Have No Other Gods Before Me
Husbands, how would your wife feel if you told her that, out of all your mistresses she was your favorite? I would have to assume that wouldn’t go over well. Who could blame your wife for feeling jealous?
Aggies, how do you feel about people who root for both the Aggies and the Longhorns? Would you be caught dead wearing one of those “house divided” t-shirts? Does that kind of fandom seem a bit unauthentic to you?
God knows the feeling, because the Bible tells us that God is a jealous God. The Ten Commandments say, "you shall have no other gods before Me." For a long time, I didn’t fully understand what that meant. "Before" often denotes ranking or order, as in the sentence: Steve is before me in line. But "before" can also talk about something set in front of you, as in the sentence: The waiter set a juicy hamburger before my eyes.
I used to think that God was asking His people to rank Him number one in their lives, but in reality, God was asking them to do much more. When the Ten Commandments talk about "having no other gods before Me," it is using "before" in the second sense I described. God isn’t asking for us to rank Him number one. Instead, He is demanding that no other gods even appear before
Him in His presence. He’s not number one — He’s the only one. This makes sense — God isn’t satisfied with us making Him the chief god of many gods. Israel divided their loyalty in this way, and they were sent into captivity for it. To God, a divided loyalty is no loyalty at all.
Bringing this idea forward into our Christian walk, there are many of us who would never consider idol worship, but we provoke God’s jealousy, when we bow to the idols of covetousness, fornication, and pride. In our hearts, God may even outrank those idols, but God isn’t satisfied until those idols are completely torn down.
The rich young ruler serves as a warning for us to make no room in our hearts for idols. He proudly proclaimed that he had kept all the commandments from his youth, but Jesus knew he lacked one thing. He may have ranked God as first in his heart, but his many possessions were a close second. In reality, he violated the first commandment by having another, albeit lesser, god in his heart.
Besides wealth, how else might we fall into this trap? Consider our careers. We can attend every service and Bible study, but if it isn’t God alone which gives our lives meaning, then we have an idol problem. Our hearts’ devotion is rightfully God’s, and if we devote ourselves to God and career, we’re as guilty as the rich young ruler. There’s nothing wrong with having a successful career, but God wants to sit alone on the throne of our hearts.
Consider our families. God has blessed us with families, and there is nothing wrong with nurturing and cherishing our loved ones. Nevertheless, families can become an idol, if we allow them to share God’s throne in our hearts. Certainly, God intends for us to devote a great deal of attention to our children and spouse. But are we motivated by our greater devotion to God, or are we motivated for selfish reasons?
Entertainment and leisure can also divide our loyalties (an unpopular topic during football season, to be sure). The Sunday Night Football theme song states, "I’ve been waiting all day ‘till Sunday night," but what about Sunday morning? Do we anticipate the assembly of the saints, or are we waiting for it to be over, so we can catch the game? What are we thinking about during worship, when our favorite team has a playoff game that afternoon? We may treat God as number one by missing part of that game in favor of worship services, but should we be so enthralled with a carnal game?
Education can also be idolatrous, if we’re not careful. As parents, we stress education to our children, because it’s important and can open many doors here on this Earth. But do we emphasize their spiritual education with the same enthusiasm? We can busy ourselves with so much school-related activities, we send the message to our children that, even though God is number one, there are other gods to be worshipped as well. Many people devote their lives to education, but the Preacher says: "of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh." (Ecclesiastes 12:12)
There’s also the false god of politics. I often see more fervent evangelism for a political party than for the King of Kings. So how does that make a jealous God feel? The power of salvation doesn’t issue from Washington DC, but so much of our world believes in governmental power above all. In reality, governments only have power because it is the will of God. So, the worship of government is worship of the creature, rather than the creator, and worship of anything other than our Creator is idolatry.
Ultimately anything, even things that are not inherently bad, can provoke our God’s jealousy, if we make God share His throne. Instead of making God “number one” in our lives, let’s make Him the only one, having no other gods in His presence and putting away all idols from our hearts.
- Dan Harbin