Worship God and God Alone
WORSHIP GOD AND GOD ALONE
A Midweek Lesson
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: February 6, 2019
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The same God who saves His people also shapes the lives of the people that He has saved. The saving work and the shaping work – or we might call it the sanctifying work – are of one piece. In other words, the shaping is not an afterthought or an extra add-on. Instead, salvation has as its purpose the shaping of a people who walk with God and reflect His holiness.
In last week’s lesson I referred to Titus 2 where the apostle Paul says that “Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13-14) Passages like this help us to understand that the purpose of redemption is not mere forgiveness, but transformation. We are redeemed “from all lawlessness” so that we will be lawless no more, but instead be a pure and holy people who live in accordance with God’s law and thus display His goodness in our everyday lives.
Returning now to Exodus 20, we see that the God who speaks to His people (v. 1), the God who keeps covenant with His people and saves His people (v. 2), is speaking to them now for the express purpose of shaping, ordering, and directing their lives (v. 3-17). God is a faithful shepherd to His people. Just as a faithful shepherd guides his sheep in the way of life, so our God “leads [us] in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)
Why would we want to be left to our own devices or to our own stupidity? “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) Why would we want to be abandoned to whatever seems right to us? These questions get at the blinding power of sin: when a human being is in the grip of sin, he or she actually prefers the forbidden fruit that leads to death. But when God in His mercy releases us from the tyranny of sin’s dark power and brings us into the light of His salvation, He continues His mercy toward us by showing us how to truly live and live well. The God who saves us graciously shows us the way to flourish as human beings, the way to walk in peace and joy with God and with one another, and the way that leads to everlasting glory in a new heaven and a new earth. The believing heart says to the Lord “Speak, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10), whereas the unconverted heart turns away in preference for the muck and mire of sin and shame.
The Lord God redeemed Israel “out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2), but we who trust in Jesus have received a better redemption: the Lord God has redeemed us out of the house of sin. In this redemption that comes through the efficacious blood of Jesus Christ, the penalty of sin has been taken away and the power of sin has been broken. The old stubborn heart of lifeless stone has been replaced by a new heart that is pulsating with life and is ready to walk in God’s ways (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The new heart says, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11)
Are you ready to learn the tenfold way?
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
The first commandment is found in verse 3, but let’s keep verses 1-2 in front of us:
“And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”” (Exodus 20:1-3)
Notice the flow of thought: “And God spoke”; and this God who spoke identified Himself as “the LORD your God”; and this “LORD your God” who speaks to you says that “[you] shall have no other gods before [him].” In other words, “the LORD your God” who speaks to you, “the LORD your God” who keeps covenant with you and has saved you, He and He alone shall be “your God.”
Now let’s think for a moment about why it would be so utterly foolish to worship and serve “other gods.” The most fundamental reason why you would have to be off your rocker to worship and serve “other gods” is because there are no other ultimate, uncreated, and eternal gods in the universe. There is one and only one God who is ultimate, uncreated, and eternal in His existence – and He is the reason that everything else exists. Scripture says:
“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2)
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens…, who formed the earth and made it…: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” …. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”” (Isaiah 45:18, 22)
Every other reason why it is downright dumb to worship and serve “other gods” is related to the fundamental reality that there are no other creator gods. The Lord God is the true Creator God, and everything else that exists is a part of the creation that the Lord God made. To turn away from the Lord God and instead to bow down and pay ultimate allegiance to a creature is to be totally out of sync with reality (see Romans 1:18-25). But that, of course, is the nature of sin: sin operates in thick darkness and it is totally out of sync with the way things really are.
The second reason why it is so utterly foolish to worship and serve “other gods” is because “other gods” did not and cannot save you, and at the same time these “other gods” couldn’t stop the true God from saving you. Do you understand? Question: Israel, who “brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”? Answer: “the LORD your God.” Think about it: the Lord God decimated the land and people of Egypt – so what does this say about the gods of Egypt? The gods of Egypt were impotent before the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And the gods of the Canaanites weren’t any better than the gods of Egypt: the wall of Jericho “fell down flat” (Joshua 6:20), the city of Ai became “a heap of ruins” (Joshua 8:28), and “thirty-one kings” (Joshua 12:24) were “defeated” (Joshua 12:7). The pseudo-gods of the pagans cannot save you, and they cannot stop God from saving you. So why would you ever turn to these pseudo-gods? Sin is more idiotic than we may have ever thought!
The third reason why it is so wrongheaded to worship and serve “other gods” is because every human being has an appointment with the true God on the last day. As it is written at the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) What will it be like to appear before God after having spent a lifetime of devotion to false gods? Scripture is clear: “… for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:8) How infinitely better to gladly submit to the great salvation of the gracious God now, than to have to shamefully submit to the great judgment of the just God later!
There is one true God: He is the one and only Creator, the one and only Savior, the one and only Judge. To claim and cherish “other gods” is the height of folly, and doing so leads to death.
A CLOSER LOOK
But we must give further attention to verse 3, because as sinful creatures we are easily deceived. When we think of “other gods,” we are apt to think along very narrow lines. We might think of the gods of other religions (e.g., Allah in Islam); or we might think of the gods of pagan mythology (e.g., Thor); or we might think of the false gods that Scripture itself identifies, such as Baal, Zeus, Hermes, and Artemis; or might think of physical idols (e.g., the golden calf) that people bow down to; or we might even think of Paul’s reference to Satan as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). “[No] other gods” means that all of these false gods are out. But there are many more “other gods” that must be aware of and avoid.
To get our minds turning, consider how Paul describes the “enemies of the cross” (Philippians 3:18): “their god is their belly,” says Paul (Philippians 3:19). This brief statement gives us a window into the worship of false gods. To worship and serve the god named “belly” means that you are ruled by your appetite – that is, by your earthly cravings and ungodly desires. So here’s the thing: whatever rules you, that is your god.
J. I. Packer puts it this way: “Your god is what you love, seek, worship, serve, and allow to control you.”
Martin Luther defined “a God” this way: “A God is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need.”
Albert Mohler explains that our actual god is the thing or person “that we truly trust and truly adore.”
When the one, true, and living God says to Israel and to us, “You shall have no other gods before me,” He means: You shall have no other ultimate comforter and counselor, you shall have no other ultimate refuge and protector, you shall have to other ultimate hope and strength, you shall have no other ultimate ruler and rescuer, you shall have to other ultimate source of confidence and joy, you shall have no other ultimate teacher and Lord. “You shall have no other gods before me” means that “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
If you put anything else first, then you are worshiping that other thing – you are worshiping and serving another god. Some people put family first. Other people put money first. Still other people find their identity, hope, and strength in their work or in their popularity or in their success. Sinners go to the refrigerator instead of to the Redeemer for comfort. Sinners go to self-help books instead of to the Savior for counsel. Sinners look for approval and favor from other people instead of from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sinners worry about how the complexities of their life are going to work out instead of trusting God for their daily bread.
When Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26), He was essentially repeating the first commandment. The Lord Jesus Christ was looking out at a fickle world and saying, “You shall have no other gods before me.” You must put Me first. You cannot put your family first. You cannot put yourself and your belly and your comfort first. You must put Me first, and you must be ready to die to yourself and to everything else: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
Jesus, by the way, is not another god, but He Himself is God. For the God of the Bible is a triune God, meaning that God is one eternal being who exists in the three persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As Scripture says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) Therefore Jesus, “the Word [who] became flesh” (John 1:14), is worthy of our wholehearted devotion and worship.
BEING SHAPED BY THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
I would like to conclude with a few words of application.
First, we need to understand that the first commandment is foundational to all the rest. The basic rule of life is to make sure that your god is the right one. And if “the LORD your God” is truly your God, then everything else follows. If the Lord is God – and He is! – then He is the sovereign ruler of your life. He created the whole universe out of nothing by His powerful word; He upholds the world and directs the course of history; He is not a deficient god but is the Almighty God who is infinitely more beautiful than the perfect sunrise over the ocean, infinitely more powerful than the machinery of war that exists in our fallen world, infinitely more good than the goodliest person you ever think you met, infinitely more satisfying than that five-course meal that you can’t stop talking about, infinitely more wise than all the books of knowledge that have ever been written, infinitely more resourceful than all the riches of the world’s billionaires, and infinitely more loving than the kindest father on earth. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And the Son who was thus given brought about our deliverance from sin by means of His sacrificial death upon the cross. No other god created us or the world that we live in, no other god rescued us from our miseries, no other god suffered and bled and died for us, no other god is so totally committed to our true and everlasting good, and no other god has promised to bring us to glory. “[The] LORD your God” is the God who delights to show you steadfast love, and since He designed the world and everything in it, don’t you think you should take heed to all of the other instructions that He gives to you? If you get firmly established in the truth of the first commandment, then commandments 2-10 follow as a matter of course. Get rightly aligned with the true God, and everything else follows.
Second, I want to share a helpful insight from J. I. Packer. He asks and answers a very good question in his chapter on the first commandment. He writes,
“What will it mean in practice for me to put God first? This much, at least. All the 101 things I have to do each day, and the 101 demands on me that I know I must try to meet, will all be approached as ventures of loving service to him, and I shall do the best I can in everything for his sake….”
Think about it: “the LORD your God” is the God of heaven and earth, the God who stands sovereign over all things. The first commandment is not meant to be obeyed for a mere 90 minutes on Sunday morning; the first commandment is not meant to be observed in a tiny little compartment of life that we call religion; the first commandment is not meant to be dabbled in. Instead the first commandment calls us to worship and serve the Lord our God always, at all times, and in all things. Scripture says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) In other words, live all of life as a faithful worshiper of the true God. Wherever you go and “whatever you do,” make it your settled aim to glorify the One who decimated the powers of darkness in order to give you an inheritance in the kingdom of light.
Friends, in the final analysis we must understand that the first commandment, far from being oppressively restrictive, is a summons to live in the goodness of God. “You shall have no other gods before me” means that the Creator of all things shall be your God, the Sustainer of all things shall be your God, "the light of the world" (John 8:12) shall be your God, "the fountain of living waters" (Jeremiah 2:13) shall be your God, the wellspring of eternal joy shall be your God, the forgiver of sins and conqueror of death shall be your God, the mender of hearts and restorer of health shall be your God, the one and only one who can fill your cup and give you a seat in heaven’s banquet hall shall be your God. Every other god is dead end, but here in the presence of the Holy One is life and life to the full and life forevermore! So direct all of your worship to Him and Him alone!
 J. I. Packer, Keeping the 10 Commandments. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007: p. 47.
 Quoted in R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009: p. 42.
 R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009: p. 43.
 J. I. Packer says, “The fundamental commandment, first in importance as well as in order, and basic to every other, is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” True religion starts with accepting this as one’s rule of life.” J. I. Packer, Keeping the 10 Commandments. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007: p. 47.
 J. I. Packer, Keeping the 10 Commandments. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007: p. 49-50.
 In a similar vein, I recently read and was influenced in my thinking by Douglas Wilsons's comment, "The way is narrow, Jesus taught, but that narrow pass opens into a glorious mountain valley, lush and green, and teeming with game. We do not embrace that which is pinched and narrow for the sake of narrowness; narrowness is not an end in itself. Narrow is the way, Jesus said, that leads to life (Matt. 7:14). He did not say that the narrow way led to being locked up in a divine broom closet. The narrow way opens out into the wide expanse of life." Douglas Wilson, Mere Fundamentalism: The Apostles' Creed and the Romance of Orthodoxy. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2018: p. 6-7.