The 1st commandment; Worshiping the Only Good God

February 4, 2024 / No. 4231

Dear Radio Friends,

In the next several weeks we will go to school to learn about the ten commandments. Our teacher is Jesus Christ—by which I mean that we will learn about the ten commandments from the viewpoint of some instruction Christ gives. Having kept the commandments perfectly as an example to us, Christ not only teaches us how to keep them but also gives us the power to keep them.

Last week we had a broad overview of the law as a whole. We saw that the ten commandments are still relevant to our life today. They teach important lessons about God, and our life with God and our neighbors. But even more, they are relevant in the letter; that is, their prohibitions and commands still apply today. So ultimately they are relevant because they point sinners to our need for Jesus Christ and His perfect righteousness, and remind us that in Him, the perfect law-keeper, is found the power to begin to keep the law.

Today we will examine the first commandment. The introduction to the law reads (Ex. 20:2): “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” And the first commandment reads, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).

We will examine this commandment from the viewpoint of the instruction Jesus gave the rich young ruler, as recorded in Matthew 19:16-21: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”

Consider, then, the first commandment, as it reveals God to be the only Good.

This commandment teaches us basic truths about Jehovah, our God; it makes us examine what kind of God we have. The first point to notice is that He is the all-powerful and loving God. The introduction to the law reminds us that He showed His power and love by bringing Israel out of Egypt. Remember that the Egyptians had held the Israelites in bondage; they forced the Israelites to be their slaves, to make bricks and build cities. This was also a spiritual bondage, for the Egyptians would not permit the Israelites to worship Jehovah, the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jehovah brought Israel out of Egypt by raising up Moses, preparing him to lead Israel out of Egypt, sending him and Aaron to Pharaoh to require Pharaoh to let God’s people go, bringing the ten plagues on Egypt when Pharaoh did not let them go, and finally directing the affairs of history so that Pharaoh sent them away quickly and in his anger. But when Pharaoh came to his earthly senses and realized that he had dismissed his slaves from service to him, he chased after them to bring them back again. By then they were camped on the banks of the Red Sea. So God used a mighty wind to part the waters of the Red Sea, and the two million or so Israelites, with all their cattle, crossed through the Red Sea. When Pharaoh and his army pursued, God brought the waters over the Egyptian army and destroyed them. Israel was free–free from slavery to the Egyptians, but also free to serve Jehovah!

That, I say, demonstrated Jehovah’s great power. None other could part the waves of the Red Sea and create a dry path where the waters had just recently been. It also showed Jehovah’s love for Israel. They were His special people, as He had promised Abraham. He kept His promise; He delivered Israel, so she could have covenant fellowship with Jehovah, and know His love.

The first lesson we are taught about Jehovah, then, is that He is the all-powerful God and the loving God. He is that to us in Jesus Christ. For we too were in spiritual slavery to sin and Satan; and by the blood of Christ, God bought us back to be His people and delivered us from sin. He works in us the new life of Jesus Christ, so that we can know His love and reciprocate that love. All that He did for us in Christ shows His power and love.

The second lesson that this teaches is that Jehovah is the only God. This is the real idea of the prohibition of the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Israel was used to having other gods; she had learned how to worship the idol gods of Egypt. By delivering her out of Egypt, Jehovah taught Israel that He was the only true God. So we are to worship Him as the only true God. When He says that we must not have any other gods before Him, Jehovah is not permitting us to have other gods so long as they are second or third or fourth in rank behind Jehovah. The word “before” regards not the rank of our gods, but it refers to the sight of Jehovah; He may not see in us a regard for any other god beside Him. But He will see, if we have other gods. No other god truly exists. Only Jehovah truly exists as God. Every other supposed god is but the invention of the mind of men. And let us heed His command to put them aside, by the power of His grace and knowing His love.

The third lesson that this teaches is that Jehovah is all-knowing, or all-seeing. In this way, too, He is the greatest God. This is a comfort to many of God’s people when they are led through times of trial: He knows what we suffer, and in love He cares for us. It is also a reminder that He sees our sins; even when we ignore, excuse, or deny sin, He knows it.

The fourth lesson, the lesson that Jesus especially drives home, is that God is good, only good, and always good. Matthew 19:16 tells us that a rich young ruler came to Jesus and addressed him as the good teacher. He knew Jesus was a teacher; we do too. This man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer was twofold. A part of Jesus’ answer was that only God was good: “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God.”

God is the only good, and the true good. There is no bad in God; no moral imperfection, not even a flaw in His design or being or conduct. He is all good, and only good. His Godhead, and all the attributes or perfections of His Godhead, are good. He is true love, true mercy, true grace, true justice, true compassion, true wisdom, true knowledge, true power, true sovereignty. In Him is no bad. Therefore all His works are good and only good. All display His greatness as God; all point to Him as the only true God.

Now the rich young ruler was correct, of course, to call Jesus good. When Jesus said that only God was good, Jesus did not mean to say that He, Jesus, was not good; rather, He was saying: if you are calling me good, and if God is the only good, then you are acknowledging that I am God. Rich young ruler, do you realize what you are doing? And are you doing it consciously?

For in fact Jesus is God in the flesh—the only-begotten Son of God, who took our nature on Himself. So the first commandment, as understood in light of the New Testament, requires us to confess at least three things about Jesus. First, He is the only human being who is God in our human nature. Second, all the things we said about Jehovah–that He is all-powerful and loving, that He is all-knowing, and that He is good–are also true of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ shares and radiates all the virtues and perfections of God Himself. So, third: if Jehovah is the only God, then Jesus Christ is the only revelation of that God in the flesh and the only Savior.

The fruit of this instruction about God is that we fall down on our feet and worship Him. This worship of Jehovah alone is the obeying of the first commandment. We will worship Him as He makes Himself known in Jesus Christ. We will acknowledge Jesus Christ to be our only and complete Savior. We will see that Jesus’ perfect obedience that He showed while on earth, and His willingness to bear the wrath of God for sin in dying on the cross, and His victory in being raised the third day, all had as their goal the delivering of us from slavery to sin and death! And we will stand amazed at His great power and faithful love.

The first commandment teaches us about God, and as we learn its lessons we love this God.

Having learned what kind of God we have, we must next examine how to live in the service of this God.

Loving God and living in His service, we must avoid idolatry, and flee from it in all its forms. Which is to say: we do worship other gods! We do pretend that other gods exist! Hearing this first commandment, we must not go to God and say, “Good thing I never did have other gods,” nor is it time to pretend we put our trust in God alone; rather, it is time to come to God on our knees and confess: but I do have other gods! I needed this commandment, because it reminds me to turn from them, and put them aside!

What other gods do you have, radio listener? From which idols must you turn? The society in which we live exalts humanity instead of Jehovah. The number one goal is a good quality of life. To that end, we need money, and lots of it; we need medical care, and the best of it; we need technology, and the latest of it. This is an idol, in the form of ideas and motives. The Bible teaches that true happiness is not found in earthly things or experiences but in serving the only true God.

Sometimes other humans are our god. We so admire an actress, a politician, a teacher, or a pretty girl, that we follow their every move, and would do anything to get their attention. Or we so crave approval from other humans that we will do anything to get it. This is a form of idolatry.

Sometimes ideas are our god. The true God reveals Himself in the form of ideas, which ideas are written in the Bible. Understanding the teachings of Scripture will give us true happiness. But we are quick to seek out other ideas, non-Biblical ideas, and think that in those ideas true happiness is found.

The greatest idol, the one we are ready to serve, is the idol of self. I once knew a man who said that he was his own god; he didn’t need another god. He openly expressed a thought that arises in our own hearts. So, when things don’t go our way, we get angry. We try to manipulate people. We fill our bellies and give first attention to getting what we want. We think we are to be served.

To love God as the only good, and serve Him as the only God, requires us to hate, avoid, and flee from all such idolatry. It requires us to see that in Jehovah alone, and in knowing and keeping His Word is true happiness.

This really was the word of Jesus to that rich young ruler. Jesus, in telling the rich young ruler to keep the law of God if he wanted eternal life, was not suggesting that the man could himself earn eternal life. Rather, Jesus was telling him how to enjoy the eternal life that Jesus earned and that Jesus provided. At the heart of Jesus’ answer was not just the command to keep the law, but also the command to follow Jesus.

For Jesus renounced humanity, human institutions, human ideas, other humans as the way to happiness. He even renounced Himself as the way to happiness, if that meant disobeying God; think of the temptations He endured in the wilderness. For Jesus, the way of obedience was the way to happiness. That obedience required Him to lay down his life–yet in doing so, He served His Father truly, and enjoyed peace fully. He is both the example for us and the power by which we can do the same: seek God, His will, His law, His Word, and find true happiness.

Renouncing idols is one aspect of keeping this law; but the danger is that we renounce one idol, only to turn to another. So we must both flee idols and idolatry, and run to Jehovah. How do we do that?

First, we must study His Word, the Bible. He makes Himself known there. If we are to avoid idolatry, we must know Him rightly. We will not know Him rightly by coming to our own conclusions about who and what kind of God He is; we will know Him rightly only when we listen to Him teach us who and what kind of God He is.

Second, we must trust in Him alone. His wisdom we need, and His guidance. Of course, when sick, we may call the doctor. Of course, when we have some other trouble in life, we may seek other human help. But we must not do so as if we don’t need God; as if the doctor or other humans are all we need. Rather, we do so praying that God will help us, and use other humans to that end. If He chooses not to give us healing, or our troubles do not improve, we will still trust that God is wise and is leading us through the Red Seas and Sinai wildernesses of this life, as He prepares us for our heavenly home.

Third, we must submit to His will humbly and patiently. The way He leads us is difficult, but we must not murmur or complain. He knows what is best; He did for Israel, and He does for us.

Fourth, we must expect Him to give us only that which is good. That is not the same as saying that He will make us rich in an earthly way, and give us only health; that if we are poor or sick, He has failed. The point is that even sickness, and even poverty, and even those things that are not pleasant to the flesh, are good, inasmuch as God is using them to make us love Him more and is preparing us for heaven.

Fifth, we must love God, serve God, and glorify God with our whole heart. This is the heart of the first commandment: love God first, and love God above all. And this involves obedience to the entire law. For good reason, this commandment is first: it requires us to love God above all. The rest of the law shows us how that love is to show itself, concretely, in our life. We love God by obeying Him.

In this regard, Jesus set the example. He did so, first, by renouncing the temptations of the Devil, as recorded in Matthew 4 and other places. The devil suggested that the hungry Jesus turn stones into bread. The Devil suggested that Jesus seek earthly fame and reign over earthly kingdoms, and that all that would be possible if Jesus were simply to bow down to the devil. The Devil suggested that Jesus jump off a high point of the temple and see if Jehovah really loved Him enough to save Him. All of these were opportunities for Jesus to serve Himself, or the Devil, rather than God. Jesus understood that, and responded to the Devil by saying that He would obey God’s law, and do God’s will. In His perfect obedience, Jesus loved and served God above all. He sets the example.

And He gives us the power. We cannot flee idolatry, and reject all that is ungodly, in our own strength. Our sinful natures love sin too much. Seeking power and grace from God, on the basis of Jesus’ perfect work, and by the Holy Spirit, we will find that power.

But we also need the grace of forgiveness. For we have sinned. It is not enough for us to tell God that we will now try harder to get it right. We must confess our sins, and only He can declare that our sins are covered in the blood of Christ. So go to God in prayer, confessing what He already knows (for all our sins are “before Him,” that is, He sees them), and seek forgiveness in Christ.

Then, and only then—knowing that He forgives us, and gives us the power to live a new and godly life—will we enjoy the truest happiness that humans can enjoy on earth. That is the happiness of knowing that we have treasure in heaven, that someday we will behold God face to face and enjoy His blessed friendship forever. This was the word of Jesus to the rich young ruler: he was to renounce his riches in which he found happiness, sell them, and care for the poor, and he would have treasure in heaven.

Radio listeners, may you know that treasure! May you find truest joy in loving and serving God as the only true God! May you do that, as you follow the example of Jesus Christ, and do so in His power.