We have started a new preaching series at First, and we are looking at the Ten Commandments. I had the opportunity to kick off the new series, as we looked at the first of the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions and false assumptions about the Ten Commandments. They might feel outdated to some, or burdensome to others. You may have been on the receiving end of another person's attack, as they used one of the Ten Commandments as a weapon of war against you. Sadly, many people's experience with the commands does not actually mirror the intent of these commands.
The commands were given to God's people, by God, in the context of relationship. They were not written by human hands or conceived in the mind of man. They were not given as a way of earning God's love and relationship, but were given in order to inform God's people about how to live as God's people. As we preach through the series, we begin with the foundational understanding that the commands are ultimately about love. Love for God. Love for others.
The Greatest Commandment
Our understanding of love as the foundation for the Ten Commandments is seen in the teaching of Jesus. He was asked by a religious leader which commandment was the greatest. And he answered:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depends all the Law and the Prophets (Mark 12: 37-40)."
Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment (singular), and he responds with two. They can be summed up with the words, Love God and Love Others. The first part of his response is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:5, which is a summary of the Ten Commandments that Moses gives to Israel following his retelling of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5.
The second half of Jesus' answer is a quotation of Leviticus 19:18. Jesus wanted to make it very clear that love for God and love for others goes hand in hand. You cannot separate them. Paul follows Jesus' line of teaching when he also quotes Leviticus 19:18 as he explains that love is foundational to understanding the Ten Commandments.
“For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:9-10)
The teachings of Jesus, Paul and other NT writers all point toward love being foundational to understanding the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, love is a relatively undefined word today. So, over the next nine weeks of our preaching series, we are going to explain how love is foundational for the Ten Commandments. And today, I will explain three ways that love relates to the first commandment, to have no other gods before God (Deuteronomy 5:7).
Love for God is based on His Character
Our love for God is based on who He is and what He has done. All throughout the Scriptures, we see God's people pointing to God's character as they express their love, commitment and worship. Psalm 105 is a great example. Here are the first six verses:
“Oh give thanks to the LORD;
call upon his name;
Make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (Psalm 105:1-6, emphasis mine)”
We love God because of His character. Because of who He is and what He has done.
Love for God is singular in its devotion
God calls us to have no other God's before Him. There is no room for our worship of other gods. It is made quite clear that the God of the Bible is distinct from all other gods. He is not just a god among gods. He is The God over all gods. He is the creator God who has laid the foundations of the earth. Our love for God means we are wholly committed to Him. Having no gods before God is about loving God with our whole selves.
The problem is that it is so common for us to make idols out of God's good gifts. We so often turn good things into idols, such as family, work, money, sex or any number of other gifts that God has given us. John Calvin once wrote, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols." Our hearts produce idols like General Mills produces Cheerios. Idol after idol flows from the conveyor belt of our hearts. As we grow in our love for God, we also must fight against these idols that want to come between us and God.
Marital fidelity is actually a great picture of this singular devotion. As we are committed in our marriages to one another, to having marriages that are singular in their devotion, sacrificial in their love and fully devoted in their commitment to one another, we give a compelling and clear picture of God's love for His people.
Love for God is in the Context of Relationship
God gives these commands in the context of a relationship. The preamble to the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:6) explains God's relationship to His people. He says that he is the Lord their God, who freed them from the slavery and oppression of Egypt. God has chosen to have a relationship with Israel, and He has proven His commitment to them by freeing them from Egypt. Once the relationship had been established and proven, then, and only then, God lays out the commandments for how they were to live as God's people.
It is still the same for us today. We keep the commands, not as a burdensome set of commands. Not as weapons of war against one another. They are commands that are given in the context of a loving relationship that God has initiated. Through Jesus, God is our redeemer. Just like he redeemed Israel from the slavery and oppression of Egypt, he has freed us from the slavery and oppression of sin. He has initiated a relationship with us through Jesus, and chosen us to be His people. And now, in the context of that relationship, he asks us to respond in obedience.
We must get the order correctly. Relationship proceeds the commands. If we get the order backward, then we will feel compelled by a need to somehow earn God's love through our performance. Something that cannot be earned, but is freely given through Jesus. Relationship always proceeds the commands. And through Jesus, we can have that sort of relationship with God.