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© Judson Press, Valley Forge, Pa 1983. Revised by the author 2001

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Moses and the Ten CommandmentsYou have found your way through the labyrinth of the World Wide Web to Christians.org. You may be wondering what Christianity is all about. Certainly it is a set of beliefs about God and this world such as are found in the Apostles’ Creed and affirmed by all Christian churches. But it also a way of life found in the ten commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. No other set of laws has governed behavior so widely and so long as this. Even those who no longer believe in God, profess to honor the ten commandments, the touchstone of ethics for over 3,000 years. 

The Ten Commandments begin with an important word from our Sponsor: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves" (Exodus 20:2). Before God gave Israel a rules he reminded them of their bondage under Pharaoh. By God's grace and power they were now free from Pharaoh, but under the law. We face that same alternative today. We will be ruled by the word of our rulers or by the word of God before whom all kings, pharaohs, presidents, and prime ministers must bow.

These laws are more fundamental than the constitution. You can no more make up the moral law of God than you can make up the natural law of physics. The same God who made both laws gives them to you. You can't amend or repeal a single one. You can't even break the laws I'm talking about. Jumping from a plane without a parachute may defy the law of gravity but doesn't break it. Likewise, you may defy the moral law of God but you can't break it. You can only be broken upon it. The God who gave you life also gave you commandments by which to live.

They begin with…

WORSHIP THE RIGHT GOD

The first commandment is "Worship no god but me" (Exodus 20:3). That looks easy enough. When was the last time you were seriously tempted to worship Baal or to offer incense to Jupiter or to drink a toast to Bacchus or to sacrifice a lamb to Zeus? Where have all the idols gone? Has the great Jehovah licked all his competition? Do people need only nine commandments nowadays?

Certainly, times have changed since Moses brought the tablets down from Mt. Sinai. The world seems to have moved from polytheism to monotheism to atheism — from the worship of many gods to the worship of one God to the worship of no God. Old-fashioned pagans had to choose between a chaotic universe alive with lawless gods and an ordered universe under the one God and his moral law. Modern pagans choose between that divine order and the flat, fortuitous, fatalistic universe of atheism. This choice is usually made without knowing it — not by clear conviction but by vague drifting, not by denying God but by losing interest in him. People who say "I believe in God," and don't care, are atheists at heart.

We might have expected the first commandment to say "Thou shalt believe in God," a commandment against atheism. But God took care of that in creation. He created each of us with a God-shaped emptiness in our souls that can be filled only with God. No one has to teach a baby to be hungry or thirsty. We only have show the baby how to satisfy that hunger and thirst. Though nothing less than God can fully satisfy the hunger of our soul, many people still waste their lives foolishly seeking idolatrous substitutes. Idolatry is the junk food of the soul.

To worship any god other than the one true God leads to spiritual famine and finally to slavery. No substitute god is big enough to sustain the commitment of your life. The pages of history are littered with sad tales of victims who gave first-class loyalty to second-class causes that failed them.

Whatever you worship, regardless of its name, is your god. To worship anything is to treat it as being the greatest thing in your life, the center around which the rest of your interests revolve.

If your life is centered on something too small, you will find yourself running in circles instead of orbiting the great universe that God made and of which he himself is the center and axis. Worship of the one true God, on the other hand, expands your life and enables you to experience and enjoy the whole of it. Worship of anything less than God constricts and enslaves your life.

The Bible reminds you again and again that God is a jealous God, who will not share your affection with rivals (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5-9; Joshua 24:19). He loves you too much to stand idly by while you go "whoring" after other gods that will only disappoint and destroy you (Exodus 34:l5-l6; Ezekiel 16:1-43; Hosea 4:12; 9:1).

Substitute gods bear many names. Consider only three of the most common: self, sex, and security.

The God of Self
Modern idolaters are in greater need of the First Commandment than their ancient counterparts who were at least worshiping something other than themselves — a power greater than themselves. Primitive polytheists were intending to serve God. Modern monotheists, however, often mistake their own mirror images for deity. Instead of saying, "Unto me, a sinner, God has spoken," they say by implication, "When I speak, God agrees." They worship themselves with all their hearts, strength, souls and minds, and themselves only do they serve (See Mark 12:29-30). The apostle Paul describes them as people "whose God is their belly" (Philippians 3:19, KJV).

"Self," like all idols, makes promises it can't keep. However much it may satisfy for the moment, ultimately it disappoints. "Eat, drink, and be merry," self proclaims, "for tomorrow we die" (Luke 12:19; 1 Corinthians 15:32). But just how merry can you be when your mind is haunted by that fatal tomorrow? Living for your own pleasure is the least pleasurable thing you can do. If your neighbors don't kill you in disgust, you will die slowly of boredom and loneliness. Self-worship is the only religion in which the more devoted you are, the fewer proselytes you make.

If the god of Self cannot satisfy, consider the second idol of the unholy trinity.

The God of Sex
The god of sex has really "been around." Ancient Canaanites called this god Ashtoreth; the Greeks called it Aphrodite; and the Romans called it Venus. Its name and image changes, but the same lusts that stirred the ancients to worship the god of sex still move in people's hearts today. The problem in saying any words of warning about this idol, however, is that it has such admirable and attractive qualities that its devotees think we are being mean-spirited. Let it be clear at the outset that the god of sex, like all false gods, is a fallen angel. It began as something good that got bent out of shape. Sex was created by God and intended for our good pleasure. But when we misuse it, when we sacrifice other values to it, when we worship it supremely, it delivers misery and debauchery. Sexuality is not something inherently bad; it is something good. And for that very reason we are tempted to idolize it, giving it the devotion that belongs only to God.

No idol betrays its worshipers so quickly and obviously as the god of sex. No other false god makes greater promises and fails so painfully. The sexual revolution of the twentieth century, that promised to cure our Victorian sexual hang-ups, has created, in fact, a worse condition. It has left in its wake more unwanted pregnancies, more disease, and more broken homes, broken hearts, and broken lives than plagued our hung-up forebears.

If the god of sex cannot satisfy, consider the third idol in the unholy trinity.

The God of Security
Devotees of the god of security believe that faith is a poor substitute for cash on deposit. Their aim is to acquire enough worldly goods so that they won't have to trust God any longer for their "daily bread."

Jesus called the god of security "Mammon" (Matthew 6:24). The root meaning of the word is "trust." It is a good word. Originally it referred to what one entrusted to a banker or friend. Later it came to mean "that in which one puts trust." And finally, Mammon was recognized as an idol, that which is trusted instead of God.

As long as we consider all of our worldly goods simply as matters entrusted to us by the Real Owner, we are responsible stewards. But the moment we place our trust in goods instead of the One who gave them, we become idolaters.

If offered a clear-cut alternative of giving up God or possessions, most of us, I hope, would choose God. But the choice is rarely put that bluntly. Subconsciously we make decisions which show that our commitment is to things, not to God. Security (national or personal) is the real basis of our decisions, the pivotal point of our dedication. When the chips are down, we would rather have gold than God. Aaron led the Israelites to melt down their earrings to make the golden calf. In our time, we worship gold without melting it. Although we stamp our coins with the slogan, "In God We Trust," we often mean "In This God We Trust."

Jesus did not say that we must serve God more than money but that we must serve God or money (Luke 16:13). It's God or Mammon; take your pick! You will either serve God and use money or serve money and use God.

The god of security is deceitful and its bondage subtle. It is like the flypaper and the fly: the fly lands on the sticky substance, thinking, My flypaper, only to discover that the flypaper is saying, My fly. Be careful lest your possessions possess you. Those who pursue the god of security are condemned to perpetual and ultimate insecurity. Someday even the most securely wealthy will hear God say, "You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?" (Luke 12:20)

Humankind is incurably religious. You must worship something. You cannot not worship. Your only choice is to choose which god you will worship. You are free to pick which god will control your life. You are free to choose whether your veins will flow with God's red blood or with the toxic pus of idols. To paraphrase the great Joshua:

Choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the true and living God of your ancestors or the gods of self, sex, and security, the gods of those in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

 

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