• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

The Code of Ethics for the Human Race

On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22:40NKJ


Question 98 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?"  It gives the answer, "The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments, which were delivered by the voice of God upon Mount Sinai, and written by him in two tables of stone; and are recorded in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. The four first commandments containing our duty to God, and the other six our duty to man." Last week we saw how God's law is the rule of obedience for all converted people. This week we consider the Biblical summary of God's moral law, the Ten Commandments.

Many organizations and occupations have a code of ethics. You can read the code of ethics for journalists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and many others. Likewise, most public playgrounds, parks, swimming pools, libraries, movie theaters, etc. have a posted list of rules that constitute and define acceptable and unacceptable behavior at those facilities. However, there is one code of ethics that comes before and judges all these others. That code is the Ten Commandments, the summary of God's entire moral law. God's moral law is the only foundation for right and wrong, good and evil. Everything God's law commands is good and right, and everything God's law forbids is bad and evil. Further, if God's law does not speak to an issue, then by definition that issue cannot be a moral one. Thus, whether my wife makes spaghetti or beef noodles tonight for supper has nothing to do with what is good or bad, even though my children may disagree (two of them do not like spaghetti). The law of God does not consider our likes and dislikes or what we may think is good or bad, the moral law of God determines and defines all that is good and all that is bad. There is no good or bad, now and forever, that is not commanded or forbidden in the moral law of God, the summary of which is the Ten Commandments.

Why do I labor this point? Because, we need to understand the Ten Commandments the way Jesus taught them: that they speak to all moral issues. Thus, Jesus declared being angry with your brother without just cause is committing murder, breaking the sixth commandment; and lusting after a woman in your heart is committing adultery, breaking the seventh commandment. The Ten Commandments speak to all moral issues, some directly and some by way of implication. They address not just the action, but the heart and mind. It is crucial for us to maintain this understanding so that we do not allow our sinful desires to teach us to play the hypocrite, in order to get out from under God's law so that we can do evil and feel good about it. We must recognize and be convinced of the fact that God gave His Ten Commandments to us to speak to every possible moral issue. Otherwise we will not be able to guard our hearts against sin, for it is by the law of God that the Holy Spirit brings us to conviction and ultimately to repentance throughout our lives.

Even without Jesus' explicit application of the law of God to our hearts and our intentions, common sense teaches us that the Ten Commandments must be a summary of all good and evil behavior, for how could even God give a comprehensive list prohibiting every possible evil and commanding every possible good? What would Israel have done with laws addressing identity theft, downloading or using software without paying for it, running red lights, or jaywalking? A man wishing to justify himself can always find some qualification or circumstance by which he can claim that God's law doesn't apply in this situation. Where is it forbidden for me to claim my golfing trip as a business expense? Thus, God's law does speak to all of these issues, and any new ones in the future, for it establishes all-encompassing principles that underlie every thought, word, and deed now and forever. The Ten Commandments are a summary of the whole moral law of God, even as they are further summarized by Jesus into two commandments: love God and love your neighbor.  When you are loving God you cannot commit idolatry, take His name in vain, break His Sabbath, etc., and when you are loving your neighbor you will not murder, commit adultery with, steal from, covet, or lie to him, etc. May God grant us to rightly judge ourselves by His perfect law, for His glory and for our good!

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