Now that we have a firm idea of what to look for when studying the commandments (The Requirement, Blessing, and Perversion) we are ready to study in a little depth the first command.
The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods beside me. You shall not make to yourself an idol, nor likeness of anything, whatever things are in the heaven above, and whatever are in the earth beneath, and whatever are in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, nor serve them;
Exodus 20:3-5 (LXX2012)
The First Commandment is the most important of all. Fundamentally, the breaking of any of the other nine commandments is also a violation of this First Command. Also, The keeping of this commandment requires that the other nine follow suit.
Therefore, a strong understanding of what it means to have no other gods but God is critical to keeping and understanding all of the commands.
The Requirement of the First Commandment
We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
Luther’s Small Catechism
In this commandment, God forbids idolatry, that is, having any god before Him.
What is a god?
But what does it mean to have a god? In order to know that, we must know what a god is.
A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I [Luther] have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
In short, a god is that which we trust with our whole heart. Most of us would have to admit the thing we trust most is not god. In fact, I would bet that the thing we both trust more is wealth.
When we have money, we rest secure. Yet the moment we lack sufficient funds, we instantly enter into a panic. Why? Because without that money we cannot meet our needs. We cannot pay for food, rent, taxes, etc.
This alone should convict our souls of damnable idolatry. In our section on the Creed we learned that God “richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil”. So if we are looking to money to meet those needs, we do not look to God. We have made money our god.
A Subtle Idol
There is yet another, more subtle way to create an idol. We can be like the man from Jesus’ parables of the talents. We can make God into something He is not, most commonly a debtor. For has the servant in the parable made his master out to be a “hard man”, so he received a hard master. We, Who make God out to be a debtor, make Him into no god at all, but rather into a weaker figment of our imagination that cannot accomplish the things we need a God to do. This is even worse than to trust in money which is at least capable of some meager aid.
We ought to examine our heart as to whether we have the One True God or a false one. Does our heart look to God for only good and comfort? Or does it look elsewhere?
In my next post we will look at the blessings and perversions of the First Commandment, which will hopefully shed some light on how to overcome our failures in keeping the requirements we have just learned.
I would love to hear in the comments below what some of the biggest idols are that we struggle with every day.
Until then, “be a sinner and sin boldly, but let your trust in Christ be stronger”. God love you and keep you. Amen.