The Decalogue and Ephesians

Albert McShane

All believers can truthfully sing, "Free from the law, oh happy condition," for they have learned that the law can neither justify nor sanctify. But this freedom does not mean that they are at liberty to live lawlessly, nor that the standard of their conduct is below that which God demanded by the law. While the "Ten Commandments" do not give every detail of the claims of God, they were a summary of these in a way that could be easily remembered. Their importance is manifested in that they were written by the finger of God on slabs of stone, and for their preservation the Ark was specially constructed. Possibly some might think that having been justified by faith, the law has no more concern for them. While this is true, a careful examination of the practical part of Ephesians will show that the apostle expected the conduct of the saints to rise to that of law keepers. The two great requirements of the law were "love to God" and "love to man." The exhortation "Walk in love" (Eph. 5:2) implies that this is the standard God expects to find in His own. Just as Christís sacrificial life was a sweet savor to Him, so the walk in love of His people will likewise be to Him a sweet smelling savor. Thus "the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4).

The first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods be≠fore me" demands that the One who had delivered Israel from Egypt was to be the only One to be called God. This thought is parallel with the words of Paul, "One God and Father of all" (Eph. 4:6). He is not only the supreme God, but none other is ever to be considered. Egypt, out of which the Israelites were delivered, was a great centre of idolatry. Likewise, Ephesus was full of idolatry, so both must have needed to learn the importance of the only Lord God. The saved, not only know the One God, but they rise above those who first heard the law, in that they know Him as Father.

The second commandment deals with idolatry. The Ephesians craze for idolatry was manifested by the uproar which arose through the apostleís preaching of the Gospel, when the multitude shouted out "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:28). The believers could have sung "Idols, once they won thee charmed thee," but they were taught that "no covetous man who is an idolater hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ" (Eph. 5:5). In the commandment it was mainly objects made by man that were condemned, but the standard is raised in this passage so that any desired object which takes the place of God is viewed as an idol. Of all the evils characterizing the history of Israel, none was so persistent as idolatry, and in this age of grace it manifested itself quite early in the professing church.

The third commandment forbids the misuse of the Lordís name. There is no corresponding statement in Ephesians, but there are instructions regarding the misuse of the tongue, such as "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth" (Eph. 4:29). Even foolish talking and jesting are also forbidden. Some believers think that only what is done is important, but what is said is no less serious.

The fourth commandment regards the Sabbath, which was not only a day of rest for man, but was time set apart for God and was holy. He has a claim on the time of His own. The expression "redeeming the time" (Eph. 5:16), while not referring to time spent for God, is a reminder of the responsibility for all the saints to make the best use of the time at their disposal. Time is at a premium, but often is wasted as though it were ever so plentiful. We sing regarding the unsaved "Room for pleasure, room for business," but the Christian must remember that God values the time spent with Him perhaps even more than the service we render to Him. Just as in the old economy, man was freed from labor for one day in the week and allowed to rest. This day was called "holy," for it was set apart for God.

The fifth commandment regarding respect for parents is the only one directly referred to in Ephesians. In chapter 6:1-3 Paul speaks of it as the one commandment with a promise. In most parts today children have little regard for their parents, and the idea of obeying them is viewed as antiquated. Perhaps this is why there is so much lawlessness in the world. Some young people think that if they can provide for themselves they have done well. With so much social help, the dire need of aged parents is not as keenly felt now as it once was, but "respect" for parents entails honoring them in every way. Quite often old people feel lonely and value the time spent with them more precious than the money spent on them.

The sixth commandment, "thou shalt not kill," is one that saints find easy to obey. But the standard is raised for them, for they are not even to allow their anger, which is often the cause of murder, to remain after sunset (Eph. 4:26). The wrath of brethren, while not actually murdering others, has at times killed them in the spiritual sense. (Cp. "Biting one another... consumed one of an≠other" Gal. 5:15). The tongue can be as cruel as the sword.

The seventh commandment, "thou shalt not commit adultery," corresponds with the condemnation of fornication which is so vile that it is not even to be named, and so serious that those who indulge in such evils are not to be thought of as being subjects of Godís kingdom (Eph. 5:3-4). In the Gentile world, fornication was so common that it was not viewed as a serious crime, and in many parts of the world today, including those which were once respect≠able, the same can be said of them.

The eighth commandment, "thou shalt not steal," has an an≠swer in the words "Let him that stole, steal no more" (Eph. 5:28). Again the standard for the saints rises higher than the law, for a positive injunction is added, that of giving to the needy. There is ever the danger of saints thinking that if what they are stealing will never be missed by the owner, then it is not a serious offence to take it. But though the verse implies that some of them had been stealing, this must be ended.

The ninth commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness," has its counterpart in the words "speaking the truth in love" or "being truthful." It is never expected that any Christian would be untruthful, yet cases have been known of those who have deliber≠ately told lies when the truth would have involved them in trouble. The early days of church testimony witnessed the seriousness of lying, for Ananias and Sapphira filled early graves for acting falsely (Acts 5). Perhaps this commandment is specially meant to refer to bearing witness in judicial matters, but falsehood is a serious evil whatever the circumstances.

The tenth commandment is a warning against covetousness. This is another evil which is not to be named among the saints (Eph. 5:3). It caused the Fall, for it was really the desire for that which God had forbidden which led Eve to take the fruit. It is the root of many evils, and in no way can be viewed as of small importance. It is a weed that could grow in any heart, and should be rooted out as soon as detected.

There is a simple but serious lesson which can be learned from connecting the law and this epistle, one which should never be ignored. It is that God demands right conduct by His own, so that grace does not lower the standard set by the law, but enables the believer to rise to it, yea even to a higher level. There were those who "turned the grace of God into lasciviousness" (Jude 4), but such were not true believers. Even though they crept into the company of the saints, they were doomed to judgement. The mention of the Holy Spirit so often in Ephesians reminds us that it is only by His aid that we can live according to the divine standard.