I am leading a group of men studying the Ten Commandments, using as our resource a book by Adam Hamilton: “Words of Life: Jesus and the Promise of the Ten Commandments Today.” My group has found the book rich and readable. The discussion each week has been quite stimulating.
I seldom preached or taught the Ten Commandments over the course of my ministry. Other than a single sermon series, preached some decades ago, I never again preached systematically through this foundational text (Exodus 20: 1-17). As far as Bible study, I never led a group who broached this subject until now.
A preacher or Bible study teacher has the choice of many themes and topics, but I can’t help but wonder how I overlooked or ignored this vital teaching, especially with our society’s controversy over the public posting of the Ten Commandments. I suspect a review of my newspaper columns over the decades would find more than a few references to the public controversy over the commandments but no real engagement with the words themselves and their meaning.
It’s not too late for an old preacher to learn new tricks. And it’s not too late for Christians and Jews to live by these words given to Moses by God and so often referenced by Jesus. A good place to start might simply be with memory work. When I was a child the Ten Commandments were included in those key scriptures we children committed to memory. Along with the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and a few other key verses, they were supposed to be written on our hearts.
I wonder how many of us can recite – in any order – all 10 of these injunctions. On the first week of my lesson I asked our entire group, working together, to see if we could name all of them. It was somewhat of a slog, but we finally got there. Now, at the start of every class, we try to recite the commandments – in order – that we have studied so far. If mental exercises are good for older people, why not engage in some holy scripture memory? How many of them can you name right now?
Memorizing the words in proper order is only the tip of the iceberg. To understand them, to discuss them, to pray over them and then to live them out is crucial. My group has discovered how shallow our understanding has been of these vital words. We have given these commandments no deep thought. We have mostly satisfied ourselves we are keeping them by adhering to the bare minimum and easiest interpretation.
How long has it been since you’ve taken a serious look at these guideposts for living? Has it been more satisfying to argue about their public display than to know them by heart and live them daily? Why not find or form a group and work your way through these 10 words. The experience could be life-transforming.