This is part 2 of a 5 part series. For part one: CLICK HERE.
It doesn't matter how familiar we are with the rest of the Bible, the Ten Commandments are famous—well, at least the idea of them is. A lot of us would probably have a hard time naming all 10 if we had to. I don’t know about you, but it seems like whenever I try to think through the Ten Commandments, I always start with what seem like the “big” ones: “Thou shall not kill,” “Thou shall not steal” and then maybe, if I’m on a roll, I’ll go to “Thou shall not commit adultery.”
Why do you think we go to those first? Sure, they’re important. But what about the first commandment? The second one? What's the third one? If I asked you, many of you would probably say, “I don’t really know. I just know they’re important, and I’m keeping them—whatever they are.”
Last week we said that we have this idea that God is all about rules, but when we step back and look at the big picture we see that relationship always precedes rules with God. He calls us His children first and then asks us to trust Him.
Exodus 20:1 says: God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (NIV). That's sort of the history lesson that we talked about last week, the context. But God keeps going and gives us the first commandment. He says in verse three, “You shall have no other gods before me” (NIV). Literally, you shall have no other gods beyond Me or in addition to Me.
Essentially, here's what God says in the very first commandment—“I want to be your one and only God.”
Now, I don’t know how Moses responded when he heard God say this. But if I had to guess, I would say his reaction was something like, “No kidding. After all we have been through together, after all You have already done for us, do You really think we would go looking for another god? This commandment seems like a no-brainer. It doesn't really seem like a commandment at all because this is something we already get.”
Why would God even have to say that? The reason is because every culture in the world up until that time had multiple gods. In fact, historically, it would have been unbelievable, unheard of even, that a nation would decide there's just one god. God was saying: “Instead of having a god for healing, a god for farming and a god for relationships and love, I want to be your one-stop shop. I want to be the one Source, the one God you depend on for everything. If you've got war issues, you come to Me. If you've got illness issues, you come to Me. If you've got money issues, you come to Me. Whatever your issue is, nation of Israel, I don't want you to have multiple gods. I want to be your one and only—because I am the One and Only.”
Now that's huge. God is saying that recognition is more important to Him than obedience. What’s more important to Him than just simply doing a bunch of stuff and keeping a bunch of rules is God being center stage in your life. And if we’ll do this, keep God as our one and only, then the rest of these commandments almost take care of themselves; the rest of the commandments just fill in the details and the gaps. This commandment is like the umbrella all the other commandments fall under. It's not just a rule that God happens to make the first commandment. It's the starting place for anybody who wants to function in a relationship with their heavenly Father.
Now, let’s look at the second commandment in verse four: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (NIV). In other words, God's saying, “Not only do I want to be your one and only God, but I don't want you to attempt to build any kind of monument, any kind of statue or form anything with your hands that represents Me.”
At first glance, the second commandment seems like a repeat of the first. But it actually addressed something that would be difficult for the Israelites to grasp because of the culture they've come out of. See, everybody who had a god had a representation of that god. No matter what god you worshiped, there was some kind of idol, statue, building or something that stood for that god. And when you were in front of that object, you were in the presence of that god.
God knew something about the Israelites, and He knows something about us. God knew that it was in them, just like it is in us, to want to have an object to worship. God knew that, and in response, He says: “Here's the deal—don't you dare create anything that represents Me. I am unrepresentable. Whatever you create, I am bigger. Whatever you build, I'm more majestic. Whatever size you make it, I'm more powerful. I don't want you to even attempt to fashion anything that represents Me.” Basically, God is saying, “Look, don't try to make Me manageable, make Me a location or try to compartmentalize Me. I don't want you to think of Me as an idol that you can be in the presence of and then be out of the presence of. I'm bigger than that.”
I think there is a reason why we hesitate to tell our heavenly Father He is going to be number one, that He’s going to be center stage, and that everything else is going to be organized around Him. I think that somewhere along the way we have gotten the idea that God's ultimate goal is to make us good. And when it comes down to it, that isn't really what we want. Whenever we feel like someone is trying to make us good, we assume they are trying to keep us from something good. Isn't that our struggle? Think about it. When your parents won’t let you do something, isn't your first assumption that you’re going to miss out on something good? Whether we realize it or not, we think the same thing about God. As long as we think God is trying to make us good, we're going to resist.
The decision to make God the center may be one you make not once, not twice, but over and over again because it’s just so easy to shift your priorities. Something new comes along—some new opportunity, some new relationship—and very subtly the center of your life starts to drift. All of a sudden you are making decisions and living life not with God at the center, but with this new “little g” god in the center. And it may take a while for your life to start to look like the car whose front end is out of alignment, but eventually you find that life isn't working well. And you have to be willing to take an honest look at your life and ask what is at the center. Have you compartmentalized God and made Him only one component of your life?
The most important decision you make is what you place in the center of your life.