“You shall have no other gods before me.”
Last year I wrote a blog on the seventh commandment that listed out its meaning as well as some applications that followed. Within this blog, I want to do something similar with the first commandment. Let’s begin looking at this famous commandment.
The Importance of this Commandment
The importance of this commandment cannot be overstated. Our God is an orderly God and, in his infinite wisdom, He placed this commandment at the beginning of the Ten Commandments. This led J.I. Packer to say that the first commandment is, “the fundamental commandment, first in importance as well as in order, and basic to every other. . . .true religion starts with accepting it as one’s rule of life.” And Packer is simply drawing from Thomas Watson who, when looking at the first commandment said, “This may well lead the van, and be set in the front of all the commandments, because it is the foundation of all true religion.”
In essence, Packer and Watson are saying that the essence of true religion is placing the God of Israel, the God of the Bible, as the exclusive object of our worship. If we make the God of the Bible anything less than the exclusive object of our worship, then we have swerved into a false religion.
These truths lead me to say this: in order for us to be obedient to any other commandment, we must be obedient to this commandment. Every other commandment must be obeyed because we have the God of the Bible as the sole object of our worship. To attempt to obey every other commandment without obeying the first commandment is considered sin, and is worthy of eternal condemnation. This is why this commandment is so very important.
The Uniqueness of this Commandment
As one looks at the gods of the ancient world, it is evident that none of them make the kind of assertion that our God makes in the first commandment. The God of the Bible is saying that you must worship Him and only Him. None of the other religions said anything like this. The cult of Baal, Asherah, and Molech never made such statements.
So when God said, “You shall have no other gods before me,” He was saying something quite unique. Ryken makes this even clearer when he says, “This command was without precedent. None of the other nations in the ancient world prohibited the worship of other gods. The God of Israel refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of any ofter God.” As you can tell, the God of the Bible is not a man pleaser! He will have you worship Him and Him alone because all the gods of the nations are false and illegitimate; completely unworthy of the worship of men and women made in he image of the one true God.
The Commandment in Light of the Trinity
We have briefly covered the importance and the uniqueness of the first commandment. Let’s now look at this commandment in light of the Trinity. This will be important when we start addressing what this commandment is requiring of us.
God has revealed Himself as the triune God. The One true God that gave us the first commandment eternally exists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person within the Trinity is fully God and is worthy of our worship, allegiance, and trust.
So, the Son is worthy of the same honor as the Father (Jn 5:23). The Spirit is worthy of the same honor as the Son. All three distinct persons of the Trinity, since they have the same essence, are worthy of the allegiance that the first commandment requires. And it is when our lives are dominated by our relationship with the one true triune God, that we are walking in faithfulness to the first commandment.
Now that we have a general overview of this commandment, let’s try to understand what the first commandment is forbidding us from doing, as well as what the first commandment is commanding us to do. In order to do this, we will use the two-sided rule.
The Two-Sided Rule
This is one of the interpretive methods we use in studying the Ten Commandments. This rule teaches that, when something is forbidden, the opposite is also commanded. It also teaches that, when something is commanded, the opposite is forbidden. In essence, there are always two sides to each commandment; a negative side and a positive side. We will begin with the negative side of this commandment.
The Negative Side
First, this commandment is forbidding us from worshipping any other so called “god.” When the Lord says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” He is forbidding us from worshipping any and all false gods. With that said, false gods come in many different shapes and sizes.
-Obvious False “Gods”
This is important to understand because some people merely think of false gods as statues of certain gods and goddesses, or they think about all the gods of other religions. Though the worship of these statues and gods of other religions is clearly forbidden by the first commandment, there are other false gods out there that are a little more subtle.
-Subtle False “Gods”
False gods that are a little more subtle are ones that have Christian terminology attached to them. For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, the Apostle Paul talks about Satan’s craftiness in deceiving people. One way he deceives people is by placing a different Jesus out there than the Jesus the apostles were preaching about.
Also, in Galatians 1:7, Paul admonished the Galatians for turning to a different gospel than the one he originally preached to them. These false teachers in the region of Galatia are using Christian terminology, but they are preaching and teaching about a different gospel than the one handed down by the apostles. And the first commandment is forbidding us from worshipping these different “Jesuses” and different “gospels.”
This means that the first commandment is forbidding us from worshipping the Jesus of the Jehovah witnesses. They do not believe in the Trinity, that Jesus is God, or that Jesus resurrected bodily from the grave. They preach a distorted gospel with a distorted Jesus.
This also means that the first commandment is forbidding us from worshipping the Jesus of the Mormons. They believe that god used to be a man and that, after obedience to the law, was eventually elevated to a god. They believe that god had sex with his goddess wife and they produced offspring (Jesus and Lucifer). Jesus obeyed god’s laws and became a god himself. This is also a distorted gospel with a different Jesus.
This also means that the first commandment is forbidding us from worshipping the Jesus of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel preaches that the Abrahamic covenant brings material wealth, that prayer forces God’s hand, that faith is not a gift from God, and that Jesus’ atonement brings physical healing and financial prosperity. As Jones states, “In light of Scripture, the prosperity gospel is fundamentally flawed. At bottom, it is a false gospel because its faulty view of the relationship of God and man.” The Jesus of the prosperity gospel is different than the one recorded in the gospels and preached by the apostles.
And lastly, for subtle false gods, the first commandment is also forbidding us from worshipping the Jesus of theological liberalism. The Jesus of theological liberalism is not God over all, a being most glorious and worthy of our exclusive allegiance. Rather, he is merely a moral example; a paragon of virtue. His death was not substitutionary. It did not accomplish anything. It merely teaches and models what it means to be sacrificial and to look after the interests of others. Simply put, the god of theological liberalism is not the God of the Bible.
-The “God” of the Muslims or Jews
I would also say that worshipping the god of the Muslims or the Jews is a breaking of the first commandment. Sure, both Muslims and Jews say that they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but as Christians we must reiterate that they are worshipping a god other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When you look at the Bible, it is clear that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has revealed Himself as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus clearly teaches that to dishonor the Son is to dishonor the Father (Jn 5:23). Therefore, both Muslims and Jews are worshipping a false god, and not the God of the Bible. They are worshipping a god that is other than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The last category that I want to hone in on when it comes to things forbidden by the first commandment is god substitutes. God substitutes do not present themselves as gods, but we end up relying, trusting, and worshipping them as though they were gods. At the outset, let me just say that these are the predominant idols that gain our allegiance and affection in the west.
A god substitute can be strength (Hab 1:11), money (Job 31:24; Dan 5:23; Mt 6:24), possessions (Lk 12:16-21), pleasure (1 Tim 3:4), or entertainment. The scripture clearly teaches that our sin nature delights in elevating these things to unhealthy places in our heart. When we do this, we then trust and rely on these god substitutes as though they were the one true God. When we do this, we are breaking the first commandment.
The Positive Side
Now that we are done with the negative side of this commandment (looking at what this commandment is forbidding us from doing), let’s look at the positive side (what this commandment is positively commanding us to do). This will be much shorter so bear with me!
The first commandment is positively commanding us to place our allegiance, affections, and love on God and God alone. God is to be the chief object of our love. Our loyalty is to be to Him and Him alone. I love how one author put it when he said, “The commandment calls for a style of life dominated by a relationship with God….the relationship to one God must dominate every sphere of life, whether the life of action, of thought, or of emotion.” So the first commandment is commanding us to have a life that is dominated by our relationship with the triune God of the Bible.
This means that our entire lives are to be consecrated to the Lord; completely set apart for the purposes of glorifying and magnifying Him. Like Jesus, we should seek to be obedient to the Lord in every sphere of life: thoughts, actions, motives, and words. When we eat and drink, we are to do so to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). When we work, we are to work heartily as for the Lord (Col 3:23). While we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord (Rom 14:8). Our entire life is to be dominated by our relationship with the one true God that has eternally existed as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is when we are doing this that we are walking in obedience to the first commandment.
With that said, it is evident that there is no commandment that we break more often than the first commandment. As a matter of fact, anytime we break any other God given commandment, the root of our sinful disobedience can ultimately be found in a breach of the first commandment. It is when God is not the supreme object of our affections that we dishonor our parents, murder, commit adultery, steal, or covet our neighbor’s wife and possessions. So, though this commandment comes first and is of utmost importance, there is no commandment that we have violated more frequently than this one.
And the Bible teaches that only a curse awaits those who violate God’s law. When we commit cosmic treason by elevating other gods and god substitutes to the place of Almighty God, we deserve everlasting torment in the lake of fire. However, the good news of the gospel is that, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
After Christ faithfully obeyed the first commandment throughout his life, he hung on a tree; bearing our violations of the first commandment and suffering under the lawbreakers curse. God the Father willed for Jesus, his beloved Son, to die this way so that violators of the first commandment might be redeemed and restored to a proper relationship with Him. This is the hope of the Gospel, and this ought to lead us to praise and glorify our Savior, who loved us and gave himself for us! Indeed, this ought to lead us to joyfully and wholeheartedly live a life that is dominated by our relationship with the God that saved us by His grace.