Thursday, November 6, 2014

Keeping the First Commandment

In dealing with the applicability of the Old Testament Law to contemporary times, and in showing a possible application of the interpretation of the OT Law in viewing the Sabbath (the fourth commandment), I decided I wanted to talk very briefly about each of the other Ten Commandments as well. Some of them will have more obvious principles than others. While I don’t intend to mine out all of the possible applications that can be had, I do want to highlight a few for each one. Today, the first commandment will be discussed.

What is the first commandment? Exodus 20:2-3 says, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This very simple commandment is also very straightforward: the other cultures of the Ancient Near East (ANE) were very polytheistic, often adding gods where other conquering cultures moved in. God is telling the Hebrew people who had recently been freed from Egypt that in no uncertain terms were they to do that. That’s a pretty easy interpretation.

But what about application? As I said to a church yesterday, “It’s not like any of you are in danger of going home to your Buddhist shrines and worshipping idols or whatever.” And that is largely true of us in Western culture. We don’t tend to overtly worship idols. But what does this mean for us, then? Of what relevance is it? First, there is the obvious application of things or pursuits or even other people that can take the place of God, and become de facto gods in our lives. I am wanting to pursue a PhD. If I am not very careful, that idea of a PhD may be what drives what I do every day, instead of the worship of a very holy God. I must actively guard against that.

But there are other biblical texts that can show us the true reach of the first commandment. Next, we want to take note of texts that tell us to love God with every part of our being. Deuteronomy 6:5 implores Israel: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” while Matthew 22:37 implores followers of Christ: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” while Mark has the expanded meaning (showing the duality of meaning potentially in the Hebrew of Deuteronomy) in 12:30: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.”[1] So it’s not enough to say merely that we’re not worshipping another god directly, or even replacing him with daily items. We must instead worship him with every facet of our being.

So how do we do that? The Bible is not silent on this either. Take the Pauline epistles, for just one brief example. 1 Corinthians 10:31, in a discussion on Christian liberty, Paul exhorts the church at Corinth thusly: “…Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” And again in Colossians 3:17, 23: “And whatever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him…And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” These verses form a kind of general principle in family relationships (the former verse) and employment relationships (the latter). We love God with every area of our being by loving God in everything that we do, every day. We don’t get an off-day for loving God. On the flip side, if we are doing all to God’s glory, and thus loving him with all of our being, then we will be fulfilling the spirit and intent of the first commandment: that the biblical God is the only one we will serve.

So how are you doing in this regard? Are you fulfilling the intent of the first commandment? Once we have understood what the commandment is truly about, it becomes apparent that it’s not merely a prohibition of something negative, but an exhortation to do something positive. What will you do now with the first commandment? Discuss below!

[1] This sense of “first” is the one of priority or importance, not necessarily first in a series. It refers directly to Deuteronomy 6, but I contend its importance is due to its logical extension of the first commandment of the Ten Commandments.


  1. I have heard it before that each commandment has both a prohibition and an exhortation. Israel was not merely to avoid sin, but to worship God. As for what I will do with the first commandment, it is becoming all too clear that when I use my time to do other good things and neglect time with God, the good things become bad things. God is the greatest object of our fulfillment and happiness, when I am pursuing Him is when I am at my best. This was a good reminder to love God above all else.

    1. Matt, you said it man. I am guilty so many times of studying *about* the Bible but not actually the Bible itself, or not reading devotionally!


Please remember to see the comment guidelines if you are unfamiliar with them. God bless and thanks for dropping by!