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Ten Commandments Series: The First Commandment

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The First Commandment

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This article is part of a series. To read other articles that focus on the Ten Commandments in this series please go to the following website: https://www.ucg.org/tags/the-ten-commandments-series. God’s voice boomed from the top of Mt. Sinai: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3 Exodus 20:3You shall have no other gods before me.
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). Moses repeated this 40 years later (Deuteronomy 5:7 Deuteronomy 5:7You shall have none other gods before me.
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).

Some modern Bible versions are a little clearer. The International Standard Version says: “You are to have no other gods  as a substitute for me.”

Some paraphrases say, “God must be Number One!” That’s true or not true, depending on what you mean. If you mean God is your number one god, that’s no good. He must be your only God!

The word “god”—with a small g—refers to anything or anyone a person worships or which has the top priority, precedence or preference in one’s life.

The word “God”—with a capital G—refers to the Creator, the only One worthy to be called “God.” Only God and Jesus Christ are uncreated and have existed forever. Only God can provide for our needs, answer our prayers, heal us and grant us salvation. Only God deeply loves all people! Pagan gods don’t love people.

The First Commandment tells us: Your god—your only god—must be God—and no other.

This commandment is unique! Most cultures have been proud of the fact that they practiced polytheism, the worship of many gods.

The First Commandment is the most important commandment because it means that only God has the sovereign authority to establish commandments for every human being plus judge them by those commandments. Only God can define right versus wrong, good versus evil, virtue versus vice, and moral versus immoral.

Confusion of the First and Second Commandments

We in United Church of God know that Exodus 20:3 Exodus 20:3You shall have no other gods before me.
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states the First Commandment and verses 4-6 state the Second Commandment (about not using images in religious worship). Sadly, many Christian and Jewish people are confused and regard verses 3 through 6 as only one commandment.

The different meanings of the two first Commandments will be explained fully in the next article but we can briefly illustrate them now. If someone worships any image (like a statue or painting), that is breaking the First Commandment. But if someone is worshipping the true God but is trying to visually picture God with images, that is breaking the Second Commandment.

God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5 Exodus 20:5You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
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)

God says His “name is Jealous” (Exodus 34:14 Exodus 34:14For you shall worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
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)! Godly jealousy simply means our Creator requires an exclusive relationship. He does not permit unfaithfulness. He will not share us with another god.

Significantly, the Bible sometimes refers to the worship of a false god as spiritual “adultery” (see Jeremiah 3:8-9 Jeremiah 3:8-9 [8] And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also. [9] And it came to pass through the lightness of her prostitution, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks.
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; 5:7; Ezekiel 23:37 Ezekiel 23:37That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bore to me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them.
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).

Satan the devil, the great deceiver and “ruler of this world” until Christ returns (John 12:31 John 12:31Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.
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) wants people to worship him or a demon directly. He even tried to tempt Jesus to worship him (Matthew 4:8-10 Matthew 4:8-10 [8] Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; [9] And said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me. [10] Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
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). However, Satan is almost as satisfied if he can influence people to worship anything or anyone other than God! Therefore, the worship of idols is indirectly worshipping demons (1 Corinthians 10:19-22 1 Corinthians 10:19-22 [19] What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? [20] But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils. [21] You cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: you cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. [22] Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?
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).

Pagan gods are not always called “gods.” For example, when people ignore the Bible and the true God and instead pursue “spirituality,” then “spirituality” is their god.

Some spiritual practices are clearly demonic and evil, including spiritism, mysticism, sorcery, astrology, counterfeit healings and consulting mediums (see Leviticus 19:26-31 Leviticus 19:26-31 [26] You shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall you use enchantment, nor observe times. [27] You shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shall you mar the corners of your beard. [28] You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I am the LORD. [29] Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to prostitution, and the land become full of wickedness. [30] You shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD. [31] Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
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). But God regards all religious practices, no matter how nice-sounding, as evil when they “add to” or “take away from” God’s Word (Deuteronomy 4:2 Deuteronomy 4:2You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
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; 12:29-32).

People subconsciously crave to have some kind of religion. When people don’t have a God-centered religion, their “religion” is often an “ideology.” Popular ideologies include belief in evolution, humanism, secularism, environmentalism, socialism, feminism, and many other isms. Even many people who consider themselves to be “Christian” are more motivated by one of these isms than by the Bible.

Worship the Creator, not the creation

Many religions have the superstitious belief that the gods are part of nature—a god of the sun, of agriculture, of weather, of fertility, etc. But the true God is not part of nature—He is over nature! He is not in creation—He is the Creator of all creation!

Every bit of creation is proof of an awesome Creator (Psalms 19:1-3 Psalms 19:1-3 [1] The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. [2] Day to day utters speech, and night to night shows knowledge. [3] There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
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). Everywhere we look, we see God’s flawless wisdom, love, design, planning, perfection, precision, engineering, art, humor and love of variety. And we see how God takes care of every creature (Psalm 104)! A beloved hymn by Isaac Watts says, “Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where-e’er I turn my eye!”

But, sadly, rebellious human beings don’t want a God who tells them what to do and not do (Romans 7:14-19 Romans 7:14-19 [14] For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. [15] For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. [16] If then I do that which I would not, I consent to the law that it is good. [17] Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me. [18] For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. [19] For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
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; 8:7). Therefore, they prefer to worship creation rather than the Creator! For a short commentary about this, see “The Most Egregious Ingratitude” at ucg.org/beyond-today/blogs/the-most-egregious-ingratitude. The results of glorifying creatures rather than the Creator have been terrible and tragic, as Romans 1:17-32 Romans 1:17-32 [17] For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. [18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; [19] Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has showed it to them. [20] For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: [21] Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. [22] Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, [23] And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things. [24] Why God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: [25] Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. [26] For this cause God gave them up to vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: [27] And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. [28] And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; [29] Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, [30] Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, [31] Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: [32] Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
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describes.

Knowing that God created us should profoundly affect our thinking and actions in many ways, as explained in “Crucial Lessons from Knowing God as Our Creator” at ucg.org/the-good-news/mini-bible-study-crucial-lessons-from-knowing-god-as-our-creator.

Beware of many temptations to “forget God”

God warns us: “Beware, lest you forget the LORD” (see Deuteronomy 6:5-25 Deuteronomy 6:5-25 [5] And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. [6] And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: [7] And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. [8] And you shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [9] And you shall write them on the posts of your house, and on your gates. [10] And it shall be, when the LORD your God shall have brought you into the land which he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you great and goodly cities, which you built not, [11] And houses full of all good things, which you filled not, and wells dig, which you digged not, vineyards and olive trees, which you planted not; when you shall have eaten and be full; [12] Then beware lest you forget the LORD, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. [13] You shall fear the LORD your God, and serve him, and shall swear by his name. [14] You shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; [15] (For the LORD your God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and destroy you from off the face of the earth. [16] You shall not tempt the LORD your God, as you tempted him in Massah. [17] You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he has commanded you. [18] And you shall do that which is right and good in the sight of the LORD: that it may be well with you, and that you may go in and possess the good land which the LORD swore to your fathers. [19] To cast out all your enemies from before you, as the LORD has spoken. [20] And when your son asks you in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD our God has commanded you? [21] Then you shall say to your son, We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand: [22] And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and sore, on Egypt, on Pharaoh, and on all his household, before our eyes: [23] And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he swore to our fathers. [24] And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. [25] And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.
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; 8:1-20). Hardly any readers of United News are likely to forget God completely or deliberately replace God with a false god. But most of us temporarily “forget” God by failing to include Him in our thoughts when we are thinking, worrying, talking and doing. We must make a constant effort to not forget about God and His will for our lives. It’s valuable to keep asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”

In our busy lives, conscious awareness of God easily gets crowded out. In the parable of the sower, Jesus compared His followers to young fruit-bearing plants that can easily be “choked out” by the weeds of life’s distractions (Mark 4:18-19 Mark 4:18-19 [18] And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, [19] And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
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).

Our environment attracts us and distracts us! Most people don’t worship statues, but they adore their stuff and idolize media, music and sports celebrities. Since we are surrounded by a very materialistic, secular and sexualized society, we must constantly resist its influences.

Colossians 3:5 Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
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says: “Covetousness which is idolatry.” That makes it clear that there is a close relationship between the First and Tenth Commandments. What you covet or lust for is becoming your god. It seems the Ten Commandments form a circle, with the Tenth Commandment coming back to the First Commandment! See also 1 John 2:15-17 1 John 2:15-17 [15] Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. [16] For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. [17] And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
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.

What is the most common false god? I, me, myself! And that includes all the extensions of oneself—my family, my accomplishments, my belongings, my popularity, etc. Human nature is egoistical (self-centered) and egotistical (conceited). But God commands that we love others as much as ourselves and love God even more than ourselves.

How well are you obeying the First Commandment?

God wants you to use this life to prepare for the next life. To do that, God must take first place in your heart, mind and daily actions (Matthew 6:33-34 Matthew 6:33-34 [33] But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. [34] Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.
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). But, sadly, we human beings are inconsistent—how successful we are varies from day to day.

One day, you might do very well overall. You start out the day with prayer and some Bible study and ask God to guide you throughout the day. You pray silent prayers during the day, frequently thanking God. You manage to not commit any sins. You end the day thanking God for His help with your accomplishments.

Other days, you don’t do that well. At the end of those days, reflect on what you did right and what you did wrong, confess to God your sins, mistakes and misuse of time (1 John 1:9 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
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), and ask God to help you to do better tomorrow. Be assured that God is very patient and merciful and He will forgive you (Hebrews 4:14-16 Hebrews 4:14-16 [14] Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. [15] For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
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). God loves you as a precious son or daughter

Remember. God wants to be your Friend and Father. And your God. Your only God. 

[For the United Church of God summary statement of belief regarding God and Jesus Christ, see “God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit” in Fundamental Beliefs of United Church of God at ucg.org/fundamental-beliefs-of-the-united-church-of-god.]

This article is part of a series. To read other articles that focus on the Ten Commandments in this series please go to the following website: https://www.ucg.org/tags/the-ten-commandments-series.

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