Another reason I want to write about (and preach on) the the Ten Commandments is that I even though many people know what “the Ten Commandments” are in general – commandments that God gave Moses and the Jewish people – not many people are familiar with them...not many people really know them as things that are relevant or helpful in daily life.
But – as I hope to do in my sermons this and next Sunday – I want to bring the Ten Commandments out of a dusty, ancient irrelevancy they have in many people’s lives into a fresh and very modern spiritual resource.
Let me start here:
If you were to ask most people what the first commandment is, what would they say?
If they could remember it, they’d probably say
“Do not have any other gods but God.”
But that’s only part of the First Commandment…and maybe not even the most important part.
The first commandment starts out NOT with a commandment, not with a “you shall,” but a re-introduction…a reminder of who God is:
The Ten Commandments begin with the words "I am..."
"I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
When God gave us the Ten Commandments to us, he started out by reminding us who he is.
What his nature is: a god who delivers.
So the first thing to remember is that God is a god who brings people out of whatever enslaves them and into freedom.
The second point I’d like to make is this:
Most people think the Ten Commandments say “there are no other gods.”
But they do not make that claim.
It’s interesting (and very relevant to our daily lives) that the first commandment does NOT say there are no other gods: God knows there are dozens, even hundreds of ‘em!
And I’m not talking about deities of other religions. I’m talking about things we worship – things we have at the center of our lives – instead of the Lord God.
Things like financial security. Self-interest. Control. Popularity. Power.
None of those things are bad things. They can even be good things.
But they are terrible gods. They are terrible things to worship.
What is being prohibited in the first (and second) commandment is not believing there are other gods. What is being prohibited (for our own good, our own freedom!) is idolatry:
Idolatry is just another word for our tendency to put something or someone at the center of our life other than God.
And what the first couple of commandments tell is that if we do that – if we “bow down before” or completely dedicate ourselves to anything other than God – if we worship (put at the center of our life) anything other than God, if we put anyone or anything at the center of our life other than God, then over time, that thing (that small-g-god) will demand more and more and more of you and give back less and less and less, until you are drained and empty and resentful.
In other words, a slave.
Idols, God knows, lead to a land of bondage…a place of limitations…a place of slavery.
And so that’s the reason for, and the relevance of, the first couple commandments:
When we are tempted to put something other than the Lord God at the center of our life (and we are tempted every hour of every day to do so!) we need to remember that the Lord God, unlike all other gods, is a God of freedom…that all other gods eventually suck the life out of us…but that the Lord God is the only god who loves us back. And sets us free.