A couple weeks ago our adult Sunday School class began a study on the Ten Commandments. Your first thought might be, “You’re teaching adults the ten commandments? Isn’t that really rather basic?”
And you’d be right. But as we’ve begun our study, we have seen that there is much more involved in these commandments than first meets the eye.
For over 400 years Israel had been enslaved in Egypt, and in doing so had been immersed in a polytheistic culture that worshiped hundreds of gods.
God raised up a deliverer in Moses, and the plagues brought upon Egypt proved the powerlessness of their false gods, and the omnipotent power of the LORD God. God was bringing Israel out of captivity, leading them to a land full of promise. And they needed to know how to live and have right relationships with God and men.
The first commandment is found in Exodus 20:2-3, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
What, then, is a god? In basic terms, our god is whatever we make the center of our lives, whatever shapes our values and commands our attention and resources.
In this first command, God is staking a double claim to Israel’s obedience and worship. In the first, He deserved their worship because of who He was – the LORD, Yahweh, the creator and sustainer of life.
In the second, they should worship Him because of what He’d done for them in delivering them from Egypt’s slavery. Israel may have been tempted to serve the false gods of Egypt, but God proved Himself to be more powerful than any of them.
We, too, are tempted to follow false gods, devoting huge chunks of time and effort for those things we find important. Some worship the god of physical fitness, their health being the single most important part of their lives. Others devote themselves to the god of career, sacrificing family relationships and hobbies in the attempt to climb the ladder and one day give the orders rather than carry them out.
There is no shortage of people who have made hobbies and recreation their god, devoting endless hours and countless dollars in the pursuit of pleasure. Many worship the false god of wealth, trying to attain “the good life” at all costs. Many of these are good things in themselves, and the list could go on and on, but each of these false gods leaves us empty in the end. And in the end we leave our careers, we can no longer enjoy the recreation, our bodies eventually die, and we can’t take the wealth with us.
Jesus approached the teaching of this first commandment, not from a “thou shalt not” perspective, but from a positive “thou shalt” perspective. “… The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:29-30)
As He often did in addressing the commandments, Jesus moved beyond any outward sign of worship straight to the condition of the heart – who and what do we love? Do we love God above all else? Do we make His agenda our agenda? Will we establish His values as our own and submit ourselves to His instruction? And this challenge is not just for Israel, but also for believers today.
May I challenge you to evaluate your life, as I’ve evaluated my own? Have we established false gods that will leave us always wanting more? Or are we pursuing a relationship with God above all else, loving Him with all that we are, striving to please Him in all we do?
When we get that first priority established, it’s amazing how everything else in our lives will fall into line. But when that first priority is out of line, the rest of our life can be a mess.
Love God first – above all else. He alone satisfies.