Do Not Worship Any God Except Me.
I was probably 7 when I first heard about them, the next time they came to my attention, I was 15. The first time was in a religious ed class in grade 2, it was at the Canadian Armed Forces School in Soest, Germany. The next time was in grade 10 history. I’m not sure that either encounter had much of an impact on my life. I would be willing to venture out on a limb here and say that most everyone knows something about them, even if they are irrelevant to their everyday life.
They used to be posted in classrooms and courtrooms, they used to be required reading growing up, they even provided the basis for one of the most remembered films of all time. But that’s the used to bes. What about today, January 9th 2000. What relevance do the Ten Commandments have for today?
Once there was a time when if nothing else they were a great way to skip over talking about religion, you could always say "Well I keep the Ten Commandments", now we’d be hard pressed to find people who could even claim to know the Ten Commandments. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, well that’s three!
And if people stop to consider the Ten Commandments at all they certainly don’t consider following them. Why? For a couple of reasons. Some people consider them as simple Old. Kind of like getting new CD’s and there isn’t any space on your rack so you take your old CD’s and Tapes and put them away. You know they are there but you never take them out. In the same way we’ve relegated the Ten Commandments into the basement of our life. They might have some sentimental value but just aren’t relevant for today.
Other people think that the TC aren’t all that useful for Christians because we aren’t under the law but under grace. And some others don’t particularly like the TC for a very obvious reason, they enjoy breaking them. And breaking them doesn’t take any special talent, you don’t have to be a dirty rotten sinner. Consider the words of Isadora Duncan "We may not all break the Ten Commandments, but we are certainly all capable of it. Within us lurks the breaker of all laws, ready to spring out at the first real opportunity."
So maybe it’s a good time to take a new look at the old commandments. The first question is why? Why did God give us the Ten Commandments? Simple answer: Sin. After Man had been created by God as perfect being with an incredible gift and that gift was free choice. You see God created animals to act by instinct. In every sense of the way they were pre-programmed to "do their thing". They don’t do it so much because they choose to do it they do it because they have to do it. But Adam and Eve were created when God breathed life into them. What was it that he breathed into them? It was his image, his likeness. This gave them personality and with it came "Free Choice". God could have made humanity marionettes with invisible strings, coming down from heaven and dancing to every word and whim of God. But that isn’t what God had in mind for his ultimate creation.
God didn’t want the artificial and shallow devotion that would come from a robotic creation. He knew that he would lose the allegiance of many who would opt for the easy way in order to have a few who would choice to follow him. He wanted a relationship that would lift people higher then any animal could reach. So God allowed humans to have a choice and Adam and Eve choice disobedience over obedience, and traded freedom for slavery, beauty for ashes, life for death. And their choice has influenced mankind ever since. That’s why from that day forward we have not had to teach our children to sin, no mother has ever told her little boy, "Kick your sister, pull her hair! Get mad and talk back to me, rebel when you are a teenager." No Father has to take his daughter aside and teach her how to throw a tantrum or how to be moody.
And so God needed a way that would stop the downward pull of sin’s whirlpool. A way to reverse the downward slide of self respect. He had to have a way of not only forgiving the sin that had been committed but also a way of protecting his children. And in the Old Testament he instituted a set of laws to live by. It doesn’t take long in reading the Old Testament to realize that there are laws that don’t seem to apply to us, as well as laws that seem a little unreasonable, as well as some very pertinent laws. What’s up with that?
Changeable Laws, Until Jesus came God relied on a system of laws to maintain civil order, ensure proper ceremonial procedures, promote good health practices, and foster good morality. The laws governing the first three categories would be applied to meet a temporary need that existed at the time.
For example today in Nova Scotia we have a law that permits you to turn right on a red light, after you stop. That law wouldn’t have been necessary 100 years ago before there were red lights and may be not be necessary in a hundred years if there are no longer any red lights. And so we look at Old Testament laws like Deuteronomy 14:6-8 It is all right to eat meat from any animals that have divided hoofs and also chew the cud.
But don’t eat camels, rabbits, and rock badgers. These animals chew the cud but do not have divided hoofs. You must treat them as unclean. And don’t eat pork, since pigs have divided hoofs, but they do not chew their cud. Don’t even touch a dead pig!
Why would God establish a law concerning something like that? For the protection of his people is why. In an era when refrigeration wasn’t, and it was very difficult cooking over open fires to make sure that meat was well done all the way through the possibility of trichinosis from eating pork was very much a reality. I don’t know about camels but it was only in 1911 that George McCoy and Charles Chapin first described the infectious disease tularemia, a disease that humans can contract from mammals such as rabbits and I presume rock badgers. Those laws then were laid down for a specific time and aren’t necessarily relevant in this era of modern cooking and refrigeration.
Deuteronomy 22:8 When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. Now when we built our new house a few years ago a parapet around the roof wasn’t a priority. Why was it 3000 years ago? Cause, people back then had small homes with little rooms, a typical room might be 6 foot by 10 foot, and so they used the flat roofs of their homes as an extension living area, a rec room so to speak. The law concerning the parapet was there so that home owners would take responsibility for the safety of the guests who used their roof. It was a temporary or changeable law.
Other laws in the Old Testament were unchangeable, they are as essential to our contentment and fulfillment today as they were then. These unchangeable laws should be looked at the same way that we look at the laws of nature. For example the law of gravity, you don’t say "The law of gravity was fine when Newton first wrote about it in 1687 but this is the 21st century so it doesn’t just doesn’t apply any more." Don’t matter what you think, you jump off a building not only are your breaking the law of gravity there is a pretty good chance that you’ll break yourself as well. It’s the same way when we break the moral law, we also break ourselves.
These moral laws as summed up in the TC cannot be open to individual interpretations and application. You can’t stand back and say, "Well I’ll accept this one and that one, but these three nah they are irrelevant to my life." The TC were and are to be regarded until the last day this earth is here as the unchangeable moral law of God and we disregard them at our own peril.
And so we begin with God laying down why these laws should be important to the Israelites and ultimately to us. You are probably familiar with the story: Moses has lead the Israelites out of the Slavery of Egypt, and, let’s pull up a map here. After 60 days of wandering in the desert they come upon Mt. Sinai and it was there that God gave Moses the TC.
The first thing that I want you to note this morning is the rational that God gave why the Ten Commandments would be so valuable.
Exodus 20:2 I am the Lord your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves.
1) I am the Lord the very first reason is that there weren’t given by Moses, they weren’t man made or man written, they were God given. 2) Your God Not only were they given by God, they were given by your God, a personal God who is interested in your best interest which is displayed by the next thought 3) Who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves. This is a God who is not some aloof impersonal deity but instead is a god who is there for his people. Whether that entails delivering them from the slavery of Egypt or delivering them from the slavery of sin.
And so here we have the first commandment.
Do not worship any god except me. Those who are familiar with the Commandments as they were taught to us as children will recognize this as Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Two things that need to be identified, the first is what is worship, the second is what is a god?
Wilbur Williams is a professor of Biblical Literature and Archaeology at Indiana Wesleyan University and over the past thirty years he has asked literally thousands of students to rearrange the Ten Commandments, putting what to them seemed to be the most important laws first. He said that 90% of the time the commandments were placed in a particular order
Here they are as we know them,
1) Do not worship any god except me.
2) Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth
3) Do not misuse my name
4) Remember that the Sabbath Day belongs to me
5) Respect your father and your mother
6) Do not murder.
7) Be faithful in marriage.
8) Do not steal.
9) Do not tell lies about others.
10) Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.
here is the order that 90 % of the respondents put them in
1) Do not murder.---6
2) Do not steal.---8
3) Do not tell lies about others.---9
4) Be faithful in marriage.---7
5) Respect your father and your mother---5
6) Do not want anything that belongs to someone else.---10
7) Do not make idols---2
8) Do not worship any god except me.---1
9) Do not misuse my name---4
10) Remember the Sabbath Day---3
In almost every case Williams says that Murder is considered the number one sin to avoid. It’s interesting to note that time and time again that people feel that the most important commandments are those which involve our relationship with other people and the least important involve our relationship with God.
Christ took a little bit of a different view then Dr. Williams students, when he was asked what the most important commandment was, do you remember his reply in
Matthew 22:37 Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
What God is saying in this first commandment is basically this, "If you want to be the happiest, the best adjusted, the most successful person that you can possibly be, you most keep me alone at the top of your affection." You see in a lot of cases it’s not that we have problem keeping God #1, it’s the things that we allow to occupy the #2 spot and how easily they can move into that number one spot. It’s not that God is afraid of the competition, it’s that he knows that nothing else can be trusted with that spot. How many people have you known who have allowed family to occupy that top spot, only to have their spouse divorce them or their kids rebel against them. Or the person whose number one spot is occupied by their career and their job, everything is sacrificed for that god, only to arrive at work one day and find that they had been downsized or right sized or whatever they call it these days.
This commandment is first in order to establish the foundation that devotion to God is the heart out of which all the other laws grow; and if this principle (that God is supreme in our life) is mastered first then any struggle you might have obeying the other nine is already half won.
Life is not worth living when you don’t have a god worth serving and the truth of the matter is this, everyone one of you along with every person in Bedford, the HRM and the world worships a god of some kind. You might not call it a god, but when something occupies the highest place in your life, it is in effect your god.
The ancient people all had their gods: they recognized them as gods, they called them by their names, they worshipped them and made them to represent a function that was important to a happy life. Some of them were, Athena, the goddess of wisdom: Bacchus, the god of wine: Baal, the god of nature and procreation; Serapis the bull, the god of productivity, Mammon, the god of money; Venus, Aphrodite, and Diana, the goddesses of sex; Aton the sun, the god of life and a plethora of other gods.
Today we use different names for these "powers." We don’t venerate Athena we simply worship knowledge, We don’t name Bacchus; we just worship alcohol. We don’t talk about Serapis, it’s just fertility. Mammon’s name doesn’t come up, we simply worship money. Aton isn’t mentioned instead we worship the sun on the beach. Venus, Aphrodite, and Diana aren’t very common names, we just refer to it as sex. The name of the god is not important to God, what we are worshipping is.
You see we worship what we are inferior to. You ever think about that? Worshippers must always worship something above them. For me to worship is to admit my inferiority to that which I worship, and to the superiority of that which I worship. We don’t worship down. We must worship up. And there is only one up. Listen to what the Bible says in Psalm 8:5 You made us a little lower than you yourself, and you have crowned us with glory and honour.
Above us is only god. Beneath us is everything else. For us then, worship is due none other than God-not an angel, not a government, not a heavenly body, not the rain, not fire, not another person, certainly not an animal, or money, or sex, or fame, or popularity. Only God alone. So where are you at?
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