No Other Gods

February 12, 2017 / No. 3867

Dear Radio Friends,
Last week I introduced a study on the Ten Commandments by looking with you at the words of David in Psalm 119: “O how love I thy law.” Every true believer says these words with David. As Christians we do not see the law of God in the Ten Commandments as a list of pleasures that God withholds from us, but the law itself is our delight. We love the law of God.
The reasons for this love are, first, that the law shows us something of the perfection and the character of God Himself. The law is a reflection of His righteousness and holiness. Because we love God, we love to be like God, and so we love His law.
Another reason that we love the law is that God has written the law in our hearts. In our natural and sinful state we hate God and His law, and so we delight in disobedience (Rom. 1:32). But as a result of the new life of Jesus Christ in us, we delight in the law of God after the inward man (Rom. 7:22).
A third reason that we love the law is that the law is essential to the gospel. We should never separate the law of the Ten Commandments from the gospel or set it up in contradiction to the gospel. Rather, it is essential to understanding the gospel, for it shows us not only the glory and the beauty and the character of God in His holiness and righteousness, but also our sin and our need of Jesus Christ. It shows us what the Spirit makes us to be—as new creatures who are regenerated. And it shows us how to live in thankfulness for our salvation in the gospel.
As we come to the law today in Exodus 20, we see that it is introduced with these words: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” It is important to see that God gave the law to Israel on Mount Sinai after He had redeemed them from the bondage of Egypt. He is not giving them the law as the way of obtaining their redemption and their salvation by their righteous works; but having delivered them, having saved them, He shows them the way of obedient gratitude as His covenant people. Their obedience was a response to their redemption, not the reason for their redemption.
Similarly, we should never think that we obey the law of God in order to merit God’s favor. If that is our thinking, then we will always remain under the curse, and salvation becomes impossible (Gal. 3:10). Rather, we obey the commandments out of gratitude to God for our salvation.
The first of the commandments, given in Exodus 20:3, is worded like this: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Coming first, this commandment is foundational to the rest of the law of God. There are several things that show this.
First, this commandment teaches us about God. The knowledge of God is where everything else begins. God is the origin of all things in the creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And the fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom (Ps. 111:10).
This commandment is foundational, in the second place, because in identifying Jehovah as the only God, it also gives Him the right to be the only law-giver, the One who ultimately determines what is right and what is wrong. If there were multiple gods, that would mean there is no ultimate standard for morality.
Third, this commandment is foundational to the others because its requirement is really the basic requirement of the entire law. We could summarize the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” in these words: “Thou shalt love God exclusively.” We recognize that this is Jesus’ own summary of the law when He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.”
In the fourth place, this commandment is foundational to the others because the sin that it forbids, idolatry, is essentially the root of all other sin. Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted to be like God. That was idolatry. Covetousness, the Bible tells us, is idolatry because, as soon as we desire what God forbids us, we are already, in effect, denouncing the true God and His sovereignty in giving us what we have.
It is important, therefore, that we understand this commandment correctly and that we always keep it before our minds in connection with obedience. When God says in this commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” He forbids all idolatry. The sin of idolatry is not simply the worship of an idol god, but is the substitution of something or someone, anything or anyone, in the place of the true God. Idolatry takes many forms and the human heart is always busy devising a variety of idols either as objects of affection or things in which man would trust.
In Old Testament times, and still in many parts of the world today, idolatry came to expression in the invention of a deity or a number of deities and the representation of that deity with a statue before which one would worship. Such a god is created by the mind of man and is, therefore, limited by man’s own limitations. Often such a god is crafted to suit the moral and material desires of man. So, by this, God is brought down to the level of man.
Scripture points to the folly, indeed, the lunacy, of such idolatry when it points out in Isaiah 44:10ff., that from one tree a man will craft a god who is worshiped and then the rest of the tree he will use for firewood and food preparation. How can a god, crafted from wood and stone, be a real deity?
A false god, though, can be created in many other ways than just constructing a statue. Idolatry is the invention of a god in the mind. So, there is mental idolatry. Atheism and materialism, which say there is no personal god and that the only reality is this material world, are such mental idols. The Bible tells us that this is the epitome of folly, to say, “There is no god.” The fool says in his heart, there is no god. Folly is to ignore reality to one’s own harm and destruction. Other mental idols include all forms of human philosophy that attempt to explain this world apart from the revelation of God in Scripture. We think of things like Pantheism, Humanism, Deism, Daoism, and others.
Two of the most prevalent forms of idolatry in our day, in Western culture, are worldliness and modernism. Worldliness sets earthly pleasure and gain, personal fame, advancement in education, or anything else in this life as the goal and the purpose of one’s existence. Modernism sets man and his knowledge and discovery above God’s revelation in Scripture. It judges that the Bible is full of primitive ideas that we have now outgrown.
A form of idolatry that often comes into the church is false teaching. All heretical doctrine that formulates a teaching contrary to the teaching of God’s Word in Scripture is idolatry. One example of this is the teaching that God loves everyone and that He loves them so much that there is no such thing as hell. Such a teaching denies the reality of the justice of God. It also denies much of the Bible’s teaching and, in the end, makes the gospel and the death of Jesus Christ totally unnecessary. This is just one small example of a false teaching, but it shows us that man today is no different than the ancient Egyptians or the ancient Greeks or Canaanites who invented gods after their own imaginations. A god who is always and only a loving god suits the lifestyle and the desires of the modern man.
Idolatry, though, is not only instead of the one true God. It is also to have an object or idea alongside of the one true God. Even when a man attempts to serve both God and someone or something else, he is guilty of idolatry.
This commandment teaches us that Christianity and the worship of Jehovah God is an either/or, not a both/and religion. Jesus makes this clear when He says in Matthew 6:24, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” Jehovah God, because He is the only God, demands exclusive devotion and worship. He has made us, we are His creatures, and, by virtue of this, He has the right to demand our worship. For believers, this is doubly true, for not only has He made us, but He has also redeemed us and made us His own peculiar treasure.
The most common form of idolatry is to trust in something created rather than in the creator. So, money, medicine, insurance, education, alcohol, entertainment, sports, or even my own wits may all be gods in which I put my trust, when I ought to be depending on Jehovah. Though these are not true deities, each of them has the power to enslave my heart and to steal my allegiance from God. Does that not make every one of us guilty of idolatry?
This commandment not only forbids idolatry, but it also requires the exclusive worship of the one true God. To help us understand this requirement of worship, I am going to give you eight different verbs or actions that I hope are a good summary of what God requires of us when He says, “Worship me alone.” Worship is not limited to what you do in a church service but involves your whole life. So, each of these actions is worthy of our consideration and meditation.
First, to worship God is to know Him, to have a right and proper knowledge of Him. This knowledge must come from the Scriptures. Only in the Scriptures can we know God. God is not what we feel He is or what we think He might be. He is not some abstract unknown idea. He is not to be discovered through science or reason. But to know God is to know Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word and by His Son. Do you know God?
Second, to worship God is to trust in Him. Perhaps this is the real test of whether one worships the true God. From day to day, are we trusting in the Lord, or are we leaning on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5, 6)? What is it that gives you security as you go through life? Is it yourself, your friends, your money, your job, your family, your education, your insurance policies, and so on? God is almighty, He is faithful, He is true, and He is trustworthy. He keeps His promises. And He will never fail His people. So He calls us to put all our trust in Him. Do you trust in God?
Third, to worship God is to submit to Him and to do this humbly and patiently. This means not only that we must obey His commandments, but especially that we must submit to the providence of God in our lives. Life can be difficult, and God’s people can be put through some severe trials of persecution, of grief, of sickness, of poverty, of anxiety, and so on. These are real experiences for God’s people. But God sends them, and with humility we recognize that we deserve no better. With patience, we trust that God knows what is best for us. Do you patiently submit to God?
Fourth, to worship God is to expect all good things from Him alone. On what is it that you pin your hopes? In what do you find joy and solace in life? In Philippians 4 the apostle says, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” Our God is the God of goodness and blessing, the overflowing fountain of all good. We must look to Him, and not to any creature, for true happiness and fulfillment both in this life and for the next. Do you put your hope in God alone?
In the fifth place, to worship God is to love Him. Our love for God should be total—“with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” Every ounce of your being, every part of your existence, must be used to love God. This love should be willing; it should be sacrificial; it should be dedicated; and it should be exclusive. We must be consumed with God. Do you love God with all your being?
In the sixth place, to worship God is to fear Him. To fear the Lord is to have a constant consciousness of who He is, in all His heavenly majesty, and to know who you are before Him. John Calvin said that this is all that a man needs to really know: God and himself. The one who fears the Lord is directed in every action, thought, and word by the awareness of God. He lives before God. Do you fear the Lord?
In the seventh place, to worship God is to glorify Him. To glorify God is to put Him first, to see that He gets all the recognition in everything that we do. We are not here for ourselves, but God has made us for Himself. How easily we forget this and live for our own reputation or our own pleasure. But the Scriptures say, “of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). Do you live for God’s glory?
Then, in the eighth place, to worship God is to obey Him. When we acknowledge that He is God alone, we will give ourselves in total obedience to His will. We will be careful and we will be meticulous in both our public and private life not to commit the least thing that goes against His commandments. That does not mean that we are sinless, it does not mean that we are perfect. But it does mean that we desire to be governed in all our words and actions and thoughts by the knowledge, the reality, of God. Do you obey God in obedience to this commandment?
As we conclude this message, I call your attention to the fact that because there is only one God, there is also only one Savior. This commandment, in teaching us that Jehovah is God alone, brings us to Jesus Christ, the only Savior and demands that we put our faith and trust in Him alone for salvation. Anyone who denies that Jesus Christ is the Savior and the Son of God does not obey this first commandment.
The Scriptures tell us that God is jealous of His worship. In Isaiah 42:8, He says, “I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” Yet, at the same time, the Bible says of Jesus in Hebrews 1:6 (this is a quote from the Old Testament), “Let all the angels of God worship him.” Jehovah says, “I am jealous of my worship,” and then the Scriptures say, “Let the angels worship him [that is, Jesus].” If we follow simple logic, our conclusion must be that Christ is worthy of worship because He is God alone.
It is in that light that we must read this first commandment. To worship God is to believe in Jesus Christ, His Son. Jesus says in John 14:1, “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” Thomas says in response to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: “My Lord and my God.” It is by believing in Jesus Christ that we worship the true God. We believe in Jesus for salvation from sin. We trust in Him alone and no else for our forgiveness and righteousness.
Believing in Jesus Christ means that we flee all idolatry. We do not put our trust in any creature. We do not place our confidence in ourselves or what we accomplish. But we put our confidence in God alone as He has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ. Do you do that? Do you believe in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? Are you trusting yourself or something else other than Christ for your righteousness and acceptance with God?
When God says, “Worship Me alone,” He is saying, “Believe on My Son, Jesus Christ, as the only way to the Father.”
May the Lord grant that we have such a faith.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast made Thyself known as God to us—the only God who has condescended and revealed Thyself, and especially revealed Thyself to us in Thy Son Jesus Christ, so that we have a way of acceptance and righteousness and forgiveness and being received in Thy presence. Turn our hearts, Father, away from all the things of this earth, so that our exclusive goal and our exclusive trust may be in Thee and in things eternal. Forgive us for the sins that we commit against this commandment, too. We pray it, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.