful to the majority of Christians I know.
Kevin DeYoung’s recent book, The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them, which Crossway has generously offered free to CAPC members, provides a more approachable entry point into this topic. As you can imagine, each chapter focuses on one of the commandments. DeYoung is characteristically clear and concise, and more or less organizes each chapter in light of the book’s subtitle.If we want to truly love God and love others, the Ten Commandments are good first words for guiding us into a life that does just that.
This investigation into historic interpretation is particularly important when it comes to some of the commandments, as their actual meaning is not always clear. Even a command like “Do not murder” requires the clarification of whether all killing is murder. Think, for instance, of the recent tragedy in New York, when a limo crash killed 20 people. The operator of the limo company is now being charged with negligent homicide because he hired a driver that lacked the appropriate license and let him drive a car with known mechanical deficiencies. The limo company owner didn’t murder 20 people per se, but he is responsible for their deaths.
Here, we can also see that our own legal system in some ways takes cues from Old Testament law and teaching. When the 6th commandment is expanded upon in Exodus, the discussion deals with accidental deaths and other forms of killing that are not premeditated murder. The 6th commandment clearly prohibits cold blooded premeditated murder, but it also entails that other forms of killing are forbidden, as well. DeYoung suggests that for us today this commandment prohibits suicide, abortion, and euthanasia, in addition to negligent homicide. DeYoung’s book is helpful on these controversial topics in that it focuses not only on what the commandments mean, but also why they are important and why we should obey them. He joins a long tradition of Christian ethics leading back through the Reformation that used the Ten Commandments as the framework for explaining how to live as a Christian today.
Further, DeYoung’s work is particularly useful in explaining the enduring legacy of keeping the Sabbath, which is actually the only commandment not directly reiterated in the New Testament. He helpfully shows that principles underlying Sabbath rest are transferred to our observance of the Lord’s Day. While we might not need to keep the Sabbath in a legalistic sense, we should certainly have a day of rest and worship. And, if we’re too busy for that, well, DeYoung has another book you should probably read.
We would all do well to make our way through this relatively short book. It will push us to think more deeply about why the Ten Commandments should still have relevance to our personal lives today. They are more than just something that needs to be on the walls of our local courthouses. Rather, they need to be considered a useful guide for us to live wise Christian lives in our modern and increasingly post-Christian world. If we want to truly love God and love others, the Ten Commandments are good first words for guiding us into a life that does just that.
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