Revisiting the Third Use of the Law

10 CommandmentsIn confirmation class we learned that there are three uses of the law: as a mirror, as a curb and as a guide. The first two uses have a negative slant: look at what you have done (mirror) and make sure you stay within these parameters (curb). But the third use of the law has a positive bent that sometimes gets lost in our society.

The idea of the third use of the law is that it guides us toward holy living. It is forward thinking. It directs us toward ways in which we can follow God’s Law by looking at the reserve side of the law.  This came to mind when I recently remembered the second half of Luther’s explanations of the 10 Commandments which I memorized long ago. See the phrases marked in bold italics below.

 

First Commandment Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
Second Commandment Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
Third Commandment Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Thou shalt sanctify the holy day.)
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Fourth Commandment Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not despise our parents and masters, nor provoke them to anger, but give them honor, serve and obey them, and hold them in love and esteem.
Fifth Commandment Thou shalt not kill.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.
Sixth Commandment Thou shalt not commit adultery.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may lead a caste and decent life in word and deed, and each love and honor his spouse.
Seventh Commandment Thou shalt not steal.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not take our neighbor’s money or goods, nor get them by false ware or dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business.
Eighth Commandment Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
Ninth Commandment Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s house.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, nor obtain it by a show of right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
Tenth Commandment Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not estrange, force, or entice away from our neighbor his wife, servants, or cattle, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

Each of these bold italic phrases is a positive redirection, a plan to live as imitators of Christ, who obeyed the Law perfectly, Sometimes focusing on the negatives prevents us from seeing the positive in many things in life, and the Law is no different. I challenge you (and myself) today to apply the third use of the law in daily living and see what good places that guiding leads us to.

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