No Other Gods

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Exodus 20:1-3 (First Commandment)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “The Ten Commandments for Today.” Last week we began with an introduction to the Ten Commandments. Today we will look at the first commandment, found in Exodus 20:1-3.

Exodus 20:1-3 – 1 And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 You shall have no other gods before me.” (NIV)

There were a number of books published in the past year by high profile atheists critiquing religion and advocating belief in no God. First up was Sam Harris with “Letter to a Christian Nation.” This was followed by Richard Dawkins and “The God Delusion.” And the most recent offering was “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens. Atheism has certainly gotten some attention this past year, but it was not a problem at the time God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The world back then had the opposite problem.

Moses and the Israelites lived in a polytheistic world, a world where most cultures believed in many gods. They looked at the powers of nature and attributed individual powers to individual gods, such as storm gods, sun gods, earth gods, crop gods, etc. The truth about the one God was known in their hearts, but that truth was suppressed because of sin. (Romans 1:20) The truth is, the sinful heart does not want to bow to the one, true God.

The Israelites had left Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land of Canaan. God warned the Israelites about Canaan. He warned them about the competition they would find there for the loyalty of their hearts. We read in Deuteronomy 11:16: “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” God also warned the Israelites not to intermarry with the people of Canaan. (Deuteronomy 7:3) Why not? Not because of racial reasons, but because God knew that these mixed marriages would drag the people of Israel into the worship of other gods.

This was a choice the people of Israel had to face again and again. When they had successfully entered Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, Joshua issued the challenge that still stands today: “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

Later on the prophet Elijah would challenge the people: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. (1 Kings 18:21)

This was the world in which the Israelites lived, and this was the world in which God first issued the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” This morning we will look at the words with which God prefaced this first commandment, and then we will look at the actual commandment itself.

I. God’s double claim (verses 1-2)

God prefaced the first commandment with the double claim recorded in verses 1-2: And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2) This double claim is really a preface to all of the Ten Commandments, not just the first, but we will deal with it here.

    A. Claim by creation: “I am the Lord your God . . .”

First, there is God’s claim by creation: “I am the Lord your God.” Five times in the Ten Commandments God says these words, “I am the Lord your God . . .” The word “Lord” is the Hebrew word “Yahweh.” It is a name that signifies God’s self-existence, eternity, and sovereignty. The word “God” is the Hebrew word “Elohim.” This name for God signifies God’s majesty and power and points back to creation where God created the world.

God has a claim on your life because he is the Creator. God created you and gave you life. The expression, “I am the Lord your God,” emphasizes God’s absolute authority over you, and your proper response upon hearing it is reverence, fear, obedience and respect towards God your Creator. Remember, these are the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions!

    B. Claim by salvation: “. . . who brought you out of Egypt.”

But God has a second claim, and that is his claim by salvation. God said to the Israelites, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. He has delivered us from slavery to sin. This claim by salvation emphasizes God’s gracious dealings with us, and our proper response is that of love, gratitude, and loyalty.

Romans 6:15-18 says this: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

If you are a Christian this morning, then God has a double claim on your life, both by creation and by salvation. You should obey his commands both out of respect towards God and thankfulness for what he has done.

II. “You shall have no other gods.”

Let’s look now at the first commandment itself in verse 3: “You shall have no other gods before me.” We will look first at the part of the commandment that specifies “no other gods,” and then we will look at the part that says “no other gods before me.”

Last week we mentioned that the “you” here is “you singular.” In other words this command applies to each individual. It is spoken to each person as if by name. Each one of us is personally accountable to God. So when God says “you shall have,” he is saying you, you personally, shall not “own, possess, seek, desire, love or worship” any other god. (A.W. Pink; The Ten Commandments, p. 17)

    A. Commands belief in God

        1) Condemns atheism – the belief that there is no God (Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1)

Now, what does it mean when God says, “You shall have no other gods”? It means first of all that we are commanded to believe in God. The first commandment, therefore, condemns atheism, the belief that there is no God. Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 both say, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” I once saw a bumper sticker that referenced Psalm 14:1 and then declared April 1st National Atheists’ Day!

The first commandment stands against the materialists who believe that this physical world is all that exists. It stands against the evolutionists who believe that man evolved apart from any divine influence. It stands against the humanists who believe that man is supreme and determines his own destiny in the world through knowledge, science and technology.

        2) Condemns agnosticism – the belief that one cannot know with certainty whether there is a God (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:18-20)

In commanding belief in God, the first commandment also condemns agnosticism, the belief that one cannot know with certainty whether there is a God. The Bible says that we can know there is a God, that God has left us a witness through the creation around us.

Psalm 19:1-4 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Romans 1:18-20 says: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

    B. Commands belief in one God

        1) Condemns polytheism – the belief in many gods (Deuteronomy 6:4)

When God says; “You shall have no other gods,” he not only commands belief in God. He also commands belief in one God. This condemns polytheism, the belief in many gods. In Deuteronomy 6:4, right after Moses repeated the Ten Commandments to the Israelites outside the borders of Canaan, God spoke one of the defining words of the Old Testament revelation: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” God is one God. He is not “no God;” he is not many gods. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

        2) Condemns pantheism/new age thinking – the belief that everything is God (Genesis 1:1)

This command to believe in one God also condemns pantheism and new age thinking which believes that everything is God – the false belief that “You are God, and I am God, and that chair over there is God! Everything is God, and God is in everything.” Genesis 1:1 rejects pantheism by telling us that God created the world, that God is therefore prior to and separate from the world he created. By commanding belief in one God, the first commandment condemns both polytheism and pantheism.

    C. Commands belief in the one true God

But in saying, “You shall have no other gods,” God goes beyond even commanding belief in one God. God does not command belief in any one God you choose, but he commands belief in himself as the one true God. For example, Muslims believe in one god, Allah, but Allah is not the same as the one true God revealed in the Bible. Other people say that “Everyone worships the same god, whether you are a Christian or a Buddhist or a Muslim; we just call him by different names.” They believe in one god. They just believe that he is the god of all peoples and all religions on the earth. But this runs contrary to the first commandment which commands belief in the one true God.

        1) Belief in the God who revealed himself to Israel as Lord (Isaiah 45:18-22)

Belief in the one true God means, first of all, belief in the God who has revealed himself in the Bible and who revealed himself to Israel as Lord. In Isaiah 45:18-22 God proclaims through the prophet: For this is what the LORD says — he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited — he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other. . . . there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

We must worship the true God and not some generic, substitute, one-size-fits-all god. As Thomas Watson said, “If we do not make God to be our God, he will make himself to be our judge; and if he condemns, there is no appealing to a higher court.”

        2) Belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as revealed in the New Testament (John 10:30; Ephesians 4:4-6)

Belief in the one true God also entails belief in Jesus as God’s Son and in the Holy Spirit, because God has revealed himself in the Bible as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” We read in Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Because Jesus is God, the believer must:

        – worship Christ as he would worship God
        – obey Christ as he would obey God
        – serve Christ as he would serve God
        – honor Christ as he would honor God
        – believe Christ as he would believe God.

(Reference: The Outline Bible Study Series)

    D. Forbids worship of false gods (Jeremiah 2:11; 1 Corinthians 8:5-6; Galatians 4:8-9)

And then, finally, when God says, “You shall have no other gods,” he forbids the worship of false gods. The question often comes up: “If there is only one true God, why does God speak about ‘other gods’ anyways? The answer is, “There are no other true gods, but we often treat things as God that are not God because of our own sinful desires.” As J. I Packer writes, “Your god is what you love, seek, worship, serve, and allow to control you.” (J. I. Packer; The Ten Commandments, p. 31) And so your “god” is defined according to your loyalty and worship. Whatever you value supremely becomes your god. The first commandment forbids us from valuing anything more than the one true God.

We see this throughout the Scriptures. The prophet Jeremiah rebuked the people of Israel: “Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.” (Jeremiah 2:11 ) 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 says this: “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” And finally the apostle Paul writes in Galatians 4:8-9 “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”

III. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

We now move to the second part of the commandment which is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) These two words “before me” are an essential part of the commandment and refer to both priority and presence.

    A. Priority:
nothing before the Lord in importance
First of all, they refer to priority. Those words, “no other gods before me” mean that God must be first in your life. He is your first priority. Your loyalty goes to him first. Nothing must take his place as your first and best love. You must allow no rival interest to take up residence in your heart or your mind – whether family, ambition, money, or pride. Here are some examples from Scripture of other gods that people sometimes place before the true God.

        1) Money – “You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
        2) Pleasure – “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim 3:4)
        3) Appetite – “Their god is their stomach” (Philippians 3:19)
        4) Idols – more on this next week (Exodus 20:4-6)

    B. Presence: no other gods in the Lord’s presence

But secondly, these words, “before me,” also refer to presence. They mean you shall have no other gods in the Lord’s presence. The Hebrew phrase “before me” literally means “in front of my face.” In other words, God is saying, “Get rid of all other gods, get rid of anything competing for my supremacy in your heart. Remove them from my presence. Get them out of my face. Get them out my sight.” It is sort of like a husband and wife. A wife doesn’t just want to be number one out of a whole line of lovers. She wants to be the only one.

And so it is not just a matter of priority, putting God first. It goes far beyond that. It is not that we make God number one, then family number two, job number three, hobbies number four, and so on. God numbers one through a hundred, one through a thousand, one through infinity. We love our spouses, love our families, work hard at work, and pursue outside interests all out of love for God. He must be supreme in everything!

        1) Forbids syncretism – worship of the Lord and another God (Matt 6:24; Isaiah 42:8)

The command to have no other gods in God’s presence forbids syncretism, the attempt to worship the Lord and another god at the same time. Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve both God and money.” Jesus was just making one application of this principle to money in this verse, but the truth is, you cannot serve both God and anything else. It is simply impossible to divide your supreme affection between two different things. At the precise point in time you begin worshiping or serving something else, you have stopped worshiping and serving the one true God. This is why God says in Isaiah 42:8: “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another.”

        2) Cautions against misplaced affections – desires out of harmony with love for God

The command to have no other gods in God’s presence also cautions us against misplaced affections – that is, any love or desire in our lives that is out of harmony with our love for God. Yes, we should love our husbands and wives and children and many other things as well. But when our love for another takes away from our love for God, then we are violating the first commandment.

        3) Warns against hidden motives – worship is tested before God’s eyes, not man’s (Psalm 44:20-21; Hebrews 4:13)

The command to have no other gods in God’s presence also warns us against hidden motives. Your worship is not tested before the eyes of men. You are not commanded to have no other gods before your family, friends or church. Your worship and heart loyalty is tested before God’s eyes, and God’s eyes alone. You can conceal nothing from him. And so the Psalmist writes in Psalm 44:20-21: “If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?” And we read in Hebrews 4:13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

CONCLUSION: And so what is the bottom line when it comes to the first commandment? You shall choose, worship and serve the Lord your God, and Him only. (Mk 12:30; Deut 6:4-5) This is what Jesus said when asked what is the greatest commandments of all. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Jesus was actually quoting the passage in Deuteronomy we looked at earlier this morning: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) There is only one true God, and he demands your absolute loyalty and undying love.

Here are some final words of application from today’s message:

    1) Put God first in your life. He is God. He is Lord. Put him first.

    2) Order all your earthly affections under your love for God. “Love all things for Jesus’ sake, but love Jesus for himself.” (Thomas A. Kempis, “The Imitation of Christ”)

    3) Do not try to serve two masters. You can’t do it anyways. It will only make you miserable.

    4) Make the choice every day. I like how Stuart Briscoe puts it in his book on the Ten Commandments: “At the end of each day, ask yourself: Was Jesus Christ my Lord today? Did I serve him faithfully today? Did I love him deeply? Did I worship him exclusively?” (Stuart Briscoe; The Ten Commandments, p. 14)

Now, how about all the people who say, “Oh yeah, I keep the Ten Commandments!”? Even if this was the only commandment, we’d still all be in trouble. Thank God for Jesus Christ who delivers us from our sin.

© Ray Fowler

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