August 4, 2006

The One and Only

You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20.3

We would not go wrong by saying that commandment number one is the most important of all. That is what Jesus says in Mark 10.29-30: “’What commandment is foremost of all?’ ‘The foremost is, Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 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.’” That is not a direct quote of the 1st commandment, but an amplification and explanation of it. It is first for a reason. And we may very realistically say that, if we get this one wrong, every other commandment will fall in the domino effect.

So what does God mean: “You shall have no other gods before Me?” It sounds like He is saying we may have other gods, so long as God remains at the top of our priority list. But that is actually a misreading. A more literal translation of Exodus 20.3 is “You shall have no other gods before my face.” In other words, ‘I don’t want to see any other gods, hear about any other gods, or even detect a hint that you have any other gods.’

The first commandment teaches us that God is a jealous God. He wants mankind all for Himself. He will not tolerate adultery with other gods—whether they be wooden statues in India, worshipped ancestors in China, Allah in the Muslim world, or the gods of money, possessions, and comfort in the good old US of A. God does not tolerate human beings’ tendency to place other things on the thrones of our lives.

We need to let that sink in. Anything, ANYTHING, that competes with God for our attention, affection, or acquisition is a false god—an idol of the heart. Think it out. Have you lately disobeyed God’s instructions because of financial concerns? Have you displeased God so that you might please your boss, your piers, or that special someone? Have you let sleep, work, or play keep you from God’s house or God’s word? Have you gotten all in a passion because someone dared to infringe upon your time, your property, your feelings? Then you are an idol-worshipper. You have broken the first commandment, plain and simple.

And you’re not alone. We are all idol worshippers. We all love our comfort, our stuff, and our money more than God. Even as Christians we do—maybe not every moment of every day, but we do, nonetheless. We are sinners. And if God required us to keep the first commandment perfectly, we would all be dead sinners by now. But don’t let that soften the blow. God’s mercy doesn’t make our idolatry any less wicked. It actually makes it worse—to presume upon this gracious God!

But do not despair either. God sent His Son into the world to save middle class, pleasure loving, selfish, idol-worshipping Americans like you and me. Jesus bled and died so that we might be free of the penalty that idol-worshippers deserve. And Jesus also bled and died so that we might be free of the power of our idols. So that we might be changed into His own likeness. So that, day-by-day, we might actually become free of our idols and free to obey the 1st commandment. Is He doing that in you?

Needing forgiveness for and freedom from my idols,


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