The 10 Commandments have been an important part of the Christian church since Moses came down the mountain with the stone tablets carved by God. Since that day, we have studied them, memorized them, used them as a guide for the faith of the church. In this series on the 10 Commandments, we will examine each one and reflect on its application to our lives.
Before we get to the first commandment, we should discuss how this series will approach the commandments. If you haven’t, you should read an earlier post in the series, The Most Important Passage in the 10 Commandments , before continuing. It helps set the stage for this.
The 10 Commandments are designed to guide Christians in faithful living. Jesus summarizes the 10 Commandments in this way, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30-31).
It might be easy to see the 10 Commandments as a boundary inside which you can do whatever you want. As long as you follow the letter of the law, you’re good. But Jesus’ summary, “Love,” orients us toward positive action rather than a negative prohibition. It is not enough to refrain from breaking the commandment. We must also fulfill it, too. Therefore, each of the commandments has both a positive and negative aspect to it. A “Do” and a “do not.”
We begin this series with the first of the commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The simple meaning is that we should refrain from worshipping false gods, a difficult commandment for the people to whom it was first given. Their friends, peers, and neighbors were all polytheistic. They worshiped Egyptian gods, Canaanite gods, and the gods of any people they thought might help them out.
Worship, for these polytheistic pagans, was a way to get a god to like you. If you do the right ceremony, offer the right sacrifice, and a god would grant you a blessing. The people who worshipped Ba’al expected They thought he would water the ground and cause seeds to sprout to provide food for their families. A sacrifice to a different god might produce a different effect. Ba’al worship was particularly tempting to God’s people for another reason: His rituals involved ritual prostitution.
The first commandments, then, prohibits worshipping any god other than the one true God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That includes any of the popular false gods of our day. We don’t worship Hindu gods, Shinto spirits, or the Greek deities. We don’t give offerings to the spirit of the sun or moon or forests. We only worship the true God.
Martin Luther explains the first commandment like this, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” We create a god whenever we fear, love or trust in something more than the one, true God.
Martin Luther isn’t the only one to see this commandment this way. Martin Luther King, Jr. also describes a number of false gods in his sermon, False Gods We Worship . He lists ideas such as science, nationalism, and money. These might not be statues with ritual worship, but they can be gods nonetheless. When we put our trust, our hopes, or our love in something more than God, it is an idol.
What is it that you fear, love, or trust more than God? What are the things or ideas from which you expect all good to come? Many of these are the same generation after generation. Jesus mentions the struggle we have with worshipping money in Matthew 6, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
The desire to retain power turned King Herod into a murderer when he sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill the boys who were two-years-old or younger. Power was his god.
Money and power aren’t evil, though. When used properly, they can be very good. Money can be used to serve the people around you. Power can be used to give justice and peace, and powerful people can do a lot of good for others. Our nature, however, takes theses good gifts from God and corrupts them by loving them more than god.
How does that happen now? We still turn the good gifts of God into idols. The better the gift, the more pernicious the idol. Many parents have turned their children into idols. Everything in their lives succumbs to their children’s schedules. They sign up for sports leagues, art classes, drama clubs, and afterschool tutoring to help ensure that their child has the best chance of success. Busy schedules crowd out Sunday worship and chess club preempts teaching the children about God.
Politics can become a god, too. When Christians act as if the present political situation is so dire that we are just one election away from collapse, politics has become an idol. When Christians act as if a politician will be able to solve our problems or save us from societal collapse, the politician has become an idol. When we believe that laws will make a country become Christian, politics can become an idol.
In fact, any time we sin, we make an idol. If we trust in God above all things, we believe he will always provide for us. We wouldn’t feel the need to cheat on our taxes or steal from the store. If we love God above all things, we will race to worship every Sunday morning, banging on the doors like it’s Black Friday. If we fear God above all things, we will obey his will in everything.
While we can never truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things, we do have someone who did it for us, Jesus. He showed his perfect fear, love, and trust with every step of his ministry. When he was sleeping in the back of the storm-whipped boat, he knew that the Father would keep him safe. When the people in his hometown wanted to throw him off the top of a hill, he knew that there was nothing to fear. When Satan offered him the whole world, Jesus knew that only God could provide. When he was arrested, beaten, and hung on a cross, Jesus still trusted. And his trust was proven right when he rose from the dead.
Jesus’ perfect obedience is ours by God’s grace, which means we can be forgiven every time we fail. Confession and forgiveness is the beginning of turning away from false idols and staying with the true God. The Holy Spirit takes away our sin and sets us back on the right path.
When we repent and turn to his grace, we practice relying on God, alone. We throw our broken idols on the ground and turn to the only one who can give forgiveness. We rely solely on God’s grace to take away our sin. This constant discipline is the heart of the Christian life, turning from sin, repenting, and receiving forgiveness.
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