Exploring the 10 Commandments: The First Command

Contributing Writer
Exploring the 10 Commandments: The First Command

“You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

If you have ever been curious about the standard of holiness, it is found in Exodus 20. God gives Moses and His people the ten commandments.

Exodus 20:1-2 says, “And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’”

I believe it is incredible how God makes it clear that this is His standard, spoken by Him. He reminds His people – before ever stating the first commandment – that He was the One who brought them out of slavery. As we think about sin, we have all been enslaved to sin and the devil. We were living in darkness, but Christ set us free. There is a beautiful point that God, who is about to reveal His law, is reminding His people that He knows we cannot keep His commandments. But He is the Rescuer. Jesus was coming. Jesus would bring the New Covenant and keep the 10 Commandments perfectly. All who would believe in Him would be forgiven.

As we begin our series on the 10 Commandments, it will be vital that we approach these Scriptures with hearts of repentance, humility, and the perspective that Jesus has set all believers free. My prayer is that this study will draw us closer to our Savior and cause us to be more appreciative of His death on the cross for our personal sins. I pray that our eyes would be opened to the areas of struggle that we are going through now and how to combat sin with the Spirit and the Word of God.

This week, we will start our journey with the 1st Commandment: You shall have no others gods.

You Means You

The first word of this command is “you.” REV Bible Commentary shares, “The ‘you’ is singular from the singular verb.” This means that there is a personal accountability when it comes to the commandments of God. There is not a “grading scale” based on how a local church, or a family, or a group of friends does on keeping the 10 Commandments. This is a personal call to every individual.

I remember growing up in school, how frustrating it was trying to be a “good student.” There were always a few troublemakers who would shorten our class recess or cause us to have silent lunch. It seemed so unfair. In fact, it was unfair. Our teacher punished everyone. I am sure that in her mind, she thought this would teach valuable life skills or the children who misbehaved would learn and not do it again so their peers would not be mad at them, but it never seemed to accomplish that goal because it happened again and again.

The beauty is that we are all personally responsible for our own sins. We do not carry the accountability of other’s sins to the Lord. However, Jesus took on the personal responsibility of everyone else’s sins. This was no small task. He took the beating, the mocking, and the murder. And I was over here frustrated about my recess being shortened. Jesus took the cross that I deserved and the cross that you deserved, so that we could be forgiven and reunited. He loves us so much.

What Is a God?

It is easy to assume god means a golden calf, physical idols, or a worldly temple. However, a god is anything that takes the place of the One True God in our lives. Anything or anyone whom we put above Jesus is an idol. A god can be something that is bad like pornography or gossip. But a god can also be made out of something that is good like a friendship, family, or even a ministry. If we value our looks, our home, our job, our family, sports, celebrities, politicians, money, popularity, or our cell phones more than we value Jesus, this is a god.

My guess is that most of us break the first commandment more than we know or more than we would like to admit. Every day there are volumes of people and things competing for our hearts and focus. If we are not surrendered to Jesus and fixing our eyes on Him, we can easily get our priorities out of place.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We are commanded by God to throw off everything that hinders us. When we are chasing other gods, we are disobeying the first commandment. We cannot be running after Jesus and running after the world. What gods are competing for your personal attention? Take some time to pray Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; Put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there is any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” Amen.

Empowered by Love

One of my favorite Bible Studies of all time is No Other Gods by Kelly Minter. She shares, “I think the other nine commandments are irrelevant to us if we neglect the first one. If God is not the God of our lives, the rest of His commandments become mere suggestions… This personal, pursuing, and liberating love of God will be the power by which we’ll demolish the idols of our hearts as we move forward.”

I love that! The Lord is teaching us first things first; if He is not our God, then none of His ways will matter to us. If we do not rely on His love, then we have no way of living out His commands. We are invited into a beautiful relationship of trust and dependence upon our Savior.

Something that I want us to ponder in our hearts as we study the 10 Commandments is to remember the purpose. God gave these commands not so that we would keep them perfectly (He knew we already failed), but to reveal our need for the Messiah, guide us into right living, and open our eyes to His holiness. When we try to follow rules in our own strength, we are walking in legalism. Webster’s Dictionary defines legalism as “strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code.”

This is how the enemy works, he either wants us to go break all of the law rebelliously, or he wants us to believe that we are god and we can uphold and add or subtract to what the One True God has established. This is why it is vital that we pray and ask the Spirit to help us live out of love. We can ask Him to empower us to live by His Spirit and not our flesh. That He would help us to turn away from any sin that would entangle us, and help us walk in the freedom found in Christ Jesus.

Maybe you have tried to keep the law for religion’s sake? You have tried to be a “good person” and do the right thing. Perhaps you have the 10 Commandments framed in your house? You might know each one by heart, however inside you are driven by fear or pride. This is so easy for any of us to do. Surrender to the Lord today and ask Him to set you free. Ask Him to show you that you are a sinner, but that you are saved by His grace, not by your works. Take steps to look at God’s law as completed by Christ and leaning on Him to live it out, because you are loved.

The Greatest Commandments

To be clear, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees which was the greatest commandment. He knew exactly how to answer it, because Jesus created the commandments.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

(See also: Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27)

The Ten Commandments List

Commandments 1-4

Thou shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images. (Exodus 20:4-6)

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Commandments 5-10

Honor your father and mother. (Exodus 20:12)

Thou shalt not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

Thou shalt not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)

Thou shalt not steal. (Exodus 20:15)

Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)

Thou shall not covet your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17)

Jesus summed up all of the 10 Commandments. As we look at commandments 1-4, they are vertical, about our relationship with God. (Love the Lord your God.) As we look at commandments 5-10, they are horizontal, about our relationship with others. (Love your neighbor as yourself.)

Jesus always has an answer, even if there seems to be mystery to it. This week, may we live in His power to love Him, ask His Spirit to reveal any other gods in our lives, and repent from them in His strength.

Related article: Exploring the 10 Commandments: The Second Command

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/rudall30

Emma DanzeyEmma Danzey’s mission in life stems from Ephesians 3:20-21, to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. She is wife to Drew and mom to Graham. Emma serves alongside her husband in ministry, she focuses most of her time in the home, but loves to provide articles on the Bible, life questions, and Christian lifestyle. Her article on Interracial Marriage was the number 1 on Crosswalk in 2021. Most recently, Emma released Treasures for Tots, (Scripture memory songs) and multiple books and devotionals for young children. During her ministry career, Emma has released Wildflower: Blooming Through Singleness, two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, and ran the Refined Magazine. You can view her articles on her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com and check out her Instagram @Emmadanzey.