he first two commandments— “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex. 20:3-4 NIV)—are dealing with two different problems. The first commandment tells us not to worship false gods. The second is concerned with worshiping the true God falsely.
Here are the two most important questions we must answer: Will we worship the right God? Will we worship the right God in the right way?
“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves. Worship no god but me” (Ex. 20:2-3 GNT).
Edmund Crowney said the first commandment defines all others to follow, for in it God defines Himself, establishing His identity and His right to speak commandments for us to obey (How Jesus Transformed the Ten Commandments).
God Deserves My Undivided Attention
Before God told His people what He wanted them to do, He told them who He is: “I am the Lord.” He is the sovereign ruler, maker, sustainer, and controller of the universe.
Not only is He sovereign; He is also a personal God. When He said, “your God” (v. 2), He used the singular form of the pronoun. He was talking to individuals—to you and me personally. He knows you, and He wants to be known by you.
The personal God is also powerful. His relationship with us is a saving relationship. Most people see the Old Testament as only about the law of God and the New Testament as the grace of God. Yet the first commandment is all about grace. God said, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.” God also spoke to Israel this way in Isaiah 43:1: “I have called you by name, you are mine” (RSV).
The personal and powerful God is also practical. This is the divine order of God: He revealed Himself, delivered the people, and then gave them instruction. Before He gave the Ten Commandments to live by, He gave His loving grace to establish a personal relationship with them. Out of this relationship He gives rules for guidance.
Andy Stanley said, “Rules without relation- ship lead to rebellion” (The Grace of God).
God Desires My Undivided Affection
The Ten Commandments are not about the law of God but the love of God—His love for us and our love for Him. He is one Lord, and He wants our single-hearted love-fully and completely devoted to Him.
God is too often seen as a God of law, rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts, and “thou shalt nots.” Yet that’s not what the Bible teaches us. God is love, not law, and He wants us to love Him and to love others as He has loved us.
God Demands My Undivided Allegiance
“No other gods” makes it clear we are to have an undivided allegiance to God. Who is He? He is the Great I AM. What has He done? He has delivered us. What does He want? No other gods before Him. It cannot get any simpler.
When this commandment was made, no other nation prohibited the worship of other gods. Israel’s neighbors were pagans—they worshiped lots of different gods. People believed that certain gods ruled particular geographic areas or natural phenomena. There were all kinds of gods, and the people believed they all had to be kept happy. And while a person or nation might have a favorite god, they certainly wouldn’t think of narrowing their worship to just one god. They could worship whomever they chose and as many as they chose.
People today attempt to make God into what they want Him to be and put that before God. Here are three phrases that frame the meaning of putting something “before God”:
—we substitute something else for God. I have heard it said, “It’s not that people don’t want God; it’s that they’ve found something they want more.”
—we snub God and make Him an afterthought in our everyday lives.
—we crowd God out, as shown us in Matthew 6:24: “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other” (TM).
God is saying, “I don’t want to be just first in your life: I want to be the hub of your life that everything else comes from; and if I’m not Lord of all, then I’m not Lord at all.”
In Isaiah 42:8, He states, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (NIV). How do we give glory to another? By sharing our allegiance. We find another god instead of the one true and eternal God—like the god of pleasure, the god of possession, the god of play, or the god of position.
God doesn’t fit until God is first, because that’s where He belongs.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex. 20:4 NIV).
A Created God Limits Real Worship
Idolatry is the attempt to represent a supernatural God in a natural way by reducing God to the human level. William Barclay stated, “The very essence of idolatry is that it is the worship of a thing instead of the worship of a person; the dead idol has taken the place of the living God” (The Ten Commandments).
Not only does idolatry reduce God to a human level, but idolatry also reaches to the heart level. Martin Luther said, “What- ever the heart clings to and relies on, that is your god. Anything you love, serve, or value more than God is your god.”
A created god limits real worship because idolatry regards God at a dishonored level— seeing Him as “the man upstairs,” a “gimmee” god, our “errand” god, or a “saccharine” god who makes everything sweet. At this dishonored level, we are saying, “Any faith will do, just have faith.” The problem is that we have made God into something He isn’t and then worship Him as the image we have created in our mind, and that is an idol.
A Created God Leads to False Worship
An improper concept of God causes us to worship the right God in the wrong way. This is false worship. Remember that an idol is a physical image used to represent the spiritual God. Christ said in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (NKJV).
What if a woman came home and found her husband and another woman kissing? And suppose the man said to his wife to justify his actions, “She is so beautiful that she reminded me of you.” Who would buy it? God won’t buy this line either: “God, this just reminded me of You, so I’ll just love on You by loving on the things that remind me of You.”
1. We worship the right God in the wrong way whenever we worship God’s creation above God, the Creator. Jeremiah 14:22 says, “None of the idols of the nations can send rain; the sky by itself cannot make showers fall” (GNT).
2. We worship the right God wrongly by worshiping God for some of His attributes but not all of them. We focus on His love, compassion, and mercy, but leave out His holiness and justice. We try to make God into what we want Him to be instead of allowing God to make us into what we’re supposed to be.
3. We worship the right God wrongly by making the expression of worship more important than the essence of worship. Expressions of worship have to do with style; the essence of worship has to do with God. Whenever our focus shifts from the person of God to the style of worship, we’re in danger of breaking the second commandment.
4. We worship the right God in the wrong way when we divorce our concept of God from the conduct it produces in our lives. Too many people simply go to church, sing a few songs, pray a few prayers, feel some warm feelings, and maybe even get convicted by the sermon . . . but then they can just go out and live the way they want to live. The danger is that the worship experience can serve to bring more plea- sure to us than it does to God! We must have a proper concept of God.
The Creator God Liberates True Worship
The passionate cry of God is to liberate us into true worship. He said, “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5 NASB).
God burns with jealousy when we put anything before Him. While some jealousy is indeed rooted in selfishness, there is an appropriate kind of jealousy that’s rooted in passionate love. God makes this clear in Deuteronomy 32:21: “They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols” (NIV). This kind of jealousy is fiercely protective of one’s rights or possessions, demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.
The emphasis of jealousy here is on Yahweh’s righteous anger in response to any who violate their pledge not to bow down or serve any other god. Exodus 34:14 declares, “Do not worship any other god, because I, the Lord tolerate no rivals” (GNT).
A God who is not jealous over His people is as contemptible as a husband who doesn’t care when his wife is unfaithful to him. God is jealous for us, as I’m jealous for my family; I want what’s best for them, and God wants what’s best for us.
Why are the first two commandments first? Because God is about relationship, not rules!
The God who told us not to make an image of Him has, in fact, given us an image of Himself in the New Testament to worship. Colossians 1:15 tells us Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (ESV). The writer of Hebrews says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (1:3 NIV). Jesus himself said in John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (NCV).
When we worship the right God in the right way, our worship will be centered on the person and work of Jesus, and that will lead to a transformed life.