This study is based upon the New City Catechism.
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” (James 2:8)
The Apostle James reminds us that, in the final two commandments of the Decalogue, we are still reflecting on how to love our neighbor (James 2:8). Love is the fulfillment of the royal law. This gives clarity to what Christ did on our behalf. To fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17-20), Christ must have loved God and neighbor perfectly and continuously. No greater embodiment of love can be found than in the person of Jesus Christ. James also clarifies what Christ’s fulfillment of the law means for our New Covenant relationship to the law. Though Christ fulfilled the law, we are doing well if we really fulfill the royal law. Christ obeyed so that we would obey. Christ fulfilled God’s commandments so that we would fulfill God’s commandments.
For this reason, we must not simply consider the Law a “schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24) that unveils our guilt and directs us to Christ. The Law certainly is for this purpose, but it is also for our obedience. Through the Gospel, the Law which once condemned us has now become a law of liberty (1:25; 2:12). In fact, if the Law did not teach us obedience, then it could not lead us to Christ, for only in revealing what we should do does it remind us of how we fail to do it. Therefore, let us approach the final words of the Ten Commandments with holy ambition and sober minds.
First, the ninth commandment requires that we do not lie or deceive. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) is the explicit prohibition. This is malicious deceit, like the ill-motivated witness of Deuteronomy 19:15-21. Many times we read into the commandment a simple lip-service irrespective of persons and agendas. Yet the mandate has very little to do with what you say, so much as it has to do with malicious deceit. The commandment is not, therefore, that we simply refrain from lying. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, was righteous when lying to Nazi soldiers concerning his helping Jews flee Germany. There are simple lies which are not the bearing of false witness against one’s neighbor (Exodus 20:16). Therefore, when the catechism says “do not lie or deceive,” it is important that we clarify, “maliciously.”
With this clarification in mind, there are very few occasions where withholding truth is the righteous course. God is truthful (Isaiah 65:16) and has perfectly revealed truth in the person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). In His condescension to us, God does not veil Himself deceitfully nor reveal Himself falsely. God’s people, therefore, should reflect God’s honesty. We should grow into a church marked by the light of truth. We should be people of the Word, for God’s word is truth (17:17). As God reveals Himself to us, we reveal ourselves to others. If what we reveal is false, then we are not actually being known. God gives Himself to others, and there can be no self-giving that is a lie. Let us therefore commit ourselves to honesty and transparency.
Second, the tenth commandment requires that we are content, not envying anyone. “Covet” is not a word we use much in everyday conversation, but God’s intention with this final command has always been immensely practical: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). To covet is to envy, to want what is not yours. This bubbles up from a dissatisfaction with what you already have. Your car isn’t nice enough, you’d like so-and-so’s. The problem of envy is two-fold.
First, as with all else, the problem stems from the heart. You don’t need more wealth to be content, you need to learn contentment to be content. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Contentment is learned when you are strengthened by God to be happy in any situation. “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (vv.12-13). The strength of contentment is the joy of the Lord (cf. v.4; Nehemiah 8:10). If you learn this, you will have learned the secret of gladness amidst toil (Ecclesiastes 2:24). Second, contentment not only says something about your heart, it reveals how you see God. God created and sustains all things (Genesis 50:20; Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 6:26). You have the things you have because God decreed it would be so. When you covet what your neighbor has, you are doubting God’s judgment over who should have what. To the one who questions God’s judgments, Paul fittingly asks, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20).
Question: What does God require in the ninth and tenth commandments?
Answer: Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive. Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone.