No other gods
- The nature of commitment
I want to think with you tonight about relationships and what it means to be in a committed relationship; and so I thought I would start by telling you a little about my relationship with my wife, Melinda.
I first met Melinda in early 1986, when we were both working at a large accountancy firm in Sydney. We worked on the same floor of this building, and for some time I sat behind Melinda. And fairly early on I thought she looked beautiful. And eventually I asked her out for lunch to celebrate her birthday. She said yes, we had a very fine time together, and that was that. The relationship however was unlikely to go far for two reasons –
- one, I was already living with someone else
- and secondly, I wasn’t a Christian and Melinda was, and she wasn’t prepared to go out with a non-Christian, because her relationship with God had first priority.
The first hurdle was solved soon enough as I left my previous relationship, because I wasn’t prepared to make a long-term commitment to the lady involved. No point going with someone if you aren’t at least prepared to think about a long-term commitment.
The second hurdle was much larger. Over a period of about 3 months Melinda and I did go out a number of times – and each time Melinda would come to me the next day and say she couldn’t keep going out with me, because she was a Christian and was committed to the Lord Jesus. And I would say to her that was fine with me, I wouldn’t want to stop her going to church, or knowing God. This happened as I say over a few months, until God acted. A number of people Melinda knew had been praying for me to become a Christian, and in September 1986 God did the humanly impossible and saved me, and brought me into his family and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. As I read about what Jesus did for me on the cross and how he acted to save me from God’s wrath at my sin, I lay on my bed and asked God’s forgiveness and gave my life to Jesus. It was the 26th September 1986. I went to work that morning and told Melinda I had become a Christian. I’m not too sure what was then going through her mind, but that night we had a work function on, and at the end of it Melinda said she would start going out with me.
To cut a long story short we got engaged some 6 weeks later and married 6 months after that.
In our wedding vows this was what I promised …
‘I, Ian take you Melinda to be my wife; to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health to love and to cherish and to encourage in Christ, as long as we both shall live.’
We formalised our relationship by making a commitment to one another – a commitment which actually recognised a more important relationship, and a more fundamental commitment – the relationship and commitment each of us had to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and his commitment and relationship to us.
As we look tonight at Exodus 20:3 and the first of the ten commandments, the idea of commitment in relationship is what is at issue here.
- God’s commitment to his people
For the Bible tells us that God is a relational God, who is totally committed to his people.
We heard that last week as Mark brought to us the background to Exodus 20 and God’s saving acts for his people. For not only did God bring the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, but we go back long before that where God created Adam and Eve and made them to be in relationship with him. And after centuries of humanity’s sin, God was still committed to his creation and so promised Abraham to make his descendants into a great nation. And so it was that God brought Israel into existence, and then rescued them.
And all those things, all those great works of God, are part of his commitment to his people. He creates them, he rescues them, he provides for them – water and food in chs 15-17, relief from despair in ch 17, and a land of their own, he sustains them physically and spiritually – he is their God.
And for us in 2005 we know his provision and salvation, his commitment to a relationship even more – for we know of his love for us in Jesus and in the cross of Christ.
- The people’s commitment to God
And God longs then for a commitment from people. That he will be their God and they will be his people. No one else’s, but God’s people.
Just look back with me at Ex 19:1-8 - READ
What is the people’s response to God’s work of having saved them and wanting a relationship of commitment with them? They say – we will do everything the Lord has said. We’re in. We accept God’s terms they say. We want a relationship with God, we will commit ourselves to him. So Ex 19 they agree to be the people of God. In Ex 20 God sets out for them how to live as the people of God.
- But which God?
a) The Lord
And in a land of many gods, and in a world of many gods, they are to have no other gods but one, the Lord. And this is the very first commandment – Look again at Ex 20:1-3. It is a call by God, they are his words not the words of people, to worship the true and living God and no others.
The 2nd commandment which we look at next week is closely tied to this one, it is about making sure the people worshipped God in the right way. But the first commandment is about worshipping the right God, and not worshipping false gods. Not that there are any other ‘gods’ in reality, but the people of the land of Canaan, and the peoples of the nations around them did worship other, what they called, ‘gods’ – and the Israelites are not to follow after them. The Lord is the one true God, and they were to have a relationship with him alone.
And who is this Lord? The NIV you’ll see has that word LORD in block letters, to show he is a particular person – not just any lord, but the LORD. The LORD God, In Hebrew it is the word Yahweh, which is translated into Latin as Jehovah. In the Old Testament there are 6823 references to this name. For example - this LORD is the one who created the heavens and the earth in Gen 2:4, the one who shut Noah in the ark in Gen 7:16, the one who made the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1, the one who made himself known to Moses by this name in Ex 6:2-3 – READ it. The Lord is the one who brought Israel out of slavery – he is to be their God.
And he is to be our God as well. Yet in his clearer and deeper revelation of himself in the New Testament, this same God has shown that he is not one person, but rather one God in 3 persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that is the God whom we are to worship and have as our God now. The New Testament continues to call all people to love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul and mind. Nothing has changed for Christians in that regard. Some of the commandments we will see may be interpreted and applied differently now with the coming of Jesus, but not this one.
b) Having him
Friends, the situation with God and the Israelites is the same as our situation with God. As God created and saved Israel, provided for them and sustained them – so he does with us. God holds out to the world the offer of a relationship with him, in total commitment to him.
When we become a Christian we offer our lives to Jesus, as Melinda and I did to one another all those years ago, and Jesus commits himself to us. Becoming a Christian is me saying ‘I, Ian, take you Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Saviour; to have and to hold onto from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish for ever.’ It’s saying I love God – which is Christ’s call to us in the New Testament isn’t it – love the Lord your God.
And just as I therefore cannot take another wife whilst married to Melinda, unless I break the relationship, and break my commitment and break my promise, so I cannot take another god whilst I am committed to the Lord Jesus. It is to be an exclusive and permanent relationship. Jesus invites us to be his bride – to make a permanent and exclusive commitment to him, above and before all else in your life. And I want to ask you – have you made that sort of commitment to a relationship with the Lord, Jesus Christ? Is he your God?
c) as our ‘god’
Which I guess raises the question – well, what other gods are there?
Before I answer that – worth thinking about – what is a god?
I take it that a ‘god’ is something you devote your life to, something you serve, something you derive meaning and purpose and significance from, something you trust in the ups and downs of life, something you trust to look after you, something you set your heart on above all else, something that commands and receives our higher allegiance, the thing I value above all else.
d) No other gods
When you think about it like that – well there are a number of people or things that would qualify as gods in our society aren’t there. And God knows this hence the command to have him as our only God. It’s not just a suggestion – it’s a command! A command because the dangers of false gods is so real.
A very challenging and helpful little book is this one ‘The True and living God’ by Kim Hawtrey. In it he outlines a number of the gods which people around us in the 21st century may be tempted to trust as their gods, either consciously or not. As he says ‘the sad fact is that the world is full of people pursuing the things God has made, or the gifts God has given, or the self God has created, rather than God himself’ (p13). These include:
- Relationships: so perhaps our friends, our spouse or our boyfriend/girlfriend, our parents, our children, our family, ourself
- Materialism: money, lotto, inheritance, possessions, clothes, our home
- Personal cravings: job, career, ambition, work, promotion, leisure or pleasure, television, entertainment, sex, sport, beauty, education, individuality, prestige, success, popularity, power
- Or a worldview: the environment, politics, privacy, civil liberties
These things aren’t bad in themselves, but if allowed to they will push God off centre stage in our lives.
e) Christ alone, with all I am and have
Everybody worships something, and at the end of the day there is only one thing which we serve above all else. As Jesus said (Matt 6:24) – you cannot serve two masters). What are you serving?
The only thing or person really worthy of our devotion is Jesus Christ. He made us, he sustains us, he saved us giving his life for us, he loves us more than anyone else in the universe loves us. And he longs for us to be his. He longs for us to long for a relationship with him. He longs for us to commit ourselves to him. In fact he demands it. He has a claim on our lives, every one of us – as our Creator; and he calls us to follow him and give our lives to him.
ILLN – the story is told of the Greek shipping magnate who wanted to show his loyalty to the king. So he asked the king’s secretary ‘Would his majesty like me to give him one of my ships as a gift?’ The secretary replied ‘No. The King would like you to give yourself as the gift – then he will have all your ships as well.’
And I wonder whether this is in part what stops people from becoming Christians – they’ve heard of the wonderful Saviour who laid down his life for them, but they resist him. They simply do not want to give Jesus their whole self. He can have Sunday perhaps – if it doesn’t interfere with anything else. But the rest is mine.
We’ve seen tonight that this first commandment commands us to be committed to God. Nothing else is to come first in our life. We are to have no other gods before the Lord and Saviour. We are to abandon anything which threatens our relationship with him. Nothing and no one should have more influence in our lives than He has.
And so I want to ask you – do you put other things or people as more important than your relationship with God? If so, what are they? And what do you need to do to change your attitude and your actions? And do you need help to do it – maybe find someone to meet with you, pray with you, keep you accountable, to help you change.