• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

The First Commandment

You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:3NKJV


Question 103 of the Larger Catechism asks, "Which is the first commandment?" It gives the answer, "The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Last week we considered the first "table" of the Ten Commandments. This week we look at commandment number one.

As we begin to examine the individual commandments, we do well to remember that God commands us, only and always, what is true and what is for our good. Let us, therefore, consider how this first commandment is true. God commands us to have no other gods because there are no other gods. The Old Testament often recalls how Israel, in sinful rebellion against the LORD, would worship the false gods of the nations around them, such as Baal, Molech, Ashtoreth, Chemosh, Milcom, and many others. Often, this sinful worship would involve the bowing down of the worshiper before a physical idol of the (false) deity. Thus, the sin of worshiping other gods is called idolatry.  However, these idols, and the deities they represented, were complete fabrications. In truth only one divine being exists. Thus, notice how soundly the first commandment flatly rejects all notions of polytheism or religious pluralism. The laws of the United States may allow individuals to worship other gods but the Law of God absolutely forbids it! Perhaps here someone would object, "But if there are no other gods in reality, then how can anyone actually break this commandment?" That is, how can someone have another god, when that god does not exist?

Idolatry can be of the heart. The sin of worshiping false gods is not limited to those who kneel before statues. The Bible clearly shows that whenever human beings ascribe the praise, honor, and devotion, belonging to God alone, to any created thing, they are committing idolatry. That creature has become for them a god, even though it is not actually a god. It is in this sense that Jesus said "No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve God and money," (Matt. 6:24). If desire for money determines how you live your life, then money has become your god. If money has become your god, then you are in violation of the first commandment, and therefore, you cannot properly serve the true God unless you repent from the sin of idolatry. 

Secondly, consider how this commandment is good for us. God commands us to have no other gods before Him, because serving creatures that are not gods, as gods, is bad for us. You and I have been made in the image of God, for the purpose of glorifying the one true God and enjoying Him forever. God's commandments express His desire for us to achieve that purpose. Thus, as we obey this first commandment we fulfill the goal for our being. We achieve our highest dignity and nobility as we worship the one true God as God. Such worshipers will not merely be those who are in God's image by nature, but they will be exerting themselves to show forth and exemplify that image. 

Consequently, worshiping God as God causes all of the rest of our lives to be appropriately prioritized. All of our powers and abilities will be properly exercised toward what God loves and against what God hates. Accordingly, we will enjoy all of the glory and satisfaction of realizing the purpose and goal of our existence: being like God.

Conversely, when we allow a creature to become our god, by definition it is bad for us.  Worshiping a creature as our divine Creator causes us to forfeit our highest and noblest purpose for existing. We will still be in the image of God but we will be doing all that we can to degrade and obscure that nature. Thus, rather than basking in the glory of being like God, we will be heaping shame upon ourselves and degrading ourselves. We will be acting like those who do not bear the divine image. The further we descend into creature worship the more we forfeit the glory to which we were appointed and turn our nobility into dishonor, until what should have been our glory becomes our shame as we love what God hates and hate what God loves, and God gives us over to the evils that we are embracing (Rom. 1:21-32), the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), and every evil thing (Jas. 3:16). Praise God for His good law and do not allow sin to slander its goodness to you!

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