What the Bible says about
What We Worship
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Some do not perceive the differences between the first and second commandments. However, the first stresses the uniqueness, the matchless distinctiveness of the Creator God. It draws attention to our obligation to the One without whom there would be no life or hope at all. He is also the Source of truth, right values, and standards that will produce right relationships and peaceful prosperity so that life is not merely lived but has the potential to contain great peace, joy, and accomplishment. Thus, the first commandment deals with what we worship.
In contrast, the second commandment covers the way we worship. The Father and Son are unique Individuals who come into our lives from beyond this physical realm. They are absolutely holy, pure, and undefiled, uncreated and eternal. An idol, on the other hand, is someone or something of any other realm that we make and value, giving it devotion that rightfully belongs to the Creator.
John 4:24 instructs us regarding the way God desires that we worship Him: "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth." The second commandment regulates a specific area of idolatry; it deals with God's spirituality. It thus involves our manner of worship in faith, most obviously in that it prohibits the use of physical "helps" or "aids" in worshipping the invisible, spiritual God.
John 1:18 states that no man has seen God at any time. Deuteronomy 4:15-16 provides an Old Testament parallel:
Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female.
Since no one has ever seen God, whatever is made to picture Him would be a work of man's hands and a lie. It is helpful to recall that the Holy of Holies contained no representation of God. The Bible frequently uses the image of an altar to indicate the worship of God, yet, except for the Temple's brazen altar, even they were to be made of simple turf or uncut stones (Exodus 20:22-26). Additionally, the second commandment prohibits the use of anything that represents God or could become an object of veneration. Thus, it prohibits any kind of likeness of Christ such as crucifixes, pictures, and statues.
Numbers 33:52 commands the Israelites, ". . . then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places. . . ." This destruction was not to be wanton, but God intended it to involve only religious, worshipped things. Why?
Any representation of God changes Him into a different god from what He really is. Egypt, from whence Israel came, worshipped oxen, heifers, sheep, goats, lions, dogs, cats, monkeys, ibis, crane, hawks, crocodiles, serpents, frogs, flies, beetles, sun, moon, planets, stars, fire, light, air, and darkness. Very likely, an Egyptian could come up with "good" reasons why he did so. A man wrote in an email that he did not care whether the Bible said not to worship as the pagans do through the use of Christmas and Easter. He was going to do it anyway because it was his way of praising God. He is worshipping a god of his own design.
Idolatry, then, denies the true nature of God, so obedience to this commandment determines the way we worship. It must be in spirit and in harmony with His nature, which the Bible reveals. Knowing God's true nature is important because we become what we worship. Thus, this commandment covers idolatry in a form in which the true God is worshipped through either a false image or a corrupt practice. This false representation perverts His reality. If we idolize, we become the wrong thing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment
In the first commandment (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7), God tells us, "You shall have no other gods before Me." I used to think that this meant simply that I was to make sure God was my first priority. Put God first, then family, job, etc. I have come to see, however, that God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 5:9) and that what He means, I believe, is that nothing—absolutely nothing—can be worshipped in our lives except Him. God will not abide us placing family, work, or possessions in competition with Him.
The Amplified Bible words verse 7, "You shall have no other gods before or besides Me." In my opinion, the Moffatt translation has it best: "You shall have no gods but Me." How clear that is! None, nada, zip, zilch! One God and one God only. Anything that we put ahead of God is "another god." Anything that competes with God for the time that belongs to Him is "another god."
It is imperative that we examine our lives and rid ourselves of any other gods. This does not mean we should leave our families and renounce all material possessions, but we should determine if anything competes with God in our minds and begin to make the changes that will bring matters back into balance. God has a plan for each of us, and for that plan to come to fruition in our lives, He must be first. His overall plan will be completed with or without us. Our continued participation in it is due to His mercy and grace and our humble, yielded obedience.
Abraham's One God
2 Kings 17:33
This chapter reports on the behavior of the people placed in Israel after Israel's conquest and deportation by Assyria between 722-720 BC. These people, who became known as the Samaritans, feared the Lord but worshipped their own gods. They were afraid of God, but they did not really change their way of life. Thus, they developed a syncretic religious system, a blending of the truth of God and outright paganism. The Jews of Christ's day clearly recognized this putrid blend and despised the Samaritans for it.
What is so interesting is that, by verse 35, it is clear God is no longer addressing Himself to the Samaritans, but to Israel:
… [T]he LORD had made a covenant and charged [Israel], saying: "You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them; but the LORD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, Him you shall worship, and to Him you shall offer sacrifice. And the statutes, the ordinances, the law, and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall be careful to observe forever; you shall not fear other gods. And the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods. (II Kings 17:35-38)
In other words, God is saying that He was driven to defeat and scatter Israel because they were guilty of exactly the same sin as the Samaritans! They too had blended the worship of the true God with outright paganism, utterly corrupting the relationship He had established with them.
It is urgent that we understand what is involved here because it reveals the cause of God's anger that led to Israel's defeat and scattering. We must understand that our god is not what we say we worship but what we serve. Our god is what we give our lives over to.
Theoretically, the Israelites did not believe in idols, but in reality, they did. They believed in a Creator God, but they worshipped Him at the shrines they erected to the Baals. While they gave lip service to the Creator, they adopted most of the Canaanitish religion with its lewd immorality, and in actual practice, patterned their life after it. In daily life, they conformed to and reflected the Babylonish system just as Israel does today. This is exactly what God warns us to flee, and the only way to come out of it is by developing and maturing in our relationship with God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Be There Next Year
The context gives no indication that the Israelites were not observing the Sabbath on the seventh day. Rather, their attitude and way they were observing it contrasted with God's desire. Carnally, man feels free to worship God as he good and well pleases. These attitudes, as well as the practices, break the second commandment.
This passage parallels Amos 5:21-27, which was preached about the same time as Isaiah 1:13-15. Both show crowds in a festive attitude, yet God rejects their "worship" as worthless. Their "holiness" was a sham because it was not backed by righteous conduct in their daily lives. The spirit behind their worship was wrong. Their futile sacrifices indicate their hypocrisies: These people had the morals of alley cats; eyes hot with lust and greed; and fortunes built on crime, envy, murder, and deceit. In reality, they were stingy, hateful gossipers who on the Sabbath appeared before God as if everything was okay.
What kind of a god would accept the conduct that the Israelites exhibited? Certainly not the true God! They were going through the motions of punctilious observance, but their hearts were elsewhere, as their daily conduct showed. God is more concerned about right relationships between people than an overly scrupulous regard for formal worship on the Sabbath. Worship cannot be separated from the character and attitudes displayed in daily life. It is a person's reaction to God all through the week, not just on the Sabbath, that matters. We cannot mock God and somehow believe that we will get away with it.
In Isaiah 2:5-18, God testifies of a culture immersed in all sorts of idolatry. He sees a people enslaved by the superstition of astrology—they do not seek God's judgment, but they will seek and do what the omens read! Their material success has produced a self-confidence that deceives them into believing that God is unnecessary. This chapter reveals what resides at the foundation of much idolatry—pride, as expressed in the phrases, "The lofty looks of man" and the "haughtiness of men." Pride drives mankind to resist God, so they will not submit to the way He wants our response—our worship—done.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment
Isaiah 2:5-20 mentions a number of idolatries that are just as present in our society today as they were Isaiah's time. Enslaved by the superstition of astrology, they were more concerned about what the omens read than the judgment of God (verse 6). They craved the power of money and the recognition and influence it drew, and took enormous pride in their military, political, and economic sway in the world (verse 7). They worshipped "the work of their own hands" (verse 8).
The underlying motivation for these idolatries is exposed in verses 11: "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down" (see verses 12, 17). Pride brings forth idolatry, and its destruction is idolatry's cure. Pride elevates its owner to find God and His ways as unnecessary, too restrictive, boring, or beneath his intelligence, station, or needs. It leads him to choose his own way, be his own man, and do his own thing according to his judgment. In short, even if a person of pride knows of God's way, he will not submit to worship God in the way He wants.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment (1997)
What vile things these people were committing on God's holy Sabbath days! They worshipped idols, sacrificed their children, even burning them in the fire, and afterward, they presented themselves at the Temple services. That is horrifying! God specifically mentions that they did these things on the Sabbath—on His day. It shows how far idolatry will take a person, imposing its will on the actions of an individual.
We need to be very careful about this. These people were guilty of the common Israelitish sin of idolatry—syncretism, the blending of the world's way with God's way. God, of course, does not accept it as true worship. How could He? The Israelites would attend services, supposedly in honor and out of respect for the Creator God after killing their children in the fires of Molech!
In Ezekiel 20-23, where a brief overview of the relationship between God and Israel is presented, idolatry and profaning the Sabbath are specifically named nine times as the major reasons God drove Israel into captivity.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)
Beersheba played a role in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though the event for each was a little different, something was said to each that is significant to our lives, especially in light of the Holy Spirit.
Abraham's incident at Beersheba is written in Genesis 21:22-24:
And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have sojourned." And Abraham said, "I will swear."
In this event, Abimelech utters the words that become central to what Beersheba came to represent to the Israelites: "God is with you in all that you do." A pagan king observed Abraham's life as one that reflected godliness.
In Isaac's incident at Beersheba, recorded in Genesis 26:23-24, God Himself utters the assurance necessary for Isaac to trust Him: "Then He went up from there to Beersheba. And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, 'I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham's sake.'" Like Isaac, we need assurance, we need to believe, that God is with us.
In Jacob's case, he is on his way to Egypt to meet with Joseph, filled with a stressful mixture of joy and fear, when the event of Genesis 46:1-4 occurs:
So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob!" And he said, "Here I am." And He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes."
Thus, at Beersheba, each of the three patriarchs receives assurance of the companionship of God. What might have been the reaction of the Israelites when Amos said, "Don't pass over to Beersheba"?
It is a pastor's responsibility, not only to help to build peoples' trust in God, but also from time to time to sow doubt about their condition or standing before God. This is necessary because we often assume that all is well in our relationship with God. Amos filled not only the role of prophet but also of pastor of these wayward people, who were falsely confident in their standing with God.
An analysis of Paul's writings shows that his tactics at meeting church problems varied. At times, he energetically battered the opposition's position, and at others, he merely asked questions accompanied by some well-placed, incisive, solid, logical reasoning. In Amos 5:5, the prophet uses some strong imperatives, then turns to a recitation of matters the Israelites would have immediately recognized as accurate, even though they might not have accepted the truth of his statements.
Could these people have assumed - because of the general prosperity in Israel - that God was with them in all they did, despite all the evidence of their sinfulness Amos observed during their festival in Beersheba? Were they blind to the fact that prosperity is no guarantee that one is righteous before God?
The essence of the "God is with you" promise is that all is well and peace exists between God and a person; there is no barrier or constraint between them, and harmony reigns. Thus, the two can walk together because they have an understanding (Amos 3:3) - in fact, they may even have a covenant.
Amos had many reasons to believe that their assumption that God was with them was on shaky ground. First, in Amos 5:6, he briefly warns them of the fire of God's judgment, an allusion to the Day of the Lord, soon to fall upon them. He knows they are not seeking God to walk in His steps, so he proceeds to list a number of their sins. Finally, in verses 18-20, he shows them that they had no fear of the consequences of their way of life.
They truly assumed that everything was okay between them and God despite the sorry record of their sins that Amos laid before them! They completely ignored the fact that they, in reality, lived their lives apart from God. They really did not know the God they claimed to be walking with!
Consider the seriousness of verses 14-16:
Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken. Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Therefore the LORD God of hosts, the Lord, says this. . . .
Nowhere else in the Bible do three successive verses feature the awesome name, "the LORD God of hosts," underscoring His leading the armies of heaven! Amos is making a very strong point by drawing their attention to the sovereign, omnipotent God of Armies, who is so far above us He is out of sight. These complacent people might choose to believe they were walking with Him, but it begs the question, did this great God want to walk with them as they were?
Adam would have happily remained in the Garden, provided he could hide, but God knew He could not allow such a condition to continue. What good would it do Adam? The Israelites' complacency had been telling them that, when the Day of the Lord arrived, God would side with His people, making it a day of great glory for them. Instead, Amos informs them that it would be just the opposite! It is a time of wailing and disaster (verses 16-17). They had been feeding themselves on false hopes. God says, "I will pass through you"!
In saying, "Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the LORD God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken" (verse 14), Amos admonishes them to seek holiness. He is urging them to see that it is not just a way or rule of life, but a means of life. Hebrews 12:14 confirms its importance, ". . . without holiness no one will see the Lord." When the people of God follow the way that accords with God's will, they come into possession of life. We must never presume God's grace or take it for granted. We must always fervently seek and submit to the will of God in order to be in His Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles
What is Gilgal's significance in Israel's spiritual history? Israel's first experience at Gilgal occurs when the people cross into the Promised Land under Joshua: "Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho" (Joshua 4:19). In Gilgal, they set up the twelve stones taken from the Jordan as a memorial of their crossing (verse 20-24).
Joshua 5:1-12 records that it was in Gilgal that all the Israelite males who had been born during the forty years in the wilderness were circumcised, thus entering into the Old Covenant—in effect, becoming God's nation in the land. Verse 10 shows that they kept the first Passover in the Promised Land in Gilgal, and in verse 12, where they first ate the fruit of the land.
Chapters 9, 10, and 14 show that Joshua launched his military attacks from Gilgal against the people of the land to secure it for Israelite inhabitation. I Samuel 11:14-15 records that Saul was confirmed as Israel's first king in Gilgal. All this early history of Israel's occupation of Canaan made Gilgal a shrine to the Israelites' inheritance and possession of the land.
However, Amos again hits the people with a precisely aimed lightning bolt by saying, "Gilgal shall surely go into captivity [exile]" (Amos 5:5). He then fastens that thought more firmly in their minds by making it personal: "'Therefore I will send you into captivity beyond Damascus,' says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts" (verse 27). In other words, even though they observed a festival in the shrine that commemorated possession of the Promised Land, those prosperous, lukewarm people listening to him would lose the land and be taken into captivity.
From this knowledge, we can begin to understand the attitude that Amos confronted. Generally, complacency or apathy was the problem, but specifically, it was much narrower.
With the Bethel illustration, Amos points out that they were mistaken in believing that God was in this place, and therefore their hope for life was a hollow one. They were assuming that simply because they were there, it would work in their favor.
The Beersheba illustration makes them face the fact that they were assuming God was with them. Their pride was almost boundless. They should have been asking whether God was pleased to walk with them.
The Gilgal illustration deals with their assumption that, because they were not only in the Promised Land but in full possession of it, everything was thus well with them.
Amos 5 highlights three critical assumptions, all of which are factors in a doctrine evangelical Christians term "eternal security." The context of the chapter shows a wealth of religious activity (verses 21-26). Amos mentions religious festivals, animal sacrifices, and music they believed to be glorifying to God, all indicating worship services of some kind. They went in for religion in a big way! Undoubtedly, they were wholehearted about it, so it was probably emotionally satisfying to them. But what good is worship if it does not get through to God? This is what Amos reveals to them. All of their enthusiasm was for naught because their daily lives did not match God's standards.
We are assured of making it into God's Kingdom on the strength of His ability to prepare us. So what is the problem? Verse 24 gives us some insight: "But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
The first phrase can just as easily read, "Let justice [or, judgment] roll down." There is a clever play on a word here, as Gilgal means "the rolling." The people attended the festivals in Gilgal, but before their arrival and after they returned home, justice and righteousness failed to roll down—we might say "trickle down"—into their everyday life. Things went on as before. They had fun at the feast all right, but nothing changed spiritually.
Justice is the fruit of righteousness. When linked as they are in this verse, justice stands for correct moral practice in daily life, and righteousness for the cultivation of correct moral principles. Justice is external, righteousness is internal. The trouble with Gilgal was that the people allowed their human nature to keep their religion in a box with no way for it to influence daily life.
Together, these three illustrations show that our relationship with God is not a game. Each of His festivals has a serious purpose in keeping us oriented toward the completion of His purpose for us as individuals, for His church, for Israel, and in due time, for the whole world. Presently, attention is focused on the church and our part in its life. The church exists to serve Him in witnessing the gospel to the world by our lives, as well as by preaching. We cannot witness well without preparation, and the festivals play an important role in this.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles
An anonymous quotation that made the rounds of the Internet last year runs, "Christmas is weird. What other time of year do you sit in front of a dead tree and eat candy out of your socks?" Though it may induce a chuckle from its readers, most people either miss or ignore the larger point: Christmas is a bundle of contradictions, inanities, and outright lies.
The astounding fact is that most people are aware of this. On a Christmas Eve radio show, a local preacher substituted for the regular host. His topic of discussion centered on the greeting "Merry Christmas!" and he asked if, in our multicultural, multi-religious society, this was offensive. One caller said, no, Christianity was still the majority religion in America, but what really troubled her was the fact that professing Christians promoted the traditional lie that Jesus was born on December 25.
Without missing a beat, the preacher/talk-show host then explained to the audience that his caller was correct, Jesus could not have been born around the winter solstice, and that, in the early fourth century, the Catholic Church had combined the Roman winter solstice festival, the Saturnalia, with a celebration of Jesus' birth to help new converts adjust to Christianity. He treated these facts as common knowledge.
His "resolution" to the conundrum, however, was revealing. The gist of his answer to the troubled caller was, "If Christians would live according to the teachings of Jesus, these contradictions would not matter." I had to shake my head. Neither the host nor the caller could see the self-contradictory nature of his answer. Did not Jesus teach that we are to be honest? Certainly, He did!
He tells the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-18 that, to have eternal life, he should not bear false witness, which is the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16). In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37). We could say, then, that keeping a celebration to Christ on a day that is not His birthday—with customs and traditions that derive from paganism—is from the evil one. It is a lie, and the Devil is the father of it (John 8:44).
This is what makes the oft-heard phrase, "Let's put Christ back into Christmas!" so laughable. It is another self-contradictory statement. How can we put Christ back into something in which He never was in the first place? Search the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and no command—not even a suggestion—to commemorate the Savior's birth will be found. It is amazing to consider that professing Christians around the world keep days and festivals never once enjoined on them in God's Word (Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Halloween, Christmas), yet the ones God tells them to keep (the Sabbath, Passover, God's holy days), they ignore!
What about the real central character of Christmas, Santa Claus? Today's jolly old elf—a roly-poly old man in a red suit trimmed in white; big, black boots; spectacles; long, white beard; and a "ho-ho-ho"—was the brainchild of Coca-Cola's marketing department early in the last century. He was based loosely on the English Father Christmas and the German Kris Kringle. This figure, in turn, has blended with the early "Christian" Saint Nicholas, a churchman who was known for spreading the wealth to needy members of his community, sometimes throwing sacks of coins through open windows and down chimneys. Where is the biblical basis for such a character? He may be present in the modern crèche, but no one like him appears in the gospel narratives of Jesus' birth.
Then there is the season's alternate name, Yule. Where does that come from? Check the origin in the dictionary: "a pagan midwinter festival." Another contradiction! The preacher/talk-show host made mention of this point too, chuckling about how so many people do not realize that their Yule log hearkens back to the heathen practice of driving away evil spirits with bonfires on the night of the winter solstice! Now, however, it is just another way to stir up Christmas cheer! No harm in that, right?
If these pagan, unbiblical elements are so commonly known, why does the Christmas tradition continue? Three reasons come to the fore:
» Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)
» The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
» The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. (Jeremiah 5:31)
Christmas continues because human nature deceives itself into practicing things that are not right because they are enjoyable. Human nature allows people to justify self-contradictory things because they appear to produce benefits for them. In such a case, truth does not matter; all that matters is that a person receives presents and has a good time. And if a religious significance—real or imagined—can be attached to it, all the better!
We should not expect people to give up Christmas anytime soon just because it has pagan origins. Human nature has a long history of explaining such pesky details away.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Cogitations on Christmas
This command leaves very little out in terms of our devotion to God. It involves the fear, service, obedience, and worship of the great God who is the Creator. The dictionary definition of worship says it involves intense admiration, adoration, honor, and devotion to someone or something. Practically, worship is our response to our god.
If we respect someone greatly, does not our respect cause us to behave differently because of him? If we know he will be in our area, do we not try to spend some time with him or at least see him? Maybe we plan to give him a gift. If we know his habits, do we not try to emulate him, such as copying his manner of dress or his speech? Whole industries are built on this reality, which is why promoters attempt to get celebrities to use and endorse their products. Finally, when we are in his company and he suggests we do something, are we not moved to submit?
In Western civilization, people and institutions reach heights of admiration that drive some to do all sorts of unusual things. Teens, mothers, and even grandmothers will swoon over a crooning singer. Fans will practically tear the clothing from a rock star. Boys and men idolize athletic heroes. At political conventions, grown adults will act like mindless fools in behalf of their candidate.
It is this principle that is involved in keeping the first commandment. The respect and response we give to men, things, or the self should be given to God.
The KJV and the NKJV both translate Exodus 20:3 as, "You shall have no other gods before Me." It is better understood as, "You shall have no other gods in place of Me." The term "before Me" allows enough wiggle room that it can be argued that other gods are permitted as long as God comes first. In reality, God permits no other gods at all!
Genesis 1:1 informs us, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." God is Creator. This is how God introduces Himself in His Book. Paul directs our attention to this very point in Romans 1 as where men stumble by not truly acknowledging Him as Creator God, sovereign over every aspect of what He had made.
But "Creator" can be just as vague as "ballplayer," "rock star," or "actor," if we never show enough interest to study and observe the awesomely beautiful distinctiveness of His character, power, and way He reveals regarding His Person. Do we devote as much time, concern, or effort in admiring God's great ability as Creator as we do the men we admire? Using Himself as the Model, God created the potential for the qualities and abilities we admire in others to be in us, and He has far more and better in Himself than we can comprehend.
The world has conditioned us to think of worship as something we do once a week. This is woefully inadequate in terms of what God expects. Is God merely on an ego trip to receive "Hallelujahs!" from His worshippers?
No! Everything He asks of us is for our good because of what it motivates us to do and become. American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming." This is true. Because a person becomes or does what his god is, he must be careful regarding his reaction to this commandment because it affects every area of life, thoughts, and action. It is not just a tiny sidebar of life. If kept as it should, it becomes part of the very foundation of what we are becoming.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment
Several years ago, WorldNetDaily published a controversial exposé that spotlighted one of the more frequent skirmishes in our current culture war. Masterfully written by Joe Kovacs, "Christmas in America becomes battleground" reveals the pagan origins of this esteemed tradition and demonstrates why increasing numbers of "fundamentalist Christians" are realizing that one cannot "put Christ" back into something in which He never was.
Apologist C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, asserts that one of Satan's most common ploys is to "send error into the world in pairs"—pairs of opposites—"and then he encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking, Which is the worst?" Satan persuades us to argue over two options, or two points of view, neither one of which is true. Regardless of which side carries the argument, Satan wins the day.
In the current war over Christmas and religious symbols, Satan has pitted the secular humanists, who want to blot out Christianity and encourage almost any other form of worship, against mainstream Christians, who are fighting for the right to worship as they see fit by putting evergreen trees in schools per Jeremiah 10:2-5. Atheists and agnostics arrayed against Christmas-bent "Christians"—for whom do we root?
The truth of the matter is that Satan is the real winner regardless of the outcome.
As Mr. Kovacs' article shows, the truth about the pagan origins of Christmas is easily researched. Any good encyclopedia will show that the timing and trappings of this celebration long predate Christianity. December 25 has been a focal point of sun-worship for millennia. The pagan origins of this day are so well-documented that the real question is, "What business do Christians have in trying to "Christianize" something that has been blatantly anti-God from the very beginning?" Is this worshipping God in spirit and in truth?
God was so concerned that ancient Israel would begin adopting the pagan ways of the Canaanites—even under the auspices of worshipping the true God—that He gave the children of Israel a categorical warning:
When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, "How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise." You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)
God is very specific in the way that He wants to be worshipped! He has not given us permission to worship Him in just any way that seems right to us. He warns His people specifically in these verses, as well as in Revelation 22:18-19, not to add to His instructions, nor to take away from them, and this is clearly within the context of adopting pagan practices in conjunction with worshipping Him. Christmas may not involve physical child-sacrifice—although in spirit millions of children are being sacrificed on the altar of materialism—but the stench of this celebration is odious nonetheless because it is still idolatry: replacing the true worship of God with a false one.
The Bible does not specify when Jesus Christ was born (although the best deduction is that it was in the autumn—see "When Was Jesus Born?" Forerunner, December 1994). More importantly, the Bible does not give any instruction in celebrating His birth, nor any example of the first-century church doing so, nor any indication that the celebration of birthdays is pleasing to God at all! Even this idea has come from paganism, rather than from God's Instruction Book for mankind. Is this, then, worshipping God in spirit and in truth?
Is it any wonder that our Savior says, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9); and "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition" (Mark 7:9); and "[you make] the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do" (Mark 7:13)? Human nature has the rebellious proclivity to do only what it wants to do, even when told by God Himself to do things differently (Romans 8:7)!
We see, then, that on one pole are the secularists, who believe the lie that God should not be a part of their lives. On the other pole are mainstream Christians, who believe the lie that syncretism is an acceptable form of worship. But in either case, the trail of lies indicates who the real "holiday spirit" is.
David C. Grabbe
Cogitations on Christmas
In examining the central issue in each of the first several commandments, we find that the first concerns what we worship. Worship is the devoted service one gives to what he regards most highly. As these verses show, we can give devoted service to created things as well as the Creator. Additionally, the tenth commandment says covetousness is idolatry too (Colossians 3:5), clearly amplifying that we can give our devotion to things other than the true God.
How good can it be to exchange the truth for the lie? In this context "the lie" is that one can profitably worship someone or something other than the true God. Worshipping things other than the Creator turns the thrust and direction of our lives off the true path of God's purpose. Though those objects may be otherwise harmless in themselves, it is sin to give them the devotion that rightly belongs to the Creator.
John 4:24 proclaims that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and truth. The worship of God involves the totality of our life, and therefore it cannot be confined to a particular location or a mere hour or two on a given day. Our worship must be guided, motivated, and empowered by His Spirit. Further, it cannot merely be sincere, but it must also be true. Attitude is extremely important, but it alone does not replace truth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
The first commandment concerns itself with what a person worships. Worship is the devoted service one gives to what one regards above all, and what one regards above all is that person's God. The first commandment says what we are to worship, the Creator God. Nothing else is to be given that kind of devotion.
As this verse shows, one can give devoted service to created things as well as the Creator. The people Paul is speaking of turned their attention from the Creator and to the created. It is possible to worship the wrong thing. In Colossians 3:5 Paul writes that covetousness is idolatry too, clearly meaning that our devotion can be given to things other than the true God.
There is a common argument in the world that "all religions are good," that is, none of them teach you bad things. But, as these verses prove, that simply is not true.
Paul argues that God gave these people up—literally, that God abandoned them to uncleanness. Therefore, any religion other than the one true one is a curse! It is a kind of punishment. These people that Paul describes exchanged the truth for the lie. How can that be good?
Here, the lie is that someone or something other than the true God can be properly worshipped and be effective for the person's salvation. Worshipping things other than the Creator turns the thrust and the direction of our lives off the true path of God's purpose. Though those objects that individuals give all of their time, attention, and devotion to may be otherwise harmless in themselves, it is sin to give them that devotion because it is "missing the mark," which is sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)
To us, the physical seems so solid, indestructible, and permanent, at least in terms of our own brief existence. But Hebrews tells us to get our attention off the immediate, the "around and about," the physical. We are to reorient our lives, our thinking, our focus, toward the eternality of Christ's dominion.
A profound reality of God and His Word is that they are changeless. "You remain," Hebrews 1:11 says, but we grow old and die. The eternal values never change, and even more exciting, they can be taken through the grave.
What is important in our lives? The immediate gratifications offered by this world? The things we possess? The accomplishments we achieve? If so, we will not likely see God very frequently. Or, we can ask, what in our lives demands our time, effort, and thought? An objective answer to this may reveal what we really worship.
We cannot identify with or worship anything transient. Something must "remain" or "continue" (ASV), as verses 10-12 tell us. Something eternal must abide; something unchanging must continue. To this we can cling, and within it, we can live our life by faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Do You See God? (Part One)
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