This study is based upon the New City Catechism.
It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you. (Deuteronomy 6:13-14)
The covenant of grace between God and His people is an exclusive covenant. God is exclusively saving His people, no one else. His people are exclusively serving God, no one else. Moses emphasizes this in Deuteronomy 6 when he says, “It is the Lord your God you shall fear” (v.13). To fear God is to revere Him above all else, to take Him at His Word. If this was all the Bible said, then we might have wiggle room to continue serving other gods. Yet Moses continues in verse 14, “You shall not go after other gods.” It’s not enough to serve God; you also must not serve other gods. It’s not enough to worship God on Sunday; you also must refrain from worshiping Allah on Saturday. It’s not enough to serve God, you also can’t serve pornography.
This text establishes the positive and negative aspects of our relation to God. There are matters we must attend to and matters we must refrain from. When God commands us to do something and we fail to do it, we have carried out a sin of omission. We have omitted a righteous act God prescribed for us. When God commands us to refrain from something and we indulge in it, we have carried out a sin of commission. We have committed an unrighteous act God forbade from us. Being faithful to God demands that both types of sin be avoided. Being faithful to God demands that we treat our relationship with God as exclusive: we serve God and we serve no other gods.
This is what the first three commandments of the Decalogue are about: serving God exclusively. First, we are commanded to have no other gods except God. This is a general command towards exclusivity. Metaphysically, there are no other gods – this is a most fundamental conviction. Pragmatically, we must live as if there are no other gods. If we believe God alone is divine, and all else is creation, then why should we live as polytheists? Why live like creatures are gods? Allah isn’t god, and neither are video games. Romance isn’t god, and neither is money.
Second, we are commanded to avoid idolatry. God alone gets to give us images of Himself for worship. Divinity does not come in a build-your-own package. We are to worship God alone (first commandment), and with His self-revelation alone (second commandment). Third, we are commanded to honor God’s name. The name of God is not referring simply to what we call God, but to Who He is: His communicable and incommunicable attributes. We are to guard ourselves against treating God flippantly and disrespectfully. We always, always must approach God in fear and reverence.
These three commandments are summarized for us in Deuteronomy 6:13-14, where we are admonished to serve God exclusively. Let us therefore be done with neglect and indulgence. Those divine instructions which we have considered optional, may they be to us most essential. Those divine warnings which we have trampled upon in our lustful pursuits, may they be to us un-renounceable. Recommit yourself to God, sinner, and be done with worshiping created things – things which please the flesh yet promise only eternal hell fire.
Question: What does God require in the first, second, and third commandments?
Answer: First, that we know God as the only true God. Second, that we avoid all idolatry. Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and reverence.