22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’ 29 Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone - an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”
Today is the first in our series on the Ten Commandments.
You’ll remember that last week we looked at the necessity for the Law, and some of the reasons that God has given us boundaries. His Law is given to us because He is a God of relationships. The love of God is expressed not only through His grace and of course the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, but it is also expressed and revealed to us through His Law. The Law of God reveals His holiness to us, and at the same time it also shows us how much He wants us to live lives of holiness – lives that bring glory and honour to Him. Throughout this series we need to remember that the Bible is not a restrictive collection of do’s and don’ts. It is one of the biggest, yet most common mistakes we make. God is not some kind of cosmic spoilsport. He knows what’s best for us, and He wants us to live our lives the way He intended them to be lived. One of the ways He shows His love for us is through His Law, which He has given us because He loves us.
This morning we begin by looking at each commandment in more detail – what’s it all about, and what is God saying to each one of us.
The Bible is full of some incredible promises that God makes to His people. Among them are these words He speaks to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 43: “This is what the Lord says - He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
Ephesians 1:3-10 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will - to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
He has redeemed us, because He is a God of relationships.
The Law, or the Ten Commandments as they are commonly known, begin in Exodus 20:3. The verse immediately preceding them is significant: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Before He give the Law, He reminds them who He is and what He has done for them. Before the Law, comes the relationship. Not only did He create them, but He redeemed them. He gave them life, and He gave them freedom.
That’s the relationship that God had with Israel and it is the relationship He has with us.
We are His because He created us. And we are His because He bought us out of slavery to sin. He created us and He redeemed us.
And that relationship is the basis for the commands that God gave to Israel.
God led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He led them through the desert, and the commandments are another way that God leads His people, by giving them words to live by.
The first, and foundational commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
These words demanded that God’s people worship, and love, and serve only the one, true God.
With this first commandment, God makes it clear that His people are to have an exclusive relationship with Him.
“You shall have no other gods before me,” doesn’t mean, “You can worship all the gods you want, I just want to be your favourite.”
He is saying, “Worship ONLY me. I am to be your ONLY God.”
Can you imagine a man on his wedding day saying, “Of all the women in my life, you are now going to be my favourite?”
One of the reasons for the first commandment was that as the Israelites moved into Canaan, the Promised Land, they were suddenly confronted with all kinds of different pagan gods. They had been used to having only one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but now their new neighbours were different. Yes, the Egyptians also had many gods, but the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. They didn’t participate in the social and religious lives of the Egyptians. They were isolated, and were a closed community. Now suddenly, they were free, and were exposed to a whole new concept – the fact that the pagans in Canaan worshipped lots of different gods. Sometimes freedom, as much as we want it, brings its own challenges.
The people that the Israelites now came into contact with believed that certain gods ruled certain geographic areas or natural phenomenon. There were national gods.
The Philistines had Dagon. The Moabites had Chemosh. The Ammonites had Molech. But they didn’t just worship their national god.
They also had fertility gods, storm gods, sun gods and sea gods.
There were all kinds of gods, and they all had to be kept happy.
And while a person or nation may have a “favourite” god, they certainly wouldn’t think of narrowing their worship to just one.
If the god or gods of another nation seemed to have power, then you could add that god to your collection. This is many thousands of years ago, but if you look around you today, there’s a familiar ring, isn’t there?
We may not personally have idol shrines in our homes, but we do live in a country that prides itself on its tolerance of many opinions, many people and many religions. It has become the politically correct thing in the new South Africa to accept each other’s beliefs, to be tolerant of each other, and to even to hold interfaith worship services. What a marvellous example of democracy and freedom we set to the rest of the world!
It’s become the in thing to not be associated with hateful, arrogant, self-righteous people who say, “My way is the only way!”
But we’ve got a problem with that. And the problem is the first commandment.
"You shall have no other gods before me.”
Which is to say, the Lord is the only true God. Or, to put it another way, all religions do NOT lead to God.
There is only one God, and His name is not Allah, or Buddha or Zeus or any other name.
That one God demands to be worshipped exclusively.
And that grates against our democracy. Let’s be honest about this – as far as the constitution of our country is concerned, and going by what the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is trying to force through parliament at the moment, I’m probably treading on thin ice here. What I’m saying today borders on hate speech. This is exactly what the proposed bill on Hate Crimes and Hate Speech is designed to prevent, because everybody is equal.
But the thing is, not everybody is right when it comes to who God is, so we shouldn’t try to fool ourselves into thinking we live in a Christian country. In fact, if you look at our history and how the Bible was distorted to try and justify the evil of racism, I seriously doubt we’ve ever been a Christian country.
So just as the first commandment challenged the Israelites then, so it challenges Bible believing Christians all over the world today.
The American actress Sarah Gellar said some time ago, “I consider myself a spiritual person. I believe in an idea of God, although it’s my own personal ideal. I find most religions interesting, and I’ve been to every kind of denomination: Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist. I’ve taken bits from everything and customised it.” That’s a very modern way of thinking about God. We take the bits we like from different religions and sort of mix them all together. But what are we doing then? We’re making our own god. So we don’t worship the God who IS, but a god we’ve invented. We have our own “Frankengod.”
But the first commandment does not allow for that kind of spirituality.
But if you say that publicly, people accuse us being arrogant because we say that Jesus is the only way to God.
And we think, “Well, I don’t want to be arrogant. Christians are supposed to be humble, not arrogant, and there are really some very nice people who are not Christians.” And those things are true. There are some very nice people who are not Christians, and sadly there are many not very nice people who ARE Christians.
And so we back off.
Rather than be seen to be arrogant and intolerant, we water down the Gospel because we want to be humble.
But being humble has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not there is only one God.
We have to remember that it was Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except by me.”
We didn’t make it up. It’s the God who reveals Himself in the Bible who says, “You shall have no other gods besides me.” Don’t apologise for the Gospel.
What has happened as a result of the exclusivity and even controversy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is that without even being aware of it, many Christians have reshaped and redefined the one true God into someone who is a little less confrontational, and a little more user-friendly.
All they’ve done though is to create their own Frankengod, who is about as real as a child’s imaginary friend.
When you were little imaginary friends were great, because they would be just who you wanted them to be. They would always do and say what you wanted them to do and say. The problem with imaginary friends though, is that they don’t exist. They’re not real. They are figments of our imagination. And any god that we redefine to suit our purposes and our lifestyles is nothing more than a figment of our imagination.
There was a video clip doing the rounds just the other day on Facebook where someone who is a South African television personality was offended by something said by the preacher at a service he was attending. So he stormed out, and videoed himself saying that he is comfortable with “his” god. Because he is well-known, his video has gone viral on social media. The underlying question though is, “Just who is your god?” If it is a god who stands for something which directly opposes what the God of the Bible says, then your god is nothing more than your own Frankengod, your own imaginary friend.
The point is that arrogance is not saying, “I believe that God is who He said He is, and I believe that if He says He is the only true God, then He really IS the only true God.” Arrogance is saying, “God is whatever I say He is and whoever I want Him to be.”
Arrogance is not saying, “I believe Jesus when He said He is the only way to God.” Arrogance is saying, “I don’t like the idea of Jesus as the only way, so I’ve decided that all roads lead to God. I’ve decided that as long as people are sincere, it doesn’t matter what they believe.”
“No matter what we believe, as long as we’re sincere, we’ll be ok,” may sound really good, especially in the world we live in today. But we have a serious problem with that belief. It contradicts directly the very first commandment. God never said that all roads lead to Him.
The God who created the Universe with the power of His Word is the one who has the right to tell US who HE is. All roads do NOT lead to heaven. All religions do NOT teach the same things. We DON’T all worship the same God.
And all gods are not the one true God of the Scriptures.
And much of the problem today is that Christians who claim to believe in the God of the Scriptures don’t know the Scriptures well enough to have an accurate view of God.
All too often, Christians have constructed their own Frankengods from bits of the Bible they like, fantasy stories, and TV shows. Someone once called it the Gospel according to Hollywood.
There is only One God, and that is the God who reveals Himself to us through the Bible. And we can’t worship the God of the Bible if we don’t know the God of the Bible.
This is why Paul preached the God of the Bible to the men of Athens in Acts 17. The world they lived in was remarkably similar to ours, in that you could decide for yourself just who this god is and what he is like.
So it is absolutely crucial that if we are ever going to serve and worship the one true God, that we know who He is, and what He expects of us.
That is why whenever you hear someone preaching a Frankengod instead of the God of the Bible, you must question that teaching.
1 John 4:1-3 says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
Worship of and preaching of God must always, always be Biblical. Paul warned us against watering down the one true God in 2 Timothy 4:3-4. “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” “The time will come.” In case you haven’t realised it, that time is here now.
There is only one God – the God who is revealed in the Scriptures. And we are commanded to serve Him only, and on His terms only.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
Remember, He created us out of love and because He wants us to live in a loving relationship with Him. And He has always wanted that for us.
We rejected Him and wandered away, so He bought us back with the blood of His own Son. He has redeemed us at great cost, and that gives Him the right to define Himself, and to command that we are to serve Him on His terms, rather than our own.
Homegroup Study Notes
The words ‘law’ and ‘relationship’ can often be misunderstood to be two opposing principles.
(It is sometimes hard for little children to understand how rules are really for their benefit. As we grow older and especially when we become parents, we begin to understand how they do work together for our own good.)
How does this principle apply to the Ten Commandments, and how do we see God’s love for us expressed through them?
Read John 14:1-7
As we all know, one of the accusations often aimed at Christians is that we are arrogant and intolerant because we claim that Jesus is the only way to God.
How do you feel when challenged, and how do you respond?
Read 2 Timothy 4:3-4
The first commandment stands in direct opposition to the idea that we are free to define who God is to suit our own purposes.
How has the world watered down the Gospel to make God more “user friendly?”
How have you fallen into the trap of seeing Him as the God you’d prefer Him to be, rather than the God who is?
Close by praying that the Lord would give us grace and wisdom as we proclaim the one, true God in the world.
Next week: The Second Commandment. “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. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”