Tuesday, March 01, 2011

No Other Gods - The First Two Commandments

We are preaching through the Ten Commandments at church right now, learning what they mean, what they teach us about God, how Jesus relates to each one, and how they currently apply to our lives.  It has been a fascinating study.  As we work through them, I thought I would post a few of my observations here on my blog for you to read and interact with as we go.  I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts.

The first two commandments are commonly called the fountainhead from which the other eight commandments flow.  Luther famously commented that if we don't break the first two commandments that we won't break the other eight because the root of all behavioral sin is idolatry - a wrong belief in and commitment to a false god.  Therefore, the first two commandments deserve special attention in our study and intentional reflection to see how they are worked out in our own lives.

When God gave the Ten Commandments to his people through Moses in Exodus 20, He started by reminding them in verses 1 and 2 who He is and what He had done already on their behalf.  This shows us again that the Lord is consistent in how He works in our lives.  He graciously sees and hears our cries for help, delivers us from slavery and bondage, calls us to Himself, and then tells us how we are to live in light of His deliverance.  This pattern is a great foreshadowing of the gospel of Jesus Christ - God sends His Son to set us free from bondage and then shows us how a redeemed people are to live in light of His work and salvation.  If we don't get this order right, then the Commandments become a burden instead of a blessing.  God gives us His moral law to teach us who He is eternally and how a freed people can live in light of who He is.  This insight alone changes radically how we read Exodus 20.

Knowing this, when we get to the first and second commands, we understand why God would say that the people of Israel were not to worship any gods before Him and why they were not to create any physical idols or graven images.  God was saying to His people that the key to staying free of bondage and sin is to stay single-minded in our faith in, love for, and commitment to the One True and Living God.  God is the only true God.  Let that truth sink in to your heart.  There is never any other thing or person or pursuit that you and I will give ourselves to that is worth our love and devotion - because no-one else and nothing else are truly god.  Every other god we worship is a false god - dead and unable to do anything for us or in us.  Other gods are created - the product of our hearts and our minds - and not real.  False god cannot challenge us or correct us or support us or provide for us or deliver us because they are not real.  The level of devotion to our false gods is irrelevant - they cannot do anything for us regardless of how much time, money, passion, and energy we commit to them.

In fact, God is showing us His heart to protect us in the first two commandments because He knows that idolatry will ultimately destroy us.  When we worship anything other than the True and Living God, we will ultimately be worshiping ourselves - because we create idols in order to control our own lives and destinies.  And when we worship ourselves, we give in to every sinful desire we have (justified by the idols that we serve) which will lead us only to death - death in our relationships, death in our families, death in our souls, and death forever under the wrath of the True God.

God starts with two commandments about worshiping Him alone because He alone deserves our worship, because He cares for us and knows that our idolatry leads to death, but also because He knows that our idolatry is the root issue in all of our other sins.  It is what Tim Keller calls "the sin beneath the sin."  When we attempt to change behavior patterns without changing the beliefs that undergird those behaviors, those new patterns only last for a season.  We will eventually go back to our old behaviors because we always live in line with what we truly believe.  God starts with what we worship because what we worship matters the most when it comes to how we actually live.  People who are not "religious" tend to think that discussions of God and worship are irrelevant to who they are and how they live, but the truth is that everyone worships something and everyone has a worldview.  We believe a set of truths about ourselves and about God and about others that shapes what we value and the decisions that we make every day.  Without touching those root beliefs, changes in behavior are temporary at best and wrongly-motivated at worst.

Now we see more clearly why God starts with the first two commandments.  As AW Tozer famously said, "The most important aspect of a person at any point in time is what they believe about God."  My only addition from Exodus 20 would be that it is equally important which God we serve.  If you are struggling with behaviors you want to change or patterns that drive you crazy, look deeper to the idols of your heart that justify your choices.  Thank God that He sent Jesus Christ to save us from our idols.  He is the One True Image of the Invisible God - the only One who can set our hearts free from the bondage of idolatry and set our feet upon the solid rock of single-minded devotion to our Creator.

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