When God gave the 10 commandments to the Israelites in the wilderness at Mount Sinai, the very first law He gave was “You are to have no other gods before me”. At first glance this command seems pretty straightforward and easy for any of us who are followers of Jesus to obey. However, if we take this command in context with the one that follows right after it and other scriptures which point back to this very first command, it is actually one that is much more in depth and intricate. For the Israelites, this was a command that they would find very easy to disregard and not take seriously. We will also take a holistic view of what this command truly means for us today so that we are able to better understand who our God truly is and where our loyalties should truly lie.
As the Lord was giving these very commands, which were to be the foundation for how they were to live and obey, the Israelites even then were falling away from Him. In Exodus 32, the people decided that they were tired of waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai and for them there was only one solution: to make a god out of gold to worship. Not only that, they were able to convince Moses’ brother Aaron to help them create the calf out of the jewelry they eagerly donated. Through the series of events that followed, Israel slowly and stubbornly began to recognize that the God of their fathers is not one to be ignored and that He is to be obeyed otherwise there will be consequences.
Shortly after their rebellious actions at Mount Sinai, Moses records these words found in Deuteronomy 6: “ you are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind”. Simply put, we are to place Him first in everything both internally and externally. It’s not just about physically having another “god” in our life but also understanding spiritually that we are having Him at the forefront of our thoughts and will in everything we say and do. Jesus later on in the gospel of Matthew states that not only are we to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind which is the greatest commandment, but that the only other command that we are to make sure we follow is to love our neighbor as ourselves. These two commands fulfill the law and the prophets. By loving God first and then others, it can help us eliminate other gods or idols in our lives.
One of my favorite examples of putting God first and serving and loving Him before anyone and anything else is the story of the TenBoom family during the time of World War Two. Years before the Axis rose and began taking over Europe, the TenBooms were a family known for their faith, and the love they had for God and for their neighbors within their little community of Haarlem in the Netherlands. When the Germans took over the city, they began hiding Jews in their home and providing them with safe places to stay. Most of the family was directly involved in resistance groups. Their reasoning for doing this was simple: Hitler was not god nor were they going to obey him over the laws of the one true God. This obedience to putting Him first came at a cost.
All of the members in the TenBoom family were affected greatly by this decision. In February of 1944 several members of the family were arrested and later taken to concentration camps. Two of the sisters, Corrie and Betsie, were sent to Ravensbruck a notorious prison camp known for its hard labor and high death rate. Even in the midst of the worst of living conditions, Betsie and Corrie began conducting Bible studies in the barracks and sharing the gospel with women and showing them firsthand the love of Christ even though they knew they could get in trouble for doing so. Even in the midst of darkness and terror, they continued to obey His voice. Shortly before her death in Ravensbruck, Betsie confidently stated with complete assurance, “there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still”.
After her miraculous release and the war was over, Corrie traveled all over the world sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and His love. She chose to keep Him first and serve Him despite losing everything, even the majority of her family because she served Him only and did not put anything or anyone over Him. Through her testimony, she was able to reach millions with the love of Christ and the joy that forgiveness and healing brings when we serve Him first. She and her family truly lived out the first commandment in their lives despite many repercussions and trials.
Loving and serving God first isn’t always easy. In fact for many, putting Jesus as our first love often is painful and difficult. Looking at the example of the TenBoom family, we have to really search our hearts and ask ourselves are we really willing to put Him first and love Him more than anything or anyone else? Jesus gave this admonishment to the disciples: “he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” ( Matthew 10:37). He knew that putting Him first would divide families and cause fiery testings of our faith.
This first commandment which God gave the Israelites at Mount Sinai centuries ago is not just a generic “don’t worship any other god” command. It is choosing to live a lifestyle that honors and loves Him first. It is a decision to serve Him and Him only no matter the circumstances- no matter the cost.