Faithful to the One True God
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:45-48)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
The first of the Ten Commandments is found in Exodus 20:3. It says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” It seems like an easy place to begin this list of moral principles. Most people believe this is not a very hard rule to live by.
In most cultures in our world today people are quite content to have just one god. We are not like the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians who had temples to different god’s throughout their cities. Having multiple gods is not very popular in our western world in the 21st Century.
However, this commandment is not about having just one god. It is about the exclusive worshiping, honoring, and obeying the One Creator of the universe. That makes it more of a challenge.
The commandment sums up a basic moral principle embedded in Creation itself. Nothing should rule our lives, or become the center of our attention other than, or along with, the Creator who made us and everything else. He ought to be the center of our marriages, home life, work, social relationships, governments, and the focus of our formal times of worship.
It is easy to let our interest in entertainment, sports, money, business, romance, popularity, or power trick us into putting them above or equal with God as the focus of our lives.
Westminster Shorter Catechism,
Question 45. Which is the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Very literally, the words and word order of this commandment in Hebrew is: “Not – you shall have to yourself – gods – other – unto my face.” (לֹֽ֣א יִהְיֶֽה־לְךָ֛֩ אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים עַל־פָּנָֽ֗יַ׃)
The commandment uses the general word for God.
The Hebrew word for “God” used by Moses in this commandment is Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים). It was used to make reference to all the pagan gods, as well as the True God who made us.
The New Testament uses the common Greek word for God (Theos, Ɵεος ). It also is used broadly, not only for the True God, but also for other interests that take his place. In Philippians 3:19 it describes those who have other things as “gods” in their lives. It says of them, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things.”
The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint translation of this first commandment, the translation of the Old Testament used in the time of Jesus.
The word “gods” here means all those considered to have supernatural powers, and those things treated as most important in our lives. It includes anything that motivates us the most.
The word “other” shows that what is being forbidden stands in contrast with Jehovah, the one making these demands of his people. No other being, thing, or idea should be what primarily motivates you.
Westminster Shorter Catechism,
Question 46. What is required in the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God, to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.
Question 47. What is forbidden in the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying the true God, as God, and our God; and the giving that worship and glory to any other which is due to him alone.
Question 48. What are we specially taught by these words, “before me,” in the first commandment?
Answer. These words. “before me,” in the first commandment, teach us that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God.
The foundation for this moral principle
is the eternal character of God.
He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He designed you to promote his glory during your life here on earth. By his Sovereign Providence he rules over everything that happens. As a creature made in his image you have a special obligation to be God-centered.
At Athens Paul explained how God’s creation and care for us both obligate us to him.
Acts 17:25 “… He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”
Acts 17:28 “for in Him we live and move and have our being …”
It is the great deception of our fallen world that above all else we should live to have easier lives here on earth. Ever since Eden we tend to be self-centered, or at least human-centered in our thinking.
Our lives get wrapped up in getting things to make our lives easier and to feel successful. However, the ease we tend to look for, is to avoid work, and to do things for our own pleasure. The feeling of success is often measured by the standards of a materialistic world. But we were not created to be human-centered. We were put here to be God-centered.
Our labor is not primarily to get provisions and pleasures. It is above all else to be done for the sake of God’s honor, and for the promotion of his Kingship. It is toward that end that we work to get our daily provisions. That is the way God made things to be.
Work is not something we should dream of avoiding. It is something we do to be part of how God’s world is designed to operate. We grow foods, raise livestock, make and fix things, teach and give counsel, worship, raise children, help those who have special needs, and maintain civil order.
In everything we do, from fixing plumbing to repairing brain injuries, we are here to do it to show the wonder of God who made and rules over everything. Therefore we should strive for excellence in what we do. We should provide the best products and best services for our bosses, customers, and fellow-workers.
Though our work always involves someone else: managers, business owners, or customers, we should not just have pleasing them in mind. Primarily, we should do our very best for the honor of our God.
The economic system in the time of the New Testament included an employment system. If you did not make or grow things to sell, or provide a service yourself, you would come under a contract to work for someone else. As someone bonded over to them for pay, you had a responsibility to the one paying you.
Ephesians 6:5-7 says, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men,”
At creation we were made to be overseers of God’s creation, to manage it as representatives the Creator. Our work and what we earn by doing it should not become gods to us. Our labor should never become the main focus of our lives. We need to keep God’s glory at the center of the work we do.
Our marriages and families are for God’s glory. These relationships are not here for our physical pleasures, romance, or social success. God created us as male and female, and ordained marriage as part of the display of his glory. Families are designed to show the relationship of our Faithful Savior with his people. Our home life has that divine purpose.
In our homes and families we should show God’s love, mercy, patience, forgiveness, and so on. We should pass these values and virtues on to our children by faithfully training them. We should equip them to declare, defend, and perpetuate the Covenant our Savior made with us by his Grace.
Ephesians 5 explains this important purpose in our home lives. Notice how every relationship is designed to display something about God in his world. There in verses 22-25 it says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,”
The family should show the relationship of our Faithful and Loving Savior with us as his people. Verses 30-32 of Ephesians 5 says, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
The family, as crucially important as it is, should never become as important as what it was made to represent of our Creator. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
If our families become an equal motivator with God in our lives, we break this first commandment. With distorted values like that, we teach our children that our home and success in this world can justify wrong choices. To satisfy family or romantic desires they might attend a church for the wrong reasons. They might look for jobs where they compromise God’s ways to get a better house or car. The best lesson we can teach our children, the best example we can be to our spouses, is to help them put God’s ways first. Only then can a family or marriage be truly blessed.
Our governments are to teach about God’s watchful care for us. God rules to keep order in his universe as his plan is painted on the time line of history. Our civil leaders are not here primarily to give us freedom and security. Those duties are means to the greater end.
In our communities God ordained that we should have human governments to reflect his care. Our leaders and those who work for them are here for that purpose. They are to protect us against crime, fraud, and vandalism. They are to defend us against foreign aggressors who want to take what is ours, or to keep us from being free to openly obey God in our lives. They are also to punish those who break the law so that the principle of justice is upheld. This is one of God’s attributes. It should all be done not for mere peace and prosperity, but for the glory of the One True God.
In Romans 13:1-5 Paul reminds us of the authority God gives to those in our civil governments, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”
This means that we should not just obey civil laws to avoid punishment. We should do it out of respect for what God set up governments to represent. We obey as if we were obeying God himself, because rightful governments are his servants. They are here to enforce God’s civil rights and wrongs.
As citizens we should obey them, pray for them, stay well informed, and vote responsibly. We should do it all with God’s glory in mind as we support the way he set things up to be. If our laws violate God’s principles for whatever seems good to us, we have made our laws into an idol that violates this First Commandment.
Our social interactions are not just so we have friends to do fun things with our free time. They are to provide opportunities for us to encourage one another in living as a community centered on God’s glory and preeminence.
Ephesians 2:19 shows how our friendships and fellowship demonstrate God’s Kingdom. When we help our friends we advance God’s plan to show how he unites us as his household. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”
Chapter 5 of Ephesians shows how we are to reflect God’s love by showing love for one another. Verses 1-2 say, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”
Our friendships are not just for our own benefit or even just for that of our friends. They are supposed to be ways of demonstrating God’s care for us. It is another of the ways we honor the one true God. If we compromise any of God’s ways to make or to improve human friendships, we make those relationships rise to the level of God in our lives, and we violate this first principle of God’s Moral Law.
Our churches are gatherings of redeemed believers to serve Christ and to care for one another. They are not simply to provide social opportunities, or religious entertainment. If worship or the life of the church fails to be what God ordained it to be, then it replaces the purpose for which God ordained it. It becomes a cult, a false god in our lives. It violates this First Commandment.
It was the very religious who most persecuted Jesus during his life. Their religion was guided by wrong teachings, and by what was popular, not by what God said it should be.
A God-Centered attitude is exactly what this commandment is about. Each of these obligations is a necessary part of human life ever since God created us, but we are all obligated to honor the Creator in these relationships above everything else that might motivate us. All creatures owe their lives to the one who created them, and to him alone.
Aside from creation, there is another reason
to honor the One True God alone.
He not only created us, as believes in Christ he redeemed us by his Covenant of Grace. God deserves to be the main motive in your life, because he gave you new life in Christ.
Since your life comes from him, your life is his. It is not really just yours. The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”
Its answer is, “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”
Nothings else redeems you, and deserves your unrestrained devotion. To take your time, resources and abilities, and to use them in ways that keep you from worship, tithing, obeying and loving, is theft of what God entrusted to you as a stewardship. It would violate this first moral principle.
This is not just a negative commandment.
Failing to honor the true God in the way he deserves also reduces him to the level of everything else. It elevates the rest of your world to the same level as the way you treat God. If God is just one part of your life, you are not obeying the main point of this first Commandment. God must be actively honored, worshiped and loved.
When apathy sets in you miss out on what gives meaning and real joy to everything else. Your work, family, friends, country, and church become truly satisfying only when they center on honoring your Creator and Redeemer in them. You should strive to find ways of promoting God’s unique glory in every responsibility and opportunity in your life.
The emptiness people often feel in their lives is because the center is all wrong. If your personal peace, prosperity or pleasures are what motivate you, you have displaced God to at best a secondary role.
The more you become aware of his constant presence and infinite power surrounding you, and remember the amazing grace that rescued you, the more everything else takes on a beauty beyond your expectations. Even discouragements and disappointments cannot derail you or depress you when you see God’s loving and wise plan at work in every part of your life.
Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6, the words of God’s law, when he said in Matthew 22:37-38, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”
That is the key, the thing that arranges everything else into it’s right place in your life. Psalm 16:11 makes this promise, ” … In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)