The First and Greatest Commandment

Exodus 20:1-3

The year the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, Vince Lombardi, their coach, opened up summer camp by holding up in his right hand a football. “Gentlemen,” Lombardi said, “this is a football.” These guys had been playing the game for years they all knew what a football was! What’s was Lombardi’s point—they needed to get back to the very basics of football if they were going to be successful.

The Ten Commandments fashion the very basics for life. If we are going to successful at life, we need to get back to these foundational rules. If we want to be honest about life, we need to ask that probing question, “What is FIRST and GREATEST in my life?”

The legal experts of Jesus’ day believed THE LAW was the most important thing in life. They debated, however, over which of the many commandments was the greatest. They divided the commandments into “heavy” and “light” and separated the “ritual laws” and the “moral laws.” It got to the place that the smallest detail of the ritual law was as binding as the great moral laws of God! The Pharisees thought they could trap Jesus by forcing Him to take sides on this controversial theological issue. Thus, we read in Matthew 22:35-40—

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 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.”

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Love for God and love for one’s neighbor—these two commandments sum up the entire Law. This is the true heart of religion—this is the most important thing in life.

How do you “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?” If you’re going to keep this First and Greatest Commandment, you need to understand what it requires. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment along with the second sum up the Law and Prophets What LAW? In general, the Books of Moses, and in particular THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, which divide into two major divisions. One part deals with man’s relationship to God and the other part deals with man’s relationship to man.

Although, eight of the Ten Commandments are stated negatively, they each are positive in impact. Each has powerful positive implications for relationship with God and other human beings. Whenever an evil is forbidden, the opposite good is implied.

Thus, Jesus sums up the commandments with the positive commands to love God and one’s neighbor. The Ten Commandments are far more than ten rules to live by. They reveal the structure of our faith relationship with God, and the structure of our moral relationship with others. Today as in OT times the Ten Commandments reveal God, and they continue to guide us into loving, healthy relationships with the LORD and with one another.

The first Four Commandments tell us how to love God. We will look at the first one this morning from Exodus 20:1-3—

And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

If you have an NIV Bible, notice in the footnotes that the phrase BEFORE ME can be translated BESIDES ME. However, one might translate this phrase; the command is to be absolutely loyal to Yahweh, rejecting all other gods.

No god, real or imagined, is to rival the one true God, who is the only One who matters. There is no place for a second god. God is to have supreme loyalty in our life, which means all instincts and passions and fancies obey Him. If another or something else receives our loyalty, it is our god.

Therefore, it should not surprise us that Paul calls Satan “the god of this age” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. Satan is the prince of this world and the whole world lies in wickedness.

The sin against this commandment, which we are most in danger of, is giving that glory to any creature, which is due to God only. Pride makes a God of us, covetousness makes a god of money, and sensuality makes a god of the belly. Whatever is loved, feared, delighted in, or depended on, more than God that we make a god of.

In this sense, there are many “gods,” yet the First Commandment condemns POLYTHEISM, which is the BELIEF in more than one god. There is no commandment against ATHEISM. Atheism did not exist in Moses’ day. The atheists begin to appear during the time of King David, and they were called fools.

Today it is popular to worship no god. People are not willing to accept the revelation of God in creation, His Word and His Son, Jesus Christ. It was popular to worship many gods at the time God gave the Ten Commandments. The apostle Paul elaborates on the popularity of polytheism of his day in Romans 1:21-25—

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is for ever praised. Amen.

People exchanged God’s truth for Satan’s lie. What is Satan’s lie? Worshiping the creature and not the Creator; worshiping man instead of God; worshiping things instead of Christ.

God will not play second fiddle! The First Commandment leaves no doubt as to the position God wants in our lives. He demands our first allegiance. He will not play second fiddle! Egypt is the proof.

The First Commandment is not a formal declaration of the truth that there is but ONE GOD. That truth had been made evident with the Ten Plagues and is formally asserted in Deuteronomy 4:34—

Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.

Israel’s survival necessitated a deathblow to polytheism. Egypt, among the most polytheistic nations history has known, boasted over 2,000 different gods and goddesses. To prove His superiority over these gods, Yahweh directed each of the ten plagues against a different deities they worshiped. Other races might worship other gods, but the Israelites were bound to serve Yahweh.

If I withhold my service from any god, if I observe no ceremonies in its honor, if I never worship in its temples, if I abstain from any acknowledgment of its divine claims, it soon ceases to be a god to me. This is what the Israelites were to do with all other gods except Yahweh.

YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME also means that we cannot serve God with a divided heart. Jesus warns in Matthew 6:24—

No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.

The Bible does not condemn the possession of wealth, but it does warn against the love of money and the wrong use of wealth. It is simply impossible to love money and to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” One cannot offer total commitment to two different masters, since one will inevitably take precedence over the other.

Have things become your god? Jesus’ warning is meant to make us ask whether the Lord God Almighty occupies the central place in our life or whether things obscure Him.

What do you think most about? What receives the most time? What consumes the most energy? Your home, car, vacation, bank account, clothes, TV, or investments? Do you treasure any of these things? According to Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Martin Luther asked, “What means it to have a god?” Luther replies, “Whatever thy heart clings to and relies upon, that is properly thy God.”

And it is just here that we find ourselves today in the peril of old polytheism against which the First Commandment forbids. Whatever we place before God is our god!

Colossians 3:5 says, GREED IS IDOLATRY. Philippians 3:18-19 spells out the destiny of those who put their stomachs before God—

For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

Anything that we give ourself to, especially in abandonment, becomes our god. Many people do not worship BACCHUS, the cloven-footed Greek and Roman god of wine and revelry of long ago, but they worship the bottle and partying just the same.

A lot of propaganda is being fed to this generation and large groups of young people are being brainwashed. At high schools and universities, some students live to party. Whether they recognize it, they worship the god BACCHUS. Other people worship APHRODITE, that is, the goddess of sex. Some adore their houses and they would give their lives for them. They do not talk about PENATES, the ancient Roman deities of hearth and household, but they worship them. Some are devoted to their vocations. Others worship MINERVA, the goddess of wisdom.

Some individuals deliberately set before themselves pleasure as their chief god, or even mere physical strength and prowess. And if they have no such gods outside themselves to worship then they become their own god. Worshiping at the altar of SELF is the worst of all sins. Paul warns in 2 Timothy 3:1-4—

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

Everyone needs some diversion from the monotonies of life. But legitimate amusements and innocent pleasures have a way of captivating the heart. The entertainment pages of any city newspaper reveal how deeply the god of pleasure has invaded all areas of society. Devotees by the thousands crowd into arenas, stadiums, movies, and nightclubs. And often they crowd out God.

Some worship status like the Pharisees, who sought out the chief seats at banquets. Others want to be in Who’s Who or have their names in the newspaper often, or have buildings, rooms, or avenues named after them. Some dream of seeing their names in bright lights, or given top billing in a list of credits. Still others crave a presidency or chairpersonship, so they can revel in the prestige, position, and power. This is their life, their all.

Some get all wrapped up in worthy causes which become their total life—a political party, Little League, the scouts, the fire department, the PTA, “world peace”—One’s all-consuming passion might be a profession or hobby. Strangely, one’s idol could be a religious project: “the biggest Sunday School in the area” or “the best attended morning worship service in town” or “the most active youth group in the city” or “the best missionary giving church in the denomination.”

Anything to which we give our time, heart, and soul, may become our God. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 10:31 counsels—

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT ALL FOR THE GLORY OF GOD—that’s the balance each and every person who loves God needs to bring into their life. How do we achieve that balance? Romans 12:1-2 tells us—

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We discover God’s will and those things that are pleasing in His sight in His Word—the Bible. Those who do not offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God are making compromises every day between God and the world, between the Spirit and the flesh, between duty and inclination, between the present life, and the life to come.

A human life ought to be the temple of God; but people who acknowledge this in their doctrine, creed and give expression to it in their weekly worship, systematically leave the presence of the one God to make a very pantheon on their lives, admitting one and then another god, often as conflicting as the diverse altars of the ancient world of polytheism.

We confess the greatness and goodness of God—His majesty as the Creator of the Heavens and Earth, of angels and of men But the confession is mere tradition if there is no devout awe in His presence. When you are worshiping the LORD, is your heart hushed with reverence and fear? Is there a fire of rapture in your praise and song?

Do you delight in the law of the LORD? And on His Law meditate day and night? Have you put your hope in His Word? Are you seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness? Do you hate every wrong path and keep your feet from every evil path so that you might obey His Word?

About these things, there can be no compromise. Such love as His demands complete love and loyalty in return. His religion cannot be a matter or preference, it must be a passion!

Christ will not receive half-hearted disciples, with one eye on the Kingdom and one eye on the world. Jesus said in Matthew 10:36-39—

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

In other words, not even our love of family or self can come before Christ. The First and Greatest Commandment is to love God with our entire being, not our family or ourself. The pulls and tugs in all areas of life are so strong that we need to be crucified each day according to Jesus in Luke 9:23—

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

It is impossible to follow Jesus each day if we do not die to self daily. To come to Jesus is to come to the end of self and sin and to become so desirous of Christ and His righteousness that we will make any sacrifice for Him. We can only love Christ that way because “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Galatians 5:24-26 adds—

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Jesus stands outside the door till we offer Him full entrance and undivided possession of our heart. This is the picture Christ paints in His letter to the Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22—

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, `I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’

But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to
the churches.”

What’s the problem with this Church? IT IS LUKEWARM—neither cold or hot! The people have a divided heart—they trust their possessions and riches, but they are poor, pitiful, blind and naked.

What a picture of apostate churches of today. They have prestige, wealth, or political power, yet all the while are spiritually poor. Christ wants them to have the true riches of the Word of God, the garments of grace, and the ability to see spiritual things. But there is something wrong with their values, their vesture, and their vision. These churches have wealth and power, but not Christ—He is standing on the outside knocking on the door, asking to be let inside.

The majority of the members of an apostate church are totally indifferent toward Christ. He is left outside their plans and programs, and their hearts.

The First and Greatest Commandment was dead in another church. In Revelation 2:4-5, Christ wrote to the Church of Ephesus —

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

To the public, the Ephesian Church was successful; to Christ, it had fallen. His counsel to them is: remember, repent, repeat the first works. If the church does not get its heart back in the right condition, the lampstand will be removed. The local church is to shine as a light in the world. Without true love for Christ, its light will go out.

The First and Greatest Commandment to love God and others is a reality for a minority of the members of five of the seven churches of Revelation to whom Christ writes. He identifies this minority as OVERCOMERS and He calls upon the majority to repent!

It is because God’s love is infinite that it comes with such infinite claims. It is to insult Him to offer a bit of our hearts, to present a scant measure of love to Him who has poured such full measure into our cup of life, who has loved us and given Himself for us.

He will not compete with other gods. The Savior must be King, or He cannot even be Savior. There is no safety for you till you “love the LORD God with with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

What is the First and Greatest thing in your life? Is it loving God? Do you seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness? Whatever you do, do you do it for the glory of God?

Think about when you were saved? Do you love Christ more or less? Is your love cold? Is it hot? Is it lukewarm? Keep in mind that Christ constantly judges everyone who professes to know Him— He looks right into your heart! Does He see you at this very moment as an overcomer?

If you never have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, He is standing outside the door of your heart knocking and asking to come in.


If you have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, you may have forsaken your first love and He is saying to you right now through the Holy Spirit—

“Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”

How do you repent? Confess, Commit and Crucify. CONFESS your sin of not loving God with all your heart, soul and mind. COMMIT yourself (with the Spirit’s help) not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. CRUCIFY the sinful nature with its passions and desires—live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. Offer your body as a living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Seal your confession, commitment and crucifixion with prayer.

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