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Giving God His Rightful Place - Exodus 20:3

Ten Commandments  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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According to George Gallup, "Americans revere the Bible -- but by and large, they don't read it. And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of Biblical illiterates." Four out of five Americans say they believe the Bible is the "literal and inspired" Word of God but most of them cannot recall the ten commandments." Three-quarters of Americans say they at least make some effort to follow Jesus' example," but, according to Gallup, they don't seem to have any idea what that example is. Six in ten cite a personal relationship with Jesus, but they do not see it as any sort of obligation. Their faith is more convenience rather than conviction. [Quoted in THE LAW OF PERFECT FREEDOM, Michael Horton p. 18-19]

These are sobering statistics and they reveal a superficial nature to faith that leaves us weak, powerless and vulnerable to the deceptions of the world around us. That is why we have gone back to the book of Exodus to study the Ten Commandments. They are God's law for His people. It is a law that is timeless and relevant to everyone.

Before we get to the actual commandments, there is a preface that sets the stage for the laws. God says, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." In these words God establishes two facts. First, He is qualified to give us guidelines for living because He is the LORD. God is the ever present One. He is eternal and all the other characteristics we have seen. In other words He is qualified to give us these commandments because He is God.

Second, He is qualified to give these commands because He has proved his love to us. God proved His love to the Hebrews in their deliverance from Egypt. He proved His love to us in the cross and in countless other ways. These commandments are not intended to restrict us . . . they are intended to set us free! God does not desire to make us miserable, He wants to make us holy. They are not given out of anger, but out of love.


The first commandment is stated simply, “You shall have no other gods before me." (v.3). We are to have no other God's before (that is, in the presence of) God. In other words, we are to have no other gods . . . at all! Stated positively we could state the commandment: "You shall make me the most significant Person and influence in your life." Nothing or no one should have more influence in our lives than He has.

An idol is not just a statue or a totem pole. An idol is anything that occupies the position of influence in our lives. Jesus illustrates what I mean with the story of the Rich Young Ruler,

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.' "

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” [Luke 18:18-27, NIV]

This influential man came to Jesus and asked the most significant question of life: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus tells this man that he should keep the commandments and He lists some of those commandments. This ruler felt that he had kept the commandments. So, Jesus told him that the only other thing he needed was to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor.

Now why did Jesus say this? Is Jesus telling us that we must be impoverished to get into Heaven? No. What Jesus is doing is taking the first commandment and applying it in this man's life. Jesus knew that the most important thing in this man's life was what He possessed. His status was tied to his portfolio. His confidence was in his net worth. So Jesus cuts right to the heart of the problem. This man was controlled more by what he had, than by the one who gave it to him. His riches had become his god. He had broken the first commandment.


It is easy for us to shake our heads at the rich young ruler. However, we are more like him than we would like to imagine. We are not generally seduced by gods of stone but there are other "gods" that work their way into our lives. We have to identify them before we can eliminate them.

The Idol of a False Religion

There are lots of people who say they believe in God. But the question is: what God do they believe in? There are many groups that sound like they are Christians who are not (like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons). They use many of the same phrases but use them differently than we do. There are those who sound reasonable and spiritual like Scientology and other New Age religions but these are just beliefs made up by men for the purpose of exalting self.

It is easy to fall into the snare of these false religions. In fact, while Moses was up on the mountain getting the ten commandments the people were busy in the valley making a golden calf to worship! It can happen to anyone. We need to be prepared.

First, we need to understand what we believe. It is impossible to detect error if you don't know truth. It is important that you study well. Read your Bible, attend some of the classes we offer, get involved in a Sunday School class, read good Christian books. If you don't know the truth, you are vulnerable to error.

Second, we need to know the right questions. When you are evaluating a belief system different from your own there are some good questions to ask:

how do they view Jesus? Is He a good man . . .or God in human form? Is he unique as God or is He a God in in a way that we can be god? Anything less than a Jesus that is fully God and fully man . . .is false faith. Don't just listen to the words . . . find out what the words mean to the people using them.

how do they view the resurrection of Jesus? Do they see it as a parable or metaphor or as an actual historical event? Anything other than a historical and bodily resurrection is a non-Christian faith.

how do they view the Bible? As one textbook among others? As a document that "contains" truth? Or do they see the Bible as our sole authority? Do they recognize the Bible as inspired by God and completely reliable? Do they uphold God's absolutes or is their "truth" relative?

how do they understand salvation? Is it the result of good effort such as faithful church membership, generous donations, sacrificial service? Is salvation something granted to everyone or is there some sort of judgment? What role (if any) does Christ play in salvation? Listen carefully and define every term. Any religion that promotes a salvation apart from the substitution of Christ on the cross for our sin, is a non-Christian religion. What is believed means more than what is written over the door.

The Idol of a Distorted Faith

This happens very easily. We break this commandment and not even realize it when we trust our religious deeds rather than God's perfect grace. We start trusting,

our church membership

our faithful service

our faith. Yes, sometimes we actually have faith in faith! We believe if we can muster enough faith we will earn God's gifts

our experience. We must remember that we are not saved because we said a prayer, walked an aisle, spoke in tongues, or anything else like that. We are saved because of what God did for us through Christ. We are saved because Jesus took our place and paid for our rebellion.

our theology.

We must not trust our efforts but His.

The Idol of Material Possessions

This of course, is the problem that the rich young ruler had. It is also a problem that is very prevalent in an affluent country such as ours. Instead of placing all our confidence in the Lord, we trust,

our bank account

our education

our appearance

our stuff

And what happens is we spend all our life pursuing the material and here's what happens,

We never have enough

We never find the satisfaction we are looking for

And we never really address the eternal issues of life

Jesus told about a farmer who had much. He worked hard and made a good living. One year he had a great abundance. So, he decided he would erect more bins to hold his wealth so it could support him in his old age. But what the man didn't realize was that he was going to die that very night. His confidence was in what he had . . . and he never gave any thought to what he would have after he no longer had what he had.

The Idol of Nationalism

Sometimes we distort our beliefs based on our nationalism. Let me explain: We start believing that God wants us to have two cars in every garage and for every person to have their own home. We start believing that God wants us to have lots of stuff . . . that God affirms the free market system. But that is the American dream . . . not Biblical Christianity!

Certainly our theology should affect our politics, but if it goes the other way . . . if our politics affects our theology, we become idol worshippers.

The Idol of Me-ism

Paul warns Timothy in 2 Timothy 3.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

Notice that Paul says these people will "be lovers of themselves." Is there a phrase which better defines our society? We hear all kinds of statements such as,

I have to do what is right for me

you have to look out for #1 (meaning self)

the only person I have to please is me

I'm entitled to have a little fun

the Lord helps those who help themselves (which is not in the Bible . . . by the way!)

In fact, just a couple of weeks ago we had some visitors to our church during the week. These folks told us that they were trying to follow the commands of Jesus in their life. They had concluded that anything but the words of Christ in the Bible were untrustworthy and certainly non-binding. In fact, even the "supposed" words of Christ were subject to a test. What was the test? The test was simple, if what they believed the command of Christ to be "worked" then it was true. If it didn't "work" or didn't fit with their concept of Christ . . . they were free to discard it.

Do you see the foolishness and the idolatry of such thinking. These two people had a form of godliness . . . but it was a false faith. Sitting on the throne of their life was not the Lord but their own self. THEY decided what was true and false. THEY determined what commands "worked" and which did not. THEY made themselves the standard by which everything else was judged. THEY sat in judgment on God rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, THEY are not alone.

The Idol of Our Appetites

Paul writes,

You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world. [Eph. 5:5 NLT]

For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. Their future is eternal destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and all they think about is this life here on earth. [Philippians 3:18,19; NLT]

What made these people enemies of the gospel? It was that their god was their appetite. Ouch! This is the most convicting of all to me. Every time I made a purchase because I was feeling down and thought buying something would make me feel better....I broke the first commandment. When I look to things (even Christian books or music) to satisfy the ache inside of me, I have made those things an idol. Every time I made a purchase that I couldn't really afford (and didn't really need) but bought it anyway (after rationalizing, excusing and justifying) I broke the first commandment. I was not content with what the Lord had given. I did not trust that He would meet my needs . . . I did not believe that His timing was perfect. Instead, I wanted it NOW. I allowed my appetite to have more influence in my life than the Lord. We see this in many areas,

when we give in to immoral behavior we bow to our appetites. We trust our desires more than His directions.

when we choose to manipulate to get ourselves into positions of influence . . . we bow to our appetite and trust our schemes more than the Lord.

when we purchase not because of need but because of fashion (or the name on the item) . . . we bow to our appetite and are laying up treasures on earth rather than Heaven.

when we cut back on what we give to the Lord because of our hobbies, we are bowing to our appetites.

when we fill our minds with worthless junk from the media, we are giving in to our appetites.

when we strike out against others or refuse to forgive we are trusting our judgment over the Lord.


Martin Luther stated that if we broke any of the other commandments we had also broken the first commandment. And likewise if we could keep the first commandment . . . we would also keep the rest. How quickly we usually pass over this commandment. But we must not hurry past the first commandment. It is foundational. Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." So, here's the key question: Where is your heart?

Don't answer too quickly. Remember the command. NOTHING is to have more influence over our lives, our decisions, and our desires than the Lord does. He deserves and has earned the right to direct our lives. He has shown that He is trustworthy, good and loving. So, what do we do? First we must do some soul searching.

We need to evaluate the power we give the media. Think of how many hours you give to television or the radio, or even to the Internet. How does it compare to the time you give to the things of God? Which really has more influence in your life?

We need to take a look around our garages, our basements, and our homes and identify those things that may have more of our devotion than God does. And when we have identified them we need to call them what they are: Idols. And then we need to either eliminate them from our lives, or redeem them for His purpose.

We need to ask: "Do I depend more on my ability that on God's?" "Do I find more delight in things than in the Lord?" Is my theology more dependent on my preference than on Biblical teaching?" "Am I working for things that won't last (monuments to myself) or for things that are eternal?"

Second, we must recognize the consequences of idolatry. When we turn to an idol we are standing against the Lord. And that is never a good idea. The Lord disciplines those He loves. God has promised every believer that he would finish the work He started. And that means that He will wean your heart from your idol . . . and it will most likely hurt. Like a child who has misbehaved . . . it is better to admit the wrong right away so you avoid the worse consequences that will come later.

Third, we need to turn to the Lord. Paul tells us that we were "dead in our trespasses and sins but God made us alive in Christ Jesus." If you have been involved in idolatry it is time to leave the foolishness of the old way and turn to the transforming power of God's grace. Run to His arms. Hide under the arms of Christ's love. And don't ever stop thanking Him for remaining committed to you . . . even when you wander from Him.

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