Above All Things
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them…” (Exodus 20:2-5a NASB).
“What does this mean?
“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Martin Luther, Small Catechism).
I don’t like the command to fear God, but I can’t escape it either. “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 6:13) is a command given by God through Moses. Jesus himself also said, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4, 5). The Law first accuses me of my sin. I don’t like to be reminded that I sin whenever I place or allow something or someone to have a priority above God in my life. The God who speaks these words to me is a jealous God. He will not tolerate competition. He is not pleased when any number of things or people become my “gods.” I may not bow to an idol; but my wife, my children, my house, my work, my leisure can all become so important to me that any one of them replaces God in my life. The Law condemns, and I need to fear the One who has authority to cast into hell.
I need to fear, but I don’t need to be afraid. Immediately after His warning about fear, Jesus offered great comfort: “Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6, 7). I am so valuable, in fact, that “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God is angry at my sin. Paul said it like this, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). To deal with me and my sin, God, because He loves me, sent Jesus to be the propitiation, the final and perfect sacrifice to appease God’s anger, for my sin. When God applied that sacrifice to me in my baptism, he put to death my old sinful nature and brought to life a new, reborn nature (Romans 6:1-7). In gratitude for how God loves me, I too, now want to love Him. I want to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). I want to willingly obey the command to have Him only as my God.
As a spiritual newborn, I want also to be fed and nourished. God does this through His Word. The day after feeding 5000 men plus women and children, Jesus made this comment in response to being challenged about how God feeds His people: “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:32-35). As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). God feeds me with the Word of Christ. In the feeding, God gives me faith to believe, or trust, in Jesus.
The First Commandment, that I should have no other God than the One who freed me from slavery to sin through His propitiating sacrifice, means that I ought to fear, love, and trust Him only. The Law condemns; and I fear the One who has authority to cast into hell. The Law drives me to Christ, that same One who also loves me and wants only to forgive my sin. In thanksgiving, I want to love Him, too. The Law leads me in a life of obedience as He feeds me with His Word, creating in me the faith I need to trust that His promises are true. So it is that I can fear, love, and trust in God above all things.