THE 10: How to Live and Love in a World That Has Lost Its Way,

THE 10: Overview: A Study of the 10 Commandments

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

For my first ten years at First Baptist Dallas, I drove the same car because I tend to be pretty frugal—a nice word for cheap. The car started to show its age and began breaking down. One day the chairman of deacons said to me, “Pastor, you may think you’re scoring points with the congregation by driving this old car, but you’re not. You’re embarrassing the church by driving that thing around.” So I broke down and purchased a new car.

After I settled on a car, do you know what the sales associate had the nerve to do? He gave me a book filled with instructions from the manufacturer about how I was supposed to operate the car I now owned. For example, on page seven, the manufacturer said, “Don’t text and drive.” Who did they think they were, trying to stifle my right to free speech? 

Or on page 15: “Never remove the coolant reservoir cap while the engine is running.” They provided no explanation, expecting me to take it on faith that removing that cap was a bad idea. 

Or how about this one: “Always drive and ride with your seat back upright.” So why did they design my car with reclining seats? I don’t know who these people thought they were, but they didn’t have the right to tell me how to run my car.

It’s a silly illustration, but it makes an important point. Obviously, the car manufacturer didn’t prepare this book of instructions to limit my fun; they prepared it for my well-being and enjoyment. The manufacturer designed every inch of my car. They knew under what conditions it would operate most efficiently. 

They provided an owner’s manual to let me know how to get the best performance out of my vehicle, make it last, and keep me safe. Sure, it’s my car, and I can run it however I want to. But if I disregard the manufacturer’s instructions, I do so at my own peril.

Similarly, God designed and created each of us. He knows what makes us run best and causes us to sputter, spit, and stop. And God gave us His Word, the Bible—an operating manual that tells us how to get the most out of life.

Many people believe God is the great killjoy in the sky and the Bible is His rulebook He throws at us whenever we step out of line. That’s not true at all. In fact, the opposite is true: God wants us to enjoy life, and He gave us the Bible for our well-being. 

We can ignore God’s Word, but we do so at our own risk because it shows us the secret to a blessed life. But to enjoy that blessedness, we must follow its instructions. And the best place to start is with God’s most foundational instructions: the Ten Commandments.

1. The Ten Commandments: God’s Invitation to a Blessed Life

Far from what most people think, the Ten Commandments weren’t given to restrict our freedom but to enhance our happiness. They serve as guardrails that keep our lives on track. These timeless truths invite us into the blessing of a loving relationship with God and the resulting spillover into our relationships with others.

In a culture like ours, where moral confusion reigns, where “what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right” (Isaiah 5:20), we desperately need to get back to the basics of morality—to simple, clear answers about what it means to live and love in a world that has lost its way. And that’s just what the Ten Commandments provide.

2. The Historical Setting of the Ten Commandments

Before we dive into our study, let’s look briefly at the setting of the Ten Commandments. These commands came out of one of the greatest events in the Old Testament: the exodus of God’s people from Egypt.

The book of Exodus tells us how God miraculously delivered His people from slavery and then rescued them from the pursuing Egyptian army. They crossed the Red Sea and headed to the promised Land. The Lord led His people through the wilderness for three months until they reached Mount Sinai’s base.

God called Moses to the top of the mountain to receive the law that would govern the new nation (Exodus 19:1-6). The people understood there needed to be a mediator between God and them. At that point in time, the go-between was Moses. He was a type, or foreshadowing, of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). But at that time, Moses served as the mediator between God and His people.

The “Ten Commandments” is the phrase we use to describe the list in Exodus 20:1–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21, but that’s not how the ancient Hebrews referred to these commands. In Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4, the Hebrew phrase is aseret hadevarim, which literally means “Ten Words.” Translated into Greek, it is deka (ten) logos (word)—or the Decalogue, which it is often called.

In Deuteronomy 5, as the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wilderness wanderings, Moses repeated the Ten Commandments and reminded the people.

3. The Purpose of the Law

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’re probably familiar with the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 6:15, which says, “We are not under law but under grace.” The apostle John pointed out this distinction between the law and grace: “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Since the Ten Commandments are part of the Old Testament law, it’s completely understandable if you’re wondering, 

Why should we obey the Ten Commandments today? To answer that question, we need to understand the purpose of the law.

Many Christians view the Old Testament law negatively. But the apostle Paul also wrote, “the Law is holy” (Romans 7:12) and “the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8). There’s nothing wrong with the Old Testament law. It’s just that the law, strictly speaking, is limited.

So what was the purpose of the Old Testament law?

  • The Law Was Given to Maintain Order, Not to Transform Our Heart (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-7)
  • The Law Was Given to Reveal Our Unrighteousness, not to Make Us Righteous (James 1:23-25; Galatians 2:21)
  • The Law Was Given to Lead Us to Our Savior, Not to Replace Our Savior

4. A Preview of the “Ten Words”

It is well past time for us to not only tack the Ten Commandments back on our schoolroom walls but also our hearts and minds. That’s what this series is about. In the following blogs, we’ll talk about what the commandments mean, how they apply to our lives, and, most importantly, why they are God’s method for freeing us to experience blessings we could never imagine. So let’s look quickly at these commandments.

The Ten Commandments aren’t impersonal laws from a distant deity; they are rules on how to have a blessed life from the heart of a Father to His sons and daughters. The Ten Commandments are characterized by love and grace—the characteristics at the center of God’s heart.

God’s great desire for His people, then and now, is for us to live in freedom (John 8:32). The Ten Commandments are our boundaries, but we must choose whether to live within those boundaries and experience freedom or live outside those boundaries and experience chaos.