This is the first of a ten part series about the meaning of the Ten Commandments. Traditionally, they are read during the Lenten Season to remind us of our duties before God and neighbor.
The first commandment seems straightforward enough. "I am the Lord your God...you shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3) Most of us modern people read that and say to ourselves, "Well, I keep that very well. I do not have any stone figures that I worship or have any pictures I say prayers to so I think I obey the first commandment completely." The idea of not having any other gods, however, does not just have to do with idols made of stone or wood (that is the 2nd commandment's admonition). It has to do with putting anything in life in a place within our lives that would separate us from our devotion to God.
God was trying to tell the people of Israel that no other deities would have a higher place in their lives than Yahweh the God of Israel. They were surrounded by people of other lands (their names are repeated here and there in the Old Testament, many of them end with -ite). Each group of people had its own distinctive deity to which they would offer sacrifices. The people of Israel were often tempted to turn their attention or devotion to the deities of the other lands when they wanted to win a battle against an enemy or when it did not rain for a long period of time or when they feared calamity may befall them. Often if they looked at the countryside in a surrounding area and saw green fields in comparison to their dry, dusty ones they would begin to think that maybe offering a sacrifice to the deity of that land may bring them rain and good fortune. After all, what would it hurt?
The God of Israel, Yahweh, wanted the full attention and devotion of the people whom Yahweh called by the name Israel. He would not be second place to them and became angry when they did sacrifice to foreign gods. The people learned again and again that Yahweh was the sole deity that they could address or adore.
So, what does all that have to do with the lives of modern people or with modern Christians? If we do not worship or possess a stone figure or some form of picture then why should we worry about the first commandment at all? Perhaps devotion to another god does not require a concrete object to possess. Perhaps the idea of worshiping another god may be more personal in nature and have more to do with priorities in our lives than with giving devotion to an object of some kind.
What place does God have in the life you live today? What priority do you give that God when you consider the use of your time or resources? What do you do with your time that may be wasteful or even harmful? What do you spend your resources on that may bring harm to your life or the lives of others? Perhaps when we consider the answers to such questions for our own lives we may find that the attention we give to other areas of life and the lack of attention we give to the inclusion of God in our lives may reveal an absence of devotion to God and a great amount of attention to things in life that may not be the best for us.
There may be areas of life wherein we use our resources in ways that harm ourselves or others. We may not even realize the extent to which we bring harm upon ourselves until we reflect upon it. Anything in life that becomes an obsession to us may be a god that we have chosen to include in our life.