The First Commandment: What Is Our Greatest Priority
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2-3).When asked which of all the laws of Scripture is the greatest, Christ responded with the command emphasizing the supreme importance of our personal relationship with God: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:35-38; see also Deuteronomy 6:5).
Establishing, developing and maintaining that personal relationship with the true and living God is the most important commitment we can ever make. That is the primary focus of the first of the Ten Commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3).
The supreme guiding power over our lives, that which controls our ideals, is our focus of worship. Many things can take the place of the worship of the true God in our hearts and minds. The adoration of these things will eliminate any possibility of our establishing or maintaining a real relationship with God.
The basis of our relationship with God
The Bible is clear concerning the basis of our relationship with God: He is our Creator!
The prophet Isaiah chided the ancient Israelites for failing to grasp the significance of trusting and honoring their Creator. "Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing" (Isaiah 40:26).
"Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel: ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my just claim is passed over by my God'? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable" (verses 27-28).
All that we are, and everything we have, ultimately comes from one source—God. Paul cautions us "not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17). The only reliable assurance that our future is secure lies in our relationship with our Creator.
The Bible affirms that our Maker is both living and real—the one and only true God. "But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King . . ." (Jeremiah 10:10).
He created for us a wonderful dwelling—our beautiful planet. He fashioned it to provide us with everything we need for our material well-being and survival. It is His desire that we enjoy and appreciate His gifts to us.
At the same time, He wants us to understand that we must never direct our worship toward anything that He has created or regard it as the source of our life and blessings. Only the Creator—never the creation—is to receive that honor.
The veneration of nature
Man's worship of nature, or some aspect of nature, has been the basis of one idolatrous religion after another. Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible succinctly explains the underpinnings of religions that were contemporary with and geographically close to ancient Israel. "The great idolatrous cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia closely reflected their physical environment. Their religion, like that of their neighbours the Hittites and Canaanites, focused on nature. They had no real concept of a single, all-powerful Creator-God. And so they accounted for the vagaries of climate, agricultural events and the geography of the world around them by means of a whole array of gods" (1973, p. 10, emphasis added).
The Egyptians and Mesopotamians thought of the forces of nature as powerful spirits ruling over their environment. This superstitious worship of the sun, moon and stars as well as "mother" earth and most of its natural forces, such as lightning, thunder, rain and fire, persists to this day in some parts of the world.
Ironically, this underlying concept has also been adopted by modern-day religions that teach that God is more or less the sum total of the natural powers of the universe. But all have one thing in common: They fail to distinguish the Creator from His creation.
Many people place their confidence in astrology. Whether they realize it or not, in doing so they attribute divine powers to the creation—the stars—rather than to their Creator.
God warns us against this practice. "And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the LORD your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage" (Deuteronomy 4:19). Astrology is a way of looking to the creation instead of to the Creator for supernatural guidance.
Exalting the creation is the cornerstone of today's materialistic, secular view of the universe. The theory that life evolved from inert matter is an attempt to explain the creation—our amazing universe—without the intelligence of a Creator.
Responsible scientists refute the belief in the spontaneous generation of life. Some have demonstrated the scientific impossibility of life evolving from the nonliving. Research demonstrates that cells, the building blocks of life, are made up of so many complex and interactive and irreducibly complex systems that the possibility of life originating spontaneously defies even the most extreme view of the laws of probability.
Michael Behe, associate professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, writes: "The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell—to investigate life at the molecular level—is a loud, clear, piercing cry of ‘design!' The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science" (Darwin's Black Box, 1996, pp. 232-233, original emphasis).
Dr. Behe refutes even the possibility that life could have evolved. In other words, solid scientific evidence now makes it clear that the existence of the creation necessitates a Creator. (Request your free copies of Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist? and Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?)
Why people turn to superstition and idolatry
Some 2,000 years ago the apostle Paul explained that the all-too-human tendency to attribute intelligence and life-giving powers to the physical creation has been a major source of superstition and religious blindness. "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised" (Romans 1:21-25, NIV).
The First Commandment warns us not to accept a religion or philosophy that teaches that our life and well-being originate with or depend on anything other than the one true God. There is no pantheon of deities. There is no other source of life or blessings but God. There is no other power that rules over the heavens and the earth. "Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it" (Deuteronomy 10:14). He alone created and sustains the universe in which we exist.
This is the First Commandment's powerful message. We are to worship and serve our Creator—the miracle-working God who led ancient Israel out of Egyptian bondage—and to credit our existence and blessings to no other source. We are to love, respect and honor Him—to have a genuine, personal relationship with Him.
How can the true God be more real to us?
It is through God's remarkable works that we can best comprehend God's character. David describes his enthusiastic admiration for God's care and concern for His creation. "I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works. Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, and I will declare Your greatness. They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, and shall sing of Your righteousness. The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works." (Psalm 145:5-9).
Another Psalm exclaims: "Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness" (Psalm 107:8-9).
Moses adds that our Creator "administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing" (Deuteronomy 10:18). Jesus explains that God is so loving and merciful toward all that "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). God is concerned about the well-being of all people—even those who live in ignorance of His existence. Why is it so important that we understand the fundamentals of God's character? It is vital that we understand God because He wants to create in us that same character—His divine nature. Peter tells us that God has "given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature . . ." (2 Peter 1:4).
This comprehension involves a major shift of mind-set. As Paul tells us, "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . ." (Romans 12:2).
What kind of renewal should occur in our thinking? Paul explains, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). God wants us to become like Him by emulating the thinking, attitudes and outlook toward life exemplified by our perfect example, Jesus Christ.
How can this change in our thinking take place?
Getting acquainted with the true God
We get to know God by practicing His ways and emulating the love for others that motivate His thinking. "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3). And, "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8).
The Bible is a handbook that tells us what we need to know about God. Jesus Christ tells us, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Matthew 4:4; see also Deuteronomy 8:3). Paul explained that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
To know God, we must study those inspired Scriptures. "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, NRSV).
The family relationship
The relationship that God wants with us is that of children with their Father. "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18).
Herein lies the awesome purpose of our existence: the continuing development of righteous character and our ultimate destiny as members of God's family (same verse; Matthew 5:48).
The apostle John stresses the importance of this special relationship: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!
Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:1-3).
It was for this purpose that Jesus Christ was born to be the Savior of mankind. "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one [Father], for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews 2:9-11).
This is the awesome purpose for which you were born: to become a member of the very family of God!
What a remarkable love the living God, the Creator of the universe, has in store for us. He wants us to be a part of His family, to live forever in His Kingdom. He tells us that our highest priority in this life is to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). Our heavenly Father gave us this lifetime to establish a permanent relationship with Him so we can receive eternal life as His children.
We should love, honor and respect Him so much that He alone is the supreme authority and model in our lives. He alone is God. We should allow nothing to prevent us from serving and obeying Him.
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