No Other Gods

John Calvin once described the inner motiva­tions of people in this way, “The poor yield to the rich, the common people to the nobles, the ser­vants to the masters, the ignorant to the schol­ars; but there is nobody who does not imagine that he is really better than the others. Everyone flatters himself and carries a kingdom in his bosom.” It is one of the most perceptive insights into the workings of the human heart to be found anywhere; and each of us can know how true it is by simple examining his own inner life. Honesty can only compel us to admit that we all stand guilty before the first commandment of God’s law. “Thou shalt have no other gods before thee.”

This commandment is first because it’s most basic. Once one has turned himself from the true God to another, the rest of the law is effec­tively gone. And, on the other hand, any time one breaks any of the other commandments he is rejecting this commandment as well. The first commandment is fundamental and cannot be ignored.

It began, of course, with Satan. He came to Adam and Eve in the garden and said, in effect, there was no reason why they should have to acknowledge God as their God. They could easily ignore him; they could be their own god; nothing bad would result. In fact, the implication was clearly there that it was actually arrogant and presumptuous for God to expect them to listen to him, or to suggest that any part of the cre­ation, even the fruit of one lone tree, could right­fully be withheld from them. That was Satan’s thought. He had devised it while among the angels; and since that time history has re­echoed it again and again.

Take the example of Pharaoh. Here was a man who had benefited immensely from Israel’s service, a people whose strength and faithfulness had been given to them by their God. Because of it, his nation had become the greatest and most prosperous in all the world. And yet, when he was reminded that Israel belonged first to this God, and they must be allowed freedom to wor­ship Him as He wished (Ex. 4:22, 23), Pharaoh was incensed. He was Pharaoh and he didn’t have to listen to anyone else. With fury, he answered Moses, Ex. 5:2, “I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.”

And it wasn’t greatly different with King Saul. He was given by God’s appointment a position to which he had no claim and no reason to expect. At first, to be sure, he seemed humbled and compliant (I Sam. 11); but once it came out that he was required to do what God desired (I Sam. 15), he set himself in resistance until his mind broke down in maddened distraction (I Sam. 18:10). He would not accept the fact that God is the only God.

And so it is with our world today; it will not recognize the God by which it was made. To be sure, Christians may worship if they wish; but public recognition of God becomes increasingly rare, and with it morality all but disappears. And the consequences are there. The same self-­destructive patterns which drove Pharaoh into the depth of the sea and Saul into wild hatred and psychotic distractions are working their way through the world in which we now live.

And you, Christian young people, are con­fronted with it.

You live in this world; and it beckons you to come along on this reeling course of self-infatua­tion which refuses to recognize the true God. There is only one thing sacred in our day; every­one must be left free to be his own god, to do alone what he or she wants. With this no one may be allowed to interfere.

And the fact is that you can understand this quite well. It comes easily to your way of think­ing, and you like it. There is something in the nature of each of us which feels very comfortable with the suggestion that we should each be left to do whatever we choose; and the world has devised countless ways of encouraging that. After all, what are the pleasures of this world but just so many ways of making you feel good about yourself, of making you feel that somehow you are bigger and more powerful than you really are. Isn’t it this that lies at the root of the rush of pleasure which comes from beating someone else at sport? Isn’t it the sublimation of being able to identify with the wild living of some fictitious character living another life than our own that gives the pleasure to fiction in books and film? What else is it that gives that momentary flush of satisfaction to intoxication through drink or drugs? To be, if only for a moment, like a god, to feel, no matter how unreal, that one can do whatever he wants; that is the pleasure of sin. To have some other god, that’s what it’s all about.

But “Thou shalt not.” There is another way, and it’s the only way that’s right. Life and living do not consist of doing what we want; life and living are found in having true fellowship with others. And this is only possible when one has true fellowship with God. But it means that we don’t live to do what we want, but that we live to respond to others, and above all that we respond to what is right and true. Life is real when we know that we are not our own (Ps. 100:3), and so we turn from ourselves to live in response to God Who made us. That is what the first command­ment is all about.