Surely you have heard a preacher say at some point in time, based on James 2:10, that if you break one commandment, you have broken them all. Perhaps you have even heard the illustration of the law being like a window. Transgressing one commandment is like hitting the window with a hammer in one place, for the whole is shattered.
Yet how does this actually work? For James 2:10 does say, “ For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” How does stumbling at just one point mean you have violated the whole of the law? Let us use an actual sin and the Ten Commandments, which are God’s summary of his law, to help us see how this works.
As I have confessed here in a story I told a while ago, in my youth I stole a Hostess Fruit Pie from our neighbor’s corner store. In so doing, clearly I broke the eighth commandment against stealing. Yet what about the other nine?
You shall have no other gods before me. By not obeying God’s instructions and instead listening to my friends who dared me to take it, I placed other words before the Word of God. Man is not to live on bread (or pies alone), but on every word from God’s mouth (Matt. 4:4).
You shall not make for yourself an idol. At that moment, I gave affection that belongs to God alone to a fruit pie. I wanted it more than him. Shameful! Yet sinners regularly exchange the glory and truth of God for any created thing (Rom. 1:22-25).
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. If you would have asked me going out the door with the pie, I would have said that I was a Christian. I went to church, after all. If my desire should be “that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:9), how much worse was it to steal when I was not in want?
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor… Often forgotten about the fourth commandment is that it is not only about rest, but work. Obviously I should have worked and earned the money to pay for things like a fruit pie, and worshiped truly on the Lord’s Day by obeying God’s Word. “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor” (Eph. 4:28).
Honor your father and mother. Mom and Dad raised me to respect other’s property, so I not only broke God’s Word but theirs that day. Later in life that habit started then resulted in actions that caused the public embarrassment of my parents. “A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother” (Prov. 10:1).
You shall not murder. By stealing from the Crawford’s, I was taking from their livelihood. By eating stolen property, I was also bringing ruin to my own soul. “Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel” (Prov. 20:17).
You shall not commit adultery. Right next to this store was a barber shop. If I behaved while getting my haircut, the barber would give me a nickel to go spend in the Crawford’s store. They always welcomed me warmly. These people were all so kind! In caring more about my school friends and stealing, my “little” sin broke into the trust the married couple of this family store had established. “ You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? (James 4:4).
You shall not bear false witness. I still remember that day sweet Mrs. Crawford asking me if I needed any help. I said no, then minutes later, with her property slid down into my pants, I walked past her. You cannot steal without deceiving others. Proof once again that all men, including young boys, are liars (Ps. 116:11).
You shall not covet. The last commandment is clearly connected with all the others (coveting other gods, time, positions, people, etc.) and especially with the eighth one. As the prophet said of the wicked, “They covet fields and then seize them, and houses, and take them away. They rob a man and his house, a man and his inheritance” (Micah 2:2).
That breaking one commandment is breaking them all should not surprise us when we consider the source of all the commands. They are the law of the Lord, which is perfect because he is (Ps. 19:7). I personalized this meditation because breaking the law of God is a very personal affront. The next time you are tempted to downplay a transgression of a commandment, remember you are not only raising that hammer against a window. Look through the window and see the God who is standing right there.