The Ten Commandments: The First

The supremacy of God must permeate all of life.

The first of the Ten Commandments towers as a sentinel and shines as a sun: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7). As a sentinel the commandment guards the exclusivity of the living God. As a sun the commandment shines down upon the totality of one’s life, leaving nothing hidden from its heat (Ps. 19:6).

 

As long as he believes in something, that is what’s important.

With those words the man in front of me simultaneously dismissed the authority of God and justified a younger relative who had embraced an animistic system of belief. For the older gentlemen, it was the act of believing in something supernatural that mattered, not the object of that belief itself.

Against this grave error, the first of the Ten Commandments towers as a sentinel and shines as a sun: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7). As a sentinel the commandment guards the exclusivity of the living God. As a sun the commandment shines down upon the totality of one’s life, leaving nothing hidden from its heat (Ps. 19:6).

Let us first consider what the commandment guards. It guards the priority and exclusivity of God in the life of man. The triune God is to be worshipped and adored without rivals. Atheism is forbidden as well as syncretism. As man’s only Creator and Redeemer, the God revealed in scripture has absolute claim over us. He is not to be politely accommodated within the pantheon of our other admired deities. On the contrary, the God revealed in scripture must be our only God, for only he is God. “There is no other besides him” (Deut. 4:35).

The apostles were quite savvy to the spirit of religious pluralism. After all, they had read the Old Testament and during their lifetime they had front row seats to the Roman empire. Whether walking in Corinth or in Jerusalem, the diverse religious impulses of the empire were always on display, in its citizens or its soldiers. Even so, the apostles were not amused nor accommodating to the gods. As Paul said: “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:5-6).

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