“In him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:28)
Why does the American legal system fight so hard to prevent the display of the Ten Commandments on government property? Certainly not because these laws forbid killing, stealing, or lying . These are in the horizontal relationships of life. It’s the first half of the Commandments that’s offensive to secularists, the ones that address our vertical relationship with the Almighty. There the Sovereign of the universe sets forth his demands on his creatures. And that, to the modern mind, is unacceptable religious interference with human rights.
Yet God put the first half first. He did that because our relationship with him is more important than our relationships with one another. In fact, a right relationship with him is the only sure foundation on which to build right relationships with one another.
The first four of the Ten Commandments are prohibitions of sin against God because Scripture holds that sin against God is more serious than sin against others. In the first place, sin against God is a violation of our love relationship with the infinite, holy One; it hurts him. But it not only hurts God; it also hurts us. God is the ultimate reality, the fundamental Being, the integrating factor of the universe. Therefore, to be rightly aligned with him is the most important relationship in human existence. To be in alignment with God’s reality and truth is life; to be out of alignment is destruction and death. Paul told the Athenians, “In him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). To leave God out of the equation of life or to diminish his role is utterly futile. God knows this, so his commandments simply reinforce the facts. He treats this relationship as the most important because it is the most important.
Yet it’s not simply a matter of reality and truth. God cares about this relationship. That’s why God’s people are compared to his wife in the Old Testament and to the bride of Christ in the New Testament. Scripture repeatedly calls God a jealous God; he claimed that himself in Exodus 20:5. The word for jealous in the Old Testament is the same word used when a husband is jealous for the affection of his wife. This jealousy isn’t a petty envy of legitimate competition. It’s a profound caring and total unwillingness to allow any other to replace the prior, ultimate love relationship. The term jealous indicates that it makes a difference to God whether we are rightly related to him.
The first commandment, “Do not have other gods besides Me” (Ex. 20:3), has to do with our heart attitude, our thoughts, and our personal relationship with God. But God is also interested in our deeds, what we do about the way we feel. So the second command addresses the way we behave toward God. Furthermore, He is concerned about our words, how we use his name, and what we say about him, so there’s a third commandment. And the fourth sets aside special times in our lives that are devoted to cultivating our relationship with God and centering our lives in him. These commandments make it clear that God is interested in deeds and words as well as in thoughts. What are some actions in your life indicating that God has first priority for you?
The manifestations of having other gods seem almost limitless. Pride, when I take or accept credit for what God has done. Unbelief—worrying that God can’t handle a situation. Or trusting someone else, like myself. To trust my own wisdom or capabilities to accomplish God’s will is to displace him as the trustworthy one. A weak prayer life betrays what we really think about God. What or whom do you enjoy being with more than with God?