“You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3
God’s Word leads us to the full life Christ died for us to live. The Ten Commandments are guardrails for our modern-day lives. We no longer live in the Old Testament church, where animal sacrifices upon altars were required for breaking God’s laws. Today, we live under the new covenant, ushered in by Christ Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross to forgive our multitude of sins. We cannot follow the Ten Commandments through our own sheer will but can aim to through the power of the Holy Spirit given to us at salvation. Still, we will never hit the mark of perfection as Christ did. He loved the Father with His whole heart, soul, and mind. Thankfully, perfection is not required of us.
What Does it Mean to Have No Other Gods before Our God?
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22:37-39
In ancient times, and in some places and people groups around the globe today, people worship a variety of gods. God clearly stated, “I am,” and commands His people to worship Him alone. “No deity, real or imagined, is to rival the one true God in Israel’s heart and life” (NIV Study Bible). Worshipping other gods gives a false sense of security from a source other than God, who is everywhere, all-powerful, and all-knowing. “The Hebrew, often translated as ‘besides me’ or ‘before me,’ means ‘in my presence,” J.D. Greear wrote. “The point is that nothing else can qualify as god in your life. The true God is not only to be number one but the only one.”
Other gods can also constitute things we place higher than God in our lives. The Bible defines these as idols, and they can be anything from money and possessions to food and working out or people and relationships. Anything or anyone we place above God is another god. As Christians, we are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” ( 1 Peter 2:9). Kevin DeYoung explains, “We are God’s people, set apart to live according to his ways.” His ways are not our ways. Our tendencies are to cave to the cravings of our flesh and fall prey to the thinking they will give us the comfort and happiness we need. God is faithful to bless us in this life, but there is no blessing bigger and more important than the source of the blessing. Our marriages, best friends, jobs, houses, habits, and hobbies all take a backseat to the One who numbers our days.
Why Is it Important That This Is the First Commandment?
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”
God’s laws are for our own good. He is a loving Father who provides rules, boundaries, and discipline for His children as any good parent/caregiver does. We don’t earn or keep our salvation by following God’s rules. Obedience is a heart issue, which expresses our faith and trust in the Lord by instilling limits in our lives. He has our best interest in mind. “Though Christians do not believe achieving the law is demanded for salvation, they still see the Ten Commandments as the establishment of God’s moral law,” Bible Study Tools explains. “Jesus called people to an even higher standard by obeying the commandments not only in their behavior but also in their hearts and minds.”
When we take the time to be with God each day through prayer, worship, and the Word, we get to know Him better. We’re not promised an understanding of all of the ways of God, but the deeper our relationship is with Him, the more we trust and obey. “God’s timing in waiting until the third month to give the commandments was no coincidence,” Jennifer Waddle writes. “He had already proven Himself as their Deliverer and Provider and it was time to test their faith and reveal His divine standards for them.” God’s people knew then He who He was to them: their Provider and Deliverer. He is unchanging. He’s still our Provider and Deliverer today, and so much more.
What Other Gods Might the Israelites Have Been Tempted By?
“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.'” Exodus 32:1
God’s people struggled with faithfulness to Him. In their fickleness, impatience, and lack of faith, they quickly turned to the temptation to worship as other nations did. This time, it was by creating a golden calf representing Baal to worship. But over time, Scripture mentions others gods they worshipped, too: Molek, Chemosh, Dagon, Asherah, and more. “In ancient times, this law steered people away from the many false gods worshipped by various cultures,” Dolores Smyth explains. God’s people were surrounded by other nations who worshipped other gods. I imagine, much like we compare ourselves to others who live different lifestyles today, God’s ancient people often wondered what life would be like if they worshiped other gods. It’s a temptation they often fell into and angered God with.
What Other Gods Might Christians Be Tempted to Bow Down to Today?
“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” Matthew 4:10
Before we are tempted to think of God’s ancient people in a bad light, we have to realize that the devil tempted even Jesus to worship other gods! In the modern, new covenant age we live in, we are tempted every day to look outside of the providence and provision of God for something the world promises to give us. In fact, the world will always tempt us to believe we are entitled to certain things, such as amenities and circumstances. When we genuinely seek to obey it with all our hearts, the first commandment guards us against falling for those lies. “In Modern times,” Dolores Smyth wrote, “this Commandment is a warning against elevating money or other worldly things to god-like status in our lives.” We could include social media, the Internet, shopping, coffee, or even our gym memberships. Anything we are tempted to find happiness and peace in other than God is a lie that will end up failing us.
“Outside of Christ, we are only wretched,” Jon Bloom wrote. “But in Christ, united to him, we are completely forgiven of our constant failure to keep them and his constant and perfect keeping of them is credited to us.” Jesus died for us, knowing we would not only be tempted by these things but fall prey to them, too. Sometimes, we dive right in without much convincing or swaying. The hope of Christ Jesus assures us forgiveness when we turn from those idols and other gods- no matter how deep we’re in – and come back to the Lord, who is our all in all. The first commandment addresses a very human struggle, unavoidable even to the most faithful. Following this commandment perfectly is not God’s goal. He knows we can’t do that. He is much more concerned with our hearts and our trust in and obedience to Him. The Holy Spirit will convict us when we’re falling off the rails, and when we’re repentant to turn back to Jesus, over and over again, He welcomes us and washes us with living water, again and again.
A Prayer to Have No Other Gods before God
You are the best Father to us. Yahweh, You are the path to peace, hope, and grace. Christ Jesus, Messiah, we come to the Father through You alone, by Your sacrifice to forgive our sins. Holy Spirit, You convict and counsel us when we fall away and stray from the guardrails intended to help us live our lives to the full. Help us to cling to this commandment, to love You alone, God. May our lives bring glory to You, today and always. Help us to grow a love for Your Word that inspires us to come to You daily through it, Father. You tell us to pray about everything. Let us take Your wisdom into every day of our lives and let it fill our hearts to the brim. We pray to saturate our minds with Your wisdom so that we follow it in our daily lives, Father.
In Jesus’ Name,
God has our best interest in mind. He loves us so much He sacrificed His one and only Son Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He saved us from ourselves before we saw our first fleck of sunlight. He knit us in our mother’s womb with such care, gifted us with talents, and gave each of us a unique purpose on this earth no one else can accomplish. Our God loves us wholly, perfectly, and completely. In Him, we find peace and happiness, hope and comfort, encouragement and love. The true gauge of our lives is measured only by the Father, through our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. He alone knows our hearts.
NIV Study Bible, Copyright © 1985, 1995, 2002, 2008, 2011 by Zondervan.
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Meg, freelance writer and blogger at Sunny&80, is the author of “Friends with Everyone, Friendship within the Love of Christ,” and “Surface, Unlocking the Gift of Sensitivity,” She writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. Meg earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters, which led her to pursue her passion to write. She has led a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. Meg, a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan, lives by the shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle.