“You shall have no other gods before me”

Only the Almighty God deserves worship. The first commandment in the Decalogue drills this law into the minds of Israelites. They were expected to avoid worshipping anything else, other than the only God of the universe. The surrounding nations had been preoccupied with worshiping idols. Even though fashionable—idolatry was not to be associated with the chosen people of God.

Interestingly, while this Law should identify with true Christians, it is commonly regarded as archaic by modern Christians. They assume being not as primitive as those of the ancient world. But, the violation of this law is as common as it was, during those ancient times.

Jesus came to introduce Christianity, whose principles are different from the world around us. He taught principles that are meant to lead people to the only Father—declared as the only God of the universe. When attending to issues of idolatry, the gods can actually be as numerous as one could be able to count. But I will highlight seven reasons why Christians are more vulnerable, in terms of violating the first command—than the Israelites of old:

  1. Theology. Generally, theological studies give impression of desirable acceptance. Religious studies, backed with humanly elevated credentials, serve to sufficiently dupe Christians out of true worship. Theologians are regarded as superior to ordinary Christians. Coupled with tradition and custom, educational achievements in theology serve to raise the status of those, having spent sufficient time in theological studies. This is one way to divert Christians from focusing on one true God. Jesus lamented: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:44) (ESV).

  1. Customs and traditions. A human being is prisoner to customs and traditions—though no longer impossible to abandon. Jesus came to give us freedom: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19) (ESV).

The weightier matters of the Law are justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). However, with the Pharisees—just as applicable in present time—assumption was that traditions of law-keeping were a dignified necessity. Violating traditions made them feel unacceptable to those around them. In other words, they sought people’s approval, more than engaging themselves with what was helpful to those in need. Regardless from where a person evolves, customs and traditions comprise what can be considered as worshipping other gods.

  1. Religion. Perhaps the most harmful of all causes of idolatry is religion, when one observes what happens around the world, especially in Moslem countries. Why would a person be inclined to kill, in the name of religion? The answer is in assuming that religious commitment is what sustains life. The worship of any god, makes a person comfortable—though surrendering responsibility on survival issues. However, God is not likened to anything, as to be worshipped in ways that other gods are generally worshipped. The more a person adopts common sense, the more he/she becomes free from idolatry.  This is codified in the golden rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) (ESV).

  2. Authority. There is only one authority under the Son, and that Is God. However, for lack of something to identify with, among human beings, Jesus is the only authority to look to. Christianity is stuck in serious confusion, due to the god that is derived in authoritarian culture. When Jesus declared that all authority had been given to Him, (Matthew 28:18) he became the only authority to which humanity would look to. Jesus declared:

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:8-12) (ESV).

I suppose this may be the most violated Scripture in Christian faith. Even among those regarded as most astute Christians—as desiring to maintain Christ’s instructions—there is tendency to fall short. People cherish being idolized, or they love idolizing other fellow human beings. Authority is something held with high esteem. However, this is done without realising that it is clear violation of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:7).

  1. Physical body. As human beings, we are all identified according to our physical structures. This is why much time is spent in making those physical structures attractive to others. Everyone wants to look good in front of other people. That is commendable, as long as avoiding the assumption of being better than others. Very few people realize that physical flesh can be another god—as taking the place of the true God. This may be the only reason why Jesus declared: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26) (ESV).

Preoccupation with what one would eat, drink or what one would wear, is a result of idolizing physical bodies (Matthew 6:25-34). Surprisingly, everyone knows that the physical body cannot sustain anyone, as death comes at most inconvenient times. Yet most people commonly find value in physical bodies. According to God’s declaration to Adam—a physical body is the soil of the earth (Genesis 3:19). The human body should not be regarded as different from manure. Just as human waste needs burial—similarly, a physical body needs burial after death. This is the truth of all ages.

The physical flesh, as an idol, includes Sexual lust. Sinfulness in this world is generally characterized in sexual immorality. God was provoked to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, due to sexual sins—as practiced in that community. (Genesis 19). As enjoyable to the flesh, sex can easily hook anyone—causing inability to come out of it. One of the reasons why the apostle Paul preferred celibacy, is avoiding sexual temptations (1 Corinthians 7:27). To avoid sexual lust, takes only those strictly shunning the idolatry of physical flesh, as narrated above. A truly spiritual person cannot be controlled by sex. As new creation, that person, is able to control sexuality. To the Sadducees who must have held to the belief that sexuality was essential in human survival, Jesus expressed how valueless that assumption was:

But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:29-30) (ESV).

Being stuck in sexual desires is similar to being stuck in other idolatrous activities. Sexual desires serve to divert a person from worshipping the only true God. In short, anything that a person values, ahead of God, exposes one to idolatry. Sexual immorality has been one of the vices that have entrapped humanity, from time immemorial.

  1. Money and wealth. Lovers of money, can be most pitied, when compared with all other idol worshippers. Such people appear as living the most comfortable life-styles. But the truth is far from that assumption—due to death that levels everything. Jesus aptly put this across, when giving a parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). This was meant to deride those focusing on wealth accumulation, ahead of God. Just as idolatry portrays foolishness—the love of money cannot be spared—in describing all things foolish. Again Jesus declared: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24) (ESV).

In this statement Jesus was stating the obvious. Those stuck in worshipping graven images in ancient Israel’s times, could not be easily persuaded to forsake idolatry. I suppose it may even be harder to persuade the lovers of money to cast away that type of idolatry. Though laden with the foolishness as clearly pronounced by Jesus in the parable of the Rich Fool.

7. Title Holding. Interestingly, when considering the composition of the twelve disciples—designated with the apostleship—there was no similarity in their actions and behavior. The term apostle, simply means messenger. But the behaviour and activities of those apostles was not uniform. For instance, the apostle Peter may have been conferred with pastoral responsibility, when considering Jesus’ communication with Peter. (John 21:15-19). But Jesus never, at any one point, indicated specifically, who would be holding which title, among them all?

Jesus insisted on the necessity of referring to each other as brethren (Matthew 23:8-12). The Spirit plays respective functional role discretionarily,  at any given time. This was indicated by Paul in Ephesians 4:11. The question is on whether Paul implied ordinations, before exercising those specific functional titles? Designation of offices, according to specific titles, does not seem to have any approval of Jesus, according to His written words?

The official title of Jesus was ‘Christ’.  But He never desired this to be publicized as such (Matthew 16:18-20). In other words, Jesus did not go about telling people that He was the Christ—notwithstanding this being His true title. He simply identified Himself as Son of Man—which, intrinsically reveals His desire to be identified ordinarily as other humans. A kiss had to be used by Judas Iscariot, to distinguish Him from His disciples.

While the apostles ordained deacons in Acts 6, that behaviour does not seem to align with Jesus’ word? The apostles should not be regarded as authoritative, ahead of Jesus, whose word takes precedent over everything else. Human beings have a tendency of assuming being better than others, when conferred with titles. Yet Jesus never authorized  anyone to be identified by any title—as if to assume being superior to others. It is basically in title-holding that human beings have a tendency to idolize one another, or desiring to be idolized. Christianity cannot be practiced similarly to what happens in the world around us.

As author of everything that exists in the physical universe, God cannot be compared to anything—in terms of a person’s preferences. The supremacy of God lies in that He is incomparable with anything, including our own existence. When obsessed in activities that may be cause for idolatry, a person would be exposed to violating the first law in the Decalogue.

When carefully looking at this first Law, with sober mind, no human being could ever appreciate being idolized by other fellow human beings. Let alone idolizing other people ahead of others. We are all equal, in the eyes of God, who remains to be the only one to be worshipped. All our problems in this world emanate from failure to appreciate this simple datum, which Jesus came to magnify.

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing reliefs to those having witnessed strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social decay. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long awaited providential oasis of hope.

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