One of the challenges of teaching the Ten Commandments is helping students to understand that God’s directives and prohibitions are broader than they seem. For example, there is more to the Sixth Commandment than merely the prohibition against adultery in the narrow sense (being married and engaging in sexual intimacy with someone other than your spouse). This conversation is an opportunity to lead students to grasp how these commands have many applications to current issues such as homosexuality, gender issues, and social media.
Commandments Six through Ten
VI. You shall not commit adultery.
VII. You shall not steal.
VIII. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
IX. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
X. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
You Shall Not Commit Adultery: Start with God’s Design
It can be tempting to begin teaching regarding sexuality by addressing sins related to this area of human life. I would suggest starting by presenting God’s proper and righteous design and moving out from there. Start with this: God’s gift of sexuality is for married people—one man and one woman in an exclusive, lifetime commitment. Anything outside of this is harmful and sinful. When teaching the Sixth Commandment, I write the above statement in the center of the board and from there address the sins related to it. Presenting this definition of godly sexuality does two things. First, it asserts the two genders that God intended and created. Second, it helps to prevent getting lost in the details of each type of sexual sin. Once you have established God’s intentions for sexuality, it will be easier to address each type of sexual sin.
Clarify for students the distinction between adultery and fornication; otherwise, based on the text of the commandment, one could draw the conclusion that premarital sex is fine as long as neither participant is married. Adultery is when one participant is married to someone else or both are. Fornication addresses sexual intimacy by those who are not married. For clarity, always draw back to the definition given in the above paragraph.
One type of sexual sin which has grown to particular prevalence is cohabitation—two unmarried persons, in a romantic relationship, sharing the same residence. This is sinful for many reasons. First, given biology and the sinful nature, it would be quite challenging for the couple to abstain from sexual intimacy, and cohabitation creates a dire temptation. Second, even if there is no sexual intimacy taking place, cohabitation gives the appearance of sin. God’s Word is clear that we are not to give even the hint of sin nor present a stumbling block for others, especially new Christians. Those who are aware of the cohabitation will assume the couple is being sexually intimate even if they are not.
One side note: There are those who have made the argument that Jesus Himself rarely addresses issues of sexuality in the Bible. Remind students that Jesus is fully God. All of the Bible is God’s inspired Word. Therefore, Jesus is speaking wherever His Word addresses sexuality and its attending sins.
You Shall Not Steal: Tardiness and Breaking Promises
As with the Sixth Commandment, there are myriad ways to break this commandment. If we define stealing as taking something that belongs to someone else, this sin includes acts that are often overlooked. This includes using access to streaming services without paying for them and copying images or text without permission. Stealing also includes falling short of our commitments. If I am late to work without an excuse, I am stealing. Having agreed to arrive at work at eight in the morning, I have given that time to my employer; to arrive late is to steal it from him. We can say the same for promises. If I promise my wife to take her to dinner for her birthday and then decide instead to join my friends for a movie, I have stolen from her the evening which I promised.
You Shall Not Give False Testimony against Your Neighbor: “But I’m Not Lying!”
A common excuse for breaking this commandment is “What I said was true!” This may be the case, but things are not so simple. False testimony also includes sharing what doesn’t need to be shared. This includes betraying someone’s confidence and gossiping. The confusion often relates to the word “false.” A good way to understand and teach this is to explain that only a false friend would break someone’s confidence or gossip. Lead students to understand that motives are essential when deciphering this sin. Am I sharing this information to build up my own reputation? Am I doing so to break others down? Perhaps my motivation is to impress others with all the inside information I possess. But if I am sharing this information to protect others, it is not a sin. This caveat applies if a classmate posts a threat on social media or intends to harm themselves or others.
Coveting vs. Wanting: What’s the Difference?
The key here is respect for ownership. To covet is to seek or act to obtain anything that God has given to someone else. In this way, coveting is a sin committed before stealing. There is no sin in marveling at my neighbor’s new car. I decided that I would like one, so I purchase the same make and model. To covet would be to seek or act to obtain the one he owns.
Commandment list quoted from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, copyright © 1986, 2017 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Luther’s Small Catechism is a tool to teach the faith and explain the Ten Commandments. Find the right catechism for the age of your students.