"You shall have no other gods before me. " - Exodus 20:3
This commandment seems simple, right? Like many things, it might be simple to understand but it is extremely hard to apply. Such is the nature of theology. Its practical application can be summarised in two ways:
Let’s start by looking at the first point of application. This commandment requires us to forsake all other gods.
No other gods.
We must be careful not to misinterpret this commandment so that we end up having more than one God. The point of the phrase “no other gods before me” could also mean “no other gods before my face” which seems a likely interpretation since the Bible everywhere proclaims the fact that there is only one God. John Calvin is helpful on this point. He states that the sin in view here is “like a shameless woman who brings an adulterer before her husbands very eyes, only to vex his mind the more.”
This is a good analogy. There is no way in which we can be in a healthy marriage with our spouse and at the same time be intimate with someone outside of the marriage covenant. Imagine the scene. One day you get home from work and your wife says to you “Hey honey, I’m so glad to see you! I’ve missed you oh so much. Before I tell you about my day, allow me to introduce you to someone special. His name is Ryan. Now don’t misunderstand me here, I love you and I don’t want us to get a divorce or anything. Both you and Ryan are special to me. I just want to let you know that I’ll be spending time with Ryan as well and I might spend a weekend with him sometime soon”.
How would you respond? After “Ryan” has been kindly escorted from the premises with great force and fury , I’m sure that the gist of your thoughts would be that of an ultimatum. “It’s me or him! You can’t have the both of us. Make up your mind!”. This makes sense, right? The very nature of marriage demands absolute fidelity and faithfulness. Our relationship with God is like this.
To state it differently, this commandment prohibits idolatry. What is idolatry?
The Heidelberg Catechism helpfully defines idolatry by stating that “idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside the only true God, who has revealed himself in the word” (Q&A 95). Here we see that idolatry is not only linked to pagan religious symbols and strange practices but is found in the very heart of man.
The god of mammon lives on.
The example of Mammon would suffice. Mammon is the god of greed and excessive wealth. He is a powerful deity that is created in the human heart. He whispers words of discontent and vain ambition. This god is never too far from us, is he? We find him in the music we listen to, the movies we so adore and the tv series that we binge on. He appears in magazines and the adverts that we so dread. At times, he seems to be omnipresent. How often have we believed the lie that having x amount of money will satisfy our desires? And yet we find that that having more money can leave the soul empty as the ever-elusive promise of satisfaction flies away in the wind.
Thomas Watson powerfully displays the link between money and idolatry. He says this: “Money is his creator, redeemer, and comforter. Money is his creator, for if he has money, he thinks he is made and has achieved success. Money is his redeemer, for if he is in danger, he trusts in his money to redeem him. Money is his comforter, for if he is sad, money is the golden harp that he tries to use to drive away the evil spirit. Thus, by trusting in money, we make it a god.”
We must beware of the gods that wage war against our souls. We must, with the zeal of Phineas, take out our spears and destroy the wickedness in our hearts (Numbers 25). To borrow from John Owen, we must kill sin lest sin kill us.
Worshipping the true God
This commandments behooves us to worship the true God. As creatures of the living God, we owe God all the worship that he deserves. The first commandment means that we worship Jesus Christ as the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:3). Jesus is God (John 1:1) and it is at his name that every knee must bow, those in heaven and those on earth, indeed every tongue will use the words of Thomas in declaring “My Lord and My God” (Phil 2:9-11, John 20:28).
We worship Christ as our Lord and Savior, and we must pray to see all people bow the knee now rather than later.