The Ladder of the Ten

13 min read

This article will discover another valuable benefit to the Christian walk in the Ten Commandments. We will begin in Ephesians 6, where the Apostle Paul uses one of the Commandments to offer direction to children (or young people) about the importance of honoring their parents. In addition to the 5th Commandment, we find insight, a unique side-note, which our modern translations give in parentheses.

Honor your father and mother (which is the first Commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. “(Ephesians 6:2-3).

Paul explains this Commandment contains a promise. When you read the 5th Commandment, did you catch there was a promise therein? Or did you consider it a benefit of obeying the commandment? When you think about the Ten Commandments, the term  promise does not readily come to mind. We relate them are more to do with do’s and don’t s than promises.

Yet it is written very plainly in Ephesians 6. Not a reward, mind you, a promise. The very thought of a promise being part of the 5th Commandment raises questions. Why would God connect a promise to this Commandment, and why in the middle of the list of commandments?

God doesn’t do anything without a purpose. So its placement in the middle of the list must have a reason. Maybe, if we investigate the reason, we may discover the purpose. Perhaps a purpose would be better than the purpose. The Ten Commandments are profound in meaning, and anyone who glosses over them as a list of do’s and don’ts from a bye-gone era have forgotten the words of our Lord,

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Mathew 5:18).

So it must be we are not grasping the importance of the placement and the promise itself from the proper perspective. Perhaps it’s time we take another look at the Commandments. Not close up as we often do when dissecting words in a parable, or researching the root meaning of a term from the original Greek or Hebrew, hoping to discover some hidden meaning.

This time, it will be more beneficial for us to back up and consider the entire list of Commandments. As though we are using a wide-angle lens to see the list as a whole. Then see if we can glean a lesson contained from this perspective. This article is not a comprehensive dissertation on the Ten Commandments. I have written about them in-depth in another book. No, we will zero in on the 5th Commandment, but we will find how the placement and promise fit into the entire list by backing up and taking an overall view.

We find a promise attached to the commandment in the middle of the list of commandments. The other nine commandments have no promises attached to them. So the promise must be critical in our search. Promises are positive in intent, making them upward in trajectory, not downward. We look forward and upward when obtaining a promise.

On the other hand, warnings have a downward trajectory. Promises should be strived for while we are to head warnings and avoid the listed consequences. We reach up for a promise; we don’t grab it on the way down. In short, we need to look at the commandments from a different angle, from a different perspective. Instead of top-down, maybe we should be looking at the Ten Commandments from the bottom up.

When we read most anything, we read from page one onward. When we read a list, we begin at one and proceed down the list. So, naturally, we read the Commandments from one and continue to ten. They are written that way in the Bible. So there is nothing wrong with our logic here, but we must be careful not to allow ourselves to rank their importance based on the order issued. We should keep all of the Commandments, but what of the order?

It’s an interesting question. Have you ever considered keeping the Ten Commandments in a particular order? They are in a specific order. Hold on to that thought as we continue.

I am not talking about which Commandment is the most important, for, beyond any question, the 1st Commandment is paramount. But just because we have designated the first one as the most important does not mean the other nine are of lesser importance. You cannot comply with the 1ts Commandment if you violate the other nine. It’s all or none. Hence the phrase ‘the whole law.’ There is ample proof of the unity of the Ten Commandments in both the Old and New Testaments. Here is but one example:

For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14).

Let me pause on our current subject briefly to express that this discussion on the Ten Commandments is not about salvation. The Bible teaches no one can obtain salvation by keeping the law (namely salvation by good works). The Jews have made this mistake for centuries. The Apostles saw the trend towards salvation by works in the early Church, and some denominations today have slipped into this same error.

Salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ, and by our admission, we cannot save ourselves; it is the gift of God. The targeted audience for this article is Christians. Once a Christian, we should willingly and wan-tingly wish to build our relationship with our Lord, and one of the best ways to do this is to use the Ten Commandments as a guide, keeping us on track. We all want to keep the 1st Commandment, and rightfully so, but we often fail. Why?

Is it because we don’t love God enough? Is it because we don’t put God first enough? Or perhaps we fail to reach this goal because we are not using the clues and tools at our disposal.

Returning to a statement, I made earlier, maybe we should be looking at the Ten Commandments from the bottom up instead of top-down. Or, to put it another way, instead of focusing all of our effort on the 1st Commandment, thinking that everything will fall in place if we succeed, let’s begin with number ten. “You shall not covet.”

What is coveting? Webster defines it as; “to wish for earnestly” or “to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably.” One definition in a good sense, the other in a bad sense. The context of the 10th Commandment is a warning not to covet (in a bad sense). The tenth Commandment is particular and very detailed. In summary, you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. More specifically, you shall not covet anything that is not yours.

The 1st Commandment is more important than the 10th, in one respect, but as already pointed out, they are all essential and required to keep the whole law of God. We must not allow the predetermination of the importance of the 1st Commandment to diminish the significance of any of the other nine, specifically the tenth. To illustrate the importance of the tenth, let’s return to Genesis, the Garden of Eden, and Eve.

What was, and more specifically, what led to Eve’s sin? Be more precise in your thoughts than thinking; she disobeyed God. Looking through the lens of the Ten Commandments, which law did she break? Which rule did the serpent challenge Eve to violate? It wasn’t what would later be known as the 1st Commandment. Nor the second. So what was it that led to Eve’s downfall?

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6).

She coveted what was not hers. She broke what would later be known as the 10th Commandment. The one at the bottom of the list. If you take a few minutes and recall your failures as a Christian, which Commandment did you violate the most frequently? Violation of the last Commandment leads to a breach of the other commandments. Many violations of the laws of theft, murder, adultery, and lying find their origin in coveting something that is not theirs.

People steal because they see something they want. They covet first, then steal what they craved. The committing of adultery begins by desiring another’s wife or husband. Some murder to obtain something they couldn’t otherwise have. The 10th Commandment seems to be humanity’s weak point, our Achilles heel. Shouldn’t we pay more attention to this weakness?

If we can master this one, the commandments preceding this one should be easier to keep. If we don’t covet, we are less likely to:

9th. Lie

8th. Steal

7th. Commit adultery

6th. Murder

Some of these laws are broken because of evil intent or in a moment of rage. And there are exceptions to every rule. Imagine how much easier it will be to comply with commandments six through nine. If we change our perspective and adjust our thinking, we can see the Ten Commandments as a ladder—the ladder of the ten. We can now begin to understand the reason for the promise given in the 5th Commandment. 

Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2-3).

If we climb the ladder and reach the 5th Commandment, we see its placement makes more sense. By conquering the tenth, you’ve equipped yourself to keep 6 through 9. God wants us to succeed. That’s why He gives us insight into how to do well in our walk with Him. He provides the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us complete the task. The Apostle Paul draws attention to the 10th Commandment in his epistle to the Romans:

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the law, for I would not have known about coveting if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7). 

Interestingly, the Apostle chose this Commandment to make his point.

In fact, the Apostle Paul mentions covetousness eleven times in nine epistles yet only mentions murder three times. Paul was aware that coveting is the most common entry point to most failures in the Christian walk. May we master the ladder’s first rung -You shall not covet. After finding success, let us continue upward after advancing to the fifth rung of the ladder and obtaining our first promise.

When we reach the fourth and are instructed to rest, which is a blessing in its own right, God rested on the seventh day (the Sabbath), and we are to rest in honor of Him. Then we move up to the third -not taking the Lord’s name in vain and we stop briefly at the second to link it to the tenth. “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” (Exodus 20:4).

There is an intriguing link between commandments ten and two. How so? If you act on covetous desires, ignoring the law of God, you have set yourself up as an idol. And by doing so, you violate God’s first and most important law, “You shall have no other gods be fore Me.” Active violation of God’s law means you have become your own god. Do you see how quickly this escalates?

We focus so much effort on keeping the 1st Commandment and continually fail in the other areas of our Christian walk because we have ignored the 10th. Without the rungs of support beneath us, we fall. If we climb up, we find support, spiritual support. Of a truth, the keeping of God’s whole law is through God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But His word gives us plenty of instruction on how to overcome. 

 How often do we fail to keep God’s law and not understand why? Maybe we are overlooking the first step to success.

While composing this article, I remembered something I saw in secular management. Some consumers feel compelled to speak to the manager, even when it is unnecessary. Some thought they were important enough that attention from management was due. The point here is that we often want to go right to the top in our spiritual life. Right to the manager and avoid due diligence.

How arrogant is this in our thinking? You see, the 10th Commandment reveals what’s in our hearts? You covet from within ourselves. You may not steal, lie, murder, or commit adultery as any moral person would. But these are outward compliances with the law of God. Coveting is not an external act; it’s an internal violation and the impetus to outward action.

Our Lord pointed this out in Mathew 5:26-27, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

If we want to succeed in the 1st Commandment, we must begin with the tenth. God knows us by what’s in our hearts. When He looks in our hearts, does He find coveting? Are we guilty of the outward keeping of the law yet allowing the sin of coveting to reside within our hearts? God wants us to succeed. God wants us to walk close with Him.

I pray this new look at an old law will give us the increased ability and further success in keeping God’s law. Don’t be so proud as to be unwilling to start at the bottom and work your way up. If we can conquer the 10th Commandment, we will find triumph in our desire to make God number one in our lives.

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