The first commandment is about true worship. Most people think of worship as something we do in various parts of the day. We think of participating in corporate, family, or private worship. When we aren’t engaged in one of those activities, then we are not involved in worship. But that is not true.
Your circumstances may change daily or hourly, but the object of your worship must remain the same! Worship is not optional, it’s instinctive. We were made for worship. We are always worshiping someone or something. What are you worshiping right now?
The pastoral ministry provides constant pressure to face the idols of security, success, and reputation. But, with the lockdown, my attention has been scattered. Initially, I shifted between learning about new technology for work to learning about the Tiger King at home. I have gone from wondering why more people were not staying home to wondering where our freedom and constitutional rights went. At first, I wanted worship—and maybe haircuts—to be “essential”, but now I want every business to be treated as such.
Now, I know you can worship God and still be concerned that we are being stripped of our fundamental rights, but I know that I have often become imbalanced? The lockdown has become such an obsession at times that it is difficult to focus upon God. Early on I was taking advantage of the slower pace of life, but lately, I have cranked back up the speed. That’s not always a good thing.
The question is not whether or not we are worshiping, but who or what we are worshiping. To what are we devoting our attention, energy, and power? This should not be an easy question to answer, but it is easy to see how we often fail.
The first commandment teaches us that God alone is worthy to receive all of the worship He created us to offer.
Read Exodus 20:1-3
Let’s begin with the positive side of this commandment. We can only have no other gods before the Lord if we offer right worship to the One True God.
The Duties Required in the First Commandment
Egyptian plagues proved God’s supremacy over false gods. The Egyptians believed there were no gods that oversaw the desert, just dangerous snakes. When God gave Moses the sign that would prove that his authority came from God, he had his staff turn into a snake. When they stood before Pharaoh, it was Aaron’s staff that was thrown on the ground and turned into a snake. When Pharaoh’s magicians did the same, Aaron’s staff devoured the staff of the Egyptians.
We could say the same thing about God’s authority over the Nile River. Their god had no ability to prevent the water from becoming blood. Even the plague of frogs and the eclipse of the sun were meant to show God’s superior power over the gods of the Egyptians. In the end, Pharaoh and all of the Egyptians were forced to admit defeat.
That is an important context to consider because the God of Israel was quite different from the gods of the pagan nations. We will consider that more fully in the next section, but the positive side of this command says we are duty-bound to worship God according to his revelation.
We must have the right knowledge about God in order to offer him the right worship. If our chief end is to glorify God, then we must come before him with a proper attitude. We must meditate upon His revelation. We must remember, esteem, honor, and adore him. This is true at all times.
God must be the One we choose over anyone else. He receives the pinnacle of our love, desire, hope, and delight! We come before Him with reverence and faith, rejoicing in him with praise and thanksgiving, and yielding to him in humility and patience. When we worship God rightly we offer him all of our love and honor with the full expectation that he will receive our praise and rejoice over us.
The WLC Q.104 says that we acknowledge God as the “True God, and our God.” We have a covenantal relationship with God. Don’t forget the prologue that we considered last week (The Grace of the Ten Commandments). The first commandment requires that we possess covenant faithfulness, but that is only possible because of what God has done.
We do not simply determine to put God first. He first loved us by rescuing us out of slavery. For Israel, that slavery was personified by Egypt. For everyone, that slavery is personified by sin. Those God has rescued out of slavery to their sin are now enabled to respond to God’s prior love.
The love of God finds its ultimate expression in His Son who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This exclusive claim means that we can only honor the first commandment if we worship God through Christ.
All of Life As Worship
It’s not only important to think about what we are doing, but how we are doing it, and the motivation beneath it. When we grasp the true concept of worship we are free to do so whenever and wherever we find ourselves. We can worship God whether we are gathered in a large group or at home by ourselves.
I remember a distinctly significant moment when I was working as a manager of the seasonal department at Lowe’s. I was doing a very mundane task like sweeping in order to prepare from some large sidewalk event the next day. I was exhausted and frustrated, but somehow the fog lifted when I realized that I could sweep with precision and excellence for the glory of God. The task went from being mind-numbingly boring into a task I completed with gratitude.
On the other hand, if my mind is not properly engaged, I can be distracted from worship even while preaching the Gospel from the pulpit. Our minds are prone to wander. We lose our concentration with the slightest hint of noise or movement.
This command is fundamental in guiding us, not only how to worship, but how to live a worship-filled life (Map). God has revealed Himself to be worthy of all our praise. To turn our attention elsewhere, departing from God, is to violate this commandment.
We must recognize that God is over all and above all. God must be first in all things, everything that we do. God must be central to all of our priorities. “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
The command is given in the negative. The expectation is that we will have gods competing for our worship all the time.
The Sins Forbidden in the First Commandment
Idolatry is when the person or thing that we worship is someone or something other than God through Christ. Our temptation has always been to follow along with whatever everyone else is doing. We desperately want to fit in.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” The language suggests marital infidelity. It conveys the idea of going after foreign gods and introducing them to their acts of worship (Deuteronomy 6:14).
[The sin of idolatry is] like a shameless woman who brings in an adulterer before her husband’s very eyes, only to vex his mind the more.John Calvin
A healthy marriage has no interest in an open relationship. Jealousy is part and parcel with wanting all of my one wife. To suggest that I would be more satisfied if I could have a second wife, would be a hurtful and shameful thing to my only wife.
Idolatry is likened to open infidelity. There is nothing secret about it. The topic is personified in the life of Hosea whose wife, Gomer, repeatedly betrayed her vows. She took Hosea’s gifts and spent them on other lovers. It was all meant to convey the betrayal of idolatry.
Idolatry is having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God who has revealed himself in his Word.Heidelberg Catechism Question 95
Ancient and Modern Idolatry
Ancient idolatry was not all that different from modern idolatry. The gods of the ancient Near East were many and ubiquitous. Not only were they convenient to worship, but they also played to the baser desires of humanity. Worship was associated with indulgence and cult prostitution. It was integrated with economic prosperity.
While it certainly looked different than modern idolatry, the motives of the worshippers were the same. Through Molech, Baal, and Mammon cultures worshiped cruelty, lust, power, and greed. We continue to seek these same ends today. Whether it looks like the respectable businessman who works 80 hours a week or the selfless husband who secretly indulges in pornography.
Jesus Christ shunned all idols. He never placed anything over God. He never stole a lustful glance. He always prioritized God in all things. He was an excellent craftsman, student, son, and servant-leader. While he grew in skill, his motivation to do all things for the glory of God never wavered.
The kind of unfaithfulness that our idolatry represents could only be satisfied by the faithfulness of Christ upon the cross. The more prevalent Christianity is a culture, the weaker the hold of idolatry can have. Morality rooted in Christian doctrine has historically produced far more peaceful societies. That is because believers reflect the true humility of their Savior (Philippians 2:1-11).
Nothing can be more important than God. That includes your health as well as your politics. That includes your pursuit of success and your desire for shameful entertainment. These are not only the gods of our culture, but they exist within the walls of the modern evangelical church. The fact that the average professing Christian looks just like the world, implies that our worship is not very different from idolatry.
Now that we have seen the positive and negative aspects of this commandment, let’s consider…
The Foundational Nature of the First Commandment
Just as we cannot overlook the importance of the prologue as we consider the Ten Commandments, we also need to see the importance of the first commandment. The first commandment serves as the foundation for the other nine. The primacy of this command indicates its importance and foundational nature.
The first commandment is at the root of every other commandment. In order to break two through ten, you must have already broken the first. Idolatry represents the depraved nature with which we were born. But we don’t like to acknowledge that. We would rather think of ourselves as being neutral and choosing to be good or bad.
Worship God Through Christ
Jesus didn’t die on the cross in an attempt to convince neutral people to receive his love. He died for us while we were enemies in the midst of our grossest idolatry.
To see the cross is not to see the measure of how worthy I am, but of how unworthy, shameful, and guilty I am apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ alone.Michael Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom
The cross reveals the unworthiness of sinners. However, our complete unworthiness is met by Christ’s infinite worth. Jesus fulfilled every aspect of the law. His obedience didn’t cover 99% so that you and I could make up the 1%. If Christ’s sacrifice were only partial, then none of us could ever be rescued. Without Christ, no one can obey the first commandment!
So flee to Christ! You must be clothed in His perfect righteousness. Only then do we enter into that covenant relationship with God. Those who are “in Christ”, now reflect his image. They are being renewed so that idolatry makes no sense.
God remains worthy to receive all of our worship, and now through Christ, it is possible to offer it to Him. God provides the ability to obey the first commandment through the means of the active obedience of Christ and the enabling work of the Holy Spirit.
God alone is worthy to receive all of the worship He created us to offer.
Worship God above all! Only through Christ can we turn from idols. Repent and place your faith in Jesus Christ, the name that is above all names.