Red Light, Green Light! It’s a classic children’s game right up there with Duck, Duck, Goose (or dare I say… Duck, Duck, Gray Duck?) and Red Rover, Red Rover. It’s amazing what fun can be had simply by saying the words “red light” and “green light.” The whole game is literally letting children walk on green and stop on red. There are variations of having your back turned on green and suddenly turning around on red to try and catch those that get too close, but the gist is all the same.
Rules are good, and children need them to thrive. Young children especially are in a state of constantly exploring what’s right or wrong, and they need caring adults to guide that process. Well, good news! God has given us just what we need in the Ten Commandments. It’s not often you hear the words “good news” associated with the Law, but God’s Law truly is good (Romans 7). And it brings us back to the basics of what it means to live as God’s people, offering the perfect guide for leading young ones in the way of God’s love.
The Green Light of God’s Commands
When we make rules for children, it is easiest (though not necessarily the best) to start them with the word “don’t.” Even in the Ten Commandments, eight of them begin with the words “You shall not…” Now, God knows what He’s doing, and He wrote good laws because He is the God of all creation. Martin Luther does an excellent job of helping us understand not just the “red light” but also the “green light” of the Ten Commandments. Just as Red Light, Green Light allows children to playfully practice doing an action and stopping an action, Martin Luther’s explanations in the Small and Large Catechisms help us see God’s Law as more than just a set of things to not do. It’s just as much a guide of what to do as loved children of the Father.
Here is a very over-simplified summary of some of the “green lights” Luther explains for each commandment. Use these statements to get you started in your own review or understanding of how God calls you to live in this world. Then go check out the full explanations in the catechism.
- You shall have no other gods. Love God the most. Trust God the most. Fear God the most (even more than COVID-19).
- You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Use God’s name well! Call on it when you’re in trouble. Praise Him! Pray to Him! Thank Him!
- Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Hear God’s Word! Learn and believe it!
- Honor your father and your mother. Honor the authorities God has given you. Serve them, obey them, love them, cherish them.
- You shall not murder. Actively help and support your neighbor.
- You shall not commit adultery. Honor God’s design for marriage. Be faithful in your relationships. Honor your spouse.
- You shall not steal. Be honest in your work. Help your neighbor improve and protect his own possessions.
- You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. Defend your neighbor. Speak well of him. Explain everything in the kindest way.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. Be content with what God has given you! Help your neighbor with his stuff too.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Be content with the people and helpers God has given you! Encourage others to remain faithful in their own relationships.
We Are All Children of God
Just as children need boundaries to thrive, we all, as children of God, need His guidance in how to live according to His Word and will.
I encourage you to find a way to read the Commandments regularly in your own life. Then look for ways to share them with your children. But remember, God gives us His Commandments to show us that no matter how hard we try, we cannot make God completely happy and earn our place in heaven. He gives us His Commandments to show why we need a Savior, and He tells us how His Son Jesus Christ died on the cross for all the times we fail. The secret bonus to teaching your child God’s commands is that your own conscience is also sharpened and reminded of the many reasons you also need and have received God’s grace. It is counterintuitively refreshing to be “cut to the heart” with the Law of God, knowing that His mercy and grace extend beyond the many reasons we’ve all given Him to not accept us.
May you take comfort in knowing that Jesus died for all of it. He died for your child’s whiny cries and disobedient shenanigans. He died for your tired frustrations and ever-shortening fuse that leads to failure more often than you would like. He died for your teenager’s misunderstanding of what godly love means in a world that is happy to inculcate him with its own version of truth.
As John 15:11–12 says, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” God be with you as you raise your children in both the Law and Grace of God.
The quotations from the Ten Commandments are taken from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, copyright © 1986 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Luther gave direction on the Ten Commandments, Apostle’s Creed, and more.