by Rev. Stephen Preus
Martin Luther remarks regarding the First Commandment: “[W]here the heart is rightly set toward God and this commandment is observed, all the other commandments follow.”  Thus, when it comes to knowing the Ten Commandments rightly, one must know the First above all. Again, Luther:
“So the First Commandment is to shine and give its splendor to all the others. Therefore, you must let this declaration run through all the commandments. It is like a hoop in a wreath, joining the end to the beginning and holding them all together. Let it be continually repeated and not forgotten…”
The following study of the Ten Commandments takes this to heart. As Holy Scripture and Luther’s Small Catechism guide you to a correct understanding of God’s Law, God grant that you see how true it is that “[e]verything is to flow from the First Commandment’s power.”
Read the First Commandment and explanation in your Catechism.
- Read Mark 10:17-22. What was the rich man’s god? In other words, what did the rich young man fear more than losing Jesus? What did he love more than Jesus? In what did he trust over and against Jesus? Luther reminds us: “Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.” While not excluding false gods like those of the Hindus or that of the Muslims, does this help you understand how the First Commandment addresses many more gods than just those of official religions?
- Now read Matthew 10:28, 37 and Proverbs 3:5 and consider whether you fear other things more than God, love other people more than God, and trust in the Lord or your own self. God says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Since you are included among those to whom our Lord is speaking (Matthew 5:19; Romans 3:19), have you kept the First Commandment or do you have other gods that you place above God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What is the proper response to your sin? Read Matthew 4:17.
- Who alone has kept the First Commandment and all commandments, and what does that mean for you? Read Hebrews 4:15; Galatians 3:10-14, 23-27; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 John 2:1-2.
- Read Galatians 4:4-7, 5:16-26. You remain a sinner and struggle against your sinful nature until you die, yet through faith in Christ you are given God’s Spirit who fights against the flesh. What does this struggle within you say about your ability to fulfill the Ten Commandments?
- Finally, how are Jesus’ substitutionary life, death, and resurrection central to how you approach the Ten Commandments? Read 1 John 4:10-11.
“In a real sense, the remaining nine commandments are simply expositions or commentaries on the First Commandment.” Thus Luther’s explanations echo the First: “We should fear and love God so that….” Read each successive commandment and its explanation with this in mind. Below is a guide for doing so:
Second Commandment: Read Matthew 12:34; 15:18; Psalm 124:8. Do the words of your mouth reveal what your heart fears, loves, and trusts?
Third Commandment: Read Romans 10:13-17; 2 Timothy 4:3. Do the words your ears eagerly listen to reveal what your heart fears, loves, and trusts?
Fourth Commandment: Read Proverbs 30:17 and 2 Timothy 3:2. Does the way you treat your father and mother and other authorities reveal what your heart fears, loves, and trusts? Consider also Ephesians 6:1-4. What is it about the duty of parents that makes this commandment so important?
Fifth Commandment: Read Genesis 9:6 and Matthew 5:21-22. Do your thoughts, words, and actions toward your neighbor’s life reveal what your heart fears, loves, and trusts? Consider also Matthew 6:15 and Ephesians 5:32. How does trust in Christ influence how you treat your neighbor’s life?
Sixth Commandment: Read Mark 10:6-9, Matthew 5:28, and Hebrews 13:4. Does the way you live inside and outside of marriage reveal what your heart fears, loves, and trusts? Consider also Philippians 4:8. How does thinking upon what is pure reveal a heart that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things?
Seventh Commandment: Read 1 John 3:17. Does the way you treat your possessions and those of others reveal what your heart fears, loves, and trusts? Consider also Ephesians 4:20-24, 28. How does this describe a heart that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things?
Eighth Commandment: Read Proverbs 11:13; 19:5. Does the way you speak of others reveal what your heart fears, loves, and trusts? Consider also Proverbs 31:8-9 and 1 Corinthians 13:7. How does this describe a heart that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things?
Ninth and Tenth Commandments: Read Colossians 3:5. What does St. Paul flatly call covetousness? Consider also Hebrews 13:15. How do your desires in life reveal what you fear, love, and trust the most?
Consider finally the splendor that Jesus fulfilled the Ten Commandments in your place (Matthew 5:17-18). Read the following verses and see how Jesus fulfilled each commandment for you that He might clothe you with Himself (Galatians 3:27) and bring you to live with Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forevermore (Revelation 7:9-17).
- Luke 23:46
- Matthew 11:25-26
- Luke 4:16
- Luke 2:41-51
- Luke 23:34
- Ephesians 5:25-33
- Matthew 13:44
- John 7:53-8:11
- Matthew 4:8-11
- Matthew 6:19-21
The Rev. Stephen K. Preus is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Vinton, IA.
 LC I, 48 (McCain Second Ed., 363).
 LC I, 326 (McCain Second Ed., 397).
 LC I, 327 (McCain Second Ed., 397).
 LC I, 3 (McCain Second Ed., 359).
 Pless, John. Didache. Fort Wayne: Emmanuel Press, 2013., page 12.