As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we often pause and think about things we are thankful for. For example, this year our family did a ‘Thankfulness Tree’ and put leaves on the tree on which we wrote something for which we are thankful. That was a good activity for my kids, but it also made me think of ways we can show thanks. Is it only by saying thank you?
One thing I am thankful for is the Reformed tradition — specifically the catechisms and confessions of our church. While they were written many centuries ago, they have truth and relevance for us today. The second question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism speaks about our guilt, God’s grace, and how we are to live a life of gratitude:
Q. What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
A. Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.
This question serves as an outline for the structure of the Catechism, with the third section of the Catechism telling us how we are to give thanks (which are acts of thanksgiving, not ways we earn salvation). This section includes discussions of the 10 Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer, which made me realize that the 10 Commandments are 10 Ways to Give Thanks.
Thinking About The Commandments
The Heidelberg Catechism also gives deeper explanations of the 10 Commandments and how we are to live in light of them (see Q & A 94-113), showing that there is more to learn from these commandments than you might think at first glance. (Our staff has been going through the 10 Commandments this year in our monthly staff chapel, focusing more deeply on what they mean).
Another Reformed catechism (the Westminster Larger Catechism) shows us that the 10 Commandments are not just about not doing certain things, but also gives us commandments to obey, as it says “That as, where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded: so, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included; and, where a threatening is annexed, the contrary promise is included” (Westminster Larger Catechism Q & A 99). Therefore, I want to give some quick thoughts on the 10 Commandments and how we can give thanks with our lives in what they forbid and command, drawing on the insights of these catechisms as well as that of my colleagues.
Giving Thanks Through the Commandments
- You Shall Have No Other Gods
Am I worshipping God and trusting Him alone? Do I put my trust in anything else? Am I trusting in something more than God? If so, it has taken the place of God and has become an idol.
- Make No Images of God
Am I worshipping God the way He calls for me to worship Him, or am I seeking to do it my own way, thinking I know better than God? Am I committed to worshipping with His people, hearing from His Word and singing songs to Him?
- Do Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain
When I say God’s name in word or songs, am I conveying God’s character or just going through the motions? Am I living in such a way as a Christian that people think ill of God because of my life and conduct?
- Keep the Sabbath Day
Am I clearing my schedule to have a day off of work to worship God, or am I thinking I am so important that things won’t get finished, or I’ll lose money, or the business will fail if I take time off for God? Do I let others rest, or do I demand so much of them that they are not able to observe the Sabbath?
- Honor Your Mother and Father
Do I show respect for my parents (regardless of how old I am), and do I show honor and respect for those who are in positions of authority over me?
- Do Not Murder
Do I say hurtful words to or about others, insulting them and “killing” their character, or do my words build up and help others, and do my actions lead to the betterment of their lives? Do I promote peace, or am I found to be quarrelsome? Do I seek to protect the lives of others and stop behaviors that put people’s lives in jeopardy?
- Do Not Commit Adultery
If married, am I faithful in my marriage vows and speaking well of and to my spouse? Do I seek to help people fulfill their vows and build a God-honoring marriage?
- Do Not Steal
Am I marked with greed? Do I waste or squander what I have? Do I share with others and treat others as I would want to be treated, or do I try to get as much for myself without thinking about others?
- Do Not Bear False Testimony
Do I promote and protect the truth and share it when it helps others? Am I involved in gossip and slander of others, speaking what might be true…but is hurtful to others? Do I seek to promote the good name of others?
- Do Not Covet
Do I take pleasure in what I have and how God has blessed me, or do I desire more? Am I able to give thanks for what others have, rejoicing with those who rejoice rather than being jealous of their possessions? Does my heart desire what is right and hate sin?
A Thankful Life
I realize those are a lot of questions, but hopefully they help us pause and reflect on how our lives reflect the posture of thankfulness to the God who saves us in Jesus Christ. May we give thanks not just with words on Thanksgiving, but with the words and actions of our lives every day — reflecting God’s desire and aim for us in the 10 Commandments! Thanks for reading!
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