Why Commandments?


Ben H. Swett
Bethany Christian Church
28 May 1978

Why does God give commandments to human beings? If God is omnipotent, why doesn't He just make us do what He wants? The quick answer is, "Because He gave us free will." But why did God give us free will? The flip-side of free will is free won't--which means that we have the power to disobey God. That's an awful lot of power. There are times when I think things would go a lot smoother on this pretty little blue-and-white planet if we didn't have that power, but we do, and it's obvious that we do.

Now, I assume God knew what He was doing when He gave free will to human beings, but it might help me if I could understand why He did it.

Several writers have said that God created us because He was lonely and wanted a creature who could choose to love Him or not love Him. In other words, God was not satisfied with the angels or the animals, who supposedly don't have free will. He wanted something that only humans could provide. But I don't believe it.

Angels and animals do have free will. If angels didn't have free will, how could some of them rebel against God? And if you don't believe animals have free will, just try to lead a donkey or a mule.

I think the whole idea that God created us because He was lonely is just another way that humans flatter themselves. It implies that God needs or wants something we can either give or withhold, which would mean He is a slave to His own creation. In other words, it would put us in charge of God's happiness--but it must be a pretty miserable god who has to depend on me for anything, let alone happiness.

So, if God didn't want something from us, why did He create us? I think the Bible says it best: God placed in us a portion of His spirit (Gen. 2:7). Thus, the Creator created creators, extensions of Himself, little god children. Humans are creative because our Father is creative--it's a family characteristic--but we're not as good at it as He is. The problem is, we persistently and sometimes perversely create ideas of good and evil that He never thought of.

God gives us commandments, which we can obey or disobey, just as we give them to our children. As every parent learns, we can spend a lot of time and energy trying to get our stubborn little children to do what we tell them, but ultimately they decide for themselves whether they will or won't obey.

So, let's start there and look at some of the commandments in the Bible as though we, as parents, were giving them to our children. Perhaps that point of view will help us understand what our Father in Heaven is saying to us, and why.

1. You shall have no other gods. Don't listen to those who don't care about you. Listen to me. I have your best interests at heart, and I know what I'm talking about. You can see that, if you will remember the good things I have done for you.

2. You shall not make for yourself any graven image, to worship it. Don't give artificial things power over you. Don't let inanimate objects rule your life. They can't possibly care what happens to you.

3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Don't use my name to impress anyone. The more you do it, the less they will believe you. And don't use my name to make people think I do your bidding; you ought to know better than that.

4. Remember the Seventh day, to keep it holy. Take one day out of seven to rest. You need to do that. If you don't, you may forget who you are and where you came from. You may suddenly wake up and find that your life is behind you.

5. Honor your father and your mother. Listen to them even if you don't agree with everything they say. You won't live very long if you don't learn from them. You can't afford to learn everything the hard way, because some lessons are fatal.

6. You shall not murder. If you murder a person, you only send him where he was going anyway, but the motive that led you to do it will damage your soul.

7. You shall not commit adultery. It spoils your marriage, hurts your children, and irrevocably alters your relationship to the other person. The result is a lot of heartache for you and the people closest to you. It isn't worth it.

8. You shall not steal. People will hate you for it, lock their doors against you, hunt you, and punish you if they can. If you all steal, you will all live in suspicion and distrust, trying to guard what you have stolen.

9. You shall not bear false witness. Don't tell lies to make anyone look bad or to get them in trouble. They will hate you for it and hurt you if they can.

10. You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor's. Don't even want things that belong to someone else. If you do, you will not be happy with what you have, so you will not be happy at all.

To summarize:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind (Deut. 6:5, Matt. 22:38). Remember, I love you whether you love me or not. This commandment, like all my commandments, is for your benefit, not mine. You need to love the highest good you know, and to keep searching for a higher good. Without that kind of love you have no worthwhile direction or purpose in your life.

Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:40)--not for your neighbor's sake, but for your own. Your neighbor may not know you love him, or he may not believe it, but you need to be loving a great deal more than you need to be loved.

Conclusion: God gives us commandments because He loves us. As Moses said in his farewell address to the children of Israel, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live." (Deut. 30:15, 19) That is the central theme of God's commandments. They are not for someone else's benefit. They are not given to us to impose on others. They are given to each of us for our own benefit, but no one can make us obey them, not even God Himself.