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). Moses repeated this 40 years later (Deuteronomy 5:7).
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 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)
God says His “name is Jealous” (Exodus 34:14)! 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; 5:7; Ezekiel 23:37).
Satan the devil, the great deceiver and “ruler of this world” until Christ returns (John 12:31) wants people to worship him or a demon directly. He even tried to tempt Jesus to worship him (Matthew 4:8-10). 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).
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). 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; 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 (Psalm 19:1-3). 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; 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 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; 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).
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 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.
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). 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), 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). 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.