Ascension Lutheran Church

Calgary, AB

A Minute With Martin

Martin Luther


Table Talk

The Small Catechism (SC)

  1. The Ten Commandments
    1. The 1st Commandment
    2. The 2nd Commandment
    3. The 3rd Commandment
    4. The 4th Commandment
    5. The 5th Commandment
    6. The 6th Commandment
    7. The 7th Commandment
    8. The 8th Commandment
    9. The 9th Commandment
    10. The 10th Commandment
  2. The Apostles’ Creed
  3. The Lord’s Prayer
  4. Daily Prayers



A Minute With Martin

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (SC) ( were first given by God to the prophet Moses on Mount Sinai, shortly after Israel was led out of slavery in Egypt and can be found in Exodus chapter 20 (and also Deuteronomy chapter 5). The purpose of the commandments was to set out for Israel what it meant for them to be the people of God i.e. because they were the chosen people this is how they were to live. The Ten Commandments are held to be authoritative by Christians as guidelines for what our lives are to look like as we belong to God by virtue of our baptism. To be clear, Luther did not think people were saved or earned a right relationship with God by keeping the Ten Commandments. Rather, he believed and we confess that it is because we have been saved and given a right relationship with God through Christ Jesus that we follow these commandments.

The First Commandment

Regarding the First Commandment Luther writes:

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Whatever we place our ultimate fear, love and trust in, that is our god. The insidious thing is that while we often think of these “other gods“ as being unsavoury things such as power or money, it can also be things often thought of as good e.g. family and friends. But the commandment is clear, nothing is to come before God in our lives—nothing. It is only then that our lives are rightly ordered and directed to God that we can have a proper understanding of what it means to fear, love and trust. It has been said that if we could manage to keep the first commandment, the other nine wouldn’t be necessary.

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The Second Commandment

Regarding the Second Commandment Luther writes:

You’ll notice for the all the commandments after the first one, Luther begins his explanation with the phrase, “We should fear and love God…”. This is key to Luther’s approach to the commandments. It is because we fear and love God that we live our lives in this way. It is intended to be a response to the grace and mercy of God which we have experienced that we fear and love Him, and then live that out in the manner described by the commandments.

The second thing you will notice about Luther’s explanation of this and the other commandments is that he doesn’t focus solely on the “thou shalt not” part, but he also describes what the commandment looks like positively. So it isn’t sufficient for keeping the Second Commandment that we don’t “curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name”, rather he goes on to outline the proper use of God’s name, i.e. calling on Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.

Finally, in modern society knowing someone’s name is not a big deal. But at the time of Moses, sharing your name with someone implied a degree of trust and relationship. For God to tell Moses His name (Exodus 3:13-15), was God inviting Moses and the people of Israel into relationship, inviting them to turn to Him for guidance, help and protection—inviting them to be His people and He their God. So being given God’s name, the people are commanded to treat it as the great and precious gift it is, and use it for the purposes God intended—for prayer and praise, not profanity or deception.

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The Third Commandment

Regarding the Third Commandment Luther writes:

The Third Commandment has its roots in Genesis 2:2-3, when after creating the heavens and earth over six days, God rests on the seventh day and made it holy (i.e. sanctified it, set it aside for His purposes). Note that Luther’s focus is not simply on taking a day off from work (“thou shalt not work on Sunday”) but on what we are to do with that day off. It is interesting that Luther (and Lutherans) have never made a huge deal about Sunday being the day of rest. Instead the focus has been on having a day to gladly hear God’s word and learn from it. More often than not that day is Sunday, but if one’s schedule doesn’t allow for Sunday as the day of rest and Word of God, one is expected to find another day out of the seven for those purposes.

It sometimes strikes people as odd that the Third Commandment is about the a day for rest and God, rather than something they might think as more pressing e.g. thou shalt not kill. But remember the commandments are arranged in a particular fashion. The First reminds us that God comes first. The Second calls us to be aware of how fearing, loving and trusting God above all else forms our speech. The Third reminds us that fearing, loving and trusting God also forms how we live our days. We aren’t free to do what we want, when we want. Rather, God calls us to take one day out of the seven to rest from our work, and intentionally spend it with Him, part of which is in church. If we fail to honour this commandment it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we “have” to work seven days a week or everything will fall apart, causing us to place our faith in our own efforts rather than God’s gracious provision. If we fail to honour this commandment we also run the risk of drifting from God. That focal point of worship and rest helps orient our week and our lives toward God (recall the First Commandment) rather than something else. And for those who say they don’t need to take a day for this, that they can worship God wherever they are, I will point out that it is only in church that we can formally worship God, hear His Word and receive Holy Communion. But besides that, I wonder how many who say they can worship God wherever actually do.

Frankly, this day of rest and worship is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity, that too often we foolishly ignore, thinking we know better than the One who created us and everything else.

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The Fourth Commandment

Regarding the Fourth Commandment Luther writes:

The first three commandments focus on our relationship with God, while the remaining seven deal with our relationship with others. Once again we note that the foundation of our relationship with others is our relationship with God i.e. because we fear and love God, we then honour our parents. Often this commandment is viewed simply as one that gives parents power over their children. In reality it reflects the huge responsibility placed on parents and this commandment is intended to help the parents carry out those duties. Parents are our first teachers and the ones who teach us (or are supposed to) the important lessons in life. They are our primary instructors in matters of faith, how to live with others, how to be good members of a family and a community. When parents are faithful and carry out these duties, and children are faithful, learning and living the lessons taught by the parents then life should go relatively smoothly—hence the promise connected with the commandment.

However, sometimes parents (for a variety of reasons) abdicate or outright fail to teach their children the lessons God intended. That’s no excuse however for individuals in those circumstances to ignore this commandment, and give into feelings of resentment, anger or bitterness. Rather they then need to do two things. First, find people who will fill that parental role and provide the instruction and guidance we all need. Second, (often with the help of those mentioned above) they need to find a way to come to some sort of peace with their parents that honours this commandment and God who gave it. There isn’t space here to give an answer on how exactly this is done, nor is there one-size-fits-all solution to such a problem. That being said, the place to start is with prayer, Godly counsel, and an eye to that explanation of Luther’s “we fear and love God”.

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The Fifth Commandment

Regarding the Fifth Commandment Luther writes:

One of the hazards of studying the commandments is the temptation to get caught up in abstract arguments concerning their meaning and implementation. So when it comes to the Fifth Commandment it is frighteningly easy to get entangled in debates about war, capital punishment, self-defence etc. as we try to demonstrate how this commandment supports our particular view. While such discussions do have their place, it shouldn’t be at the expense of believers putting this commandment into practice.

The common ground most can find on this is that it speaks against taking an innocent life, which is in part the basis for the Church teaching that murder, abortion and euthanasia are not part of God’s good and gracious will for us. But on a more basic, day-to-day level, Luther calls our attention to the positive aspect of the commandment i.e. the “thou shalt”. Thus, it’s not enough to refrain from hurting or harming our neighbour (let alone killing them), but we are to help and befriend them, to do what we can to care for their needs. In other words this isn’t a matter of not taking a life, but doing what we can to help others live. So from this perspective, the Fifth Commandment has implications for how we approach issues of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, health care, refugees, immigration, the justice system, education or any other area that impacts the lives of those around us. But more than that, this commandment calls us to act, to do what we can to help others live.

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The Sixth Commandment

Regarding the Sixth Commandment Luther writes:

The way I usually explain this commandment to my confirmation students is that sexual activity is reserved for married couples—husbands and wives. Thus one doesn’t engage in such acts unless you are married, and then only with the person to whom you are married. I go on to explain that sex is reserved for marriage because it is so personal and intimate it shouldn’t be treated casually, but shared only with someone with whom you have vowed to share your life with. Further, marriage forms the basis for the family, thus it only makes sense to have that basis in place before engaging in acts that can result in children.

Once again, notice Luther’s emphasis on the positive. This isn’t just about “not doing” something, but about spouses working to build up their marriage and treat their spouse as a gift of God in all they say and do. In this way husbands and wives are striving to make firm this foundation of the family—both for them and their children (providing a solid basis for the Fourth Commandment). They are called to keep this commandment not so much out of a sense of duty as out of gratitude to God and love of their family.

Marriage and family was a topic near and dear to Luther’s heart. While he was a monk marriage was out of the question, and even after he left the monastery he discounted the idea due to his circumstance (at various times his life was threatened by enemies). However at the age of 41 Martin did marry, a former nun named Katherine von Bora who Luther lovingly referred to as “my Katie”. Together they had a family of six children. His wife and children were truly God-given joys in his life, and one can see his thankfulness to God and love for his family reflected in his writings.

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The Seventh Commandment

Regarding the Seventh Commandment Luther writes:

There are three things of note in Luther’s explanation of this commandment. First is that the understanding of “stealing” isn’t restricted to the outright taking of property or money, but includes acquiring such things by means of deception i.e. selling “false ware”, badly made goods that are represented to be of a certain quality but aren’t, or being dishonest in business dealings. In this way he notes there are a variety of ways that people can acquire goods and money that aren’t rightfully theirs and cautions those reading this to be careful in how they conduct themselves and their business.

The second item of note is once again the positive spin Luther puts on his interpretation of the commandments i.e. it isn’t enough to refrain from doing the wrong thing but one needs to be active in doing what’s right. Thus it isn’t enough just not to steal, but Luther admonishes the reader to actively help one’s neighbour improve and protect his property and business. Here we find Jesus’ commandment to “love one’s neighbour” in action, which gives us an interesting way to view business. It’s no longer about how to obtain the best advantage for oneself over others, but how to best aid and serve others, trusting they are doing likewise. Serving one another not simply for the sake of economic gain, but for the sake of Christ.

Finally, stealing demonstrates a lack of fear and love for God. It shows one is unwilling to trust God to provide, but instead feels the need to take matters into their own hands and obtain what is thought to be needed by any means necessary.

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The Eighth Commandment

Regarding the Eighth Commandment Luther writes:

Here’s a spiritual exercise begging to be undertaken. What might our lives and relationships look like if we were able to put this into practice? Not just refraining from ‘lying, betraying, slandering or defaming our neighbour’, but if we took the next step and actively defended them, thought and spoke well of them, and tried to put the best construction on everything they said and did?

So for example, what if the next time you find yourself cut off in traffic, instead of being upset about the lousy driving skills of others, instead consider the possibility that the vehicle rushing past has a parent trying to get a sick child to the doctor or attend to some other family emergency? Or the store clerk who you thought was unnecessarily short with you maybe isn’t just a jerk, but someone struggling with any number of trials and whose energy and patience is running low?

That’s not so say there aren’t lousy drivers and rude clerks, but what do we gain by automatically assuming the worst of people rather than the best, until we happen to know for sure one way or the other?

Closer to home, how many unnecessary arguments (and subsequent hurt feelings and apologies) could be short-circuited by assuming the best of the words and actions of our family and friends rather than speculatively jumping to negative conclusions? Try it and see if it doesn’t change how you see those around you, and also your stress level.

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The Ninth Commandment

Regarding the Ninth Commandment Luther writes:

As with all of Luther’s explanations to the commandments, the key to understanding the ninth commandment is in the first six words “We should fear and love God.” Fear and love of God imply that we are appropriately grateful to God for what we have, rather than being focused on what we don’t. The person who is grateful for, and content with what they have, won’t be troubled or tempted by what their neighbour has. This contented gratitude immunizes one from the poison of envy (and any subsequent sin from acting on the envy), allowing them to not just be glad for what God has graced them with, but also to be glad for their neighbour and how they have been blessed. In this way life ceases to be an anxious competition to see who has the biggest and best, but instead is flooded with God’s gracious peace for what we already have.

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The Tenth Commandment

Regarding the Tenth Commandment Luther writes:

In some orderings of the commandments, what are here the ninth and the tenth are collapsed into one (the tenth) because both deal with coveting what belongs to our neighbor. But having them split up, and thus two commandments dealing with coveting draws our attention to the fact that this is something we need to be on guard against.

It never ends well when one isn’t satisfied with what they have, and undertakes to obtain by improper means what rightfully belongs to another. Once the commandment on coveting falls, it is anyone’s guess which other commandments will fall next in the quest to gain the object of desire.

In this way it’s important for us to guard our hearts and minds, being wary of what thoughts and desires can be found lingering there. Covetous temptations need to be recognized and quickly dismissed—promptly replaced by gratitude for the blessings we already have.

We should “fear and love God” that we are grateful for what we have and able to work to help our neighbor keep what is theirs.

God Bless

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