The overall idea of the 10 Commandments is kind of like operating instructions. God created humans, loves them, and He gave instructions to help guide and keep everyone safe. They are good and for our good. Jesus even repeats some of the commandments in His teachings in the New Testament.
The 10 Commandments were essentially laws spoken by God to Moses on Mount Sinai and then written on stone tablets by the “finger of God” in Exodus (the second book of the Bible) chapter 20. They were to be given to the Israelites to help them create community and to show them how to obey God. Moses did not refer to them as the 10 Commandments. They are literally translated to read “ten words.”
It is important that kids understand that the 10 Commandments do not exist so that salvation can be earned. Rather, the 10 Commandments show us how impossible it is to be perfect, and therefore emphasize our need for Jesus as our Savior. That being said, we still strive to obey the 10 Commandments as we strive to become more like Christ. Below each commandment is discussed a little more simplistic way to hopefully help you explain each commandment in a way a child could understand.
1. EXODUS 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Simple Terms: You should not put anything or anyone higher than God. God is the most important part of life, He is the Lord our God, and loves us so much, and we are to love him in return. It is not wise or good to love or put other things as a higher priority in life. God reiterates this commandment again in Deuteronomy, and Jesus refers to it in the New Testament as the most important commandment, “love the Lord your God”.
2. EXODUS 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the Earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them....”
Simple Terms: You should not make things and worship them. The second commandment is like the first , in that it refers to not putting anything before God. This commandment discusses the creation of other things by humans. It specifically discusses worshipping and bowing down; and goes into detail as to why. A lot of times, things may seem like they are similar to God, but that is a false god, and should not be put above the one true God. Nothing that humans create can even compare to the importance that God holds.
3. EXODUS 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”
Simple Terms: You should not say God’s name in a mean or bad way. It is common in society today to take God’s name in vain, and many kids, even at a young age, will have heard God’s name used in a mean or bad way. God’s name is special and to be worshipped and honored, and society has normalized the use of God’s name in several bad ways. Many times, people will yell out God’s name when they are hurt or scared or surprised, and that is not a form of worship or honor and is sadly being misused. Another way to explain it is that it is not good to do bad things and use God as a reason (i.e "God wants me to hurt you").
4. EXODUS 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy….”
Simple Terms: Remember to take a day to rest and honor God. This commandment discusses not forgetting that there should be a day of rest, that we set aside as a special day for God, to honor him and to not do any work. It references that even God took a day to rest during Creation. There are six other days to complete all work and we are all designed by God to need rest. This one, like the other three commandments before it, is teaching us how to love God in return.
5. EXODUS 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
Simple Terms: Be kind and respectful to your parents. Honoring parents will look different for every kid, but the commandment discusses that this is done to live longer. As parents are often wiser, know more and will provide sound direction to kids to be able to live long and avoid mistakes that they have made themselves.
6. EXODUS 20:13 “You shall not murder.”
Simple Terms: You should not take someone else’s life away from them. Murder is a term that most younger kids are not familiar with, but they will be familiar with the concept. It is becoming more and more common in a younger language through the everyday news and access to the internet at younger ages. Our lives were given to us by God, and it is not a single person’s decision to make when someone else’s life ends. People can be hurt, but murder is by far the greatest physical injury that can be done to someone. The specific word used for murder in this verse in the Bible, represents the shedding of innocent blood, and does not refer to death because of a criminal act.
7. EXODUS 20:14 “You shall not commit adultery.”
Simple Terms: People who are married should keep all the promises that they make to that person until the end of their lives. God is saying not to break those promises. This is a tough one to teach to younger kids who are not familiar with what adultery literally means in this text, which is sexual relations. There is a way to explain the commandment in a broader sense and that is by discussing that God wants the promises that are made at a wedding to be kept forever.
8. EXODUS 20:15 “You shall not steal.”
Simple Terms: You should not take what is not yours. Most kids will be familiar with the term “steal”, and therefore this will probably be the easiest commandment to discuss. God gives what is needed, and stealing is kind of like saying, that is not enough.
9. EXODUS 20:16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
Simple Terms: You should not tell lies about other people, always tell the truth. A lot of kids, early in age, will become familiar with telling the truth, this is a great way to discuss that the opposite of truth is false. An easy topic to discuss is making up stories when asked what happened in a certain situation. This is a common situation where kids are tempted to lie to avoid disclosing choices they made that they think will lead to punishment. Jesus also references false testimony specifically as being evil in the book of Matthew.
10. EXODUS 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Simple Terms: You should not want or desire what other people have. This commandment discusses desire/want in many forms. The desire/want of material things and people are specifically mentioned, and then the verse ends and indicates “anything”. Safe to say this commandment could be summed up by saying, God wants you to be happy with what is already yours.