The Ten Commandments are still a shorthand for many people in our culture to talk about the Bible. ‘I believe in the Ten Commandments,’ usually means that the person believes in what the Bible teaches about being a good person, without getting too bogged down with the details. Church-going Christians would claim a higher standard, but I’m not sure that our approach is all that much better. Quick question: can you name the first commandment, without peaking? And could you give some quick examples of how it shapes the way you live? While most people do fairly well with at least the surface level of commands not to murder and steal, I’m not convinced that we score so high with the first commandment. Take a moment to consider it with me.
For those of you who are still scratching your head, trying to remember it, I’ll put you out of your misery. Exodus 20:2-3 puts it like this:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
At its most basic level, the first commandment is a charge to put God first, to treat Him as the first and most important in your life. A simple look at the passage reveals a few important details. It’s interesting that it says to “have no other gods before me,” when the rest of the Bible makes it clear that there is, in fact, only one God. So it’s a call to put God before all of the other things that we treat like gods, even though they’re not. Humanity is famous for making gods of things. Some of the gods we make are religious, but often we use god-language as a superlative. We use phrases like, “That steak is divine,” or, “She’s a goddess.” But even when we don’t use the language, we treat various things in our life as our ‘god,’ our #1, and every time we do that, we break the first commandment.
The other critical thing to notice about the first command, is that it’s defined by a statement of identity. The God whom we’re treat as the preeminent one in our lives isn’t a generic higher power. We don’t get to define Him or project our own ideas onto Him. He reveals himself in v.2. He’s the LORD God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and who rescued His people from slavery. This restricts and motivates our obedience to the command (and in fact all of the commands). We put the God of the Bible first and we do so because He’s a gracious God, a rescuing God, and One who is supremely worthy of our devotion and trust.
So how do you obey this commandment? As long as we don’t convert to another religion have we got this one covered? I think it’s far more basic than that. If it gives us a call to put God first in our lives and it demands that we not give God the left-overs. Not surprisingly, both the positive and the negative implications of this command get repeated all over Scripture. With summer drawing to a close and a new school year about to begin, can I suggest a few practical ways you can put the first commandment into action?
1. Make time with God a priority. Did God get your leftovers today? Will He get your leftovers tomorrow? If you don’t have a set time in your day and rhythm to your week when you meet with God for Bible study and prayer, it won’t happen. And how can we claim to put first a God we seldom listen to or speak with?
2. Make service to God a priority. God invites us to ministry, both as a privilege and an opportunity. Every church has ways for people to be involved and the reality is that unless everyone does something, it creates an unfair burden for a few. But giving ourselves wholeheartedly to service is a way to express our love and gratefulness to God and communicate that He has the first place in our lives.
3. Make fellowship with God’s people a priority. Over the next month, people will sign up for clubs, hobbies, classes, groups and part-time jobs. And once it’s all done many will conclude that they don’t have time to attend small groups, prayer meetings or Sunday School. Surely the first commandment teaches us to pencil God into the schedule first and arrange the rest of our lives with the conviction that He’s our priority.
As you think through ways to put God first this fall, remember who He is and why you’re doing it. We put God first because He’s worth it. We put Him first on our agenda because He put us on our agenda when we didn’t deserve it. And we put Him first because when we do, our lives are marked by the blessings that can only be found in intimacy with Him.
In awe of Him,