March 31, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
The Ten Commandments
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Commandment 1 – No Other Gods
Ma and Pa made their annual visit to
church for the Christmas Eve service. As they were leaving, the minister said,
“Pa, it sure would be nice to see you and ma here more than once a
“I know,” replied Pa, “but at least we keep the Ten Commandments.” “That’s great,” the minister said. “I’m glad to hear that you keep the Commandments.”
“Yup,” Pa said proudly, “Ma keeps six of ’em and I keep the other four.”
As many of you already know, the history of the human race has not been morally impressive. The twentieth century was perhaps the bloodiest century in recorded history with two world wars and many more other regional wars. Dennis Prager, in his book The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code, writes this: “Clearly human nature, while not evil, is not primarily predisposed to goodness. And it is certainly morally weak. When confronted with temptation to do what’s wrong, temptation often overpowers conscience.”
Societies today are preoccupied with just about everything other than making good people. However, the Ten Commandments are preoccupied with goodness. Each commandment is a compelling moral force and if people would live by these Commandments, little else would be needed for us to have a better life and a better world. No document in world history so changed the world for the better as did the Ten Commandments. They are still as relevant today as when God gave them to Moses over three thousand years ago.
“But there is a catch,” Prager says. “The Ten Commandments are predicated on the belief that they were given by an Authority higher than any man, any king, or any government. That’s why the sentence preceding the Ten Commandments asserts the following: ‘God spoke all these words.’” God is the source of moral law. So even if you’re an atheist, I think you would want people to live by the moral laws of the Ten Commandments.
Folks, in three thousand years no one has ever come up with a better system than the God-based Ten Commandments for making a better world. And no one ever will. Will you pray with me?
I hope somewhere in your religious training you had to memorize the Ten Commandments. My Aunt, who grew up in the hills of Kentucky, might put them this way:
- Just one God
- Put nothin’ before God
- Watch yer mouth
- Git yourself to Sunday meetin’
- Honor yer Ma & Pa
- No killin’
- No foolin’ around with another fellow’s gal
- Don’t take what ain’t yers
- No tellin’ tales or gossipin’
- Don’t be hankerin’ for yer buddy’s stuff
So why should we focus on the Ten Commandments? Romans 15:4 answers the question: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” These things written in former days were written for the instruction of the church, that through the Scriptures we might have hope. So over the next few weeks, we will be looking at the commandments individually, not necessarily in order, and how we can live that commandment out in our daily lives. Today, we begin with the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
As the commandments open, God reveals himself to us. “I am the Lord your God.” His authority in giving these commandments is in his name. The same name revealed to Moses when God chose him to lead the people out of Egypt, “I am.” He also tells us that he is the Lord God who saves his people. “I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
In this saving proclamation to the Hebrew people, we must see Christ here as well. Albert Mohler, Jr., in his book Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments, writes this: “We see into the future the Christ who will lead His people out of bondage. Not out of bondage to Pharaoh, but out of bondage to sin. God’s constant redeeming purpose is reflected here even in the giving of the law. This is the God who brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and thus the first command, ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’”
So, when God says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” what does all this mean? First, it means there is one God and only one God. In church speak, this is called monotheism. God reveals himself to the Israelites over and against the many false gods of that day and age in Egypt.
If you remember from your Bible study, the plagues that God brought down upon Pharaoh and his country was his reaction to the many false gods the Egyptians worshiped. Our God was jealous of other gods, because God was the one true and almighty God. Each plague that God wrought was against a god that the Egyptians worshiped, the god of frogs, the god of flies, the god of livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and so on. All God wanted Pharaoh to do was to let his people, the Israelites, go into the desert and worship him.
There are too many false gods in the world. We recognize them in pagan societies. We see them in other religions. We see them in our American pop culture. They are watered-down versions of our all-powerful God. They are finite Gods. Our infinite God of the Bible is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, self-existent, self-revealing, self-defining, sovereign, and holy. We have a God that cries out to be worshiped. If we are created in the image of God, then there is a seed of divinity in each of us that wants to worship a God more powerful than we.
Secularization, which we see happening all around us today, is the turning away from the worship of God or the belief in God, while ignoring the fact that some other deity has taken His place. Mohler writes in his book, “Several years ago in Britain researchers went door to door asking persons about their belief in God. One of their questions: ‘Do you believe in a God who intervenes in human history, who changes the course of affairs, who performs miracles, etc.?’ When published, their study took as its title the response of one man who was seen as rather typical of those who responded. He answered, ‘No, I don’t believe in that God, I just believe in the ordinary God.’” How many of us just believe in the ordinary God?
So, when God says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” we first know that it means there is one God and only one God. And second, the First Commandment tells us this loving God demands ultimate allegiance – nothing else will do. God’s existence defines all reality. Many of our troubles in this world and in our own country come from a clash of worldviews, those who believe in God and those who don’t. In the ancient world, people at least knew who someone was talking about when they spoke of the idols of Baal, Asherah, Moab, Dagon, Zeus, Jupiter, Thor, or Artemis. These idols are mostly gone now but there are others to take their place.
We now have the modern idols of sex, the state, science, and society. Some people are even in a lifelong romance with themselves. Mohler writes, “If we are not fizzing like champagne with sexual excitement, if we’re not bowing down to the state, if we’re not celebrating science and scientism, if we’re not finding ultimate meaning in human society, we are written off as simply out of step.” Folks, does that sound familiar in today’s religious and political arenas? God demands our ultimate allegiance.
And lastly, third, the loving God demands exclusivity. This is the “mono” in monotheism. One God. Some people think that monotheism is just too much to demand. But we know that the idol is a nothing. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Paul puts monotheism in the Christian context of exclusivity as he says:
Therefore as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
The idol is a nothing, but it is a dangerous nothing. There are some who call themselves evangelicals who want to get around the idea of God demanding exclusivity, by trying to be politically correct, and including other idols in our worship, whether they be of the tribe, the marketplace, the theater, or the idol of the self. What they don’t understand is that God is not the highest of all Gods, he is the only God. God does not want us to even acknowledge any other gods. This is truly monotheism.
Along with this first commandment, through Moses, Israel and we were given the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-6: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
And Jesus added to this as we read in the Book of Matthew, chapter 22: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
So, what does the first commandment mean for us? It means there is one God and only one God. It means this loving God demands ultimate allegiance. It means the loving God demands exclusivity. So, the question is, “Who is it in the end that you truly trust and truly adore? If you can answer that question, then you can find who your god is.
Christ even added to this idea of only one God when he told his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It is only through Christ that we come into the presence of God. Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is only one God, only one Savior, only one gospel.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” And people of Christ, we must not.