Applying the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)
When I was in high school, my parents were watching the local news. The lead story was about a congregation where the associate minister—who also served as an elder—had been caught embezzling money from the church. The pulpit minister—whom my family knew quite well—had gone to the bank, and his paycheck bounced.
I’m confident that you’ve known folks who had hearts which did not match their public personas—they can get away with it for a while, but it’s eventually going to be revealed. Maybe you know a preacher who took a public fall. Maybe it was a member of your family. Maybe it was someone who sat in the same row as you in this assembly.
Maybe—just maybe—that person is you. Maybe you knew the right thing to do, but you failed to find the strength to do it. Maybe you wanted to do the right thing, but you found yourself overcome with sin. Maybe you wanted your heart to be right before God, but it just wasn’t. Maybe your failure lead to a personal—maybe even public—humiliation. Maybe you fear embarrassing your family because of secret sin which, should it become known, could have serious consequences.
In giving the Ten Commandments, God expected his children to take his commandments into their heart and to live his commandments from the inside out. However, we know from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount that’s not what happened. Instead, the Jews looked at how they could fulfill the letter of the Law and ignore the heart altogether.
What we’re going to do this morning is quite a bit different from what I usually do; we’re going to start with the Ten Commandments and then go to the New Testament to see what our Lord taught us about “Applying the Ten Commandments.” We’re going to learn a vital lesson: “Obedience to God begins in the heart.”
Scripture (Exodus 20:1-17)
READ EXODUS 20:1-17 in its entirety.
We know Jesus nailed the Old Law to the cross: Jesus set “aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (Eph 2:15). I trust you understand that, so we’re not going to spend time there this morning. Instead, I want to go to the heart of the matter and see that “Obedience to God begins in the heart.”
We learn from the Ten Commandments “Obedience to God begins in the heart,” for the Commandments—and the entirety of the Old Law—boil down to loving God and loving man. That’s what Jesus said—Matthew 22:34-39.
Loving God and loving others involves service to them. “If you love me, keep my commands” (Jn 14:15). Notice how Paul urged the Corinthians to love each other: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Thus, if I love God, I’ll serve God; if I love others, I’ll serve others.
Notice that the Ten Commandments center around loving God and loving others. Loving God: No other gods (v 3), No graven image (vv 4-6), No misusing God’s name (v 7), No forgetting to keep the Sabbath holy (vv 8-11). Loving others: Not failing to honor father and mother (v 12), Not committing murder (v 13), Not committing adultery (v 14), Not stealing (v 15), Not giving false testimony (v 16), Not coveting your neighbor’s possessions (v 17).
The religious leaders of Jesus’s day ignored the heart of the Law and were only concerned with the outward keeping of the commands. Matthew 23:27-28. The scribes and Pharisees had the outside part right—“on the outside you appear to people as righteous”—but their hearts were in the wrong place—“on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Specifically, when we come to the Ten Commandments, Jesus made it clear that “Obedience to God begins in the heart.”
When it comes to murder, obedience to God begins in the heart.
Matthew 5:21-22. Jesus says that it’s not only the killing of someone that’s sinful but it’s anger and name calling that is sinful.
When it comes to adultery, obedience to God begins in the heart.
Matthew 5:27-28. Jesus says it’s not simply the physical act of adultery that’s sinful but it’s looking at someone with lustful intent.
Why does obedience to God’s commands begin in the heart? Because defilement of man comes from the inside, not the outside: Matthew 15:17-20.
You see, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the Lord intended for his people not only to keep the commandments as he had given them, but he expected his people to shape their hearts so that they could keep his commandments.
Nothing has changed—“Obedience to God begins in the heart.” Concerning the scribes and Pharisees, our Lord says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matt 15:8). They talk a good talk; they’re doing everything right on the outside. However, their hearts are far from the Lord, and he condemns them for it. If your hearts are far from God—even if you’re doing everything right on the outside—the Lord shall condemn you.
How do you, therefore, live your lives?
You must examine your heart.
If you are to obey God from the heart, you must take a hard look at your heart. Sometimes you don’t recognize what’s really taking place until you do some careful examination. I had a physical a couple weeks ago, and my new doctor PCP did bloodwork; from that bloodwork, we learned my blood sugar is very high and that I need to pay careful attention to what I eat.
The same thing can happen spiritually. What if David had done some serious examination of his heart, seen the lust that was there, and took care of it—how might the history of Israel have been different? What if Peter had examined his heart and had seen the arrogance, boasting, and cowardice there would he have denied the Lord?
Why does the heart merit careful examination? “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:10). If you leave your heart to its own devices, you will not see how close to God or how far from God your heart really is.
Scripture calls upon us to examine ourselves. “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). It’s not enough to eat the bread and drink the cup in the outward manner God has prescribed; one’s heart needs to be in tune with the Lord. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5).
Get off by yourself this week and take a careful look at your heart. When you look at your heart, what do you see? What sins do you need to remove from your heart? What godly values do you need to be adding to your heart? What steps do you need to take to remove sin and add virtues?
You must pray for a pure heart.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). If David prayed for a pure heart after he had been confronted by Nathan, we can certainly pray to have a clean heart before God.
Every day this coming week spend time praying for your heart to be cleansed. Pray for a heart that desires to obey God with all of your being. Pray for a heart that despises sin. Pray for a heart that loves others with the love of God. Pray that your heart be pure and clean.
You must be careful what you put in your heart.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov 4:23). Everything you do, every decision you make, every act of obedience to God, every act of disobedience to God originates in your heart. Therefore, Solomon told his son to guard his heart, to be ever so careful about what he places in his heart.
We need to follow that same advice. In our modern world, trash bombards our hearts—from the media to our friends to our coworkers, it’s not easy to guard our hearts. We must, therefore, make every effort to keep our hearts clean, to guard them, and not to be influenced by the evil which seeks to penetrate our hearts.
How can we do so? “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4:8). Take those words of Paul and make you a list of right things with which to fill your heart and get busy filling your heart with what’s good.
Where is your heart this morning? Do you need to obey God from your heart this very morning? The Romans were blessed when they did so: “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance” (Rom 6:17). Do you need to obey from the heart this morning the “pattern of teaching” handed down by the inspired apostles?