This is post 1 of 10 in the series “TEN FOR OUR TIME”
TEN FOR OUR TIME: When God Is God
I Kings 18:20-30
Given the fact that battles over the Ten Commandments are emerging as the latest front in the culture wars being waged in our American society, I want from this pulpit to look at each one of the Commandments because I believe them to be “Ten for Our Time. Today we examine the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” It is no accident that this command comes first. It is in a sense a summary of all the rest. It is like the foundation of a building—the rest of the structure is entirely dependent upon it. Remember please that Jesus Himself was asked which is the greatest commandment, and He replied: “The first and great commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” That’s the message of the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Make no mistake, that is the most fundamental of all the commandments. For if we are unwilling to make the commitment the first commandment requires, then none of the other commandments will have influence in our lives. But if on the other hand, we do accept the first commandment and build our lives upon it, then the other nine commandments become magnificent standards for the living of our days. So I ask you then to consider with me today the meaning of these words, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
In the first place, this commandment reminds us that God takes priority in our lives.
I want you to understand that in its most literal form this commandment actually reads, “Thou shalt bring no other gods before My face.” Some translations accurately render it, “Thou shalt have no other gods besides Me.” The message is clear—God will tolerate no rival. Notice, please, the commandment does not say that there are no other gods. What it says is that these other gods may never be brought before the God who is God—the One true God. No other god can exist in the presence of the one true God. God, the God, is to be first and only in our lives.
Do you remember the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Do you remember how these three had as the priority commitment in their lives a deep love for the God Who is God, and how the king tried to get them to bow down to some other god, and how they steadfastly refused to do so? As punishment the three were then thrown into a fiery furnace. But they lived through the experience—in fact while they were in the furnace, an angel of God came and stood with them. Now where did they gain that certainty which made them willing to go into the flames because of what they believed? They gained it because there was already a fire in their hearts. That fire was the fire of love for the one true God. And when that fire bums in a human life, then no other fires can have any effect.
I think of it in terms of the editor of a Scottish newspaper who was advertising a series of religious meetings. He did it in a most interesting way. On the front page of his paper in large letters, he put the words, “Please turn to the back page of this paper.” There on the back page of his paper, he printed in even larger letters, “Is this where you put God in your life?” What the first commandment asks is this, “Is God on the front page in your life? Have you put God at the hub, the core, the center of your life? Have you given Him such priority in your life that no other deity is ever even brought before His face?” Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, put it this way, “Do we have purity of heart; that is do we will only one thing in life, and that one thing is to be obedient and responsive to the God Who is God?” That’s another way of stating the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
Also, this commandment reminds us that God provides power for our lives.
When we make the one true God the consuming center of our lives, then we plug ourselves into what Alexis Carrel calls, “The great inexhaustible motive power which spins the whole universe.” When we understand God to be the sovereign Lord of all, then we understand Him to be above everything that is, every government, every institution, every conceivable earthly power.
Please recall from the chambers of your memory the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal and their decisive contest atop Mount Carmel. The priests of Baal offered some sacrificial animals to their god and prayed that their god would come down and burn up the sacrifices. They worked themselves up into an orgiastic fury trying to get the attention of Baal. Nothing happened. All the while Elijah was goading them on with ridicule. He yelled at them, “What’s the matter with your god? Why isn’t he answering? Cry louder. Perhaps he is deep in thought or busy or traveling; maybe is sleeping and must be awakened. Cry louder. Wake him up!” Well the taunts only served to throw the priests of Baal into a greater frenzy. Still nothing happened. Then Elijah stepped forward; he laid out his sacrifice; soaked the whole area with water; and then simply prayed that God would come and consume the sacrifice. With that the power came. A great fire exploded in that place. Elijah said to those who were gathered there, “How long will you go limping between two opinions? If the Lord is God, then follow Him. But if Baal is god then follow him.” That word “limp” is the right word because you see when a person serves a number of gods, that person is always limping, always stumbling from one to another. There is no great centering commitment in that person’s life which says, “Lord I will never again bring any other god before Your face.” Consequently, that person never receives the power to master both life and death.
Let me ask you: how do you think it was that Jeremiah could condemn the behavior of his own people when his own people called him traitor? Where did he get the strength and the power to do that? Out of his knowledge that God is the one true God. When Martin Luther stood before the parliament in Worms and they said, “You must take back what you have said—where did Martin Luther get the courage and the power to say to the king and the national leaders, “Unless I am convinced by God, I cannot lay aside that which I have proclaimed. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.”? In essence, Martin Luther was saying, “If I can depend upon God, then I don’t need to depend upon anyone else.” The pilgrims, who set sail from the Old World to the New World confronting all the difficulties which were a part of that new life here—where did they get the certainty which you read in their documents and their private diaries? It came from this—they knew that they could depend upon God, that God is always reliable. Come closer to our own time to the Germany of Adolph Hitler. Hitler wanted to be called “Fuhrer” which means “absolute master.” But Martin Niemoller, a Protestant preacher in Germany at the time, wrote a book and published it called God Is My Fuhrer. Niemoller refused to give to Hitler what he would give only to God, and his leadership inspired the Protestant church in Germany to stand against Hitler. Even Albert Einstein, a Jew, singled out the church and praised it for its stance. Now where did the church have the power to stand against Hitler when all of the universities, the courts, and the newspapers fell under his sway? It was because the church had the first commandment. Where did Archbishop Luwan, the man who stood against Idi Amin in Uganda, get the strength to do that? They beat him; they tortured him; finally they murdered him and tried to cover it up with a lie. Where did Archbishop Luwan get the courage to stand as he stood? It was his confidence that the God Who is God is always reliable. Mark it down. The name of Archbishop Luwan and the spirit of Archbishop Luwan will still live when every last tin-pot dictator has gone down to dusty death because Archbishop Luwan relied on the ultimate certainty of the God Who is God.
Dear friends, whenever you are afraid, whenever timidity creeps in and you back off from a stand, whenever uncertainty keeps you from doing what you know you ought to do, claim the power of the first commandment. Claim the courage which belongs to those who belong to God. There is indeed great power to be found in these words, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”
So I cry it from my heart.
My God is God.
He is the first and the last.
He is the beginning and the end.
He is the keeper of creation and the creator of all.
He is the architect of the universe and the manager of all times.
He always was, He always is, and He always will be
Unmoved, unchanged, undaunted, undefeated, undiminished, undefiled.
My God is God.
He was bruised and brought healing.
He was pierced and eased pain.
He was persecuted and brought freedom.
He was dead and brought life.
He is risen and brings power.
He reigns and brings peace.
He forgives and brings pardon.
He loves and brings hope.
My God is God.
Herod couldn’t kill Him. Pharisees couldn’t confound Him,
And the people couldn’t hold Him.
Nero couldn’t crush Him. Hitler couldn’t silence Him,
And terrorists can’t stop Him.
Armies can’t defeat Him. Scholars can’t explain Him,
And leaders can’t ignore Him.
My God is God.
His ways are right.
His word is eternal.
His will is unchanging, And His mind is on me.
He is my Savior.
He is my Mentor.
He is my Guide,
And His power is in me.
He is my joy.
He is my comfort.
He is my Lord,
And His Spirit is with me.
My God is God.
When I fall, He lifts me up.
When I fail, He forgives me.
When I am weak, He strengthens me.
When I am lost, He shows me the way.
When I am hurt, He heals me.
When I am broken, He mends me.
When I am blind, He leads me.
When I am hungry, He feeds me.
When I face persecution, He is with me.
When I face problems, He comforts me.
When I face loss, He provides for me.
When I face death, He carries me home.
My God is God.
He is the wisdom of the wise.
He is the power of the powerful.
He is the leader of leaders.
He is the ruler of rulers.
He is the Lord of all Lords.
He is the King of all Kings.
He is God and He is faithful.
I am His and He is mine.
He is God and God alone.
I thank Him for all He has done in my life.
This is the God I know and love and today my prayer is that all of us—not just some of us but all of us—will come to know the God Who is God; that all of us will come to experience the saving love of God in Jesus Christ; that all of us will come to understand that no expression of God’s love was ever more tenderly offered to us than when God said to us, “My beloved children, do not ever bring any other gods before my face.”
Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and Amen.