No Other Gods
Topic: Ten Commandments Scripture: Exodus 20:1-3
At the beginning of Exodus chapter 20 something extraordinary happens. The chapter begins with the words, “And God spoke all these words”. Throughout human history, God has rarely spoken audibly. It is true, he speaks frequently in the Bible, but usually through a messenger such as an angel or a prophet. In Exodus 20, God speaks audibly and directly to his people. In chapter 19, verse 9, God says to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you”. In Deuteronomy 5:4 Moses tells the people, “The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire.” The 10 commandments were spoken directly by the voice of God and then Exodus 31:18 says God also wrote them in stone with his own finger.
Another thing that makes this extraordinary is that usually when Israel or the church are addressed they are addressed as a group. The word “you” is often plural in the Bible, meaning all of you. In this case, however, God uses the 2nd person singular. He is not speaking to the group generally, but is speaking individually, to each person and then to us through his word.
All of this should get our attention. The almighty delivers this message personally. Remember from last week, these commands are eternal. They reflect his holy character. As we saw last week, they remain the standard of righteousness and we sin when we fail to keep them. If you have not yet trusted Jesus as your savior, they show you God’s standard. For those who are believers, they are a mirror and a guide, reminding us that we have no righteousness of our own and moving us to give glory to God for the righteousness he has provided for us in Jesus.
Jesus came to fulfill the law for those who believe in him. To fulfill does not mean to do away with the law, it means to satisfy its requirements. If you know that you are a sinner and have put your trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus alone to save you, then there is no guilt and no condemnation from the law. Your sins, past, present, and future, are covered by the blood of Christ. You are declared righteous before God based on the perfect righteousness of Jesus. You have been cleared of all charges in the court of God.
Having been justified, believers are being sanctified, meaning by the power of the spirit of Jesus in us we are being transformed over time to be more like Jesus. The moment we believe, we are free from the penalty of the law and so are free in Christ. Not free to sin, but free to pursue a life of holiness without fear or condemnation, knowing that our acceptance by God does not depend upon what we do, but what Jesus did.
Therefore, every believer is both a saint and a sinner. Every saint is just a sinner that God has chosen and set apart for himself. Having received the spirit of holiness, we desire to be like Jesus, but we are not yet perfect. Every saint is a forgiven sinner. 1 John 1:8–9 says,
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The commandments are useful to us because, when used properly, they draw us closer to God. In the same way we use a mirror when we shave or put on makeup to direct us to those areas that need attention, the mirror of God’s law graciously shows us where the Spirit is working in us to complete the good work he began in us.
Today we will begin with the first and primary commandment, which really is the fountain from which all the others flow and the main point for us to see is that our love and worship for God is perfected in Christ.
The first commandment is a simple statement, “You shall have no other gods before me.” This should not be a difficult command to keep. It should not be hard for us to worship only the loving, patient, and good creator who gave us life in his image. That everyone but Jesus has failed to keep this command shows the devastating power of sin. The essence of sin is to reject God and give the worship he alone deserves to something or someone else.
But this is also what makes the gospel so amazing. By grace, Jesus has satisfied this law for all who believe and has brought us back into a right relationship with God. It is therefore the essence of faith, to look upon this command realizing that we fall short, and yet trusting that we are completely loved and accepted by God because of what Jesus has done. We are not just sinners saved by grace, by grace we are adopted sons and daughters.
A family doesn’t adopt a child unless they first choose to love it. They complete the requirements to bring the child home, out of love. They instruct the child in the rules and chores of the home not so the child can earn their love, but because they have it and are now part of the family. So it is with the household of God. In the Bible, grace always precedes obedience, and we have that here as well. Our passage begins,
20 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
When God speaks, he does not begin with the command. Instead, he reminds them of his grace. He recalls his loving relationship with them. He reveals himself, 2 “I am the Lord your God, and reminds them that he loved them first, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
It is a misunderstanding for any sinner to think we can earn God’s favor by keeping the law. The purpose of every command, including this first one, is to point us to our need for God’s grace. Pride is the enemy of our soul because it fools us into thinking we have a righteousness of our own and thus draws us away from Jesus, our true and only hope. Look at Luke 18:18–23,
18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
This man claimed to have kept all the commands his entire life, but Jesus reveals he failed to keep even the first one. There was something he placed ahead of the lord. Something that if he had to trade it to please God, it would make him sad. How could he be so confident and yet so wrong? The answer is that in his pride, he reduced the law to protect his self-righteousness.
First, he misunderstood the law as a law of works. He asks, what must I do to inherit eternal life? He thinks he can earn it through discipline and effort. Jesus gives him a hint, saying nobody is good except God and pointing him to the law, but he wasn’t listening. He should have recognized his need for mercy, but his pride has blinded him. He thinks keeping the commands is only about keeping them outwardly. I am sure he never openly worshiped idols, but there was one set up in his heart and Jesus exposed it.
God’s commands bind not only the hand, but also the heart. Imagine a married man who provided for his wife, protected her, took care of her, and never had an affair. But suppose he did all those things because they were his duty. He followed the rules, but she never came first in his affections. He never thought about her beyond doing his duty and his joy came from thinking about other people and other things. Would we say he was a good and faithful husband just because he never physically had an affair?
Of course not, duty is not the same as devotion. The young ruler fooled himself because he did not understand the scope of the law. He bragged he bowled a 300 game but failed to mention he put the bumpers up. God requires not only the letter be kept, but also the spirit. When we see how Jesus understands the commandments, we begin to recognize just how all-encompassing they are.
The law forbids not only the acting out of a sin, but the desire, inclination, or occasion of it as well. The command against adultery not only forbids the physical act, but also the lust that pursues it. The command against murder also includes unrighteous anger, jealousy, and hatred. We are not to take our neighbors' things, but neither are we to want them.
The spirit of every duty or prohibition also entails its opposite. We are commanded not to take the Lord’s name in vain, we are therefore required also to have reverence for it. We are commanded to honor our parents and so are also commanded to not dishonor them.
The command before us this morning is 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”
The words “before me” have the sense of in my sight or in front of my face. It isn’t just that we are not to prefer other Gods, but to have none. He is not only the best God, he is the only God. Worship belongs to him alone. Remember the context, he has just humiliated all of the so-called God’s of Egypt, which was the most ancient and mighty civilization on earth. He has no equal.
There must never be anything in our hearts that compete with God. Imagine a loving wife who one evening told her husband that although she still loved him, she found she also loved another man and figured it would be ok if he moved in since she would still give most of her attention to him. What do you think he would say?
Devotion closes the door to competitors. Devoted wives don’t seek out other men. Devoted fans don’t root for the other team. Worshipful devotion is an all-absorbing thing. It is sad that often the followers of false gods appear more devoted to a lie than some Christians seem to be for the true God. He deserves our devotion more than anything or anyone else. More than our employers, our sports teams, our countries, or even our families.
To have no other Gods is to know and believe God as he has revealed himself to be in both his word and his works. To look at the power and beauty of the world he created, from subatomic particles to the vast galaxies and all the amazing life on earth should itself move us to worship him for his power and wisdom. That’s why David says in Psalm 19, the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims his handiwork. And in Psalm 139, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
When the word talks about God’s anger against sin and the warnings of judgment upon the unrepentant, we are reminded he is holy, pure, and just. When the Bible tells us of the blessings he promises to the faithful, we are comforted that he is merciful, patient, and loving far beyond our obedience. God alone is the creator. God alone is the redeemer who loves us and saves us. He alone deserves our worship and our highest love.
Any other god is a lie, a false god. A god unworthy of our worship. Therefore, this command is not just about openly worshiping other gods religiously. Churches are full of people who have never addressed a prayer to anyone but Jesus and yet are flat out idol worshippers. Theologian A.W. Tozer rightly said,
“The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of him.”
It is possible to so distort God’s image in our heart that what we really end up worshiping is an idol. The French philosopher Montaigne once quipped,
“Oh senseless man, who cannot possibly make a worm or a flea and yet will create Gods by the dozen!”
If we refuse to worship the God who created us in his image, we will inevitably conjure in our imaginations a god in our image. It is not a good sign if your god thinks like you do. This is why ignorance of the scripture is so dangerous. We must worship in truth. The better we know God, the more we will love him and worship him and he reveals himself most clearly in the Bible. There is a reason the devil works so hard to distract us and keep us from the word. If you desire to grow in your worship of God, more than anything else, seek out teaching, preaching, and fellowship that makes God known through his word.
Similarly, to trust anything more than God is to make that thing a god. There are many who make a god of their wealth. It is fine to take comfort in the things God has provided, but never put your confidence there. God created us from the dust of the earth and breathed the spirit of life into us. So, isn’t it crazy that rather than trust him, we would instead put our trust in the dust? Rather than yearning after God in heaven, we yearn after the gold and silver buried in the earth.
God keeps his promises, but wealth is a liar. It promises to satisfy our desires, but never does. Money tells us if we get in trouble, it will save us, that if we are troubled it will comfort us, and that the things it buys will bring us joy. But riches are deceptive. If we trust in them, they will desert us, but Jesus will never forsake us.
Others make gods of men by putting their trust in government and various institutions. God ordains these things to be for our good, but when we put our trust there, we show that we lack confidence in God. So many believers have such high anxiety about policies, elections, and judges acting as if the kingdom of God is of this world. Friends, our future does not depend upon any earthly leader or judge getting elected, or law being passed.
Don’t misunderstand me, we are to live and be a godly influence in the world, but our priority isn’t this world, it is obedience to God. What benefit is there if we gain the whole world, but lose our soul? Let’s be careful. Are we tempted to repeat things that we do not know are true or take sarcastic pot shots that slander the character or intelligence of others because our passion for politics exceeds our trust in God? Are we quick to overlook godlessness in those who agree with us while demonizing those who don’t? Are we susceptible to setting aside our discernment for truth and becoming gullible when we are being told what we want to hear?
Psalm 146:3–4 says, “3 Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. 4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”
Ultimate prosperity, peace, and blessing are promised to those who trust God. We make a god out of anything we trust more than the Lord. The list can be endless. Our strength, our wisdom, our works, or whatever else. We are called to trust God alone and he alone has proven to be trustworthy so let God be true and every man a liar, we are secure in his hands.
We also make a god of anything we love more than God. Perhaps nothing in our time is more common than the worship of pleasure. The motto is “if it feels good, do it”. Billions of dollars a year are made from those who have made gods of sex, entertainment, and their bellies. Others make gods of their children, their parents, their friends, or even their pets. Still others love safety and comfort to such an extent they would rather pursue those things than honor God first. What do we love so much that we would hesitate if God told us to leave it behind?
God pronounced the world he made “good”. The things in it were created for our enjoyment, but they were made to be enjoyed in relationship with God. When the things God has blessed us with compete with God himself, that is idolatry. To enjoy the gift more than the giver is insulting even among sinners, so how much more with God. What do we truly love? It is easy to tell. We just need to look at our bank and credit card statements. What do we spend our time on and what are we most excited to talk to others about? What things in our life are so important to us we would end a friendship over them?
1 John 2:15–17 says,
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
It should be clear by now that none of us have kept this commandment. If we kept this command perfectly, we would never be afraid, never doubt, and never feel alone but we all experience these things. Every one of us has failed to measure up to the standard of what a righteous life looks like. We have been judged by the law and found guilty. The result should be a death sentence because a rejection of this law, is a rejection of God himself.
But Jesus has done what we could not do. He came from heaven and lived a perfect life. He kept the law perfectly. But here is the good news, Jesus didn’t just live a righteous life, he also died on the cross to pay for our sins. In a mysterious but glorious exchange. Jesus takes the sin of all believers on himself on the cross. He suffers our punishment in our place. But not only does he take our sin, but he also gives us his righteousness.
Jesus kept the first and every other commandment, and his perfect obedience is credited to our account. He takes the punishment, and we get the benefit. If you realize this morning that you have failed to keep the first commandment and you are not trusting in Jesus as your substitute before God. I urge you to go to Christ for rescue. Stop trusting in your own efforts to be good enough for God and put your trust in instead in the perfection of Jesus. Go to him, he will not turn away any who come in faith and repentance.
Not only does he forgive our sins and not only does he cover us with his righteousness, he also gives us a new spirit. We are changed from the inside out so that our love, trust, and delight in God continue to grow stronger.
So before conversion, the first commandment points us to Jesus, but after conversion all that it requires has already been satisfied by Jesus. It is no longer a law over us, but a law in us that guides our life as we grow in our love and delight in God.
You may be sitting here this morning thinking, “ok, I believe in Jesus, but I still struggle with loving and trusting God above all else.” Maybe you realize that there are many ways that your love falls short, and you want to love God better. You want to overcome these worldly and sinful desires and fears that bubble up in your heart. How do we increase our love for God so that we grow in our keeping of this commandment?
The answer is not to try harder as if we could ever follow the command by our own strength. The answer is to run to Christ, to look upon Christ. When a small child is in trouble they cry out for help and run to the one they trust. The Kingdom of God is such as these. It is with this as it is with any sin. If you try to discipline yourself to be holy, you will fail. The exact opposite of the right response to this command would be to look to ourselves as the rich young ruler did.
Remember our main point? Our love and worship for God is perfected in Christ. It is perfected first because Jesus kept this command for us. But it is also perfected in Christ, because it is through his power that we pursue it as believers. It is Jesus who brought us to the love of God, and it is Jesus who keeps us in the love of God. Do not focus on the sin, for you have been freed from the condemnation of the law. Instead focus on what God has done for you in Christ. Meditate upon the gospel and its promises. Stand in the pulpit of your heart every day and preach the gospel to yourself.
When we want to increase the heat of a fire that is already burning, we gather it together, blow on it and add fuel so the fire can be fed. Open your Bibles and consider what God has done for you on the Cross. Let the spirit blow the truth of the word upon the embers of your heart as you stack promise after promise upon it. Meet together with other believers who can pray for you and encourage you by reminding you of what Chrsit has done for you. It was with a mighty hand that God defeated Pharaoh and rescued the Hebrews from Egypt but how much greater Christian is what he has done for you?
The 19th century preacher Robert Murray McCheyne said it better than I can,
“Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms.”
Friends do not be content to rely on yourself with the gospel as some kind of insurance policy for when you mess up. Let’s not shrink the law to make ourselves bigger. Instead, let the law stand in all its perfect glory, so that we never forget what it means to be saved by grace. Yes, in our worst moments, we are forgiven but let us never forget that even in our best moments, we are still forgiven.
May our desire be to follow this commandment with all our heart, mind, and strength. May we also live knowing that whatever good is in us comes from the grace of God and give him all the glory. What I am and what I do is not what matters most. What matters most is what Jesus has done for me. When I look in the mirror, I see the a sinner. But when God looks at me, he sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. My sin is covered with Christ’s obedience. In grace and love, he has placed his spotless white robe over my dirty and tattered clothes so I am not ashamed to come before my Father. Now I am free to seek to please him, not so that he will love me, but because I know he already does.