Ten Commandments – Part 1
“Thou Shalt have no other gods before me”
One thing we need to understand about the 10 Commandments is that they are rooted in a relationship;
Look at Exodus 19:4 – 6 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
What does that sound like to you? It sounds to me like a relationship.
Here are some selected scriptures from the Book of Deuteronomy;
- “Acknowledge and take to heart this day, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep His commands and decrees which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, and that you may live long in the land your God gives you for all time.”
- “Walk in the way that the Lord your God has Commanded you, so that you may live and prosper, and prolong your days in the land” *“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. These commands that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home; and when you walk along the road; when you lie down and when you get up; Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on your doorframes and on your gates”
- “The Lord has commanded us to obey all His decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And, if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, that will be our righteous-ness. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers”
These are not arbitrary laws that require blind obedience to an invisible authoritarian; It is a covenant. A covenant is a sacred promise between two parties. You can have a contract without having a relationship…but you can’t have a covenant without one.
The Ten Commandments are like a wedding vow in many ways; God pledges his power and love; promises; presence; and provision to Israel. And, in turn, God expects Israel’s loyalty to himself and compassion toward others. If Israel were to ask the question, “Why should we do this?” God would not answer “Because I told you so.” Often, God does tell his people to obey because, “I am the Lord.” But even then his commands are based on this relationship. The Ten Commandments are built on responsibility, much like the wedding vow…and God is as bound by them as we are.
That’s why, in part, the Ten Commandments don’t work with people who don’t have a relationship with God. Why should a person avoid stealing if he or she doesn’t acknowledge the God who said, “Thou shalt not steal.”? Why should a person honor their marriage commitments if they haven’t already made a commitment to the God who said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”?
The power of the Ten Commandments lies not in the fact that they are laws, but in that they are descriptions of how people who know Him live in relationship with God, and with one another.
If you were to do a nationwide survey and ask people, “Do you believe in God?” I’ll bet the numbers would surprise you. A huge percentage would say, “Yes, absolutely, I believe in God.” But then if you examined their lives you’d find that what they profess to believe and how they live do not correspond. I can say to Judy, my wife, “I love you.” But, if I never act out or show that love in specific, concrete behavior, my words are empty.
Faith, like love, is too easily kept in the realm of theory. The Ten Commandments don’t allow us to claim belief in God without demonstrating that belief in concrete actions and behaviors. They require us to affirm our faith in the daily grind of living.
So instead of, “Do you believe in God?” the Ten Commandments ask us ten questions;
1. Is God the first and only god in your life?
2. Do you honor anything or anyone above the one true God? Does anything physical or material come before Him in your life?
3. Have you dishonored God’s name by using it in a frivolous manner?
4. Is anything more important than your relationship with God and keeping the Sabbath holy?
5. Do you honor your father and mother? (whether good or bad, dead or alive?)
6. Do you value human life? (Speaks of intentional murder.)
7. Have you kept your marriage vows?
8. Do you respect other’s rights of ownership?
9. Do you always tell the truth? And not gossip?
10. Are you content with what you have or do you covet the possessions, relationships and successes of others?
To God, our answers to those specific questions about behavior and morality demonstrate our true belief in the very first Commandment. It must start with the question; “Do you believe God is?” Scripture says that “Those who come to God must first believe that He is!” The first sentence in the Bible says, “In the beginning, GOD!” If we don’t believe that, then everything else in life is irrelevant! One can’t “think” there is a God…You can’t “Hope” there is a God…You must believe God is! I have said it many times before, “If you don’t get the first button in the first button hole, nothing else in life will line up!”
The word “you” in all these commands is singular. This may be one of the top reasons our country is in such a moral mess. It can be summed up in these words; “It’s not my problem.” Or, “It’s none of my business.” Really? It doesn’t make an impact on my life if someone – even the president of the United States – commits adultery? Those sins don’t affect me; it’s not my problem. The problem is, it seems to me, that most everybody feels that way. The sin of one person can affect the entire nation…it did in the Old Testament, and it does today!
When God came down to the mountain, hundreds of thousands of people were gathered around its base. He did not address the crowd, though. He addressed each and every individual. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me. You, standing there by that rock, and you over by that cedar tree, and you too, the one in the red turban who is thinking in his heart how glad he is that God is talking to all these other people! There is a connection between personal responsibility and the welfare of the community. The Ten Commandments shout at the top of God’s voice, “It is your problem!”… Why? Because what affects one affects all.
This first command is so foundational to all the rest. If there was no ultimate standard of authority outside our own feelings, there would be no reason to recognize the laws as anything but an arbitrary list that could be dismissed any time we feel like it…with a “Take it or leave it” attitude.
Today there are those who want to keep the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms and other government funded facilities as well as our schools. It may surprise you, but I understand why they oppose posting of the Ten Commandments. They don’t mind the parts about stealing and killing and lying. Everybody pretty much agrees with those. They don’t really mind the part about being kind to your parents. Most everybody finds those comfortable. The part the opponents of the Ten Commandments can’t live with is the first command; “You shall have no other gods before me!”
They understand how powerful that command is. They understand that if you recognize the sovereign, exclusive authority of God then you can’t merely dismiss the rest just because you don’t feel like obeying. If there really is only one God, if he really is the only savior of the world, then he must be obeyed.
If we will honor God as the only God in our lives, it won’t matter whether the Ten Commandments are posted in courtrooms and school hallways or not. They will be posted everywhere a Christian goes. And the testimony of our lives will be impossible to silence.
Psalm 115:1-8 “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.
Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”
… It’s like hugging a mannequin!