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Afternoon 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)

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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.

Introduction

There is a good reason why the first of the Ten Commandments is stated first! The commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me”, is stated first because it is of supreme importance. 

What good will it do if we succeed at keeping the other nine commandments (somewhat) but fail to keep the first, which, as we will soon learn,  requires us “to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly.” Will it do us any good (ultimately) to not bow to idols, to treat the name of God with respect, and to observe the Sabbath day – will it do us any good to honor father and mother, not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness, and not covet, if we do not first have God as our God and honor him as such? I suppose some may say, well yes, it would be better for someone to obey God’s moral law (somewhat) even if they do not honor God as God. And I suppose there is some truth to that. A moral atheist is certainly better than an immoral one, worldly speaking. But I am asking the question in an ultimate sense. Will it do us any good ultimately, or perhaps we could say, really, truly, and eternally, to keep the other nine commandments if we do not, first and foremost, love God and live for his glory? The answer is, no. 

Do not forget, brothers and sisters, that the sum of the first four of the Ten Commandments, is to love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we wish to keep these commandments really and truly, we must begin and end with love for God. And this is true, not only of the first four but of the last six as well. All of our efforts to keep God’s law must be motivated by our love for him. As Christ said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, ESV). And the aim of our obedience ought to be the glory of God. As Paul said, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV). If our obedience to God’s law is not motivated by our love for him, then our obedience is not from the heart – it is merely superficial. And if our obedience is not aimed at bringing honor to God, then it must be aimed at some other end or purpose, most likely our own honor or praise. These are dead works. This kind of obedience has no value ultimately, for it is not done for the right reason.

And so we must begin here. If we wish to live a life that is right before God, we must start by honoring God as God, and having no other gods before him. You will notice that the first commandment is stated negatively – “you shall not…”, it says. And so it is good for us to ask what it requires, positively. The negative command implies the positive requirement.  What does this commandment require? Our catechism is right to say,  The first commandment requires us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly.

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Catechism Explained

Three requirements are mentioned here. One, the first commandment requires us to know God as the only true God and our God. Two, the first commandment requires us to acknowledge God to be the only true God and our God. Three, the first commandment requires us to worship and glorify God accordingly.

Let us consider each of these requirements one at a time. 

One, the first commandment requires us to know God as the only true God and our God. When the first commandment forbids us (in a negative way) from having any other gods besides the one true God, it does also require us (in a positive way) to have God as our God. And to have God as our God, we must know him. 

What does it mean to know God? Two things: 

First, to know God is to know the truth about him. Do you know about God? Do you know that he exists? Do you know what he is like? Do you know about his nature,  his attributes, and his ways with men? If we are to have God as our God we must know about him. And where must we go to find out the truth about God? Well, we know that he has revealed the truth about himself in two places. He has revealed some things about himself in nature, and he has revealed the truth about himself much more thoroughly and clearly in Scripture. And so we must study these two books – the “book” of nature, and the book of Scripture – if we wish to know the truth about God. These two “books” will always agree, for they are both from God – he reveals himself through both. If they ever seem to contradict, the problem is not with the one book or the other, but with the interpreter. And of these two books, the book of Scripture is supreme, for through the Scriptures God has revealed himself with great clarity. And so I ask you, do you know God? Do you know the truth about him – who he is, what he is like, and how he relates to man? You should! The first of the Ten Commandments requires us to have God as our God. And this means we must know about him. 

Second, to know God is to be in a right relationship with him. All men and women are in a relationship with God. He is their Creator and they are his creatures. This is true even if they deny him. And they are not only related to him as his creatures. They are related to him covenantaly too, for all men and women are born under that broken covenant of works that was made with Adam, and all do also live under the covenant of creation that was made in the days of Noah after the flood. All who live are in a relationship with God. The question is, what kind of relationship is it? Answer: not a good one. By nature and because of sin, we are called children of wrath. By nature – that is to say, by virtue of our natural birth – we are enemies of God because of our sin, and we are under his condemnation. So then, all people do know God and are in a relationship with him in this sense – God is their creator, and they are his creatures. And given the fact of sin, God is the judge and they stand before him guilty and condemned (see John 3:16-18). To know God in the way that the first commandment requires is to be in a right relationship with him. The first commandment requires that we know God to be the only true God and to have him as our God

Already, you can see that a Savior is needed. If rebel sinners are to know God as their God – if they are to be in a right relationship with him – they need someone to deal with the problem of sin. Jesus Christ is that Savior. He lived, died, and rose again to redeem us from bondage to sin and to reconcile us to God the Father. The redemption and reconciliation that Isarel experienced in the days of Moses was an earthly picture (foreshadowing) of the greater act of redemption and reconciliation that Jesus Christ, the Promised One, would accomplish. Through faith in Jesus the Messiah, we are really and truly reconciled to God so that we might know him, that is to say, be in a right relationship with him. Those who have faith in Christ do not know God as Judge, but as Father.     

So then, the first commandment requires us to know God. Two, the first commandment also requires us to acknowledge God to be the only true God. What is the difference between knowing God and acknowledging him? Well, I suppose it would be possible to know God privately in the mind and heart, but not publicly. But this is not the way we are to walk before our God. If God is truly our God, we will openly acknowledge him as such.  We will honor him as God by acknowledging him in all our ways (Proverbs 3:6). We will honor him by fearing him in our walk (Genesis 42:18). We will honor him by trusting in him (Psalm 25:2). We will honor him by submitting to him (James 4:7). 

Those who have the LORD as their God will not be private it about. Instead, they will acknowledge the LORD as God in their thoughts, words, and deeds. With their whole life, they will say, “I am the LORD’s” (Isaiah 44:5). They will declare, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). Those who truly have the LORD as their God will “made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12). They will confess with the mouth “Jesus is Lord” while believing in the heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). And do not forget the warning of Jesus: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32–33).

The commandment, you shall have no other gods before me, is negative. It forbids us from having any other god besides the one true God. But considered positively (and considered in the light of what the rest of the Scriptures say about this subject)  it requires us to have God as our God.  And to have God as our God, we must know him and acknowledge him to be our LORD and God. 

Thirdly, and lastly, the first commandment requires us to worship and glorify God accordingly. Those who know God and acknowledge him to be their God will worship him and live for his glory. 

To worship is to bow down. One may worship by bowing down physically. Certainly, we must bow down before the Lord in the mind and heart. To worship is to acknowledge that God is worthy of our obedience and praise. To worship is to give oneself up to the will of God, to surrender to him, and to serve him (2 Chronicles 30:8). We worship God individually as we bow before him in private prayer, as we contemplate his Word, and as we surrender our lives to him as his humble servants. We worship in private families as we pray, read Scripture, and sing. And we worship in public as we assemble with God’s people on the Lord’s Day to hear the word of God read and preached, as we pray in Jesus’ name, as we sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and as we break the bread in obedience to Christ’s command. The Old Covenant people of God had ordinances for worship; and the New Covenant people of God have ordinances too. Those who have the one true God as their God, will know him, acknowledge him, and worship him.

To glorify God is to honor and exalt him. We exalt God when we worship him in the way he has prescribed. We exalt God as we obey him. And we exalt him as we trust him, live lives of thankfulness and contentment before him, and as we testify concerning his goodness to us in Christ Jesus. We glorify God as we worship and serve him with all that we are and urge others to do the same (1 Corinthians 6:20).    

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Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, the first of the Ten Commandments does not merely forbid having other gods besides the LORD. No, when all is considered, it requires us “to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify Him accordingly.” 

But let me ask you, have you kept this law perfectly? 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. May all who hear this be found trusting in him for the forgiveness of sins and for life everlasting. Amen.  

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