The First Commandment
The very first commandment declares that there is but one God. This is the key concept upon which all the rest of the commandments hang. Without first having a definition of God, everything else falls apart.
To obey the first commandment is to recognize the risen Lord in our lives. Whenever we see an idea that is true-good, or whenever we feel the presence of genuine love, we are sensing the one God.
When we look around us and consider that nothing is unaffected by the Lord—that He knows all things, is everywhere, and has all power to do good—the Lord becomes more and more our sole God. We place Him before us; we see Him in a real and lasting way.
You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God ...
The warning about carved images (idolatry), applies when we allow anything to prevent us from receiving His life into ours. We are not likely to worship physical images, as the ancients did. But while we may not bow down before wood and stone, there are numerous other gods which call to us.
We can allow people to come between us and the Lord. Ancestor worship is not obvious in western culture, but it occurs when a person is locked into a profession or pattern of behavior by family traditions or expectations. Fawning over media sensations—politicians, actors, sports figures—can verge on worshiping false images. For when we accept the ideas they propose without seeking Divine direction or using our own rational minds, we have removed the Lord as our only God.
There are also many things of this world which can become idols to us. We are surrounded by incredible wealth, with the ability to purchase anything we really need, and much that we believe we cannot do without. Our five senses can be overwhelmed with the apparently unlimited number of pleasures this world holds. We can be seduced by all of this. We can become so preoccupied with all that money can buy that we subtly shift from worshiping the Lord to worshiping “things.” Idolatry exists whenever we focus our attention on superficial or natural things, for then the Lord is neglected and eventually forgotten.
But the most powerful idol of all is ourselves. Our wants, our desires, our goals can become so important to us that we sell everything we have to satisfy them, and not to purchase pearls of great price. The affection we feel for ourselves can divert us from the Lord and our neighbors. The more we think of ourselves, the more we pay attention to ourselves, the less time and energy we will have for the Lord.
All these are idols. This means that we are not to make up excuses or justifications which make the worship of idols appear to have value. Our reasoning ability can help us see the Lord’s ways, or it can mold self-love and love of the world and love of things. They can fascinate and obsess, but they cannot bring inner or lasting happiness. This comes from recognizing the one God of heaven and earth as our Lord and Savior.