The husband had bought one of those statues of Christ, brought it home and put it in the den. About a week later Mama moved it and put it in the kitchen. The little 5-year-old girl went to see it, and when it wasn’t where it usually was, she came into the kitchen and said, “Mama, where did you put God?”
Now there are a lot of people who need to answer that question, “Where did you put God?” Where do you put God in your life? This first commandment is that kind of searching commandment that asks us the question, “Who is God of your life?” or “What gods are in control of your life?”
I want you to get the picture. God has taken Moses up to the top of Mt. Sinai. We do not know exactly where that mountain is; we know the vicinity, but we do not know exactly which mountain. There are two or three that are pretty close together and any of them could fit the description. But on the mountain, God and Moses had a conversation. We do not know all that he said, but maybe it went something like this:
Our Heavenly Father said to Moses, “I’m going to send our people into a promised land. It’s a land flowing with milk and honey. It will have everything that you need for successful and prosperous living. I have seen to it that you have everything that you need for successful and prosperous living. I have seen to it you have in the land, but it is how you live in the land that is important. And so I’m going to write with my own finger Ten Commandments. If you will obey them, then you will be happy, and I will bless generation after generation. If you do not follow these commandments, you will not be blessed, and I will turn My back on you.”
So Moses came down with those tablets called “The Ten Commandments.” I’m sure that any of you who went to see the movie, “The Ten Commandments,” got your picture from that. I think I did. I went when I was little. I thought Cecil B. DeMille did a good job with it, and I particularly liked when it showed them crossing the Red Sea. Those walls of water went up with that sea, and those children of Israel walked through — that was the most amazing thing. I was so happy I was a Christian, and on God’s side! I tell you I nearly shouted at the movie and I wasn’t a shouting Baptist at that time. I just got happy that I had a God like that that can separate the great Red Sea and let His children through. And we have a God like that today because He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Well, we got a picture of Moses — or Charlton Heston — coming down from the mountain with those two tablets. I will never forget it. And I used to think that the Ten Commandments were given as “Thou Shalt Not’s” …you know, just kind of negative. But the more I live and study the Word of God I see that these are positive principles for powerful living.
You will remember that Jesus said, “I did not come to tear away any of the law, I did not come to put any of that down. I came to fulfill it.” So God intended them for us, and I believe, as He told Moses, “These commandments are good not only for My people, but for all people for all times.” Let’s look at them.
Notice the first thing about them is that they are a series of principles. God does not break them down to A, B, C, E, and then point, 1, 2, 3, 4. He just gives ten commandments and their principles, and you can follow them throughout the Bible. God is specific with His principles. He lets the Holy Spirit lead us into fulfillment of these principles.
You will notice secondly that they are guidelines about two basic things of life. Reverence for God are the first four, respect for our fellow man are the next six. They are guidelines to how we can reverence God and respect our fellow man — that’s basic to living, isn’t it?
Third, you will notice that they are basic for common existence, so that life can go on in all nations. All nations pattern their rules and their society after the Ten Commandments. Wherever the Ten Commandments are not sought after to be protected by man, and the law is not set after these ten commandments, you will find chaos in that society, and it will not long endure. It is a basic for the common existence of the whole human race. It has never been improved on and it never will.
You will notice the fourth thing about them, and that is that they are unique in the sense that they are the only recorded words written directly by God. He wrote them with His finger on stone tablets, they were placed in the Ark of the Covenant, the children of Israel carried them wherever they went, along with Aaron’s budding rod and the pot of manna. They were put in the Ark of the Covenant and kept as the uniqueness of God. It was the only thing that He ever wrote personally, though He wrote through men; it was the only thing that He put His finger on, and said, “This is from Me to you.”
Fifth, you will see that they are based on love. He had delivered His people from bondage and slavery. He didn’t bring them to this promised land to punish them. He brought them out, and said, “Out of My love for you, and out of My desire for you to live abundantly in the promised land, with love, I give you these commandments.”
Notice the sixth thing about them is that they have a unique number of ten. What is unique about it? The number ten in the Bible is symbolic of completeness. There didn’t need to be anymore. When Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment?” He just went right back and summed up those ten commandments. They haven’t been improved on. They are complete — you can’t add anymore.
The seventh thing about them is that they do not enforce themselves. They are there. You can read them now as you have read them many times. I memorized them when I was young. Everyone of them is still there, but they don’t enforce themselves. Who enforces them? The Law-giver. The One who gave the law, enforces the law. God made certain laws and He says that if you abide by them you will be blessed; if you break them, you will be crushed. And if we defy any of these, God will break us. It is just as plain as that.
I hope we’re not as stupid as the man that said that he didn’t believe that the law of gravity works. So he climbed up to the top of a fifty-story building. He was going to fly. He jumped off, and at the twenty-fifth floor somebody yelled out the window and said “How are you doing?” and he said “So far, so good!” Well, there are a lot of folks who say “Well, I broke that one, and that one, and God hasn’t done anything to me yet!” “So far, so good” But he’s got twenty-five more stories, and that’s the end of it, you see. No, they break us, we don’t break them.
There is an eighth thing, and that is that they are a mirror. The Bible says in the New Testament they are a mirror to show what we really are. They are a school master, the Bible says, to show us that we can’t keep them and fulfill them–to show us that if we tried to save ourselves by keeping the Ten Commandments it would be impossible. Everybody has broken at least one of those Ten Commandments. Some folks have broken all of them. Every once in a while I run into somebody and ask them about their relationship with the Lord Jesus, and they will say, “Well, I try to keep the Ten Commandments,” as if they’ve done it. No, nobody has kept the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments tell us what God expects, and grace says, “You couldn’t do it, so you need to have help,” because no man has kept them.
Over on Blackwell’s Island, an island where criminals are buried, on one of the tombstones it says something like, “Here lies the fragments of John Smith. John Smith played football with the Ten Commandments. He contradicted them and they broke him. He is survived by his wife and a mother; they alone weep for him. May God have mercy on his soul.”
The Ten Commandments mirror our failure as human beings and standard for life.
And then the last thing is, that they are to instill powerful living and joy in our lives, not fear. You see, God wants to bring faith, joy, peace and love in our lives. When a person does the best they can do to follow the Lord through Jesus Christ, and keep the commandments, that brings powerful and joyful living. You see, a person that’s keeping the law, that’s doing what’s right, that’s seeking God with all his heart — doesn’t have to fear. It’s like the criminal who breaks the law; he’s afraid of every policeman. He’s afraid of every squad car because he knows they may be looking for him. And when a man breaks the law, goes against God and does that which God isn’t pleased with, that brings fear. But when a man knows Christ in his heart and seeks to keep His way, that brings joy and power in living.
Some people look at the Ten Commandments and they say, “Oh, look at all those negatives! That must be what Christianity is like.” I heard about a missionary who went to a nation that had a group of cannibals. He went in to get the cannibals, to try to reach them with the gospel. He was a “hard-nose missionary,” and he was dealing with some “hard-nose” cannibals. (They are the kind that sharpen their teeth to get a better bite on their enemy.)
So he sat down eye-ball to eye-ball with the chief, who, by this time didn’t have any teeth left. He was just the old chief, the old patriarch of the tribe. The missionary was telling him what it meant to be a Christian, and how God expected him to live.
After he had explained the gospel, the old chief said, “Does that mean that I will have to give up my many wives?” He said, “Yes.” The chief said, “Does that mean that I cannot hide in the jungle, ambush my enemy and kill them?” He said, “Yes.” The chief said “Does that mean that I cannot go into the other tribes and steal from them and enjoy what I steal?” He said, “Yes.” The old cannibal chief bowed his head and said, “Well I’m too old to do that anyway, now. It looks like being a Christian and being old are the same thing!”
There are a lot of folks that think that. They think that God is here to take away all the joy in life, to take away the privilege of living. You can’t do anything that is not either immoral, illegal, or fattening. What’s left? No joy in living. God didn’t do it that way. He gave us these to help us to enjoy life.
Some people say, “Well, God is just looking over the rafters of heaven saying, “They are having a good time down there. ‘Stop it!’ ‘Don’t you do that anymore!'” They are kind of like the woman hollering to her husband, “See what the baby is doing, and stop him!” She doesn’t know what the baby is doing; she just says “Stop him!” “Whatever they are doing down there, Gabriel, stop them!” “If they are having a good time, Michael, tell them to stop it!”
That’s not what the Ten Commandments are given for. They are given in order that we might have positive, powerful living and it begins with acknowledgement of the first one. What does it say? “Thou shalt have no other God before Me.” Let’s look at it.
First of all, that is a great discovery. The greatest discovery of all is when Israel learned to say, “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord thy God is one God.” You say, why is that important? Because they lived in a time that was “polytheistic”; that means “many gods.” There were gods to Baal, gods to Moloch, gods to Mammon. They worshipped frogs, the sun, the moon, stars, trees, rivers, mountains, everything! Everything that moved and didn’t move, they worshipped. God said, “No, there’s one true God. You don’t worship these things.” And that’s why He dealt so harshly with Egypt.
When the plagues came on Egypt, nearly every plague contradicted a god they worshipped. For instance, you remember that God sent all those frogs. Why? Because, you see, Egypt worshipped the frog; the frog was a deity. You can go to the Egyptian museum and you can see the tremendous exhibition of King Tut’s riches. And you will see a frog that used to hang around his neck. You look through that glass case and you see that frog. What did God do? He said, “I’m going to give you a few!” So, they had frogs in the soup, frogs in the beds, frogs in Pharoah’s palace, frogs under the chariot wheels, frogs here, frogs there, frogs everywhere! God Said, “You loved frogs, now you’ve got them!” And the folks said, “Oh, we don’t want these frogs. Get rid of them!” And God did. It was a time when people worshipped everything.
Then came “Henotheism.” Henotheism is where you worship one god at one time in your nation, but acknowledge that there may be other gods in other nations. For instance, Solomon’s wives from other lands brought their gods with them, the Bible says. And they began to distort the worship of the one true God, leading to the downfall of Israel.
Do you remember when Ahab married Jezebel? Jezebel brought her god into Israel, and brought downfall to the kingdom. So, why did God say this? It is not one god for one nation, it’s not many gods. There is one true God in the whole world, and His Name is “The Lord, Thy God”.
The word “Lord” is very important here. It is made up of three words: it means, “The God who now is, The God who was, and the God who shall be.” That’s why when Moses went to call on old Pharoah, he said, “What am I going to tell him? I’ve been gone for forty years! What am I going to tell old Pharoah?” God said, “Here is My calling card. Tell him, I Am sent you.” Why did He say, “I Am”? He’s Jehovah God, the God, Who Am (used to be) the God Who Am (now) and the God, Am (Always Going To Be). That’s who “I Am” is. “The Lord thy God Am, that’s all you need to say. That’s my calling card.” God means, “The One all-powerful God.” The Lord, the God Who was, the God who is, the God Who shall be, Thy God, the omnipotent, all-powerful God Who says, “There are no other gods. I am the only One.”
You say, “Well, that makes sense.” But there’s got to be discernment. If a man comes to that discovery he’s got to discern, because when God said, “Thou shalt have no other gods,” He was saying, “You shall have Me.”
Man is going to have a god. He may have many gods, but he is going to have a god. Man’s heart was made to worship god. That’s why there is no place in the Bible that says “Thou shalt not be an atheist.” Why? Because until the time of David they didn’t even know atheism. David said, “The fool said in his heart, there is no god.” I don’t care how intellectual a man is, the Bible doesn’t say “Thou shalt not be an atheist.” It takes for granted that most folks know that there is one God. “Thou shalt have no other god.” That’s what He said.
You say, “Well, I’m glad I live in the twentieth century!” I don’t worry about worshipping Baal or Moloch or a frog, or a turkey, or whatever. I don’t do that so I’m up-to-date.” But do you know what happens to the modern, up-to-date man? He makes his own gods. And he worships them. Who are they? Listen to them, one of them may be yours.
It may be the God of possessions, the god, “What I Can Get.” That’s my god. That, unfortunately, has become the god of many Americans. Dr. Stanford Reed said America might have to lose her standard of living to understand that the most important values of life are not in what we have. I hope the President has the “stick-ability” to stay with his program, because any government that has a trillion dollar deficit and has no way of paying it off is stupid! How in the world did we ever let it happen? And it’s going to take a bit out of all of us.
A group of guys were talking down at the spa the other day, and it was all right as long as it was taking a bite out of the farmers or taking a bite out of the union, or taking a bite of this or that. “But if he’s gonna cut mine” he didn’t like it. It was all right to cut everybody else but “Don’t cut mine!” That is human nature.
We’ve all got to bite the bullet, or we’re going to lose everything anyway, so we might as well learn that possessions are not our god, and there is plenty. The god of plenty, the all-mighty dollar is worshipped more than the All Mighty. The Wall Street Journal is more fervently read than the Bible. More time is spent looking at the stock exchange than thinking about God.
Like the woman said of her husband, “For the last fifteen years my husband has worshipped money. He never had much of it, but that was his god.” Is the “god of Plenty” raised at your house?
Maybe it’s the god of Pride, the god of Who I am, the god of What I Have Done, the god of Self. I heard the other day they have a list of people who seemed to feel the best about themselves. That’s really interesting. It’s good to feel good about yourself. If you don’t feel good about yourself, you can’t feel good about anyone else. But, pride can get in the way if Christ isn’t Lord, and many worship the god of Pride.
Some worship the god of Persons. The god of Persons can be a sweetheart, a mate, a child, another person, or another relationship, and that person becomes the god of our lives. And, like the tombstone, “Here lies – the child – she was the only child and her death made shipwreck of parents.”
Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, engaged to a lovely young lady, took her with him to a meeting. Hundreds of people had come. As they were waiting to get in, they were jostled apart and the crowd separated them. He made his way to the rostrum to preach, and after it was over, his pouting girlfriend said to him, “Charles, you brought me tonight, and yet you separated yourself from me, and I don’t like it!” Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “Darling, I want to tell you something. When I come to a great crowd where there are people to hear me preach, suddenly I’m overwhelmed with the awesome responsibility before God to preach the truth. And I think of nothing else but God in those moments.” He said, “Maybe it’s a good thing that this happened, because you’re going to have to make a decision. Either you will play second place to God, or we’ll not marry.” And that girl had to choose that God was going to be God in her husband’s life.
God says that to us today. “No other person must come before Me that becomes your idol: children, your mate, your parents, your best friend cannot be the idol. I’m the only God — one true God.”
Maybe it’s pleasure you’ve bowed down to so long. You know the God of Pleasure. We in the U.S. know it. There is nothing wrong with a vacation; nothing wrong with the arena or the stadium; nothing wrong with the beach, the boat — nothing wrong with these things that break the monotony of life. Thank God for them! But they can be worshipped. And when these gods take the place of the One True God, when the time they demand takes the place of God’s time, when they take a person out of church, out of ministry, out of worship, out of service, they become a god. And God says, “No! You don’t. I am God, not your pleasure.”
Pleasure can be translated in other ways, such as sex. The goddess of sex is worshipped in the U.S. to the extent that broken homes, broken hearts and broken lives have been broken on her altar too frequently.
I talked to a young man recently — strong, stalwart, nice-looking, healthy, in his late 20’s, I would presume. He said to me, “Haven’t I seen you before?” And I said, “Maybe.” He said, “Aren’t you a Baptist preacher?” I said, “Yes, I am” He said, “Are you ever on television?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He said, “Are there any nice girls down there?” I said, “Yes, there are. Hundreds of them. Why don’t you come on down?” He said, “Well, I want to come to church. I am not coming exactly to get a girl, but I want to tell you something, Preacher. I lost my first wife. I have a little boy and I want to have a happy home for him. I have found women that will drink, take drugs, shack up with you — they will do everything.”
And he said, “I don’t want a woman like that. I am not the best example of a man,” but he said, “I want to tell you something else, and you may not like it, but some of them go to the churches and they sit up there and act one way on Sunday, and they go out and live like the rest of the girls. I am scared to death that I am going to get tied in with that kind, and I don’t want that kind of girl. I want a girl that doesn’t take drugs, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t throw her body around. I want a nice girl, or I will never marry again.”
Too many girls, women and men have offered their lives, bet their homes, taken the risk of a mistress or of an affair with another person for the pleasure of a few moments. They have offered their all on the altar of pleasure and God says, “No!”
Maybe it is a project, maybe it is the God of a project. President of the PTA; get this cultural thing done for my community. See that world peace comes, that the strike is broken, and this consumes my energy and time. I don’t have time for You, God. God says, “That is your god, then.”
Maybe it is the god of Prominence. I am going to work hard so that they will recognize me in this. I am going to work hard so I will be president of this, and I am going to work hard so I will get a promotion in this. I am going to be prominent, whatever it costs. And many people worship that god today.
I heard about a woman who moved into a very affluent neighborhood. She went into one of these communities where your background and pedigree made all the difference in how you were accepted. A lady said to the newcomer, “My dear, did your forefathers come over on the Mayflower?” And the quick-thinking woman said, “No, but mine were there to meet the boat.”
To some folks that is their god, that is all they see, that is all they know. God says, “No!, that is not it.” Being prominent is not the meaning of power, of positive living.
Did you read the column about Barry Manilow? I like to hear Barry sing most of his songs, but he said that “superstar panic” had set in on him. He said, “Being at the level I have reached is nice, but it is awful, too. It gets under your skin and you can lose your perspective. I have to keep telling myself that there is more in life than this business.”
Prominence doesn’t satisfy you, pleasure doesn’t satisfy you, pride doesn’t satisfy you, persons won’t satisfy you, projects won’t satisfy you, plenty won’t satisfy you, possessions won’t satisfy you. Only God can satisfy.
That leads to a great decision. What is your god? I am going to tell you what your god is today. Listen carefully. Your god is the thing that molds your life, and that to which you give most of your time. You say, “I have to work for a living.” I am not talking about working for a living. I am talking about what molds your life. That is your god. Either God molds it, or one of these other gods do. You will not be a vacuum. Somebody or something is going to get everybody. Who or what will get you? Where do you put God? Or should I say, “Who or what will get you?”
H.G. Wells said, “Until a man has found God he begins at no beginning and comes to no end.” You remember Dr. Faust? Christopher Marlowe wrote about Dr. Faust. Supposedly, he was a physician who lived back around 1500, and gave 25 years of his life to the devil in exchange for anything that he wanted. For 25 years the devil said, “you can have anything you want; anything your heart desires. But at the end of it, I get you.” For 25 years he gave himself to the devil and the devil gave him everything that he wanted. At the last of it, the devil came to require his soul.
There are three stages. The sinner stage shows Satan pulling Dr. Faust off into eternal torment. The light is bright and as Dr. Faust cries out, he says, “Oh, that I were a tear that I might drown myself in my sorrow!” And the light goes down on the center stage, and then a light comes up in the background and it shows another stage and there are three crosses. On the middle one hangs Jesus Christ, and Dr. Faust stops for a moment, looks at Jesus Christ and His broken and bleeding body, and he says, “Oh, to think a drop, just half-a-drop, and I would have been spared this!” Then Satan drags him off into eternity and the choir sings, “The Branch That Was Cut Off, The Branch That Was Cut Off.” Dr. Faust chose the wrong god. Which god will you choose today?
They asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment.” He went right back to number one and said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy mind, all thy soul, and all thy strength.” That is the greatest commandment and the second is, “Love thy neighbor as yourself and you shall live.”
Do you want to live today? “Who is your god?” Won’t you take Jesus Christ as your Savior and your God and say, “There shall be no other god before Him? I will take Jesus and His shed blood on the cross as my Lord and my God.” Won’t you do that today?