Some suggest there’s not a lot to brag about when it comes to flying on Southwest Airlines. Southwest is all about no frills bargains. It’s the Wal-Mart of airlines. (I like the low cost, not paying fees for luggage, and no penalties if you need to make last minute changes!)
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.
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.
God makes the following statement: Exodus 20:2-3 “I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but 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 four 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.
Greatest Commandments: Love God with all you heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.
The first commandment given to God’s chosen people…then and now…asserts the claim of God to absolute sovereignty over the lives of his people. Without this fundamental declaration of divine authority over human lives, there would be no basis for any other of the commandments to follow. This is the first commandment, then, not only in order of their statement but in order of their internal coherence. It has to do with fixing priorities in human affairs.
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?
The Other Gods We Are Tempted to Follow
1 John 2:15-17 refers to an unholy trinity of pleasure, possessions, and position. 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).
These false gods are worshipped in many different forms, but everything that competes with the true God for first place in our lives comes under one of these three headings.
When pleasure becomes your god, work and duty become burdensome. Are we such a pleasure-mad people that we hate anything that smacks of work and duty? 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. You find yourself being devious and underhanded, and you begin to shade the truth in order to take unfair advantage in a business deal. What has happened? You have dethroned the Almighty God and put the Almighty Dollar in his place.
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.
The man or woman who spends a lifetime in pursuit of these idols will lose both them and his or her own soul. The individual whose priorities are right gains and cannot lose. The false gods of human experience promise things they cannot deliver. Sensuality, wealth, and fame certainly don’t guarantee happiness.
The “unholy trinity” cannot get us out of trouble. Creature pleasures won’t chase away depression, money can’t buy love, and fame will not make a marriage happy. All these things together will not secure eternal life, fellowship with God, or heaven.
- Live for pleasure and carnal satisfaction, and you will burn out and self-destruct! “For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Galatians 6:8a).
- 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. You will come to be able to “prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
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).
Paul took up this same theme of life priorities and put it this way: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3·1-3).
The Place of This Commandment for Us
If you understand now what God was asking of the Jews at Mt. Sinai, surely you see the relevance of this same command for us. If you are going to live by the rules, you will have to give God first place in your life and put the things of His kingdom first in your behavior.
Why are false doctrines ever taught among us? It is because somebody has not seen the Word of God alone as true and primary and has thought that his own superior knowledge and insight were as good as the commandments of God himself. Someone thought he could improve on the way God had ordered something done.
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.
Whenever we put what we want above what we know is right, we have broken the first rule of right living.
Paul explained this under the analogy of a man in military service. “No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him” (2 Tim. 2:14).
When someone is serving in the army, military obligations have full claim on him. He cannot run two or three private businesses while on duty. He is on service to his country, and that service demands his full time and attention.
In the same way, those of us who wear the name of Christ are on service for him. Twenty-four hours per day and seven days per week, his concerns must occupy our attention. Someone on service for Christ cannot carry on two or three sideline flirtations with the world. Kingdom business has to come first.
How did the first century Christians do in those first weeks/months following Pentecost?“
Acts 2:42-47 (NIV) Ac 42 (NIV) They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
How did it change within those first 50+ years?
Hebrews 2:1-4 (NIV) We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
Hebrews 3:7-12 (NIV) So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, 9 where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'” 12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
Hebrews 5:11-14 (NIV) We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. (no thros: Hebrews 6:12: We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. -lazy) 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 10:25-31 (NIV) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
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 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).
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.