Teaching Ideas for the Catechism: First Five Commandments

The month of January marks not only a new year but the start of a fresh series of blogs for Sunday School teachers. The plan over the coming months is to reflect upon and offer teaching ideas related to the Six Chief Parts of Luther’s Small Catechism. The Six Chief Parts are the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar. It is my sincere hope that this series will be an edifying confirmation review for you, the teacher, and a useful tool for presenting the basics of the faith to your students.

Ten Commandments, Part One: 1–5

I. You shall have no other gods.
II. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
III. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
IV. Honor your father and your mother.
V. You shall not murder.

The Law Is Good

Our reaction to the Ten Commandments is often one of toleration or even avoidance. We shy away from the Decalogue—another word for the Ten Commandments—because we mistakenly interpret them as nothing more than God’s attempt to take the fun out of life. We avoid them because they seem merely a set of requirements that we can’t meet. While it is true that we cannot keep the Ten Commandments perfectly and our failure to do so often produces shame, they are nevertheless good. Coming from a good God, what else could they be?

Highlight for students the fact that Adam and Eve had the Ten Commandments written in their hearts in the Garden of Eden because the Commandments are all about loving God and loving our neighbor. They knew and understood God’s expectations. They also agreed with these expectations and abided by them with perfect joy and enthusiasm. This is because Adam and Eve’s desires and will were in total alignment with their Creator’s.

Stress for students that God gave us the Ten Commandments for our good. Life is more full, satisfying, orderly, and pleasant to the extent that we abide by them. Fearing and loving God above all others brings peace and joy. All other gods eventually bring fear, uncertainty, and disappointment. Taking time for worship and study of God’s Word brings a fuller, deeper understanding of God, His blessings, and the salvation of Jesus Christ. Honoring my father and my mother allows them to bless me with their love, guidance, and wisdom.

Seeing Jesus in the First Five Commandments

A set of laws from God may seem a strange place to find Jesus, yet keep in mind that Jesus is fully God. In other words, the Ten Commandments come from Jesus. The Son of God was there on top of Mount Sinai delivering them to Moses. This corrects the false notion that God the Father gives the expectations and Jesus just forgives them. Perhaps more importantly, we see Jesus in the Ten Commandments in that He kept them perfectly in our place. Christ never worshiped false gods. Instead, He always honored His Father in heaven. What is more, Jesus respected Joseph and Mary, His earthly parents, as well as the governing authorities of His day. He took time to pray and never committed murder. This is important for three reasons: first, Jesus serves as a model for our life of love and obedience to our Father in heaven. Second, Jesus remained sinless so that He could be the Lamb without blemish, the pure sacrifice for our sins. Third, through faith in Jesus, we receive His perfect record of keeping the Law. In other words, when God looks at the Christian, He is well aware of his sins, yet He sees the perfectly obedient life of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Teaching Strategies

First Things First

Ask students to reflect upon the order of the Ten Commandments. Invite them to theorize as to why God ordered them as He did. Now have students take a piece of paper and write down the Ten Commandments according to what they believe the order of importance should be, with one being the most important. Invite students to share the order they chose, giving the rationale. Then ask students why God placed “You shall have no other gods” first. Lead them to understand that obeying the First Commandment is the key to all the rest. In other words, if we always worshiped God alone, we would have no trouble with the other nine. We misuse the name of the Lord our God because we worship ourselves and our own desires. The same is true of all the other commandments as well.

Ten Commandments in School?

Connect the Ten Commandments to rules in your students’ everyday lives. Share with students the reality that their school is probably teaching the Ten Commandments, even if they don’t display them in school. Direct them to the first five commandments. Then consider the rules in your school. What does the Second Commandment teach about the use of language? What are the rules related to language in your school? Consider the Fourth Commandment. How are students supposed to treat teachers and other leaders in school?

Ten Commandments in the Bible

Challenge students to find examples of people in the Bible who either kept or violated the first five commandments. Abel brought a fitting sacrifice to the Lord, Moses and the people of Israel praised God after He delivered them from the Red Sea and the Egyptians, and so forth.

Luthers Catechism for KidsFind even more helps for teaching the catechism with Luther's Small Catechism for Kids.

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Phil Rigdon

The Rev. Dr. Philip Rigdon and his wife, Jamelyn, live in Kendallville, Indiana, with their two rabbits, Frankie and Buttons. He serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church and School in Kendallville. He enjoys writing, running, and playing guitar.

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