A group of seminary students were given the task of organizing the Ten Commandments in their perceived order of importance. Interestingly, these students felt that the sixth commandment, "You shall not murder," should be number-one on the list. The seventh commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," was also placed near the top. But the group relegated the first commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me," to the bottom of the list. They didn't think it was all that important.
In God's listing, however, it is a different story. He puts this commandment at the top of the list. But why is it the number-one offense to God? It comes down to this: If you have broken this one, then everything else will fall apart.
One day a man came to Jesus and asked Him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" (Mark 12:28 NLT). Jesus responded,
"The most important commandment is this: 'Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.' The second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' No other commandment is greater than these." (verse 29, NLT)
With that statement, Jesus essentially summed up the Ten Commandments: Put God in His rightful place. Make Him number-one in your life.
Could this be said of us today? A survey revealed that 76 percent of Americans believed they had been completely faithful to the first commandment. In other words, they might have problems with some of the other commandments, but for them, the first commandment was not a problem. But is that true? It's hard to say.
You see, everyone has a god. Everyone, including atheists, bows at some altar. We don't all worship the true God, but we all worship. Everyone has something they believe in, some passion that drives them, something that gives their life meaning and purpose. For some, their god is possessions or money. Others worship their bodies. They worship at the church of the perfect physique. Still others worship success or pleasure or relationships. But we all worship someone or something.
With the first commandment, God was establishing the fact that He is our God and was showing us His place in our lives: "I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me" (Exodus 20:2-3 NLT). It is amazing how much can be revealed by a simple little pronoun such as "I." Only one letter long, it conveys a profound and fundamental truth about who God is. When He said, "I am the Lord," He was, in effect, refuting all other belief systems, including pantheism, polytheism, deism, and new-age thinking. When God says, "I am," He is revealing that He is a being, not a mere force of nature. He says, "I am...I feel. I think. I care."
God is not an impersonal force, as pantheism would teach. Nor is He one of many gods, as polytheism claims. God said, "I am the Lord your God" (emphasis mine). As 1 Timothy 2:5 reminds us, "For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity — the man Christ Jesus" (NLT).
In contrast to the teaching of deism, which says that God has no interest in the affairs of men, the first commandment shows us that we have a God who sees and hears and cares. God reminded Israel that He had blessed and protected them up to this point: "I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery."
The Bible says that God is a jealous God. By "jealous," it doesn't mean that God is one who is controlling and demanding and flies into a rage without the slightest reason or provocation. The jealousy the Bible is speaking of is the jealousy of a loving Father who sees the possibilities and potential of His children and is brokenhearted when those things are not realized, or worse, are wasted and squandered.
Jesus said, "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?" (Matthew 16:26 NLT). Is God number-one in your life today? Or, are you allowing other gods to crowd Him out?
Out of their long and painful journey has come a really helpful survival guide, so to speak. It’s a book called Suffer Strong: How to Survive Anything by Redefining Everything. It’s not just an inspiring story of triumph through trials but a how-to book for accepting God’s plan and recognizing His providence even when it feels like your world is shattered.