Powerpoint: Get Priorities Straight
There’s not a lot to brag about when it comes to flying on Southwest Airlines. The planes are high mileage. There’s in flight service is basic. Forget about movies and in-flight radio. There’s no formality. The flight crew is super-casual. You typically fly into the older, less used airports. Southwest is all about no frills bargains. It’s the Wal-Mart of airlines.
But Southwest Airlines has a way of making me feel great about flying on their planes. After the plane lands, a flight attendant grabs the mike and after announcing all the gates for connecting flights she will say, “We hope you enjoyed your flight today. We know that you have choices when you travel and we thank you for choosing Southwest Airlines.”
Southwest Airlines may not give me the greatest airline snacks, but they recognize that I have the power to choose and they respect that. They make me feel good for choosing them instead of Delta or American. Southwest knows that I am a customer and they are so thankful and appreciative of me.
Some suggest that perhaps God could learn a lesson from Southwest Airlines. You see, God has always been in competition with other gods. In ancient times there were dozens of gods to choose from. Really neat gods and goddesses with cool names – they went on adventures and had magic powers.
They say it this way: “well, we’re supposedly enlightened now and grown up past such beliefs. But there are still choices. Today one can choose different types of spirituality. One doesn’t even have to have a god in order to be spiritual. So, God isn’t the only option. God might think about the choices that people have and try to respect that. Maybe he should do more to greet us when we come to worship him and then send us out with a word of thanks saying, “I hope you enjoyed your worship today. I know that you have choices when it comes to a Supreme Being and I thank you for choosing God.”
But God isn’t listening to Southwest or their marketing agents. No, God has the audacity to make the following statement: Exodus 20:1-3 (ESV) 1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
How on earth can God make such a statement? People do have choices, right? So why does God have to be so absolute? There’s a relationship here when God says: I AM the one who delivered you. The Israelites who first heard these words at the base of Mount Sinai, had been slaves for generations in Egypt. God had delivered them from slavery. No other god. No other power.
God was the one who had saved them, fed them, nurtured them, and protected them. God is still delivering people from enslavement. People are enslaved to fear, worry, hatred, addiction, pride, poverty, loneliness, and despair. People are dehumanized and demeaned by oppressive powers of sin. But God is more powerful than the powers. What other God died for us and redeemed us? What other God made us into a people with purpose. What other God brings us hope? Before we ever thought about choosing God – He chose us!
Because of that relationship, there are certain claims established. God is our God and we are his people. It’s like a marriage. You have a choice in who you marry, but once you marry that relationship is exclusive. So God is all-inclusively exclusive. God knows that there are choices. I suppose you can choose another god, but once you choose God, it’s exclusive. Anyone can come to God. God can deliver anyone. But once you enter into the relationship – it’s you and God. It’s us and God. The relationship is established.
This is why the first word in the Ten Words is so important. You have to get the first one right or the others won’t follow. The other nine words don’t have the same effect when they are out of alignment without the first word.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.” With these words God is commanding an exclusive relationship between Himself and His people. The command instructs Israel that God will not allow His people to have any gods in addition to Himself. The statement is simple and forthright.
First, Israel’s history demonstrates their tendency toward false worship. Israel lived 400 years in Egypt, a nation which had many gods, and the Israelites continued to attempt to worship them. It was for her rejection of God that Israel was sent into captivity.
Second, to have other gods is always to forsake God To my knowledge Israel never meant to reject God altogether by having other gods, but simply to add other gods to those which they would worship. The Old Testament consistently indicates that having any other god or gods always constitutes the forsaking of God. The relationship of the Israelites to her God is like that of a man’s relationship to his wife—it is an exclusive relationship which allows for no others. Thus, turning to other gods is called harlotry and adultery in the Bible.
Third, having other gods is evidence of one’s lack of faith in God. This commandment therefore suggests that once we cease to trust God for every area of our life, we have ceased trusting Him altogether, and have turned to other “gods.”
Ten generations of Jacob’s descendants grew up in Egypt. Although the Israelites maintained a degree of loyalty to the Lord, we would be naive to think they were not influenced by Egyptian culture, morals, and religion. Precisely because there had been some negative influences from their surroundings, they needed powerful assurances at the very beginning of the wilderness experience of the power, authority, and supremacy of their deity. They needed a positive assurance that their God – rather than Pharaoh or the other deities of Egypt – was the one, true God who alone deserved the allegiance and devotion of Israel.
This covenant name of the God of Israel is used for the first time in the text of Scripture:
Exodus 3:13-15 (ESV) Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
The name YHWH had probably been used before this occasion but never before with this significance. From the time of the beginning of the Lord’s redemptive work among the Israelites, he was to be known by this personal name.
Exodus 6:2-5 (ESV) 2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD.
3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.
4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners.
5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.
The name means “I am that I am” or “I will be that I will be. ” It announces God’s unchanging character and faithfulness to his word. He is the one who is always the same. He is what he has always been, and he always will be just that!
He is not a fickle God; he is a stable, permanent, self-sufficient, and promise-keeping God. To the Hebrews, the name Yahweh came to be a oneword summary of all heaven’s dealings with them. It is similar to the way Jesus serves as a one-word summary of everything we Christians believe in and that God has done for us by his grace.
Thus, simply because of who he is, God deserves to be enshrined in human hearts and lives. When he brought the Israelites out of bondage by his mighty hand, he began his commandments to them by saying, “Acknowledge me for who I am! Fix the priority in your heart right now that I alone am God, and there is no other who is my rival or who could ever deserve your worship and allegiance!”
The fundamental decision that each of us must make in life can be put into words this way: What is going to be the most important thing in my life?
- Live for pleasure and carnal satisfaction, and you will burn out and self-destruct! Galatians 6:8 (ESV) For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
- Live for selfish ambition, and you will hurt those closest to you and wind up living in miserable isolation.
- Live for God, and your life will take on the special qualities of peace and fulfillment that can be experienced only by those close to deity. Romans 12:2 (ESV) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So the first rule of a good life is this: Get your priorities right. Put God first in everything. Let things of the kingdom of God have precedence over every other concern. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon,” said the Lord Jesus (Matthew 6:24).
In the same context with the verse just cited, the Savior added: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33). These two statements from Jesus are simply alternate ways of putting the first commandment into human language.
The other rules of life will frustrate and annoy you until this one has been dealt with successfully.
It is important for Christians to have our priorites right than it was for the ancient Hebrews to fix theirs properly. In fact, every major failure in the church traces to a failure on this point.
Why does sinful behavior ever get into your life or mine? It is because we get our priorities confused. We get our feeings hurt and decide we have the right to retaliate; we get depressed and decide it will be all right to reach for some forbidden pleasure as a palliative; we forget that God and his will are all that really matter in this world and begin to neglect the Bible, put off prayer, and place the work of Christ’s church on the back burner of life.
For a devoted Christian, every aspect of life finds its meaning through Jesus. Why should chidren obey their parents? The answer of this text is that it is God’s will. Why should parents be patient with their children and train them so carefully about right and wrong? That is one of the primary ways parents serve the Lord.
The pious Christian, imitating his Jewish counterpart of generations ago, would do well to repeat the words of the Shema frequently: “Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God is one (i.e., the only) Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Jesus quoted the words of the Shema about loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength; he called this “the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37). Why is this the first rule for living? It puts God where he belongs. It makes him first and grants him absolute sovereignty over our lives.
When pleasure becomes your god, work and duty become burdensome. What starts as a legitimate diversion for an individual can enslave his time, money, and energy so as to become a sin for him. It may be fishing, hunting, playing tennis, playing or coaching baseball, or any number of things that are good within themselves. But when anyone of them becomes more important to you than your responsibilities as an adult, a provider, a human being, or a Christian, it has become a god to you.
When possessions become your god, money rules your thoughts and ambitions. You begin to neglect spiritual things and find yourself participating in things you would have never believed possible.
When position becomes your god, you begin taking yourself too seriously. You develop an over-inflated ego and think you are smarter and more important than you really are. Your “rights” become all-important to you, so the notion of humbling yourself to serve someone else or turning the other cheek when insulted becomes repulsive to you.
John summarized all this when he wrote: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh [i.e., the Pleasure God] and the lust of the eyes [i.e., the Possession God] and the pride of life [i.e., the Position God], is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever” (I John 2:15-17).
Conclusion — The God of the Bible is a jealous God. His jealousy is a moral excellence rather than flaw, because it is the jealousy of a husband who justly desires his wife’s exclusive affection. It is not the sort of suspicious and accusing jealousy some husbands display toward their wives but the sort of holy jealousy a man and woman have over each other from love. A good man would be horrified if anyone else were to get any part of the devotion and affection that he alone has the right to receive from his wife.
In the same way, God will have first place or no place in your life. He will not share your loyalties and affections. If you will not give him the best and purest of your love, he will not take the leftovers.
Enthrone the true God in your heart, and keep that priority fixed forever.