Sermon: Only One God

Only One God

The First Commandment – Only One God

 

Last week we began to look at the Ten Commandments. Specifically we examined the power of the Ten Commandments showing that they concisely, clearly and compassionately outline the grace of God and the response to that grace human beings are called to make towards God.

 

We saw that …

  1. They are rooted in a relationship.

They are like the wedding vows between God and His people.

God pledges his power and love and promises and presence to His people and in turn, He expects loyalty to himself and compassion toward others. They are descriptions of how we are to live in relationship with God.

 

  1. They outline human response to the grace of God.

Before God ever commands us to do anything or to refrain from doing anything, he first saves us. He didn’t give the Ten Commandments until He had rescued the people from Egypt – only then, did He give them instructions on how to live. The Commandments are our response to God’s grace.

 

  1. They move our faith from the abstract to specific behaviour.

Almost everyone will tell you that they believe in God, but its the obedience to God that turns faith into a reality. The Ten Commandments give us guidelines for moral and ethical behaviour.

 

  1. They set a personal responsibility for the well being of the community.

The “you” in each of the Commandments is singular; they require a personal response and it is only as we take personal responsibility for our own lives that we begin to set the example for the whole community.

 

  1. They illustrate the connection between our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with each other.

The first four commands describe our relationship with God. The last 6 describe our relationships with each other. When Jesus answered a question about which was the greatest command. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this; Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

What Jesus did was summarize the Ten Commandments. Love God. Love your neighbor.

 

Each week I want us to hear all of the Commands.
So lets read together Exodus 20:1-17.
And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The first commandment starts with an absolute truth.

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

 

It begins by telling us who God is in relation to us.

I am the Lord your God!

 

It specifies why we should obey him?

I brought you out of Egypt! I saved your from bondage and slavery.

 

It tells us what He want from us?

You shall have no other gods!

Why did Israel need such an obvious and elementary introduction to the commandments?

We’ve got to remember that Israel had been in Egyptian captivity for 400 years. For 400 years Israel had been subjected to Egyptian culture, religion, economy and oppression.

And the most important thing is that Israel had no religion to sustain its identity. They came to Egypt a handful of people, a single family, running from a famine. They were refugees.

 

All the ritual, all the stories that we assume were always there, didn’t exist until after their enslavement. They had been completely indoctrinated into Egyptian culture. They didn’t even know God’s name, which was given to Moses in the desert of Midian.
There were no stories. No songs. No scriptures. Nothing to shape and mould their faith. So God began with the basics.

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. I am your saviour. Your deliverer.

Then God issued the first command. You shall have no other gods before me.

 

The idea of having only one God would have been a completely new thought to those people. The Egyptians served many god’s and interestingly enough, each plague of Egypt was a direct assault on one of those gods. The Nile was worshipped as a god, so God turned it to blood. The sun was worshipped, so God darkened it. The first born was worshipped. So God killed them. (The only protection then, as today, is the blood of a lamb).

The Israelites had been completely surrounded by a polytheistic culture for as long as any of them could remember. So when God demanded exclusive loyalty, it was a revolutionary idea.

And, I guess, its a pretty revolutionary idea today as well.

 

Our world has drifted pretty far from God. Our culture has assumed that we are self-sufficient and no longer need Him. The dreadful irony of it all, is that we now have to also believe that we are an accident of creation and have no apparent purpose in the universe.

The consequences are potentially horrendous – and we are seeing many of these already – massive drug and alcohol abuse, increase in domestic violence, elective abortion, euthanasia, acceptance of homosexual and other perverse sexual behaviour and so much more.

 

So why did God demanded complete allegiance?
Think about I like this …

Divorced parents face a particular kind of problem one time or another. In almost every situation the children will try to play one parent against the other.

If mom won’t let me have what I want, then maybe dad will. And because the parents feel guilty about the breakup of their home they are vulnerable. If one says no he or she is the bad guy.
The kids end up loving you not for who you are, but for what you give them.

God doesn’t want that kind of dysfunctional thinking.

In this first command God is saying, “This is going to be a single minded parent family. I am both your father and mother. If you need anything you come to me. If you want to know how to live, you come to me. I am all you need to make it.”
This first command is absolutely foundational to the rest. God could have simply said, “Take a day off. Be nice to your parents. Don’t kill each other. Etc. Etc. Etc. ” But then the obvious question would be, “Why?”

 

Why should we do certain things and avoid others? If there is no ultimate standard of authority outside our own feelings there would be no reason to recognise the laws as anything but an arbitrary list that could be dismissed any time we feel like it.

 

This is exactly what has happened in the world today!

Today there are those who want to keep the Ten Commandments, the Scriptures and the God of the Scriptures out of our culture. When I was in Merredin, we taught Scripture at both primary schools. But after a couple of years, a parent came onto the School Council who opposed it. She rallied the council and the parents and managed to convince enough people that it was a bad thing and so we had to stop teaching Scripture classes at that school. (Incidentally, in the interests of economy, the government amalgamated the two schools and now Scriptures classes are taught across the board and a Christian Chaplain has been appointed as well).

 

I understand exactly why they want to get rid of Scripture classes; I know why some people oppose the Ten Commandments as a basis for moral behavior.

 

In their subconscious they understand something about the Commandments that we don’t. They don’t mind the parts about stealing and killing and lying. Everybody pretty much agrees with those. They don’t really mind the part about being kind to your parents. Most everybody finds that comfortable – after all don’t we put special emphasis on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The part which the opponents of the Ten Commandments can’t live with is the first command; you shall have no other gods before me.

They understand how powerful that command is. They understand that if you recognise the sovereign, exclusive authority of God then you can’t merely dismiss a commandment just because you don’t feel like obeying it.

If I believe that there really is only one God, if He is the only saviour of the oppressed and enslaved, then he must be obeyed.

So what does that say about us if we casually tell a lie or tolerate an untruth? What if we don’t hold to our marriage vows? Or if we indulge thoughts of covetousness?

Does it not mean that we need to go back to the first commandment and ask ourselves, “Have I allowed another god to take the throne? Is self ruling where God should be? Or Success? Pride? Sex? Work?

If we will honour God as the only God in our lives, it won’t matter whether the Ten Commandments are formally recognised by our society or culture or not. They don’t need to be posted on the walls of the law courts because they will be posted everywhere a Christian goes. And the testimony of our lives will be impossible to silence.

Today we need to ask ourselves who is our God?

And if we are really honest with ourselves not all of us will be able to say YHWH. There are many of us who simply want to keep God happy by doing the bare minimum, but we also struggle to keep the God of self happy.

You see, in the struggle between God and self, neither ends up happy.

God demands exclusive allegiance to Himself. He doesn’t do that in any kind of authorative or punitive way. He does it out of His love for us that brought Christ to the Cross. He demands allegiance because He knows the right way for us to live and He wants the very best for us.

 

So where are you with God this morning?

I have often found myself in the battle of wills with God. I have thought that I am safe in my own choices, but as I have walked with Him, I have found that the most glorious choices and the safest places are in Him.

 

The prophet Habakkuk, questioned God one time about His choices, offering his own human wisdom. God’s response of immutable mercy stunned him …

I heard and my heart pounded,

my lips quivered at the sound;

decay crept into my bones,

and my legs trembled.

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

18       yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Savior. [1]

 

I invite you to come forward this morning to pledge yourself to God as your Saviour and Lord!

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Hab 3:16–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.



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