Jen Wilkin: Why the Ten Commandments Matter
About the Guest
Could restoring your alignment with God’s law be life-giving all over again? Author Jen Wilkin digs into the wisdom of the ten commandments.
Jen Wilkin: Why the Ten Commandments Matter
Dave: Okay, I’m not going to put you on the spot—but if you had to recite The Ten Commandments right here/right now, could you do it?—not word for word but would you get them right?
Ann: I think I’d come close. I know that you could, because you’ve preached on them a lot. Let’s hear it.
Dave: No, I’m not going to do it. [Laughter]
Jen: Ohh. [Laughter]
Ann: Ohh! You’re putting me on the spot! [Laughter]
Dave: I’m not going to do it.
I was reading this book, recently, that quoted about The Ten Commandments, and quoted that Americans were asked this; and they could name the ingredients of a Big Mac® better than they could remember The Ten Commandments.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I could not do a Big Mac. I have no idea besides two—
Ann: You have to remember the song.
Dave: —two special patties.
Jen: Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese—
Ann and Jen: —[singing] pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.
Dave: There you go; you got it.
By the way, that was Jen Wilkin over there; she’s in the studio at FamilyLife.
Ann: She’s making her debut as a singer.
Dave: You wrote a book on The Ten Commandments, but you actually know the ingredients of a Big Mac too.
Jen: I do; I actually know The Ten Commandments, too; but it’s because I learned some really great hand signals.
Jen: Too bad it’s a radio program, because I can’t show them to you.
Dave: What? We’ve talked about one, two, three and four.
Ann: Jen Wilkin is back, talking about her book, Ten Words to Live By. The subtitle is Delighting in and Doing What God Commands.
Dave: You just had to get that in there.
Ann: I wanted to because people are going to want to buy this book.
Dave: “Honor your father and mother [Exodus 20:12].” Obviously, we’re a mom and dad; so we’re like, “Yes, we love that one.” But what does that really, really mean?
Jen: Yes, most of us have thrown this one out to small children when things are not going well. I have this distinct memory of my mother saying, “Now you’re going to want to honor me if you want to live a long time. Do you want to live a long time?”—because there is a promise attached to it—it says, “That your days may be long upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you [Exodus 20:12].” I crack up when I remember that.
Actually, Carmen Joy Imes has pointed this out so beautifully in her book on The Ten Commandments. First of all, it’s important for us to remember that The Ten Commandments are not actually given to an audience of children; they are given to an audience of adults. When we think about honoring our father and our mother, we should think: “As an adult child, how do I show honor to my father and mother?”
But what Carmen points out is “…your days being long upon the land,” is a promise to the community, not to the individual. It’s saying: “If you show honor to your elders, then God will bless the community for as many years as you are in the land.” I love that so much.
Ann: Jen, why did God include that? Why is that so important to Him do you think?
Jen: I think you can see, even in our culture, that we honor youth;—
Dave: We sure do.
Jen: —we worship it. Not all cultures have, but ours certainly does. I think everyone has a tendency to see people’s value in terms of contribution. The older that we get, our contributions become less about producing tangible things and more about giving wisdom to those who are doing the producing. In a culture like ours, you become increasingly invisible the older that you get.
What’s being talked about here is—in terms of your actual family, making sure that those, who are older, receive the care and the dignity that they deserve as they age/that we listen to the things that they know and have learned—but the Puritans would say that this extends beyond our understanding of just our immediate family to anyone, who is in authority over us, either by virtue of wisdom, or age, or their position.
I’ve always loved this because there are so many people, who have a hard time picking a Mother’s Day card or a Father’s Day card; because they have a difficult story with a parent. What the fifth command is telling us is that we should be at no loss to be able to honor fathers and mothers; they may be spiritual fathers and mothers.
You can feel The Ten Commandments are now shifting—we’ve had that we are to show honor to God—and now, we are seeing: “Show honor to earthly authorities over us”; then, they will pivot from there and say: “Now, here’s how you can love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Dave: You know, there’s a history here, with FamilyLife—the founder and president, Dennis Rainey, wrote a book on this commandment—all he was saying was exactly what you said, Jen. I don’t know if you ever heard about this; but he said one of the ways you can do that is write a tribute to you mom, or your dad, or both.
Often, it was written by us adult children to a parent, [whom] we didn’t honor/[whom] we hadn’t forgiven. I remember writing one to my mom. It was the greatest gift I’ve ever given—forget the Mother’s Day cards and the flowers—that meant so much for her son to honor her.
Ann: I know that when my—
Dave: It changed our relationship because of me choosing to obey that commandment.
Ann: When my parents had their 60th wedding anniversary, I asked all my siblings to write a tribute, basically. I put a scrapbook together; and I said, “Just tell Mom, and then separately, tell Dad the things that you have loved and the ways that they have impacted you.”
I’m telling you [emotion in voice]: I can still—my parents are gone now; they just passed away, both of them, in the past few years; they’d been married 70 years—but I can still picture them, sitting on the couch, opening this book and crying. They read it out loud—all their grandkids/some of the great grandkids were around them—to see the joy that that brought them. There’s something so beautiful about legacy, too—for all the grandkids/12 grandsons, and even the great grandkids, who were, then, super little—but it was so beautiful to watch that. I thought: “This is right; this is good,” and “It feels like it honors God as we honor them.”
Jen: Oh, absolutely; absolutely.
Dave: Okay, I thought we were only going to get two today. We’re going to get, at least, three.
Jen: Okay; okay.
Dave: The next one: “Do not murder.” We think it’s just—well, you explain it; because you explained it so well—you called it: “Honor life.”
Jen: That’s right. All of The Ten Commandments are dealing with some aspect of honor. When we come to the one on “Do not murder,” that’s where a lot of us are like, “Oh, thank goodness I finally hit one—
Jen: —"I definitely have not done that”; right? That’s when you really don’t want to go to the New Testament and read Jesus’ word in The Sermon on the Mount, because He links this particular command to sinful anger and contempt. There’s a terrible progression that He points out when He talks about calling your brother a fool or saying “raca [Matthew 5:22].” That’s an incremental increase in your contempt for someone, the way He plays it out.
The point that He’s making is—basically, at that moment, He is surrounded by some listeners, who pride themselves on not having broken this command—and He is saying, not that it is equally bad to be angry with someone as it is to murder someone, but: “Do you know how you avoid having murder at all? By not letting your anger devolve into sin and into contempt.”
Because the second that you are able to say “raca,”—which is the equivalent of saying someone is worthless—the second that you devalued someone, you are on a path to being able to say, “Since you’re worthless, what will it matter if I take your life?” When we understand murder as the end result of contempt, and that contempt is the baby of anger that goes uncontrolled—now, anger is not a sin, in and of itself; it’s a negative emotion—but we all know, within a nano-second, we can take it to a sinful place.
He’s basically warning them: “If you’re not aware of how murder happens in the first place, then don’t consider yourself above the Law; you’re breaking the Law. You’re breaking the Law, in your heart, before your hands actually pick up a knife and stab someone.”
Dave: It’s interesting: you even mention that we are called to be our brother’s keeper; explain that.
Jen: This is the chilling part about the command, “Not to murder,” is that you have the whole story in Genesis 3, where the serpent shows up, and Adam and Eve sin. They are told now: “Instead of being co-laborers, you’re going to be competitors with one another.”
Then the very next story that we see is a story about murder; that within the first generation that follows Adam and Eve, we hear come true the promise that the serpent said will not be. The serpent said, “You will not surely die [Genesis 3:4].” Yet surely, surely, surely, we see death play out in the story of humankind immediately—and in the first two offspring of Adam and Eve—we see Cain take Abel’s life.
He asks this terrible, piercing question that should hover with us for the rest of the Bible: “Am I my brother’s keeper? [Genesis 4:9]” which is answered [emotion in voice], at the cross in Christ, with a resounding, “Yes!” He sees Himself as our keeper. Hebrews says that the blood of Christ “…speaks a better word than the blood of Abel
[Hebrews 12:24].” The blood of Abel cried out for justice, and the blood of Christ calls out for mercy and grace.
When we read the sixth commandment, we should ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and not be content to answer the question with: “Oh, yes; so I should not kill him.” We should answer it with: “How might I be a means of life for him? How might I assist him in his flourishing; how might I draw him into a better and more beautiful way of living?” It’s not simply that we don’t kill; it’s that we’ve become preservers and protectors of life.
Dave: I love how you write: “This doesn’t mean that we merely refrain from taking life but run toward it, giving life: life protectors, esteem givers, peace makers.” When I read that in the book—because you write it so beautifully—I thought: “That’s Jesus—
Jen: It is.
Dave: —"He ran to the cross; He was not dragged to the cross—He ran because it’s our life.”
Jen: That’s right.
Dave: Okay, we got to go to this one—this is a big one—we’re a marriage and family show. [Laughter] Whether we were or not, we still need to talk about commandment number seven—many people want to skip over it—but it’s “Do not commit adultery.”
Jen: Yes, that’s right. Again, Jesus is helpful to us here. We don’t have to wonder about the implications of this command. We’ve said, already, that the order of the commands is important. “[Do not] commit adultery” comes after “[Do not] commit murder,” and this is because both adultery and murder are expressions of contempt.
People tend to mischaracterize the sin of adultery as: “They had a romantic entanglement and, then, ended up having an affair.” But what adultery is: is to adulterate something that was pure. We only adulterate something that is pure if we hold it in contempt. If I look at your marriage, and decide that I’m going to adulterate it, it is because I hold your marriage in contempt—or if I do that to my own marriage—it is because I hold my marriage in contempt.
I would also just note that, when Jesus addresses adultery, He’s almost always, it always seems like, addressing husbands. That’s because obviously, in the time in which He was speaking, the husbands held a great deal more power when it came to the way that a marriage was going to play out than women did. For a husband to hold a wife in contempt had a far greater damaging societal impact than it did if a wife were to hold a husband in contempt.
They are sobering words. It is bad for the community when marriages don’t stay healthy—it is bad for the community—it’s not just bad for the family. It’s bad for everyone that is around the family, as well, because responsibilities have to be shifted around in the community to care for a family unit that doesn’t function the way that it was before it was adulterated.
But as Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, adultery doesn’t start with adultery; adultery starts with lust. We live in a lust-saturated culture. Whereas the sixth command says that you cannot eliminate your neighbor, the seventh command says you cannot consume your neighbor; your neighbor is not consumable. Don’t ever think that someone, who is committing adultery, is expressing love toward that person. Adultery is an act of contempt; it’s an act of contempt toward the person, and it’s an act of contempt toward the community as a whole.
Ann: Wow! It’s not often you think of it like that.
Dave: I was going to say, a man—I’ll just speak for men, who are struggling with lust/sexual lust—because lust, epithumia, is strong desire; it’s not naturally bad—but if you take that desire in the wrong way, most men/almost all men would say, “I feel no contempt toward my wife or toward my marriage”; but you’re saying, at the heart of that, the Ten Commandments are getting at: “This is deeper than you think”; right?
Jen: That’s what Jesus says; right? He says that “…looks at a woman”—what He’s communicating is a desire to take her.
If you think about—really, even the story of King [Saul]—what did Samuel say? “You don’t want a king over you; because you know what he will do?—he will take; he will take; he will take; he will take.” We see Saul take, and take, and take, and take. Then even David, who takes Bathsheba from Uriah; he acquires her. Those are contemptuous acts—those are acts, where you are saying—“This is mine,” “This is mine,” “This is mine,” “This is mine.”
Lust is, like everything else, it’s something, in its immediate form, it’s not necessarily a sinful thing; but when it is something that you meditate on—when you allow it to have a foothold—that’s when it, immediately, becomes about self-gratification. It’s about self-gratification; it’s about the consuming of another person for my own desires.
Dave: I was just thinking about the guy listening/the husband, who we often go, “Oh, I’m good with number seven—I’ve never done that—I’m never going to do that.” But if you’re playing with temptation, in whatever area—whether it’s pornography, or visual, or some woman you are just—I would just say, “Heed Jesus’ words. Be very, very careful. Playing with temptation leads to devastation. It’s like you’re on a path; it will take you there.”
Ann: Dave, this is true for women, as well; for sure, it’s for women.
Dave: I can only talk about guys; I don’t know about women. [Laughter]
Ann: Absolutely, it’s true for women too.
Dave: You know what? Let’s try it really quick—[Laughter]—I don’t know if it’s possible—but “Do not steal,” “Do not bear false witness,” and “Do not covet,”—is there any way you can sort of massage those three in the next three or four minutes?
Jen: Yes, they’re all about showing honor to other people’s stuff, showing honor to other people’s reputation, and showing honor to personhood. The last one—“You shall not covet,”—it’s like, if you’ve been like, “Okay, I’m fine; I haven’t done those things with my hands”; and the last one is: “Oh, it’s actually, not just your hands, it’s you underlying motive for all these other things”; right.
Ann: I know.
Jen: You can think about how covetousness shapes all of the other ones in the list. I think the first one and the last one are pointing toward all the others in so many ways.
But in the New Testament you hear the admonition to “outdo one another in showing honor.” If we did that, we would be obeying all of the Ten Commandments.
Ann: And wouldn’t the people be flocking to our churches as we demonstrate that in our lives?
Jen: That’s exactly it; isn’t it? If you want a compelling witness in the world today, obey; obey the Lord.
Jen: The things that He has said are good, that are for His glory and for your good, do those things; and you’ll look like Christ. If the church did that, we might actually be a city on a hill.
Dave: Last thought from you would be: “So when I fail/I don’t measure up to the Law of God,—
Ann: —"and I’m close to giving up; because I continue to fail.”
Dave: —what would you say to that person?
Jen: First, remember that, when God saves us, He does so with all knowledge of every sin that we will ever commit. Though your latest failure is news to you, it is not news to Him. Your sin is the product of a finite person. You only have, as Psalm 90 tells us, 70 or 80 years to work in as many sins as you can—[Laughter]—or as much obedience as you can. But you will only sin so much. Grace originates in the heart of God and is infinite, so you will not reach the end of it. You will not surprise Him, any time during your lifetime, with another sin.
On the other hand, I would say, “Pay attention to the sins that you keep committing, because you will not turn from a sin that you do not hate. You probably are still doing that same thing, because it still feels more natural to you than righteousness; and you don’t yet recognize just how dangerous it is.” Ask the Lord to help you hate that sin.
Then, give any sin that you commit, with less frequency than you used to, or that you have stopped committing altogether—that’s sanctification; right?—is an increasing time between committing the same sin and a decreasing time between the sin and the repentance. That’s so often how sanctification plays out. But the reason that you’re turning from that sin—and perhaps, haven’t from this one you’ve committed again—is because you understand clearly just how bad that sin is for you; this one, you may just not be there yet.
Ask the Lord to help you to measure the impact of that sin, not just on you, but on those around you, and on your relationship with the Lord. Then ask Him, “Lord, I’m going to say it again: ‘Keep creating in me a clean heart; keep renewing a right spirit in me”; and He will.
Ann: You took a deep dive into this. I think, anytime, we go really deep in God’s Word, it changes us; we may discover, as we see things. “How has this changed you?”
Jen: I think we all either tend to be good rule-followers or good rule-breakers. We’re either the legalist or the licentious person, left to our own devices. For me, I’m the “Oh, I can do it.” I’d be the person that’s still standing after Dave says the ten; [Laughter]
I would. I’d be that guy, in the New Testament, who’s like, “All these things I have done. What else must I do?” That would totally be me, and Jesus would tell me the parable of the Good Samaritan and just crush me like a bug.
I think that’s what the Ten Commandments do—they crush us in the best way—because Christ is the embodiment of the Law and He’s the stone that we either fall over or that we’re crushed by. We want it to be a stumbling stone for us/we want it to make us fall, again, before Him and cry out for mercy. That’s the ongoing process of the Christian life, and that’s what I need. I need the Law to get bigger, and bigger, and bigger so that I can know, as the disciples say at one point, “Who then is equal to these things?”
Ann: Is that what you would hope for our listeners/for those that read your book?
Jen: Yes, yes; and that we would say, “No one/no one is. No one can do these things, apart from the Lord”; to which Jesus responds, “Ask, seek and knock.” Suddenly, we’re not asking for a new car, or a better job; or we’re not seeking for which house to live in or what town to move to. Instead, we’re asking that the Lord grant us steadfastness, and courage, and repentance, and kindness, and generosity, and that He would grow character in us.
I think that is my prayer for anyone, who spends time with the Law, that is written on our hearts, meditating on it day and night—would be—rather than be carvers of graven images, we would ask the Lord to carve us into the image of Christ by His Word, which is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Jen Wilkin on FamilyLife Today. Stay with us; Dave has a suggestion for your family, coming up—and he might be kidding, or he might be serious—you decide; that’s in just a second.
But first, I have the president of FamilyLife with me here, David Robbins. David, you’ve been encouraged by some of the feedback we’ve been getting lately.
David: You know, often, at the end of these episodes, we ask you that: “If this helped you, to leave a comment—to go to your favorite podcast app—because those comments help another person know that: “Okay, this is something I want to check out”; and exposes more people to God’s Word and God’s truth.
As we’ve talked about God’s Word today, I love all the things that we do at FamilyLife: from our conferences to our content team’s contributions, to the podcasts and radio programs you hear. One of the more recent comments we’ve had left was a young mom, who told us this: “I have read a few Bible plans by FamilyLife and the YouVersion Bible app,”—by the way, if you didn’t know those were available, our team consistently puts out amazing Bible plans to help you grow with your family through the YouVersion Bible app. Okay, continuing the quote here—“Their content stood out to me, so I was thrilled to find this podcast and their other resources.” She continues: “I’m a mom with elementary-aged kids, and these episodes give me so much encouragement, as well as practical biblical advice for my life, marriage, and kids. Thank you, FamilyLife.”
Thank you, for those of you, who engage with us and tell us what’s helpful, tell us what you want to hear and what you want to keep growing in; it is such a great privilege to us to help you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Shelby: Yes, it really encourages me to know that this is the kind of feedback we’re getting when it comes to the things we’re working on. And that’s one of the reasons why I love being with FamilyLife. We authentically believe that following God’s Word and God’s ways advance the gospel.
When you partner with us, you’re literally helping to advance the gospel as well. So would you consider partnering with us, at FamilyLife, to see the gospel move out into this world and revive marriages and families everywhere? When you do, we’d love to send you a copy of Jen Wilkin’s book, called Ten Words to Live By. It’s our way of saying, “Thank you,” to you when you partner, financially, today with us. You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; here’s Dave with a suggestion for your family—maybe, he’s being serious—but maybe, he’s not; you tell me.
Dave: So often, husbands/wives, mom/dads will say: “I want to have a great family,” “I want to have a great marriage.” Listening to you the last couple of days, I thought, “You know what you should do? Take the Ten Commandments: post them up on your kitchen wall,”—[Laughter] —which, again, we laugh; because it’s like: “I don’t want those there; it’s going to be a burden.” But if we delighted in doing what God commands—that’s your subtitle—the relationships that matter most, which are in our home, would be literally transformed, if we just allowed God’s power to enable us to live that out. Marriage would be better; family would be better; honor would look/it would just—
Ann: Our walk with God would be better.
Dave: —be beautiful. It’s why God gave it to us. It isn’t to be burdensome; it’s to set us free to live the life that He wants us to flourish in.
Shelby: You know,porn can be a weakness for a lot of people; it can lead to a lot of damage. Tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, John Foubert joins Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about what some are calling “a porn epidemic.” That’s coming up tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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