The Decalogue’s Principles Ever Valid
JEHOVAH God himself wrote the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. “He proceeded to give Moses two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone written on by God’s finger.”—Ex. 31:18.
These Ten Commandments are part of ‘all the things that God caused to be recorded for our instruction.’ While as Christians we ‘are not under the Mosaic Law but under undeserved kindness or grace,’ we are bound by the principles embodied in these commandments, for they are ever valid. This fact, let it be noted, completely refutes the claim of higher critics that the Word of God shows an evolution in man’s understanding and worship of God. Rather, these principles show that the God of Moses is also the God of Jesus Christ, for the principles embodied in what Moses handed down are identical with those of Jesus Christ and his inspired disciples. This can be seen by the fact that both Moses and Jesus Christ summed up God’s requirements in the two great commandments: Love God, love neighbor.—Rom. 15:4; 6:14; Mark 12:30, 31.
The first and second commandments embody the same principle, namely, that Jehovah God rightly requires that he be worshiped uniquely, with exclusive devotion, with no rival gods or images. These first two commandments are so basic that we find them carried over literally into the Christian Greek Scriptures: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” “I say that the things which the nations sacrifice they sacrifice to demons, and not to God, and I do not want you to become sharers with the demons. You cannot be drinking the cup of Jehovah and the cup of demons; you cannot be partaking of ‘the table of Jehovah’ and the table of demons. Or ‘are we inciting Jehovah to jealousy’? We are not stronger than he is, are we?” Absolutely not!—Ex. 20:2-6; 1 John 5:21; 1 Cor. 10:20-22.
With Christians, however, there is an extension of these principles. Thus the apostle writes: “Deaden, therefore, your body members which are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Covetousness is idolatry? How so? In that to covet or desire to have something so strongly that we do not consider whether it is right for us to have it or whether it belongs to another is to idolize or worship that thing, making it a rival to Jehovah as regards our affections. Thus when Achan coveted that which had been devoted to Jehovah and Ahab coveted a vineyard that belonged to Naboth both were guilty of idolatry. The principles embodied in the first and second commandments also forbid a Christian to show undue honor to a person or thing by religiously saluting or bowing down to it.—Col. 3:5.
The principle embodied in the third commandment, regarding the use of God’s name, Jesus extended to the use of all speech involving God. This principle therefore rules out the uttering of Jehovah’s name in a worthless, irreverent or blasphemous way. Embodied in the third commandment also is the principle of honesty —toward God. To take the name of Jehovah upon one and not live up to it is being dishonest. Expressions of the extension of this principle to Christians are these: Do not “accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose,” and “faith without works is dead.”—Ex. 20:7; Matt. 5:34-37; 2 Cor. 6:1; Jas. 2:26.
The distinction between God’s explicit laws and his principles is nowhere more strikingly apparent than in the fourth commandment, regarding the observance of the sabbath. Because Jehovah rested on the seventh day he enjoined upon the Israelites a literal rest, one day in seven, the seventh. Yet nowhere are Christians commanded to observe a literal rest one day in seven. On the contrary, they are told: “Therefore let no man judge you in eating and drinking or in respect of a feast day or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath.”—Ex. 20:8-11; Col. 2:16.
Still, for the same reason, namely, that God rested from his works, a spiritual sabbath or rest is enjoined upon Christians. A rest in what sense and to what extent? A rest that is continuous, not only one day a week but all seven days. Theirs is a rest that comes from faith and obedience; a rest from selfish works, including efforts to establish their own righteousness. And even as the literal seventh-day sabbath served to guard the Israelites against being taken over by materialism, so the spiritual rest of Christians safeguards them against the same snare. If they faithfully observe their spiritual rest of faith and obedience, then, instead of being consumed by a feverish “love of money” that “is a root of all sorts of injurious things,” they will have the rest that comes from “godly devotion along with self-sufficiency,” which is great gain. Otherwise stated, as they keep on “seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness . . . all these other things will be added to” them.—1 Tim. 6:10, 6; Matt. 6:33.
Carried over into the Christian system of things likewise is the principle embodied in the fifth commandment, “honor your father and your mother.” Of course, Christian children have natural fathers and mothers to obey. (Eph. 6:1-4) Besides that, all Christians have Jehovah God as “our Father,” and his heavenly organization, Jerusalem, as “our mother.” These, above all else, they are to honor and obey. Logically, included in such honor and obedience are the earthly representatives of the heavenly Father and mother. For adults this would include all those in positions of authority in the Christian congregation or New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses, and for children, additionally, their “parents in union with the Lord.” Of course, in ancient Israel that qualification was not needed as all parents were in union with Jehovah in that they were part of a nation dedicated to him.—Ex. 20:12; Matt. 6:9; Gal. 4:26; Heb. 13:17; Eph. 6:1.
It might well be said that all the principles embodied in these first five “words” of the Decalogue find their ideal expression in the first great commandment: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.” If we obey this commandment we certainly will not worship any rival gods but give Jehovah exclusive devotion, we will not take up his name in any worthless way, we will enjoy the rest of faith and obedience by putting him first in our lives and we will honor and obey him and his heavenly organization as well as their earthly representatives.—Mark 12:30.
PRINCIPLES RELATING TO OUR FELLOW MAN
The principles of the remaining five commandments that, together with the fifth one, relate to our duties to our fellow man are also ideally expressed in a positive way in a single command, as the apostle Paul shows: “Do not be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another; for he that loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. For the law code, ‘You must not commit adultery, You must not murder, You must not steal, You must not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this word, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.” These five commandments are also summed up by the words of Jesus that are usually termed “the Golden Rule”: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”—Rom. 13:8-10; Matt. 7:12.
As for these laws individually, it might be said that each has one or more principles embodied in addition to this general one. Thus the principle embodied in the sixth commandment, “You must not murder,” is that of the sanctity of life and blood, as can be seen from the first statement of this commandment to Noah and his family: “Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat. And, besides that, your blood of your souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.”—Ex. 20:13; Gen. 9:4-6.
The logical extension of the principle of this commandment is seen to be the ruling out of all hate of one’s neighbor, as Jesus showed in his sermon on the mount. As his apostle John expressed it: “Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer.” That is why worldly nations prepare their soldiers for the killing of the enemy by means of lying hate-propaganda campaigns.—Matt. 5:21, 22; 1 John 3:15.
Embodied in the seventh commandment, “You must not commit adultery,” are the two principles of covenant-keeping and holiness. Interestingly, in some languages the word for adultery is ‘wedlock-breaking,’ and in the Scriptures all immorality is stigmatized as uncleanness. For the Christian this commandment is given threefold emphasis: “God will judge fornicators and adulterers,” referring to the literal acts. “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” referring to covetous desire. And spiritual adultery: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” Friendship with the world likewise involves breaking a covenant, with God, and also makes one unclean, for James also counsels Christians to keep themselves without spot from the world.—Ex. 20:14; Heb. 13:4; Matt. 5:28; Jas 4:4; 1:27.
The just Christian principle, “If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat,” is embodied in the eighth commandment, directed against stealing. We are to earn what we need and acquire. “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work.”—Ex. 20:15; 2 Thess. 3:10; Eph. 4:28.
Even as the principle embodied in the third commandment involves the proper use of the tongue Godward, so the ninth commandment, “You must not testify falsely as a witness against your fellow man,” involves the proper use of the tongue manward. Note that the emphasis is not necessarily on divulging the truth per se. Rather, it is on not bearing false witness against one’s neighbor, because of selfishness. There are times when, conceivably, it would be right to hide the truth in the interest of one’s neighbor, as when Rahab threw off the pagan pursuers of the God-fearing Israelite spies by what she told those pursuers. Also, may it not be by keeping silent that “love covers a multitude of sins”? Surely!—Ex. 20:16; 1 Pet. 4:8.
And, finally, embodied in the last commandment, “You must not desire” or “selfishly crave” what is your fellow man’s, is the principle, “Safeguard your heart; for out of it are the sources of life.” That is why Jesus said: “Out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies.” If we guard our heart there will be no danger of our coveting that which belongs to our neighbor or committing any of the immoral acts Jesus here mentions. Far from doing that, we will be keeping an eye “in personal interest upon” the affairs of others, seeking that which will be to their advantage. Then, also, instead of coveting the honor that another receives, we will “in showing honor to one another take the lead.”—Ex. 20:17; Deut. 5:21; Prov. 4:23; Matt. 15:19; 1 Cor. 10:24; Phil. 2:4; Rom. 12:10.
Truly, even though we as Christians “are not under law but under undeserved kindness,” the Ten Commandments are part of the things written aforetime for our instruction, because the principles embodied in the Decalogue are ever valid. “If you know these things, happy you are if you do them.”—John 13:17.