Evening Sermon: What Is The First Commandment And What Does It Require?; Baptist Catechism 50 & 51; Joshua 24.1-15

Baptist Catechism 50 & 51

Q. 50. Which is the first commandment?

A. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

Q. 51. What is required in the first commandment?

A. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly. (Joshua 24:15; 1 Chron. 28:9; Deut. 26:17; Ps. 29:2; Matt. 4:10)

Scripture Reading: Joshua 24.1-15

“Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out. Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’ Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.’” (Joshua 24:1–15, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


There is a good reason why this commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, is the first. 

It is the first commandment of the Ten because keeping the rest of God’s moral law trully and from the heart starts here. Why should we obey God’s moral law? Well, there are many reasons to obey it, but the greatest reason is because it is God’s law! We obey it because it is from God. We obey it because God is our God. He is our greatest love. He is our Lord. We live in submission to him and for his glory, for he is our Creator and Redeemer. Why should we keep God’s moral law? Because it is God’s law. And so the first of the Ten Commandments does direct us to have God as God, and to have no other gods except him. 

It is not difficult to see that many will attempt to keep the second table of God’s law, but because they neglect this first commandment and the first table of the law which flows from it, even their obedience to the second table of the law is regarded as sin, for it does not flow from faith nor does it have as it’s aim the glory of God. Think of it. The world is filled with people who make it their aim to keep the second table of the Ten Commandments. They aim to honor their parents. They do not murder, commit adultery, steal or lie. They may even pursue contentment. But what is their motive? For many, their motive is a good life, a good reputation, peace in the heart and prosperity in the world. Now, these are not invalid motivations. But neither can they be our supreme motivation. If we are to keep God’s law trully and from the heart we must start, not with the fifth, but with the first, which says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. We are to obey God’s law, because it is God’s law, and God is our God, and we are his people. The glory of his name is to be our leading motivation. 

And the first commandment is the first of the first table of the law because here the object of our worship is identified. We have already learned that the second table of the law (commandments 5 – 10) has to do with our duty towards our fellow man, and that the first table of the law (commandments 1 – 4) has to do with our duty before God, but as we consider these two tables of the law more closely we will see that there is a rational and a flow within each table. The first commandment identifies the object of our worship: the one true God; the one and only. The second commandment will  speak to the manner of our worship: no idols. The third will speak to the attitude of worship: do not take his name in vain. And the fourth will speak to the time of worship: one day in seven. 

It is not difficult to understand that before we move on to consider how God is to be worshipped in commands 2 through 4, we must know who it is that we should worship, which is why God begins by saying, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”


Catechism Explained

So what does this commandment require? For the sake of clarity I will remind you that in the next question our catechism will ask, what does it forbid? And after that it will ask, “What are we especially taught by these words, “before me,” in the first commandment?” And so we will not finish with our consideration of the first commandment tonight. But let us start by asking what the first commandment requires of us. What does it teach us to do and to think and to feel?  

First of all, it teaches us to “acknowledge God to be the only true God.” When God speaks negatively saying, “have no other gods before me”, he at the same time speaks positively (by way of implication), saying you are to acknowledge me as the only true God.

There is an awful lot packed into that little statement, isn’t there? Stated negatively: “Have no other gods before me.” Stated positively: “acknowledge God to be the only true God.” If we were to take the time to thoroughly define terms we probably would be stuck on this catechism question for months. 

“God”. Think of all that is signified by that little three letter word. “God”. What does it mean? Who does it refer to? What comes into your mind when you hear that word? Is it merely an abstract and undefinable concept? Or is it left up to us to fill this term with meaning — do decide for ourselves what or who God is? Clearly not. In fact the point of the first commandment is to warn us against doing this very thing. 

When God said, “you shall have no other gods before me”, he was declaring himself to be the one true God, and he was forbidding his people from having gods of their own, either in their hearts and minds or before their eyes. 

So who is this God who has claimed to be the one and only God, who has forbidden us from honoring any other thing as a god? Well, clearly he is the God of scripture. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. It was through Moses that these Ten Commandments were given originally to Israel. They are recorded for in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. And so if we wish to know who this God is who said, “you shall have no other gods before me”, then we must go to the scripture. We must read Moses to find out. And from there we must read the rest of the Old Testament and also New, for God has graciously revealed himself in the scriptures. In other words, the word “God” means something very specific. “God” is not ours to define — he is ours to acknowledge. And this, friends is the starting point of all true religion. 

So who is this God? As I have said, it would take me a very long time to tell you. We must go to the scriptures to find out. But let me provide you with this very brief summary which can be gleaned from the book of Genesis and first part of Exodus alone. 

One, God is the creator of all things seen and unseen. And so if we were to consider all that exists we would have to confess that there is the Creator, and there is the creation. Nothing else exists besides these two things There is the Creator, and there is the creation. The first commandment demands that we properly distinguish between these two things. In other words, we break the first commandments when we allow the line between Creator and creature to become blurred. What are these “gods” that the scriptures speak of? What are the “gods” that God forbids us to have? They are merely parts of the creation that men immagine to be gods. Men, throughout the history of the world and to this present day, have made this fundamental error: they worship they worship the creation instead of the Creator. They treat the sun, moon, and stars as if they were gods. The bow before demons and kings. They form and fashion  for themselves images of gold and silver to bow down before them. They even worship themselves, living for their own pleasure and purposes. This is the thing that God forbids. We cannot live a life that is good and well pleasing before him if we confuse the distinction between the Creator of all things and his creation. 

Two, God is a God who speaks. He revealed himself to man in the garden, and he made his will known. And this has done throughout the history of the world and supremely in Christ. Have you thought much this, brothers and sisters? God is a God who speaks. And this is why we are to know what the word “God” means when we utter it. It is not a nebulous and undefinable term. Though it is true that we cannot comprehend God full and exhaustively, we may know him truly, for he has spoken.

Three, God is a God who redeems. He is a God of mercy and grace. And this is made clear in the earliest chapters of Genesis, and certainly in the book of Exodus. What did God do in response to man’s sin? Well, among other things, he showed mercy and extended grace. He promised to provide a Savior. 

 Of course, so much more could be said about God, who he is and what he is doing. I have only faintly scratched the surface. But I have said this to remind you that when Israel received the Ten Commandments from God’s hand and heard the words, they knew what he meant. They knew what he was forbidding and what he was commanding. They knew who this God was. He is the Creator of all things seen and unseen. He is the God who redeems. And he is the God who speaks, so that he may be known.  

What does the first commandment require? First of all, it requires us to “acknowledge God to be the only true God.” And secondly, it requires us to have God as “our God”. 

So what is the difference between “acknowledge God to be the only true God” and having God as your God. Well, the difference is very great. It is possible for someone to acknowledge the God who has revealed himself in Christ and in scripture to be the only true God and yet to fail to honor him as such. Stated differently, the first commandment does not only require that we acknowledge God mentally or as a matter of fact, but that we also have him as our God. Stated in yet another way, we are to acknowledge that he is God, and we are to honor him as such.

And that is what the last portion of the catechism implores us to do. To obey the first commandment truly we must “acknowledge God to be the only true God”, we must have God as “our God”, which means that we must “worship and glorify Him accordingly.”

How are we to worship God? Answer: in the way that he has prescribed in his word. Commandments 2 through 4 will lay the foundation for the proper worship of God. As it pertains to the particulars, the rest of the law of Moses gave instructions for the proper worship of God under the Old Covenant. And the New Testament gives instructions for the proper worship of God under the New Covenant. But commandments 1 through 4 are foundational to both Old and New Covenant worship.  

And how do we glorify God? Well, in many ways. We glorify God when we worship him in public and in private. We glorify him when trust in his name and testify to his goodness. We glorify God when we give thanks to him and are content in him.  Brothers and sisters, we glorify God when we enjoy his presence and live in obedience to his commandments with love and gratitude in our hearts. 

The first commandment is not kept when we merely acknowledge that the God of the Bible is in fact the one true God. No, we must have him as our God, and “worship and glorify Him accordingly.” 



Brothers and sisters, this is God’s law. And so it is right for me to exhort you just as Joshua exhorted the Israelites, staying, “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” And may we all say what he said: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” This is to be our resolve. 
But I may also ask you, have you kept this law perfectly? And all must confess, no we have violated this law in thought, word, and deed. All must confess this, except one — Christ Jesus our Lord, who kept God’s law perfectly on our behalf, and died in our place so that we might be reconciled to God, and serve him faithfully all the days of our life. Amen.

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