We all know what happens to one who falls off a building or some other height. The law of gravity carries with it a severe penalty. It is one of the laws of nature. We do not doubt its existence, yet we cannot see gravity. We only see its results. The Law of God-the Ten Commandments-act in the same way. We only see the results when we break it. These commandments were given to protect man from the pain and suffering he will surely experience in this physical life by disregarding or failing to appreciate them. What does the Bible say?
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward (Psa. 19:7-11).
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good (Rom. 7:12).
It is taken for granted that the reader has an interest in or has already proven the necessity to keep the Ten Commandments, so it is not the purpose of these articles on the Ten Commandments to address this issue. Those familiar with the Bible know what sin is. John tells us, “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). One who violates even one of the commandments is guilty of all. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:10-11). The law James wrote about here constitutes the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments are listed in a particular order. The first commandment is of major importance and is placed first. It would be difficult to obey the other nine commandments while breaking the first. Could one really obey God by refusing to misuse His name while at the same time practicing idol worship? Hardly. To break one commandment means to break them all.
The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The first four of these commandments tell us how to love and honor God. The last six teach us how to love and respect our fellow man. Jesus was asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt. 22:36). He answered, “. . . Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40). Notice the first commandment. “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2-3). This commandment tells us the very first thing we must do to honor and respect God.
The religious leaders of Christ’s day were opposed to Him. They continually upheld human traditions that contradicted the Word of God. In effect, they were idolaters because they placed the ideas and practices of men ahead of God. These concepts had become more important to them than the truth revealed in the Scriptures. “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matt. 15:1-3). Jesus accused these religious leaders of breaking God’s commandments. While they assiduously kept the Sabbath and refrained from misusing God’s name, they nevertheless were violating God’s law. Notice how Jesus explained this.
For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition (Matt. 15:4-6).
These religious leaders were violating the fifth commandment. They were, according to James, guilty of all (Jas. 2:10-11). This was why Jesus said, “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:7-9).
False gods can be placed ahead of God in any number of ways. The obvious way is, of course, worshipping idols and images. A majority of the Earth’s population carry on this practice today. Christianity is only one of the world’s major religions. Vast numbers of human beings still practice heathen religions today. These religions are heavily involved in idolatry. But idol worship is only one way. There are others. To place anything before the true God, either an object or a concept, makes one an idolater. To follow the religious customs and traditions of men can easily make one an idolater. Many of these ideas and concepts are doctrines of demons and should be avoided. See Deuteronomy 32:17, Leviticus 17:7, Psalm 106:37, 1 Corinthians 10:20, and 1 Timothy 4:1.
One definite way to break the first commandment is to worship God when it is convenient, not when He tells us to worship Him. When this is done, such a one has placed himself and his desires above God. The result is that the one who does this has made a god out of himself. He has placed his desires above the Law of God. Christianity is a way of life; it is not a weekly convenience. One must do more than profess God and Christ. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). It is deceptive to believe that belief in God is sufficient to put one in favor with God. Believing alone is insufficient; we must act upon what we hear. “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (Jas. 2:19-20).
One whose religion is one of convenience, who puts his own desires above the commands of God, is deceiving himself. He is not truly worshipping God; he is worshipping himself. One cannot wait until he has the time to obey God before practicing Christianity. He must practice it when he becomes aware of what God requires. He cannot help but have an idol before the true God if he worships God when it is convenient. Those things in one’s life that are more important than God are idols. They must be set aside. This includes all human desires and passions which violate the first commandment. We must not be like the people Ezekiel the prophet wrote about when he said, “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not” (Ezek. 33:31-32). These people were guilty of fulfilling their own desires rather than God’s instruction. They were idolaters.
Self-interest is the corollary to the problem related in the previous paragraph. Self-interest is another idol. Most of us direct our lives and all our activities by things that interest us. This includes likes, wants, desires, etc.-what we are determined to acquire. But, what if these things hinder the proper worship of God? Are they not idols? God should be the most important thing in our lives. But few people put God first in anything. Remember, we are told covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). Paul warns, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Ph’p. 3:18-19). These people care little for the things of God. In fact, they generally could care less. They have placed their self-interests above the true God and thus are idolaters. We are admonished, “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34-36).
As in the days of Christ, what do the majority practice today in their worship toward God? The traditions of men! Many, like in the days of old, worship publically to be seen of men (Matt. 23:5). Notice Jesus’ warning, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:5). Much like it was in the days of Christ, public prayer today is largely for show. Jesus said, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:7-8). Are men really worshipping the true God when the aim is to receive the compliments and acclaim of men? Most who profess Christianity today would recoil if the truth of God were made known to them. Their reaction would be similar to those who heard Christ and knew He was telling the truth. “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). Those who are ensconced in the false religious systems of this world have a god before the true God. They are idolaters!
There is another consideration. Some have made idols of men. The one who always looks to men for the answers and solutions to his problems is placing a false god before the true God. Men are limited in their abilities to understand and to solve problems. We only need to look at world conditions today to corroborate this. One who believes all his problems, as well as the world’s problems, can be solved by men will eventually become disillusioned. There are a myriad of insoluble problems existing today. What does God warn? “Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?” (Isa. 2:22). “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity” (Psa. 94:11). Yet, in times of trouble, where do most men place their trust? In a human authority of some kind. They trust “experts” to come to the proper solutions. The Bible states:
How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof. . . . For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices (Prov. 1:22).
True and accurate reproof is to be found in the pages of the Bible. It directs us in the right path, to help us to see where we need to correct our actions. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). This instruction is in total contrast to the philosophy of this world and all the available self-help books. These substitute gods are of little lasting value. But not the Bible. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Those who exclude God will find out the meaning of His words when He says, “. . . Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted, Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be your protection” (Deut. 32:37-38). The false gods of philosophy and human reason will eventually be found wanting.
Couple the above paragraph with another idol-humanism. Humanism makes man the final judge in all things. By this means, man has made himself into a god. Protagoras said, “Man is the measure of all things.” What he meant is that each man is a law unto himself. This concept is expressed in situation ethics, that is, what I do may be right for me but not for you.” Thus, the final decision in all matters that pertain to this physical life is left in the hands of each individual. There is no such thing as permanent truth. There is no such thing as right or wrong, and that whatever I do is permissible as long as it does not harm others. God is completely excluded from the picture. But, what does the Bible say? “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).
The majority today simply fail to consider God in anything they do. Their actions are not necessarily deliberate against God. They simply do not know. They have been led to believe that humanism is a valid concept for living. As the book of Proverbs states, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits” (Prov. 16:2). “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts” (Prov. 21:2). The majority today believe that whatever they think is right. But how does God evaluate these human thoughts? “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity” (Psa. 94:11). “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). Until men truly learn to place God first in their lives, to take Him into consideration in all that they do, they will never learn the solutions to their problems. The end result of humanism is death (Prov. 14:12). Humanism is an idol.
We have briefly commented on the quest for materialism. This too is an idol. God thunders, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex 12:3). The quest for materialism has become an obsession for many. Their entire lives are spent in the accumulation of money, possessions, and the comforts of life. This is their god, the one they have placed before the true God. What did Jesus say? “. . . If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26). There is a fact that is certain. We cannot take our possessions with us when we die. Material possessions are good if they are placed in the proper perspective.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought [anxious worried concern] for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:24-33).
The quest for material possessions has no real lasting value. Material possessions are idols.
What are Christians admonished to do? “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2).
The Apostle Paul wrote:
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Tim. 6:7-10).
The insatiable quest for money can be a curse. It is an idol that pays few dividends in the final analysis. Those who truly benefit in this life and in the world to come obey the command, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”