Exodus 20:1-6 1 And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
I want to drill three words into your hearing and understanding. Here they are: God is love. We read it in I John 4:8. We experience it when we see the extent of our Heavenly Father’s love in sending Jesus to be our substitute, to die in our place, as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Where is that found in Scripture Church? John 3:16. You got it.
When we look at the first two of the Ten Commandments here in Exodus 20, we see that we are to have no other gods before God, and we are to have no idols in our lives. Why? Because, Say it with me: God is love.
Let me explain. Look at the end of verse 6. “But showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Love is a two-way street. That is what these first two commandments help us understand. God shows us love by teaching us what is right, by extending Himself to us in salvation and through protection and through blessing our lives with spiritual and yes, at times, physical and material blessings. We, in turn, show our love for God by not behaving in a way that expresses a lack of love, a lack of respect, or a disregard for the precious, eternal love of God. The way we love God is to make sure He is our first-love, our love above all else.
If we are going to say that God is our God, and if we understand that when we make that commitment, we are entering into a covenant with God that is based on His love for us and our willingness to love Him back, then we have to understand that these first two commandments are meant to protect that love relationship. The first commandment is really much like the second because having any other god before God IS an idol.
If we can understand that these first two commandments aren’t about breaking a rule, but about hurting our relationship with God, we may be more inclined to think before we act. We know God really loves us, right? I mean, who else has done more for us than God? Who else has gone to such lengths to say, “I love you?” Who is more readily available when we need them? Who else is always awake at 3 am when we can’t sleep and we need to pour our hearts out to someone? Who has our back like God does? God’s love has dimensions we can’t even wrap our minds around. GOD CHOSE US! Are we not all in shock about that? He made the first move toward us. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He has adopted us. We had nothing to offer Him but our dirty heart, and He said, “I’ll take it!”
I don’t think any Christian here would argue that God loves you fiercely. It is because of the love of God that we have been drawn into relationship with Him. We wouldn’t gravitate toward God if we weren’t convinced that He loved us. So, we know we are loved. We know that God is love. We can’t fathom the extent of His love. We can’t fully understand why God would want a relationship with us, but He has said and done more than enough to convince us that it is true.
It is because God wants to have an exclusive, dynamic love relationship with us that these first two commandments are first. I also dare say that if we get these two right, the rest will be “no-brainers.” The rest will simply flow from a life that is spent trying to reciprocate the love of God! If we will work on having no other gods before God and work on not having any idols that vie for our affection, nothing will get in the way of our relationship with God. If we get passionate about our love for God, we won’t be drawn to break the other eight commandments. Our love for God will keep us on the right path.
Can we just agree that no material idol, no person, no athlete, no war hero, no world leader, no CEO, no actor, no reality TV star, no one is worthy of worship and adoration like our God? No one can compete with Him! God doesn’t have to try to keep up with the Kardashians! The fact that we have a show titled “American IDOL” should be a signal that we have elevated many people to a status they don’t deserve. If we are Christians, our worship is to be reserved for God alone.
God should not only be the object of our worship, but getting to know Him and serving Him should be the priority of our time. If love has to be demonstrated, could we honestly say that our time demonstrates that we are focused on reciprocating the love of God? How much time to we spend pursuing Him?
I would also suggest that having no other gods before our God involves a real desire to hear what He has to say. What is His perspective? What plans does He have for us? What advice does He want to give to us in order to do something miraculous for us or through us? Do we care? We sing a song in worship that says, “My heart hangs on every Word that You speak.” Is that true? Or is it more important what our friends say? Is it more important what Hollywood has to say? Will we obey God, but only if our friends approve our pursuit? Will we press in to the things of God, but only if we aren’t the only one who seems to be wanting more of Him? If we love God above all, then His Word and His way should be supreme above all opinions and above any opposition.
Look at what the New Testament has to say about idolatry:
1 Corinthians 10:14-Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.
Paul is saying, “Run as fast as you can from anything that would dilute your love for God.” Dangers must lurk in relationship with idols.
1 John 5:21-Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
As I read this verse, it says to me that living idol-free isn’t a passive process. It is something we have to work at doing. The temptation to turn to things other than God for satisfaction and fulfillment is a daily struggle. To “keep” ourselves from something requires intention on our parts. We literally have to defend our hearts from idols that want to intrude and cut in on our relationship with Jesus. We need not only intent, but we need a plan because if we aren’t careful, one compromise can take us down the road where our love for God is step by step replaced with love for something else. Look at this passage from Romans:
Romans 1:21-25 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.
When we allow idols to creep into our lives, there comes a point when we trade a relationship with God for a relationship with an idol. It’s subtle. It’s simple. It’s serious.
How can we get rid of the idols in our lives?
Recognize your idols.
Maybe we have given priority to some things that we aren’t even aware of. Maybe it is something subtle that has us tied up our time, our money, and affection, something that has stolen our focus and derailed us in our pursuit of God or is something that keeps us from serving God the way He desires. We have to identify our idols if we are going to eradicate them from our lives.
In her book, “Finding Truth,” author Nancy Pearcey said this: “Scripture treats the topic of idolatry far more subtly. An idol is anything we want more than God, anything we rely on more that God, anything we look to for greater fulfillment than God. Idolatry is thus the hidden sin driving all other sins.”
Here is what I believe: When we replace God with anything else, we have put our desires on the throne of our hearts. Where idols rule, sin will abound.
What things might fall into the category of an idol that we may easily overlook or dismiss as harmless? Let’s go on a little idol hunt, shall we? I have come to realize that this little gadget, my cell phone, has started to take too much of my time, so for Lent, one of the changes I have made is that I am not on social media after 7 pm. I didn’t realize how addicted I had become to it but I am learning the extent of my issue. I have a pretty regular temptation to pick it up JUST to see if anyone has texted or messaged on FB messenger. Heaven forbid someone would text me and I wouldn’t see it for several hours. When I have allowed myself to check my messages, there have been times that after checking messages that I have just, out of habit, hit the FB app to open it and then quickly closed it when I remembered I was limiting myself after 7 pm. Heaven forbid that someone would post what they ate for dinner on FB and I would miss it. 😉 Life can go on if we don’t know everyone’s latest news; at least I think it can?
Maybe your phone is not a problem for you. Maybe you can put it away for extended periods of time. Maybe your issue is work. Maybe you can’t take appropriate breaks. Maybe you are driven to get all of the overtime available. Maybe all you can talk about is work or maybe meeting and surpassing the boss’s expectations gives you an emotional lift, a high of sorts, so you will jump through any hoop, no matter if it is immoral or if it compromises your witness and allegiance to Christ. Maybe your work makes you feel significant or valued, so you willingly extend yourself to the detriment of your family relationships or your mental health or both.
Maybe you are addicted to your image—to having others think well of you, to having people compliment you, to having a reputation for being popular. Maybe you are driven to get as many likes as possible on every social media post you make, not because you are building a business, but because you are building your self-esteem, your image. Maybe your idol is the need to appear to be perfect and to have perfect kids or the need to be seen with the “in group” of people, whoever THEY are. Maybe you have to constantly post pictures of yourselves in new clothes from the dressing room of the store at the mall which you don’t even wind up buying because you want people to know you have access to the latest styles. Maybe your idol is having people envy you and your life. Maybe you believe the more you post about where you have been and what you have done and who you are with will lead others to be jealous of your life and for some reason, that gives you some kind of fulfillment.
Maybe your idol is about acquiring things—not because you have some bucket-list pursuit and you are able to purchase something you work hard for and save for, but because you think success is defined by who has the most toys, the most shiny things, the most designer brands, the most whatever. Has culture convinced you that having things is the way to happiness? It sure is easy to swipe that credit card, to hit that button online and have packages delivered right to your doorstep as often as you want.
Maybe your idol revolves around physical or sensual pleasure. Maybe it’s Cinnabons, Pizza, and Ice Cream that you dream about and make plans to consume. Maybe you have a secret relationship with your fantasy food, and you find ways to conceal just how many carbs are being crammed into your gullet. Maybe you always have a secret stash because the thought of being without the food you love creates anxiety. Or, on the flip side, maybe your idol is your abs and your biceps so all of your extra time and extra income is devoted to the gym and products that will help you get and stay ripped. (Clearly not my idol)
Maybe it is drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography or sex that consume your life, and even though those addictions come with high price tags and lots of emotional turmoil, you would rather escape for a few minutes with one of those vices than live a self-controlled and stable life. That’s the thing. Idols take life from us. They can rob us of our health, destroy our friendships, ruin our reputations, drain our bank accounts, take our emotional well-being, and more. Perhaps that is why God says, “Don’t go there.” Because God is love, He wants to spare us of the false happiness, the momentary high, and the broken and shallow life that results from chasing fake love. These idols promise a lot, but they don’t deliver. God wants us to be sustained by Him, to be prosperous in our relationships, to be anchored to truth, to be content no matter our circumstances, to enjoy finding our life’s purpose and to live for that which is eternal. These idols feed our insecurities because they demand more and more from us over time. God wants us to feel cherished, special, and worthy. Idols beg us to give them time and attention that distract us from what matters, from that which will last forever.
Perhaps your idol is a video game and an obsession with achieving the highest score or Netflix and binge watching your weekends away. Maybe your idol is a relationship, whether a romantic one or just a friendship that has become so important to you, you have been willing to lose yourself, your voice, your dreams, just to keep someone happy.
Maybe I didn’t list the thing that has become an idol in your life. I trust the Holy Spirit to speak during these remaining moments to reveal what it is that has been elevated in your life to the point where there isn’t clarity regarding just who or what is on the throne of your life.
Are you willing to get exclusive in your relationship with God? Are you willing to commit to His love above every other love? Are you willing to dethrone anything that you have allowed to be exalted above God in your life? It has to be a willful choice. You can’t pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” if you still want to have idols in your life, if you still want to make room for many gods. God’s love for you is an all-in love, and God wants you to go all-in with Him. You can’t say you want His will to be accomplished if you still want to exercise your will to have idols on the throne of your heart.
Look at this Scripture from Genesis 35:2-5 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.
I see a two-step process here in this short story. The first step in getting rid of your idols is to repent for having them. The word “repent” literally means to do a 180. It means to change direction and go the other way. It means if you have collected idols and worshiped idols and come to depend on idols, you have to do completely the opposite. You need to confess to God that your desire is to worship Him alone, to depend on Him alone, to give Him first place in your life.
Jacob told the Israelites to get rid of the foreign gods, to purify themselves and to change their clothes. They had to make a conscious choice to change. Good intentions won’t remove idols from our lives. There has to be a change in your behavior. You need to agree with God that He is a jealous God and that you aren’t going to subdivide your heart and try to worship multiple things. God isn’t going to settle for sharing part of your heart. He wants it all.
You need to confess idolatry as sin and ask God to forgive you for allowing idols to creep into your life and take His place. Notice what Jacob did with the idols that the people brought to him. He buried them, placing them out of sight, making it harder for them to retrieve them and take them with them. We need to put some barriers between us and our idols so that we don’t have easy access to them and won’t be tempted to pick them back up. If there is an idol that tempts us, we need to get it off the shelf of our lives. We need to quit looking at it, quit talking to it, quit making room for it in our lives.
The second step that I see from this short story is the intentional step we must take to recommit your heart to God alone. Jacob said after the idols were surrendered, they would build an altar and worship the Lord. Going forward they needed to make sure that their hearts were devoted to God alone. Notice verse 5 of Genesis 35 one more time: Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. What happens to those whose hearts are fully devoted to the Lord? They are unstoppable. They cannot be defeated. They are held safe inside God’s love.
What is God saying to you?
What have you recognized that needs to be removed from your life?
What intentional changes can you make right now in order to deal with the idols in your life?
What needs buried and put to rest once and for all? How can you quit cheating on God and give Him 100% of your heart.
God, in love, is reaching out to you today, and He is asking you to reciprocate His love by making Him your first love.