2016-4-03 Who Comes First

EXODUS 20:1-3                                                                                        ARPIL 3, 2016


In our culture today looking out for one’s own self-interests is seen as a primary responsibility for each individual. In fact, most people would not understand putting the needs of others first. One of the reasons many people are angry over the direction of this country is that politicians seem more interested in getting reelected than in serving the needs of the country. We also have grown increasingly uncivil in our relationships with people with whom we differ. The problem is that as a society we have drifted away from using the Ten Commandments as the principles we use in upholding how we treat one another. There is a frieze (carving) of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court. Our founding fathers understood that the Ten Commandments are the foundation upon which this nation stands.

Most people think of the Ten Commandments as “a formal code of dos and don’ts, which restrict personal freedom.” (J.I. Packer, I Want to be a Christian, page 252) Even as Christians we have not given much thought as to how important the commandments are as a guide to how we should act and what is most important in our faithfulness to loving and serving God. I have heard one Christian preacher who thought it was wrong to memorize or study the Ten Commandments as they are not listed in the New Testament and are no longer relevant. He couldn’t be more wrong!

I have been drawn to the Ten Commandments as we studied the nature of God, who he is and what he requires of us. It is important to look at the Ten Commandments in the original context when God gave the commandments to Moses for the people of Israel. Exodus 20:1-2 (NIV) 1 And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” In the same way that it was important to listen to the words which God used to describe himself so too we should understand that God gave us these Ten Commandments. They were not made up by Moses or from any other source. God gives us his name, Yahweh and then tells the people of Israel that he is their God. God initiated a relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then reached out to the people when he spoke to Moses from the burning bush. “I am the LORD your God.” God made a covenant agreement with them and promised to be their God and he called the people to be in a special relationship with the LORD. God is our God. These commands are his words to us to assist us in protecting this very special relationship.

Jesus spoke clearly of the importance of obeying the commands of God. John 15:9-12 (NIV) 9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” We understand that God loves us and that we are to love Him. But what does it mean to love God? 1 John 5:3 (NIV) 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”

The commandments were given to us as instructions from God on how we are to maintain this covenantal relationship that we have with him. God also gave us instructions in how to maintain good relationships with other people. When Jesus gave a summary of the Commandments he was not doing away with any of the commandments. Mark 12:29-31 (NIV) 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

So let’s take a look at the first commandment. Exodus 20:3 (NIV) 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.” Because of the relationship God has extended to us, he asks us to be loyal to him. In the same way that we who are married can sometimes take our spouses for granted, so too we can overlook how important our relationship with God is meant to be. God never intended us to be like the Hindus who worship many gods. We are to worship the one God!

If a reporter asked you “what is most important in your life?” what would you answer?  If God was not the first item to pop up in our mind, then we have a problem. “The first commandment requires us to know and recognize God as the only true God and our God, and to worship and glorify him accordingly.” (Westminster Confession of Faith Shorter Catechism)

In the larger catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith there is a question on “what particular sins does the first commandment forbid?” The catechism lists 46 ways that the first commandment is broken. Many of the items can be put into the categories of money, sex, power, the stomach. We allow many things to take our attention away from loving and serving God first. Jesus spoke of these things in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:31-33 (NIV) 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Any time we allow something to replace God as our number one priority we are breaking the first commandment.

So what does he want from us? God wants us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I recently read of a police officer who was called to a grocery store because of a shoplifter. The man had taken baby formula and tried to leave the store without paying for it.  The officer took the report and then bought baby formula, baby food, and diapers and gave them to the man. Love for God is best seen when it is in action. Love for God is when we do not think first of ourselves, but when we think of others. The officer was not thinking first of the law being broken, but of the need of his neighbor.

Do you desire to honor God by keeping the first commandment? Hear the words of Paul in Romans 12:9-21 (NIV) 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This is how we show our love and devotion to our LORD!

Let us pray.