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
The Ten Commandments can be summarized in two overall principles: love toward God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love toward neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, and the last six commandments expound on our relationship with fellow man.
What does it mean to have a relationship with God? An analogy is frequently used to describe the relationship between Christ and the church is that of a groom and a bride (Revelation 21:1-4). Likewise, Paul writes in II Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." The word "betrothed" seems somewhat archaic; today, we would say the church is "engaged" to Christ. By making the New Covenant with Him, we have agreed to spend all eternity with Him, but at present, we are within the period preceding the marriage described in Revelation 19:7-9. Following the analogy, we are to be preparing ourselves for this future relationship. During this preparation time, the parties involved are getting to know each other. God the Father has handpicked us for this relationship, and now is the time we need to make ourselves ready.
How does this fit into the Sabbath and the concept of ownership? God has already established a regular meeting time with us—a "date," as it were. Every week, that part of our schedule is already determined. Amos 3:3 asks, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" In other words, can a person meet with another if they have not determined a meeting time?
Sabbath time has been specially designated as the Bride's time with Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we should restrict our interaction with Him to this day; on the contrary, part of each day should be devoted to prayer and Bible study. Nevertheless, this is a primary reason the seventh day has been set apart and made holy.
What does this mean practically? Imagine a couple planning to marry. Being devoted to one another, they have set their wedding date and have agreed to meet on a weekly basis. It is easy to see that, if the young man shows up at the designated time, but the young woman suddenly decides that there is a more convenient time, a rift is going to develop in the relationship. Obviously, the correct day is vitally important. God has already established that day.
Suppose the couple gets the day right, and they meet and spend time together. What if the young lady, in the midst of this quality time she is supposed to be spending with the one she loves, pulls out a cellphone and begins talking to her friends, as if her fiancé does not even exist? What if the topic of conversation, either between her and her friends or between her and her fiancé, is little more than gossip or what she is planning on doing as soon as her weekly date with her alleged beloved is over? Or, what if their date, which her betrothed had made special for them, has become a mere ceremony to her? What if she just goes through the motions, doing the things required of her, showing little or no feeling about what this relationship really means to her?
On a spiritual level, we are commanded to assemble, if possible, and part of our Sabbath is intended to be for fellowshipping. What are the topics of our conversation? Do sports, entertainment, shopping, or business advance our relationship with God? Is catching up on the latest gossip and social news appropriate for this time that does not belong to us? During this weekly appointment, where do our thoughts wander? Do we think about our business interests or financial concerns? Do we think about or make plans for what we are going to do as soon as the sun sets? Do we esteem Saturday night more than the time God has set apart for us to meet with Him? Are our Sabbath services mere ceremonies? Are we demonstrating to God by our actions on this day that we are eagerly looking forward to spending eternity with Him?
These are points to ponder.
David C. Grabbe
It's Not Our Time
The burnt offering represents the perfect fulfillment of the first great commandment, and the meal offering corresponds to the second.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Three): The Meal Offering
Jesus Christ's response to the Pharisee's question shows that He divided the Ten Commandments into two sections or tables. He covers the first four by saying, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (verses 37-38). This supersedes all other commandments; none is greater. The second, covering the last six, is similar to it. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (verse 39).
God also arranged each section to begin with the most important command. He placed first the commandment, which, if kept, will ensure the greatest benefit to our lives, both physically and spiritually. On the other hand, if we break this commandment, it will cause the most damage to our worship of God or to the community by virtually ensuring that we will break others. In the first table of the law, this commandment is, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2). In the second, it is the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (verse 12).
Just as the first commandment governs our relationship with God, the fifth commandment is first among those that govern our relationships with men. When we keep it or break it, it affects those relationships. Not only is it chief in this section, it also acts as a bridge between the two tables of the law. When we keep the fifth commandment properly, it leads us to revere and obey God Himself.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 22:38: