When one reads the 10 Commandments today, he needn’t look very far and wide or spend an extensive amount of time to notice how we are living in a fallen world replete with sin.
It used to be that you could flip on the evening news and be bombarded with stories of evil and chaos. Nowadays, you can simply take out your smartphone and open your Twitter app to get up-to-the-minute details of mankind’s transgressions.
So, what’s the cause of all this turbulence? As a Christian man, I can just go straight to the source.
Open the Bible and start reading. It won’t take you long. As soon as you get to Genesis 3 — the fall of man — you’ll notice when it all began to go awry.
- Adam and Eve disobeyed God.
- Then they played the finger-pointing game: Adam blamed Eve and she blamed the serpent.
- Then God bounced them from the Garden of Eden with promises of pain to come.
That’s a streamlined explanation of the events that took place, but I’m sure you understand the causality between disobeying God and enduring hardships.
But because that example of keeping God’s commandment — not to “eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” — isn’t exactly an “apples to apples” comparison to life in the 21st century (pun intended), let’s look at perhaps the most recognizable commandments God gave to his people: the Decalogue — better known as the Ten Commandments.
In Exodus 20, God passed down to Moses ten laws for the Israelites, which were presented on stone tablets. These ten commandments, although first recorded thousands of years ago, are still applicable today.
Let’s take a look at each one of them and use them as a window into why we live in a world of chaos and sin in 21st Century America.
Note: Christian denominations group and number the 10 Commandments differently, so the numbering might not be exactly as you’ve heard it or remember it. But the commands themselves are as follows.
The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before me.
By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the popular expression: No God, no peace. Know God, know peace. (If you haven’t, just visit a fellow Christian’s house and you might see it hanging up on the wall.)
I’m not exactly sure where that originated from, but I do know it’s confirmed, in part, in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…,” which explains that with faith comes peace.
Be careful not to assume that simply having faith means you’ll walk around every day in complete and utter serenity.
No, of course not. We are human, we sin, we turn away from God, and we live in a world where humans have free will and the action of others can certainly interrupt the “peace” we desperately seek.
But the basic principle behind this passage is that we know in God we can find hope, peace and contentment.
As far as how Americans are breaking God’s first commandment, a Gallup poll conducted in 2015 discovered that while three-quarters of Americans identify with a Christian religion, that number has been declining since 2008.
Consequently, “non-Christian” religions and Americans with no religious identification at all have been on the rise during that same period.
Quite simply, when you worship other gods or disbelieve or disregard God completely, you are breaking the first commandment.
The Second Commandment: You shall not make or worship idols.
In Biblical times, the “making and worshipping of idols” involved the creation of statues made out of wood, bronze and gold to which much praise and thanks were given by idolaters of those days.
The entire practice seems ludicrous, given that a god is a deity that is an all-powerful creator, and if a mere human were to create his or her own god, that human would become deified himself.
Nevertheless, they persisted and God cursed them.
They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book.Deuteronomy 29:26-27
In 21st Century America, you might not find too many people with their own shrines to idols set up in their dingy basements, but that doesn’t mean idolatry no longer exists.
Idolatry in modern times simply means anything that we put before God. And we are all guilty of that from time to time.
In America, we seem to worship our sports, we praise our singers and movie stars, we cling to our smartphones, and we turn to various substances like food, alcohol and even drugs as sources of comfort.
Perhaps the largest idols we worship are ourselves. We constantly attempt to control everything in our lives — which, of course, we fail at — and as selfish beings, we are the center of our lives.
This modern-day form of idolatry is a big problem in 21st Century America.
The Third Commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
This is often one of the most difficult commandments to understand, for it can have so many different meanings.
God is Truth, thus invoking God’s name to support any false declaration can be seen as the misuse of God’s name.
It’s my personal belief that God has a sense of humor — he created us in his image and he takes great delight in us — but if you were to tell a crude, off-color joke involving God, I don’t think he’d find that appropriate.
Using God’s name in a curse word undoubtedly qualifies as the misuse of his name.
And anytime someone places his hand on a Bible to take an oath, if that person is not being one hundred percent honest (also a violation of Commandment 9), that person is likely guilty of misusing the Lord’s name.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “‘The Lord’s name is holy.’ For this reason man must not abuse it. He must keep it in mind in silent, loving adoration. He will not introduce it into his own speech except to bless, praise, and glorify it.”
The way that popular American culture speaks of God and Christianity so flippantly certainly falls short of “blessing, praising, and glorifying it.”
The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
In Genesis 2:3, it says that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,” and thus we got our Sabbath Day.
But why did he bless that day? Let’s go one verse back to Genesis 2:2.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.Genesis 2:2
What work was God doing? Well, creating the heavens and earth, of course! And it certainly is an expansive universe, isn’t it?
God’s “rest” is often misunderstood by today’s society because we have a different definition of the word “rest” than what is intended in the Bible.
In 21st Century America, when we think about the word rest, we envision taking a nap. We’re tired, we’ve worn ourselves out running errands, doing yard work, putting in 40 hours of work at the office. Our bodies ache, we’re mentally fatigued … we just need to get off our feet for a little while and recharge our batteries.
But is that really what God is doing with his rest?
From my perspective, I’m ready for a nap simply after mowing the lawn on a hot summer day. How much more would I crash if I had even a fraction of the task of creation that God did?
But God is God. He is all powerful. In Genesis 1:3, God said, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” He flipped the metaphorical light switch, something you and I do while walking in or out of a room.
God doesn’t get fatigued from that.
No, God didn’t rest on the seventh day because he needed to. He did it as an example for us. “Rest” in this context means to cease doing work.
The Sabbath Day in biblical terms refers to Saturday. But in modern Christianity, we refer to it as the “Lord’s Day,” on Sunday.
Either way, the greater point is that we should set aside a day from all the rigors of our lives and “rest” in God’s presence.
How many of us are guilty of not doing this? Oh, yeah. Seven billion hands went up worldwide.
Truthfully, we all could use a small period of time every day — call it meditation, if you want — where we spend some time with the Lord in his presence. But in our busy, go-go-go lives of the 21st Century, we often neglect the Sabbath, which in turn leaves us spinning out of control and flying by the seat of our pants.
The Fifth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother.
There is no bigger problem facing Americans today — besides disconnecting from God — than the breakdown of the American family.
That’s a direct quote. From me. Write it down.
If I were running for political office, I’d run on a platform of social conservatism. Seemingly the vast majority of issues that occur in 21st Century America have roots that can be traced back to a broken home or a dysfunctional family lifestyle.
But, Ryan, don’t most families exhibit some type of dysfunction?
Spin it any way that you’d like. Use whatever words make sense to you. But I wouldn’t use the word “dysfunction” to describe your average family arguments and drama.
In a family, just as in a “functioning” piece of machinery, you’re going to have to give it regular tune-ups and make sure it’s well-oiled in order to keep it running smoothly. But even as a family sputters and churns at various points, it doesn’t cease to function.
Unfortunately, there are far too many single-parent households in America. Some of these stem from accidents, such as death. Far more originate out of divorce or having children out of wedlock. But in either case, whether accidental or intentional, a single-parent household is a difficult environment for a child to grow.
Crime is another problem that stems from family life. Maybe one parent is in jail for committing a crime and they are not there to help raise their children. So those children aren’t taught right from wrong and are guilty of monkey see, monkey do.
The amount of young men who join gangs because they crave a sense of family that they aren’t getting from their own households is staggering.
How about poverty? Many Americans living in poverty turn to stealing to make ends meet.
Parental abuse can cause many children to grow up dysfunctional and to lash out when they become adults.
Not having both a mother and father — two very separate of God’s creations who have distinguishable qualities to offer a child — can lead to a dysfunctional, or at least unhealthy lifestyle growing up.
Genesis 2:7 says: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
And in Genesis 2:18, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” So he made a woman for the man in Genesis 2:22.
In these early verses of the Bible, God is laying the foundation for family structure. With a man and woman in place, now it’s time for the children of the family.
In Genesis 4, Eve gave birth to Cain and Abel. Later, in verse 8, Cain killed his brother Abel in a fit of anger.
And thus, we had our first form of family strife.
What does all this social conservatism, the breakdown of the American family, and Cain killing Abel have to do with God’s fifth commandment of honoring thy father and mother?
Well, they’re closely tied together.
The commandment to honor thy father and mother is part of the foundation of human relationships. It’s how we grow and sustain life. It also teaches children to be grateful for all that their parents do for them. Parents provide protection, food and shelter, guidance and knowledge, among other things.
Don Wilton explains what is going on in our society in this way:
“We are living in a time when God is being humanized, genders are being neutralized, marriage is being ostracized and children are being victimized. The family is being trivialized, fathers are being demonized, mothers are being marginalized, roles are being disenfranchised and God’s order is being vandalized! Phew! As God ‘looked down’ on the children of Israel in the valley below, He certainly had all people of all nations and all generations in mind.”
As Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ — which is the first commandment with a promise — ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’”
“Enjoy long life on earth,” is what is promised when honoring one’s father and mother. And while this is not some kind of guarantee that you’ll live to be 100 years old, it is simply declaring that one’s relationship with their parents can be conducive to a healthy, enjoyable life.
And for those who don’t honor their father and mother — by choice, if they actually have the opportunity to do so — well, … it doesn’t come as a surprise when “poor family life” is attributed to those caught committing crimes or other acts of immorality or indecency.
The Sixth Commandment: You shall not murder.
This is perhaps one of the most widely held, generally accepted universal moralities in the world.
Obviously, not everyone agrees with this. There are certain jihadists in the world who believe in purging society of “evil” by killing those who don’t believe in what they do.
However, there is also a segment of murderers throughout the course of history who knew that murder was immoral but committed it anyway.
This kind of goes without saying, but our country’s problem with murder is clearly a problem for God.
As it pertains to 21st Century America, the gun violence in cities like Chicago is one of the most alarming statistics we face, and one that we need to curb immediately if we want to strive toward living as God intended us to live.
The Seventh Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.
So highly does God hold the sanctity of marriage, between one man and one woman, that not only does he consider sexual intimacy prior to marriage to be immoral, but he declares it abhorrent when a spouse seeks it outside of marriage as well.
It’s not just physical acts of intimacy outside of marriage that are an issue in God’s eyes. Indecent thoughts and feelings about another person who is not your spouse are considered sins as well.
In Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” to his disciples, he said:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.Matthew 5:27-30
Not only does Jesus say that a man commits adultery simply by lusting after another woman who is not his wife, but he also says it is better to gouge out one of your eyes if you happen to be using it to look longingly at another woman than it is to be guilty of adultery and have your whole body “thrown into hell.”
In modern day 21st Century America, pornography is a huge problem in marriages, causing trust issues and heartbreak. And even beyond that, there are actually websites out there, like Ashley Madison, that promote extramarital affairs.
It’s disturbing, and it’s a great source of anger for God to see his children breaking his seventh commandment so brazenly.
It’s no wonder the American divorce rate is high and that there is an epidemic of broken family values.
The Eighth Commandment: You shall not steal.
Stealing is another near-universal morality. Most functioning adults understand and accept that they don’t have rights to what somebody else owns — insert joke about socialism here.
A simple rule to live by: If it is not yours, do not take it.
And yet God knew the ways of the heart, he knew the desires and temptations of humans, so much so that he included not stealing as one of his Ten Commandments.
Beyond the most common forms of stealing — such as shoplifting, burglary, pickpocketing, embezzlement and looting — 21st Century America has a problem with piracy, fraud, and misuse of time as well.
With the advent of the Internet two decades ago, digital piracy has become a major problem. Internet users have gone crazy reproducing music, movies, and games for the purposes of selling them to other people to make money. This is obviously stealing because they’re selling creative works — made and owned by someone else — and stealing the profits for themselves that should be going to the content’s author.
Fraud is another form of stealing that is rampant in both government and the private sector. Identity theft — a form of fraud — is stealing one’s personal information to gain access to bank information and other property. Any form of manipulation, whether it be fudging numbers on paperwork or deliberately providing false information to save or acquire money, is considered fraud and is stealing.
Lastly, the misuse of time — specifically by employees who are on the clock at work — is a form of stealing. With so many social media websites out there, employees often spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter, which — unless they’re responsible for their company’s social media accounts — is probably not what their employer is paying them to do.
The Ninth Commandment: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
There are different interpretations of God’s ninth commandment, to not give false testimony against one’s neighbor.
Some interpret it to mean perjury — which is deliberately giving false testimony under oath or affirmation in a court of law.
The main problem with perjury, of course, is that if the testimony is believed to be true and is incapable of being disputed, then true justice cannot be administered. And because God is a just God, he demands that humans not deliberately try to subvert justice from one another.
The other interpretation, with which I agree, is that this commandment is referring to all forms of lying in general, or anything that detracts from truth.
“But what is truth?” you ask.
Funny you should say that. Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who presided over the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, asked that exact same question to Jesus, after Jesus said to him, “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37)
In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Simply put, God and truth are equal. God is truth, and anything that contradicts God is false.
Thus, any time someone lies — essentially preaching a “reality” that is contradictory to God — that person, in my belief, is breaking the ninth commandment.
The Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet.
The actual commandment references your neighbor, his house, his wife, his servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Seeing as how my neighbor doesn’t have a servant, and likewise has no ox or donkey — unless he’s hiding it in his garage — we can simply shorten and simplify this commandment to “you shall not covet.” And we drop the word “neighbor,” so as not to confuse. Because “neighbor” in this context does not mean the guy with the street address next to yours. It is referring to anyone living among you.
Coveting is desiring, wishing or longing for something you don’t have. Coveting is wrong for many reasons.
First, it’s a selfish desire, which God despises. He wants us to be generous beings. Givers, not hoarders.
Second, coveting your neighbor’s possessions is a springboard to other sinful action. For instance, if you covet your neighbor’s wife then you are breaking the seventh commandment of “thou shalt not commit adultery.” If you covet a piece of his property, you might be enticed to break the eighth commandment and steal.
Third, there is a correlation between coveting and idolatry. Colossians 3:5 says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” As discussed in the Second Commandment section, idolatry is putting anything before God, and if we are so consumed with the material possessions of our neighbors, it means we’re not consumed with God.
God will provide as God seeks fit. As Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
And lastly, as we covet things, we lose sight of all the blessings that God has given us and we have no shot at contentment.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.1 Timothy 6:6-10
In 21st Century America, we live in a society where everybody is trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” Everything is a status symbol. Businesses are marketing to us, declaring that we “need” the latest smartphones. We “must have” the latest, sleek automobile. It is “trendy” to stroll in to work with a $5 cup of foo-foo coffee.
If our neighbor has it, we want it. And it is causing much financial and emotional stress in the process.
The Greatest Commandment: Love God and love your neighbor.
All of God’s commandments are good and just and each is important to obey as we go about our daily lives.
But what is the greatest commandment?
According to Jesus, it’s love God first and love your neighbor second.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”Matthew 22:36-40
If there was any commandment that 21st Century America seemingly breaks on a consistent basis, it’s God’s greatest commandment … both parts of it.
For starters, we neglect God often. And I can say that with certainty, because I don’t think that anybody who truly has Jesus in his heart in the moment would treat others the way we do, with such rudeness and contempt, so often.
Be advised: I did not just say that all followers of Jesus are exempt from treating their neighbors harshly. What I said was, if you truly love and believe in Jesus, and he is in your heart in a moment when you’re with your neighbor, that love is going to seep out in positive ways.
But because Jesus, as well as God the Father, are often neglected by even the staunchest of believers, we let down that shield of love — if only temporarily — and wind up failing to love our neighbor the way Jesus said we should.
In our bitterly divided, increasingly partisan country, things are said to each other that would seriously make Jesus weep. We are so disconnected at times and I think it has everything to do with breaking God’s greatest commandment.
God’s laws are timeless.
No, we no longer sacrifice animals as a “sin offering.” Those were ceremonial laws nullified when Jesus became the sacrificial lamb.
No, we no longer perform acts of ritual purity and cleanliness or stone a bull and put to death its owner. Those were civil laws of the day, similar to how America has its own civil laws today.
But as far as moral laws, such as the ones handed down in the Ten Commandments, those are timeless and unchanging. As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:5 (referenced earlier): “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
Those moral laws were true in the Old Testament just as they are in the New Testament just as they are in 21st Century America.
We as Americans are so very guilty of breaking God’s Ten Commandments even to this day. The world is mired in sin and self-destruction and we needn’t blame anyone but ourselves.
I truly believe that the best way to find peace and prosperity in 21st Century America is to free ourselves from our selfish desires and reverse the trend found in that 2015 Gallup poll that showed Christianity on the decline.
For if we are obedient to God and we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we will find the fulfillment and contentment that we are seemingly seeking with every selfish act we commit.
According to Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”