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Catechism Operating Manual--Ten Commandments

March 01, 2023; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
Proper 26 B. greatest Commandment.png

Catechism Operating Manual


Rev. Kurt Lantz Midweek Lent 1 Ten Commandments

March 01, 2023 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON



In the Lutheran Church we make sure that our catechumens, those wishing to join us in communion to receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, know what it is and what it is for. The catechumen begins their journey to the body and blood of Jesus by first learning these basics of Christian truth which teach about our sin and our Saviour. They learn the texts themselves by heart, and also the simple meanings that were written to explain them. This provides a knowledge that we hope will penetrate beyond the thinking mind, to the heart of conscience, so that each one would believe that before God they are a sinner in need of His mercy and grace and that the mercy and grace from Christ’s atoning death and resurrection are given to them in the sacraments that the Lord instituted for this very purpose.


So there is a knowledge of the mind and a faith of the heart. But there is also need for instruction in how this knowledge and faith is put into use in the life of the Christian. For many catechumens receive instruction, and I would daresay nearly all of them have faith in their hearts, but sad to say, few put into deliberate practice the things that they have come to know and believe, and such is a dangerous way to live. So, beginning tonight with the Ten Commandments we are going to go beyond what they are and what they mean in order to consider how they are put to use in the Christian life.


Like the catechism’s explanations of each commandment we can see that there is both a misuse and a proper use of God’s holy Law. If we follow the template for each commandment in the catechism we would say: You shall not misuse the Law of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not use His holy in ways that are against the purpose for which He gave it, but do use it according to the purpose for which it was given. And then, we need to put in some concrete examples of both the misuse and the proper use, as the catechism does so well for each of the Ten Commandments.


The short Bible readings that we heard this evening speak to how the Ten Commandments are often misused. “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” in dismissing the Ten Commandments (Galatians 5:13); and do not ask which of the Ten Commandments you must do to inherit eternal life (Luke 18:18-23). So the commandments are to be neither dismissed as null and void for those who are redeemed from the law in Christ, nor are they to be used as a means to achieve salvation. Yet they are, in fact, intended by God for your use, even as one redeemed from under the law (Galatians 4:4) who cannot attain eternal life by keeping them.


Dr. Roger Humann often reminded us that it is really God who uses His Law and not us. He uses His Law upon us through His holy Word and by the power of His Holy Spirit. As people who hear the Word of God we cannot really opt out of its proper use. He is always using it properly upon us, and we describe that use in three different ways which are distinct, yet are always intertwined and cannot ever be fully separated one from another.


First, I think that we are most fully aware of God using His holy Law to command us to do good things, to love Him and our neighbour in various ways that deal with worship, family, possessions and reputation. God’s Word tells us what He requires of us and the Ten Commandments provide us with a quick reference of operations when we want to know how to love God and how to love our neighbour. How am I to do that in a real and active way?


How do I love my parents? By showing them honour and obedience, and by not angering them. How do I love my spouse? By leading a sexually pure life before and during marriage. How do I love the local business owner? By not stealing his money or wares, but by helping him to be successful in his business. And perhaps a little more puzzling of a question: How do I love God? By fearing and trusting Him above all other considerations, by showing respect for His name and using it pray to Him for rescue when I’m in trouble, by remembering the day of His Son’s resurrection and making it a priority to hear His wonderful Gospel.


The Large Catechism, written like meditations on the same parts of Christian teaching as the Small Catechism, is a wonderful follow up. If the Small Catechism can be used like an Operator’s Manual for quick reference on how to use a new camera, the Large Catechism offers expanded testimonials of how each lens or filter is suited to indoor, outdoor, action, or still photography to get the best experience from it. The Large Catechism states:

Here, then, we have the Ten Commandments, a summary of divine teaching on what we are to do to make our whole life pleasing to God. They are the true fountain from which all good works must spring, the true channel through which all good works must flow. Apart from these Ten Commandments no deed, no conduct can be good or pleasing to God, no matter how great or precious it may be in the eyes of the world (LC. 311).


Although we will never fully accomplish these things as we ought, like the young man, who at first thought he had kept all the commandments from his youth, at least we have a ready standard reference for how to love in a way that pleases God, what it looks like in daily life, and how we can see it increase or wan in our lives.


The Ten Commandments are used in a second way when God’s Holy Law reveals to us that we are falling short of what it demands, like it did when Jesus told the young man to sell all his goods and give the money to the poor. God is using His Law to show us our sin where we don’t see it, and to lead us to a state of repentance whereby we sorrow over our sins as a failure to love Him and our neighbour. He uses His holy Law like holding a mirror in front of us so that we can see the egg on our face. Without it we would be blemished by sin and not realize that we need to be washed and cleansed by His grace in Jesus Christ.


As God’s holy Law reveals our sin, it points us away from ourselves as a floundering means of salvation, so that we might look for a true Saviour, one who has kept the Law of God in full. God’s Law leads us to give up hope in our own stained righteousness and to desire a righteousness not our own, one we cannot earn, purchase, or attain. God’s Law, in its act of condemnation, consigning us to hell and eternal death, is the necessary first step in the way that leads to salvation. Without this operation of God’s Law we would remain in our sins by default, blinded to our guilt.


By revelation from God’s Word, the Christian becomes aware of God at work in his life through His holy Law, not only to turn him from the punishments he deserves but also to direct him in a life of love. For this reason we desire for God to do His work on us. We develop a love for His law. Therefore we turn to the Ten Commandments in our catechism, seeking not only to understand how the commandments work in the life of the Christians, but also in order to let them work. We desire that they get up and running in our life.


We will get to a third use of God’s holy Law in a minute, but let’s take a moment to consider how we can have the Ten Commandments at work on us by regularly taking some time, not just to review your memory of words committed to heart long ago, but by meditating on the commandments one by one, considering your place in life according to the various callings God has given to you, and letting God work in you the condemnation of the sins you have committed and the good you have failed to do as a parent or a single adult or a child or an employee or a business owner; as a schoolmate, workmate, or roommate. In the Large Catechism Martin Luther wrote:

It seems to me that we shall have our hands full to keep these commandments, practicing gentleness, patience, love toward enemies, chastity, kindness, etc, and all that these virtues involve. (LC. 313)


Turn to the Ten Commandments to identify the sins that you need to confess to God and to one another. See where you need to improve in putting love into practice. Perhaps it will help you to adjust and fine tune the proper expression of love from what you thought was loving, to what God defines as loving action. It should not surprise us that fallen mankind’s definition of love in action does not always align with that of the God who showed such an incomprehensible love by becoming flesh, taking our sin upon Himself and suffering the just punishment for it in order that we might be His own for eternity. The Large Catechism makes the point:

But such works [as described in the Ten Commandments] are not important or impressive in the eyes of the world. They are not unusual and pompous, restricted to special times, places, rites, and ceremonies, but are common, everyday domestic duties of one neighbor toward another, with no show about them (LC. 313).


Along with such fine tuning of your own life, God also uses His holy Law in a third way, to tune up the order of this world, which is continually bent toward chaos and decay. He opens your eyes to the evil in the world around you, even where the world touts it as love. And through His work in you and in Christians throughout the world He is at work to curb and restrain depravity. His holy Law written into the heart of mankind largely continues to condemn stealing and physical harm and disrespect and coercion.


Although God has written such prohibitions upon the heart of all mankind, the tablet of the human conscience is continually marred and smudged by the fallen nature of humanity. It becomes obscured behind selfishness, self-righteousness, and pragmatism. When Christians have an active engagement with society, whether it be with honest heartfelt conversations with friends or more public resistance to moral decay, it is God’s holy Law at work to restrain the murder of vulnerable people, the neglect of active parenting, and other such transgressions that permeate the whole of society.


Therefore it is not without reason that the Old Testament commands men to write the Ten Commandments on every wall and corner, and even on their garments (Dt 6:8f). Not that we are to have them there merely for a display, as the Jews did, but we are to keep them incessantly before our eyes and constantly in our memory, and practice them in all our works and ways. Everyone is to make them his daily habit in all circumstances, in all his affairs and dealings, as if they were written everywhere he looks, and even wherever he goes or wherever he stands. Thus, both for himself at home and abroad among his neighbors, he will find occasion enough to practice the Ten Commandments, and no one need search for them (LC. 331-332).


In the coming days, I would encourage you to take the time to meditate upon the commandments one at a time, perhaps one a day, and let God’s Holy Spirit work in His Word to reveal to you the sins you need to confess and for which you need your Saviour, the opportunities you have to love God and your neighbour, and to help you sort out the state of this world in which we live as to what is truly holy and loving. Our hope rests in God being at work in us and in the world. 

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