Have you ever visited a house of worship of a non-Christian faith? When I was a child growing up in New York City, our family often went out to dinner in Chinatown in Manhattan. I’m guessing I was about 9, when on one of our many trips to Chinatown, my parents took my twin brother and I into a Buddhist temple. “It’s good for you to experience the culture other people, and religions are a big part of other cultures,” said my mom. I wasn’t convinced. I remember being terrified. It was so radically different from my home church of St. Charles. I don’t remember it being big…a storefront location, perhaps. But it was packed with Chinese worshippers. It was noisy, with unusual smells. There were beautiful tapestries and decorations, and a huge statue of Buddha. That scared me. I was often in fear of my God. Now I was being watched by another! I wanted out!
I am not afraid of Buddhist temples anymore, nor am I in fear of my God, my savior. But I have a good understanding of why God addressed the issue of other gods in his 1st commandment.
When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, they were amidst a people that practiced a polytheistic religion. Knowing that, it makes sense that the first commandment God gave them addressed this influence. In Exodus 20:2-3, it says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” He was instructing them to leave behind the polytheistic religion of their captors.
Today, many Sunday school teachers, pastors and bible study teachers will say that this refers to worshipping things that are not God. It’s no secret that our society worships a lot of other gods. They are gods that promise fulfillment but fail to deliver. The gods of money, fame, beauty, popularity, success, peace, pleasure, escape, comfort, security, happiness…all of them promise satisfaction, but all fall miserably short of the promise. Certainly, as Christians, we are not to worship those other false gods.
This commandment goes deeper than that. This commandment sets the stage for all the rest. In fact, I wonder if the rest of them are significant without this first one. Is that heresy? I don’t know. Because it’s in THIS commandment that God clearly defines the relationship between Him and the Israelites. Let’s take the verses apart to pull out 4 significant thoughts.
What’s the application for us today? It’s essentially the same as for the Hebrews. God alone saves. God alone delivers. Establishing a relationship with Jesus as your savior and Lord is the single most significant thing you can do in your lifetime. The relationship precedes the obedience. Obedience to the commandments is both impossible and insignificant without the relationship with God.
Many people may think they have a relationship with God, but is it a saving relationship? Does God truly call himself “your God?” Do you have that personal relationship?
If you do, is God at the center of your life? Visualize your life like a wheel that had a central hub and radiating spokes. The central hub is where all the spokes begin, and represents the controlling being of your life. The spokes represent the many areas of your life, such as your job, your relationships, your hobbies, your thoughts. Where is God on the wheel? Is he at the hub, the center, affecting and directing every aspect of your life? Or is he just one of the spokes, with no influence on any of the other spokes? Are YOU at the hub, directing and controlling? Change that! Put God where He deserves to be.
This commandment is key for us to understand that Christianity is not a religion about God, but a relationship with God. That’s why it’s the first one. And that’s why it sets the stage for the rest. The rest of the commandments make sense only when the first one is settled.
Is it settled for you?