March 04, 2024

The Ten Commandments

Sinclair Ferguson
The Ten Commandments

When the Lord delivered His law to His people, God’s commands were given before the backdrop of His grace. Today, Sinclair Ferguson begins to show how the Ten Commandments teach us the best way to live before our merciful God.


This week, I thought it might be helpful for us to think about the Ten Commandments, or what the Hebrew Bible sometimes calls the “Ten Words.” But I wonder how that strikes you. If your pastor announced this Sunday that he was going to preach for the next three months on the Ten Commandments and Exodus 20:1–17, would you be thinking, “Oh, that’s great,” or would you say, “Oh, groan, not again?”

The commandments get a fairly mixed review these days, including among some Christians—at least until somebody wants to remove them from some public space, and then it can be surprising how violently some Christians react who don’t usually give much thought to the commandments. There’s a kind of atmosphere that surrounds the expression “the Ten Commandments,” and rightly so, because when we read the account of God giving them at Mount Sinai, Moses’ experience is even more spectacular than it was at the burning bush.

The event was surrounded by thunder and lightning and a thick cloud. At the foot of Sinai, the people trembled. Truly God revealed Himself as a God of power and might and holiness and righteousness. But we should notice something here, something from the get-go when we think about the Ten Commandments. It’s this: they were given by the God of infinite holiness and righteousness, but they were also given in a context of grace.

I think, perhaps, this is the single most important thing to remember. God’s law is given in the context of God’s grace. How so? Well, His first words are, “I am Yahweh, your God, your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” This is the same great I Am who told Moses that He had heard the groaning of the people of Israel, remembered His covenant, and added: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm. I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” If that isn’t grace, I’m not sure what is. It’s amazing grace.

It’s grace that the children of Israel needed to drink in and to keep drinking in. So, when God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” nothing could be more rational. You can see the logic. It’s this: “Because of who I am to you, My people, you should reflect that character as a son reflects the character of his father.”

And here’s something else: nothing could be safer; for other gods, no matter what they are, ancient or modern, can only harm and damage us.

So, the first commandment teaches us that putting the Lord first is not only the right way to live; it’s the best way to live. And something else, it’s the safest way to live. And we’ll find out more about that later in the week.