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The First Commandment and Our Wandering Hearts

March 22, 2020

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:1-7

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT AND OUR WANDERING HEARTS

Deut 5:1–7 – March 22, 2020 – God: The Center of it All

INTRODUCTION

Good morning, SGC, and those joining us online.

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This morning we’re back in our study of Deuteronomy. Today we begin our study of the Ten Commandments. It’s in Deut 5. We’ll look at the first one this morning, “You shall have no other gods before” (V7).

We might think this is one commandment we don’t need to worry about. If I give you this one-question pop-quiz, you might not be too worried:

Who is your God?
A. The God of the Bible
B. Zeus
C. Financial Security
D. Pleasure
E. None of the Above

You might mark “A” quickly and confidently…Not “Zeus” or some other god who’s nothing more than a statue…Of course financial security and pleasure aren’t your gods…not an atheist so “E” isn’t right. Nope. Definitely “A.”

But the first commandment is about more thanhow you like to think of yourself. Or knowing what the answer should be. The first commandment goes deeper. It reaches into your heart: In your heart of hearts, what are you seeking, what are you trusting, what are you worshiping? Who is your God…really?

Prayer

I. TEN WORDS ON TWO TABLETS OF STONE

Before we dive into the first commandment we want to see the TEN COMMANDMENTS a little more clearly. I say “TEN WORDS” here because that’s what the Hebrew is. When Moses refers to these “TEN COMMANDMENTS” the Hebrew is actually “TEN WORDS” (4:13; 10:4). That’s why we sometimes say DECALOGUE (“ten words”) to refer to the TEN COMMANDMENTS.

In Deuteronomy the Ten Commandments are part of the overall structure of the book. Deuteronomy is written like a large ancient covenant document. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. In the time Moses wrote Deuteronomy, around 1400 BC, covenants between rulers and those they ruled had a certain shape to them, certain familiar elements. Deuteronomy also has these:

PROLOGUE (1:1–5)
HISTORICAL PREAMBLE (1:6–4:49)
STIPULATIONS (chps 5–26)—General (chps 5–11) & Specific (chps 12–26)
BLESSINGS AND CURSES (chps 27–28)
WITNESSES (30:19; 31:19; 32)
PRESERVING AND REMEMBERING (31:9–13; 18:18–19)

TEN SPECIAL WORDS

Within these 34 chapters, the 10 Commandments don’t take up much space. About half of chapter 5. Half of a single chapter. But there are many clues that the 10 Commandments are unique and special within the Law of Moses.

One major clue is that of all the commands God gave to Moses, these are the only 10 where it is said that God himself wrote them with his finger on two tablets of stone (4:13; 5:22; 9:10). Several times Moses refers to these specific 10 as written by God and written on the stone tablets. These alone were written on tablets to be placed in the ark of the covenant in the “most holy place” (Deut 10:1–5).

That’s why these Ten Words are sometimes called “the tablets of the covenant” (Deut 9:11). They summarize the whole covenant God made with Israel. All the elements we saw above are there:

  • Preamble = “I am the LORD your God.”
  • Historical Prologue = “Who brought you out…”
  • Stipulations
  • Blessings/Curses = 2nd and 5th commandments
  • Witnesses = God himself who writes it in the 1st person
  • Preserve/Remember = Store in ark, reread periodically

A DTR, NOT A DTTGS

One more thing. The Ten Commandments don’t tell you how to be saved. They are written from a perspective of GRACE. Look at Deut 5:6. That reminds Israel how and when God established his relationship with his people. When he became their God.

As some confessions say, the commandments aren’t “a covenant of works.” I.e., specific works to earn salvation. They’re a “rule of life.” I.e., for someone already saved they provide a guide, a rule for how to live a life pleasing to the Lord .

The 10 Commandments are a DTR, not an DTTGS (Do-this-to-get-saved)!

You can even hear this in the pronouns in the FIRST COMMANDMENT: “ You, singular, yes, you! Have no other gods before ME. Yes, Me, the God who saved you . I’m talking to you. In this relationship, I and I alone must be your God .”

II. THE FIRST COMMANDMENT

Okay, let’s go for the deep dive into the FIRST COMMANDMENT, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

For the Israelites who heard this command, the issue of worshiping the right God was a huge one. All around them were people worshiping “other gods.” Each group of people, each nation had its own god and sometimes a multitude of gods.

And people made big promises connected to these gods: Worship this god for good crops, this one for good weather, this one for healthy children, this one for military success, this one for long life. Why not add a little extra worship for an extra god just to protect yourself?

This temptation didn’t disappear as the centuries passed. Fast-forward to the Roman Empire. Under Rome God’s people were accused of being ANTI-SOCIAL and ATHEISTS. It was ANTI-SOCIAL to follow the Lord because you didn’t attend all the parties and events dedicated to the false gods of the day. You were accused of being an A-THEIST because there were so many gods in the land you DIDN’T believe in. The rich, the powerful, the sophisticated in the land saw God’s people as ANTI-SOCIAL and RELIGIOUSLY BACKWARDS. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Amidst all these pressures, the FIRST COMMANDMENT rings out: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT SAYS YOU CAN’T REDEFINE GOD.

When you REDEFINE him you’re really putting some “other god” in his place. Just because you keep the name “God” or “Lord” or even “Jesus” or “Spirit,” if you redefine what you mean by these names you’re creating some “other god.”

This is a huge temptation in our day. You take the name “God” and slap it on something you create and you define. In our day of TOLERANCE, any definition of “God” will be tolerated as long as it’s a god who tolerates all behaviors as equally good. Any definition of “God” will be accepted as long as it is a god who accepts any religion as equally acceptable.

In one of her books author Anne Lamott quoted her “priest friend Tom,” who said,

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird [1]

Any kind of god that you define and you create isn’t a god at all. It’s a fantasy. But God speaks to us in all the many ways we try and re-create him and says, “Stop! You shall have no OTHER gods before me.”

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT SAYS THERE’S NO “PLUS ONE” WITH GOD.

Kevin DeYoung, The 10 Commandments:

Syncretism was a perennial problem in Israel. God’s people were constantly tempted to make their faith a both/and religion, when God insisted on worship as an either/or proposition: “Either you worship me alone, or you don’t worship me at all.”….The fault with God’s people has always been that little and. The Lord is fine, but we want the Lord and Baal, the Lord and Asherah, the Lord and money, the Lord and social respectability. We’re quite happy to have God in our lives, just so long as he fills only a part of our lives….But he has no interest in being one important person among many. God cannot be worshiped rightly if he is worshiped alongside any other.
Kevin DeYoung, The 10 Commandments [2]

We want to worship God and what? What is it we’re willing to bow down and serve? Pleasure (alcohol, sex, video games, extreme sports). Success (career, family, your business).

If you’re single, one way this can affect you is choosing your spouse. God says to have no other gods before him. But you want a husband or a wife. Will you compromise what God says about a godly husband or wife just so you can get married? Will it be God PLUS marriage that you worship?

Whenever we add a “PLUS ONE” to God in our hearts, we’ll find a way to remove God altogether. When it comes to the true God of our hearts, there’s only room for one.

III. THE FIRST COMMANDMENT AND JESUS

Well, what about Jesus? Isn’t Jesus more tolerant and loving than the God of the OT? Jesus accepts sinners, he doesn’t judge them. Surely he’s more like us in the 21st century—open-minded, accepting of everyone. At least, some think this.

But listen to John 14:6. Is this the word of an open-minded, tolerant, all-accepting teacher?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Look at his use of “THE”: “THE way…THE truth…THE life.” And look at how narrow he is: “NO ONE comes to the Father…” Not “Some” or “Most,” but “No One.”

In some ways Jesus is really just paraphrasing the first commandment and applying it to himself. The equivalent of the OT’s “you shall have no other gods before me,” is Jesus’ “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Michael Horton looks at the exclusiveness of the NT and reminds us of what it means for us:

Like Judaism, Christianity is founded on monotheism: the declaration of the Shema that there is but one God. That means that God will never share the stage. He refuses to be simply a part of our life; He must have a full and complete right to our whole life and existence. He does not want to help us get things we have always wanted; He insists on telling us what we need. Consequently, though cultural pluralism may indeed be right, religious pluralism is entirely wrong. A faith founded on historical facts, one that demands exclusive loyalty and trust, will not enter into partnerships with competing allegiances.
Michael Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom [3]

Christianity is not the wide road compared to the narrow road of Judaism. Jesus demands exclusive worship in the same way that the Lord does in the OT. In both testaments God speaks the same unbending command: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

We need to remember where we are in history. We are on the back side of Jesus coming and the NT being written. That means you cannot obey this first commandment unless you hear Jesus speaking it. It’s not possible to be obey the first commandment but reject Christ as God . If you want to honor the God of the first commandment, then it means bowing your knee to Christ as the very same God who spoke all those commandments on the two stone tablets.

Some of you might remember “Dr. Laura.” Huge radio personality. She wrote a book on the Ten Commandments [4] which probably has a lot of good insight. But in the introduction she explains that she wrote it after converting to Judaism. Not Christianity but Judaism.

But for Dr. Laura and everyone else, if you don’t accept Jesus as the Lord of lords and King of kings, then you’ll never obey the FIRST COMMANDMENT .

IV. THE FIRST COMMANDMENT AND OUR HEARTS

The NT helps us see that IDOLATRY is not simply an archaic issue, one we avoid now that we have iPhones and Google maps to show us the world is not flat. Three passages remind us that IDOLATRY lives on.

Matthew 6:24 sets up MONEY as a god we can worship:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt 6:24)

Money can be something we place in the Pantheon of our hearts. You can serve it. Pursue it. Sacrifice for it. Be ecstatic when you have it; devastated when you don’t. We can conform our behavior and morals to get it. The desire for it can consume us.

This is all the language of worship. It’s why Jesus called it a “MASTER” (Grk “Lord,” kurios). Money is a powerful servant but a terrible master.

Colossians 3:5 reminds us that DESIRE can reveal IDOLATRY: 

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)

Covetousness is Idolatry. Coveting something is more than simpy wanting it. A guy pulls up next to you in a much nicer car than you have, and you think. “I wonder if he’d trade? That’s a nice car.”

Idolatry is when that DESIRE grows into COVETING. Into a sense that I won’t know PLEASURE or FULFILLMENT or LIFE unless I have that thing. We can covet about anything: Height, weight, hair color, salary. Ten Commandments says a man’s wife, house, farm animals, children. “Anything that is your neighbors.” Anytime you begin to think that LIFE AND BLESSING AND GRACE are tied to the thing you’re wanting, you’re into “COVETOUSNESS, WHICH IS IDOLATRY.”

Philippians 3:19 gets even more basic. Even our “belly” can be a “god”:

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. (Phil 3:19)

When your “belly” is your “god” then physical pleasures are your pursuit. You lose all self-control and all restraint to get a physical sensation. Whatever my belly wants, my belly gets. My belly is the master, and I am its slave.

Physical appetites can take on this god-like place in our lives. They can have an addictive quality to them. At that point they become like gods to us. We’ll do whatever this god requires to satisfy it’s desires.

These passages show us why the apostle John would write in the last verse of his epistle:

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)

Not just the idols you find in ancient stone temples. But also the idols that live in your heart that you try to hide from everyone else.

CONCLUSION

As we close I want to pull from Kevin DeYoung’s book again. In his chapter on the FIRST COMMANDMENT he closes with 4 probing questions. These are questions meant to help you see whether God is truly the God of your heart or you just think he is.

Sometimes questions like these reveal you’re not really a Christian. There’s no true knowledge of God in you. Sometimes they simply reveal where you need to grow. Our whole life will be a process of worshiping God more and more as the One and Only True God of Our Hearts.

Here are DeYoung’s questions:

1. Whom do you praise? You may compliment your children, spouse, and friends, but who receives your highest praise?

Those situations when you say, “He’s REALLY great!” “She’s Amazing!”

2. Whom do you count on? Sure, God works through means, such as doctors, insurance companies, and prescription medicine, but when you really are in need, who do you know will always come through?

I KNOW my friend will come through. I’m not sure about the Lord.

3. Whom do you call for? Where do you look for answers? Where do you turn for purpose and joy? Is it food, work, TV, your phone, or the God of the universe?

In other words, how often do you pray?

4. Whom do you thank? Where do your good days come from? Who made the trees and the stars and that cooing little baby?
Kevin DeYoung, The 10 Commandments [5]

One more from David Powlison, a list of “X-ray Questions” to see into our hearts:

Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, and escape?
David Powlison, “X-Ray Questions”

Ouch. None of us escapes rebuke with these. Questions like these show us whether some other god is taking the true God’s place in our hearts.

But there’s also a positive challenge here. Turn these into action items in the right direction:

Praise…the Lord! Count on…the Lord! Call on…the Lord! Thank…the Lord!

The answer when you realize where your heart has strayed is to bring it back into alignment. Get the right God on the throne of your heart: “ Praise…the Lord! Count on…the Lord! Call on…the Lord! Thank…the Lord!

This is the God who will get us through COVID-19. He will! He’s not surprised or alarmed or stretched thin. He has infinite power and infinite resources. He will use the federal government and doctors, friends, family, and your church. But these are only a small part of his overall work in this time. And then there’s the way he does things and you don’t even know how. You look back and say, “I don’t know how we made it through, but we did.”

Praise…the Lord! Count on…the Lord! Call on…the Lord! Thank…the Lord!

Amen.

 

[1] “Tom” cited in her book (Anchor, 1994) 21.

[2] Pp. 32–33.

[3] P. 64.

[4] Harper, 1998.

[5] Pp. 38–39.

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