Summary: Gods are whatever people worship, trust and serve. Why does God care? Other gods hurt us. HOW: Practical ways to worship, trust and serve God.
Read Exodus 20:1-3.
The first commandment seems like an easy one. I doubt that any of you is a secret worshipper of Baal or Zeus. You don’t kneel before a Buddha in your garden, or have a shrine to Hindu gods in your bedroom. How then is this commandment relevant for us?
WHAT is a god?
People WORSHIP gods, they TRUST gods to give them benefits, and they SERVE gods by their actions. Gods do not always take a physical form; they can be anything people WORSHIP, TRUST, or SERVE.
• What might people WORSHIP?
The origin of the English word “worship” is “worth-ship.” Worship is ascribing value to people or things.
A likely candidate for a false god in today’s world is the god of “More.” Americans value More: more toys in their garage, more rooms in their houses, more money in their paychecks, more exotic vacations, more fun on their weekends, more pleasure and excitement, more activities for their kids—more of everything.
Some people are not as materialistic. They place greater value on freedom, health, or approval and affirmation. Those are good things! Other people place high value on power and control, fame, or success and security. Those can be good things too.
Even good things can become like gods, if the value we place on them rivals the value we place on God and the things he values. If my physical health is more important to me than my spiritual health, or I dream more about being a successful pastor than I do about people coming to Christ, I am in danger of worshipping another god. If making your family look good is more important to you than bringing your children to Christ, you might be in danger of worshipping a false god.
• What might people TRUST?
Reader’s Digest presented a poll in 2018 of the 100 most trusted people in America. The top 4 were actors: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep. Nobel Prize winners and Supreme Court Justices were farther down the list, along with sports stars. Apparently, celebrities are trusted.
Of course, there is little danger that Tom Hanks will rival God for our trust. We are more likely to place too much trust in a retirement account, as a guarantee of a secure financial future. We might trust our fitness regimen to ensure our good health. We might place our trust in the government (or maybe not!), or in a political leader or ideology that promises to fix everything that is wrong with the world.
The most dangerous rival to God in our lives might be the god called “I.” Jesus warned about placing too much trust in our own ability to guarantee our future. He told the story of the rich man who trusted in what he stored in his barns, only to die and have nothing. He said, “Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Might worry be a sign of misplaced trust?
• What masters might people SERVE?
Most of us spend a good share of our time and efforts working. We serve the boss or the company, and we serve our need to support ourselves and our families. We are not serving those as our gods; in fact, we can serve God through our work, as we support ourselves.
Jesus warned about another kind of service, however: “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) If we live for work and the rewards it brings to us, or we are consumed by our pursuit of money and financial security, God will not be #1 in our lives.
People can take the place of God too, if they become our masters. Some people are driven by their need to meet the expectations of others. Some are desperately trying to earn the approval of a parent, even a parent who has died! Some feel compelled to measure up to the standards of their social group. Others are slaves to their own ego, and their insatiable need to prove their worth.
Then, there are evil powers that command the service of some. Paul said, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…For sin shall no longer be your master…” (Romans 6:12-14) Some people serve bad habits, addictions, or sins that have become rooted in their lives.
The gods we worship, trust, or serve, are not likely to be physical idols. They are anything or anyone who is a rival to God in our lives—that compete for our worship, trust, and service.
The first commandment God gives is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” You shall not worship them, trust them, or serve them. But…