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No Other Gods
January 21, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EXODUS 20:1-17; JOSHUA 24:15; MATTHEW 22:37-39

The conductor was collecting tickets on the train when he came to this one man who was frantically searching for his ticket, going through all his pockets and getting more and more agitated. The conductor said, “That's all right. I believe you, You can mail the ticket in later when you find it.” The man replied, “That's not my problem. Where am I going?” Too many in our society today, ask, “Where are we going?” Many seem to be lost and confused. There’s much turmoil, many changes in morality, customs and standards of behavior, much chaos, much pressure. This is a good time to take a look again at the basics. We're having a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments Through the workshops on several Wednesday evenings we will apply these commandments to family life, to look at the ramifications, to look at what these commandments can mean to everyday living. It’s time to go back to the basics. 

The commandments is what Moses came up in the wilderness when he was trying to form a nation. Can you picture this handful of slaves who escaped out of Egypt with no education, with no background for what they had set out to do? All they knew was that they were following the Lord to the promised land. It was Moses’ task to make a people, to make a nation, to find some common bonds. It was Moses’ task to set up the structure. Moses went up on the mountain to pray, to meditate, to get insights, and he came back with the Ten Commandments. Moses was the first to break the tablets. The people had broken the commandments already, way in the beginning. You remember when he came out of the mountain, they were worshipping a golden calf and having a wild party. Moses in his anger, in his fury broke the tablets. So Moses was the first one to break the tablets.

But really, the commandments are not broken. The commandments are not replaced. The commandments are not destroyed. It is people who break themselves on the commandments. The commandments are broken at our peril. They are so basic, elementary to civilized life, to relationships in the family, in the community, in the world. They are basic to the health of a society that the commandments are broken at our peril. Jumping out of a third story window does not break the law of gravity, it illustrates it, and breaking a commandment is at our own peril. Two people handed in cartoons this morning. I'm glad you're doing research on the sermons! This is a cartoon of Frank and Ernest. Evidently it's Moses on the mountain with two tablets in his hand, talking up to God. And he says, “I think they would go over better if we call them Voluntary Guidelines.” But they're not, are they! 

The reason that we seek to obey these commandments is not just because we break ourselves on them, but because they are given in the context of a covenantal religion. You cannot understand the Bible without understanding the covenant. It was God who out of God's love, mercy and grace made a covenant with the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and renewed that covenant through Jesus Christ with you and me. In this covenant, it's God out of God's love, saying to people, “I will be your God. I will be vulnerable, I will take the risk of being your God caring for you, protecting you, saving you, loving you. In all vulnerability, I will come and be your guide and you be my people.” So we obey the commandments not because if we don’t, God will punish us, or judge us. The commandments are not to be obeyed out of fear of judgment or out of fear of punishment, the commandments are to be obeyed because the commandments give us meaning as to what it means to be God's people. As God comes to us in love, we respond to God to be his people which is defined basically in the Ten Commandments. 

Later in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, they were rephrased. Jesus used the rephrasing when he said, “The first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.” What does it mean to love God? It means, first of all, the first four commandments. You can read them in the bulletin. Then Jesus said, “The second commandment is to love your neighbor.” What does it mean to love your neighbor? It means basically, and most elementary, the last six commandments. You cannot love your neighbor without practicing those six commandments. They are elementary to all relationships. So the obedience of the commandments is our response to the love of God and to be his people. 

There are three important words in obeying the commandments. The first word is loyalty. The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me”— loyalty, devotion, fidelity to God alone. No one else. The closest approximation we have to God's covenant with you and me is the marriage covenant. That’s a human analogy that is the closest where a man and a woman enter into a covenantal relationship in marriage. Basic to that relationship is loyalty. No other person shall receive the love, the devotion, the respect, the loyalty that your spouse receives. And when adultery enters in, or when any other breaking of that relationship enters in, when any other person comes into that relationship, that covenant is hurt, people are hurt and broken. 

So the covenant with God begins with loyalty. No other gods, regardless of bad times or good times as in marriage, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, good times or bad times, I will cleave only unto you as long as we both live. So in good times, or bad times, our loyalty is to God, to the Lord as revealed in Jesus Christ. That is the beginning. Whether we feel forsaken, whether we feel let down, whether we feel judgment, whether we feel hurt, whether we feel unjustly treated, our loyalty is to God. That is the beginning. 

Now this commandment does not say that there are no other gods. It says out of all the gods that people worship, the Lord wants loyalty. When Joshua stood up at Shechem in front of all the people, he said, “You're all worshipping many local gods. My call to you is choose which one you're going to worship.” Likewise today, we admit there are many gods people worship. A god is defined as that which in your life receives your loyalty, your devotion, your service. What in your life which is most important, and to which you would give up everything else is your god. 

For many people, their god is themselves. They've made a god out of themselves, or success, or power. Many people worship power and will do anything to get power, to get influence, to get glory, to get fame, and those become gods. The commandments, the covenantal relationship begins with loyalty to the God we know and identify through Jesus Christ our Lord—no other God, only the one we know through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Devise some tests by which you can discover what is your god? For example, when a job change comes along, or when you choose a job, what questions do you ask? What kind of criterion do you set up to evaluate what you're going to do with your life? Do those questions begin with God and God's will or something else? And if it's anything else, that is your god. Or, when there's a time crunch and you have all these things to do, all these pressures, and you must choose between this one or that one or the other one, what criteria do you use to choose priorities, to set priorities? That criterion is your god,

Take a fantasy exercise: If everything but one, two, or three things are going to be taken away from you, what would you choose to keep? What you choose to keep, what's most important to you and your life Is your god. This commandment affirms loyalty. 

A second word in the covenantal relationship is freedom. Obeying the commandments is to be a free person. Paul said, “For liberty, Christ has set us free.” Christ has made us free people. You say that's a contradiction? How can obeying commandments result in freedom? Our modern definition of freedom is to be able to break any law we want, to break any commandment. We think that's freedom. But when you look at it, it's enslavement. It's the practicing, it’s the obeying of these basic elementary laws that make us free. That's not a contradiction because the commandments are pointing out areas of danger, and when we avoid these dangerous areas, we will lose our freedom. For example, you see a sign that says “Road closed. Bridge is out.” Now you can say, “I’m going to be a free person, I don't have to obey that sign.” And you can drive right ahead and go right down in the gully because you took your freedom, you didn't want to obey that sign. In that process you've lost probably your life as well as your freedom. 

By not obeying danger signs, one loses freedom. One is not really free if they disobey the observance of the Sabbath day and don’t rest and then become so weary and so warn that they're not acting in their best selves. One is not free when one breaks the law of adultery. One is not a free person with all that trauma and all that happens. One is not free when one is enslaved and ensnared by jealousy and covetousness. When one is captivated by jealousy, one loses his freedom. The commandments point out these are things you do not do in order to be a free person. There is no other god that can free us like the Lord of Jesus Christ. All other gods enslave because they are not big enough to sustain our allegiance and our loyalty. They are not strong enough to sustain us. 

The next word is security. In the covenantal relationship and in the keeping of the commandments, loyalty to God is where one finds one security. Dwight L. Moody said, “Trust in yourself and you are doomed to disappointment. Trust in your friends and they will die and leave you. Trust in money and you may have it taken away from you. Trust in reputation and some slanderous tongue may blast it. But trust in God, and you are never to be confounded.” Lesser gods let you down. Only the God of Jesus Christ is able to sustain and undergird. 

A missionary was trying to translate the Bible on a South Sea Island and could not find a word for faith. There didn't seem to be a corresponding word in that language for faith until one day one of the men came in, sat down in a chair, leaned back, put his feet up and said, “Oh, I’m tired today. How good it feels just to lean my whole weight on this chair.” And the missionary said, “That's my word for faith.” To lean my whole wait on God, to lean, rest and relax is to trust in God. In our day in which we live, our legs ache, our back aches, our neck aches, our head aches, our heart aches and attacks, our stomach gets ulcers, our blood pressure goes up. Lean your weight on God. Lean it all. God, the only one true living God is able to sustain and hold you. 

Faith is built on loyalty, freedom and security. Joshua said to the people in Shechem who had come out of Egypt and he was also speaking to the local people who were already living there, “Choose this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris