How to Apply the Ten Commandments to Daily Life

How to Apply the Ten Commandments to Daily Life

Look at the Ten Commandments through adult eyes to apply them to daily life

In this sermon about Exodus 20:12-17, we discover how to apply the Ten Commandments to daily life. As children, many of us learned the commandments as basic morality lessons, a list of dos and don’ts. Maybe we haven’t given much thought to them since childhood. When we look at the commandments through adult eyes, we discover that they are much broader than a restrictive morality list for children. By taking a more expansive view of the commandments we can find ways to apply the Ten Commandments to daily life in a way that will help us feel a closer connection to God and more aware of how we can make a difference in the world.

Review: the first four commandments.

Last week we talked about the commandments written on two stone tablets. On the first tablet, we find the first four commandments that talk about our relationship with God.

  • First, you shall have no other gods before me.
  • Second, you shall not worship idols or make graven images.
  • Third, you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.
  • Fourth, you shall keep the sabbath holy.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. This is a summary of the first four commandments. He summarized the second tablet of the commandments when he said, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  So, commandments six through ten have to do with how we treat other people.

The commandments keep us from becoming like the Egyptian slave masters.

The context of these commandments is the whole Exodus story. God rescued the Hebrew people from slavery so they could be an example of right living. Yahweh would have none of this business of the Hebrews treating each other in the ways the Egyptian taskmasters treated them. God’s agenda is for the liberation of people, not their subjugation to tyrants. The Ten Commandments, therefore, establish essential rules to keep people from becoming mini-Pharaohs or tyrants and brutes.

The fifth commandment: Honor your father and mother.

On top of the second tablet, we find the fifth commandment. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Sunday school teachers shrink this down to, “Obey your parents.” And that is part of what is going on here. It assumes loving, nurturing, and non-abusive parents who care for their children as God cares for all of us.[i]

We should notice, however, that the commandment says “honor” not “obey.” So, what does it mean to honor one’s parents? In Hebrew, the word honor means “weighty,” in terms of impressiveness or importance. To honor is to validate someone’s importance. It’s to treat someone as a person of substance, deserving respect. It’s not about blind obedience but about listening to them, learning from them, respecting their wisdom, and experience. It has to do with full consideration to someone.

Appreciation, not blind obedience.

To honor your parents doesn’t mean they are always right, but you learn their story, you give weight to their advice–even if you choose to go a different direction. A more expansive version of the commandment is to learn from other elders as well–especially our spiritual mothers and fathers, people who have journeyed on the path of faith. We can learn from them and be inspired by what they did, appreciate the risks they took. I’ve always figured that the best way to honor someone is to let what they have done inspire to you do likewise in your situation. Learn from people you respect. Find faith mentors. And take courageous steps to make the world better as they have done.

Doing better for all of our elders (not just our biological parents).

In the context of the Exodus story, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says the commandment insists that we care for people well beyond their so-called “productive years.”[ii] In Pharaoh’s Egypt, people were only as important as they were productive to the economy. That it, people were disposable. Honoring and caring for elders was a way of saying our elders are not useless once they stop producing for the economy. They are to be honored, not dismissed or discounted.

If we were to take this commandment to heart, we would look to improve how our society treats our elders. There are so many scams that prey on their vulnerability. There is such a pervasive attitude that elders are just a burden. Instead of just thinking about the commandment as “obeying your parents,” try thinking about it in terms of what would it mean to meaningfully honor our elders. Is there something you could do to show that honor to an individual? Even if you are in advanced years, I’m sure you can find something to do.

You shall not kill.

The sixth commandment is you shall not kill. Many translations list it as “you shall not murder.”  The context has to do with viewing life as a sacred gift from God. Murder is obviously the deepest violation of the commandment. As Christians looking at the commandment through the life of Jesus’s teachings, we remember that he taught about a way of life that forgives instead of retaliates. He modeled non-violence.

What if we expansively looked at this commandment? We could ask ourselves how do we embrace a mindset that isn’t about retaliation, hitting back when we feel attacked? How do we not only respect but stand up for the sacredness of all life? What about killing that happens in our name as citizens in the case of police misconduct, war, and the death penalty? What about emotional violence, verbal abuse?

An adult/expansive view of the commandment can lead us to take positive steps for recognizing the goodness of all creation and finding the goodness inside of other people instead of burying our heads in the sand when they are afflicted.

You shall not commit adultery.

Seems straightforward but an expansive view can help us remember that God gave us sexuality as a sacred gift. It’s beautiful and wondrous and it’s not to be used recklessly in a way that could cause emotional damage to someone else.

It’s about fidelity to commitments, to the people we’ve committed ourselves to. Not just about how do we not betray them, but to think about how we can help them be their best, too.

You shall not steal.

We are called to trust that God will provide what we need. There is sort of the flat level of not taking an object that doesn’t belong to you. But you might expand how you think about it.

Don’t steal from someone’s dignity by whittling them down. We can apply the commandment to saying don’t steal time from God and yourself by spending all your time on production rather than the enjoyment of life. Don’t steal from employers in the office supply room or time by goofing off when you are supposed to be working. Make sure you don’t steal from God by forgetting to give something back as a sign that you appreciate what you’ve been given, and trust God will provide.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

We already start to expand this commandment when we turn it into its more generalized expression, “You shall not lie.” Originally it had to do with being a witness in disputes. But it is good to expand it. We remember there lies of omission and commission–the lies you say outright and the false impressions you give by what you don’t say or leave out.

Often the conversation about this commandment degenerates into trying to find the exceptions for the rule. Are white lies okay or a little shade of gray? “Yes, you look great in that dress.” What about extreme situations where you could save someone’s life by lying about their whereabouts? Many people did this when swastika bearing Nazis came knocking on their doors.

Truth-telling requires an inner strength that you can develop further.

The truth shall set you free. It requires a lot of inner strength, to tell the truth. That’s why there aren’t that many free people. You must prepare for the consequences when you don’t tell someone what they want to hear. It takes courage to be vulnerable enough to present yourself as you really are and how you really feel instead of putting on a show based on how you want others to take you.

A strong spirituality reminds you that you already are loved beyond measure–just as you are. Your flaws and insecurities do not define you. The more you trust in God and grow in spirit the more naturally truth-telling becomes.

Do not covet. 

Can you hear God saying, “I am the God who has given you so many blessings: this day, your family, and friends and the love of your church community. I’ll provide what you need.

My friend summarized, “Don’t fondle other people’s things in your mind or spend your time thinking about what you don’t have.” Spend more time empathizing with ten neighbors in need than you do coveting the one who has something you want.

This is the commandment that is a gift to yourself. Envy can make you miserable. Often you can slay the green-eyed monster by saying if I take on their stuff or their situation, I’ve also got to take on their hidden bag of problems with it. Because no matter how smooth and perfect their lives seem, there is an unseen bag of problems. And you never know what kind of nasty stuff is in there.

Instead, spend your time thinking about what you do have. You have a God who loves you and has given a Messiah for your forgiveness even when you forget and break the commandments.

How to apply the Ten Commandments to daily life.

The commandments aren’t there to make you feel guilty. They are there for you to find the fullness of a meaningful life that loves God and your neighbor. Try looking at the commandments through adult eyes but not as a list of restrictions. Try to think about them in terms of how you can be more intentional in your love of God and neighbor.



How to Apply the Ten Commandments to Daily Life sermon preached by Rev. Dr. David Clark at Bay Shore Community Congregational Church (UCC) in Long Beach, California. Click here to find out more about Bay Shore Church.

 September 13, 2020