5 minutes reading time (904 words)

Preparing to keep the "Positive" Commandments

By R. Herbert

The Ten Commandments often get bad press from those who reject them as being a list of negative “thou shalt not” laws. The truth is, of course, that some commandments are just easier to state succinctly in a negative form. Which is easier to say: “You shall not steal” or “You shall always be sure that you work hard at your job, that you pay your taxes, that you return things you borrow, that you leave other people’s things untouched when they are not around, that you …, etc., etc.” ?

But beyond the simple fact that many commandments are easier to state and to remember in a “negative” format, it is interesting that two of the ten are in fact expressed positively – the commandment to remember the Sabbath (the fourth) and that to honor our parents (the fifth). The fourth commandment gives extra information to show us how not to break the Sabbath, but the essential core of both these commandments is positively framed, and the two laws actually connect in a number of ways.

Read the rest of this blog post to see the connections between the two positive commandments and what they teach us about keeping them …

  • The fourth and fifth commandments are the only ones expressed from a positive perspective, telling us what we must do.
  • The fourth commandment is the last of those regarding our relationship with God and the fifth is the first regarding our relationship with our neighbor.   The two commandments form a pivot, as it were, in transitioning between things we need to do to ensure good relationships with God and man.
  • The Book of Leviticus specifically ties these two commandments together: “Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths….” (Leviticus 19:3).
  • Because the Sabbath is a memorial of creation (Genesis 2:3), it reminds us of the fact that God is, in the most basic sense, a parent to us – a relationship frequently expressed in the Scriptures (Luke 3:38, Acts 17:28-29 and many others). This fact links the Sabbath commandment with that to honor parents.
  • While the other commandments aim to prevent the breaking down of our relationship with God and man, the fourth and fifth provide the opportunity to grow our relationship with our divine and human parents.
  • Although, as Paul states in Ephesians 6:2, the fifth commandment is the “first commandment with promise” (based on the statement in Deuteronomy 5:16: “… so that you may live long and that it may go well with you…”), he may have meant the first of the commandments regarding our fellow men and women. The fourth commandment also has implicit within its wording the reward of rest: “so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do” (Deuteronomy 5:14), and note that the wording “so that…”(Hebrew: lmon) is identical in both commandments. Although the second commandment makes the general statement that God loves those who keep his commandments, the fourth and fifth commandments are the only two of the ten that mention specific rewards.
  • Because they are kept in an ongoing manner, through time, the fourth and fifth commandments allow us to utilize planning and forethought in order to keep them well.  

This last point leads us to a practical application of the similarities between the Sabbath and parental commands. The Bible gives the principle of taking time within a “preparation day” in order to prepare to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 16:5, Matthew 27:62) – time to prepare for the day and perhaps also to “get in gear” for keeping it positively. No specific amount of time is stipulated for doing this advance work within what became known as the “day of preparation”, but the principle of doing some things ahead of time to better keep each upcoming Sabbath is clear. It’s a great principle that helps us to maximize what we can give to, and receive from, each Sabbath.


Given the fact that the fifth commandment is so similar to the fourth in its functioning and positive direction, we can ask ourselves if the principle of preparation might not be profitably applied to that also. How much preparation and thought do we put into preparing to honor our parents? Do we just keep the fifth commandment in a spur-of-the-moment manner – reacting as positively as we can as situations come up? Or do we think about and prepare to fulfill this command?

Many people who have lost one or both physical parents look back and wonder if they could have done more to honor a father or mother. What opportunities were ignored or neglected along the way? It’s something many think about too late. Wouldn’t it be better to think about that question while our parents are still with us? Thinking about and planning ways to honor our father or mother can certainly enrich our relationships with them. If you are fortunate to still have one or both parents, why not plan to take some time one day soon (we don’t have to wait for Mothers Day or Fathers Day) to think about ways to actively fulfill the command to honor them? Our keeping of both the positive commandments can be enhanced with positive preparation and thought - and both commandments bring their own rewards as we do that.

You can find other articles on Christian living at R. Herbert’s website:

Thanksgiving Proclamation
More reasons to STUDY God’s word DAILY, part 2


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