"You shall have no other gods besides me." (Exodus 20:3) This first of God's ten words (commandments) wonderfully focuses the mind. God begins with this command because it is the foundation or beginning of our relation to him. The theme is well repeated: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.
As relational creatures, we are defined by how we relate:
Your relationship with yourself, others and created things can be no more healthy than your relation to God. And that relation begins with the recognition that there is only one God.
This first commandment calls for more than intellectual assent and occasional acknowledgment of this truth. It requires continual self-forgetfulness and living in the awareness of the presence of God.
This is shown by the rule of heaven where the angels sing "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord almighty," day and night without ever stopping. (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8) The great tragedy of death is not that man (self) should dissolve into dust, (Ecclesiastes 3:20) but rather that man cannot praise God from the tomb.
"Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
No one remembers you when he is dead.
Who praises you from the grave?"
(Psalm 30:9; 6:5; cf 115:17,18)
Man is most what man is intended to be when he is praising God. Then he is most alive and properly focused (per the first commandment). The Psalmist vouches with his prayer:
"How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty.
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere."
The soaring soul of David cried out: "My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long." (Psalm 71:8)
All day long? Some might ask, "Is this really reasonable?" Or is this simply rapturous hyperbole from a religious enthusiast? The answer must be a resounding no, this is not exaggeration. It is the reasonable consequence of the first commandment. And the foundation of all proper human relationships and happiness. Absolute, perfect happiness comes only from absolute, perfect conformity to God's will, as expressed in his law.
As we stagger in awed disbelief before the first commandment (worship God alone), resist the temptation to move the mark. God hates any tampering with the scale. (Proverbs 11:1; Leviticus 19:35,36) Better to accept the truth that our lives have not been unending paeans of praise to God.
Your hope of heaven is in the mercy of God, not in your performance. By the law comes knowledge of our inadequacy. (Romans 3:19,20) But one of us is adequate. One of us has performed. (Hebrews 4:15) It is our great good fortune that God accepts his performance as if it were our own. (2 Corinthians 5:21; 12:9) And so it is (our own). For who would contradict God? (Romans 3:4)
And so the "second use" of the first commandment has led us to Christ, whose performance saves us. (Galatians 3:24) But we must go on to the "third use": in our daily lives. This is because our hope for happiness in the here and now depends on our performance in the here and now. Two additional perspectives may be helpful in this regard.
The command is, "You shall . . ." Someone has pointed out that this can be taken in two different senses: 1. As an order or, 2. As a promise.
Consider a tightwire stretched between the tops of two thirty story buildings, with a strong, gusty wind blowing. Now suppose that God commands, "You shall walk across there." You might fairly be seized with terror. After all, even a skilled circus performer would face almost certain death to try it. But remember, this is God speaking. Suppose that he says, "I assure you that you will safely walk across there. I guarantee it! You shall walk across there, and you will not fall." (Psalm 91)
It is the same statement, the same words, but now shall is a promise. Faith begins to grow, fear weakens. God has promised.
So God's commands are promises, too. But he has not promised to fulfill them perfectly, right now, in you. He has fulfilled all his promises to you in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20) You shall physically possess them when he comes. (1 John 3:2)
Since absolute perfect happiness comes from absolute perfect obedience to God's law, we return to the first commandment and its calls for praise to God. Is your praise weak, sporadic and sometimes forced? No doubt. How can you praise him who you scarcely know? (Acts 17:23) And how can you know him without study and meditation?
Praise springs naturally from knowledge of God. Praise is not an activity to be taught. Knowledge of God is to be taught. Praise will follow. The complete fulfillment of the first commandment promise will not occur until Jesus comes and we obtain full knowledge of him. Then will the promise of the new covenant be fulfilled:
"I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying
'Know the Lord,'
Because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest."
© Sorensen, 1993
This is the first of a series of issues of The CHRISTIAN on the Ten Commandments. Not only do the commands of God provide a sound basis for the conduct of society, but they foreshadow the gospel message of the New Testament. The first four commandments deal with man's relation to God; the last six deal with man's relation to his fellows. Since the gospel clarifies these same relations, why shouldn't the same message be found in both? I believe it is. Stay tuned.
Your friend, Herb Sorensen
GOSPEL STUDY: 7:30pm, Monday evening, April 5, at 2234 S.E. Lewellyn Avenue, Troutdale, Oregon.
"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."
Moses (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)