Summary: There’s nothing more important in life than having the right God in the right place in our lives.
Note: This sermon was introduced with a drama called "Idle Idols").
Can you feel the barbs of truth as we laugh? Funny, but painfully true of life in the end of the 20th century. Our culture is littered with false gods, whether they be entertainment idols or motor homes, sports memorabilia or Pokemon cards, stock portfolios or even our own families.
Last week we started a new series through the 10 Commandments called LANDMARKS FOR A NEW MILLENNIUM. As we looked at the prologue to the 10 commandments last Sunday, we looked at the circumstances surrounding God giving Moses the 10 commandments. We saw that Moses didn’t just invent them and they didn’t just evolve over centuries of reflection, but God revealed these 10 commandments to Israel after he brought them out of their slavery in Egypt.
Today we’re going to look at the first commandment—God’s commandment against other gods—as we define "The Most Important Priority." Seven years ago the Barna organization polled Americans about the 10 commandments. In that poll, Barna found that three out of four claim that they are "completely true to the first commandment" (cited in Hughes 29). For 3 out of 4 people, this commandment is no big deal, at least it’s not if we’re to believe this poll.Today as we look at the first commandment we’re going to find a fact to know, a question to answer, and a commitment to keep.
1. A Fact To Know
Let’s begin by actually reading the first commanment together: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Deuteronomy 5:7 NIV).
To "have" a god, isn’t just acknowledging a god’s existence. According to Jewish scholar Jeffrey Tigay, the word here implies a personal relationship, like a man who "has" a wife, or a couple who "have" a child (64). To "have" is to be in a personal relationship with.The phrase "other gods" occurs 65 times in the Bible, and it always refers to the various gods and goddesses outside of Israel that were worshiped in the ancient world. The history of the human race is a history of worship, whether it’s the various gods of Egypt and Canaan, or the mythological gods of the Greeks and Romans. In the ancient world, everything in life that was considered important had a god or goddess attached to it whether it was the weather, sex, the family, or whatever. Every other nation in the ancient world except Israel worshipped a whole host of different deities. But the first commandment makes Israel unique.
Now does this mean that God’s nervous that another god might come along who’s better and more powerful than he is? Is this commandment assuming that we live in a universe where many different gods and goddesses actually exist and it’s up to us to choose which one like in a cafeteria?
This is where 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 clarifies this issue for us.
"We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live" (NIV).
Now idols were physical representations of gods. Paul’s not denying that idols exist. What Paul’s saying is that the god or goddess to which the idol points to isn’t real, that "in the world"—Paul’s way of saying in objective reality—the god represented by the idol is an illusion, a nothing, a non-entity. In objective reality there’s only one God, says Paul. The various gods and goddesses worshipped by idolaters only exist in the imaginations of the people who worship them (Fee 373). That’s why Paul calls them "so called gods."
Now the "many gods and many lords" here encompasses the two kinds of idol worship that was prominent in the ancient world (Fee 373). The "gods" here, in the context of 1 Corinthians, represent the traditional Greek and Roman gods. The Greek gods were the various gods of Greek mythology, the gods of Aesop’s fables, like Zeus and Hermes, Apollo and so forth. The Roman gods were the various national gods of Rome, like Jupiter and Mars, Cupid and Venus. These were the traditional gods of Greco-Roman society.The "lords" here represent the various new "mystery" religions that were just starting to take root in Paul’s day. The mystery religions were very secretive and mystical, and they worshipped what were considered foreign, non-traditional gods like Isis from Egypt and Mithra from Persia (Jeffers 97). Many people in the Roman empire were drawn to these mystery religions and their lords because they were new and unconventional.