• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Rule #7 for Rightly Understanding the Ten Commandments

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. Romans 15:2NKJV


Question 99 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "What rules are to be observed for the right understanding of the Ten Commandments?" In its answer the Catechism gives eight rules. Here is the seventh one: "For the right understanding of the Ten Commandments, these rules are to be observed: 7. That what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places." Last week we looked at our duty to avoid the occasion of sin. This week we notice how the commandments require us to consider the obedience of others.

"No man is an island…" so wrote the Protestant minister John Donne in the early 17th century.  Pastor Donne was especially thinking of death and the sober reality of the fact of death for each human being. Thus, he continued his devotion with the more famous saying, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." Because of the way God has made man, every person has a vested interest in the lives of those around him. Accordingly, the answer to Cain's question from Genesis 4 is yes, we are, to a degree, responsible for the well-being of our brothers and sisters.

This responsibility is seen most clearly in the family. According to Scripture, husbands are responsible to provide for their wives (1 Tim. 5:8), parents are responsible to discipline their children (Eph. 6:1), and children are responsible to care for their parents (Matt. 15:1-9). Beyond the family, a particular Church is responsible to care for its poor and needy (Acts 4:34-35), but only when there are no family members to do it (1 Tim. 5:16), and the poor are not being sinfully lazy (2 Thess. 3:10). Likewise, beyond the particular Church, the Church universal is responsible to relieve the needs of other Christians (Acts 11:29-30). Beyond that, every Christian is required to "do good to all" (Gal. 6:10). Once again the responsibility to do good falls upon those who are closest to the person in need. Thus, in the parable of The Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that the person closest to the man in need is the one required to love him.

In today's Catechism question, as in the verse cited from Galatians, the doing good refers primarily to one's spiritual good. That is, in my obedience to the Ten Commandments, I should keep in mind my neighbor's duty to obey God. So, for example, I am required to take care of my yard in being a good steward of the property God has given me. However, I should not consider my duty to have been properly fulfilled by shooting my grass clippings onto my neighbor's property! My obedience cannot burden my neighbor's obedience, for this would not be to love but to hate my neighbor. Therefore, to take another example, I am required to protect my life and the lives of others by the sixth commandment. However, if I park my car in such a way that though my safety is maximized my neighbor is now more at risk, I have not kept but I have broken the sixth commandment.

Finally, we notice in our Catechism question this morning, that our duty to care for our neighbor's righteousness is according to our or their "places." That means that my duties may be different depending upon the specifics of the situation. We have already noticed our duties are more or less depending upon family relationships, church affiliation, and locality, but "places" also includes things like position, age, culture, and maturity. Thus, for the sake of the good of ourselves and others, certain behavior and forms of speech are appropriate in private though not in public and vice versa. We have formal and informal language and gestures, and these things should ultimately be done for the purpose of encouraging obedience to God in ourselves and in others. Especially when members of the opposite sex get too informal with one another, temptation is not properly guarded against. Similarly, adults ought not to talk about certain things in the presence of children, again to guard them against sin and aid them in their obedience. There are many other ways in which we can and must love one another in our obedience to God. Take some time today to ask God to truly give you a love for your neighbor that would seek to encourage his obedience!

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

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