Rephrasing the Commandments
Often times when we hear words like obedience and commandments and laws in scripture, we resist. We abhor blind, or mandatory obedience. Many of us do not like being told what to do (not my problem!), or we associate obedience with the relationship between a parent and a child. We sang an old hymn “Trust and Obey”, and the chorus goes, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Consider the 10 commandments, from Exodus in the Old Testament. Laws given to Moses on Mt Sinai for the people of Israel. Instructions for how they were to live as they crossed into the Promised Land. These laws were immediately broken by Moses and the people of Israel, they became sacred texts, believed to be a direct communication and command from God.
Those of us who struggle with obedience would probably have found ourselves with the Hebrew people, chafing when being told what to do. And yet these Commandments have persevered across history, even controversially appearing on cement tablets in public places and courthouses throughout America. Yet we most agree that there is wisdom in these words that still compels our obedience.
I find it much more helpful to be told what to do rather than what not to do. I work best, as many people do, when I am shown the why behind the commandment. And so, I have created a positive rephrasing of the 10 commandments.
1) Thou shall have no other God before me.
Be careful what you worship. Worship me, Find Me, Know Me
It is always a temptation to revere money or success or beauty or popularity. A worship of God, a connection to God, is the basis for a life of meaning.
2) Thou shall not make any graven image
God is bigger than anything you can imagine.
Anything we can use to describe or define or envision God is too small.
God is beyond human comprehension. Don’t put God in a box, don’t make your God too small.
3) Thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
Words matter. Choose them carefully.
“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That is not true. Words hold power. They are the means we use to communicate with each other, and they can distort the way we see the world, and the way we understand God. And they can hurt other people.
4) Thou shall keep the Sabbath holy.
Make time for rest, for joy, for renewal.
Even God rested after creating the world in six days. On the seventh day, we are to rest, to enjoy, to renew, to connect with those we love. Life is not all about work.
5) Honor thy Father and thy Mother
Make peace with your family.
If your family was troubled or abusive, if someone in your family hurt you deeply, your life can be heavy because of the wounds you carry. There are somethings only God can forgive, but we can all make some peace with our past. I have found it helpful to remember that most people do the best they know how.
6) Thou shall not kill.
Human life, plant life, the lives of animals, even the air and the wind and the sun. The life that is creation. Carefully consider how you value life.
7) Thou shall not commit adultery.
Honor your commitments. Be a person of your word.
You will be known for the choices you make. Bad choices, and broken commitments, not only hurt others but burden your own soul.
There is great freedom in a clear conscience
8) Thou shall not steal.
Anything worth having is worth earning.
The worth in the things that matter most comes from the process of finding them, working for them, and caring for them. Anything you steal – words, ideas, physical property, relationships – is diminished and less valuable because of the stain of its attainment.
9) Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Tell the truth. Your word is your bond.
The words you use reflect more on your own character than on the person you are characterizing. “Anything you say about me bounces off me and sticks on you.” Wise words from the mouths of children.
10) Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife, house, his field, his manservant, ox, ass, or anything that is thy neighbors.
Learn to be happy with what you have.
There will always be someone who has more than you, and someone who has less. What you have is enough. By learning to be content with what you have, you receive the gifts, spiritual gifts, of gratitude and appreciation.
When I consider the 10 Commandments as a path rather than a list of restrictions and limitations, I find that the wisdom they contain eternal truths that point me towards a good life. A life of meaning and beauty and truth that leads towards contentment, happiness, self-worth, and ultimately peace.
“Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
So, do the 10 commandments enrich your life?